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Amitmis

Some questions about the recruitment process...

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Amitmis

Hello everybody,

 

I'm glad to have found this forum and hope this is the right place for questions like this one.

 

I am researching WW1 with an emphasis on the British involvement for a novel (fiction) I'm writing.

 

I was looking for information about the stages of recruitment of British soldiers, with an emphasis on the process itself (as opposed to, say, the requirements for recruitment), and I couldn't find any detailed information (it doesn't need to be meticulous, just detailed enough) of the kind I was looking for.

 

So I'll ask it like this:

 

What were the step-by-step actions one had to go through in order to enlist?

 

I know about the existence of "queues" for recruitment, and about the next step which is medical examinations etc etc. But what I'm looking for is a more in-depth look into the space between the first and second space :) Meaning: let's say I'm a 16 year-old from a small village who wants to enlist together with a friend of mine.

 

- Where do I go? Do the posters have adrdesses on them for the nearest "recruitment place"?

- What happens when I get to the front of the line? Do I sign something? Attest to something?

- What's next? Am I given a second address to go to in order to be medically examined, or is the clinic adjacent to the queue and I just go right ahead to the next step?

- When am I recruited? The same day?

- Am I supposed to bring something with me? A bag containing any personal belongings? Do I get to take with anything (within reason, of course) that I want that can fit in the bag, or were the bags examined as well?

- Did my parents get a letter of any kind informing them of my recent recruitment to the army? Does someone talk to them, just to inform them of the news?

 

And one "extra" question (more of a question cluster, to be honest. Excuse me if I'm being greedy here): If I die on the battlefield, who informs my family? Is there a set protocol? Is there a fixed text the informer needs to recite to my family? Do they get to decide which kind of funeral will be held? Were some of the bodies sent back to England, or were they all buried in an assigned improvised cemetery near the battlefield? Was there some kind ritual revolving the death of a soldier? Was there an obligation to retrieve his body or give him any kind of burial?

 

 

I hope this is the right place,

and I thank you in advance for the patience and indulgence. I know it's a lot to ask here. And feel free, of course, to only answer the questions you feel like answering (if at all). 

Amit.

Edited by Amitmis

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clive_hughes

Hi Amit, and welcome to the Forum.

You may find some of your questions about recruiting discussed here:

 

Where to go: newspapers would have adverts listing Territorial and New Army recruiting offices in the locality.  Leaflets were given out with information as well, and some stuck up in shop windows etc.  On fair days recruiters (civil and military) might also be seen wandering around looking for likely candidates. 

 

Medical might be held in an adjacent room or premises, or somewhere else on the following day.  

 

No birth certificate asked for: if you looked the age you stated, that was enough.  In a few cases I've read of, when one of a pair (or more) of friends was rejected his mate(s) said they wouldn't join up unless they could all go, and got the nod.  

 

Sometimes men were recruited virtually "on the spot", but often they were given a "Notice" document explaining the terms and conditions of service, and asked what date they'd be back in order to complete their attestation and so on (see article above).  They could then bring a bag or small case of belongings with them.  The Army wasn't overly worried about what was in the bag, but guarding its contents from predatory fellow soldiers could be difficult!  A Notice also gave you time to hand your resignation in to your employer and get your affairs in order.   

 

You legally enlisted at the point when you were sworn in, taking the oath of attestation. 

 

You weren't directly asked who your parents were, but you would normally give a name and address of whoever you wanted to be listed as your next of kin, and state the relationship.  Scope there for naming say an older sibling who was willing, and living miles away?  They wouldn't get a letter announcing your enlistment, nor would someone official go round to see them.  More likely you would tell them after the event what you'd done, and (if under-age) risk their tearing round to the recruiting office to demand you be discharged on the grounds of making a false statement etc.  

 

As to battlefield burials, if they could find your body at all then it was given a very simple funeral - a few prayers when they put you under and a wooden cross (hopefully) marking the spot.  They didn't have pre-listed "requests" as to what sort of service etc. you'd like; and the best you could normally hope for was that it'd be taken by a padre of your stated religious denomination.  It was your listed next of kin who would be informed if you were killed or missing.  For ordinary soldiers, this just arrived as a pre-printed form in the post, with the personal details filled in by a clerk.  Sometimes families got to know sooner than the official communication, because comrades would write home to tell them what had happened. 

