Learning Zone Britain's Great War


Learning Zone

In this version of the BBC One series made especially for schools, Jeremy Paxman traces the effects of the First World War on Britain.


Similar Content

Browse content similar to Learning Zone. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!

Transcript


LineFromTo

It was August the 4th, 1914.

0:00:370:00:40

The clock was ticking to catastrophe.

0:00:400:00:42

The deadline was midnight, Central European Time,

0:00:450:00:48

11 o'clock in London.

0:00:480:00:50

Britain and Germany were on the brink of war.

0:00:500:00:53

Germany's ruler, Kaiser Wilhelm II,

0:00:580:01:01

wanted to extend his empire.

0:01:010:01:03

German troops were already on the march through Europe

0:01:060:01:09

and had invaded Belgium.

0:01:090:01:11

He also planned to conquer Russia and France.

0:01:120:01:16

The British Government had warned

0:01:180:01:20

that, if Germany didn't back down by 11:00pm, it was war.

0:01:200:01:23

LOUD TICKING

0:01:260:01:28

The Cabinet and the nation held its breath.

0:01:340:01:37

From Germany, silence.

0:01:400:01:43

Then the sound of the apocalypse.

0:01:520:01:54

-BELL CHIMES

-Doom.

0:01:570:01:59

-BELL CHIMES

-Doom.

0:02:010:02:03

-BELL CHIMES

-Doom.

0:02:040:02:06

"The big clock..." wrote Chancellor of the Exchequer,

0:02:060:02:09

David Lloyd George, "..echoed in our ears like the hammer of destiny."

0:02:090:02:14

There was now no going back.

0:02:200:02:23

At 11:20pm, British forces were sent the fateful telegram

0:02:230:02:26

which read simply, "War Germany Act".

0:02:260:02:31

In the hours leading up to the fateful deadline,

0:02:370:02:40

thousands of people had drifted towards Buckingham Palace

0:02:400:02:44

hoping to catch sight of their King, George V.

0:02:440:02:47

Silence fell upon the crowd.

0:02:490:02:51

Now and again there was a surge of cheering

0:02:540:02:58

and a mass chorus of the national anthem.

0:02:580:03:00

CHEERING

0:03:000:03:02

They stayed on long after nightfall.

0:03:050:03:08

They reckon there were about 10,000 people here that night

0:03:110:03:14

but they weren't baying for German blood.

0:03:140:03:17

It's often claimed the British were naively enthusiastic about war.

0:03:170:03:22

They weren't.

0:03:220:03:24

There was a general sense of excitement

0:03:240:03:27

once war had been declared, but there was anxiety too.

0:03:270:03:30

With an army of over two million soldiers

0:03:340:03:36

primed for a lightning campaign,

0:03:360:03:39

the Germans would be a fearsome enemy which could only be stopped

0:03:390:03:43

by even more fearsome force.

0:03:430:03:45

But even though the entire British Army numbered only 120,000 men

0:03:510:03:57

many people still expected a quick victory

0:03:570:04:00

when troops set off for the Continent on August the 9th.

0:04:000:04:03

"We had great hopes..." recalled one Irish soldier,

0:04:070:04:10

"..a dose of that rapid fire of ours

0:04:100:04:13

"followed by an Irish bayonet charge would soon fix things."

0:04:130:04:17

Most people seemed to have accepted that the war had to be fought

0:04:200:04:24

to honour treaties, to defend the Empire, to protect Britain.

0:04:240:04:29

And what else were they supposed to do?

0:04:290:04:32

To sit by and watch as Germany amassed an empire

0:04:320:04:37

that ran from somewhere deep in Russia

0:04:370:04:39

to the shores of the English Channel?

0:04:390:04:42

Now war had broken out, almost everyone backed it.

0:04:460:04:49

Most trade unions suspended strikes, which had been common -

0:04:530:04:56

their men went back to work supporting the war effort.

0:04:560:05:01

This, they were told, would be the war to end war...

0:05:030:05:07

..and almost overnight the British people united

0:05:090:05:12

in determination to defeat the enemy.

0:05:120:05:14

What they couldn't know was that this would be a new kind of war,

0:05:240:05:29

one that was fought at home as well as abroad.

0:05:290:05:31

It was a war that would affect every area of life in Britain.

0:05:330:05:37

No-one - grandparent or child, blacksmith or aristocrat,

0:05:390:05:42

boy scout or school girl -

0:05:420:05:44

no-one escaped the furnace of this total war...

0:05:440:05:49

..a war that would forge the country we know today.

0:05:500:05:53

When Britain declared war on Germany on August the 4th, 1914,

0:06:060:06:10

the British public hoped for a quick victory.

0:06:100:06:13

By mid August, British troops were making their way through France

0:06:210:06:24

and Belgium towards the enemy.

0:06:240:06:27

They were often greeted as heroes by the local people.

0:06:280:06:32

"It was a blissful period", remembered one soldier,

0:06:350:06:39

"Roses all the way", said another.

0:06:390:06:41

They were well trained and well equipped,

0:06:530:06:56

but there were far too few of them.

0:06:560:06:58

Britain's regular army was pitifully small.

0:07:000:07:02

Two thirds of it, a mere 80,000 professional soldiers,

0:07:040:07:07

had crossed the Channel.

0:07:070:07:10

Side by side with their French allies,

0:07:100:07:12

they were about to clash with the far stronger forces

0:07:120:07:15

of the invading Germans around the Belgian town of Mons.

0:07:150:07:19

In the town square, some of the soldiers

0:07:330:07:36

took a break before battle began.

