|David Lloyd George in 1915|
At the heart of the controversies was the ongoing debate about national service and conscription. Those in favour argued there was no alternative to putting all men at the government's disposal, and that the war would have been won already with this in place back in 1914. Pragmatic opponents argued that Kitcheners efforts for voluntary enlistment were already creating sufficiently large armies. More passionate opposition came from those workers who had fought for fifty years for trades union rights and autonomy, and who had been opposed to war at the outset. Lloyd George toured the country, making rousing speeches and pointing out the gravity of Britain's position and the need for total dedication to the war effort.Trades Union leaders agreed to suspend union rules in favour of the war effort (the coal miners were an exception), but could not always control their members.
On 9th June the Bill for the creation of a Munitions Department was passed. On 15th July the National Register Bill became law - a first halting step towards conscription. For the former, the definition of 'munitions' was broadened dramatically and gave Lloyd George, as Minister, authority over all industry however tenuously related to the war effort - not just armouries and weapons manufacturers. He was able to replace private management of any relevant company with government control. Arbitration was made compulsory in all trade disputes (increasingly common at that time), and strikes and lock-outs were forbidden in nearly all circumstances. The Minister could declare any company a 'controlled establishment'. This which involved four steps: limiting employers' profits; suspending trade union rules; wage control, and imposition of special regulations at the Minister's discretion. The country was divided into 10 administrative areas for maximum production of munitions. This set the scene for some ugly and divisive disputes.
|Blaenavon Colliery, S Wales|
|A 1915 Poster to support |
But there were good developments also, including the huge voluntary contributions made by thousands - from caring for large numbers of refugees (especially Belgian) arriving in the country; to expeditions overseas to nurse, drive ambulances and care for displaced people near to the theatres of war.
Women demanded a role in every facet of the war effort - driving; manufacturing industry; postal services etc. The pre war actions of the women's movement had produced a generation whose determination and organisational skills were invaluable to the war effort, and at the same time accelerated the social changes being imposed on the nation by the scale of the war.
Vera Brittain's retrospective view of these years is powerful. Life must have bee nearly as tough for those at home:
Today, with middle-age just round the corner, and children who tug my anxious thoughts relentlessly back to them whenever I have to leave them for a week, I realise how completely I under-estimated the effect upon the civilian population of year upon year of diminishing hope, diminishing food, diminishing light, diminishing heat, of waiting and waiting for news which was nearly always bad when it came.