 

There was no obligation to retrieve dead bodies, other than one of simple pride or compassion by soldiers in trying to get one of their comrades' bodies back to a safe place of burial - if possible (and often it wasn't - half of those listed as "missing" on the Western Front still haven't been found, even as an unnamed body).  Only a handful of bodies were retrieved to Britain, all of them officers, and in the first part of the war before the practice was stopped.   Scattered burials were later disinterred and grouped in larger cemeteries.  Those who died in large base hospitals and medium-sized field hospitals would usually be buried in a cemetery specially started for the purpose (and are still there today).  

 

Hope that's of  help.  There are lots of exceptions, variations of a theme, and alternatives, but if you need some of the finer detail I'm sure someone can oblige!

 

Clive    

 

 

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clk

Hi Amit,

 

If you haven't already seen it, the Long Long Trail here may give you some useful background.

 

Regards

Chris

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Amitmis

Thank you so much for the information, Clive! It's been very very helpful.

 

And Chris, thank you for the "Long Long Trail"! I just copied every page there to a word document and printed it for myself. It is GOLD!

 

 

By the way, here's another question cluster (I appologize again if this is too much, I'm just so curious!): Was any of the missing soldiers ever "found"?

 

I know it sounds funny, but I'm thinking - is there a chance that out of the over-a-milion British soldiers enlisted, at least one man just, say - ran away? Hid somewhere? Started a new life in France?

 

Were there any "searches" for any of those missing soldiers, or were they all automatically just presumed dead?

 

Was there a record for those missing soldiers who were later found dead (who's bodies were discovered)? Are there still to this day bodies (skeletons, obviously) popping out now and again, some "cold cases" being finally resolved?

 

 

Thanks again!

Amit.

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Amitmis

And two extra questions, if it's o.k:

 

- What was the reason(s) for the great British unemployment rates right after ww1? One would think after having lost many men, many jobs will become available "for the rest of the people". How come no one could find a job in a country so desperate (I would guess) for recovery in every aspect?

 

- What was the reason for there having been signs reading "No ex-servicemen need apply"?

 

both facts seem somewhat counter-intuitive, aren't they?

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Amitmis

And one more little one :)

 

When a soldier died, beside the letter his family recieved announcing his death, was his personal belongings (things he brough with him to the war) sent back to the family as well?

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Scalyback
20 hours ago, Amitmis said:

I know it sounds funny, but I'm thinking - is there a chance that out of the over-a-milion British soldiers enlisted, at least one man just, say - ran away? Hid somewhere? Started a new life in France?

 

Many did start a new life and not sneaking away either. My Great Grandfather married a lady out there and stayed out there as a CWGC gardener  When his son(My grandfather) returned to Wales at the beginning of World war two at 16 the Welsh family turned him away.  He was not considered family! 

 

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clive_hughes
22 hours ago, Amitmis said:

 

By the way, here's another question cluster (I appologize again if this is too much, I'm just so curious!): Was any of the missing soldiers ever "found"?

 

I know it sounds funny, but I'm thinking - is there a chance that out of the over-a-milion British soldiers enlisted, at least one man just, say - ran away? Hid somewhere? Started a new life in France?

 

Were there any "searches" for any of those missing soldiers, or were they all automatically just presumed dead?

 

Was there a record for those missing soldiers who were later found dead (who's bodies were discovered)? Are there still to this day bodies (skeletons, obviously) popping out now and again, some "cold cases" being finally resolved?

 

I imagine that there were a few men who were believed to have been killed, who had somehow  started a new life - usually by being befriended by French/Belgian people (where would they hide otherwise?)  I've seen a few stories about them, including one where in 1940 a "local" man chatting to some WW2 Tommies before Dunkirk confessed to having deserted in WW1.  He'd even gone back to London to see his own name on the local WW1 war memorial!  He'd married a local girl and started a family.  The detective story by Dorothy L.Sayers The Nine Tailors (1934) is based on such a tale. 

 

If a man had been reported missing believed killed in action, there would be no search.  However, if he'd legged it from his camp behind the lines or from hospital or anywhere else, then he'd be recorded as absent without leave (and eventually as a deserter).  There were roll calls or inspections at regular intervals which recorded mens' presence, and if they weren't where they should have been, enquiries would be started.  There was a vast amount of record-keeping by his unit, hospitals, transport vessels, and so on, of which little survives today.  