0:07:360:07:38

Many of these men would never see their homes again.

0:07:420:07:46

The first British soldier to be killed

0:07:560:07:59

probably shouldn't have been here at all.

0:07:590:08:02

Private John Parr was a former golf caddy from North London

0:08:020:08:06

who joined the Army to better himself.

0:08:060:08:09

He was out on a bicycle reconnaissance patrol,

0:08:090:08:13

when he was killed in an ambush.

0:08:130:08:16

That was on August the 21st,

0:08:220:08:24

two days later, World War One began in earnest.

0:08:240:08:28

As the Germans launched a full-scale assault,

0:08:380:08:41

this canal became part of a long and bloody battle front.

0:08:410:08:45

The British fought bravely,

0:08:480:08:50

indeed, the first two VCs of the war were won right here,

0:08:500:08:54

but they were forced back and, later that day,

0:08:540:08:57

they had to abandon the town.

0:08:570:08:59

What we call The Battle of Mons

0:08:590:09:01

turned into a long and terrible retreat

0:09:010:09:05

with Britain's finest fighting men facing total annihilation.

0:09:050:09:09

Pursued by the Germans, they pulled back,

0:09:130:09:16

over 200 miles, deep into France.

0:09:160:09:20

They marched 13 days and nights,

0:09:240:09:27

so short of sleep they slept as they marched

0:09:270:09:31

and they dreamed as they walked.

0:09:310:09:33

This gruelling retreat

0:09:370:09:39

saved the core of the British Army from disaster

0:09:390:09:44

and it gave rise to one of the most famous stories of the war,

0:09:440:09:48

the miracle of how they were rescued by heavenly guardians,

0:09:480:09:52

the Angels of Mons, blocking the Germans' path

0:09:520:09:56

and guiding our boys to safety.

0:09:560:09:59

There's one very simple explanation for the Angels of Mons.

0:10:030:10:08

Exhaustion.

0:10:080:10:10

"March, march, march for hour after hour without a halt",

0:10:100:10:15

one private remembered, "very nearly everyone was seeing things,

0:10:150:10:19

"we were all dead beat."

0:10:190:10:22

There was no angel,

0:10:220:10:24

but there had been a humbling defeat.

0:10:240:10:27

The British public was about to register

0:10:320:10:35

the first great shock of World War One.

0:10:350:10:38

For a week, little news of the Battle of Mons had filtered home,

0:10:500:10:54

all press reports were strictly censored.

0:10:540:10:57

But then, on August the 30th,

0:11:000:11:02

The Times printed a brutally frank account of the battle

0:11:020:11:06

and the retreat.

0:11:060:11:08

"Broken British regiments,

0:11:100:11:12

"German tidal wave.

0:11:120:11:16

"Our losses are very great",

0:11:160:11:18

writes the reporter. "I have seen broken bits of many regiments".

0:11:180:11:25

Now, it was amazing that the Army's censor had allowed this through,

0:11:250:11:28

but what was even MORE astonishing

0:11:280:11:31

were the words he added afterwards.

0:11:310:11:34

"The first great German offensive has succeeded,

0:11:340:11:39

"the British Army has suffered terrible losses

0:11:390:11:43

"and requires immense and immediate reinforcements,

0:11:430:11:47

"it needs men, men and more men."

0:11:470:11:52

In less than a month, it had become clear

0:11:570:12:00

that World War One would NOT be ended by a quick victory.

0:12:000:12:04

What was less clear to the British people

0:12:080:12:10

was the huge numbers of men that would be needed to fight this war

0:12:100:12:15

and the impact it would have on their families and communities.

0:12:150:12:19

They were about to find out.

0:12:220:12:24

Following the heavy defeat at Mons

0:12:350:12:38

and subsequent retreat in the autumn of 1914,

0:12:380:12:41

the drive to recruit more men

0:12:410:12:43

was led by the most famous soldier alive,

0:12:430:12:47

Herbert Horatio, Lord Kitchener, the new Minister of War.

0:12:470:12:52

He'd realised that Britain could only win the war

0:12:560:12:59

by creating a massive new Army.

0:12:590:13:02

Elsewhere in Europe, they forced young men into uniform.

0:13:050:13:10

Kitchener's new soldiers would be volunteers

0:13:100:13:13

and he was the perfect figurehead to rally the men of Britain.

0:13:130:13:17

Targeting all able-bodied young men over five foot three,

0:13:220:13:26

Kitchener launched a recruitment campaign.

0:13:260:13:29

It began with a massive poster offensive.

0:13:310:13:34

12 million published in one year alone.

0:13:370:13:40

Many appealed to national duty.

0:13:420:13:45

Some to virility.

0:13:480:13:49

Some played on guilt.

0:13:530:13:55

Others on fear of invasion.

0:13:580:14:02

This was an unprecedented campaign of mass persuasion by the state.

0:14:020:14:08

Most of the time, most of the press were right behind the government.

0:14:100:14:14

In late August, for example, an advertisement appeared in The Times,

0:14:140:14:19

"Wanted. Petticoats.

0:14:190:14:22

"For able-bodied young men who have not yet joined the Army".

0:14:220:14:26

Recruiting centres were set up all over Britain.

0:14:290:14:32

Joining up was a very public business.

0:14:350:14:38

Streets were cordoned off.

0:14:400:14:42

Military bands played.

0:14:440:14:46

Volunteers made speeches.

0:14:490:14:51

Fevered enthusiasm swept the land

0:14:530:14:56

with 20,000 men volunteering every day.

