The 2nd of March 1916 AD
As 1915 neared its end, and the terrible toll of casualties mounted, even the five million British volunteers raised thus far were not enough for the generals as they calculated their loss/kill ratios. Conscription was deemed necessary for the successful prosecution of the war, so in January 1916 the Military Service (Compulsion for Unmarried Men) Act was passed, coming into force on March 2.
Until that time Britain’s ability to rely on a volunteer army had been a source of pride, the stream of willing recruits lauded by Kitchener and Asquith. When Prime Minister Asquith introduced the Compulsion Bill in the Commons it was noted how quietly he spoke, and that his speech was very limited in content.
At first only single men (other than widowers or clergymen) between the ages of 18 and 41 were called up; by May this was extended to married men; by the end of the war the age had been increased to 51, with talk of clergymen losing their exemption. Battles such as the Somme and Ypres claimed hundreds of thousands of these men, led by Haig whose military genius produced a strategy built around the enemy running out of soldiers before he did.
Conscription provided cannon-fodder for the war effort, but highlighted opposition to the conflict in the form of conscientious objectors: many of them died in prison; some it is thought were effectively offered as target practice for the German army; others accepted roles as ambulance drivers and (with a high death-rate) stretcher bearers.
More famous dates here
5991 views since 18th January 2011
On this day: