What is Conscription?
Conscription refers to the process of automatically calling up men and women for military service. During the First World War men (it only applied to men at this time) who were conscripted into the armed forces had no choice but to go and fight, even if they did not want to.
In Britain conscription has only been deemed necessary on two occasions, during the First and Second World Wars.
WW1 conscription ended in 1919 but the compulsory military service that began in 1939 for the Second World War didn’t come to an end until the 1960s.
Conscription in the First World War
- 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.
Conscription in Numbers
- 2,277,623 – The total number of men conscripted into the British Armed Forces during the First World War.
- 46% – The percentage of all British Army recruits that conscription accounted for over the entire war. 54% were volunteers.
- 135,277 – The record number of men conscripted in a single month (June 1916).
- 18-41 – The ages between which all men were eligible to be conscripted as part of January 1916’s Military Service Bill.
- 56 – The age the upper limit was raised to in 1918.