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World War I: Home

This guide contains resources related to the study of World War I, as well as Australia's involvement in the war.

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Context

A major international conflict fought from 1914 to 1918, World War I was the most deadly and destructive war the world had ever seen to that time. More than 25 countries eventually participated, aligned with either the Allied or the Central powers. The Allies—who won the war—included primarily France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, Japan, and, from 1917, the United States. The Central Powers consisted mainly of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). World War I felled four great imperial dynasties, in Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey. It led to revolution in Russia, destabilized Europe, and laid the foundations for World War II. 

On a human scale, the scope of the war was just as monumental. More than 65 million soldiers were mobilized for the armies, navies, and emerging air forces. Some 8.5 million lost their lives, and more than 21 million were wounded. In addition, civilian populations worked as never before to produce enormous quantities of guns, munitions, and other supplies. Because civilians played such an important role, World War I was the first conflict to be called “total war.”

World War I 2016. Britannica School.

Conscription

State Library of NSW.

Without an adequate source of manpower, nations could not assemble large armies. One method for obtaining the needed manpower is conscription, or the draft. Conscription is the orderly selection of people (usually men) for required military service. It is usually employed when a small standing army must be expanded because of the threat or outbreak of war.

Conscription 2016. Britannica School. 

The Different Roles

In 1914 many men 'joined up' for the war as volunteers.

There were many different and important roles for men who went to fight during World War One. Some soldiers could be in the infantry whilst others worked as ambulance drivers, cooks, engineers and medics to name a few.

Many volunteers were able to use the skills learned from their jobs at home to help the war effort. They joined the Armed Forces which consisted of the Navy, Army and Air Force (Royal Flying Corps). They would join the service where their skills were most useful.

By 1916 the Armed Forces were so short of men that a law was passed forcing men to join up. This was called 'conscription'. Many men had never even left their home town or village before but soon they were in the thick of battles. At first, unmarried men aged 18 to 41 were called up and then married men of the same age.

BBC, 2016.

Life for women changed dramatically during the war because so many men were away fighting. Many women took paid jobs outside the home for the first time. By 1918 there were five million women working in Britain. The money they earned contributed to the family's budget and earning money made working women more independent. Many enjoyed the companionship of working in a factory, office or shop rather than doing 'piece work' at home.

With men away at war, many women ran their homes alone. They cared for children and older relatives, managed money and often had a job as well. Shopping during wartime was hard with food and coal shortages and higher prices. The average food bill for a family of four rose from less than £1 a week in 1914 to over £2 in 1918.

Women's pay was lower than men's, even when they were doing the same work. However many working women were better off than they had been in the past. Women who took jobs in munitions factories, for example, were better paid than they had been in their previous jobs sewing clothes or cleaning houses.

BBC, 2016.

Even animals were given war work to do. Horses were sent into battle to carry soldiers, or drag wagons and big guns to the front. Homing pigeons carried paper messages, put into little tubes and strapped to their legs. Dogs guarded important places, carried messages and took first aid supplies out to wounded soldiers on the battlefield.

On the Home Front, elephants were taken out of zoos and sent to pull heavy loads on farms.

BBC, 2016.

Between 1914 and 1918, everyone was expected to 'do their bit' to help with war work. Many British children were very keen to lend a hand. They wanted to support their fathers and older brothers who were away fighting at the Front.

Young people did many jobs. Around the home they would look after younger brothers and sisters. They helped with housework, carrying water and chopping firewood. They also joined long queues for food in the shops. Food was scarce because German U-Boats (submarines) were sinking the ships bringing supplies to Britain. 'Growing your own' became very important. Children helped dig and weed vegetable patches and worked in the fields at harvest time.

BBC, 2016.

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Australia's Involvement

Australian troops in the Lone Pine trenches.

Australia’s involvement in the First World War began when Britain and Germany went to war on 4 August 1914, and both Prime Minister Joseph Cook and Opposition Leader Andrew Fisher, who were in the midst of an election campaign, pledged full support for Britain. The outbreak of war was greeted in Australia, as in many other places, with great enthusiasm.

The first significant Australian action of the war was the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force’s (ANMEF) landing on Rabaul on 11 September 1914. The ANMEF took possession of German New Guinea at Toma on 17 September 1914 and of the neighbouring islands of the Bismarck Archipelago in October 1914. On 9 November 1914 the Royal Australian Navy made a major contribution when HMAS Sydney destroyed the German raider SMS Emden.

On 25 April 1915 members of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) landed on Gallipoli in Turkey with troops from New Zealand, Britain, and France. This began a campaign that ended with an evacuation of allied troops beginning in December 1915. The next year Australian forces fought campaigns on the Western Front and in the Middle East.

Australian War Memorial, n.d.

This program powerfully brings World War One to life using photographic and film sources, original songs, newspaper headlines, posters and sketches of the war. Australia at first reacted romantically to the war, but with the growing casualties attitudes slowly changed. This program examines the home front, women's wartime role, recruitment and conscription issues and the final declaration of peace.