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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Enlisting at the Hiring Fair November (Martinmass) 1914


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On Sunday morning when I was standing in front of one of the war memorials I have been researching which is quite remote, among many others, a couple of thoughts occurred to me:

(The names are in chronological order of death.)

  1. 100 years ago, the man whose name is at the top of the list was already dead.
  2. The man whose name was at the bottom of the list enlisted in the next couple of weeks or so, 100 years ago.

The soldier at the bottom of the list and his brother enlisted at the local fair, which was a "hiring fair".

Agricultural workers were engaged from term day to term day and could be taken to court by farmers if they did not keep their spoken contract. Many agricultural workers would not strictly speaking be free to enlist until the term or quarter day. In Scotland the term day at this time of year is Martinmass (originally about Remembrance Weekend, but changed in the 1880s to) 28 November.

I suppose that in addition workers who could not find a place if there were any could be attracted to join up. I suspect that pre 1914 recruiting sergeants worked the hiring fairs.

Has anyone else come across men enlisting at the winter 1914 hiring fair?


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Hello Terry

Thank you for that. It is a tremendous piece of work.

I see that the Hiring Fair was 0n 9 November 1914. Martinmass (the feast of St Martin) is actually on 11 November.

I haven't yet found the exact date of the Brechin Fair in 1914, but my man's death report says that he enlisted at the fair in "late November" which would match with the Scottish Term Day on 28th November.


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In the town of Battle, the Martinmass Fair was traditionally held from about 10th to 22nd November.

(St Martin was also the patron saint of Battle Abbey).

As you rightly point out, Hiring Fairs were just that, take on new farm labourers and often summarily evict those no longer wanted.

Farm jobs came with tied cottages, so if you didn't have a job, you (and your family) didn't have a home.

Just about any regular gathering of men would be a fair target for recruiting sergeants!

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