In what ways did the attitudes of the soldiers and civilians change towards the war and towards the enemy between 1914 and 1918?
GCSE HISTORY COURSEWORK
IN WHAT WAYS DID THE ATTITUDES OF THE SOLDIERS AND CIVILIANS CHANGE TOWARDS THE WAR AND TOWARDS THE ENEMY BETWEEN 1914 AND 1918?
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 going through the extremely heavy barrage, or facing the machine-gun and rifle fire that finally wiped them out. I saw the lines, which advanced in such admirable order melting away under the fire. Yet not a man wavered, broke the ranks, or attempted to come back. I have never seen, I would never have imagined, such a magnificent display of gallantry, discipline and determination.’ This is a prime example of the high morale and confidence the soldiers going into the Battle of Somme.
At the Battle of Somme it was a completely different turnout to what they thought it would be, as 57 000 allied soldiers became casualties only on the first day, which caused the morale of the soldiers to decrease hugely. John Buchan described the first day of the offensive at the Somme in his pamphlet, The Battle of the Somme 1916, ‘The British moved forward in line after line, dressed as if on parade; not a man waved on broke ranks; but minute by minute the ordered lines melted away under the deluge of high explosives, shrapnel, rifle and machine-gun fires.’ This is a great example of what it was like on the front line and how so many soldiers died. This caused many men to develop a problem called shell shock. Early symptoms included tiredness, irritability, giddiness, lack of concentration and headaches. Eventually the men suffered mental breakdowns making it impossible for them to remain in the front-line. Doctors have come to the conclusion that it is caused by the enemy’s heavy artillery. As the war went on more and more soldiers became pacifists or conscientious objectors (C.O’s). Siegfried Sassoon (the famous poet), after suffering from shell shock in 1916 decided to become a conscientious objector. He wrote many poems including ‘Suicide in the trenches (1917).’ He actually partitioned the government to end the war when he was sent home from the front line with an injury.
By 1917 the Battle of Somme was still being fought and the soldiers morale was not getting any better. The soldiers were beginning to become increasingly depressed by the very small amounts of land that was actually being won and their anger had turned to their officers, which was away for the Germans. This is shown by their drop in enthusiasm and their willingness to fight for their country, which is shown in their pour performances in the battles.
In December 1917 Russia withdrew from the war leaving Britain in an even worse position than they were at. This again decreased their morale because the soldiers had lost an ally and all the German soldiers left to fight on the West Front. This also caused a surge of hatred towards the Germans. However although Russia pulled out, immediately after that in 1917 the Americans announced that they were going to join. This increased the morale of the soldiers dramatically, as they now had fresh troops. However they had to wait a little while, as they did not arrive until 1918. When the American troops did arrive the morale definitely increased. This is inevitable as America were one of the strongest nations during World War 1.
In 1918 the Spring Offensive took place. Yet again the soldiers morale increased as they are told that it will be the last battle. They had fresh supplies and fresh troops so this time the last push might have actually been the last push. When the Spring Offensive proved successful the Armistice was announced on the 11th of November 1918, much to the soldiers delight. This is what everyone had been waiting for. Michael McDonagh, diary entry (11th November 1918) ‘Looking through my window I saw passers by stopping each other and exchanging remarks before hurrying on. They were obviously excited but unperturbed. I rushed out and inquired what was the matter. "The Armistice!" they exclaimed, "The War is over!"’ This shows just how excited the soldiers were that the war was over and that they were finally going home.
For the civilians the outbreak of the war in 1914 set the whole of the British population on a high, just as it did for the soldiers. They were all united against a common enemy - Germany. For the women the outbreak of the war caused their morale and enthusiasm to start at an even level. This is because even though they had plenty of new opportunities, such as transport work, which paid the same as it did for men. However they still had to deal with the fact that their loved ones were leaving for war. This is why their morale was neither low or high, but on an even level. However women as a group tended to stay stable in attitude as they stood the most to gain throughout the war.
By Christmas 1914 the morale of the civilians would have decreased, as they would have expected their loved ones fighting in the war to be home by now. This would have just worried them and would have ruined their Christmas and made them continue to hate the German enemies.
