The Home Front during World War One refers to life in Britain during the war itself. The Home Front saw a massive change in the role of women, rationing, the bombing of parts of Britain by the Germans (the first time civilians were targeted in war), conscientious objectors and strikes by discontented workers. The whole nation was under the jurisdiction of DORA (Defence of the Realm Act).
When war was declared in August 1914, there were street celebrations throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain. Such scenes were repeated throughout Europe. Many believed that the war would be over by Christmas 1914 and many young men rushed to answer the call to arms – as did many men who were too old to serve but wanted to show their patriotism. The government asked for 100,000 volunteers but got 750,000 in just one month. The public was quickly deluged with numerous propaganda posters to encourage everyone in their nation’s time of need.
Those who did not want to join the military could be targeted by people as cowards – being handed white feathers and being refused service by shops and pubs etc. Many believed that victory against Germany – and a quick one at that – was a certainty and the vast bulk of the nation was supportive not only of the declaration of war but also of any man who wanted to join up.
This enthusiasm did not last. After the Battle of the Marne, it became obvious that there would be not quick victory and as trench warfare took its hold, the true reality of a modern war became obvious to all. War-weariness set in. The government could not hide the fact that many thousands of men had been killed or severely wounded. The return of wounded soldiers to London rail stations late at night did nothing to detract from the knowledge that casualties were horrendous.
The war led to inflation and many poorer families could not afford the increase in food prices. The impact of the German U-boat campaign also led to food shortages and this hit home when rationing was brought in by the government in February 1918. As nearly everything was directed towards the war effort, fuel was also in short supply and this was also rationed.
The Germans also attacked Britain itself. For the fist time, civilians themselves were targeted with bombing raids by Zeppelins and coastal raids by the German Navy. The first Zeppelin raid on London was at midnight on May 31st 1915, when Hauptmann Linnarz bombed the capital killing seven people and making £18,000 worth of damage. In the months that followed, fifty further Zeppelin raids took place and a blackout was imposed on the city. By October 1915, these raids effectively ended when pilots from the Royal Naval Air Service flew night patrols to protect the city. On December 16th, 1914, the east coast towns of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool were attacked by the German Navy killing 119 people including children.
|“The whole street seemed to explode. There was smoke and flames all over, but the worst of it was the screams of the dying and the wounded and mothers looking frantically for their kids.”Eye-witness to a Zeppelin attack|
The demand for war munitions meant that factories worked all but round the clock to ensure that soldiers were well supplied with ammunition. This invariably led to accidents as safety was sometimes seen as secondary to producing munitions. The worst factory accident was at Silverton in the East End of London. On January 19th, 1917, the munitions factory exploded and 69 people were killed and over 400 injured. Extensive damage was done to the area around the factory. In all, a total of 1,500 civilians were killed during the war.
|“There were shouts of “fire”, well you could not miss it, the whole place was lit up. We were all outside looking. I went upstairs to get a shawl. Suddenly I was downstairs and the house was on top of me. It’s funny but I can’t really remember hearing the explosion…..our house was blown down right enough.We don’t go up to Silverton again….I didn’t go to school again. There was no school, no house, so there was no point.”|
Mabel Bastable, an eye-witness at Silverton