The Military Service Act, 1916

Catalogue number
  • Art.IWM PST 5161
Art and Popular Design
Production date
Place made
Great Britain
Subject period
  • Support: paper
  • medium: letterpress
  • Support: Height 1016 mm, Width 636 mm
Alternative names
  • object category: Poster

© IWM (Art.IWM PST 5161)

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Object description

whole: the title is positioned across the top edge, with the text below occupying the remainder of the poster, both in blue and set against a white background. image: text only. text: THE MILITARY SERVICE ACT, 1916, APPLIES TO UNMARRIED MEN WHO, ON AUGUST 15th, 1915, WERE 18 YEARS OF AGE OR OVER AND WHO WILL NOT BE 41 YEARS OF AGE ON MARCH 2nd, 1916. ALL MEN (NOT EXCEPTED OR EXEMPTED), between the above ages who, on November 2nd, 1915, were Unmarried or Widowers without any Child dependent on them will, on Thursday, March 2nd, 1916 BE DEEMED TO BE ENLISTED FOR THE PERIOD OF THE WAR. They will be placed in the Reserve until Called Up in their Class. MEN EXCEPTED: SOLDIERS, including Territorials who have volunteered for Foreign Service; MEN serving in the NAVY or ROYAL MARINES; MEN DISCHARGED from ARMY OR NAVY, disabled or ill, or TIME-EXPIRED MEN; MEN REJECTED for the ARMY since AUGUST 14th, 1915; CLERGYMEN, PRIESTS and MINISTERS OF RELIGION; VISITORS from the DOMINIONS. MEN WHO MAY BE EXEMPTED BY LOCAL TRIBUNALS: Men more useful to the Nation in their present employments; Men in whose case Military Service would cause serious hardship owing to exceptional financial or business obligations or domestic position; Men who are ill or infirm; Men who conscientiously object to combatant service. If the Tribunal thinks fit, men may, on this ground, be (a) exempted from combatant service only (not non-combatant service), or (b) exempted on condition that they are engaged in work of National importance. Up to March 2nd, a man can apply to his Local Tribunal for a certificate of exemption. There is a Right of Appeal. He will not be called up until his case has been dealt with finally. Certificates of exemption may be absolute, conditional or temporary. Such certificates can be renewed, varied or withdrawn. Men retain their Civil Rights until called up and are amenable to Civil Courts only. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL MARCH 2nd. ENLIST VOLUNTARILY NOW. For fuller particulars of the Act, please apply for Leaflet No. 64 to the nearest Post Office, Police Station, or Recruiting Office. Published by THE PARLIAMENTARY RECRUITING COMMITTEE, LONDON.- Poster No. 153. Wt. 16551/768. Printed by ROBERTS AND LEETE, Ltd., London.


Conscientious Objectors Registering as a conscientious objector (CO) took determination. They were often labelled as cowards or shirkers by a hostile press. Their cases were first assessed by a local tribunal. Most often these granted conditional exemption or no exemption at all. Absolute exemption was rare. As a result, many COs were enlisted into the Army, sometimes in the Non-Combatant Corps (NCC). Within days some would disobey an order, be arrested, face a court martial and be given a prison sentence. For COs known as ‘absolutists’ – who refused to contribute to the war effort in any way – this could become a recurring pattern. Partly to combat this situation, the government introduced the Home Office Scheme in July 1916. Imprisoned COs had the chance to swap prison for work centres, where they would be employed on labour not directly connected to the war effort. Some accepted this, but some absolutists remained in prison.


The Military Service Act came into effect on 2 March 1916, introducing conscription in Britain for the first time. This poster explains the ways men could be exempted from combatant service, including conscientious objection.


Poster explaining the Military Service Act 1916, which saw the first introduction of conscription. Unmarried men aged between 18 and 41 had to join the armed forces unless they were unfit or worked in an important job. Men who opposed the war – Conscientious Objectors – had to attend a tribunal.

Physical description

Single sheet printed on one side only. Parliamentary Recruiting Committee Poster No.153. Wt. 16551/768. A similar poster was produced in Welsh (see PST 12035). The same text was used on PST 12026, but with a different lay-out.

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