Notwithstanding the manifold achievements of the Liberals from 1905 to 1910 the January 1910 election went badly for the Liberals. The Unionists made the most remarkable recovery. They clawed back most of the seats they had lost in 1906. The Liberals still had more Members of Parliament but not an overall majority. The Liberals were compelled to rely on support from Labour and from the Irish Nationalists. The Irish Home Rule Party was Liberal inclined chiefly because the Liberals were still committed to Home Rule. They also concurred with the Liberals on free trade. Despite this Unionists used to claim that if there was Home Rule for Ireland then the Home Rule Government might introduce tariffs.
The Conservatives in the House of Lords continued to vote against the People’s Budget. Some in the Conservative Party counselled caution. ”Peers versus people” was a Liberal rallying cry. Anti-aristocratic sentiment became widespread among working class men of a non-Conservative cast of mind. Some said of the House of Lords, ”mend them or end them.” They were calling for the House of Lords to have its wings clipped. It ought no longer be able to legislate on money bills. Others wanted the hereditary peers removed altogether. Inherited political power seemed wrong especially when most peers belonged to one party.
The Conservative press slated the Liberals. They depicted the Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer (Lloyd George) as a highwayman. ”Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief….”
Conservatives were divided between hedgers and ditchers. Hedgers were those who argued that the party should hedge its bets. It should cease to oppose this budget that was popular. Blocking the people’s budget was too divisive. The ditchers said they should fight to the last ditch. The People’s Budget was socialist and it was an assault on liberty.
In April 1910 the Parliament Act was passed. This said that the House of Lords would have its power to block bills removed. It would be able to delay bills by up to two years. If the House of Commons passed a bill thrice within the space of two years it would become law anyway even without the consent of the upper chamber. (This power has seen been reduced to only a one year delay). Moreover, the upper chamber would have no control over money bills.
In May 1910 Edward VII passed away. He was succeeded by his son George V.
King George V was worried about the frenetic atmosphere. Militant language was used by Liberals and Unionists. Labour was growing restive and there were plenty of strikes. Could a via media not be found? He called a Buckingham Palace Conference to try to persuade the parties to arrive at an honourable compromise. No solution was arrived at.
In December 1910 there still seemed to be an impasse. H H Asquith decided to ask George V to call another General Election. His Majesty the King agreed so to do. Moreover, if the Tory peers persisted in stopping the People’s Budget being passed then the King would create enough Liberal peers to make sure that the budget was passed. This was a similar scenario to 1832 where William IV had had to threaten to ennoble hundreds of Whigs if the Tory peers did not behave.
The Liberals won the December 1910 election but not by as much as the 1906 election.
The Liberals were confirmed in office. The People’s Budget was passed. The Liberals seemed to be making the weather. Labour gained more MPs in December 1910. The Unionists were temporarily demoralised. They had spent almost two years fighting the People’s Budget only to see it passed.
A J Balfour stepped down as Conservative leader. The new leader of the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists was Andrew Bonar Law. Bonar Law had been born in Canada. Bonar Law’s parents had come from Northern Ireland and Scotland. In those days they would have simply said Ireland. Bonar Law had returned to the United Kingdom as a child. He was brought up in Glasgow.
Bonar Law was the son of a Nonconformist clergyman. His middle class background stood in marked contrast to the aristocratic pedigree of most of his Conservative parliamentary colleagues. This was an astute move by the party. The Conservatives were seen as being a party of toffs. This was especially so in the wake of the peers versus people controversy. By electing a middle class leader they established more of a connection to ordinary people.
The Marquess of Landsdowne led the party in the Lords.
In 1911 Asquith then turned his mind to another issue: Irish Home Rule. It had been a long standing Liberal policy. Since 1893 no one had tried to implement it. Asquith confirmed that the Liberal Government now intended to introduce Home Rule. This delighted the Home Rule Party. The Home Rulers also assured Liberals of their co-operation on other issues. Labour was also pro Home Rule. Some people called for Home Rule all around – that is to say for England, Scotland and Wales too. There was a caucus within the Liberals calling for this. There was even a separate Scottish Home Rule Party but it had very little backing.
There was an increase in animus between the United Kingdom and Germany. A number of novels were published that raise fears of war. They had titles such as ”The Invasion of 1910” and ”The Riddle of the Sands”, ”The 39 Steps” by John Buchan.
