In what ways did the attitudes of the soldiers and civilians change towards the war and towards the enemy between 1914 and 1918?

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The morale of the soldiers and civilians was fluctuating throughout the entirety of the war. To start off with the morale of the soldiers and the civilians was the same; they both hated the Germans and were united against the common enemy. They had great confidence and everyone believed that the war would be over before Christmas. As the war went on the morale of the soldiers and the civilians began to differ. There were many reasons for this, such as the Defense of the Realm Act (DORA).

For the soldiers the outbreak of the war in 1914 produced a lot of optimism and many men were willing to sign up. Their morale was high and there was a feeling of togetherness against the common enemy. ‘The mood of the country was one of almost hysterical patriotism and many men were willing to join.’ This is taken from the autobiography of Victor Silvester ‘Dancing Is My Life.’ It is a great example of the willingness of the British men. The hatred against the German was imminent and was a very good reason why the morale was high, as a lot of men wanted to fight against them for their country.

By Christmas 1914 the morale of the soldiers decreased as there was no sign of the war ending, which was meant to be over by now. It would have been a surprise to all the soldiers as they expected to be home and safe by now and their families would have thought the same. ‘By Christmas of 1914 I was still at the front line and no advance had been made.’ Their attitude towards the Germans however was amazingly wise. This is shown by the football match they played against the Germans during the Christmas of 1914.

The gas attack in Ypres 1915 by the Germans caused the morale of the soldiers to decrease even more and caused the British to increase their hatred towards the Germans. The soldiers were not prepared for the gas attacks, therefore they did not have any gas masks. The gas killed in a very vicious manor. The lungs just collapsed and you stopped breathing, which would have been very painful for the soldiers. If you did not die then you may have become blinded by the gas, so there was no escaping it. Sophie Botarsky, a Russian nurse on the Western Front reported in 1916: ‘A group of men came running at us with desperate speed. As they drew near we saw that their faces were yellow and some were sick as they ran.’ This is a very good example of what it was like for the men who got gassed. The morale was so low that soldiers were scared of dying in their sleep. They had no protection from the gas apart from urine. They used to dip their socks in urine and cover their noses and mouths with them because the urine was meant to have properties that did not allow the gas to pass through.

By now trench life was also wearing them down. This would have decreases their morale even further. They had no privacy and many soldiers fell ill with dysentery. There was also an infestation of rats and lice in the trenches, who were very rampant in the trenches and got into the soldiers hair. There was bathing stations situated behind the trench front line where men would go and have their head shaven to get rid of the lice. However this did not get rid of the lice, because as soon as they had their head shaven they would enter the trench again and they would catch it straight back of another soldier. On top of this all the food the soldiers were provided with was not satisfactory at all. Food that was sent to the front line never made it there as it only got to the officers who kept it for themselves. A good example of this is when Fortnum and Mason department store sent small packets of jam to the front line but they never actually reached there as the soldiers took it. Trench foot was another major problem for the soldiers in the trenches. It was caused by men standing in water for long periods of time and their skin would begin to rot and could often go gangrenous. This is why there were regular feet inspections. ‘My memories are of sheer terror and the horror of seeing men sobbing because they had trench foot that had turned gangrenous. They knew they were going to lose a leg. Filth and lacking of privacy. Of huge rats that showed no fear of you as they stole your food rations. And cold deep wet mud everywhere.’ This is an interview with Arthur Savage who was asked about his memories of life on the Western Front and is a perfect example of what it was like in the trenches for the soldiers.

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The preparation for the Battle of Somme increased the morale of the soldiers and consequently their hatred towards the Germans. This is because their officers told them that it would be their last big push and once that battle was over they would be able to go home. This made the soldiers very happy, because they thought the end was in sight. General Rees, commander of 94th Infantry Brigade at the Somme, described how his men went into battle on 1st July, 1916, ‘They advanced in line after line, dressed as if on parade, and not a man shirked ...

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