PPU HOME | sitemap
| JOIN | education| conscientious objection |eNews | shop | Read Peace Matters | pacifism | war facts | conflict resolution |

OBJECTING TO WAR
FIRST CO TO DIE
2 EUROPE GOES TO WAR
3 COUNTDOWN TO CONSCRIPTION
4 FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE IN SOCIETY
5 NO CONSCRIPTION FELLOWSHIP
6 THE SECRET PRESS
7 MANY TRADITIONS
8 THE TRIBUNALS
9 TRANSCRIPTS
10 THE 'won't-fight-funks'
11 THE COST OF CONSCIENCE
12 UNWILLING SOLDIERS
13 ALTERNATIVES AND DILEMMAS
14 PRISON
15 THE MEN SENTENCED TO DEATH
16 COERCION FAILS
17 DYCE
18 DARTMOOR
19 THEY WORK IN OVERCOATS
20 THE MEN WHO DIED
21 WINDING DOWN
21 SELECTION OF BOOKS
22 FROM CALL UP TO DISCHARGE


WHY WAR? supplement

2. EUROPE GOES TO WAR

Britain went to war in 1914 with a professional army designed mainly for policing the British Empire. Compared with the armies of Germany and France, the British army was tiny. By the end of 1914 most of its men had been killed, and so had most of the Territorial Army soldiers sent to support and replace them.

Before the First World War, most European countries had equipped themselves well with armies and weapons factories. These armies needed only to step up their intake to increase in size. In Britain, though, gearing up for war was far more dramatic. Here the 'State' had existed mostly to maintain law and order. There was no compulsory military service. Many career soldiers had little experience of foreign wars - the Napoleonic wars and even the Boer War were now history. In 1914 the plan was simple. The navy would guard the seas, as it had always done. The existing professional army would do the fighting, as it had always done. An expeditionary force would slip over to France, fight, and then come home again, in the centuries-old way. As Winston Churchill said at the outbreak of war which, despite being foretold for years, took most people by surprise, it was 'Business as Usual’.

     

London advertising executive remembered how in July 1914 he had an unexpected visit from the army’s chief recruiting officer: ‘He swore me to secrecy, told me that war was imminent, and that the moment it broke out we should have to start advertising. That night I wrote an advertisement headed “Your King and Country Need You”, with a coat of arms at the top.’ The advertisement was, of course, for volunteer soldiers, shipped across the English Channel to be killed.

Not everyone was convinced that war was necessary or right and some campaigned against it.

The organisation of this business was put in the hands of Lord Kitchener. He was regarded as the greatest British soldier in active service. He had spent most of his army life fighting abroad on behalf of the British Empire, but happened to be in England in 1914. He was quickly made Secretary of State for War by the Liberal government, who needed Kitchener’s prestige to win back popularity. He startled his new colleagues by announcing that the war would last for three or four years, and that Britain would have to raise an army millions strong.

At that time the government were against conscription and Kitchener therefore had to rely on recruiting volunteers. He set out to raise a new regular force, ‘Kitchener’s army’. His face glared balefully from posters on every hoarding in the country, forefinger outstretched: 'Your Country Needs YOU’. Kitchener expected to get 100,000 volunteers in the first six months, and maybe 500,000 altogether. But a wave of unexpected enthusiasm led to 500,000 volunteering in the first month alone. The recruitment rate continued at over 100,000 a month for eighteen months. By the end of 1915 nearly 2.5 million men had enlisted.

This vast army took the government and the War Office by surprise: having no plans for it, they did not know what to do. Many of the men among the first to volunteer were also men who could least be spared from their civilian jobs: the government made desperate (and mostly unsuccessful) efforts to recall coalminers and skilled engineers from the front line. The army itself was not prepared for sudden growth: there were relatively few barracks and training camps, and existing arms factories could not cope with the rapid increase in demand for equipment and weapons. All through the winter of 1914-15, the volunteer soldiers lived in tents; they trained wearing civilian clothes, using walking sticks instead of rifles. This was not at all what they had expected.

Horatio Bottomley (left) a discredited bankrupt before the war became the most successful recruiting orator. His speeches varied with the size of the fee – starting with simple patriotism at £100


Why did people join?
Who were they?


Now enthusiasm for voluntary recruitment had to be kept on the boil. So leading politicians travelled round the country to whip up war fever in the men who came to hear them speak. Some of the methods of persuasion used were quite unscrupulous. In every warring country people were aroused by their leaders’ propaganda; each felt that right was on their side. Men eagerly volunteered to fight, and women cheered them on.

Ignorance also helped the rush to war. ‘Special editions’ of newspapers in fact contained no news. The military leaders did not want their mistakes revealed, and war correspondents were not allowed anywhere near the front line. The British people were not told that their expeditionary force was retreating. The French were not told when their armies were defeated. The Germans were not told that their acclaimed battle-plan had failed.

Where no facts were available, rumours spread. These included false reports that German troops were killing babies by spearing them with bayonets, and a tale of Russian soldiers landing in Aberdeen and marching south to fight on the Western Front.

PEACE PLEDGE UNION 1 Peace Passage London N7 0BT    CONTACT    SUPPORT    PARTICIPATE                                                  WORKING FOR PEACE SINCE 1934