The Riddle of the Sands was published by Erksine Childers. Childers was an upper class Irish Protestant. He attended Haileybury and Cambridge. This former Clerk of the House of Commons had started out with views typical for a man of his background. He viewed himself as being British as well as Irish. He wanted to keep Ireland united with Great Britain. His novel was about two Britishers taking a sailing holiday around the German coast and happening upon a dastardly invasion plan. Barges carrying sand dredged from canals had German troops concealed under huge trays containing sand – there were holes in the side through which to breathe! These seemingly inoccuous barges would carry soldier to the UK for an invasion. It was a highly improbable tale since barges would quickly capsize at sea.
Despite these alarmist prophecies relations were still fairly good. There were regular visits. The Kaiser attended the funeral of his unclle Edward VII in 1910. Churchill went to German military manuevres. There was nothing inevitable about war. Ministers of both governments had cordial meetings. No one rebuked them for this.
VOTES FOR WOMEN.
The notion that women should have the right to vote had been around since the Middle Ages. A very few women in England had been permitted to vote in parliamentary elections back then. By the end of the 16th century they were deprived of this right. In the 1650s some women wrote to Parliament saying that they ought to be permitted to vote. Parliament wrote back telling them to ”meddle with their housewifery.”
Some revolutionaries in the 1790s had taken up the cause of female suffrage. Suffrage meaning the right to vote. Mary Wollstonecraft’s ”Vindication of the Rights of Women” called for this reform and many others. Some radicals in the late 19th century also embraced this cause. Mr Pankhurst in Manchester advocated. A women attempted to vote in the late 19th century and there was a court case about it. The court found that a woman was personally incapable of voting due to her gender even if she satisfied all the other criteria for voting.
There were several minor female suffrage societies in the late 19th century. They banded together to form the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. There were pro female suffrage factions inside the major political parties. There were religiously affiliated suffrage societies. Some trades unions agreed with women voting.
In the late 19th century women gained the right to vote in local elections but not parliamentary elections. A woman could also be elected to her local council. She could even be mayor of her town and a few were.
Women had also gained more rights in the 19th century. There had been the Married Women’s Property Act. Until then a man and his wife were considered as one flesh. So if a woman who owned property wed then her husband could do whatever he wanted with it. This act allowed the woman a separate legal personality. Women had campaigned to have the age of consent raised from 12 to 16. This was partly to crack down on child prostitution.
In the 1860s women had been allowed to study Medicine. Elizabeth Garret Anderson qualified as a doctor. A hospital in London is named in her honour.
One of the arguments against female suffrage had been that women were too uneducated to vote. As higher education was opened to women this argument became feeble especially as working class men were allowed to vote. WHy should a women with a degree be unable to vote when an illiterate man could vote?
The Women’s Social and Political Union was established in 1903. The Pankhurst family were prime movers in the WSPU. Sylvia Pankhurst was the daughter who became a socialist which is easy to recall since her name commences with an S. Christabel was the daughter who became a Conservative so it is handy that her name begins with a C. The mother was Emmeline Pankhurst.
The WSPU was a more radical movement. Its slogan was deeds not words. Politely asking for the vote for decades had yielded no results.
Conservatives were not as against female suffrage as you might imagine. It would seem an unconservative proposition. Women are thought to care for smaller groups rather than larger communities and this tends to make them more Conservatives. The Liberals were slightly less sympathetic to women’s suffrage than the COnservatives. There were individual Liberals who were in favour of votes for women – for example Campbell-Bannerman. The Labour front bench was pro feminist. Many Labour rank and file members were against it because it was too shocking for them and a distraction from the class struggle.
The suffragettes were the WSPU and the suffragists were the NUWSS. The use of the terms was not always this distinct. Both movements were largely middle class.
Fundamentalists Protestants were against women’s suffrage. The Catholic Church was also opposed to it. Despite this there were members of both those denominations were backed female suffrage. The Irish Home Rule Party was against it.
In 1905 Parliament debated female suffrage. That was a major step forward. It never went to a vote. It was unthinkable to discuss it before. Queen Victoria had been known to be adamantly opposed to female suffrage.
Latter a Women’s League for Opposing Female Suffrage was founded. This was perhaps self-defeating. It women should not be concerned about issues of public concern then it was assuredly hypocritical to found a women’s organisation to campaign on a political question.
