The Great War was the first time that all of the major participants attempted to practise ‘total war’, in which a country’s social, economic and political systems became devoted to the waging of the war effort both along the fighting front and back home. The objective was to channel all of the nation’s resources into winning the war of attrition. The government needed to gain increasing amounts of power to change their society into a military-orientated system.
While trying to do this, the government had to gain the power to interfere in the lives of people and deny them choices over their lifestyle that they might have experienced before 1914. In gaining this power, the governments ratified laws and policies, which gave them and their officials the authority to change political, social and economic circumstances. In many countries affected by the war effort, governments gained control over what the nation’s economy produced. Also, introducing the issue of censorship, as well as limitations on other political freedoms.
There were also countries that introduced the rationing of food and other goods to allow the surplus materials to be diverted to the war effort and soldiers along the front. No country truly achieved the concept of ‘total war’ during World War 1, as each government could never really gain overall control of parts of life in the country. How geographically close nations were to the fighting front usually determined the familiarity of the state of total war, such as France and Germany as there was a greater level of government intrusion and parameter in society.
Britain understood the followings of total war but experienced it less rigorously. Governments were serious about the fighting, but did not try to take over the society with the principle of total war. The continuation of the war placed an increasing strain on the material, human, social and political costs. This tension impacted directly on the attitudes of the civilians in both Germany and Britain. At the beginning of the war, there was great support and enthusiasm. However, due to factors such as Stalemate, the encouragement for the war had evidently diminished and was replaced by a desperation for the conclusion of the war.
Most civilians felt as if they were truly part of the war, contributing daily to the war effort. The impact of government regulations and rationing on the lives of civilians, together with the impact of the death toll along the front also led to increased pessimism, with some disliking and even hating the Great War. There was an increase in anti-war political action and in Germany even saw the overthrow of the government. In 1914, Britains industry was incompetent and obsolete, and only a few factories were prepared for mass-production.
Its chemical and light engineering industries were trailing those of Germany. At the outbreak of war, morale was high and the BEF departed with eager support due to the thinking war will ‘be over by Christmas’. The Great War as the first time the British government took deliberate steps to control what the domestic population read, saw and thought about the war. Information and letters form soldiers were censored. Hate for the enemy, mainly Germany was increasing. Anti German hysteria was printed in newspapers such as the Daily Mail involving stories of German barbarity following the use of poison gas.
Police were given extra powers to arrest without warrant. Railways and dockyards were placed under military control and restrictions were placed on the use of kites and binoculars in case of spying. These processes placed an increasing strain on the lives of the British at home. The loss of agricultural workers to munitions factories saw the price of food increase dramatically, averaging a price increase of 110%, and so further restrictions was introduced. By December 1917, there were shortages of sugar, butter, tea, margarine, milk, pork, rice, wines and bacon.
There were meatless days imposed and limits were placed upon meals in hotels and restaurants. Campaigns to encourage cultivation of all available space such as tennis courts, railway sidings and building sites were launched by using advertisements campaigns. These shortages and demands for food decreased the morale of civilians in Britain and lessened the support of the war effort. The government had introduced methods to raise enlistments into the army due to the growing number of casualties. By 1918, close to one in every three adult males in Britain had been exposed to the realties of war.
The absence of men in industry saw thousands of women take up employment, specifically in the munitions factories. Transition into new workplaces was not easy. Many women were subjected to irregularity of pay, disregard of women by trade unions and were often the first to be discharged. Over 30 000 women demonstrated in 1915 demanding the ‘right to serve’. Auxiliary branches of each of the armed services were formed to permit women to undertake non-combat roles of men. The formation of the WRNS, WAAC, WRAF and VAD allowed women to become more apart of the war effort.
The first pieces of ‘factual propaganda’ was released in August 1916 with the 72-minute film about the Battle of the Somme, these images were authentic and received mixed emotions. However the majority who saw it appreciated the scenes from the battlefield, with many civilians most likely being more aware of their sacrifice of food, clothing and economic position to wage the war effort and support the governments power in defeating the enemy. Likewise, in Germany, civilians were feeling the effects of the British Naval Blockade.
Germanys limited coastline and ports meant there were limited raw material resources on which the German industry was heavily dependant. The tradition of conscription of adult males into the armed services ensured that the initial German response would be incredibly strong. However, it meant that if the conflict became strained, there would be difficulties in making up the loss in labor needs. There was not real tradition of German loyalty and nationalism wich the government could call upon if the was a continuing effort.
Instead, a long-lasting war produced protests and a collapse of the country. Germany, during the war was self-sufficient in food, but its dependence on the importation of raw materials such as, rubber, oil, and fertilisers meant that the for the war to be a success for Germany, it must be quick. The establishment of the War Raw Materials Department was established in 1914 saw the purchasing of all raw materials such as metal, wood, wool and chemicals to be sold to the manufacturers for the war effort. Providing enough food was caused a dilemma.
German farmers expected a record harvest from the 1915 crop but were destroyed by heavy rains. The ruining of the crops resulted in extreme shortages and rationing on the German homefront. Food prices rose 446% and even bread was rationed. The establishment of a War Food Office instituted over 250 regulations regarding food prices, distribution and hours of sale. The government presented an advertising campaign to encourage recipes for alternate food products such as ‘K’ bread made from sawdust and potato peelings.
In 1915, the number of deaths in Germany due to the effects of starvation and the British Naval Blockade was 88, 000 and grew to 294 000 by 1918, the equivalent to British military losses in the Western Front. These conditions obviously hampered any means of support for the German war effort. The role of women proved crucial in guaranteeing that the German war effort continued. Recruitment of women was more efficient and widespread in Germany that any other country. Like in Britain, the continuation of the war saw an increase in the degree of anti-war sentiments.
The initial reaction to the war had been filled with eagerness and nationalism, and slowly disintegrated to a negative attitude. The pessimistic attitude of starving German civilians saw food riots in over 30 German cities, due to the shortages forced on the people. The Naval Blockade, diversion of available resources to fighting fronts and policies that gave increasing profits to the large war industry at the expense of the ordinary people took their toll on accepted support for the war effort. In addition, inflation in Germany was increasing due to the failure to finance the war, workers and personnel refused to co-operate with orders.
Germany was failing under the pressures and strains of winning the war and the struggle to provide for German civilians. With revolution was spreading to Berlin and the abdication of the Kaiser, Germany was on the brink of collapse. These factors influenced the signing of the armistice with the Allies in 1918. The homefronts of both Germany and Britain each had their significant causes that boosted morale amongst their fellow civilians, however, the planning’s of the British Naval Blockade against Germany proved too much due to the lack of raw materials and food supplies, and finally admitting defeat.