WW1 Conscription

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.Lord Kitchener WW1 Conscription Poster

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.

32 thoughts on “WW1 Conscription

  1. You only need conscription when the population sees through the Government deceit for their Unlawful foreign interventions. You wouldn’t require conscription if the UK was directly attacked, but that won’t EVER happen.

  2. I think that conscription was the best choice at the time of the First World War, however it should be avoided at all costs. No-one should have to fight for something they do not believe in, or at all if it’s war they don’t believe in. This site was great for history homework! Thanks

  3. Of course conscription should not be supported. Think about the psychological effect it will have on all the soldiers who are not willing to go to war. They would think that there would be no point and would lose all hope for winning so they would likely either kill themselves, or surrender which would endanger the nation due to the fact that the opposition could torture war plans out of the soldiers. Also, that soldier might have a wife and children which is the most probable scenario. Then they would be leaving their wife and the children to fend for themselves.

    Whereas if men volunteered, their spirits would be high and they would be enthusiastic to participate in the war.

    Also, toughening up? That should be voluntary! If men want to toughen themselves up, they can do other things like kickboxing classes or judo. They don’t need to risk their lives. Plus, they might not even want to “toughen” themselves up. That should be their choice and would teach them multiple things, such as initiative and responsibility.

  4. Conscription, in general should be avoided if at all possible. However, there are a few circumstances when I could see it being necessary.

    – When facing an attacking nation that supports genocide such as in 1939-45 Nazi Germany, or ISIS in the present day.

    – When the leader of the other nation is an obvious lunatic (I Pray for the USA, don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice place to live overall but this election is a joke and will probably lead to this country’s ruin. Hilary has a reputation for not owning up to her mistakes and makes things worse by hiding them, while Donald Trump has the vocabulary of a 6 year old and probably will make America hated more by everyone when he goes and throws a tantrum in the UN. A popular saying about this election race is that on one hand you could vote for satan but on the other hand you can vote for lucifer.)

    – finally conscription is ok if it includes the mandatory enlistment of all responsble for passing it. (In ancient Greece wars were fought by the guys who had armor and weapons, generally these were the rich who could afford it. if a commoner wanted to join in without getting in the way, he was free to sling rocks at the enemy from afar.)

    1. Conscription is a bad thing because you are pulling innocent people into violence almost unprepared. We should only reinstate it in times where it is absolutely necessary.

  5. I have a question. Should we not think beyond blind rejection and blind acceptance to be realistic?

  6. There is an alternative to conscripted territorial armies. A stay-at-home defensive army ready and trained. All boys and girls, men and women could go through a sort of training. A citizens army as advocated by John McLean and James Connolly before they were both wiped out by the British miliary empire authorities in the early 1900’s.

  7. I think there are benefits in to both sides. Israel still has national military service and many say it was a huge opportunity to learn important life skills, I know a person who served for the Israeli national defence and he enjoyed it. I also think its absurd to criticise Generals and senior officers, who will have served on the front-line during their career and do not operate their because their job requires them to not operate in that field. Likewise, they are huge assets due to their experience and skill set, it is no longer the 19th century, these people have earnt their stripes. I am not supporting conscription I am just suggesting from personal experiences that it is beneficial in some aspects, though I do understand that it is in our human rights to object to something we disagree with.

  8. Ridiculous! Why should my dad, brothers and uncles be forced to risk there lives day after day when they have wives children and grandchildren at home they need to support and care for more than ever! Absolutely stupid and ridiculous to even write a comment like that.

  9. We learned yesterday that, in the United States, young men are still required to register for the “non-existing” draft at the age of 18, “just-in-case” the draft is again initiated, or they face a fine of up to $250,000, and up to 5-years in prison. I find this very interesting. The minute I posted this on Facebook, I was bombarded with responses. Most parents, right along with their sons, didn’t have a clue that this was still required. Why is this not publicised? In the old days, there were “awareness” public service announcements. Besides that, young men could expect to receive in the mail at around the time of their 18th birthday. Are they just suppose to be born with this knowledge now?

    1. Yes. It’s common Knowledge in The U.S. Just like paying taxes.
      Also I don’t agree with the pacifists comments.
      Sometimes you have to fight or if you would like be taken over by a foreign country and hope for the best. Go ahead. I am sure you would be fine in Nazis Germany. They treated people great.
      Freedom is not free.

  10. I wonder how long any conflict would last if the Generals or Politicians were on the “Front Line”?

  11. Britain has the right to do what it wants with its people, but must face the consequences that may come from the people who object (99% of people). British people are not responsible for its governments greediness, no one has any right to send someone to die or to be wounded but in saying that people must realise it is fight or be fought. To a certain degree conscription, only if it is essential, should be put into place but only if is essential.

  12. I believe that in Britain, conscription should be re-introduced for males at 18yrs of age. The length of conscripted service should be for no less than 2yrs. I believe that this would instil discipline and life skills to the conscripts.

      1. Yeah, that’s if they survive the war, which is pretty unlikely. Even if they do they might return paralysed.

    1. How many of your friends or family have been killed recently fighting for their country?
      I would not like to see my child being used as a pawn in oil wars.
      At this time especially look over some of the horrendous pictures of war time and tell me all 18 year olds should be subject to it.

    2. Can’t believe I am hearing such an ignorant comment. Why should anybody be forced to fight for a war that they did not choose to start? How about the government who decide that we should be at war with another country fight on the frontline instead of innocent civilians being dragged into violence. War is wrong and will be the demise of this Earth. Illuminati fatcats sit on their backsides all day whilst they have military forces fighting on their behalf for things as petty as oil. Are soldier’s lives really that worthless that we would give them up just to fight in a war about oil reserves or so called ‘terrorism’ that America has created for itself? Britain only ever gets dragged into that disgusting country’s disputes.

      I disagree with your comment so much and it pains me to see anybody who ever thinks that war is ever an option. Soldiers lives should not be used like pawns on a chess board – only the king (or in our case, the zillionaires who rule countries and militaries everywhere) benefit.

      1. I totally agree with you. How on earth can anyone wish to send their sons as cannon feed for the abuse of power? Are some of us totally nuts? I have come from Austria, I was conscripted into the Army against my will and had no chance to escape to a foreign country for the rest of my life. I was then 19 and I am now 62. I would do it all over again if I had to. Anything for me except Military Service. And if our Economic Political System cannot provide jobs for everyone, then we must get rid of it, change it.

      2. I couldn’t agree more there was a programme on radio 4 discussing the pros & cons of the first world war & a lady speaker was extolling the virtues of the men that gave their lives for us.They didn’t give there lives they were taken. The men were conscripted (forced to join the war)

      1. These days young people are soft and need hardening up. They live on computers, so why not toughen them up. It’s not like British military soldiers die in mass numbers everyday.

    3. Don’t you believe it. I was one of the conscripts prior to 1960. Other than being
      regimented on the parade ground, we couldn’t voluntarily line ourselves
      up into a decent queue for our meals at the NAFFI.Also where do you think I learned how to handle a rifle and machine gun? Also some of the NCO’s and
      CO’s that were supposed to discipline us, the way we were roared and shouted at I wouldn’t have treated a dog like that. I thought then and still do
      how can conscription be acceptable in a so called democratic society?

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