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20 October 2014
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The Home Front
What is the Home Front?

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?

Britons: Kitchener Wants YOU!

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'.

Why do you think the Government introduced Conscription in 1916?

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A - The voluntary recruiting system was difficult to control in terms of how many men signed up and when. This could make it difficult to organise equipment, uniforms and proper training.

B - The voluntary system made it impossible to control who volunteered. This meant that skilled workers from key war industries such as munitions were being recruited.

C - Despite best attempts by the War Propaganda Bureau, it was impossible to conceal the numbers of casualities-- particularly after the Battle of the Somme when whole battalions were almost entirely wiped out.

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