Discover more about the UK Home Front
The UK Home Front
Not all of the casualties of the First World War are buried in a corner of a foreign field. More than 130,000 servicemen and women of the First World War are buried or commemorated in the United Kingdom. Many are named on Memorials to the Missing, erected after the war's end to commemorate those with no known grave. While those lost in action on land or in the air are commemorated on memorials close to where they fought, but more than 37,000 sailors, marines, officers, and merchant mariners of the First World War lost or buried at sea are commemorated at Portsmouth, Plymouth, Chatham, and Tower Hill, and army and air services personnel lost at sea are commemorated on a memorial at Hollybrook Cemetery, Southampton. Yet there are also 90,000 war graves in the United Kingdom, the third highest number of known and marked Commonwealth war graves in the world, behind only France and Belgium.
War graves can be found all across the UK, partly reflecting the geographical spread of the thousands of hospitals and medical facilities, and partly the fact that the principles that were established for burials overseas were relaxed when it came to those who died in Britain. The next-of-kin of many of those who died in the UK chose to lay their relatives to rest where they wished. Some were buried in isolated graves in rural locations. Many lie within churchyards, often within family plots, and some still under the markers that family or friends chose at the time. Many war graves can be found within the municipal cemeteries of larger towns and cities. Sometimes they are grouped into war graves plots, but often they are scattered throughout cemetery grounds.
A large sign requesting 'Quiet for the Wounded' hangs outside Charing Cross Hospital at Agar Street, London, in September 1914. Heavy traffic has been diverted to minimise noise in the street. IWM Q 53311.
Many of the larger war graves plots around the UK reflect a particular local wartime history. The graves of sailors of the Royal and Merchant navies can often be found in coastal towns and ports, such as Belfast. Some stately homes and estates such Cliveden in Berkshire were used for medical care, and graves were made in their grounds. The municipal cemeteries of towns with important medical facilities have particularly large numbers of graves: places such as Bristol, Birmingham, Cambridge, Carlisle, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle and London.
Hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women came from the battlefields to Britain because they had been wounded, injured or struck down by sickness or disease. Planning for their care began before the outbreak of war, with some 150 military hospitals in the United Kingdom intended to provide a total of 7,000 beds. In August 1914, 23 Territorial Force general hospitals were mobilised and provided an additional 12,000 beds, but this was quickly found to be insufficient. In 1915 the War Office negotiated the temporary acquisition of other hospitals, schools and large buildings to increase the supply of beds for patients who were being brought from the fighting fronts.
People queuing to view an ambulance train at Liverpool Lime Street station before it goes into military service, February 1916. SSPL/National Railway Museum HOR F 1774.
Most casualties were cared for by skilled medical staff, male and female, as close as possible to the front-lines, and would recover to return to duty without leaving that theatre of war. Men in need of prolonged treatment, who could survive the journey to the UK, returned to Britain by hospital ship and ambulance train. When casualty numbers were particularly high, more cases would be sent directly to Britain. In many places, temporary stations or platforms were built to better connect hospitals with the railway, and across the country thousands of civilian volunteers helped to transport patients from trains to their beds. 'Central' hospitals received wounded direct from the front, and many cities became hospital hubs: in London alone, there were around 26,000 beds for military patients by 1917. All over the country, medical facilities large and small helped to treat all manner of ailments. In collaboration with the War Office and local authorities, the Red Cross and civilian voluntary organisations, the army medical services dealt with an estimated 11 million cases over the course of the conflict at home and abroad.
Significant advances were made in medical care over the four years of war. Specialist treatment for all kinds of injuries and conditions was developed, including neurological and psychiatric care, pioneering maxillofacial, cosmetic and orthopaedic work, treatments for tropical disease and respiratory therapy. Official records show that 2,655,025 cases were treated in the United Kingdom between 1914 and 1919, and less than 0.5% died. Many of those who did not survive were victims of the global influenza pandemic which swept through Europe between 1918 and 1920. In the months around the Armistice, influenza claimed the lives of up to 250,000 Britons. 'Spanish flu' was a global pandemic that killed between three to six per cent of the entire world's population. An estimated 25 million people died in the first six months alone and the virus may have killed more than 50 million people worldwide.
Others buried in the UK died here while fighting the enemy. In the First World War, Britain came under attack from the air, its coastal waters became a battleground, and service personnel were killed in action or while defending the home front. Some died while stationed in base camps or training facilities, or in accidents. Many laid to rest here died far from home: the graves of service personnel from across the Commonwealth can be found all over the country, often in areas where hospitals or bases were established like Sutton Veny or Cannock Chase, but also near relatives still resident in the UK. The first member of a New Zealand unit to die in the UK passed away at a military hospital in Walton-on-Thames, but is buried in Kirkwall, Orkney.