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20 October 2014
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Outcomes of the War: Britain
What was the 'lost generation'?

'War deaths represented one in 8 of the 6 million men from the British Isles who had served in the Great War... As a proportion of the total population these figures were smaller than in France or Germany but were, regardless, to give rise to the idea of a 'lost generation'...
According to one estimate, 30.58 per cent of all men aged twenty to twenty-four in 1914 were killed and 28.15 per cent of those aged thirteen to nineteen.'
John Stevenson, 'Social History of Britain'

Total war-related deaths: 8.5 million



Graph of death tolls

British Isles Statistics
750,000killed
1.5 millionseriously wounded
2.5 millionclaiming disability pensions in 1929
65,000shell-shock victims

 

Some felt that the 'lost generation' was mostly made up of the educated young officers who might have one day led the country. One in five students from Oxbridge, largely serving as junior officers, were killed. Young artists and poets like Isaac Rosenberg, Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen were killed, causing people to reflect on the waste of their talent. The worst battles - Verdun, Somme, Passchendaele, 2nd Ypres - cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Up to 80 per cent of some Pals battalions were killed in a single battle. Many felt that 'the flower of youth' and the 'best of the nation' had been destroyed.

Another part of the 'lost generation' were those that survived, but found life difficult back home. Poems and novels about the horrors of war and the depression of those that survived were published by Siegfried Sassoon and F. Scott Fitzgerald in America. The sight of blind or limbless ex-soldiers had a profound effect on the mood of the nation.

'As a small boy in Southsea, I saw streets disfigured by ragged, unwanted ex-soldiers, medalled, but ill, blind, maimed, selling matches, bootlaces, notepaper, trundling barrel-organs or standing with a melancholy dog or monkey beside a decrepit hurdy-gurdy. Whether they were pleading or abusive, resigned or menacing, they appalled me. Their wretchedness suggested that, in overthrowing Germany, they had earned some monstrous penalty now being... enacted.'
Peter Vansittart, 'Voices from the Great War'

What do you think statistics can tell about how the War affected Britain?

Click here for help

A - The death rates of both sides were very similar, suggesting anything but a decisive win.

B - The wounded statistics show that Britain was greatly affected despite a lower death toll than some countries.

C - Statistics can only tell part of the picture. Personal and cultural sources are equally important.

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