When we think about war, we think about words like death, disabled people, conquer and destroy. Without exception, the Great War during 1914-1918 was a catastrophe to the people and the countries involved. For Britain, the casualty numbered approximately 722000. It counts for 6. 3 percent of the male aged 15-49 of the whole country (Beckett, 2001: 312). 1600000 wives lost their husbands. 300000 children lost their father. Millions were wounded or disfigured permanently (Bourne, 1989:178).
Though miseries bought by the war were hard to release, on the other hand, a dissolving effect on the structure of the society as a consequence of the war generated positive influences on the British community (Marwick, 2006: 27). For instance, relative weak groups like women and working-class strengthened their power and earned their recognition in the wartime (Marwick, 2006: xiii). These could be considered significant as they had brought permanent impact on the British society. The relevance between the Frist World War and the changes in British society is the main theme that will be examined in this essay.
The first part will focus on general impact of the war on society. Then the second and third part will analyze how exactly the relationship and process is on two aspects of class and gender under the impact of the Great War. ‘War and society could not be categorically differentiated’ (Marwick, 2006: xii). In spite of the military event occurred in the process of the Great War. The support from the British society, ‘a war behind a war’, was the real reason for obtaining victory of this battle. By the time of the declaration of the war, British society was less prepared for the war than the army.
The pre-war military demands was no that urgent. Only 120000 men, 40000 animals, 334 lorries, 133 cars, 166 motor cycles, 300 guns and 63 aircraft. Army of this size showed barely no influence on the economic and social life of Britain. However, by the year 1918. The BEF had 2360400 men, 404000 animals, 31770 lorries, 7694 cars, 3532 ambulances, 14464 motor cycles, 6437 guns and 1782 aircraft (Bourne, 1989: 177). The growing dimension of the army would demand for more fiscal expenses. Under the escalation of war expense. The total war cost for Britain was expected to be like $43. billion (Beckett, 2001: 253). Meanwhile, the level of national debt increased.
Britain, by 1918, gained a every four months increase in debt which is more than the total debt during the period of French Revolutionary from 1792-1815. The war left Britain a heavy burden of debt than before the war. Meanwhile, The expenditure of human-power casualties in the war was excluded(Beckett, 2001: 254). Apart from the economic burden, It also lead to a high level of requirement in medical services, road transportation and railway carrying capacity (Bourne, 1989:177).
Basically, No section of British society was immune from the repercussions of war conducted on such a scale. Without the endeavor of the society, there is no way for British army to make strides in the war. Contrary to the general recognition of the tremendous strives made by the notables, ‘A history of war must be a history of all participants, and not simply of elites and leaders’ (Marwick, 2006: xii). When declaration of war, patriotism made all fears vanished away. It met with an impressive display of national unity. Armies are formed by working-class of miners, dockers and railwaymen.
Trade men also respond to the countries’ call of duty (Bourne, 1989:106). Large scales of enlistment indicated that the whole country was driven by the war without precedent. approximately 4 million men joined the army which count for 24 percent of male adult population, and 1. 5 million more people were working for munitions(Robb, 2002: 67). In addition, The increase of trade union in Britain during the period of 1913-1920 was dramatic. The figure almost doubled from 4. 1 million to 8. 3 million(Beckett, 2001: 320). Generally, Britain experienced a tough period with manpower declination together with high demand for labor forces.
The contradictory phenomenon brought challenge and reverse on many aspects of the society. for instance, the impact on gender ideology and social class structure are two aspects which will be further inspected in this essay. The ideology on gender in the early time of twentieth century was quite different from the contemporary believes. Generally, there is no consideration of gender equality at that time. The Great War provided men a clear role by enlisted to fight at the battlefield while the role for women was not so specific as no stereotype to follow with (Robb, 2002: 32).
