|Effect of War
Between Great Britain and France (1856-1956)
by Nicholas Finney
Sheffield University, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England.
Throughout the hundred year period 1856-1956 Britain and France fought alongside each other bucking the trend that had proceeded for centuries. The impacts felt by the wars would no longer be caused by one another. As the wars gradually moved closer to the home front and increased in scale the social and economic consequences increased likewise.
BEFORE THE STORM 1856-1914
In March 1856 the war was brought to a close through the Peace of Paris. Great Britain and France assisted by Piedmont-Sardinia had been victorious over the Russian Empire on the Crimean peninsula in the war fought since 1854. The War had ended a period of European peace that had lasted since the 1815 Vienna Settlement. Russia’s power in Central and Eastern Europe was reduced by the defeat losing territory and falling into economic disarray. The French under their Emperor Napoleon III now had an open field to become the dominant continental power. Britain under the premiership of Viscount Palmerston had protected trade with the East, primarily India, by bolstering the Ottoman Empire against Russian expansion.
SECOND EMPIRE AND LIBERAL BRITAIN
Napoleon III had gained ‘La Gloire’ for the nation and prestige for himself enabling consolidation of his power gained by plebiscite on 1/12/1852. In the parliamentary elections of 1857 5,471,000 voted for the government while 665,000 against. This period of political stability enabled France under the Second Empire to rapidly economically and socially develop. Increased investment prevailed with a railway construction boom and the grand Suez Canal project (1859-1869). Universal suffrage was a lasting change although at this point under a hereditary Emperor. Relief for old age, maintenance of low bread prices and the right to strike and hold public meeting also helped to increase the welfare of the masses.
Palmerston was re-elected Prime Minister on the patriotic wave that followed the Crimean victory. The Liberals became the natural party of government until the Conservative resurgence of 1874. Britain remained the only industrialised nation in Europe and was thus the greatest economic power. The American Civil War 1861-1865 revealed how much Britain had become dependant on its international trade; cotton supplies from the Southern American states dried up and unemployment and hardship was felt in the mill towns of north-west England.
END OF FRENCH PRIMACY 1870
Napoleon III made several overseas commitments while reasserting French Power, the largest in Mexico. A French occupation lasted between 1861-1866 and ended in disaster giving ammunition to opposition forces. He had more success in supporting Italy in her wars of unification. Several military victories were scored over Austria and the Italian border areas of Savoy and Nice were annexed in reward. By July 1871 Chancellor Bismarck of Prussia had managed to provoke Napoleon into a declaration of war. The Prussian Army was superiorily equipped and trained and when hostilities began they quickly swept the French aside. Napoleon who was leading the army surrendered at Sedan with his 84,000 men. The Empire’s structure enabled a peaceful political evolution and power passed to a Republican government. It continued the war from September-March ending in defeat and a peace signing. The news of the peace raised Paris to revolt and it proclaimed itself a Commune. The occupying Prussian troops stood back to allow the constituted government to suppress the Commune. This was done from 21-28 May and became known as the ‘Bloody Week’. The army’s losses were minimal while the Commune suffered 10-30 thousand casualties.
On the 10th of May 1871 the Treaty of Frankfurt was signed ending the Franco-Prussian War on the terms of the Prussians. A new system of European powers had been forced in with German and Italian unification that would see peace for forty-three years. The new German Empire inflicted harsh terms upon the French including War reparations amounting to five billion Francs plus 5% interest annually, more importantly to the French was the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine to the German Empire. This area was a centre for the iron ore and textiles industries and had a population of 1½ million. Germany was now established in the French national psyche as the enemy.
In Britain the Conservatives were elected with a 110 seat majority in 1874, their first since 1846. The Conservatives withdrew Britain from continental affairs into what became known as ‘Glorious Isolation’ and made Imperialism an active policy. Reverses in the Afghan (1878) and Zulu (1879) Wars put doubt on this policy and helped seal the defeat of the government in the 1880 general election. Adolphe Thiers became the executive of the French Third Republic and managed to raise loans from the population for the indemnity payments. The war had left France without a system of government. Initially the Monarchists held an elected majority and it seemed a restoration was likely. Splits among Monarchist groups meant that by 1876 a Republican government had prevailed.
