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Major impacts of World War I on the British society

von Oliver Christl (Autor)

Essay 2005 9 Seiten

Gesch. Europa - Deutschland - I. Weltkrieg, Weimarer Republik


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Heightened Nationalism and Class Consciousness

III. Impact on Everyday Life

IV. Impact on Political Culture

V. Conclusion

VI. Bibliography

I. Introduction

Although it ended over a lifetime ago, the First World War is still present in the memory of today’s British society. It was the massive, and in the British national experience, unprecedented number of casualties that made it “The Great War” in the perception of the British public. To face the challenge of total war both political practice and economy had to be transformed radically and, in a dramatically short period of time, hundreds of thousands of men had to be raised for the military forces. The whole society endured a heavy burden and was profoundly changed during the wartime.

This essay investigates the major impacts of the First World War on the British society. Therefore, after describing the upcoming nationalism and a promoting class consciousness, both caused by the war, the examination focuses on the impact of the war on everyday life. Finally, the impact of the war on the British political culture is described.

II. Heightened Nationalism and Class Consciousness

Although the conflicts with some of her European colonial rivals in the late 19th century and the early 20th century led to an increasing effort in improving the logistic and training of Britain’s military, resulting, for example, in the creation of the Committee of Imperial Defence (1902), the General Staff (1904) and the Officers’ Training Corps[1], the military force Britain could raise at the beginning of World War I was, compared to the major continental powers France and Germany, relatively small. At the outbreak of war in August 1914, the British army had a regimental strength of less than a quarter of a million men.[2] With regard to the high number of casualties the first severe battles in France claimed, the British government soon called for a much larger army. The Minister of War, Lord Kitchener, demanded a whole New Army and in response to his famous exhortation “Your country needs YOU” over a million men had volunteered by Christmas 1914.[3] By the end of the war in 1918, 5.2 million men had served in the army, over half of them as volunteers.[4] Most of this mass army consisted of soldiers coming from the working class. The reasons for the thousands of workingmen joining the military forces were manifold: many saw in their service a chance to get away from the dull and hard working-life or to escape unemployment; some expected to see other countries and to come home as heroes. But one of the most influential reasons seems to have been the workers’ fundamental loyalty to “King and country”. The invasion of Belgium on 3 August 1914 through the German army whipped up anti-German emotions in the public opinion: in the contemporaries’ eyes the “Evil Hun” tried to seize power in Western Europe. In a euphoric flood of nationalism, hundreds of thousands began to join the British army to meet the threat caused by German militarism, considering it was their duty to support their nation in this war.[5] This marks a remarkable change in the behaviour of the working class towards their superiors: the readiness to stand up against entrepreneurs and the government to fight for one’s own interests, realized in the thousands of strikes which dominated the years before the war[6], was replaced by a feeling of duty to defend the nation’s interests. But the workingmen in uniform never saw themselves as permanent soldiers. They had chosen to be soldiers, but only for as long as they were needed.[7] As soon as the war was over, the enormous costs that arose from this overstretched army forced the government to quickly restrict the number of military forces: the over 3.5 million troops the United Kingdom had to maintain at the close of the war were soon reduced to about 800 000 in 1919 and to 370 000 in 1920.[8] The men went back to their everyday working life. The truce, maintained during the wartime, ended and the so-called “Great Labour Unrest” of the pre-war years resumed, manifesting itself in thousands of strikes from 1918 to 1921.[9] The strikes were a result of the common feeling among the working class that their own huge contribution to the war had not been matched by those in the wealthier classes. Thus, the class consciousness of many British workers was promoted.[10]


[1] J.M. Bourne, Britain and the Great War 1914-1918 (London: Hodder and Stoughton Limited, 1989), p. 15f.

[2] R. Pope, War and Society in Britain, 1899-1948 (London and New York: Longman, 1991), p. 3.

[3] K. Robbins, The Eclipse of a Great Power. Modern Britain 1870-1975 (7th edn, London and New York: Longman, 1993), p. 92.

[4] Pope, War and Society, p. 3.

[5] cf. B. Porter, Britannia’s Burden. The Political Evolution of Modern Britain 1851-1990 (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 170f.

[6] ibid. p. 158f.

[7] cf. Bourne, Britain and the Great War, p. 218.

[8] Robbins, The Eclipse of a Great Power, p. 96.

[9] B. Porter, Britannia’s Burden, p. 186f.

[10] Pugh, Britain since 1789, p. 170.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
463 KB
Institution / Hochschule
University of Birmingham
Major World British


  • Autor: undefined

    Oliver Christl (Autor)

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Titel: Major impacts of World War I on the British society