The initial role women played in the wartime was traditional. For instance, supporting recruiting and nursing. In fact, women were not suppose to work as euqal as men. Before the war started, the majority of women devoted in domestic service or some light industrial work like dressmaking and weaving. Furthermore, 90 percent of which would cease their employment upon marriage(Beckett, 2001: 327). The public was reluctant in hiring women. ‘My good lady, go home and sit still’, this is the response from the War office to Dr Elsie Inglis’s intention of forming the first Scottish Woman’s Hospital(Beckett, 2001: 324).
As the war proceed, perspective from the public changed, especially during the period of labor shortage of 1916 to 1917. The wartime situation offered women new opportunities and possibilities in society to meet the need for female labor during the war time. Their performance during that period provided them social status and self-conscious to change the existing gender ideology(Robb, 2002: 32). Meanwhile, women also hold a positive attitude towards the changes in society. Even the middle-class and upper-class women were pleased to attend to work in munition. 00000 women were employed in the first twelve months(Beckett, 2001: 327). This phenomenon soon spread into other fields. It first started by the Army Council authorized woman’s employment as cook and waitresses in Britain in April 1915(Beckett, 2001: 325). Women leaped out of the traditional ‘invisible’ employment and involved into traditionally “masculine” occupations like transportation, engineering, business and even military forces because of the shortage of labor force. The women employment leaped from 26 percent in 1914 to 36 percent in 1918.
Not only the increase of number, women are visible in public without limitation in choosing the job. The young and mid-class women could experience absolutely new choices of working outside while the working class women might be able to choose jobs they would not be able to have access before. Like buses and trains, banks and officers. (Robb, 2002: 40). Many women were conscious of the new social status they could achieve and demand for more platform for women in community. However, the equal pay of different gender did not happen simultaneously.
With the tremendous military production requirement exhausted the labor force in munitions, women labor seemed to be the best choice for leasing the pressure on production. Therefore, dilution was carried out to prevent declination of productivity by using less-skilled workers and female workers to participate in the jobs previously reserved for skilled workers (Brown and Fraser, 2010:432). but the propose implemented by government was opposed by trade union who afraid of woman’s replacement of skilled labor as they are cheaper.
The government have to promise to offer women the same wages as men and no women employment after the war. This agreement, on the other hand, dissatisfied the male workers who find out that women could make a good wage as they did. So an agreement in 1915 provided an escape clause which means employers could pay less to women compare with men. As a result of this, women made almost half of the wages as men did. Woman’s average wages in Britain increased from £13 in 1914 to £35 in 1918, but this count for about half of man’s earning.
Women were regarded as a cheap labor source which could lost their status in peace easily (Robb, 2002: 52). Another subject on gender is women emancipation. Before the war started, Britain was not even a democracy country . Only 25 percent of men apart from all women had the right to vote(Marwick, 2006: 29). When the war was coming to an end, Woman’s contribution were acknowledged by granting them the right to vote in 1918. (Robb, 2002: 66). However, in 1918 the Act only enfranchised about 6 million women and granted manhood suffrage. Limitations for women to carry out their right to vote were strict.
Equality in voting had not achieved. (Marwick, 2006: xviii). Nevertheless, the impact of the war on British society offered women new possibilities and self-consciousness of their oppression. Also their personality transformed as an effect of the war. Women became self-confident and independent. Even though they lost their jobs after the war, changes took place. “I could just move on if I didn’t like the place. ” It’s a great leap to woman’s emancipation (Robb, 2002: 66). The war seem to have broke down the barriers between classes and reform the social structure during the wartime.
As an overall trend during the wartime. the high degree of social mobility of class manifested as the opportunities for the working-class to move up and the decline of the others (Beckett, 2001: 316). one statistical fact revealed about the middle-class was the increase in number from 1. 7 million in 1911 to 2. 7 million in 1921. The barriers between middle-class and lower-class became blurred than ever. The number of “wage-earner” as the core group of working-class has fallen to 15 million by 1921 (Marwick, 2006: 344). This phenomenon was closely connected with the change in labor.
