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The Course of War Concerning Britain

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2.2The Course of War Concerning Britain

Between August 12 and 17, 1914 five divisions of the British Expeditionary Force arrived in France. On August 24 at Mons they experienced the first full impact of the enemy. Kitchener realized that the force of the British Expeditionary Forces consisting of six infantry divisions and four cavalry brigades would be inadequate for a long conflict. Already on August 7, 1914 he launched an appeal to increase the sense of duty that would lead to larger numbers in enlistment. In September a public notice of Lord Kitchener with the well-known slogan “Your country needs you” (see Fig.8) and another series of posters helped to achieve a boost in recruitment when, for example, on September 3, a record number of 33,204 men joined the army in a single day. (Simkins, n.d.). Paxman in his documentary presents the fact that originally people in Britain possessed very little information about the course of events on the front, but on August 30, the Times brought a report about a big defeat and a huge death toll. At the end of the article a sentence stated: The British Expeditionary Force has suffered terrible losses and requires immediate and immense reinforcement. After that, the previously mentioned poster campaign was launched. Recruitment centres were all over the country and by Christmas over one million men volunteered. (Britain's Great War - 1: War Comes To Britain, 2014).

In spite of an initial retreat, it has been decided that the regiments would not withdraw, which contributed to the victory of the Marne. This victory ruined all German hopes for a quick victory on the western front. Other battles followed, such as Aisne or Ypres and Sir John Fisher wrote to the King: “The Battle of the Aisne is very typical of what battles in the future are most likely to resemble. Siege operations will enter largely into tactical problems and the spade will be as great a necessity as the rifle.” By the middle of September 1914 the deadlock that would last another four long years began. (Nicolson, 1952, p.259).

Britain depended on the interminable flow of trade to feed the nation and to make a profit from their natural resources such as coal and iron. The planners and observers recognized the power of Germany´s growing navy and proposed a plan to prevent Germany from making a blockade of their country. (Janicki, 2014) The first stage of this plan called the observation blockade was based on relocating the fast moving vessels to the middle of the North Sea and then close to the Holland coast to monitor the boats trying to get through the blockade. The second one called the distant blockade was based on blocking two entrances into the North Sea – between the Dover Straits and France and between Norway and Scotland. Britain did not implement this strategy at the moment of the outbreak. In November 1914 the German cruisers were spotted trying to lay mines off the coast of England and this led to the full execution of the blockade. Robbins adds (1984, p.95) that Germany on the other hand declared the waters around the British Isles the “war zone” and started sinking the British ships. The use of submarines allowed Germany to attack the merchant vessels without any warning. In 1915 the German submarines sank nearly three quarters of a million tons of shipping goods. Allied shipping losses doubled the next year and Britain and her allies realized the impossibility to replace them.

“The year 1915 was disastrous to the cause of the Allies and the whole world.” commented Winston Churchill. (Nicolson, 1952, p.265). The Battle of Dardanelles proved to be a huge disaster and by December all British forces were withdrawn from that area. There were heavy losses on the Western Front as well as on the Eastern one.

The year 1916 was another year full of disappointment and danger. On February 21, the Germans opened their attack on Verdun; on June 1 the news of the losses in the Battle of Jutland reached the country, on July 1 began the long ordeal of the Somme; in August Romania entered the war on the side with the Allies just to be defeated only within four months. In September it became obvious that the Russian armies were not capable of any further operations. The ordinary citizen, alarmed by the heavy losses, air-raids and food shortages, became anxious. (Nicolson, 1984, p.271). In December 1916 American President Wilson drafted the Peace Note, which contained a phrase that the Allied populations objected. The cause and objects of the war are obscure. It was later changed to the objects which the belligerents on both sides have in mind are virtually the same. This upset the British people as it seemed to locate them to the same place as German aggressors. “The King, according to Mr. Page, was so angered that he wept while expressing his surprise and depression.” (Nicolson, 1984, p.297). An agreement proved to be impossible.

At the beginning of 1917 Germany believed that the only way to win the war was to starve Great Britain. In February the Germans announced an unrestricted blockade on Great Britain even though they knew it would lead to the United States entering the war. In April the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany. During the same month 900,000 tons of the Allies shipping were sunk. In reaction the Allies engaged in the convoy system and by November their losses decreased by 650,000 tons. (Hanak, 1962, p.235). This system was based on escorting a service of accompanying vessels for individual ships. “These escorts not only guarded against surface gunfire attacks, but also dropped depth charges in areas where German 'U-boats' were known to operate. The convoy system resulted in a rapid decrease in German attacks on Allied shipping during the last 17 months of the war.” (Convoy System, n.d.). In 1917 General Foch was appointed “Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces” which proved General Wilson´s discretion of 1909 to be correct. The same year the revolution abolished the autocratic system in Russia and the Tsar abdicated. In August Pope Benedict XIV drafted the proposal of peace asking George V to forward it to the government of France, Italy and the United States but it did not result in any further conclusion. (Nicolson, p.315).
Germany and the Allies both saw the Vatican as prejudiced toward the other, and neither was at that point prepared to accept anything less than a complete victory. According to one Allied leader, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, German intransigence had made peace along the lines suggested by the pope—a return to the status quo, in Wilson’s eyes—utterly impossible. The object of the war, Wilson stated in his reply to the Vatican on August 27, 1917, was now to "deliver the free peoples of the world from the menace and the actual power of a vast military establishment controlled by an irresponsible Government." (Central Powers response to Papal Peace Note, 2015.)
March 21, 1918 the Germans began their final offensive. One week later George V arrived in France to visit the soldiers, traveling 315 miles in three days and came back home with a great deal of anxiety. At the beginning of June he wrote to Queen Alexandra „I am grateful for your prayers; they are a comfort to me & I fear more lie ahead of us. But we must be courageous & go on to the end, however long it may take, as I shall never submit to those brutal Germans & I am sure the British Nation is of the same opinion” (Nicolson, p.323). Germans executed their final attack on July 18 that was supposed to bring them victory, but it did not. By summer 1918 a record number of munitions originating from Britain came to the front, the German aircrafts were outnumbered by the Allied ones and by June 1918 the stalemate was over. (Britain's Great War - 4: At Eleventh Hour, 2014). On August 7, George V visited the Western Front for the fifth time. The next day the British Fourth Army broke through the German lines and another successful attack of the French and British Armies followed. In September the American Army defeated the enemy at St. Mihiel. On October 3, the German government addressed an appeal for armistice to American President Wilson. After other defeats Turkey capitulated on October 30 and Austria signed the armistice on November 4.

