The United Kingdomâ€”then consisting of England, Scotland, Wales, and Irelandâ€”was one of the Allied Powers during World War I (1914â€“1918), fighting against the Central Powers (the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Bulgaria). The country's armed forces were reorganisedâ€”the war marked the creation of the Royal Air Force, for exampleâ€”and increased in size because of the introduction, in January 1916, of forced conscription for the first time in the country's history. The outbreak of war has generally been regarded as a socially unifying event, though this view has been challenged by more recent scholarship. In any case, responses in the United Kingdom in 1914 were similar to those amongst populations across Europe.
Despite, on the eve of war, there being serious domestic unrest in the UK (amongst the labour and suffrage movements and, most notably, in Ireland), much of the population of the United Kingdom rapidly rallied around the national cause. Significant sacrifices were made in the name of defeating the enemy and many those who could not fight contributing to philanthropic and humanitarian causes. Fearing food shortages and labour shortfalls, the government passed legislation such as the Defence of the Realm Act, to give it new powers to safeguard civilians. The war saw a move away from the idea of "business as usual" (the preservation of the status quo) under prime minister Herbert Henry Asquith, and towards a state of total war (complete state intervention in public affairs) under David Lloyd George, the first time this had been seen in Britain. The war also witnessed the first aerial bombardments of cities in Britain.
Newspapers played an important role in maintaining popular support for the war. Large quantities of propaganda were produced by the government under the guidance of such journalists as Charles Masterman and newspaper owners such as Lord Beaverbrook. By adapting to the changing demographics of the workforce (or the "dilution of labour", as it was termed), war-related industries grew rapidly, and production increased, as disparate groups of people pulled together. In that regard, the war is also credited by some with drawing women into mainstream employment for the first time. Debates continue about the impact the war had on women's emancipation, given that a large number of women were granted the vote for the first time in 1918. The experience of individual women during the war varied; much depended on locality, age, marital status and occupation.
During the war, the British Royal Family, under George V, dissolved ties with its German relatives and changed its name from the German-sounding House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the decidedly British House of Windsor. Meanwhile, the country faced other challenges; plans to rescue the King's cousins in Russia, including Tsar Nicholas II, were largely unsuccessful and the civilian death-rate rose due to food shortages and Spanish Flu, which hit the country in 1918. Military deaths are estimated to have exceeded 850,000. Furthermore, it has been suggested that increased national sentiment from the war helped to fuel the breakup of the British Empire, with countries such as Australia and Canada, then parts of the empire, fighting battles under their own direction. Nevertheless, from a geographical perspective, the empire reached its zenith at the conclusion of peace negotiations.