Much anti-suffragism was based on the two spheres theory. That is to say there was the public sphere and the private sphere. This theory held that men should predominate in the public sphere. This meant politics, business, legal matters, ecclesiastical affairs and so forth. Women ought to hold sway in the private sphere which was in the home and among the family. In fact men tended to rule the roost at home. Women being allowed to vote in local elections and seek election to local councils weakened. There was no blatant distinction between local politics and national politics. It still involved tendentious issues and budgets. Advocates of this two magisteria theory claimed that local government was still about domestic matters – drainage, housing stock. parks and suchlike.
individual Liberals such as Campbell Bannerman who agreed with female suffrage. The Labour leadership was pro feminist but most rank and file members found it shocking. It was also a distraction from the class struggle.
In 1905 female suffrage was discussed in Parliament. That in itself was a step forward. It had been unthinkable before. Queen Victoria had been horrified at the thought of it.
The United Kingdom was influenced by not wishing to be a laughing stock. If she allowed women’s suffrage then she may lose face in the colonies. Yet on dominion had allowed female suffrage. That was New Zealand. People who were anti suffragists spoke about this issue as if allowing women the parliamentary vote would make the sky fall in. It had not done so in New Zealand and certain states of the USA which had already introduced this epoch making reform.
In 1912 the Home Rule issue began to come to a head.
Andrew Bonar Law (Leader of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition) addressed a rally at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. Blenheim Palace was the seat of the Duke of Marlborough. Lord Randolph Churchill (younger son of the previous duke) had famously denounced Home Rule in 1886. His clarion call to arms ”Ulster would fight and Ulster would be right” re-echoed through Tory rhetoric. Bonar Law was half Ulster on his father’s side. Bonar Law said to the multitude, ”I can imagine no length of resistance to which Ulster would go in which the British people would not be willing to support them.” He was insinuating that the Conservatives would support an armed revolt. Was this to morally support it or actually assist it?
It was scandalous that a party that prided itself on its constitutional character was inciting rebellion against the Crown. The Ulster Volunteer Force was founded in 1913. SOme have called them the King’s loyal rebels. One wag said that the UVF would fight anyone to stay British – even the British.
In the run up to 1914 the United Kingdom seemed to face a crisis on several fronts. There were plenty of strikes. People thought there might be a civil war in Ireland over Home Rule. This might well spread to Great Britain – so many people feared. Liberals and Conservatives would tear each other apart over Home Rule. Despite this economic growth was still healthy.
When the Great War broke out some said it would be a war to unite us all.
This history will not look at the military camaign aspect of the war. That has been covered elsewhere on this blog. This article will examine the Great War from a domestic affairs point of view.
Lord Kitchener of Khartoum was brought into the War Cabinet. The War Cabinet was a small group within the Cabinet. The War Cabinet was only there to discuss the conduct of the war and not issues unrelated thereto. The full Cabinet consisting of over 20 men could still discuss issues that arose as they would arise in peacetime. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was deliberately excluded from the War Cabinet. This was because once a decision had been taken to fight then cost must be no object. One must not cause more men to die because one quibbled over a paltry sum.
Lord Kitchener said that the United Kingdom needed 100 000 volunteers. Within a month over 750 000 had volunteered. The British Army had to turn men away because it could not cope with them. It then began accepting recruits but could not furnish them with uniforms or rifles for a few months.
The seasoned troops were sent to France. There were precious few Non-Commissioned Officers left to train the new recruits.
International trade broke down. One could no longer trade with enemy nations such as Germany or Austria Hungary. Before long the Ottoman Empire was also a foe. In 1915 Bulgaria too became and enemy of the United Kingdom. Enemy merchant ships in ports of the British Empire were impounded. Ships from the British Empire which were in enemy ports were seized. Enemy aliens were interned. Allied countries like France and Russia had more important things to spend on than foreign imports. They only imported what was vital. Because of this commerce ground to a halt. Many men were put out of work. This partly explains the huge number of men who asked to join the army and the Royal Navy. It was not solely patriotic sentiment that actuated them. They also needed to be fed.
Parliament passed the Defence of the Realms Act in short order. This gave the government sweeping powers of surveillance, detention and sequestration. The government assumed an unprecedented degree of control over many aspects of life.