0:14:560:14:59

On the 3rd of September, 1914, more young men joined

0:15:050:15:09

than on any other day of the war,

0:15:090:15:11

over 33,000 of them heeding Lord Kitchener's call.

0:15:110:15:16

You really can't fail to be impressed

0:15:210:15:23

by this massive rush to arms.

0:15:230:15:26

While nobody knew for certain the full horror that awaited them,

0:15:260:15:30

there were plenty of people who had some idea, yet still they came.

0:15:300:15:35

They did so for all sorts of reasons,

0:15:350:15:37

but the most prominent among them seems to have been

0:15:370:15:40

a sense of patriotic duty.

0:15:400:15:43

Before they left Britain for battle,

0:15:490:15:52

volunteers faced at least six months training,

0:15:520:15:55

but this didn't turn out as they'd expected.

0:15:550:15:58

At first, the Army simply couldn't keep up with the rush of men.

0:16:010:16:07

Some had to train in their own clothes,

0:16:070:16:09

with caps for helmets or broom handles for rifles.

0:16:090:16:13

One unit's practise attack came to a halt

0:16:160:16:19

when the volunteers went off to pick blackberries,

0:16:190:16:23

a senior officer claimed they were the laughing stock

0:16:230:16:26

of every soldier in Europe.

0:16:260:16:29

"We were play acting", said one volunteer.

0:16:320:16:35

"It required a lot of confidence to remember

0:16:350:16:38

"we were training to face the gigantic German war machine."

0:16:380:16:42

But Kitchener persisted.

0:16:500:16:52

That autumn, to boost the number of volunteers still further,

0:16:520:16:56

he bagged a bold new idea.

0:16:560:17:00

Join up with your friends.

0:17:000:17:03

After all, it'd be much less frightening,

0:17:030:17:06

if you knew you were going to war with your pals.

0:17:060:17:09

The so-called Pals Battalions were comprised of men

0:17:120:17:16

from the same area, club, background or profession.

0:17:160:17:20

There were battalions for artists,

0:17:230:17:26

for railway men, for city stockbrokers.

0:17:260:17:29

There were battalions for men under five foot three,

0:17:310:17:35

many of them sturdy miners.

0:17:350:17:38

The first Sportsmen's Battalion included several county cricketers,

0:17:390:17:44

plus England's lightweight boxing champion.

0:17:440:17:47

But men who joined together, often died together

0:17:510:17:55

and the effect on communities at home would be devastating.

0:17:550:17:59

The war was about to come to Britain itself

0:18:020:18:06

and you didn't have to be in uniform, or even an adult,

0:18:060:18:09

to become a casualty.

0:18:090:18:11

In August 1914, Britain had gone to war against Germany.

0:18:200:18:24

Only five months later, the enemy brought the war to Britain.

0:18:290:18:33

On the North East coast of England,

0:18:400:18:42

the morning of December the 16th, 1914, was still and misty.

0:18:420:18:47

The first signs of anything unusual were the flashes

0:18:520:18:56

coming from unidentified ships several miles out to sea.

0:18:560:19:00

One family realised what was happening

0:19:060:19:08

when a German shell fragment struck the house

0:19:080:19:11

and smashed into the front of the family alarm clock,

0:19:110:19:14

stopping it forever at three minutes past eight.

0:19:140:19:19

It was the start of a ferocious bombardment.

0:19:230:19:26

The people of Hartlepool felt the full horror of modern war.

0:19:290:19:34

Homes were death traps, but so too were these streets.

0:19:400:19:43

The German shells burst on impact,

0:19:430:19:46

sending shards of screaming hot metal, in all directions,

0:19:460:19:50

at hundreds of miles an hour.

0:19:500:19:53

It was the first successful big attack on Britain since 1066.

0:19:560:20:01

Many thought the nightmare of a German invasion had become reality.

0:20:010:20:06

Terrified children had simply no idea what was happening.

0:20:080:20:11

All we could hear is bang, these noisy bangs,

0:20:150:20:19

but see, it was far out to sea,

0:20:190:20:21

it didn't sound like bombs dropping against here.

0:20:210:20:24

What did you think the sound was?

0:20:240:20:26

We didn't know!

0:20:260:20:28

My older sister... My mother shouted her upstairs

0:20:280:20:33

and she said, "I think somebody's beating their carpets,"

0:20:330:20:36

that's what she said.

0:20:360:20:38

So anyway she goes out and she finds out, she says, "Oh, Mum,"

0:20:380:20:42

she come running back, "Mum, the Germans are here,

0:20:420:20:45

"they're on the beach and everybody's running away."

0:20:450:20:50

I went upstairs and looked out the bedroom window.

0:20:500:20:53

I could see big flashes.

0:20:530:20:54

-Out at sea?

-Flashes out at sea, yeah.

0:20:540:20:58

And how were people reacting?

0:20:580:20:59

Oh, crying, and some of them crying, running with the prams and...

0:20:590:21:06

Anyway, there was hardly anybody left in Hartlepool,

0:21:060:21:10

it's all up the country.

0:21:100:21:12

-People were scurrying along outside, were they?

-And then somebody come

0:21:150:21:18

and said, "Oh, somebody's had his head blew off."

0:21:180:21:20

-Well, that frightened me.

-Mm.

0:21:200:21:23

-Somebody had their head blew off.

-Mm.

0:21:230:21:26

What did you, do you remember what you felt? You were seven years old.

0:21:260:21:29

I was horrified, I thought they were coming any minute to the door

0:21:290:21:34

to take us, to kill us.

