How Did the First World War Affect Britain

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The First World War was a global war centred in Europe that began from 1914 and lasted until 1918. It probably involved most of nations in the world, which were divided into two opposing alliances: the Allies and the Central Powers (Willmott, 2003:10-11). Eventually, on 11 November 1918, Germany signed an armistice, and Allies won the war. As a consequence, the First World War not only transformed the world force pattern, but also generated many problems that affected nations’ development all over the world. Britain was also affected immediately by the war in terms of British society, politics and economy. This essay will focus on the impacts of the war in aspect of British post-war economy. Firstly, the essay will examine that due to the depression of traditional industries, British economy experienced a further recession after the war. Secondly, it will discuss that how the war changed British global economic standing. Thirdly, it will explain the impact of the war on overseas investment and trade. This essay will evaluate that, despite Britain won the First World War eventually, it paid a heavy price that affected its development during the following years.

The First World War brought a huge effect to European countries, as well as affecting the Great Britain that resulted in a huge amount of people and material losses. According to Nicholson (2001:248), in the First World War, the Great Britain mobilized about 5.4 million people into the war, approximately 700 thousand solders were killed, and 1.66 million were wounded; furthermore, 35.3 billion dollars was consumed by the war, and the total shipping lost was roughly to 8 million tons.

Britain probably was one of the beneficiaries in the world that benefit most from the industrialization, and traditional industry had always been a strong support for the GDB in Britain during that time. In 1875, 47 per cent of pig iron and 40 per cent of steel in the world was contributed by Britain; and the United States was Britain’s biggest importer, which imported 40 per cent of British output; 20 years later in 1896, the world production of pig iron and steel in Britain decreased dramatically to 29 per cent and 22.5 per cent, and little was exported to the United States (Carr and Taplin, 1962:164-166). After the First World War, the productivity of many traditional industries saw a dramatic decline, for instance, the coal, steel, textile, manufacturing, and metallurgical industry. More specifically, according to Medlicott (1967:125), the output of pig iron in Britain started from 10.3 million tons in 1913 declined to only 2.3 million tons in 1925; by contrast, Germany started as same as Britain in 1913, increased to 10.7 million tons in 1925; and to the United States, the output saw a gradual increase from 31.46 million tons in 1913 to 37.29 million tons in 1925. Furthermore, the annual average rate of industrial growth in Britain was 1.7 per cent from 1921 to 1929, and the Germany was accounting for 7.1 per cent at the meantime. Admittedly, due to the First World War, the economic depression had affected the development of Britain for a long time. Although the industrial output recovered to 1913’s standard in 1929, traditional industry was still weaker than pre-war days (Greaves, 2007:146).

However, the bad performance of Britain’s staple industries was not the main problem for the world economy, neither for Britain economy. During the First World War, new industries had developed, for instance motor vehicles, light engineering and service industries that mainly served the local people (Greaves, 2007:147). According to Brown and Fraser (2010:455), in the rural area, many tenant farmers did well during the war, tending to be main consumers of expensive motor cars and building their owns’ facilities for entertainment, due to rural labourers’ earnings had increased dramatically since 1914. As a consequence, British economy was composed of successful new industries and...
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