 

They could get it wrong, of course - in one case I examined, a man was reported missing by his unit after an action.  They then had to record that he returned to them a day or so later, having been carried down the casualty evacuation chain to a small field hospital.  There was no record of a wound.  Maybe he was stunned or something.  Anyway, nothing bad seems to have happened to him as a result!  

 

Casualty lists were prepared daily of dead, wounded, sick and missing.  The later printed casualty lists and the official roll of honour were based on these and other records.  If a body was later located, the identity discs, paybook or other evidence would be checked against such lists.  This is what still happens today when bodies are found (as they regularly are), though perhaps the majority have no identification that now survives.  There are constant threads on new cases discovered, and also attempts to identify "unknowns" even from many years ago, in other parts of this Forum.   

 

Clive   

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clive_hughes
20 hours ago, Amitmis said:

And two extra questions, if it's o.k:

 

- What was the reason(s) for the great British unemployment rates right after ww1? One would think after having lost many men, many jobs will become available "for the rest of the people". How come no one could find a job in a country so desperate (I would guess) for recovery in every aspect?

 

- What was the reason for there having been signs reading "No ex-servicemen need apply"?

 

both facts seem somewhat counter-intuitive, aren't they?

This is a different area, and a complicated one - there are books on the topic such as Max Arthur's The Road Home which will tell you the story in the mens' own words.

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clive_hughes
2 hours ago, Amitmis said:

And one more little one :)

 

When a soldier died, beside the letter his family recieved announcing his death, was his personal belongings (things he brough with him to the war) sent back to the family as well?

Yes, anything found should in theory have been sent to his listed next of kin (often months later).  The surviving details I see in soldiers' files don't usually show items of much value - a prayer book, postcards, a metal spoon, disc, and so on.  I never see much money, watches (working ones, anyway), gold rings etc.  It wasn't unknown for a dying man to ask a mate or an officer to look after some trinket and make sure it got back to his family when they next went home on leave - maybe with a last message as well (or for those soldiers to take such items from his body and hold on to them until they went home).   

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Amitmis
5 hours ago, Scalyback said:

 

Many did start a new life and not sneaking away either. My Great Grandfather married a lady out there and stayed out there as a CWGC gardener  When his son(My grandfather) returned to Wales at the beginning of World war two at 16 the Welsh family turned him away.  He was not considered family! 

 

Wow...

 

3 hours ago, clive_hughes said:

I imagine that there were a few men who were believed to have been killed, who had somehow  started a new life - usually by being befriended by French/Belgian people (where would they hide otherwise?)  I've seen a few stories about them, including one where in 1940 a "local" man chatting to some WW2 Tommies before Dunkirk confessed to having deserted in WW1.  He'd even gone back to London to see his own name on the local WW1 war memorial!  He'd married a local girl and started a family.  The detective story by Dorothy L.Sayers The Nine Tailors (1934) is based on such a tale. 

 

If a man had been reported missing believed killed in action, there would be no search.  However, if he'd legged it from his camp behind the lines or from hospital or anywhere else, then he'd be recorded as absent without leave (and eventually as a deserter).  There were roll calls or inspections at regular intervals which recorded mens' presence, and if they weren't where they should have been, enquiries would be started.  There was a vast amount of record-keeping by his unit, hospitals, transport vessels, and so on, of which little survives today.  

 

They could get it wrong, of course - in one case I examined, a man was reported missing by his unit after an action.  They then had to record that he returned to them a day or so later, having been carried down the casualty evacuation chain to a small field hospital.  There was no record of a wound.  Maybe he was stunned or something.  Anyway, nothing bad seems to have happened to him as a result!  

 

Casualty lists were prepared daily of dead, wounded, sick and missing.  The later printed casualty lists and the official roll of honour were based on these and other records.  If a body was later located, the identity discs, paybook or other evidence would be checked against such lists.  This is what still happens today when bodies are found (as they regularly are), though perhaps the majority have no identification that now survives.  There are constant threads on new cases discovered, and also attempts to identify "unknowns" even from many years ago, in other parts of this Forum.   

 

Clive   

 

Thank you so much, Clive. Very valuable information for me.

 

3 hours ago, clive_hughes said:

This is a different area, and a complicated one - there are books on the topic such as Max Arthur's The Road Home which will tell you the story in the mens' own words.

 

I hope it's not an annoying question, but... is there any way to "generally" answer  this question? Or is it just to complicated?