0:21:340:21:37

I was sitting shivering, I just sat on the end of the bed

0:21:370:21:42

and I was like that, shivering, mm, terrified.

0:21:420:21:46

What, thinking a German might walk through the door?

0:21:460:21:48

I thought they were coming any minute to take us away,

0:21:480:21:51

you know, to get us, yeah.

0:21:510:21:52

The children of Hartlepool were among the many victims

0:22:070:22:10

of Kaiser Wilhelm's navy that day.

0:22:100:22:12

Three members of the Dixon family were killed by a shell

0:22:120:22:17

as they ran for it, holding hands -

0:22:170:22:19

George,

0:22:190:22:21

his sister Margaret,

0:22:210:22:23

and their brother Albert, aged seven.

0:22:230:22:25

Their mother's leg was blown off.

0:22:260:22:29

Suddenly the dead of World War I had different faces -

0:22:340:22:38

the faces of British children.

0:22:380:22:41

For most British people, what happened here

0:22:460:22:49

in the North East that day was a war crime, an atrocity.

0:22:490:22:53

A line had definitely been crossed.

0:22:530:22:57

From now on, civilians in Britain

0:22:570:22:59

knew they too could be in mortal danger.

0:22:590:23:03

Before 1914 was over, the War in Europe had already reached

0:23:180:23:22

a deadly stalemate.

0:23:220:23:24

German and Allied forces faced each other

0:23:260:23:28

across a line of trenches that stretched for over 500 miles -

0:23:280:23:34

what become known as the Western Front.

0:23:340:23:36

Soon, wounded from the front

0:23:430:23:45

were arriving on the south coast in tens of thousands.

0:23:450:23:49

How long could Britain maintain this level of casualties?

0:23:550:23:58

Already the country was calling on soldiers

0:24:030:24:06

from across The British Empire, including men from the Indian Army.

0:24:060:24:11

Many Indian wounded were sent to Brighton

0:24:130:24:16

to be treated in a very unusual temporary hospital.

0:24:160:24:19

The Royal Pavilion had been built long before to evoke India,

0:24:280:24:33

the jewel in Britain's Imperial crown.

0:24:330:24:37

That winter, it looked very different.

0:24:380:24:41

The Pavilion was filled with badly wounded men.

0:25:050:25:09

Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus lay in their hundreds

0:25:090:25:15

beneath the chandeliers of a royal palace.

0:25:150:25:18

Where princes had once dallied and danced,

0:25:240:25:27

row upon row of Indian soldiers.

0:25:270:25:32

The huge Georgian kitchen was an operating theatre.

0:25:360:25:40

The dome nearby was another vast ward, complete with khaki lino.

0:25:440:25:49

All in all, some 4,000 Indians were treated here.

0:25:510:25:55

Every possible care was taken of the men.

0:25:580:26:01

Each religion had its own kitchen

0:26:010:26:04

and, unheard of then in British India, white women nursed Indians.

0:26:040:26:09

One patient wrote to his family in India,

0:26:130:26:17

"Our hospital is in the place where the King used to have his home.

0:26:170:26:21

"The men are tended like flowers."

0:26:210:26:25

In fact, the royal family had sold the Pavilion to Brighton Council

0:26:270:26:31

many years before.

0:26:310:26:33

But if these troops believed the King had vacated it just for them,

0:26:330:26:38

the authorities didn't tell them otherwise.

0:26:380:26:40

And in January 1915, King George V and Queen Mary

0:26:420:26:47

honoured them with a visit.

0:26:470:26:50

King George had come to pay his respects

0:26:520:26:54

to the men who'd served Britain so bravely, so far from home.

0:26:540:26:59

EXPLOSIONS

0:27:020:27:04

World War I had been fought for less than a year.

0:27:060:27:09

All of the suffering, grief, anxiety and fear endured so far -

0:27:120:27:18

all of this was just the start.

0:27:180:27:21

EXPLOSION

0:27:350:27:37

The First World War was the first industrial war.

0:27:370:27:41

Soldiers at the front needed millions of shells,

0:27:410:27:45

bullets and guns, known as munitions.

0:27:450:27:48

In May 1915, David Lloyd George

0:27:520:27:54

was appointed the new Minister in charge of Munitions.

0:27:540:27:59

Lloyd George knew there just weren't enough workers

0:28:010:28:04

to produce what the troops needed.

0:28:040:28:05

He'd have to mobilise a new workforce,

0:28:100:28:14

a new industrial army - the women of Britain.

0:28:140:28:20

Women in the workforce were nothing new,

0:28:240:28:28

but now women began to do jobs which only men had done.

0:28:280:28:32

Suddenly, Britain began to look very different

0:28:340:28:38

on the streets, in the fields and in the factories.

0:28:380:28:44

The biggest change in the fortunes of women

0:28:560:28:58

would take place in a strange, sometimes frightening new world.

0:28:580:29:02

In 1915, this was one of the most dangerous places in Britain.

0:29:170:29:21

It's pretty hard to believe now, but this peaceful place was once alive

0:29:270:29:32

with 6,000 people making explosives for the armies on the front.

0:29:320:29:37

These strange structures were designed to withstand

0:29:400:29:43

accidental blasts.

0:29:430:29:45

Here, the workers, many of them women, mixed deadly nitro-glycerine,

0:29:460:29:51

or made cordite, providing the bang that powered shells and bullets.

0:29:510:29:57

The women were known as Munitionettes.

0:30:010:30:04

The ones who worked at the Royal Gunpowder Mills

0:30:050:30:08

formed just a part of the million-strong female workforce

0:30:080:30:13

employed by Lloyd George's new Ministry of Munitions.

