Photo story

20 Incredible Photos From The First World War Home Front

Britain went to war on 4 August 1914. The German invasion of Belgium, the independence of which Britain had guaranteed in 1839, united the nation behind the Liberal government of Herbert Asquith. Many in Britain, as in the other warring nations, expected the war would be a short one, with the Allies quickly triumphing over Germany. There was a great deal of patriotic fervour, whipped up by the popular press and politicians, and exemplified by a rush of men to join up. In the event, the war was to last for over four years and it would change the cultural, economic, political and social fabric of Britain forever.

In Britain’s previous wars, the civilian population had almost been untouched. Now civilians were in the front line as towns on the east coast came under bombardment from German warships, and London and other cities and towns were subjected to aerial attacks from airships and aeroplanes in which 1,414 were killed and 3,416 seriously injured. Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare resulted in the loss of many lives, seriously threatened Britain’s food supplies and led eventually to the introduction of nationwide rationing in 1918.

Many other wartime measures affected the lives of ordinary people, including the Defence of the Realm Act, licensing laws and the introduction of conscription in 1916. Under Asquith’s successor, David Lloyd George, a much more centralised form of government was introduced. The war also brought about the emancipation of women and a general loosening of the class system.

Terry Charman's book, The First World War on the Home Front, is available in our shop now.

  • 1. Outbreak

    Crowds outside Buckingham Palace cheer King George V, Queen Mary and the Prince of Wales at the outbreak of war, August 1914.
    Crowds outside Buckingham Palace cheer King George V, Queen Mary and the Prince of Wales at the outbreak of war, August 1914.
    Q 81832

    Crowds outside Buckingham Palace cheer King George V, Queen Mary and the Prince of Wales at the outbreak of war, August 1914.

  • 2. Declaration of war

    Holidaymakers read the news of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, Wednesday 5 August 1914.
    Holidaymakers read the news of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, Wednesday 5 August 1914.
    Q 113583

    Holidaymakers read the news of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, Wednesday 5 August 1914.

  • 3. The first wounded return

    The first British wounded arrive in London from France, early September 1914.
    The first British wounded arrive in London from France, early September 1914.
    Q 53275

    The first British wounded arrive in London from France, early September 1914.

  • 4. The Boy Scouts pitch in

    Boy Scouts receive instructions for sounding the ‘All Clear’ after air raids.
    Boy Scouts receive instructions for sounding the ‘All Clear’ after air raids.
    Q 30605

    Boy Scouts receive instructions for sounding the ‘All Clear’ after air raids. In the London area, 350 Scouts volunteered for air raid duty in time for the Gotha raid of 31 October - 1 November 1917.

  • 5. Air raid shock

    London children, suffering from air raid shock, return from a walk to St Nicholas’s Convalescent Home in Chailey, Sussex.
    London children, suffering from air raid shock, return from a walk to St Nicholas’s Convalescent Home in Chailey, Sussex.
    Q 30538

    London children, suffering from air raid shock, return from a walk to St Nicholas’s Convalescent Home in Chailey, Sussex, early 1918.

  • 6. German POWs in Britain

    German prisoners of war work on the land, October 1917.
    German prisoners of war work on the land, October 1917.
    Q 54200

    ‘Kamerad!’: German prisoners of war work on the land, October 1917.

  • 7. Grow your own

    Schoolgirls doing their bit to stave off the German threat by growing vegetables in their school grounds, spring 1918.
    Schoolgirls doing their bit to stave off the German threat by growing vegetables in their school grounds, spring 1918.
    Q 31153

    Schoolgirls doing their bit to stave off the German threat by growing vegetables in their school grounds, spring 1918.

  • 8. National kitchens

    The first National Kitchen at 104 Westminster Bridge Road, opened by Queen Mary on 21 May 1917.
    The first National Kitchen at 104 Westminster Bridge Road, opened by Queen Mary on 21 May 1917.
    Q 54564

    The first National Kitchen at 104 Westminster Bridge Road, opened by Queen Mary on 21 May 1917.

  • 9. Munitions workers

    Munitions workers on board a float at the Lord Mayor’s Show in London, November 1917.
    Munitions workers on board a float at the Lord Mayor’s Show in London, November 1917.
    Q 54193

    Munitions workers on board a float at the Lord Mayor’s Show in London, November 1917.

  • 10. Women in the transport industry

    A London bus conductress taking the fare from a member of the Royal Flying Corps.
    A London bus conductress taking the fare from a member of the Royal Flying Corps.
    Q 61348

    A London bus conductress taking the fare from a member of the Royal Flying Corps.

  • 11. Christmas in wartime

    The free buffet at Euston Station, Christmas 1917.
    The free buffet at Euston Station, Christmas 1917.
    Q 54274

    The free buffet at Euston Station, Christmas 1917.

  • 12. Raising funds for the war effort

    Children at Gibbons Road School in London receive their War Savings certificates.
    Children at Gibbons Road School in London receive their War Savings certificates.
    Q 30239

    Children at Gibbons Road School in London receive their War Savings certificates for having contributed 15/6d (78p today) to the War Saving Association, 1916.

  • 13. Schoolboys lend a hand

    Schoolboys muck-spreading, 1917.
    Schoolboys muck-spreading, 1917.
    Q 54565

    Schoolboys muck-spreading, 1917.

  • 14. A royal visit

    King George V meets 15-year-old Martha Roxborough, a worker in Messrs Russell and Company’s shipyard, Port Glasgow.
    King George V meets 15-year-old Martha Roxborough, a worker in Messrs Russell and Company’s shipyard, Port Glasgow.
    Q 54793

    King George V meets 15-year-old Martha Roxborough, a worker in Messrs Russell and Company’s shipyard, Port Glasgow, 17 September 1917.

  • 15. Bus conductresses on duty

    Bus conductresses in Richmond, Surrey, 1918.
    Bus conductresses in Richmond, Surrey, 1918.
    Q 114912

    Bus conductresses in Richmond, Surrey, 1918. The London General Omnibus Company started recruiting women conductors in February 1916.

  • 16. Children salvaging waste

    Buckinghamshire children on a salvage drive, 1917.
    Buckinghamshire children on a salvage drive, 1917.
    Q 70212

    Buckinghamshire children on a salvage drive, 1917.

  • 17. Photos from the Ministry of Information

    The scene outside the Ministry of Information’s Photographic Bureau at 10 Coventry Street, London W1 in 1918.
    The scene outside the Ministry of Information’s Photographic Bureau at 10 Coventry Street, London W1 in 1918.
    Q 31118

    The scene outside the Ministry of Information’s Photographic Bureau at 10 Coventry Street, London W1 in 1918. Crowds gather around the windows to view the photographs on display.

  • 18. Collecting for distressed families

    Belgian women collecting for distressed families at Newmarket racecourse, October 1914.
    Belgian women collecting for distressed families at Newmarket racecourse, October 1914.
    Q 53361

    Belgian women collecting for distressed families at Newmarket racecourse, October 1914.

  • 19. A concert at work

    Munitions workers dance during an open-air concert at a shell-filling factory, 1917.
    Munitions workers dance during an open-air concert at a shell-filling factory, 1917.
    Q 30026

    Munitions workers dance during an open-air concert at a shell-filling factory, 1917.

  • 20. Armistice Day celebrations

    The scene in Winchester’s main thoroughfare on Armistice Day, Monday 11 November 1918.
    The scene in Winchester’s main thoroughfare on Armistice Day, Monday 11 November 1918.
    Q 31229

    The scene in Winchester’s main thoroughfare on Armistice Day, Monday 11 November 1918.