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British casualties on the Western Front 1914-1918 and their influence on the military conduct of the Second World War.

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journal contribution
posted on 19.11.2015, 09:14 by E. Y. Whittle
It is often asserted that British army casualties in the Great War were carelessly incurred and that this influenced the way Britain fought in the Second World War. Manpower was a prime resource in the mobilisation for total war but its scarcity only fully realised by end of 1917 when the army was cautioned about casualties. The government, however, had feared an early popular reaction against mounting casualties. It did not materialise: the incidence of casualties was diffused over time, and households had no mass media spreading intimate awareness of battlefield conditions. The army itself never mutinied over casualties or refused to fight. The country considered the casualties grievous but not inordinate or unnecessary. Between the wars unemployment and 'consumerism' mattered more to people than memories of the Great War, kept ritually alive by annual Armistice Day services. Welfare benefits increased, more children went to secondary school but social and political change was tardy. Many intellectuals turned pacifist but Nazi Germany made an anti-war stance difficult. Air raids rather than memories of Great War casualties preoccupied the nation as it armed for war. In the Second World War army casualty lists were not regularly lengthy until the beginning of 1944 and did not have an adverse impact on civilian morale. The manpower shortage became acute earlier, in 1942, and army commanders were alerted to replacement problems. Politically, Churchill desired a strong, victorious British army but lack of men induced caution about casualties, particularly in relation to the invasion of Normandy, involving frontal amphibious attack on the German army. This caution communicated itself to the citizen armies in the field, which showed little natural bent for soldiering. These circumstances governed the way the army fought in the Second World War, not memories of Great War casualties - which were more numerous because of the extent over time and scale of the fighting.


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Historical Studies

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