First World War Galleries Table of contents

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The whole nation’s war

This War it was not a soldier’s or civilian’s war, but the whole nation’s war.

Edwin Montagu, British Minister of Munitions
By 1917 the British people were suffering the harsh realities of war, but remained determined to win.
As more men were called away to the Front, Women, even children, took their place in the workforce. Before the war many women were employed in textile factories or as maids or cooks.
Now they worked in war industries, on farms and in offices. Some served in the new uniformed women’s military services. This was revolutionary.
How else did people help the fight?
People gave money to aid the war effort. They donated to war charities and raised funds for weapons.
But by 1917 the strain of war was beginning to tell. A steep rise in the cost of living, long working hours and often tough workplace conditions led to a wave of strikes.

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The poster to your right offers young women war work at the new Ministry of Food.
Many female office workers relished the opportunities provided by earning their own money.
The London ‘Evening Standard’ reported that, ‘The majority of girl clerks...have become accustomed to a life of useful work’. Many women did not look forward to giving up their jobs when the men returned from war.
Malins and Sellers letters

These letters were exchanged between Lieutenant Frederic Sellers and his girlfriend, Grace Malin.
Sellers had been invalided home with a wound to the hand. Many soldiers craved a ‘Blighty wound’ such as his, which was neither life-threatening nor disfiguring but meant a return to Britain.
When they were fit again, men such as Lieutenant Sellers were sent back to the Front.
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Convalescent soldiers in hospital blues at the Palace Theatre, London

Brighton pavilion book

This booklet, in English, Gurmukhi and Urdu, shows the Royal Pavilion in Brighton being used as a hospital for wounded Indian soldiers.
It was hoped they would feel at home amongst the Pavilion’s oriental architecture.
The hospital strictly observed the differing religious requirements of the 4,300 Hindu, Muslim and Sikh troops treated there. Failure to observe those requirements might have harmed Indian support for the war.
Wooden toy figures

These wooden toy figures were made by disabled ex-soldiers employed in Lord Roberts Memorial Workshops.
One fundraiser for the workshops in Eastbourne wrote in a local newspaper that their purpose was to give, ‘the broken soldier the opportunity to learn and work at a trade suitable to his disability...make him self-supporting and free from the stigma of charity’.

This diary was written by Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse Betty Ruthven Smith, who worked at war hospitals in Bath and Windlesham, Surrey.
The authorities recognised the importance of female nurses in raising the spirits of male patients, particularly Empire troops thousands of miles from home.
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By 1917 the number of visibly wounded soldiers in Britain meant that nobody could ignore the human cost of the war.
Disability, once largely confined to the poor and undernourished, now affected thousands of otherwise healthy young men. Many had lost limbs or were horribly disfigured.
Wounded soldiers were treated as heroes. But their sheer number put a huge strain on medical services.


These crutches were used by Private Frederick Mann, whose right leg was amputated after he was wounded on 25 September 1917. Over a million British and Empire troops were evacuated from the Western Front to Britain for medical treatment. 240,000 of them suffered partial or total amputation of an arm or leg.

VAD uniform and poster

This is a women’s Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) uniform. The VAD was the largest of the wartime organisations which provided nurses and orderlies at home and on the fighting fronts. Many of the VAD’s 70,000 volunteers were young middle- and upper-class women, although some were men. They encountered a scale and intensity of pain and suffering for which their comfortable upbringings could not have prepared them.

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Hospital blues & photo

Wounded soldiers in Britain’s hospitals and convalescent homes had to wear ‘hospital blues’. These showed local people that any man wearing them had had been wounded serving his country. The example here is an approved War Office ‘sealed pattern’ which manufacturers had to copy. Civilians often arranged entertainment for wounded servicemen as a token of appreciation.

Blue overall

This blue overall, which protected clothing from ink stains, was worn by female typists working at the War Office.
Women had worked in office jobs before the war, but, with so many male office workers enlisting in the Army, their numbers more than tripled.
Uniform, hat and bag

The sight of so many women wearing practical trousers and overalls was quite new.
This is the uniform, with gaiters, of a female van driver for the Midland Railway. The hat and bag next to it were part of the uniform for the first women tram conductors in Britain. They were employed by the Glasgow Tram Company.
Unlike office workers, many of the women on the railways, trams and buses were working class.
Khaki hat and overall

The pale khaki hat and overall with the badge on the left lapel was worn by members of the Women’s Land Army (WLA).
The 113,000 women who joined the WLA became farm labourers. The work was exhausting, dirty and badly paid.
WLA organisers cautioned Land Girls that ‘you should take care to behave like an English girl’. But many farming communities suspected women workers of loose morals.
Wrens hat and photo

This Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) blue and white hat was part of the uniform worn by ‘Wrens’.
The WRNS was formed in November 1917 In April 1918 a Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) was also established.
Over 100,000 women joined Britain’s armed forces during the war. Most who enlisted in the WRNS and WRAF were middle class, while those who joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps tended to be working class.
Khaki hat, khaki coat, skirt

The khaki hat with the ‘WAAC’ badge, khaki coat and skirt was worn by the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, established in March 1917.
The British Army’s very first women soldiers, the WAACs took on duties such as bakers, cooks, clerks and drivers, releasing men to fight.
Also shown here are an identity tag and bracelet worn by Rosa Cooke, a WAAC driver whose soldier husband had been killed in 1916.
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‘Wrens’ undergo rifle instruction, Crystal Palace, London

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Just as adults across Britain were mobilised to work for and defend their country, so too were children.
War invaded the classroom, even playtime. Children, many of them younger than the school leaving age of 12 worked in factories and on farms.
In August 1917 Education Minister HAL Fisher expressed concern that 600,000 children had been put ‘prematurely’ to work. With so many fathers away fighting, often on low army pay, a child’s earnings could provide much needed income.
Certificate and photo

The London schoolchildren in the photograph above are queuing to donate their pocket money or earnings to a war savings association which collected for charity.
Among the causes for which these children had already raised funds were St Dunstan’s Hostel for blinded ex-servicemen and the Blue Cross for sick and injured animals.
Such generosity was rewarded with certificates such as those shown here.
Soldier doll

This British soldier-doll, the ‘Unconscious Doll Exerciser’, was invented by a bodybuilder.
By manipulating its sprung limbs, children were meant to build up their strength.
‘The Times’ reported an officer saying, ‘this toy had the advantage of exercising the muscles of children in a very beneficial way’. He added that fighting in nursery schools was to be encouraged, ‘If they did not learn to fight then, they never would’.
Sea Scout’s jumper

The boy who wore this Sea Scout’s jumper was awarded a badge, seen here just below the neck, for coastwatching.
Coastwatchers had to keep a sharp lookout for German spies and saboteurs landing by sea, and even a possible invasion.
The Scout movement’s handbook instructed all Scouts, ‘Be prepared … to die for your country if need be’.
Children’s books

Even Britain’s very youngest citizens were left in no doubt as to the momentous and historic events they were living through, as these children’s books show.
For many children the war was an exciting and colourful event, and publishers had a ready audience for both fact and fiction.
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Pupils at a school in Willesden, London, contribute to war savings

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Girl Guides making cotton swabs for treating the wounded.

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A Boy Scout sounding the ‘all clear’ after an air raid

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By 1917 Britain’s war spending had quadrupled in two years to nearly 70 per cent of its economic output. Every shell and bullet cost money.
Every one of 5 million soldiers had to be equipped, fed, and transported. Every soldier, sailor and war worker had to be paid.
The government called upon the goodwill of its people to lend money. But it also had to impose tax increases and borrow heavily from other countries, mainly from the United States.
Punch magazine cartoon

This ‘Punch’ magazine cartoon was published during a wave of strikes in 1917.
Although the government at first feared that anti-war feeling might be the cause, the real reasons for discontent were steep rises in the cost of living, long hours and tough working conditions.
Rather than crush the strikes, the government calmed the situation by granting ‘war bonuses’ to male workers in war industries.
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A chalked message in a shipyard on the River Clyde, Scotland

War loan posters

The war loan posters here, from Britain and Australia, encouraged people to invest in victory by lending their money to their governments.
Lenders were promised that they would get their money back, with generous interest, when Germany was defeated.
But in 1917 it was by no means certain that the Allies would be victorious or that, with national debts mounting, people would be repaid for their support.
War saving certificates, leaflet and stamps

The National War Savings Committee was established in 1916.
It made lending to the government more affordable by offering war savings certificates for small sums of money. Now the less well-off could ‘buy Victory and Peace’, as the leaflet explains. Those children of wealthier parents who bought sixpenny war savings stamps were given highly collectable stamps such as those shown here.

Ethel Bilbrough, from Chislehurst, Kent, wrote in her diary about taxation and the strain upon household budgets. During the war the basic tax rate rose from 6 to 30 per cent. The number of people who paid tax tripled to 3.5 million. In this May 1915 diary entry, Bilbrough records that the war was costing the country £3 million every day. Two years later it was costing well over double that amount.

Tank-shaped moneyboxes

New fighting machines such as the tank inspired the public, and these tank-shaped money boxes were designed to capitalise on that enthusiasm and encourage people to save.
Real tanks were also displayed around the country selling bonds to raise money. They gave people the chance to see the new wonder-weapons their savings were paying for. One ‘Tank Week’ in Glasgow raised the amazing sum of £14 million.

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