Volunteers, Conscription, Conscious Objectors in WWI
· In 1914 the British Army had approximately 710,000 men at its disposal.
· For more than 100 years both the government and the British public had been against conscription
· The Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener recognised that the British Army was far too small in comparison to the French and German forces and wanted to build an army of 70 divisions.
· These were the years of the Volunteer Army
· In August 1914 the British Government called for an extra 100,000 volunteer soldiers to come forward.
· They got 750,000 men by the end of September, and by January 1915 more than 1 million had joined the armed forces voluntarily.
· By Mid 1915 volunteer numbers were falling fast and the National Registration Act was created. It was a list of all the men fit for military service who were still available.
· Conscription was introduced in January 1916, targeting single men aged 18-41. Within a few months World War 1 conscription was rolled out for married men.
· Men who got called up for service could appeal to a local Military Service Tribunal. Reasons included health, already doing important war work or moral or religious reasons. The last group became known as the Conscientious Objectors.
· 750,000 men appealed against their conscription in the first 6 months. Most were granted exemption of some sort, even if it was only temporary.
· Only 2% of those who appealed were Conscientious Objectors. Despite the legacy of this group only 6,000 were sent to prison. 35 received a death sentence but were reprieved immediately and given a ten year prison sentence instead.
When war broke out, Britain had a small army of 250,000 professional soldiers. Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, informed the government that he would need a fighting force of at least one million men. He did this by creating a new volunteer army, which became known as 'Kitchener's Army'.
Clearly, something had to be done, and quickly. The government began a massive recruitment campaign, urging young men to join up. It set up recruitment offices in every town and city; it commissioned posters and pamphlets; politicians toured the country making stirring, patriotic speeches.
The campaign was hugely successful. Indeed, it was so successful that barracks were overflowing and there were not enough rifles to go around. No one wanted to be left out, it appeared. In the first weekend of the war in 1914, 100 men an hour (3,000 a day) signed up to join the armed forces. 54 million posters were issued, 8 million personal letters were sent, 12,000 meetings were held, and 20,000 speeches were delivered by military spokesmen. By the end of 1914 1,186,337 men had enlisted.
Soldiers had be at least 18 years old to join the army, and 19 before they…