The First World War was the first modern industrialized war, a
total war. Britain could no longer remain an island in 'splendid isolation' and war
could no longer be confined to the battlefront, a realization that was emphasized by
the threat of air raids and coastal attacks. The people of Britain became active
citizens as all areas of society were focused on the war effort. 'Home Front' was
the term used to describe the part of war that was not actively involved in the
fighting but which was vital to it. The ability to keep the Home Front running
smoothly ensured the supply of essential war materials to the Front.
Although there had been a growth in state involvement over civilian life with
the Liberal's social welfare reforms 1906-1914, by and large the average British
citizen went about their business with little interference from the state, which
acted 'only to help those who could not help themselves'. To meet the demands of
total war the Government had to take a lot more control. Almost immediately
Britain started to bring in changes that would make life on the Home Front
virtually unrecognisable to how it had been before.
Thinking Point: How was British society organised to fight the war?
Unlike many countries at the time, British citizens did not have to take up
military service. As a result Britain did not have a large standing army to mobilise
when war broke out. Just three days after Britain declared war on Germany, Lord
Kitchener made an appeal for new recruits.
General Sir Henry Rawlinson in the War Office believed men might be more
willing to volunteer if they could serve with their friends. Lord Derby
successfully tested this idea in Liverpool where he managed to recruit four
battalions of Pals within days, 'in which friends from the same office will
fight shoulder to shoulder for the honour of Britain and the credit of
Liverpool'. (Rt. Hon. Earl of Derby).
This approach was mirrored in local communities up and down the
country as hundreds of thousands of men volunteered for military service.
The speed with which these men joined up is testament to the naivety with
which they viewed the War that would be 'over by Christmas'. By the end
of September 1914, Kitchener had 750,000 men for his volunteer army. It was
'a measure of patriotic enthusiasm... a romantic innocence about the true nature
of war that the reality of battle was cruelly to mock'.