Patriotism and Propaganda in First World War Britain: The National War Aims Committee and Civilian Morale

Patriotism and Propaganda in First World War Britain: The National War Aims Committee and Civilian Morale

Patriotism and Propaganda in First World War Britain: The National War Aims Committee and Civilian Morale

Patriotism and Propaganda in First World War Britain: The National War Aims Committee and Civilian Morale

Excerpt

This book discusses the National War Aims Committee (NWAC), a cross-party parliamentary organisation established to conduct propaganda within Britain, aimed at maintaining civilian morale in the last and most draining months of the First World War. By July 1917, British civilians had endured three years of disruption to their lives. Alongside anxiety for relatives and friends in the armed forces or other dangerous occupations, civilians had to contend with more intense pressures of work (not only longer hours or changing practices but also ideological associations of all work with the war effort); restrictions or curtailments of leisure; shortages of supplies of all kinds with concomitant economic pressure; and, for the first time in a Continental war, a credible prospect of wartime death or injury at home from enemy action. The new prime minister, David Lloyd George, was convinced by December 1916 that more was required to bolster civilian morale than ‘autonomous propaganda’ undertaken by the press and voluntary organisations. By the time the NWAC began operations in July 1917, Russia had experienced the first of two revolutions and Britain had witnessed several strikes over working conditions and the advocacy, at a socialist ‘convention’ at Leeds, of the creation of workers’ and soldiers’ councils, making the establishment of such an organisation appear all the more urgent. Over the last 15 months of the war, the NWAC held thousands of meetings and distributed over one hundred million publications, propagating a wide-ranging and flexible patriotic message reflective of the total-war environment in which civilians found themselves.

1 M.L. Sanders and Philip M. Taylor, British Propaganda during the First World War, 1914–18, (London: Macmillan, 1982), pp. 55–57; Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War (London: Allen Lane, 1998), pp. 212–30.

2 ‘Total war’ here means a war involving and affecting every member of a society – one which is the pre-eminent issue and activity of that society. It does not suggest that every material and human resource is geared solely to the prosecution of war – such a war is almost certainly an impossible ‘ideal type’: Stig Förster,

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