On November 7, 1918, the General Army Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg and the Supreme Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch started to discuss the time and place for formal negotiations. Germany agreed to negotiate only the Fourteen Points suggested by U.S. President Wilson, but the Allies insisted on Germany disarming itself. Germany submitted formal protests, but on Monday morning, November 11 1918, at 5 o’clock the armistice was signed by Marshal of France Ferdinand Foch, First Sea Lord Admiral Rosslyn Wemyss, Count Alfred von Oberndorff, Major Geberal Detlof von Winterfeldt, Captain Ernst Vanselow and Matthias Erzberger and came into effect six hours later at 11 o´clock. (Duffy, 2009d).

2.2.1Home Front

On August 8, 1914 the Defence of The Realm Act was passed through Parliament giving the government power to secure public safety. The Act included the regulations to prevent spread of false reports and providing any help to Britain´s enemy, securing the safety of His Majesty´s army and the navigations of the vessels. It allowed the government to issue regulations related to criminal offences or to requisite properties or land required for the war effort. (Defence of the Realm Act., n.d.).

As early as December 16, 1914, for the first time the civilians were targeted when the Germans raided the Yorkshire coast. The King commented in his diary “Yesterday morning, four large German cruisers, it being foggy, appeared off the east coast of Yorkshire about 8 o´clock & shelled Hartlepool & Scarborough for 40 minutes, doing considerable damage, killing about 40 women, children & civilians and maiming & wounding about 400. This is German kultur.”(Nicolson, 1952, p.257).

During the war the food shortage became a huge issue. The King became aware of that and in consequence of having seen long queues in Deptford14, he directed Lord Stamford to contact Downing Street and emphasize that while the poor struggle for food, the richer part of the society does not suffer at all. When Prime Minister Lloyd George recommended cutting a budget for Buckingham Palace, the King agreed and took other measures; the light, heat and water consumptions were limited. With increased drinking among the working class, the King published a notice claiming that the royal family would not consume any alcohol so the liqueurs and wine disappeared from his menu. The entry in his diary reads “This morning, we have all became teetotallers until the end of the war. I have done it as an example, as there is a lot of drinking going on in the country. I hate doing it, but hope it will do good.” (Nicolson, 1984, p.262). He stopped wearing his tail coats and top hats, changed them for his home suits and black or grey bowlers and spent the rest of the war in his uniform (battle dress). As the theatres closed, he shut down Balmoral Castle and the gardens in Frogmore Gardens at Windsor were used for growing potatoes, which he occasionally hoed. (Clayová, 2006, p.321).

In reaction to food shortage, the King issued the Royal Proclamation in May 1917. It aimed to reduce the consumption of wheat. (Britain´s Great War: The Darkest Hour, 2014). It stated:
… Our Royal Proclamation, most earnestly exhorting and charging all those of our loving subjects, the men and women of Our realm who have the means to procure articles of food other than wheat and corn, as they tender their immediate interests and feel for the want of others, especially to practice the greatest economy and frugality in the use of every species of grain; And We do for this purpose more particularly exhort and charge al heads of households to reduce the consumption of bread in their respective families by at least one-fourth of the quantity consumed in ordinary times;. To abstain from the use of flour in pastry, and moreover carefully to restrict, or wherever possible to abandon, the use thereof in all other articles than bread; - And We do also in like manner exhort and charge all persons who keep horses to abandon the practice of feeding the same on oats or other grain, unless they shall have received from Our Food Controller a licence to feed horses on oats or other grain, to be given only in cases where it is necessary to do so with a view to maintain the breed of horses in the national interest… (Proclamation, n.d).
By the end of the year 1915 it became evident that the number of soldiers was still inadequate. On January 5, 1916 the first military conscription bill was introduced to the Parliament by Prime Minister Asquith. It came into effect on February 10 as the Military Service Act and concerned all single men aged between 18 and 41 with exemptions for married men, teachers, certain industrial workers, clergymen and also for those who did not pass the medical examination. The second conscription in April 1916 involved married men and in the last months of the conflict the age limit was raised to 51. (Conscription: The First World War., n.d.). In August the Ambassador of the United States found the King “looking ten years older”. George V reported in his private letter to his wife, Queen Alexandra “I am not too tired. In these days I must go about & see as many people as possible & so encourage them in their work. They appreciate it, I believe, & I am quite ready to sacrifice myself if necessary, as long as we win this war…” (Nicolson, 1984, p.316).

The British nation was forced to endure some serious measures imposed by the government. Throughout that time they were motivated significantly by their sovereign who showed an immense deal of commitment to his subjects.

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