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13 July 2014
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The Home Front in World War One

By Peter Craddick-Adams
Effects of the Home Front

Image of women service workers in uniform in 1941
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Lloyd George was one of the first to see that the home and overseas fronts were inter-related. He once quipped, 'We are fighting Germany, Austria and drink, and as far as I am concerned, the greatest of these foes is drink'.

In four interrelated spheres of the Home Front, the involvement of British society in the war effort had far-reaching effects on the country, though the degree to which the war speeded up pre-existing social pressures remains debatable.

First, World War One had an enormous impact on living standards, both in terms of poverty and health, improving the lot of many of the nation's poorest citizens. Next, through their war work, women gained a profile and rights in society that had previously been denied to them.

Thirdly, by 1918 the bargaining hand held by trades unions of organised labour were considerably strengthened by the key role they played in negotiating the pay and conditions of their workers in manufacture and production for the nation's wartime benefit. Finally, in general, the Home Front idea was a great social leveller and acted as a stimulus to wider social reform after the war.

Some historians argue that the war greatly increased opportunities for women, but often the advantages were short-lived. Although by the Armistice nearly five million women were working in industry and commerce, many would lose their jobs on the return of the men after the war.

In fact, many female workers merely exchanged their pre-war poorly paid jobs as domestic servants or in textile mills for better-paid opportunities elsewhere, as part of the war effort. For example, Robert Roberts, whose family ran a shop in Salford, remembered his customers of 1918:

'Some of the poorest in the land started to prosper as never before. In spite of the war, slum grocers managed to get hold of different and better varieties of foodstuffs of a kind sold before only in middle-class shops, and the once deprived began to savour strange delights ...'

Published: 2005-03-14

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