France’s isolation led her to follow Britain into the Imperial theatre looking for the prestige and international standing she had lost. A joint Anglo-French naval expedition set out to Egypt in 1882 to stabilise the Khedives situation threatened by a growing nationalist movement. The French fleet withdrew but the British continued to occupy Egypt, the Suez Canal now as important as Constantinople had once been. This was a knock to French pride as they had regarded Egypt within their orbit since Napoleon I’s expedition. The British expanded southwards to secure the entire Nile basin. The French continued to build their North-African empire and didn’t give up intentions on Egypt until the 1904 Anglo-French Entente.
During every year of Queen Victoria’s reign British soldiers fought in the Empire but the eruption of the Boer War in 1899 brought this to a new scale. The War against the two South African Boer republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State was formally ended in 1900 but guerrilla warfare lasted for a further two years. This tarnished British claims of moral superiority with 20,000 Boer civilians dying in concentration camps. The British suffered a total death toll of 22,000 with a financial cost of £222 million. The War was a blow to British self-confidence and a loss of prestige
THE GREAT WAR AND AFTER 1914-1939
THE LIGHTS GO OUT
On the 3rd of August 1914 Germany declared war on France and the next day invaded Belgium. A day later Britain declared war upon Germany supporting the Entente (Russia and France) and defending the neutrality of Belgium. This war developed on a pan European scale involving all the great powers Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia and many smaller ones. On the Western Front, where most of the British and French troops were concentrated, an unbroken line of trenches developed.
The slaughter of trench warfare required an unprecedented number of troops. France mobilised 168 out of every 1000 inhabitants and lost 34 while Britain mobilised 125 and lost 16. For the French the successful defence of Verdun by Marshal Petain in 1916 alone cost 315,000 causalities. The battle of the Somme similarly cost the British 420,000 casualties. The strains of total war were also felt away from the battlefield. In both Britain and France food and raw materials became scarce and prices rose. By 1917 the French grain harvest was 40% below pre-war levels because of the drain on men and equipment. In both countries lack of labour led to large-scale replacement of men with women. By 1918 90% of the munitions workers in Britain were female. The material shortage in France was not helped by the loss of the north-western industrial region that contributed 48% of the coal and 58% of the steel to national production. In both countries the need to co-ordinate all resources for the war effort led to a greater state intervention into the economy. Fixing prices, rationing, production and transportation all fell under this intervention.
EXHAUSTION AND VICTORY
Trade union membership in Britain had increased by two million by the end of the war. In Paris 100,000 munitions workers struck in 1917 suffering from the limits caused by the war. Disillusionment with the war led to the outbreak of mutinies in the French army in the summer of 1917, troops refused to go on the offensive. In Britain Lloyd George’s coalition government included several Labour MP’s to help smooth labour relations. This helped gain respectability as a party of government. In 1918 Britain spread its conscription (introduced for the first time in 1916) to Ireland. In Ireland this immediately upset the ‘Irish Convention’. This was attempting to bring about a peaceful political settlement following the suspension of the Home Rule Bill and the resulting 1916 Easter rising in Dublin. On 11th November 1918 the war ended with the signing of an armistice that was effectively a German Surrender. France had finally erased the memory of 1870 but at a high cost of 1,332,100 killed (16.6% of enlisted men) and three million debilitated. Britain had fared better with a loss of 750,000 but this was still an unbelievably large number.
At the end of the war France had Alsace-Lorraine returned and a fifteen year mandate on the Saar, a major coalfield region. Britain and France absorbed territories from the former Ottoman and German Empires. The British Empire had now reached its greatest extent including over ¼ of the world and population. 2½ million Imperial troops had taken part in the war. As a result dominions such as Australia and Canada achieved greater autonomy within the British commonwealth and nationalism grew especially in India. War reparations were paid by Germany to the Allies totalling £6,600 million.
