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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Determining which regiment to join


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Medical examinations for recruits from this area first took place at Huddersfield and then later on at the Halifax Barracks of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. It was also the first stop on the way to any other army unit. Right from the beginning recruiters were issuing railway warrants to Halifax, and it looks like all other arrangements were handled from there.

One early volunteer was actually a Private (19542), in the Somerset Light Infantry, he was transferred to the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, where he was killed. There was a postman living in Holmfirth who was a reservist with the Somerset Light Infantry, he was recalled at the outbreak of the war. Maybe in some way he influenced the volunteer? Some men joined the Guards and many other regiments, and a lot of conscripts were shoved in groups into the Northumberland Fusiliers, and the Staffordshire Regiment.

I have noticed that when men are transferred while overseas, they are often sent to other battalions in the same division, so they find themselves in a different regiment but still in the same division. I have no idea how common that was, but it is not unusual with men from this area. However, the majority always found their way into the battalions of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.

I think that some of these men had more freedom of choice than we might expect, and some had none at all.


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Thanks, Tony. What puzzles me is the following problem (which derives from Geraint's post)

Take the hypothetical recruit who tells the recruiting sergeant at Holmforth that he wants to be in the Somerset LI.

He is sent to the barracks of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment for a medical examination.

There he is accepted, but maybe when he gets to Somerset they say 'You're no good to us. The Somerset LI doesn't take men with hammer toes like you.' What happens then?

Or conversely the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment turns him down because of his hammer toes, even though - had they but known it - the Somerset LI was quite happy to take men with that minor defect.

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Many men from the West Riding ended up in the NF because they didn't volunteer, and when conscription came in they were deliberatly sent to the NF and joined the 29th TS Reserve BN, and 30th TI Reserve Bns I was pointed to the local Halifax papers on this subject and also Craven in the Great War.

Drafting and posting is not as simple as you are describing in 1914 a large number of NF volunteers were sent to Somerset to bring 6 and 8/Som LI up to strength and others to Crystal Palace for the RND beacuse the NF had too many men. Likewise a number of NF Reservists were sent to Carlilse to bring 1/Border up to strength.

With regard to nationality many men of the TI enlisted because their friend s were enlisting, as one recalled

'there were more English than Irish in the third Battalion'.

The attached photo shows men leaving Durham City just before 14:00 hours 3 September 1914 to join the GREEN Howards, The vast majority are RC and joined the GREEN Howards because they thought it was a Catholic Regiment.




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Hi John

I am curious about the volunteers of the Northumberland Fusiliers who ended up in the Somerset LI.

Did they actually join the NF and then get transferred to the Somerset LI maybe a couple of weeks later, whether they liked it or not?

(If so, that seems odd, because the NF authorities would already have known that the regiment was full at the moment the men joined up)


Did they turn up at a recruiting office in NF territory and get told 'Sorry the NF is full up, would you like to join the Somerset LI instead?'

(If so, then they were never actually in the NF)

After all this time I suppose we'll never know.

That is a fascinating photo. They seem to be an organised group - surely not just a random collection of men who all wanted to join up and just by chance all took the same train to go off and enlist in the same regiment.

So who organised them? How did they know they'd all be accepted into the Green Howards if they turned up en masse?

Is it possible they'd already enlisted in Durham (ie they were already in the army, albeit without uniforms) and were now all being sent off together to North Yorkshire?


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Not sure about the 6th Somersets (14th Div), but you will note that the 8th Somersets were in 21st Divn that appears to have had 2 Northumberland Fusilier Battalions in it.

I know that towards the end of the war in particular - replacement drafts sent to Divisions were deployed according to Divisional need which often overrode Regimental affiliations.

Might that explain the drafts?


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It's the first regiment of the man who volunteered in 1914-15 that is interesting (to me, anyway).

It's not surprising that much later in the war men got switched around.

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You are correct that at the start of the war people could volunteer to join any Regiment. My understanding is that you would normally be given a travel warrant to get to the depot - so taking your SomLI man - he would have been given a rail warrant to get to the Jellalabad Barracks in Taunton.