 

2 hours ago, clive_hughes said:

Yes, anything found should in theory have been sent to his listed next of kin (often months later).  The surviving details I see in soldiers' files don't usually show items of much value - a prayer book, postcards, a metal spoon, disc, and so on.  I never see much money, watches (working ones, anyway), gold rings etc.  It wasn't unknown for a dying man to ask a mate or an officer to look after some trinket and make sure it got back to his family when they next went home on leave - maybe with a last message as well (or for those soldiers to take such items from his body and hold on to them until they went home).   

 

You mention "never see much money". Why would anybody need any money there? Was there anything to do with that money? Legal or illegal?

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tullybrone

Hi,

 

Re your last point - 

 

Soldiers were paid whilst on active service and were rotated from the front line to support and reserve trenches. Whilst in reserve they would be able to use local estaminets for food and drink etc.

 

A good insight into Soldiers activities whilst out of the line can be found in this book - 

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tommy-Ypres-Walters-Letters-Williamson/dp/1445613689

 

Steve

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Amitmis

Interesting, I also heard of whore houses, gambling etc.

 

Was this also going on? Was money used there, for things like that?

Edited by Amitmis

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ss002d6252
5 minutes ago, Amitmis said:

Interesting, I also heard of whore houses, gambling etc.

 

Was this also going on? Was money used there, for things like that?

Wherever there was a demand for a service there was provision.

 

Caig

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Amitmis
On 31/01/2019 at 20:19, ss002d6252 said:

Wherever there was a demand for a service there was provision.

 

Caig

So there were whore houses in the war?

 

Where were they?

 

Were they English? Were they always from one of the countries that were allied to one another, or could you find ones from the enemy's nation?

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Scalyback
11 minutes ago, Amitmis said:

So there were whore houses in the war?

 

Where were they?

 

Were they English? Were they always from one of the countries that were allied to one another, or could you find ones from the enemy's nation?

 

Read Tommy by Richard Holmes. You can get a copy in WH Smiths for £6, I might give you a few ideas. 

 

Where ever there are soldiers there are ladies that provide <ahem> services. You don't always need a house and bed. 

 

Edited by Scalyback

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clk

Hi,

 

25 minutes ago, Amitmis said:

So there were whore houses in the war?

 

Rather than using that term, if you search the forum using the term "brothel" you will find several threads/posts.

 

Regards

Chris

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Scalyback

That may not show in the search

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Moonraker

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John(txic)

If I can chip in with a question of my own?

 

 

Post - 1916, what determined in which Battalions of the local Regiment  a man served?  Why did some men go into Regular battalions, some the Territorials and some New Army?  Just curious...

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Amitmis

Thanks, guys!

 

It seems I have a lot of reading to do. And I will. :D

 

Thank you.

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Scalyback
On ‎02‎/‎02‎/‎2019 at 16:13, John(txic) said:

If I can chip in with a question of my own?

 

 

Post - 1916, what determined in which Battalions of the local Regiment  a man served?  Why did some men go into Regular battalions, some the Territorials and some New Army?  Just curious...

Post conscription not a thing. Men went where needed, even those returned from injury. 

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Bart150

Here’s something I put together recently. Ads from the Portsmouth Evening News:


The first four are terse. The reader is assumed to know that conscription is about to take effect, and when it does a Portsmouth man may be assigned to any regiment in the army, the Gordon Highlanders for example. So, far better volunteer now and be in a Portsmouth bn of the Hampshires.


The fifth is extraordinarily terse. The reader is expected to realise that ‘the fateful hour’ is the moment that the conscription law takes effect.


The sixth amounts to saying ‘Well, actually, despite all our ads of the last few days, and although the conscription law is now in effect, nevertheless it will be a while before many men are actually called up. So there is still time to volunteer for a Portsmouth bn.’

 

Ad.jpg

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Bart150

@Amitmis

I strongly recommend Covenant with Death by John Harris, a documentary novel based on the experiences of volunteers who joined the 12th (Sheffield) bn, York & Lancaster regt. 

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Amitmis
On 04/02/2019 at 23:41, Bart150 said:

@Amitmis

I strongly recommend Covenant with Death by John Harris, a documentary novel based on the experiences of volunteers who joined the 12th (Sheffield) bn, York & Lancaster regt. 

 

Thank you, I will most certainly check it out!

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