The war did not go too badly in the first few months. France was saved. The British Army proved its pluck. British soldiers were professionals who had mostly served several years at least before this war. They tended to be better man for man than their enemy. This was because British soldiers wanted to be soldiers – they were all volunteers. They had self-selected as suitable for army life. They had more experience than their continental counterparts and they had often seen combat in colonial campaigns. The quality of the average Tommy was to decrease. This loss of calibre was owing to fact that millions of men volunteered or were conscripted. This meant that less appropriate men became soldiers. Many served against their will. They were green.
The government was forced to increase taxation and national debt. War bonds were sold.
The Liberal Government under H H Asquith had the support of the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists in declaring war. Had Asquith not done so then his Cabinet may have split. Churchill and some others had mulled over forming a coalition with Unionists for the purpose of making war. The Labour Party was riven by this war. Ben Tillet and his followers supported the war. Others, led by James Ramsay MacDonald , opposed this war. Keir Hardie, founder of Labour, was still a Member of Parliament. Keir Hardie was aghast by the war and campaigned against it.
The United Kingdom was soon afflicted by paranoia. A wave of spy mania swept over the nation. Tabloid newspapers published reportage about there being thousands of German secret agents who were in deep cover. Some were hiding out in the sewers. They would emerge from where they lurked to launch bestial attacks. These reports were almost all bereft of the least foundation. Intelligence was one of the few major deficiencies in the German war machine. The Second Reich had very few spies in the UK in this war.
The Germans recruited a man of their nationality to spy in the United Kingdom. His name was Carl Lody. Lody was a travel agent who spoke perfect English. They acquired a false American passport for him. He travelled to the UK posing as an American. He sent some reports in code to Germany about ship movements. This led to the sinking of one ship that sailed from Edinburgh. He picked up a rumour about Russian troops with snow on their boots passing through the UK en route to the Western Front. This was a commonly believed and bogus story. There were to be many such fables.
Lody spent some time in Ireland – then part of the United Kingdom. He returned to Great Britain and was arrested. Some of the letters he had posted to neutral countries were to addresses that British intelligence knew were used by German intelligence. Lody was found guilty of being a spy. He was sentenced to death. He said to the man commanding his firing squad, ”I suppose you will not shake hands with a spy.”/ ”No, but I will shake hands with a very brave man.” Lody showed no dismay as he met his death. He earned much admiration from the British public. At this stage in the war stories about German atrocities were only just beginning. There was no deep detestation of Germans. Lody was respected as a patriotic spy.
The Germans did not have an effective spy network in the United Kingdom. Their few secret agents in the UK had mostly been arrested within days of the declaration of war. The Germans recruited two Dutchmen to spy for them. Coming from a neutral country they would attract little suspicion. These Netherlands posed as cigar merchants. They sent orders for cigars to the Netherlands. In fact these orders were coded messages. Cigars were delivered to the Dutchmen as per their instructions so as to maintain their legend. The two Hollanders were arrested and charges with espionage. They were found guilty and sentenced to death. The Government was wary of executing these men since it would lead to protestations from the Dutch Government. The UK was reluctant to alienate the Netherlands which could be a useful ally but could be a fairly strong enemy. In the end it was decided that if these two men were allowed to live it would embolden other spies. The two secret agents were executed by firing squad.
In Ireland the war seemed to calm things down. Half the UVF volunteered for the army as did many of the Irish National Volunteers.
By late 1914 the UK was starting to experience significant shortages. The lack of international trade was hurting the economy. Food prices had risen. The government was compelled to bring in legal maximum prices
Feeding human food to animals was outlawed. There were restrictions placed on alcohol. A closing time of 10 pm was introduced. One was not permitted to purchase liquor for another – even one’s spouse.
Censorship was introduce. Information likely to be of use to the enemy could not be published. ANything that would lower morale could not be printed either even if it were true.
By 1915 trench warfare was firmly established. The hopes of quick victory were beginning to abate. German U boats were sinking many British merchant ships. The Royal Navy had been blockading Germany for several months.
In time His Majesty’s Government was compelled to introduce rationing. The poorest ate better in wartime than they had in the antebellum.
The government took control of coal mines and railways. This was an affront to the free market principles espoused by Liberals and Conservatives. Labour were more opposed to the war than any other party. Ironically wartime socialism put their beliefs into practice.
In 1915 Keri Hardie passed away. One newspaper commented, ”The Member for Humanity has died.” Members of Parliament are known by they constituency such as ”the Member for West Ham.” Keir Hardie’s passionate defence of the underdog had earned him this moniker – Member for Humanity.