AFTERMATH IN BRITAIN
The war was a huge financial drain on Britain, 10% of foreign assets were lost and a further 5% was confiscated in enemy countries or Russia. Financial drain continued with debility benefits and pensions. Britain was to remain indebted to the USA for some time. The country developed a more pacifist and anti-militaristic outlook than had previously existed. The demands of war helped social cohesion with the government taking more interest in the welfare of the people. The Representation of the People Law raised the total electorate to twenty-one million and full sex equality would soon follow. The 1918 general election re-elected and rewarded the war time coalition government and dealt the Liberals a defeat from which they never recovered. Labour now replaced them in opposition during the post-war years of Conservative domination. Stagnation continued in Britain’s traditional industries such as coal, shipbuilding and textiles. By 1925 national production was still only 92% of the 1914 figure compared to 117% in Germany. The 1929 Wall Street Crash and associated Great Depression put an end to the post-war ‘sigh of relief’. Exports fell by 50% between 1929 and 1931 and unemployment reached an all time high in August 1932 at 3,750,000, 23% of the work-force. The severity of this crash was largely due to the economic reliance upon the USA that the war had caused.
AFTERMATH IN FRANCE
France was economically backwards compared to Britain at the start of the war so the war helped clean the slate for development. By 1919 agriculture and industrial production was 45% below the 1913 figure. By 1924 industrial production had returned to pre-war levels and by 1929 was 40% above this. Still industrial business’s were poorly equipped and the large inefficient agricultural sector had yields far below her northern neighbours. This did have an advantage in that the effects of the Wall Street Crash were delayed and then not on the scale felt elsewhere. Demographic stagnation enhanced the problems through lower birth rates caused by the loss of 27% of males aged 18-27. By 1939 the population had returned to its 1913 figure but this did include three million immigrants. After the 1919 general election the victorious war time government formed the Bloc National. The war debts France accumulated meant that their financial policy relied heavily upon the German war reparations. The stoppage of these in 1923 forced a French occupation of the industrial Ruhr to drain resources.
OCCUPIED EUROPE AND RECOVERY 1939-1956
On the 10th May 1940 the German Blitzkrieg in the West began and with-in five weeks they dominated most of Europe. In 1942 the Japanese swept through South-East Asia occupying many British territories. Britain was now alone, fighting in defence of itself and the Empire. The Russians and Americans, brought out of neutrality, finally turned the tide on the Japanese and the Third Reich. The Germans surrendered in June 1945 followed by the Japanese in August after the use of the first Atomic weapon.
Britain’s dead amounted to 512,000 including troops, civilians, the merchant navy and Commonwealth troops which was less than the pervious war. Even greater effort was required for the war than the previous and the Emergency Powers Act 1939 put the government in complete control of the nation. The governments share of the G.D.P rose from 1/12 in 1938 - 1/2 in 1943. Trade dried up and a £10 billion deficit grew. Rationing of nearly all products came into effect spreading equality and healthier eating. Bombing of major cities by the Luftwaffe left large-scale devastation. Conscription was re-introduced and by 1945 the armed services consisted of 5,137,000 men and women. The working population increased by three million, again mainly women. Out of every nine in the work force two were in the armed services and three in war production. New government departments were founded e.g. Food, Information. Most supplies came from the USA on a Lend-Lease agreement that amounted to £5.4 Billion. At the end of the war foreign debt had increased by £3,350 million and overseas investment totalling £1,118 had been sold.
