The impact of volunteering and conscription on Britain during the First World War
Volunteering and conscription both played very big roles in the lives of the British population during the war, and for a long time after it was over. The war itself had a huge impact on both society and the economy of Britain, so it is not surprising that volunteering and conscription both had a profound impact on the British people. The war broke out on the 3rd of August 1914, and Britain only had a small professional army. It needed a much larger one to fight such a large scale war. It was obvious that it needed to expand quickly, so the government immediately began a massive recruitment drive with posters, leaflets, recruitment offices in every town and stirring speeches by government ministers. The recruitment campaign was highly successful, gaining half a million recruits in the first month. By 1916 over 2 million British men had been recruited. Why were so many so keen to join? The year 1914 witnessed a heady rush of patriotic optimism nationwide, fuelled further by tales of German atrocities. Many people also believed that, even if the war would not be over by Christmas, that it would nonetheless be relatively short. Consequently, army service promised opportunities, excitement and travel denied to most Britons of the time. This large surge of volunteers meant that many jobs were being abandoned, and soon there was a shortage of civilian men that could work. The first real battle the volunteers fought at was the Battle of the Somme, on the 1st of July 1916. For many it would also be their last. The first day of the Somme was disastrous. The preceding artillery barrage had failed to destroy the heavily fortified German trenches and, in many cases, had not even cut their barbed wire defenses. Military commanders, concerned with maintaining discipline in their new volunteer army, instructed them to walk in formation towards German lines when the attack began. In the event,...
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