Responses to War

The First World War, and the policies introduced because of it, sometimes met resistance, protest and unrest away from the front lines.

Women’s International Congress

Defence of the realm act poster. © IWM pst 8365

In 1915 suffrage women all over the world wanted a peaceful end to the war. They decided to organise a Women’s International Congress in neutral Netherlands. The conference was held in The Hague and was attended by approximately 2,000 women from 26 countries.

The French and Russian governments banned all attendees, and the British tried to prevent women from going. 180 British women applied for travel permits to attend the International Congress, but only 24 were issued. The Admiralty then closed the North Sea to all shipping on their day of departure. All except two British women were prevented from going, and the press mocked them as ‘Peace Crankettes’!

The Congress was the first international meeting to outline plans for a peace settlement. The 20 resolutions, which included no secret treaties, are reflected in the Covenant of the League of Nations that was signed after the war. The Congress also agreed that no blame should be assigned for starting the war.

Enemy Aliens

Prior to the outbreak of War, there were over 50,000 Germans living in Britain, most of whom were
resident in London but also places such as Brighton and Birmingham. The British Government introduced the Aliens Restriction Act in 1914 immediately after the outbreak of the War which meant Germans had to register with the police and could not leave Britain without a special permit.

The Government also introduced a policy of interning German males of military age. This was said to be for their safety, but was mainly to stop them being able to enlist into the German army. Internment camps emerged across the country, the largest could hold up to 23,000 and was situated on the Isle of Man.



George Kenner was a German artist who moved to London in 1910. During the war George was held at three internment camps, which inspired a lot of his artwork.

Conscription in Britain

In 1914 many European countries conscripted men into national service, however Britain’s military relied on volunteers. The First World War required huge manpower and a considerable number of men were killed or injured on the front lines with not enough volunteers to replace them. To fill this gap, the British Government introduced conscription through the Military Service Act 1916, for the first time in modern history! Single men aged 18 to 41 were liable to be called up for military service under the Act. Conscription was met with some resistance.

Objections to War in Germany

Military values were an important part of German society, but there were people who objected to the War. Anti-war feelings were suppressed by military censorship, and pacifists were isolated and imprisoned. Conscription laws in Germany did not allow people to object to the war, but men who objected for religious reasons were often given non-combatant roles. However, those who objected for political reasons were often sent to mental asylums or prisons! This was a way of discrediting those who refused to take up non-combatant roles, and getting rid of troublesome individuals.

Conscription Elsewhere

France: Conscription had a huge impact on French society with up to 80 percent of men aged between 18 and 46 serving in the war by 1915. The French government turned to their colonies and Chinese labourers for additional manpower

Russia: Prior to the war, men were conscripted into the army for three years. In 1914, it is claimed that Russia had an army of over five million men. Much like in Britain, conscription during the war took away skilled workers needed in factories on the home front.

Austria-Hungary: Three armed forces were obtained by conscription. Austria and Hungary each had their own army, and the Imperial and Royal Army conscripted from across their Empire

The Ottoman Empire: Conscription was enforced, regardless of religion. They faced many challenges in mobilising troops for the war, such as fighting on multiple fronts which stretched their resources.