Why did the public support the war from start to end?
situation was much better than in Germany, where there was a lethal combination of a British naval blockade (which prevented goods coming from overseas) and inefficient distribution of that food that was available. Some Germans starved.
Then there was the British belief that Germany was a dangerous enemy that simply had to be defeated. Germany was seen as having deliberately started a war of aggression. The German invasion of ‘poor little Belgium’ in August 1914 had swung many doubters behind support for the war. This cynical invasion of a neutral state was deeply shocking. Some 250,000 Belgian refugees reached Britain, bringing stories of the German conquest of their homeland, massacres of civilians and all. The indiscriminate shelling by warships of English coastal towns; the torpedoing of the Lusitania, a civilian liner, with the the deaths of 1200 passengers and crew; the execution of Edith Cavell, a British nurse who helped Allied soldiers to escape from occupied Belgium - all these were seen as examples of barbaric and ruthless, ‘Hunnish’ behaviour by Germany. The British made much of these propaganda gifts from Germany, which was in this sense the perfect enemy.
Much of the British population lived in conditions of poverty. Nonetheless, their lot had improved in recent decades, and many believed that a German victory would snatch away these economic advances. This fear was reinforced by the extremely harsh terms imposed on Russia in March 1918. Just a few weeks later Germany launched a massive offensive in France against the British army. Faced with the evidence of how a victorious Germany treated a defeated foe, the determination of the war-weary British held firm until victory. Thus support for the war wasn’t just a matter of patriotism and serving king, empire and country, although these were important factors that shouldn’t be underrated. There was an underlying current of self-interest.
Whatever we think of the First World War today, the vast bulk of the British population supported the war from the beginning to the end, despite the casualties and the hardships. As we prepare to mark the centenary of the end of that terrible war, we should not lose sight of that truth.