from volunteering to conscription
ritain declared war against Germany on 4thAugust 1914,with
Austria-Hungary on 12thAugust 1914,withTurkey on 5th
November 1914 and with Bulgaria on 15th October 1915. Australia,
Canada and New Zealand entered the war alongside Britain on 4th
By the end ofAugust 1914,300,000 men had signed up. By the end of
September these ranks were swelled by another 450,000,and by the end
of December over one million men in Britain had volunteered to fight in
the war. Almost four years later,when the war ended on 11th November
1918,in the region of one quarter of the total male population had
served in theArmed Forces.
Of course no one knew how this war would turn out and there was
a great rush at the start to be part of it,spurred on by a massive
advertising campaign featuring Lord Kitchener. However in contrast
to its French and German counterparts the BritishArmy was relatively
small. While Britain’s Naval supremacy was a matter of national
pride at the outbreak of war herArmy was comparatively small,being
traditionally made up from volunteer recruits,and she was in no way
prepared for a protracted land war. The French mobilised around
1,600,000 troops in 1914 and the Germans mobilised around 1,800,000.
A prominent feature of the early months of volunteering was the
formation of‘Pals Battalions’. ‘Pals’,men who lived and worked together
in the same community, joined up and trained together and were
allocated to the same units.
Knowing what we know now,it’s hard to understand why anyone
would go willingly to the hell of Gallipoli or theWestern Front.
But people had romantic notions as the story ofWilliam Darling
from Edinburgh typifies.
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