There were small anti-war protests. Anti war campaigners were mobbed by those who supported the war effort. Ramsay MacDonald spoke at public anti-war meetings. Police attended in case he said anything seditious. They were also conscious that they may need to step in to protect him. There were strikes against the war. The Government quickly folded when there were demands they could appease such as higher wages. The government could not afford to prosecute the war without a steady supply of munitions, coal and regular transport. Many of these stoppages of labour occurred in Glasgow. Glasgow’s river became known as the Red Clyde.
Lookouts were posted along the coast. ANyone seen walking along the coast was treated with suspicion. Many people had their binoculars confiscated in case they were using them to reconnoitre military installations with a view to supplying information to the Central Powers.
In 1915 H H Asquith;s son Raymond was killed in combat. This was a blow that hit Asquith very hard. His personality was never the same again. Asquith had often been called ”Squiffy” meaning ”drunk” which was a play on his name. His dypsomania became severe.
The number of recruits slowed significantly in 1915. Those most minded to enlist had already done so. Unemployed men had already joined up. Unemployment had all but disappeared in 1915. There were vacancies created by men leaving their jobs to join the military. As the war dragged on casualties mounted. Letters from the front were censored. Men were not allowed to write frankly about the full horror of war. Men home on leave were able to tell their relatives and families how dreadful conditions were. Older brothers often warned their junior siblings not to volunteer.
Many underage boys volunteered for the army. The Royal Navy knowingly took boys as young as 12. They would not be in combat roles as such. But they would still be aboard a warship in combat and so could still be killed. The army officially did not take men until the age of 17. The army accepted soldiers as young as 13. The army usually did not know these boys were below the legal age but the army was far from scrupulous in seeking proof that a man was of legal age.
Conscription became a live issue. Should the army oblige men to serve? The Liberals were philosophically opposed. Conservatives were inclined to agree with compulsory military service. Some had advocated this for years.
Lord Derby ran a scheme where men pledged to enlist if called upon to do so.
The idea spread that some men were shirkers. They were failing to do their duty. Able bodied unmarried young men ought to serve in the armed forces. People were encouarged by the yellow press to coax men to join the armed forces.
In January 1916 the Military Service Act was passed. Men under 40 could be conscripted into the armed forces. There were reserved occupations. These included being a clergyman, train driver or foreman in a munitions factory. This act meant that the military had enough men. This act did not extend to Ireland because it was known that most people in Ireland were firmly against being obliged to serve in the British military.
In 1916 there was not enough war production. Many of the shells for the Battle of the Somme that summer were defective. There was an outcry about these dud munitions. Lloyd George was in communications with the Unionists. Lloyd George and his acolytes plotted to push Asquith out. There was a parliamentary putsch. This was a case of musical chairs. Asquith was ousted as Prime Minister. Lloyd George and his Liberal followers formed a government with Conservative support.
Asquith was still the leader of the Liberal Party. A majority of Liberals still backed Asquith. It was jaw dropping that Lloyd George should be Prime Minister of a mainly Conservative Government. Only a few years before he had been demonised by the Conservatives. David Lloyd George had been an outright opponent fighting in South Africa in 1899-1902. Lloyd George argued that this war was radically different. It is a mark of how pragmatic that the Conservatives were they they were willing to serve under a man whom they had despised.
Germany had suspended unrestricted U boat warfare after April 1915. This was because she had sunk the Lusitania. SS Lusitania was an American registered ship. When she was sunk 1 400 civilians were killed. Over 100 of those were Americans. This caused outrage in the United States. The Kaiser was chary about provoking the USA too much in case she came into the war on the Allied side. The United Kingdom recognised how vital the US was. The UK propagandised heavily to make Americans believe that the Allies were moral and the Central Powers were unrighteous. This was a war for democracy – so said British Government publicity. This was a largely specious claim but played well in the United States.
In 1917 Germany decided to recommence unrestricted U boat warfare. This had been hotly debated by the German top brass. Prince Max of Baden had been adamantly opposed. He argued that it was unethical but also moronic. It would not cause any serious advantage to accrue to Germany but it would certainly bring the USA into the war on the Allied side. The Kaiser was convinced by more hawkish elements. They were not sure it would bring the USA into the war. President Wilson had sworn to avoid war at all events. Moreover, the USA was not prepared for war – she had an army of only 80 000 men and a tiny marine corps. President Wilson had set his face against expanding the military even as a deterrent. Even if the USA did proclaim war against the Central Powers it would take a year for America to recruit, train and ship a large army. The war would be finished before the USA could have a significant impact on it.
