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London and the recruiting boom

28 Sep

Recruitment to the army is one of the defining images of 1914 in Britain and in London in particular – Kitchener’s call to arms and the queues outside recruiting offices. A week-by-week breakdown of recruiting rates reveals that the pattern of enlistment in London was not quite the same as across the UK as a whole.

"Is your home here? Defend it!" A poster depicting the recruiting districts in the UK (Library of Congress archive)

“Is your home here? Defend it!” A 1915 poster depicting the recruiting districts in the UK (Library of Congress archive)

September 1914 was the peak month for recruitment to the British Army during the Great War. Half a million men joined the army during the month, most of them during the first week and a half. On 11 September, the army increased its physical requirements of recruits. This (possibly coinciding with a natural end to the extreme levels seen after the news from Mons arrived at the end of August) resulted in a very rapid decline in recruiting. Over 190,000 men joined up nationwide in the first week of September, but only 40,000 did so in the week of the 15th to the 21st a fortnight later.

London’s recruiting pattern was basically the same as that of the UK as a whole, with the peak weeks of recruitment being the first two weeks of September, followed by a decline. An interesting facet of the figures, though, is that the peak was less pronounced in London than in the UK as a whole. One way to observe this is that the peak weeks (1-7 and 8-14 September) saw London’s recruits make up a smaller proportion of the UK-wide figure than in any other week in August or September (see graph below). Overall, just under 18% of August’s recruits came from London and just under 15% of those who joined up in September.

Weekly recruiting rates for London and that figure as a percentage of the UK enlistments that week, Aug-Sept 1914

Weekly recruiting rates for London and that figure as a percentage of the UK enlistments that week, Aug-Sept 1914

Another way, that tells a different aspect of the story is that of the men who enlisted across the UK in the period 4 August to 28 September, a third joined up in the first week of September. For London alone, the figure is 25%.

London’s peak of recruiting was very large, but it was less extreme compared to the weeks either side of it, when London provided proportionately more of the nation’s recruits. Historian David Silbey (in his book The British Working Classes and Enthusiasm for War in 1914-1916) describes the recruiting boom as behaving like a ripple coming out from London in August and early September, with London disproportionately affected in August.

The pattern after September was not even. In October, over 22% of all recruits came through the London recruiting district (which covered the Metropolitan area of Greater London, not just the county of London as it existed in 1914). The figure fell below 15% for the next three months, before settling around 18-23% for the rest of 1915. From the 1915 average of 20%, the proportion fell under conscription to around 14.5-16% in the remaining years of the war. The wartime average was 17%.

So, what does this tell us? First of all, it tells us that the pattern for recruitment was different in London to the UK as a whole, with more enlistments in the first weeks and less of a pronounced peak in early September. Second, it tells us that around 17% of recruits came through the London district, which is around what one would expect for a region (Greater London) housing around 7 million of the nation’s 44 million people.

Note on War Office recruiting figures: the figures for August and September do not tally exactly between the daily and monthly returns. The daily figures have been used here for August and September – allowing for a weekly breakdown – the monthly figures are quoted from October onwards. The proportions of recruits brought in through the London recruiting district were broadly the same though: 18.5% in August 1915 and 14.63% in September in the monthly return, compared with the above-quoted daily return figures of just under 18 and 15% respectively.

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6 Comments

Posted by on 28 September 2014 in Recruitment

 

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6 responses to “London and the recruiting boom

  1. David Silbey

    28 September 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Good article. Thanks for the citation.

     
    • Stuart

      16 October 2014 at 7:06 pm

      Glad to hear you like it. Your book was useful when I wrote the recruiting chapter of my thesis on Essex in WW1.

       
  2. adrian.gregory@pmb.ox.ac.uk

    16 October 2014 at 11:37 am

    Dear Stuart

    Have been catching up on the blog. Excellent stuff. I’m also currently recommending October 2013 to people for Black History month…

    Adrian Gregory

     
  3. adrian.gregory@pmb.ox.ac.uk

    16 October 2014 at 11:49 am

    PS

    Have you had a chance to look at Lillie Scales, A Home Front Diary edited by Peter Scales and published this year by Amberly. She lived on Hornsey Lane and started regular diary entries in August 1916. Some very good London material.

    Adrian

     
    • Stuart

      16 October 2014 at 7:05 pm

      Hi Adrian,
      Glad to hear that you like the blog – you can probably spot a reasonable amount of cross-over with the thesis. I did see the Lillie Scales diary/account. I read it for my (forthcoming) book. It was interesting. Also read Arnold Bennett’s The Pretty Lady recently, which is odd but has some good stuff in it that may make its way into the blog.
      Stuart

       

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