0:30:130:30:17

The experience was exciting, new...

0:30:170:30:22

and dangerous.

0:30:220:30:24

Inevitably, there were casualties.

0:30:260:30:29

This is a photograph of a woman called Charlotte Mead,

0:30:340:30:38

mother of five children,

0:30:380:30:40

with a husband away fighting in France.

0:30:400:30:42

It's taken in a photographer's studio

0:30:420:30:45

where she's posing in munitions factory overalls.

0:30:450:30:49

It's probably just as well it's in black and white, because working in

0:30:490:30:52

close contact with high explosives could do terrible things to you.

0:30:520:30:56

It could, for example, turn your skin yellow.

0:30:560:31:00

Within a year of this photograph being taken,

0:31:010:31:04

she was dead of toxic jaundice -

0:31:040:31:07

not that you could have read about it in the newspapers,

0:31:070:31:11

because the press was banned from reporting such things.

0:31:110:31:15

By the time her husband returned from the front, it was too late.

0:31:150:31:19

The need for munitions was insatiable

0:31:290:31:32

in this relentless total war.

0:31:320:31:35

Meeting that need required the most dramatic

0:31:360:31:39

transformation of production the country had ever seen.

0:31:390:31:42

Lloyd George's impact on the munitions industry was spectacular.

0:31:460:31:51

Within six months, the number of shells being manufactured

0:31:510:31:55

had increased 20-fold.

0:31:550:31:57

Weapons which had previously taken a year to manufacture

0:31:570:32:00

were now being turned out in three weeks.

0:32:000:32:04

In order to win this new industrial war,

0:32:050:32:08

David Lloyd George had called on women to take the place of men.

0:32:080:32:12

A social revolution was under way.

0:32:130:32:16

And it would play a decisive part in helping to win the war.

0:32:190:32:22

SEA BIRDS CALL

0:32:350:32:38

By February 1917, the war was locked in a brutal stalemate.

0:32:410:32:45

The German High Command decided that if they couldn't defeat

0:32:460:32:50

Britain's army, then they would crush her people.

0:32:500:32:55

In the words of the German Kaiser, "We will starve the British people

0:32:570:33:02

"who have refused peace until they kneel and plead for it."

0:33:020:33:08

The plan was to sink the merchant shipping

0:33:080:33:10

which brought the food and supplies on which the country lived.

0:33:100:33:15

The weapon would be the submarine - U-boats.

0:33:150:33:19

On a desolate mud bank in the salt marshes of Kent

0:33:260:33:30

lies the metal carcass of a First World War German U-boat.

0:33:300:33:34

British ships were blockading German ports,

0:33:450:33:49

but the U-boat was a new and terrifying way to wage war,

0:33:490:33:52

and it came close to defeating Britain.

0:33:520:33:55

The Germans knew that Britain imported two-thirds of her food

0:34:000:34:05

and they made a simple calculation.

0:34:050:34:07

If they sank 600,000 tonnes of merchant shipping every month,

0:34:070:34:12

they could starve Britain into submission in a mere five months.

0:34:120:34:16

So on 1st February 1917,

0:34:210:34:24

the Germans sent their U-boats in for the kill,

0:34:240:34:28

ordering them to attack all merchant shipping supplying Britain.

0:34:280:34:33

The devastation in the shipping lanes was catastrophic.

0:34:330:34:37

EXPLOSIONS

0:34:370:34:40

In 1917, 46,000 tonnes of meat was sent to the bottom of the sea.

0:34:480:34:55

Between February and June, 85,000 tonnes of sugar were also sunk.

0:34:550:35:01

Flour and wheat were soon in short supply,

0:35:010:35:04

and a stunned House of Commons was told

0:35:040:35:07

that, very soon, Britain would not be able to feed herself.

0:35:070:35:11

The U-boat stranglehold seemed unbreakable.

0:35:150:35:18

Britain faced a stark choice -

0:35:220:35:24

to grow much more food, or to starve.

0:35:240:35:29

But British farms were in crisis.

0:35:300:35:33

Many farmhands were now at the front, and so were the horses.

0:35:330:35:38

So a new force was sent into the fields.

0:35:410:35:45

84,000 disabled soldiers,

0:35:470:35:50

30,000 German prisoners of war,

0:35:500:35:54

and over a quarter of a million British women.

0:35:540:35:57

By the following year, over seven million extra acres

0:36:030:36:07

had been dug up to grow more food.

0:36:070:36:09

Well, it helped, eventually yielding

0:36:160:36:19

about a month's extra food each year,

0:36:190:36:21

but that was still nothing like enough

0:36:210:36:24

to make up for the thousands of tonnes

0:36:240:36:26

being sent to the bottom of the sea by German U-boats.

0:36:260:36:29

War was being waged on civilians,

0:36:290:36:32

and it was up to civilians to save themselves.

0:36:320:36:35

The order came to plough up Britain,

0:36:450:36:49

to hand over land to the people so they could provide for themselves.

0:36:490:36:53

This strip of land was waste ground until 1917.

0:36:530:36:58

Then it was dug up to provide cabbages, potatoes and marrows

0:36:580:37:04

for a hungry nation.

0:37:040:37:05

Armies of women, children and the elderly

0:37:080:37:11

set about transforming the landscape of Britain's towns and cities.

0:37:110:37:16

The nation had a new craze which the press called "allotmentitis".

0:37:160:37:22

Before the war, allotments had been a hobby for eccentrics.