As you have surmised - people joined different Regiments for many different reasons. Many joined the Somersets because there was a rumour that they were Kitchener's favourite Regiment. Most would have joined because it was their local Regiment.

The Somersets also had many Welsh volunteers because many men went to work in the pits and when war broke out 'returned' to Somerset to fight alongside their friends/relatives. Many Welshmen joined the Somersets too (presumably to fight alongside friends).

Many Regiments would advertise - if you dig out a few old papers from your local library you will see some rather strange advertisements for the Royal Engineers or Cavalry units.

Where the medical took place would often change depending on the circumstances of enlistment. At a big recruitment centre in the centre of Bristol (that recruited for many Regiments) they had medical staff present to carry out the necessary examination there and then. Otherwise it would no doubt happen at the depot when the man turned up.

You will also find examples of people joining one Regiment - not fitting in and going absent, and then joining another Regiment under an assumed name later. Often people who joined up under age and were found out and discharged would go elsewhere and join a different unit. Recruiting officers were not generally known for asking too many questions.

Unfortunately there are so many variables as to where/when/why people joined a given Regiment that unless you have more precise information about your man/men it would be simply guesswork.



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At a big recruitment centre in the centre of Bristol (that recruited for many Regiments) ....

Thank you, Brendon. I don't want to sound like a prosecuting counsel, but still trying to understand how the system worked for volunteers I have these questions:

If a centre "recruited for" regiments X and Y but not Z, then may I take it that a recruit who wanted to join X or Y could be accepted there and be thoroughly processed, but one who wanted to join regiment Z would be given a travel warrant to go off to the centre which recruited for Z?

If, as you say, there were some big recruitment centre that recruited for many Regiments (though, I suppose, not all regiments), should I understand that there were also smaller recruitment centres that recruited for only a couple of regiments, and maybe quite small ones for just one regiment, and even smaller ones for no regiment at all (ie where every recruit got a travel warrant)?

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  • 1 year later...

To bring this thread (possibly) back to life, if a man wanted to join the - let's say the NF - and he lived in London, are we saying that he could go along to a recruitment centre in London and say that he really wanted to joing the NF and that they would then give him a rail pass to go to wherever it is that the NF were recruiting. Surely this could end up costing a fortune in rail fares (for the government?) if too many men suddenly got a bit picky about which regiment to join?

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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?

Fascinating - out of my 248 Maldon and Heybridge (Essex) based casualties - they were in 82 different regiments/units - from the Dragoon Guards to the Deccan Horse!




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Hello Bart

I have been reading my way through the comments posted here as I too am interested in how the army recruited non conscripts - I have in fact posted a few threads about it.

My grandfather and his brother both volunteered within days of each other in 1915. They went from the remote part of Northumberland to Gateshead near Newcastle - though it may be that they were further in land to the city at the time to which I am not aware of.

My grandfather was initially assigned with the Northumberland Fusiliers as was his brother. They were both then assigned to the Army Service Corps as drivers. They both ended up with the 27th Division and were posted to Salonika. My grandfather (and his brother too) suffered from Malaria and was hospitalised quite a few times. Eventually he asked to be transferred to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and similarly his brother to the Cameron HIghlanders - they were the batallions in the 27th at the time that they transferred. They were both Kirkcudbrightshire men by birth and had only come into Northumberland in about 1911.

I think my grandfather was put in the ASC as he needed dental treatment - otherwise he was A1 medical category - it is possible that he was aslo assigned because of his cart man and horse handling skills.

His war records tell me that he asked for the ASH because he 'want(ed) to join my friends in the field'. I don't know why his brother went for the CH's

The whole question has been vexing me for some time.

On Sunday I went to the local city library and looked at the newspapers. Initially in 1914 the newspapers placed notices for volunteers to join the medics as surgeons - 'to serve at home or abraod'. They also asked for electrician's and blacksmiths etc - I suppose at the time they thought that they had enough volunteers. I ran out of time before I could find much more. However, I did find some interesting photographs.

They show recruitment tents on the moors at Newcastle and there is a photograph of Charlie Chaplin - perhaps a cut out figure - with the 50 recruitment sargeants. The particular regiments seem to have given assistance to the recruitment sargeants by assigning them regiment tents.

Hope some of this information helps.


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