Object Advent Calendar Day 11

First World War Enlistment Book

Beneath todays imaginary advent window we have an enlistment book from the Black Watch Archive, one of a number of them that we have for the First World War. This book gives the name, age, place of enlistment and date of posting for every soldier who was allocated the First World War army numbers S/5997 to S/8956.

The United Kingdom started the First World War as the extreme underdog in terms of how many soldiers she could commit to the field, and it was apparent from the very start that many more men would be needed. Since the Haldane Reforms of 1906-12, made in light of the army’s experiences of the Boer War, and in particular the creation of the Territorial Army in 1908, the British Army offered 4 types of enlistment; The Regular Army, The Territorial Army, The Special Reserve and the National Reserve.

A5002.A (480x640)Enlistment in the Regular Army was allowed providing a few key criteria were met, namely that he was above 5’ 3”, agreed to enlist for a set period of time, usually seven years for the infantry, with a number of years in the reserve and was between 18 and 38 years old. In return for enlisting the soldier could choose which regiment he joined.

The Territorial Army was created in April 1908 and allowed recruits to join on a part time basis. Recruits could have the choice as to which regiments to join but in reality, due to the defined areas of recruitment for TA regiments, men joined their home unit. The recruits were required to do a certain number of days service and training each year, usually at the weekends, and had to attend an annual summer camp. No soldier enlisting in the Territorial Army was required to do overseas service, but understood that in the event of a war could be called on to do full regular service.

Soldiers enlisting in the Special Reserve did so on the understanding that they could be called upon to do regular service at a moment’s notice. Usually lasting for 6 years a Special Service soldier was similar in many ways to a Territorial Army soldier, in the sense that he trained part time, after a six month regular training, but unlike the TA a Special Reservist would be required for overseas service. These soldiers could extend their service once their initial period was up, but could not serve beyond the age of 40.

The National Reserve was a desire by the British Government to have a pool of men ready to be called up, and in many ways was similar to the Special Reserve. The National Reserve, which by 1913 number over 200,000 soldiers, were all trained officers and men who had completed their full service, but were willing to be recalled if war broke out. These men were divided into classes (1-3) depending on their age and fitness, Class 1 being those who were under 42 years and were fit enough to serve, whilst Class 3 were men unable to undertake active military service. Class 2 were men who were fit enough for home defence, but not overseas service.

By the outbreak of the First World War Britain had a tiny, but very professional army, and it was clear that more men would be required. The Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, asked for volunteers, and the response was initially massive. Soon though the number of men enlisting in the army was to fall to an average of 100,000 a month. This seems a lot but was actually not enough to fulfil all the requirements of the British Army, as a result schemes, such as the Lord Derby Scheme were tried but these ultimately failed and on 27th January 1916 the Military Service Act came into force, conscripting males between 19 and 41 into the army, providing all the military criteria were met.

The object we have for viewing today is an enlistment book for the Special Reserve, which remained open to recruits, after the mobilisation of the Special Reserve in August 1914, and the agreement that these men would volunteer for overseas service.



About blackwatchmuseum

The Museum of The Black Watch offers an insight into one of the British Army's if not the world's most famous fighting units. Scotland's Black Watch is an elite military regiment whose history stretches back almost three centuries.
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