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Remembered Today:

Determining which regiment to join


Bart150
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A friend of mine has a relative who lived in Gosport, Hampshire, but served with the Gordon Highlanders.

How come? Why not the Hampshires, one may ask?

This is just one striking example of a general phenomenon. Look at any village war memorial and you normally find a substantial minority of men who served with some regiment other than the natural county regiment. So, my question is: What factors and procedures determined which regiment a recruit ended up in?

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Do you have his service number? Someone may know the detail of the Gordons but it was more common in 1918 for men to be moved between regiments as the army needed them. Was he a later recruit?

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Do you have his service number? Someone may know the detail of the Gordons but it was more common in 1918 for men to be moved between regiments as the army needed them. Was he a later recruit?

Sorry, I haven't the detail to hand, except that I believe that when he joined the army he joined the Gordon Highlanders straight away.

But I was just using this as an example to raise the topic in general. To what extent could a man choose his regiment? Did it vary at different times in the war? If he could choose an exotic Scottish regiment would he have to go all the way to Aberdeen, for example, to join up? Why would a man choose to avoid his county regiment and/or why would the army choose that? Questions like that occur to me.

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As Patrick has said, it may not have been that he joined the Gordons as much as it was their turn to have men drafted to them. This was not an entirely new phenomenon. Recruiters would be encouraged to recruit to various regiments before the war. Regiments had quite strong recruiting agents in certain large cities, e.g. RWF in Birmingham. Joining the local TF force was a good way to get into the local regiment and the Kitchener Armies of 1914 also tended to recruit to the local regiment but this was very quickly superseded. Men were sent where they were needed most.

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Thanks, truthergw. You mention two different concepts:

(1) a man joining the army, and the army then deciding which regiment he will belong to

(2) a man joining a specific regiment through that regiment's 'recruiting agent'.

I was wondering how those two things fitted together in one system.

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I've been researching this for my area. One man joined the Argylls because his mum told him he'd look good in a kilt. The county regiment would have been RWF. Another joined KOYLI because he worked on the railway and went with his best mate. About five, working just over the border in Chester joined the Cheshires with their workmates. Quite a few had their applications with RWF turned down on medical grounds and joined more lenient regiments. Two of the five MM winners here had been so turned down, and both went to Cardiff to join SWB.

A letter in a local newspaper in late 1916 by a father publicly explained that his son, who had been refused by the RWF due to his 'hammer toe' had now been accepted into the newly formed Welsh Guards.

As Tom says, many others had no real choice, and were sent to regiments awaiting fresh drafts from all over the UK.

I've never found out what a 'hammer toe" is/was!

Geraint

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Very broadly, if a man enlisted voluntarily prior to January 1916, he would have had a choice as to which unit he initially joined. As in the examples above, a man might have any number of reasons for not choosing his local regiment. Of course, the recruiting sergeant might have had considerable influence, too.

Once conscription began in early 1916 men were sent where they were needed and had little choice.

Ken

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Pretty much everybody in the army seems to have been in 10 Notts and Derby at some stage during the war!

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Pretty much everybody in the army seems to have been in 10 Notts and Derby at some stage during the war!

Yep and then the rubbish ones were farmed out to lesser Regiments :D

I think a myth has grown around the 'Pals' battalions, that everyone joined his own local Regiment.

As with everything - you go where the Army sends you. The 9th bn Notts & Derby had firstly local men as they were the first volunteer men. Later on, men from all over the country (and world for that matter).

stevem

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Theres also a story about a man joining the regiment furthest from his home, so he would get a good ride on a train.

Neil

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I think another factor taken into consideration would have been the problem with 'pals Battalions' whereby after a battle, many

hundreds of families within one small geographical area would be affected by the casulaty lists..... as in my home town after 13/10/1915:(

Dispersing draftees/volunteers about to different regiments who would be sent to different areas of the front would lessen this impact.

Ivan.

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Theres also a story about a man joining the regiment furthest from his home, so he would get a good ride on a train.