0:37:250:37:30

By the end of the war,

0:37:300:37:32

there were over one and a half million of them

0:37:320:37:35

squeezed into any scrap of earth that could be dug up,

0:37:350:37:38

from grass verges to village greens to railway embankments.

0:37:380:37:42

But no amount of allotment digging

0:37:550:37:57

could hide the fact that things were simply getting worse.

0:37:570:38:01

The U-boat blockade was biting.

0:38:010:38:05

In autumn 1917, shortages were so severe

0:38:080:38:11

that huge queues formed outside butchers and grocers.

0:38:110:38:15

In some cities people looted the shops for food,

0:38:170:38:20

breaking the windows and beating up the shop owners.

0:38:200:38:23

Finally, the Food Controller had to think the unthinkable.

0:38:280:38:32

"It may well be," he told a colleague, "that you and I

0:38:320:38:35

"are all that stands between this country and revolution".

0:38:350:38:39

People would have to be told what they could and couldn't eat,

0:38:390:38:43

and so, in January 1918, rationing was brought in.

0:38:430:38:47

Now this was one person's ration for a week.

0:38:470:38:49

15 ounces of meat,

0:38:490:38:51

five ounces of bacon,

0:38:510:38:53

four ounces of margarine

0:38:530:38:55

and eight ounces of sugar.

0:38:550:38:57

# Keep the home fires burning

0:38:570:39:02

# While your hearts are yearning... #

0:39:020:39:07

This was the first time a British government

0:39:070:39:09

had ever rationed food... and it worked.

0:39:090:39:12

The queues outside the shops disappeared.

0:39:140:39:16

Rationing, allotments and a system of convoys to protect merchant ships

0:39:160:39:21

kept starvation at bay.

0:39:210:39:23

This had become a war that wasn't just being fought

0:39:290:39:31

on the battlefields, but on every street in the land.

0:39:310:39:36

It was a new kind of war and it brought a new term

0:39:360:39:40

into the English language - the Home Front.

0:39:400:39:44

In 1917, the situation

0:39:540:39:57

on the Western Front had become bleaker than ever.

0:39:570:39:59

Britain's allies were tottering.

0:40:020:40:05

There was mutiny in the French Army,

0:40:050:40:08

while Russia - torn apart by revolution -

0:40:080:40:11

was about to pull out of the War.

0:40:110:40:14

And the death toll went on rising.

0:40:170:40:19

Already, more than half a million British dead

0:40:250:40:29

since the start of the War.

0:40:290:40:31

Even decorated war heroes

0:40:310:40:33

were now wondering what they'd risked their lives for.

0:40:330:40:37

In 1917, one of them - the poet Siegfried Sassoon - went public

0:40:390:40:44

with his doubts about the War.

0:40:440:40:46

In the trenches, his men had known Lieutenant Sassoon

0:40:480:40:51

as Mad Jack, for his astonishing fearlessness,

0:40:510:40:54

and he'd won a Military Cross for bravery,

0:40:540:40:57

but now he was denouncing the whole thing.

0:40:570:41:00

"The war upon which I embarked

0:41:000:41:02

"as one of defence and liberation," he wrote,

0:41:020:41:06

"has become a war of aggression and conquest.

0:41:060:41:09

"I am protesting against the political errors

0:41:090:41:12

"for which the lives of fighting men are being sacrificed,

0:41:120:41:16

"and against the callous complacency with which those at home

0:41:160:41:21

"regard agonies they do not share."

0:41:210:41:24

From a decorated war hero, this was incendiary stuff.

0:41:240:41:28

Sassoon risked court-martial, imprisonment, even execution.

0:41:320:41:36

But the Generals were cleverer than that.

0:41:380:41:40

They pronounced him mad

0:41:410:41:43

and sent him here, to a military hospital called Craiglockhart.

0:41:430:41:47

Sassoon was surrounded by men

0:41:570:41:59

suffering from the condition called shell shock.

0:41:590:42:02

This war of endless artillery bombardment

0:42:040:42:07

wasn't only killing and maiming soldiers,

0:42:070:42:10

it was sending them mad.

0:42:100:42:12

At first, doctors thought it was a physical condition -

0:42:150:42:18

concussion, caused by exploding shells.

0:42:180:42:21

Treatment was often brutal. Some doctors used solitary confinement

0:42:220:42:28

and electric shock treatment to try to snap their patients out of it.

0:42:280:42:33

But then they began to understand something of the stress

0:42:440:42:47

of life in the trenches, the lack of sleep, the shattering noise,

0:42:470:42:51

the sight of so much death and mutilation.

0:42:510:42:55

As one lieutenant put it,

0:42:550:42:56

"Quite apart from the number of people blown to bits,

0:42:560:43:00

"the explosions were so terrible

0:43:000:43:02

"that anyone within a hundred yards was liable to lose their reason."

0:43:020:43:06

At Craiglockhart, doctors were pioneering

0:43:150:43:18

a radical new approach to shell shock.

0:43:180:43:21

Dr William Rivers believed that patients were repressing

0:43:240:43:27

the terrifying experiences they'd had

0:43:270:43:30

and that, in order to get better, they needed to talk about them.

0:43:300:43:34

In 1917, Rivers' work was groundbreaking.

0:43:370:43:40

But Craiglockhart's most famous patient -

0:43:440:43:46

the anti-war Lieutenant Sassoon -

0:43:460:43:48

wasn't suffering from shell shock,

0:43:480:43:51

and he realised that unless he gave up his protest

0:43:510:43:55

and returned to the Front,

0:43:550:43:57

he'd be stuck here forever.