The terms that the French accepted the armistice on were harsh. The most densely populated north and west were occupied and had a financial levy imposed. Alsace-Lorraine was annexed to the Third Reich. Marshal Petain was given a free zone in the south-east that became known as Vichy France. Petain created a new constitution and collaborated with the church to re-establish moral order thus gaining widespread support. The Germans systematically exploited the economy by 1943 15% of agriculture and 40% of industry were exported to Germany. In all 36.6% of the national income was paid to Germany. In August 1942 labour conscription raised 650,000 workers for the Reich. As resistance forces grew, especially among the Communists 100,000 were killed or imprisoned. The Allies established the Western front in 1944 landing in Normandy and Vichy collapsed with the ‘Free-French’ and resistance forces taking power. There followed a short power vacuum during which 10,000 collaborators were executed.
Collective sacrifice and service strengthened humanitarian sentiment and broke down some of the wealth/birth divides. The General Election of July 1945 unlike previous post war elections put the opposition Labour party into power. Memories of pre-war unemployment and poor conditions were still strong and the Conservatives were blamed. Britain faced the problem of the financial exhaustion and US loans especially through the Marshal Plan were made available. The role of government had changed dramatically and State spending didn’t return to pre-war levels. The new government did what it had been elected to do by introducing the Welfare State and playing a larger role in the economy. Rationing was continued and wouldn’t end until the mid-fifties. This would help keep consumption down so that exports could be focused upon and relieve the balance of payments problem. A shortfall in labour generated by the war losses led to the first wave of immigration that would dramatically alter the population.
FRENCH FOURTH REPUBLIC
Reconstruction costs amounted to 4900 milliard Francs and 1/4 of national wealth had been destroyed compared to 1/10 in the First World War. A shortage of energy existed with only 40 million tons of coal available compared to 67 million in 1937. In 1946 prices rose by 80% and food shortages continued. By 1947 the cost of living had risen by 100% while real wages had fallen. The USA gave aid through the formal Marshall Plan began in 1948. By 1945 the rural landscape was not much different to the Middle Ages and the urban similar to the Second Empire. Jean Monet head of the coalition government set in action the First Monet Plan. By 1950 production had been increased by 25%. In 1950 agricultural production increased by an annual 6.4% between 1949-62. Birth rates increased by 21 per thousand from 1945-50. Between 1946-1980 the population increased from 40.3-55 million. This was an increasingly urban population especially among large numbers of immigrants from North Africa.
NEW WORLD ORDER
Britain had lost its position of world dominance and was now heavily dependant on the USA. Decolonisation began with the jewel in the crown, India and Pakistan, gaining independence in 1947. The smaller French Empire was breaking up more violently. As soon as the war ended, Vietnam in French Indo-China declared independence. The French didn’t accept this and sent troops resulting in a struggle that ended in defeat by 1954. 92,000 men had been killed and three billion French Francs spent, just when the country was attempting recovery. Violence in Algeria began in 1952 and again absorbed money and 400,000 men. Britain faced small scale guerrilla action in Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus. Britain was now more concerned with focusing foreign policy in support of N.A.T.O. and the USA against the Soviet Union. The Nationalisation of the Suez Canal by President Nasser in 1956 led Britain and France to make their final imperial intervention by occupying the canal zone. Britain wished to safeguard her trade echoing 1882 while France hoped to remove the Algerian rebel’s backing. International outcry resulted in a very quick cease-fire and withdrawal. Britain and France’s Imperial muscle no longer existed and Britain was obviously economically subservient to the USA. France’s Algerian problems grew destroying the Fourth Republic and giving birth to the Fifth. British pride and self-confidence had been knocked flat and within ten years they’d completely left Africa.
In Britain only the two World Wars had a dramatic impact upon the nation. Even these did not dramatically change the ongoing trends such as social reform and the decline in staple industries. In France the opposite was often true, 1871 and 1945 saw great upheaval and the foundation of new Republics. The collapse of the Second Empire brought in a period of social and economic stagnation so by 1945 France had advanced little at all. Through many small conflicts Britain and France had managed to establish extensive empires but the exhaustion of two world wars meant this position could no longer be maintained. The emergence of the two superpowers (USA and USSR) and the world polarisation meant Britain and France’s standing in the world had greatly decreased.