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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Questions regarding Conscription


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I understand that from the introduction of the Military Service Act of 1916 all voluntary enlistment stopped and everyone who entered the army was deemed to have been conscripted.

My first question:

Did the army record whether or not a man was a 'conscripted' conscript or a volunteer 'conscript' anywhere? I ask this because I understand that the army actually obtained more recruits as volunteers than from conscription once the Act had been introduced, and therefore effectively continued to rely on volunteers.


When did the army stop conscripting?


Did the RN conscript?



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Question One


At the beginning of the War, Britain had a very small army compared to the other powers such as Germany and France, that was very spread out across the huge Empire. Though the British Expeditionary Army was well trained, there were only 120,000 men who would be able to travel to Belgium.

The British Army General, Lord Kitchener, thought it would be better to rely on volunteers to boost the number of soldiers rather than conscripts in other countries like France. He thought the soldiers would be more loyal and hard working than if they were forced into it.

On the seventh of August, Kitchener called out for men between 19 and 30 to join up to the army. Men rushed to volunteer, on average 33,000 every day. It was exciting, something to do, they would be representing the country - these were just a few of the feelings that rushed through men in the early days of the war.

In the first month 500,000 men joined the army, officially between 19 and 35 (Kitchener raised the age limit after 3 weeks) though some could much younger than 19. In the months that followed, the stream of men joining did lessen, but stayed consistent at around 100,000. By July of the following year, men could be as old as 40.

Propaganda was one of the most important things used to keep men volunteering. War posters were designed and plastered all over towns and cities, 'Your country needs YOU' a popular slogan. Magazines and newspapers were filled with messages of the same, and well as stories over exaggerating the evil German's deeds or simply making up stories.

The Army would march through small villages, their heads held high, bright uniforms, singing songs like 'It's a long way to Tipperary' then the Generals would come forward making speeches of how excellent it would be to join the Army, how you would be representing your country and would have your name down in history, how evil the German forces were, how poor Belgium needed help!

Recruiting offices were set up in every corner of a city, shouting for men to recruit, to be part of the War, become a little part of England far away in another country. Where ever you turned there was something pressurising you into the War, if you were around then, do you think you'd have been able to refuse?

Although the age limit was set than anyone under 19 couldn't join, the recruiting officers didn't really care how old you were as long as you told them you were 19. You could be as young as 15 and still be able to get in. If you told them your actual age they would pretend they hadn't heard and ask again, until you told them you were 19, then they'd let you in - it was as simple as that. < An example of a poster aimed to attract men to the army in Britain of 1914. A simple picture of an army officer pointing at YOU, with the slogan 'Your country needs YOU'. Any men who looked at this towards the beginning of the War would instantly be urged to join up. Simple but effective, it puts the message across clearly.


The volunteering method of Kitchener did work for some time, but unfortunately as the War waged on, the casualties growing ever larger, the need for men became increasingly more urgent. However people were less keen now to join up, even with all the Propaganda. There was no sign of the war coming to an end, no matter what the papers said - the death toll contradicted everything - and the newness and excitingness of fighting for the country was beginning to wear off.

By January of 1916, two years after the War begun, a conscription was passed by Parliament, making it the law that all single men must aid the War. By May this had extended to married men too. This news was not met happily by the public at all, no matter how bad the War was, they shouldn't be forced into it.

About 16,000 men objected to the conscription, and about 1,500 men took an absolutist step in refusing to take any part in the War. These men were sent to prison for the duration of the War, but for the rest, men between the age limits, by this time it didn't matter how tall they were, were sent off to fight in the War

Eventually, the number of men volunteering and thise conscripted was about equal; 2,631,000 and 2,339,000 conscripts.


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As far as I'm aware, even after the introduction of Conscription, there was nothing to stop you from actually going along and volunteering to enlist, as it did have one advantage and that was you could chose the unit you wished to enlist in, whereas a conscript had no say as to which unit he was posted to.

Even before the advent of conscription you had another scheme known as the 'Derby Scheme' on which conscription was actually modelled. With the Derby Scheme you 'volunteered' yourself to be called-up by age and profession and those wishing to enlist under this scheme began registering themselves in 1915, but the first groups weren't called-up until January 1916. Officially it was known as the 'Group System' and although flawed in some of it's aspect's was used as a model by the Military Services Act.


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