As well as the high death toll Britain had economic and social problems. Economic changes due to the First World War helped diminish the role of Britain in international trade. Britain also begun to grow heavily in debt, due to the payments of the war. To help pay these debts Britain sold off foreign assets and borrowed heavily both at home and abroad. The increased size of national debt had an inflationary effect in Britain. The problems of wartime finance forced Britain off the gold standard, under which the value of the pound had been linked to gold. The distortion of the economy meant that the war stimulated industries such as engineering, chemicals and shipbuilding, which had a direct relevance to the needs of the armed forces, unlike other industries such as textiles. Disruption of the export trade was a problem for Britain during the war as staple industries relied heavily on exporting, but due to the war their old markets such as Russia, the Far East and elsewhere was closed to them. Also former customers who where in need of coal, textiles and steel turned to other new suppliers such as America and Japan. The contraction of trade during the war also reduced the income Britain traditionally derived from shipping.
Yet there were also advantages stemminh from the war. The productivity of Britsh industry incerased rapidly owing to state-sponsered mechanisation. There was a greater standardisation of engineering products, and electric power was being used more int he factories, just as more tractors were working on the land.
To decide whether or not the First World War was a ‘Total War’ we have to look at the meaning of the expression. Total War is the total engagement of a nation’s economic, social, cultural, and political capital in the war. Britain did engage all sides of its capital in the war effort and was successful in its allocation of it. They had to fill posts left by men who had gone to war with women, and every side of life had to relate to the campaign. In my opinion the First World War was a ‘Total War’ for Britain. It cost them millions of pounds, a great amount of lives were lost and wasted, and gold reserves were shattered in wartime trading. The war also changed the way in which many people lived and entitled people to many new rights, these were mainly for the women of the time.
As the war had taken so many men away, more jobs became vacant, so women begun to take these new jobs. Women found employment in transport (the rail lines and driving buses and trams), nursing, factories making ammunition, the Women’s Royal Air Force where they worked on planes as mechanics, on farms in the Women’s Land Army, in shipyards etc. Before 1914, these jobs had been for men only (with the exception of nursing). One of the most important jobs during the war was working in the ammunition factory. This sort of work was very dangerous and as they were working with explosive chemicals,and if one was to explode many others could have been triggered off. As they worked with sulphur (which is very hazardous) and they did not have the correct protection available, the women found that their skin would turn yellow as the chemical impregnated itself into any exposed skin. Therefore, your face and hands could take on a yellow tinge. These women were given the nickname “canaries” – though it was not a term of abuse, more a nickname of endearment as people recognised the massive importance of their job. However after the war in November 1918 the men who had fought (and was fit enough) wanted their old jobs back. So the women where then dismissed and the men returned back to work. But all the work done by women during the war was to lead to something the Suffragettes had wanted but failed to get. In 1918, women over the age of 30 were given the right to vote and in 1928, this was changed so that all women had equal political rights with men.
As women started working many things changed for them. Women started doing all the things that men might have done, go to pubs, restaurants, dances and theatre. Hair and skirts got shorter as a result of factory work, however these things were seen to make working harder. As women took over the running of the country many other things changed. Women were allowed into the police force and they had their very own police service. This service would supervise goings on at music halls, cinemas, railway stations and parks.
With all the demands of working in factories fashion changed to co-inside with the type of work they would be doing. Long skirts would have got in the way so they were shortened and as the war finished this was restored. The petticoat was lost and hats were made smaller.
Throughout the war the government, as a way to get men to conscript, used women. Women were encouraged to have nothing to do with men who didn’t do their ‘duty’, but instead encourage those who did. When supplies of men did run low women were never conscripted and instead were used in campaigns to help persuade men to enlist. One of the most major campaigns used to make men enrol was the poster in 1915 with a little girl asking her Father “Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?” this tried to make then men at home feel guilty, wich worked and resulted with many men signing up, because they believed that women would not respect them if they did not fight. The war was definitely a total war, it affected social, economic and cultural traditions and the country changed rapidly.
When the war broke out the Liberal Party had been in power since December 1905. However, the ideas and policies that were followed by the Liberal government were not suited to fighting a major European War. The party dislike compulsory military service, restrictions on personal freedom and government intervention in the economy. The conservative party did support the idea of strong armed forces. This war was such a long and costly war that it had a major impact on both political parties, especially to the Labour party. Full employment during the war increased the power of trade unions; they rose from four million in 1914 to six million in 1918. Labour was bound to derive extra support and funds from this expansion. Membership of government not only gave the Labour Party credibility but also the confidence to strike out on their own. A new socialist programme ‘Labour and the new social order’ was adopted. The policies it contained, such as state control of industry (clause four) and a minimum wage, enabled Labour to fill the gap left by many parts of the country. In 1918 ,there was just short of 400 candidates which stood for parliament, whereas in December 1910 the figure was just short of 80. In all 61 Labour MP’s were elected in the 1918 election, this was not a huge increase for the Labour party but this was the ‘coupon’ election and patriotic loyalty to Lloyd George was decisive. However, their share of the vote increased from 7% in 1910 to 22%. the foundations had been laid and in 1922 Labour secured 142 seats. However the authority of Parliament remained intact, and the moarchy did not fall.
After the war during 1918-1920 there was a post-war boom. Investment and the demand for goods were both high, and industrial production rose to 29% within two years of the end of the war. Unemployment was consequently low. However, in December 1920 the bubble burst and a brief but acute depression begun. The prices of goods fell, industrial production slumped, and unemployment reached two million in June 21.
The war enforced the abandonment of laissez-faire. War was too serious a buisness to be left to the operation of free market forces. The government introduced conscription in 1916; ministers had to try to keep price and wage levels in equilibrium; the mines passed under state control. Soon the government controled the whole of the economy.
The first world war saw the expansion of the empire to its maximum territorial extent, as territory was taken from the german and turkish empires and added to the british.
The war affected the psychology of the whole nation in some degree, the combatants most of all but also their families at home. I deas about war began to change. It brough a more realistic view to the British people about what modern warfare involved. The war also created a term called ‘ the lost generation’ this applied to the people who perished in the war but to those who were permanetly aliented and disoriented by it.
Many things changed because of the war either for better or for worse, many things had to change for a chance of success. Britain engaged its resources sensibly but was still stretched to find enough of everything to win. Women played a major role in the war effort and their help back home was just as important as those on the front line. Clearly 1914-1918 saw momentous economic changes. The economy was radically reoriented for the efficient prosecution of the war: there could, therefore, be no easy or quick return to satisfy peacetime needs.