Belligerents are usually predicted to gain increase in the size of labor along with the decrease of unemployment in most of the fields as a preparation of war. As the war expanded, trade between countries strengthened to ensure the supply of war production and brought a improvement of the position of the labor force (Beckett, 2001: 320). The reforming of social structure and class was directly stimulated by conflicts between different classes. although all classes were under the duty to serve the country during the wartime, the promotion of “equality of sacrifice” was not the reality in society.
As casualties were climbing up, 3000 to 4000 casualties received each day (Robb, 2002: 72), it turned out to be hard for government to maintain the good view of the war among the working-class who devoted themselves in to the battlefield. Also disproportionate burden for the working-class in home, whose endeavor support the whole country in war. On the contrary, the enthusiastic upper-class who supported the war most still focus on securing their share of the wartime economic pie. Conflict between classes exacerbated. As a low production of shell in 1915 occurred, employers libeled the workers for drunkenness (Robb, 2002: 74).
Even so, British productions were sold to hostile state via neutral countries like Sweden. Take cigarettes for example. Tenfold increase exportation to Dutch during the war time, most of which were sold to Germany at last (Robb, 2002: 74). The working-class started to wander are these profiteers worth defending. Consequently, working-class tried to find their way to defend their right. Large production and recruits made labor source scarce, which improved their influences on the other hand. Strikes conducted through out the British Isle. 10 million working days lost in 1914 by strike. The number for 1915 and 1916 were 3 million and 2. million(Robb, 2002: 76). The war also brought the need for amalgamation among unions. For example, the fund of Iron and Steel Trades Confederation in 1917 and other 6 federated union in 1918. The phenomenon made the solidarity and social awareness among working class possible(Beckett, 2001: 320). Further more, wartime development of the Trade Union and Labor Party also improved the political awareness of the working-class. Trade Union membership rise to 8 million in 1920 from 4 million in 1914. And the Labor Party vote increased six folds, which made it the second largest Party in Britain(Robb, 2002: 91).
The war lifted the confidence and cohesion of the working-class. Trade union and The Labor Party develop their influences made the working-class more powerful and ambitious than ever During the wartime, policies of the nation protected the interests of the working-class the most. Like the protection of the soldiers family from shortage of food provision and the landlords eviction (Robb, 2002: 80), the promotion of child welfare (Robb, 2002: 80) and the price limitation and rationing of life essential products like coal against the inflation (Robb, 2002: 81).
All these policies were mean to ease the burden of the working-class during the war for their better services. The living standard for the working-class achieved tremendous improvement overall. It is estimated in Britain that the average working hours per week fell from 50 hours in 1914 to 44 hours in 1918 while the average wage increased from £51 per week to £103 (Beckett, 2001: 321). Also, lifespan increased from 49 to 56 for men between 1911 and 1921, for women its 53 to 60. (Robb, 2002: 83). However, by the end of the war.
There is no revolutionary restructure of the classes. he resilience of hierarchy groups and the resentments between different groups were underestimated which draw the country back to what it use to be. It can be seen as a result of the rigid ideology of class structure among people which is hard to be changed even during the wartime(Beckett, 2001: 318). What worth mention is, the gap between classes were narrowed. Poverty had been eliminated. The increasing influence of the working-class also constrained the power of the upper-class due to high tax policies and the growing power of the Labor Party(Robb, 2002: 85). In conclusion, the impact of Great War on British society was unprecedented.
The working-class benefit from higher employment, rationing and improved social provision. On the other hand, women emancipation also made strides during the wartime. Conversely, the impact of the Great War on gender and class was not radical. Inequality remained between upper-class, middle-class and working-class, also different genders. The impact of the Great War is the prologue which immensely enhanced the coming of revolutionary social change in Britain. The rise of the Labor Party also indicate the flourishing future for the relatively weak groups in British society.