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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Woolwich Arsenal Employees

Guest Jadranka

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I had two uncles (brothers) who, from the limited information we have as a family, appear not to have enlisted until late 1916 at the earliest. They had always worked in the Arsenal, living in Woolwich and following the family tradition. But we notice that the eldest was already 26 and married with a small baby at the time of their enlistment. Could they have been in a reserved occupation as Arsenal workers, that then became de-reserved? I see there was conscription generally in 1916, and that some of the criteria for reserved occupations was lessened, otherwise we can't understand how it was that they were already 24 and 26 when they enlisted. The younger one was pronounced unfit to serve after his training, but the older of the two went to the front with the 5th Brigade of the Royal Artillery, but only lasted 3 months before he was killed at Ypres in August of 1917.

I'd be really grateful if anyone was able to confirm for us that their occupation was the reason for their late enlistment, and that conscription would have taken them out of that "reserved" position. Of course the family are not "shamed" in any way into thinking that they were reluctant to join the thousands of brave young men fighting for king and country, but at last my sister, cousin and I (all grandparents and even great=grandparents)O are trying to piece together the story of their lives which how we wish we had done long ago. Obviously there is no-one of that generation left alive to help us in our quest.

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I think in general this was by no means unusual and perhaps quite 'normal'. Early enlistees were commonly young and single. If skilled men at the Arsenal I think unlikely they were forced to go, as their work was important, especially in the early years of the war when munitions supplies were pretty inadequate. But, I would perhaps not see this as a 'late enlistment' given who they were.

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Conscription only came in in the early part of 1916, and was based on classes dervied from age and marital status. Late 1916 seems about right for these men (I think the classes are listed on http://www.1914-1918.net somewhere). There wasn't quite the same concept of reserved occupations in the First World War, though one of the grounds for exemption was being engaged on work of national importance. As munitions manufacture had to exapand incredibly quickly experienced workers were certainly at a premium, and if they counted as established civil servants they had to have permission to enlist.

Members of my family also worked at the Arsenal.

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