Neil

That was the late Harry Fellows,lived in Nottingham travelled to Newcastle to join the Northumberland Fusiliers.Doubtless a few others did likewise.

Les

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Now I have aften wondered why my Grandfather, being a Londoner, joined the Lancashire Fusiliers (in 1909). Did most Regiments have a recruiting Depot in London?

As it happens he met my Grandmother in Lancashire & my Father was the result (in 1917), Grandad went into the 2nd Batt. & landed in France 22 Aug. 1914 so I guess I am lucky to be here.

I am guessing that in 1909 he would have had a choice of which Regt. to join.

Peter (Ontario, Canada)

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..................

I am guessing that in 1909 he would have had a choice of which Regt. to join.

Peter (Ontario, Canada)

Certainly, to some degree. As mentioned, prewar recruiting Sergeants could and did put pressure on recruits to join a particular regiment. Even during the war, a man could join his TF before he was conscripted. When he reached the age to join the battalion overseas, off he would go. Of course, even when serving with a battalion, the Army could transfer a man by attaching him to another unit. In theory then, prewar, a man could join any regiment and by travelling to a particular recruiting office, could make that easier. After the Kitchener Armies, he would be pressurised toward particular units and after conscription was sent wherever he was needed according to the situation at the time.

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101 names on my local memorial 78 are Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The others are ASC, artillery, and various other foreign British regiments. Only 1 RN, 3 RFC. The tendency was local regiment. I'm presuming that the Roll of Honour reflected enlistment per se.

Regarding post 13 with London recruitment by county battalions - the 15th (London Welsh) RWF was more or less full by early September 1914. I'm presuming that certainly London Irish and London Scottish were also soon filled - but with which regiments - I don't know. (Wonder if The Welch and SWB also had London battalions?)

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Ken Lees said

Very broadly, if a man enlisted voluntarily prior to January 1916, he would have had a choice as to which unit he initially joined.

As far as I can see nobody has contradicted that, so I assume it's true.

If so, how did the procedure work?

Suppose a man living in Hampshire wanted (for some reason or other) to join a Scottish regiment.

Would he go to the nearest Army enlistment office in Hampshire and tell them that his choice of regiment was (say) the Gordon Highlanders?

OR

Would he have to go to an enlistment office - perhaps hundreds of miles away - that existed specifically to recruit for the Gordon Highlanders?

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Suppose a man living in Hampshire wanted (for some reason or other) to join a Scottish regiment.

Would he go to the nearest Army enlistment office in Hampshire and tell them that his choice of regiment was (say) the Gordon Highlanders?

OR

Would he have to go to an enlistment office - perhaps hundreds of miles away - that existed specifically to recruit for the Gordon Highlanders?

Nobody has answered that yet.

But on this site http://www.1914-1918.net/kitchen.htm

I found the following interesting statement:

"K4" and the Fifth New Army

Enough men came forward not only to fill the ranks of K3, but to form reserves. Battalions of these formations were not necessarily formed at their traditional home stations (e.g. the 13th Highland Light Infantry was formed in Gosport, Hampshire). These were initially formed up into six Divisions of K4, and were initially numbered 27 to 32.

Can anyone tell us more about this, on the surface rather zany, phenomenon?

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From Victorian days up to pre WW1 the Gordons were a very popular Regiment, " The Finest Regment in the British Army" according the WS Churchill. Apart from that, unlike today when it appears Regiments are restricted as to where they recruit, it was not unknown for Scottish Regiments to tour England recruiting.

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Recruiting offices did not act in a vacuum. They would be aware that certain regiments were actively seeking recruits. Whether they would be instucted officialy to push men I do not know. There is anecdotal evidence that recruiters would be rewarded for steering recruits in a certain direction, although I am not sure if that was true. The army had been recruiting men for a very long time, they knew what they were doing. The vast numbers of men who volunteered for Kitchener's Armies were accomodated in a very short time. Organisation was very quick, it was supplies which lagged behind. A man who insisted on a certain regiment might have to resist pressure but he would be accomodated eventually. As I said previously, if a man in Devon wished to join the Gordons he could make sure of that by hopping on a train to Aberdeen.

