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(The WAR to DECEMBER 1916 – continued)

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The WAR to DECEMBER 1916 (11 of 11)

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Suffering on the Home Fronts, 1916-17

Aside from all the dead and wounded, the year 1916 ended for Britain with other annoyances. Reserves of grain were low, and potatoes and sugar were scarce. People had to stand in long lines to buy things. In Britain, feeding pigeons and throwing rice at weddings were prohibited. France had similar annoyances. Prices had risen forty percent, food was rationed, people were standing in long lines, and with a shortage of coal people were shivering in their homes.

Britain's new Prime Minister, David Lloyd-George, believed that the will to continue fighting was fading, and he saw that Britain's fiscal resources were fading. Britain had become deeply mortgaged to US creditors in order to purchase goods from the United States, and Lloyd-George believed that Britain could not hold out much longer.

German workers were now putting in fourteen-hour days. And, according to official German counting, 121,114 Germans had starved to death in 1916, up from 88,232 in 1915 – deaths the Germans attributed to the British blockade. But it was also the result of a decline in Germany's farm production because men and horses had been taken from farms for the war effort. During 1916, food riots had occurred in approximately thirty German cities. And premature frosts came that killed the potato harvest. The coming winter would be known as the Turnip Winter. And short of coal like the French, German civilians were shivering in their homes.

An intense young German, Corporal Adolf Hitler, had been wounded in 1916, and late that year while on leave in Berlin he was shocked by the hunger, resignation and disaffection he saw on the home front. He was disturbed by the sight of what he saw as "slackers" proud of their cleverness in getting out of the war. He was disgusted by the bickering of Germany's political parties. Steeled in his patriotism, he returned to the front to do his part in producing Germany's victory.

Czechs and Slovaks were unhappy about their obligations to support the Austro-Hungarian empire in its war. They had become more outspoken in their opposition to Habsburg rule. Franz Joseph's empire was falling apart as he died, on November 21, while his government was combating nationalist subversion, executing activist nationalists and sending other nationalists to newly created concentration camps. Franz Joseph was succeeded by his grandnephew, Karl, who had proven himself courageous in battle. But he had developed less tolerance for war than a typical government bureaucrat, and he announced that he would "banish the horrors and sacrifices of war at the earliest moment."

In Russia, the faith that people had in their tsar, Nicholas, was fading. The public, with its usual inclination toward fanciful notions believed that the tsar's wife Alexandra, a German princess, was passing secrets to the Germans. But there were more dire circumstances. Russia had increased its production of armaments and its over-all industrial output since the beginning of the war but this had put a strain on an already inadequate system of transportation. War material was piling up miles from the front. Like the other belligerents, Russia was financing the war with inflation, and people in its cities were suffering from prices four times what they had been at the beginning of the war. Strikes were breaking out as workers demanded more money with which to buy food. To replace the men already lost in the war, Russia had begun ordering into the military the breadwinning males of families. This produced peasant unrest and brought into the military bitter conscripts. More soldiers were deserting. Unknown to Nicholas, discontent was at the point of undermining his rule.  Nicholas, the commander-in- chief of Russia’s armies, was laying the ground for turning the Great War into a great revolution.

Sources

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, by Stanley Weintraub, 2001

The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman, MacMillan, 1962.

The First World War: A Complete History, by Martin Gilbert, 1996.

The Pity of War, by Naill Ferguson, 2006

Kaiser Wilhelm II, Chapter 8, by Christopher M. Clark, 2000.

Copyright © 1998-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.