0:43:570:43:59

After three months, Sassoon was restless.

0:44:020:44:06

He hadn't changed his anti-war views,

0:44:060:44:08

but he chose solidarity with his soldiers over private principles.

0:44:080:44:13

As he wrote, when he returned to the Western Front,

0:44:130:44:17

"I'm only here to look after some men."

0:44:170:44:20

Siegfried Sassoon's protesting voice had been silenced,

0:44:250:44:28

but his poetry remained clear and forceful.

0:44:280:44:32

In 1918, he wrote,

0:44:320:44:35

"You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye

0:44:350:44:39

"Who cheer when soldier lads march by

0:44:390:44:41

"Sneak home and pray you'll never know the hell

0:44:410:44:44

"Where youth and laughter go."

0:44:440:44:47

Unlike many of his friends -

0:44:480:44:50

including fellow writer Wilfred Owen,

0:44:500:44:53

whom he'd met at Craiglockhart -

0:44:530:44:56

Sassoon survived the War and died in 1967.

0:44:560:44:59

By June 1918, the balance of power

0:45:100:45:12

in The First World War

0:45:120:45:14

had shifted violently towards Germany.

0:45:140:45:16

Having made a peace with an exhausted Russia,

0:45:190:45:22

Germany could now pour troops onto the Western Front.

0:45:220:45:26

They now outnumbered the Allies by over 200,000 men

0:45:280:45:32

and they were massing for an attack they believed would win the War.

0:45:320:45:37

In the first five hours of the great Spring Offensive,

0:45:460:45:50

over a million shells were fired into British lines.

0:45:500:45:53

In a conflict where success was measured in yards,

0:46:060:46:09

the Germans advanced 40 miles in a single day.

0:46:090:46:13

In his diary, the Secretary to the British War Cabinet wrote,

0:46:160:46:18

"The Germans are fighting better than the Allies.

0:46:180:46:22

"I cannot exclude the possibility of disaster."

0:46:250:46:29

The British Army Commander Sir Douglas Haig

0:46:300:46:33

made one last desperate rallying call.

0:46:330:46:36

"Every position must be held to the last man.

0:46:370:46:40

"There must be no retirement.

0:46:400:46:42

"With our backs to the wall

0:46:420:46:44

"and believing in the justice of our cause,

0:46:440:46:48

"we must all fight on till the end."

0:46:480:46:51

The call to arms would be heard well beyond the trenches.

0:46:570:47:00

The Home Front couldn't afford to buckle either.

0:47:050:47:08

The country's war machine had to be kept running.

0:47:090:47:12

Prime Minister Lloyd George had once called the British workforce

0:47:190:47:22

the least disciplined in Europe.

0:47:220:47:25

Could they be relied upon at this moment of crisis?

0:47:250:47:29

Anyone searching for cracks in the nation's resolve

0:47:340:47:37

might have come here -

0:47:370:47:39

to the South Wales Coalfield.

0:47:390:47:41

In 1918, this place was considered

0:47:480:47:51

the Wild West of industrial relations.

0:47:510:47:54

The Welsh miners had been

0:47:550:47:57

a thorn in the Government's side

0:47:570:47:58

throughout the War,

0:47:580:48:01

calling strike after strike.

0:48:010:48:02

This, the finest steam coal in the world,

0:48:050:48:08

was a vital part of the war effort.

0:48:080:48:10

It drove the foundries, the forges, the explosives factories,

0:48:100:48:15

it powered the warships, and it gave the men

0:48:150:48:18

who extracted it tremendous power.

0:48:180:48:21

By 1918, there'd already been trouble in the pits

0:48:210:48:25

over the practice of combing out -

0:48:250:48:28

that was forcing men out of vital protected industries like this

0:48:280:48:33

and into the Army.

0:48:330:48:35

With the country now facing the real possibility of defeat,

0:48:350:48:39

further industrial unrest could have been catastrophic.

0:48:390:48:42

In fact, just the opposite happened.

0:48:470:48:49

When it came to it, even the most bolshie miner

0:48:490:48:52

wasn't prepared to see Britain lose the War.

0:48:520:48:55

When asked to pull together for the sake of the troops,

0:48:580:49:01

the response of the British workforce was emphatic.

0:49:010:49:05

In all industries, strikes were suspended

0:49:050:49:08

and people even turned out to work extra shifts.

0:49:080:49:11

On the Clyde,

0:49:130:49:14

thousands of ship builders gave up

0:49:140:49:16

their Easter holiday to keep working.

0:49:160:49:18

Recruiting offices saw a rush from men in protected jobs

0:49:210:49:25

coming forward to enlist.

0:49:250:49:28

The Minister for Munitions, Winston Churchill,

0:49:310:49:34

could scarcely believe his eyes,

0:49:340:49:35

"The response to our appeal to work over the holiday," he said,

0:49:350:49:39

"was excellent. Indeed, almost embarrassing."

0:49:390:49:43

At the very worst point in the War,

0:49:520:49:55

the Home Front had not only held, it had risen to the challenge.

0:49:550:50:00

The forces didn't lack for supplies, for ammunition or for weapons.

0:50:000:50:05

This was one time in the nation's history

0:50:050:50:07

when we really were all in it together.

0:50:070:50:12

In Germany, it was a very different story.

0:50:210:50:25

With German ports blockaded by the British Navy,

0:50:270:50:31

the country was being slowly starved out of the war.

0:50:310:50:34

Angry crowds took to the streets, demanding peace.

0:50:390:50:42

Anti-war strikes crippled German industry.

