A SHORTAGE OF RECRUITS
By the end of 1915, the War Office and military commanders realised that more men would be needed as reinforcements, but that the rate of volunteer enlistment had dropped significantly. In spring 1915, enlistments had averaged 100,000 men per month, but this could not be sustained. The upper age limit for men to serve was raised from 38 to 40 in May 1915 in an effort to keep the numbers up, but it had became clear that voluntary recruitment was not going to provide the numbers of men required. There are records in the Kington Times of recruitment events being held in the town during 1915, and no recruits coming forward.
In response to the shortage of volunteer recruits, the government passed the National Registration Act on 15 July 1915 as a step towards stimulating recruitment and to discover how many men between the ages of 15 and 65 were engaged in each trade. All those in this age range who were not already in the military were obliged to register, giving details of their employment. The results of this census became available by mid-September 1915 : it showed there were almost 5 million males of military age who were not in the forces, of which 1.6 million were in the “starred” (protected, high or scarce skill) jobs.
On 11 October 1915, Lord Derby was appointed Director-General of Recruiting. He brought forward a programme five days later, often called the Derby Scheme, although its official title was the Group Scheme, for raising the numbers. Men aged 18 to 40 were informed that under the scheme they could continue to enlist voluntarily or attest with an obligation to come if called up later on. The War Office notified the public that voluntary enlistment would soon cease and that the last day of registration would be 15 December 1915.
Despite the organisation of the Derby Scheme, under which men signed up but took a deferment from full enlistment, the shortage of recruits was still acute. Local tribunals under the Scheme were empowered to identify men eligible for starring, or to receive evidence as to why a man should not be considered eligible for service.
ATTESTATION UNDER THE DERBY SCHEME
Men who attested under the Derby Scheme, who were accepted for service and chose to defer it, were classified as being in “Class A”. Those who agreed to immediate service were “Class B”. The Class A men were paid a day’s army pay for the day they attested; were given a grey armband with a red crown as a sign that they had so volunteered; were officially transferred into Section B Army Reserve; and were sent back to their homes and jobs until they were called up.
MILITARY SERVICE ACT 1916
Faced, however, with the continuing shortage of manpower, the government passed the Military Service Act on 27th January 1916, to come into force from 2nd March 1916. It was this Act that introduced conscription, for the first time in the British Isles.
The Act specified that men from 18 to 41 years old were liable to be called up for service in the army unless they were married, widowed with children, serving in the Royal Navy, a minister of religion, or working in one of a number of reserved occupations. A second Act in May 1916 extended liability for military service to married men, and a third Act in 1918 extended the upper age limit to 51.
Requirements of the Act:
- All single men up to the age of 41 who were not attested, starred or not, must apply to a local tribunal for permanent, conditional or temporary exemption.
- If they don’t apply, they will be regarded as enlisted and placed on the reserve list until called for active service.
- Application to be starred by attested men was not to be made to local tribunal but to a military representative.
- There will be an appeal from the local tribunal to a county appeal tribunal.
Information about the Act was widely publicised – the following is an excerpt from a poster, this excerpt providing details of who was to be exempted:
“MEN EXCEPTED: SOLDIERS, including Territorials who have volunteered for Foreign Service; MEN serving in the NAVY or ROYAL MARINES; MEN DISCHARGED from ARMY OR NAVY, disabled or ill, or TIME-EXPIRED MEN; MEN REJECTED for the ARMY since AUGUST 14th, 1915; CLERGYMEN, PRIESTS and MINISTERS OF RELIGION; VISITORS from the DOMINIONS.
MEN WHO MAY BE EXEMPTED BY LOCAL TRIBUNALS: Men more useful to the Nation in their present employments; Men in whose case Military Service would cause serious hardship owing to exceptional financial or business obligations or domestic position; Men who are ill or infirm; Men who conscientiously object to combatant service. If the Tribunal thinks fit, men may, on this ground, be (a) exempted from combatant service only (not non-combatant service), or (b) exempted on condition that they are engaged in work of National importance.
Up to March 2nd, a man can apply to his Local Tribunal for a certificate of exemption. There is a Right of Appeal. He will not be called up until his case has been dealt with finally. Certificates of exemption may be absolute, conditional or temporary. Such certificates can be renewed, varied or withdrawn. Men retain their Civil Rights until called up and are amenable to Civil Courts only.”
Under the Act, local councils received notification that they would need to set up local Tribunals, to hear the cases of men claiming exemption from compulsory enlistment.
For Kington and its surrounding rural areas, there were two Tribunals – Kington Urban District (the town) and Kington Rural District, which covered a wide range of parishes, including Brilley, Pembridge, Eardisley, and Old and New Radnor. The work of the Tribunals was covered in the Kington Times, with lists of men appearing. The information published generally provided an address, the occupation of the man and the reasons why exemption was being requested – but this information is not detailed. However, the newspaper reports have enabled us to add to the list of Kington and Huntington men who were likely to have served in some capacity. The regiments that they were called up to are not however reported on.
A further piece for the website on the work of the local Tribunals is in the course of development.