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POPULAR NEWSPAPERS DURING WORLD WAR I

Parts 1 to 3: 1914-1919 (The Daily Express, The Mirror, The News of the World, The People and The Sunday Express)

Publisher's Note

When the world descended into the First World War, a barbaric struggle of unparalleled brutality, the primary method for the dissemination of news was the popular press. The British Government realised this and exercised strict controls over reporting. However, these newspapers still have a great deal to offer historians of this period.

Many reporters followed the troops at the front and provide eye-witness reports of conflicts such as the Somme and Gallipoli. They report on the resigned bravery of the common soldier, and the attitudes of their commanders; on the efforts of the nursing corps, and the fate of prisoners of war; on the inflexible nationalist fervour of domestic politicians, and the revolutionary struggles in Russia.

Complete sets of The Daily Express, The Daily Mirror, The News of the World, The People and Sunday Express enable researchers to compare and contrast the reporting of the particular issues and events across the breadth of the popular press. In the case of The Daily Express, scholars can see the impact made on the editorial content of a newspaper by a change in ownership - as William Maxwell Beaverbrook, aged 36, acquired The Daily Express from R D Blumenfeld in 1915.

Part 1 covers 1914-1915. War did not seem at all inevitable in early 1914 and on 4 January 1914 The News of the World even ran a story on “Our New and Cordial Relations with Germany”. Even in May 1914, talk of war is more likely to refer to the American war in Mexico. Women’s Suffrage issues are widely and contrastingly reported. But after 28 June when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were murdered at Sarajevo, Bosnia, with shots that rang out around the world, the imperatives of nationalism forced Austria to declare war on Serbia (28 July), Russia to support Serbia, Germany to declare war on France (3 August) and Britain to declare war on Germany in support of Belgium and France (4 August). By 16 August the newspapers were describing “the World’s Greatest Battle: 2,000,000 Men Meet in Mighty Conflict”. Allied attempts to overcome the stalemate of trench warfare by maintaining landings in Gallipoli in 1915 are also described in detail. The ultimate failure of the assaults on Turkey and Mesopotamia caused widespread gloom.

Part 2 covers 1916 amd 1917, encompassing the indecisive naval battle of Jutland, the first battle of the Somme (in which a nine mile advance cost over 400,000 lives to the British forces), the submarine war-fare in the Atlantic and the eventual entry into the conflict of the United States of America in 1917. The drive to conscript men comes vividly alive, both in the editorial justification of enrolling working men without consent or choice and also in Lord Kitchener’s recruitment adverts which leap from the pages. The condemnation and persecution of conscientious objectors is also followed, largely unsympathetically.

Germany was relieved on the Eastern Front when the Bolsheviks signed a peace treaty following the Russian Revolution, but the Allies made gains in the Middle East as Allenby captured Palestine from the Turks. Also in 1917, Allied forces were again able to make only small gains for the loss of enormous numbers of lives in the mud of Ypres, but the issue of tanks at Cambrai promised to end trench warfare. Beaverbrook was closely involved with the replacement of Asquith as Prime Minister in December 1916 by Lloyd George and this is reflected in The Daily Express.

Part 3 concludes the project and covers both 1918 and 1919. The cumulative impact of Allied naval supremacy (consequently reducing Axis supplies) and the growing presence of American forces on the Western front forced the war to a conclusion. After watching Bulgaria, Turkey and Austria collapse, the Kaiser fled and peace was formalised by the armistice of 11 November 1918. Over 7 million men had been killed in the war and the economies of many of the major powers were wrecked. The Peace Treaties signed in 1919 were deliberately punitive and sowed the seeds for the Second World war twenty years later. In Britain, women were given the vote and were to enter nearly all public offices and professions and Lady Astor was the first women MP elected to take her seat in Parliament. Union power began to exert an influence as a threatened miners’ strike and a successful railway strike paved the way for labour unrest in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Violence at the General Strike in Glasgow (31 June) threatened social unrest.

These newspapers provide a mass of evidence for the social history of this period, as the popular press always sought to reflect popular culture and stay in touch with public opinion concerning the war, labour disputes, women’s right to vote and work, and the human issues of the period.

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