British Army Recruitment 1914-18
1914 – The British Expeditionary Force (BEF)
The soldiers of the British Army who went to war in August 1914 were all volunteers, having enlisted for a period of twelve years or at a subsequent date having extended that to – and occasionally beyond – twenty one years.
The soldiers in the armies of all the other major European countries involved in the First World War were conscripted, that is selected by their government to undertake a period of military training and service.
1914 – The Four New Armies (Kitchener’s Army).
Field Marshall Horatio Kitchener was one of Britain’s greatest military leaders who when anticipating retirement was appointed Secretary of State for War in August 1914. He was the only serving soldier in the cabinet. He warned them that the war could last three years and Britain would need almost a million men to defeat Germany and her allies. His prestige inspired the nation’s men to enlist in their thousands in the early months of the war. After obtaining permission from Parliament to recruit 100,000 soldiers, the process began, slowly at first with approximately 7,000 men per day in the first week, rising to 9,000 men on the 2nd. By the end of August numbers were averaging 10,000 per day with a peak of 33,000 on the 3rd of September. By the end of September, the average was down to 4,000 per day but in total 761,000 had enlisted. Instead of a single ‘new army’ envisaged by Kitchener, he had enough recruits for four.
1915 – The Derby Scheme.
This scheme of voluntary conscription was proposed by Edward Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby. This former soldier and now politician had supported Haig’s request for volunteers by calling for ‘a battalion of pals, a battalion in which friends from the same office will fight shoulder to shoulder for the honour of Britain and the credit of Liverpool (he had been Lord Mayor of the city 1911-12). Four battalions of ‘Liverpool pals’ were raised in August 1914.
Appointed Director of Recruiting in October 1915, he proposed a scheme in which men would put their names forward to volunteer if needed with the provision that young, single men on the list would be ‘called up’ first. Armbands were worn to show that they had enrolled in the scheme. It was not a success with insufficient numbers enrolling to supply the needs of the Army.
1916 – The 1st and 2nd Military Service Acts
To ensure sufficient numbers of men were to join the Army, the Military Service Act was introduced in March 1916. This and the associated Defence of the Realm Act had the effect of putting the UK on a ‘total war’ footing. All men aged 18-41 were liable to be forced to undertake military service – otherwise known as conscription – a means of recruitment previous Government’s had been unwilling to employ. There were exceptions under which men could register. These included: being married; being widowed with children; being a minister of religion; being in a reserved occupation, supporting the war effort or a Conscientious Objector.
By May 1916, the 1st Act had been modified to include married men, those that had previously been discharged from the Army and those who had initially been rejected from volunteering in 1914-15 due to a low medical grade. In addition, members of the Territorial Army could be transferred to front line regiments
1918 – The 3rd Military Service Act
This Act increased the upper age limit for conscription from 41 to 51. When it was linked to the Ireland Home Rule Bill, it aroused opposition from both Unionist and Nationalists sides which led to public unrest. It was not enforced in Ireland. This last Act starting raising 80,000 recruits per month in June and July but these were the poorest quality individuals were the last available..