- Empire and Commonwealth
- Age 11 to 14 (KS3)
- Age 14-16 (KS4)
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
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
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.
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
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.
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?
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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?
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.
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.