Sunday, 11 June 2017

A missing armband and a promise to enlist at a later date .............. stories behind the book nu 11

An occasional series on the stories behind the new book on Manchester and the Great War.*

Voluntary recruitment, 1915
Now I am on the lookout for those arm bands which were issued during the Great War to men who had been wounded and invalidated out of the armed forces and those whose call up had been deferred.

So far I have only come across one and that is not mine to use, but my friend David Harrop is at this very moment looking for an example which I can feature on the blog and in the book.

As the war entered its second year there were those only too keen to point the finger at men who “were not doing their bit.”

So for those who had actually done their bit and returned to civilian life after being wounded an arm band with a silver crown was issued which it was hoped would announce to the world that they had served their country.

And for those men who were prepared to enlist but wanted to defer their call up, the Government established the Group Scheme which was commonly known as the Derby scheme.

It was in some ways a half way house between the voluntary enlistment which had been so successful in the first months of the war and conscription.

After the first heady rush to join the Colours in 1914 recruitment had fallen away.

In that first few months two million men had enlisted in the armed forces joining the hundreds of thousands of regulars, reservists and territorials but by early 1915 the numbers enlisting each month had levelled out at around 110,000 which was judged to be not enough to keep pace with the casualties on the battlefields.

As early as August 1914 the height restrictions had been lowered and in the May of the following year the upper age limit was raised from 38 to 40.

It therefore made perfect sense to explore just how many men were out there who were fit for military service and so on July 15th 1915 Parliament passed the National Registration Act which set out the means by which “a register shall be formed of all persons male and female between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five (not being members of His Majesty’s naval forces or of His Majesty’s regular or territorial forces).”**

The registration was undertaken in a similar way to a census with some 29 million forms issued across England and Wales.

It revealed that there were about five million men of military age who were not in the forces and as a means of reinvigorating recruitment the Derby scheme was introduced which offered the opportunity for men to enlist but defer their call up to a later date.

215,000 men enlisted while the scheme was on and another 2,185,000 chose to delay their enlistment and those who were on the deferred list were given a grey or khaki arm band with a red crown.***

Conscription, 1916
But this still left a large pool of potential recruits who had not shown a willingness to serve, and so in the January of 1916 the Military Service Act was passed introducing conscription.

This required that all men between the ages of 18 to 41 were liable for service in the army unless they were married, widowed with children or in the Royal Navy, a minister of religion or in a reserved occupation.

Later in May 1916 this was extended to married men and two years later the upper age limit was raised to 51.

All of which means that those grey and khaki armbands with the red badge were not in service for long.

Still I would like to see one, and include it on the blog and the book.

Location; Britain

Pictures; recruitment poster for the Derby Scheme, November 1915, Parliamentary Recruiting Committee Poster no 137, Imperial War Museum, Art.IWM PST 5022, originally posted in Derby Scheme, and British conscription poster for Military Service Act, 1916, Parliamentary and Joint Labour Recruiting Committees, originally posted in Military Service Act 1916,

*Manchester and the Great War, Andrew Simpson, was published in February 2017,

***First Clause of the National Registration Act 1915.

***Derby Scheme,

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