The friction between civil and military authorities was never greater than during the Great War of 1914-1918. The unprecedented casualties suffered by the British Army and involvement of every element of British life in the conflagration gave added intensity to this conflict. The ability of British democracy to wage total war was put to a severe test. Where did the responsibility of the civilians end in formulating strategy? Where did the authority of the soldiers begin? This strategic debate largely centered on the size of Britain's commitment to the ghastly slaughter in the trenches of the Western Front.
Before 1914 British war planners had thought of a short war with at most only limited involvement in Europe. After Britain's plunge into war, the civil and military authorities decided to employ the small professional British Army on the continent to save France from being overrun, a decision made easier by the widespread belief that the war would be over within a few months. By this continental commitment Britain became involved in a long and bloody war of attrition in France and Flanders.
As 1914 ended in stalemate in the West with few of the original members of the British Expeditionary Force still on their feet the debate over the employment of future British armies began in earnest. The government's chief military adviser was Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War. Although the public viewed Kitchener as Britain's greatest soldier, his appointment was almost certainly a mistake.