World War one effected almost the entire world and changed the face of Europe forever with lasting consequences. This was the first war of its size and so therefore was something unlike anything seen before.
This war brought patriotism to a peak – men wanted to enlist to protect their countries pride as well as their own. This war hit every man woman and child in every country which it reached and with an astounding 6 million men being mobilised in Britain alone it hit every class from working class men in the mines to bankers, doctors and professors in the upper class. This war was truly a war of entire nations.
When war broke out in 1914 Britain’s army was relatively small and so therefore the government called out for volunteers. This call was led by Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War. This first call for volunteers was very effective with 1 million men volunteering by the end 1914, however this didn’t last for the whole war with the number of volunteers falling to just 100,000 a month.
Britain still needed more men and with other schemes failing to increase recruitment the government created ‘The Military Service Act’ of 1916 which meant any man aged 19-41 who lived in Britain were required to join the army . However boys as young as 13 with a sense of national pride and patriotism would often try to enlist. Many men still happily volunteered for armed service including Fred Preston heard below.
Many men especially in the working class joined for the sense of adventure. Most men in the working class were working in boring manual labour jobs and saw the army as a way to travel and experience new cultures (something they normally would never have a chance to do). However that does not mean that joining the army was a holiday, most often the army was not a life of luxury and this certainly was the case when it came to the food.
Soldiers lived off rations, especially corned beef known back then as ‘bully beef’. The men were also given biscuits which were quickly likened to dog biscuits by the soldiers. However not one British soldier died of starvation during World War One.
The war did give the soldiers some experiences which they certainly would never have got if they did not enlist. Firstly many men were sent off to fight in Egypt and other places working class British man could only ever dream about visiting. This new terrain also invited new wartime practices and methods for the British soldiers including the use of camels. In 1916 the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade used camels as a form of transport in the desert terrain this brigade included 4,800 camels.
Camels were not the only form of transport during World War One. For the first time ever aeroplanes were used in the war. The aeroplane was only invented 11 years before the start of the war and although at first it only played a small role it went on to become a very influential weapon. Planes were used for reconnaissance to watch enemy movements. They were also used to bomb strategic locations such as factories and industrial centres. And in some cases used to attack land forces.
This war was the first of its kind and therefore invited new methods of warfare and also created new experiences for people who would normally never leave their home town. This war will forever be a major part of European history and shaped Europe into the continent it is now through its everlasting consequences. This war lasted 4 years and was the first ever global war which included and effected countless counties and people.
This research project is part of a placement between Manchester Metropolitan University and Archives+
Molly Wootton, Second year student