In 1917 the food situation grew dire for the United Kingdom. The UK was in such straits because she imported almost half her food. At one stage she had only six weeks of foodstuffs left. It was possible that the UK would be forced to an ignominious defeat solely by the U boat blockade. Those Germans who claimed that U boat warfare could decide the war were almost right. The United Kingdom adopted the convoy system. This had been used in previous conflicts but rejected in this war. The convoy system started to make a difference. In April 1917 the USA declared war on the German Reich. The US Navy started to escort convoys across the Atlantic. Sinkings fell dramatically. The pressure on food stocks began to reduce.
In 1917 Lloyd George withdrew a significant number of troops from France. After the Nivelle Offensive in April that year it seemed that no breakthrough would come. If all these soldiers were left in France then the high command would simply fritter away their lives in futile attacks.
The Russian Revolution in February 1917 inspired some British workers. The February Revolution was not explicitly socialist but contained a large socialist element. The Provisional Government established in Russia chose to keep fighting. Some Britishers wondered about overthrowing their government and making peace. There were deserters from the British Army. Many of them did so simply because they did not wish to be killed in fighting. Others objected to the onerous discipline of military life. There was an ideological streak to some desertions. As they saw it the upper class commanded all armies and it was mainly the workers who were being slaughtered in their millions just to enrich the boss class.
Lenin returned to Russia in April 1917. He soon campaigned for Russia to withdraw from the war. Despite wartime censorship his opinions filtered through to the United Kingdom. He articulated what war weary Britons were thinking. Many were jaded by years of attrition. SOme people wanted peace at any price. Others wanted to negotiate reasonable terms. The mutinies in the French Army and anti-war socialist agitation had some effect on the British Army. There was a small mutiny in 1917.
In 1918 the UK began the year nervously. The October Revolution in Russia had led to Russia declaring a truce with Germany. Germany was able to withdraw some men from the Eastern Front to bolster her army in the West. Bolshevik Russia and Germany were negotiating a permanent peace. If that happened then Germany would be able to fling all her might against the West. The US Army was only just beginning to arrive in France in serious numbers.
The food situation improved for the UK in 1918. Rationing ensured that everyone had just enough to eat. The Battle of the Atlantic was being won thanks to the US Navy, improved technology and convoys. U boats could not be produced fast enough to replace losses. U boats were short of spare parts and their crews were malnourished and demoralised.
In 1918 the Allies faced Operation Michael – which was the German all-out assault in the West. It was a hairy moment for the Allies. But even if Germany had swept all before her on the Continent she would not be able to cross the English Channel. The Royal Navy had been expanded to give her an easy 2-1 advantage over the German Navy. With the United States in the war and the rapid building of US warships this meant that the US Navy and the Royal Navy together had more like a 4-1 advantage over the Germany Navy.
In March 1918 Russia under Lenin signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. This definitively ended the First World War for Russia. She was soon embroiled in her own rancorous civil war. German could transfer all her forces from the East to the West. In fact in an attempt to control the huge tracts of territory ceded to Germany by Russia most German cavalry divisions remained stationed in the East.
As the German offensive in the West ground to a halt the Allies could not suppress growing optimism. April 1918 marked a year since the USA had declared war on the German Reich. Significant numbers of American soldiers and marines were now fighting in France. The illimited industrial capacity of the United States was beginning to tell. The USA also had a huge reserve of manpower. This more than made up for the loss of Russia.
In August 1918 the Allies began their hundred day advance. The British population was thoroughly sick of war but it was also confident. The forward movement was relentless. More and more German Prisoners of War arrived in the United Kingdom. The evidence of incremental victory was indisputable. The Royal Flying Corps had been part of the army. As part of the military reforms it was taken out of the army’s control and set up as an independent service called the Royal Air Force. All-arm co-operation ensured Allied victory.
In September and October 1918 the minor Central Powers through in the towel. On 11 November 1918 an Armistice was signed with Germany.
The United Kingdom celebrated. But there was little to celebrate with. Cupboards were almost bare. Few consumers goods had been produced in four years. It was not certain that the war was finished. The armistice was only a temporary cessation of hostilities whilst the final peace settlement was negotiated. Germany had had to hand over most of her heavy weapons as well as trains and merchant ships. She had had to released Allies Prisoners of War whereas Germans who were in the bag were not released by the Allies. Germany had been obliged to debilitate her fighting capability and to upgrade that of the Allies. It seemed improbable that Germany would renew the war but not impossible.
