Home Front

© Peter North (c/o People’s Collection Wales)

© Peter North (c/o People’s Collection Wales)

To wage war on an industrial scale the state mobilised all its resources, including its civilians.

From 1914 onwards, the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) gave the government increasing powers over matters it had never controlled before. It could be a crime to fly a kite or buy binoculars. Alcohol could be sold legally only for six hours between noon and 9.30pm, with a gap in the afternoon. For the first time the government took control of essential industries such as coal mining, railways and shipping.

The control of public opinion was important to the war effort and a new Ministry of Information took responsibility for propaganda. The Ministry could choose to which newspapers it gave information and it could even close down a newspaper altogether.

The high casualties continued and in 1916 the government introduced conscription, which forced men to join the services or do work for the war effort. Over 80,000 women served in the forces as non-combatants and others took on jobs left temporarily vacant by the men. Food was rationed and even time was controlled – British Summer Time gave more hours for war production. Later, people said that war produced nothing but ‘widows, wooden legs and taxes’.

To win the war the state took control of the lives of its citizens. It needed millions of civilians to produce the weapons, support the soldiers and look after the casualties.