0:50:440:50:47

When a horse dropped dead in a Berlin street,

0:50:520:50:55

the locals fell on it for meat.

0:50:550:50:57

On the battlefield, the huge German Spring Offensive

0:51:020:51:05

had failed to break the Allies.

0:51:050:51:08

If anything, it had broken the Germans.

0:51:090:51:12

Their plan had devoured men and ammunition,

0:51:140:51:18

troops were left exhausted, demoralised,

0:51:180:51:21

and lacking supplies. And as the German war machine began to fail...

0:51:210:51:27

..Britain's was at full throttle.

0:51:290:51:31

By the summer of 1918, weapons were rolling off the production lines

0:51:380:51:43

in greater numbers than ever before.

0:51:430:51:44

The previous year, the United States had agreed to enter the war.

0:51:480:51:53

Now American troops had at last arrived

0:51:530:51:56

and were fighting with the Allies.

0:51:560:51:59

The tide had turned,

0:52:010:52:03

though victory would come sooner than anyone imagined.

0:52:030:52:07

After four terrible years,

0:52:160:52:19

the most devastating war in history

0:52:190:52:21

came to an end,

0:52:210:52:22

on November 11th, 1918.

0:52:220:52:25

In London, expectant crowds gathered in Parliament Square

0:52:270:52:31

and waited for the sound that would prove the War was finally over.

0:52:310:52:35

Big Ben had been silenced at the outbreak of war.

0:52:390:52:42

Now, at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month,

0:52:440:52:48

it was about to strike again.

0:52:480:52:50

BIG BEN CHIMES

0:52:520:52:55

CROWD CHEERS

0:52:590:53:03

It was the signal for a roar of relief and joy,

0:53:030:53:08

and the start of celebrations which lasted three days.

0:53:080:53:12

In the House of Commons, the Prime Minister, Lloyd George,

0:53:220:53:25

addressed the House, "I hope we may say," he concluded,

0:53:250:53:29

"that thus, this fateful morning, came an end to all wars."

0:53:290:53:34

In Trafalgar Square, revellers

0:53:430:53:45

climbed on the lions and seized buses.

0:53:450:53:47

Australians and Canadians led the way.

0:53:490:53:52

They tore down the advertising hoardings in Trafalgar Square

0:53:520:53:56

asking people to buy war bonds,

0:53:560:53:59

and they lit an enormous bonfire right here under Nelson's Column.

0:53:590:54:04

The stones were left cracked and blackened as a consequence,

0:54:040:54:08

and you can see the damage still here today.

0:54:080:54:12

The last physical reminder of that amazing day.

0:54:120:54:17

Soldiers recovering in a country hospital were told the news.

0:54:420:54:46

There, the reaction was rather different.

0:54:460:54:49

One of the men said the announcement was met with silence.

0:54:490:54:53

"Our world was gone," he said,

0:54:550:54:57

"a bloody world, a world of suffering, but also,

0:54:570:55:00

"a world of laughter, excitement

0:55:000:55:02

"and comradeship beyond description.

0:55:020:55:05

"Now we were just some of the wreckage left behind."

0:55:050:55:09

Even before the War ended, cities, towns and villages

0:55:190:55:23

all across Britain had begun to build memorials to the dead.

0:55:230:55:27

Over 5,000 went up in the two years following the Armistice.

0:55:370:55:42

Some, a few, celebrated victory.

0:55:440:55:47

Most spoke of sacrifice.

0:55:530:55:56

Men remembering their dead comrades,

0:55:560:55:59

the ordinary soldier, rather than the Commander.

0:55:590:56:03

In the village of Briantspuddle, Dorset,

0:56:100:56:12

the war memorial was unveiled

0:56:120:56:14

on November 12th, 1918, the day after the War ended.

0:56:140:56:18

At the dedication of this memorial,

0:56:230:56:25

the Bishop of Salisbury wondered whether

0:56:250:56:28

there was really any need for further reminders of the War,

0:56:280:56:31

and he answered his own question,

0:56:310:56:34

"Yes, because there would be future generations

0:56:340:56:37

"who would lead lives crowded with happenings

0:56:370:56:40

"and they needed to be warned, lest they forget, lest they forget."

0:56:400:56:47

Later generations would contend it had been a futile war.

0:57:040:57:09

The War was terrible, certainly, but hardly futile.

0:57:090:57:13

It stopped the German conquest of much of Europe

0:57:160:57:19

and perhaps even of villages like this.

0:57:190:57:23

Never before in the nation's history

0:57:300:57:33

had a war required the commitment and the sacrifice

0:57:330:57:36

of the whole population. And, by and large, for four years,

0:57:360:57:40

the British people kept faith with it.

0:57:400:57:43

It wasn't a war they had sought

0:57:430:57:45

and had they known how it would turn out,

0:57:450:57:47

they doubtless wouldn't have joined in. But they hadn't known.

0:57:470:57:51

They couldn't have known,

0:57:510:57:52

any more than the politicians or the generals could have known.

0:57:520:57:56

And once it had started, there was no way of stopping it,

0:57:560:57:59

any more than you could suddenly make the dead start to walk again.

0:57:590:58:03

A century on, we should perhaps remember and respect that sacrifice,

0:58:030:58:09

and realise that, more than any other event,

0:58:090:58:13

this was the one that made modern Britain.

0:58:130:58:17

In this version of the BBC One series made especially for schools, Jeremy Paxman traces the effects of the First World War on Britain. This was a total war which dragged in civilians as well as soldiers, and turned the country upside down.