THE 1918 ELECTION
Parliament had extended its parliamentary term. Elections were supposed to be every 6 years. This had been delayed due to the war.
The Conservatives agreed to still serve under Lloyd George. Lloyd George’s Liberals and Bonar Law’s Conservatives gave their backers a letter saying that their candidates had the endorsement of their respective leaders. There was no sense in a Bonar Law Conservative fighting a Lloyd George Liberal. Only a minority of Liberals supported Lloyd George. Some say him as an egotistical and opportunistic traitor. He was a Radical in cahoots with Tories! A small faction of Conservatives opposed Bonar Law because he was in coalition with Lloyd George. But a high majority of Conservatives supported the plan.
Asquith – still official leader of the Liberals – said the letter that Bonar Law and Lloyd George had given to their minions was a coupon. He used the word derisively. This meant the election was dubbed the coupon election.
Those who had refused to serve as conscientious objectors had their voting rights taken away from them. Women over the age of 30 were allowed to vote in this election. All men over the age of 21 were allowed to vote except for lunatics and lords. Soldiers and sailors of the Royal Navy were permitted to vote at the age of 19.
The Conservatives selected a winner of the Victoria Cross to stand against Ramsay MacDonald. Some people reviled Ramsay MacDonald for campaigning against the war. The nationalistic and militaristic fervour of the times Ramsay MacDonald was turfed out. Asquith also lost his seat.
The election saw the Conservatives win with a few Lloyd George Liberals returned. The Asquithian Liberals performed reasonably well. The party that gained the most was Labour. Labour was not far off from equalling the Liberal vote.
Lloyd George stayed at the helm of a Conservative dominated government. A coalition was needed to tackle the many severe problems that would be encountered in the transition to peace – that was the argument for maintaining the wartime coalition/
POST WAR SUFFERING/
The blockade on Germany remained. But the UK could trade with other countries without fear of U boat sinkings. The food situation got better and rations were abolished piecemeal. In June 1919 the Treaty of Versailles ended the war. Men could be demobilised. Some did not come home until 1920.
The UK faced a sharp upswing in unemployment. Demobilised men could not find jobs. Women who had taken jobs during the war usually gave them up in peacetime. There were hundreds of thousands of men who were permanently disabled due to the war.
Those who survived physically unscathed were often traumatised by the horrors they had witnessed.
Lloyd George had promised ”homes fit for heroes” in his election address. The reality after the war was very different. There was much fury at Germany. Popular slogans included ”Hang the Kaiser and make Germany pay.”
Asquith remained leader of the Liberals despite not having a seat. Sir Donald MacLean acted as Liberal leader in the Commons until Asquith was returned at a by election. MacLean was the father of the world class traitor also named Donald MacLean.
In Ireland an irregular conflict was initiated in January 1919. Sinn Fein Members of Parliament (73 of them) met in Dublin to declare Ireland independent. The United Kingdom had changed immensely in a decade. 10 years earlier even Home Rule seemed unlikely. Now many people in Ireland wanted a republic.
There were strikes in 1919. These were even more widespread than during the war. Striking in time of war could be seen as unpatriotic. This was not so once peace returned. The proletariat wanted improved pay and conditons. They heard propaganda from Communists who claimed to be building a workers’ paradise in Russia. Some dockers refused to load arms for the British Army fighting against the Bolsheviks.
In India there was increased unrest. The Congress Party had supported the war. They had pressurised the British Raj into saying there would be significant political reform after the war. The Government would not be drawn on the precise content of that reform. Congress urged Indians to volunteer for the Indian Army. There had been almost no anti-British activity in India during the war. Civil liberties had been abridged in India during the war. Congress politicians wanted such legislation to be rescinded in peacetime. In fact the Rowlatt Act extended such security legislation. The Rowlatt Act was denounced as the black act by Congress. It was excessive and caused much bitterness
In April 1919 there were a number of vandal attacks in India. In Amritsar several public buildings were gutted by fire and five Britishers were killed. All protests in the Punjab were banned. In spite of this thousands of people gathered at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar for a demonstration. Brigadier General Dyer approached the park. He refused to issue a warning. He ordered his men to open fire on the crowd of mixed sexes. At least 479 people were killed.