How did Britain increase and maintain the fighting force?

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Use sources to learn more about the people who contributed to the war effort during the First World War and the methods used to recruit them.

1. What was the public response to the outbreak of war?

  • Men queue to enlist

    British response to the outbreak of war, August 1914
    Q 42033

    The First World War began in August 1914.   No one knew what kind of war it was going to be or how long it would last, but men rushed to join up and go to war. This photograph shows recruits at the Whitehall Recruiting Office in London.

  • One million men had volunteered by the end of 1914

    A dismounted cavalry draft of the 1st Life Guards
    Q 66196

    In Britain over one million men had volunteered to fight by December 1914. By the end of the war more than four years later, almost one quarter of the total male population had served in the armed forces.

  • A volunteer

    Lieutenant Alan Lloyd
    Lieutenant Alan Lloyd
    HU 59399

    Alan Lloyd was born into a middle-class Quaker family in Birmingham in 1889.  In January 1914 he became engaged to Dorothy Hewetson.  When war broke out, Lloyd immediately volunteered.  On his honeymoon in August he learned that he had been commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the Royal Artillery.

  • Reasons to enlist

    A letter written by Alan Lloyd to his fiancée
    A letter written by Alan Lloyd to his fiancée

    This letter was written by Alan Lloyd on 06 August 1914.  It explains his reasons for enlisting. Scroll down to find a transcript of the letter.

  • Equipment shortages

    Dummy rifle
    Dummy rifle
    FIR 11580

    The sudden increase in the number of soldiers meant that, at first, their were serious shortages of uniforms, weapons, and equipment.  This dummy rifle is cut from wood and was used by the British Army for training purposes.

2 What methods were used to enlist new recruits?

  • 'Pals' battalions

    Leeds Pals – shoulder badge
    Leeds Pals – shoulder badge
    INS 7637

    Many men were encouraged to sign up with their friends and colleagues with the promise that those who ‘joined together should serve together’.  This led to what was known as ‘Pals’ battalions.

  • Schemes to encourage more men to volunteer

    Derby Scheme armband, Army
    Derby Scheme armband, Army
    INS 7764

    As the war went on the British Government had to persuade more and more men to go to war. The Derby scheme was introduced in Britain in October 1915 and asked men to register their commitment to serve.  Under the scheme single men would be called up before married volunteers.

  • Young British recruits

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    Recruiting Officers were paid for each man so some turned a blind eye to underage volunteers.  The British government had originally said that no one under 19 years of age would be sent overseas to fight. In April 1918 they lowered the age to 18 after suffering a near-defeat on the Western Front.  This photograph was taken in July 1918, when the army were trying to find and remove underage soldiers.

3 Where else did Britain turn to gain support?

  • Indian troops

    Men of the 45th Sikhs (52nd Infantry Brigade, 17th Division)
    Q 24777

    Men in the Dominions and Empire also volunteered.  In Australia over 415 thousand men enlisted and over a million men of the Indian Army served overseas during the war.   Over one hundred thousand New Zealanders, 425 thousand Canadians and Newfoundlanders, and 230 thousand South Africans also served overseas.

  • West Indian troops

    West Indian troops stacking 8 inch shells at an ammunition dump near Ypres, Belgium, October 1917

    During the First World War the West Indies contributed about 15,000 troops for active service overseas. About two-thirds of these were from Jamaica.

4 How did women contribute to the war effort?

  • Women at work during the First World War

    Munitions workers in a warehouse at the National Filling Factory Chilwell
    Q 30011

    The First World War substantially increased the numbers of women in paid work and the range of jobs that they undertook.  The majority of women supported the war effort by working in industry.

  • Women's Land Army

    The Women's Land Army and German Prisoners by Randolph Schwabe
    The Women's Land Army and German Prisoners by Randolph Schwabe
    Art.IWM ART 1179

    Women took on jobs that had previously been done by husbands, brothers and fathers, who were now absent, as well as keeping households and families together.  This painting shows two women of the Women's Land Army and two German prisoners-of-war doing important agricultural work.

  • Women's Auxilliary forces

    Women Wanted Urgently
    Women Wanted Urgently
    Art.IWM PST 4881

    A number of the leading Suffragettes played an important role in setting up women-only organisations to support the war effort.

5 Who was eventually forced to enlist?

  • Conscription

    New recruits have their kit fitted following enlistment
    Q 30069

     In Britain and the Dominions the issue of conscription (forced military service) caused much controversy. Conscription was finally introduced in Britain in 1916 for men aged between 18 and 41.  The upper age limit was later increased to 50. Conscription was also introduced in New Zealand in 1916, and in Canada in 1917, although it was not introduced in Australia.

  • Conscientious objectors

    No-conscription Fellowship
    No-conscription Fellowship

    Conscription was a hugely controversial step. Conscientious objectors refused to fight on religious or moral grounds, although the proportion of conscientious objectors to men in uniform was very small. This membership card for the No-Conscription Fellowship belonged to William Harrison, who went to prison because he refused to have anything to do with the war.  He was a pacifist whose deep religious beliefs told him that killing was wrong.