World War I and the Working Class in Britain

  • Alastair Reid


There can be no reasonable doubt that twentieth-century total wars had a significant impact on the domestic populations of the countries involved. Most obviously there was the removal of millions of young men into the army, there was also a major re-orientation of production towards war industries and this had a major impact on employment and consumption, and finally, in most of the combatant nations, there were substantial restrictions on everyday life brought about by shortages and government controls. Similarly, it should be obvious that the intensity of the impact of these pressures would have varied between nations: depending above all on whether they were defeated, invaded, or both. Thus there was a dramatic contrast between Britain and Belgium during World War I, with the latter experiencing drastic declines in living standards and an increase in death rates among non-combatant age groups of up to 60 per cent. Equally there was a striking contrast between Britain and Germany in World War I as the British stranglehold over sea-borne trade gradually brought the German economy to its knees.1 Since Britain was not invaded and came out on the victorious side, it would seem likely that her domestic population suffered much less during World War I than that in most continental nations.


Wage Rate Trade Union Unskilled Worker Social Reform Woman Worker 
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© Alastair Reid 1988

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  • Alastair Reid

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