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As I said previously, if a man in Devon wished to join the Gordons he could make sure of that by hopping on a train to Aberdeen.

Sure, that's clear.

The interesting question is whether or not that was the only way a man from Devon could join the Gordons.

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I was in the village hall in Ashton Keynes, Glos, today and found myself reading the roll of honour going down the list of units in which the men served. Among the expected large number for the Wilts or Glos regiments, or units like the artillery, there was one man who served with the Leinster Regiment - how did a member of an Irish regiment end up on the memorial in Ashton Keynes, especially as the only C Smith which Geoff's search engine produces for the Leinster's is somebody from Essex .....

This time last year I wouldn't even have read the list.

Then I discovered TGWF

I've been assimilated

Resistance was futile

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Here is what I’ve worked out so far. I’d be glad to know of any disagreements with this analysis.

Out of all the men who joined the army between August 1914 and the end of the war rather more than half were volunteers and the rest were conscripts.

Volunteers

Most regiments of the army had their own designated area for recruitment. A man normally applied to join the regiment for the area in which he lived. Most volunteers from Wiltshire, for example, joined the Wiltshire regiment. However, a man could apply to join some other regiment in the army if he so wished. A substantial minority did.

A man who applied to join a certain regiment would not necessarily be accepted. The regiment might not be recruiting at that moment or a man might be rejected on physical grounds. (These two things went together. A regiment which rejected men with minor physical defects at one moment might be less choosy a month later after suffering 1000 casualties in a battle in France.)

A volunteer rejected by one regiment might well apply to another and be accepted.

Conscripts

The army assigned a conscript to a certain regiment. This was often the local regiment, but if necessary, a man might be assigned to some other regiment that was particularly short of men.

Questions about Volunteers

1 How did the choice system work? For example, did a man from Hampshire who wanted to join the Gordon Highlanders have to go all the way to Aberdeen to enlist, or was there some easier way?

I don’t know. I haven’t found out yet.

2 Why should any volunteer ever choose to join a regiment other than that of the area in which he lived?

Here are four generic reasons that probably cover most cases:

- Friendship. A man living in Salford, for example, would normally join the Lancashire Fusiliers. But if he worked across the river in Manchester he might prefer to join the Manchester regiment to be with his work colleagues.

- Family. A man living and working in London, for example, might have been brought up in Southend and haveparents and siblings there. He might feel most at home in the Essex regiment.

- Nationality. A man living in England might regard himself as being of Scottish or Welsh or Irish nationality, especially if he had an appropriate surname or accent - even if he had no close family in the other country. He might want to join a Scottish or Welsh or Irish regiment.

- Glamour. A man might be attracted to a certain regiment because of its name, reputation, location, badge or uniform. For some reason (inexplicable to me) the idea of wearing a kilt in battle appealed to many Englishmen.

The practical effect of these factors, other than the first, was a net flow of volunteers resident in England into Scottish regiments. Put another way, the total number of volunteers who served in Scottish regiments was rather greater than the total number of men resident in Scotland who volunteered for any regiment.

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There is also the difference between "a man was from" an area, and " a man lived" in that area. People did travel and move.

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A quick look at Soldiers Died In the Great War shows that the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment (Yorkshire) had men who enlisted in Galway, London, and various cities in India.

Certainly Holmfirth men joined all sorts of different regiments, enlisting at Holmfirth or Huddersfield.

Tony.

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Certainly Holmfirth men joined all sorts of different regiments, enlisting at Holmfirth or Huddersfield.

So it sounds as if there was one recruiting office in Holmfirth, and a volunteer could go along and say: "I don't want to be in the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment like you and most of the other recruits you get. I'd rather be in the Somerset Light Infantry."

And the sergeant behind the desk would say "That's a pity. But if you're quite sure about it, I'll send off the appropriate form and you will hear from the Somerset Light Infantry in due course. You'll probably have to go to Taunton for a physical examination."

Does that sound right?

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