The gas attacks in Ypres December 1915 caused no change to morale. This was because the civilians did not know exactly what was happening in the war, as they were protected by propaganda and censorship, such as the Defense Of The Realm Act (D.O.R.A) and War Propaganda Bureau (W.P.B). The D.O.R.A was set up by the government to censor the disturbing things that were happening in the war so that the civilians did not know about them. The W.P.B was set up to help with recruitment; it made up story to urge men to join up, which overall kept the morale at an even level.
After the gas attacks in Ypres conscription was introduced. This would have decreased the morale of some of the civilians. It led to a slight increase in hatred towards the Germans. A lot of men did not want to join and therefore they would have gone into the war with a negative feeling. Also it would have made the loved ones of the men going out to fight upset, as it did for other loved ones at the start of the war. was the founder of the No-Conscription Fellowship. He was conscripted in 1916 but when he refused to serve he was sent to prison. Allen made the following statement at his Military Tribunal in 1916. ‘We are all young men, and life is a precious thing to such men. We cherish life because of the opportunities for adventure and achievement which it offers to a man who is young. They say our country is in danger. Of course it is, but whose fault is that? It will be in danger in fifty years time, if our rulers know they can always win our support by hoisting danger signals. They will never heed our condemnation of their foreign policy if they can always depend upon our support in time of war.’ This shows just have many men did not want to fight. People at home began to realise the war not going to be over quickly.
The battle of the Somme in 1916 would have increased the morale of the civilians. Even though Britain had lost that battle, British press represented it as a victory. This was done by the Defense of the Realm Act, as the government did not want the civilians knowing what really was happening, as they wanted their morale to stay high. Six months after the Battle of the Somme a film is released in Britain showing some of the horrors of the battle, it was very anti-German, which increased the hatred towards the Germans. This is a great example of the how the government used D.O.R.A to increase the morale of the civilians.
Between 1916 and 1917 the morale of the civilians decreased as they started to get fed up of the D.O.R.A for numerous reasons. First of all pubs started closing earlier and on top of that pubs also watered down their beer. This was because , the Chancellor of the Exchequer, led a campaign against alcohol. In January 1915, Lloyd George claimed that Britain was "fighting German's, Austrians and Drink, and as far as I can see the greatest of these foes is Drink." Overall civilians were just beginning to feel that there was too much control over their lives and people began to resent it.
In December 1917 the Russians pulled out of the war, which caused the morale of the civilians to decrease further. However this only lasted a little while and their morale soon rose again when USA joined the war. This really made the civilians confidence increase, because they knew just how powerful the Americans were. The American troops initially landed in Britain and with them they brought thing such as chocolates and stockings for the women, which increased their morale.
In 1918 the morale of the civilians decrease once again. This is because rationing becomes introduced. Charles Young was interviewed about his experiences of the war and this is a good example of what it was like for the civilians during this period of rationing, ‘When I returned after the war relatives told me how bad it had been. You see, us being an island and hardly any food could get through, because German U-boats were sinking our food convoys. My family lived on bones from the butcher made into soups. And black bread. And when some food did get delivered to the shops everyone for miles around besieged the place.’ At the beginning of 1918 the Germans blockaded shipping and therefore rationing was introduced and, as a result of this the British civilians blamed the Germans and as a result of there was a surge of hatred towards the Germans. Food such as flour, sugar, tabacco and butter were all rationed.
Finally in 1918 the morale goes up and stays up, because the spring offensives were successful. The Armistice was then announced on the 11th of November 1918 and the war had finally ended. , letter to Francis Dodd (18th November, 1918)
‘It has been a wonderful progress eastwards, always coming into new towns and villages where the people rushed out, and shook hands and kissed us and sometimes offered us pieces of bread, thinking we must be half-starved like themselves and the German troops.’ This is a good example of how the civilians felt when the British men returned home. They were very excited and grateful to see their loved ones.
Overall the attitude of the soldiers and the civilians changed towards the war and towards their enemy throughout 1914-18. At the start of the war the feeling was the same for the soldiers and the civilians. However during the war many factors affected the difference in morale of the soldiers and the civilians. The use of D.O.R.A and W.P.B by the government allowed them to hide the truth from the civilians, while the soldiers were fighting in the war and saw the reality of it firsthand.