Conscription

20th January 1915

The British government introduces conscription in March 1916.

By 1916 the British Army needed more soldiers. Not as many men were volunteering as in the first year of the war and nobody knew whether the French Army could survive the terrible fighting at Verdun so Britain had to be prepared to take on the Germans on their own.

In March 1916 the Military Service Act was passed by parliament. This introduced conscription for all single men aged 18 to 41. The only exceptions were teachers, clergymen and workers involved in important industries. Certain medical conditions could also mean rejection.

In May 1916 the rules were changed. Married men were now included and some men who had been rejected before were reconsidered.

Conscription?

Conscription means people are forced to carry out a service for their country and normally refers to joining the military.

Reaction to Conscription in Wales

Many people disagreed with conscription. Organisations were set up in Wales (and across Britain) to oppose it, including Anti-Conscription Councils. These organisations printed leaflets and campaigned in parliament to stop conscription from being introduced.

When conscription was passed in 1916 authorities in Wales made a big effort to make sure no one got away with avoiding the call-up.

Policemen in Newport carried out a "round-up" where they stopped all men of conscription age and asked them why they weren't in uniform. If the men couldn’t prove they were conscientious objectors or exempt for some other reason then they were arrested.

Eventually not even miners were safe from conscription. In 1917 the government decided to take a small percentage of men from every mine and recruit them into the army. They started with men who had gone to work in mines after the war began (some men had taken jobs in the mines as a way of avoiding having to fight). When it looked like this might be extended to include men who had been working in the mines for many years the miners threatened to go on strike.

A Welsh language recruitment poster from 1914. In the first year of the war lots of men were enthusiastic about signing up to join the army. However by 1916 fewer men were joining so the government had to introduce conscription.