Britain after the war

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World War I, military conflict, from August 1914 to November 1918, that involved many of the countries of Europe as well the United States and other nations throughout the world. World War I was one of the most violent and destructive wars in European history. Of the 65 million men who were mobilized, more than 10 million were killed and more than 20 million wounded. The term World War I did not come into general use until a second worldwide conflict broke out in 1939 (see World War II). Before that year, the war was known as the Great War or the World War.

The war changed British society like no event since the Industrial Revolution. The warring Conservative and Liberal parties formed a coalition government that included Labour representation. The unions pledged an end to labor unrest. Even the suffragettes called off their campaign of civil disobedience
--Lloyd George, who was minister of war and then prime minister, was the outstanding figure in the government.

A constant innovator, he expanded the use of machine guns and tanks and introduced the mortar, one of the most effective weapons in the trench warfare that ensued. He also backed the convoy system, in which military and merchant ships traveled in large groups to discourage attacks by deadly German U-boats (submarines), which sank British cargo ships at will.

--The government fixed wages, took control of the munitions industry, ordered farmers to increase grain cultivation, and ultimately rationed food. It introduced a military draft in 1916 for men aged 18 to 41. More than 6 million British men became members of the armed forces. Women streamed into the industrial labor force, replacing men who were serving in the military. In 1918, before the war was over, women were given the vote in a bill for universal suffrage.

--The war lasted longer than anyone had predicted. The fighting was more gruesome and the weapons more destructive. Fighting along the border between France and Germany soon became mired in a bloody stalemate as armies dug defensive trenches and fortified their positions against attack. Trench warfare was both terrifying and demoralizing. Infantry soldiers lived in unsanitary conditions in muddy trenches that stretched from the English Channel to the Swiss border.

--The death of over 10 million men in combat left a gaping chasm in the social and economic life of the postwar world. Many of those who survived the war returned home with physical disabilities that prevented them from rejoining the work force. Others suffered the lasting effects of what in those days was called shell shock and what is today labeled post-traumatic stress disorder, a psychological affliction that prevents a successful adaptation to civilian life. Many of the dead left widows and orphans who had to cope with severe economic hardship and emotional loss.

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