The Natal home front in the Great War (1914-1918)

Thompson, P. S.
May 2011
Historia;May2011, Vol. 56 Issue 1, p101
Academic Journal
The Great War or First World War in South Africa has received relatively little attention. A score of books deal more or less with the fighting, but practically nothing has been written about the "home front". This article seeks to rectify the imbalance in part by focusing on the home front in the province of Natal. It does two things. First, it presents a narrative of home-front operations. It begins with the popular reaction to the outbreak of the war; and proceeds to fund raising and recruiting activities; the maintenance of morale against war weariness; and, finally, a joyful embrace of peace. The thesis is that the imperial, English-speaking sections (European and Asiatic) of the population genuinely supported the war effort (whereas Afrikaners and Africans were largely indifferent or hostile towards it) and the British settler elite willingly and effectively took responsibility for the local civilian effort. Second, the article represents an assay of the existing literature on the subject. Thus it is significant historiographically, and on the eve of the centenary points a way to future research and writing on South Africa in the war.


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