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© Barns Green - A Local History of The Great War 2014
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   Britain,   unlike   its   European   neighbours   had   no   history   of   compulsory   military   service   and   the   idea   of   such   a   thing   was   simply   not   British!   But voluntary   enlistment   into   the   services   was   simply   not   at   a   level   which   would   sustain   the   war   effort,   given   the   mounting   casualty   rate   and   the   ever widening   areas   of   conflict.   The   National   Registration   in   1915   had   shown   that   about   half   of   the   5   million   men   eligible   for   military   service   had volunteered. Desperate   to   avoid   conscription,   the   Government   launched   a   special   scheme   to   encourage   men   to   enlist.   The   basis   of   the   scheme   was   that   if   a   man volunteered   he   would   categorised   according   to   his   marital   status   and   occupation   and   only   called   up   when   all   higher   grouped   men   had   already   been called.   The   idea   was   to   ensure   that   single   men   were   enlisted   before   married   men.   Men   who   signed   up   were   given   an   armband   and   certificate   as proof   of   their   commitment.   This   was   an   important   feature   of   the   scheme   as   the   white   feather   campaign   was   gaining   momentum   and   no   man   wanted to be accosted in the street and publicly handed a white feather as evidence of his perceived cowardice! The scheme met with limited success, but for several local men it enabled them to enlist and show they were willing to do their bit. Many   local   men   enlisted   under   the   scheme,   but   one   man,   Henry   Knight,   a   married   bricklayer   living   in   Cross   Lane,   there   was   a   problem.   He   enlisted   in December   1915   but   by   January   1916   had   still   not   received   his   armband   or   papers,   so   he   wrote   to   the   Recruiting   office   querying   why   he   had   not   yet received   his   enlistment   certificate   or   his   “enlisted   men’s   armband”.   It   is   possible   that   Henry’s   enquiry   was   prompted   by   him   being   presented   with   a white   feather,   or   by   seeing   this   happen   to   someone   else   when   he   was   at   work   on   a   building   job   in   Portsmouth.   By   early   February   Henry   had   received his armlet to wear indicating that he had enlisted pending his actual call up (which arrived in June 1916.) Henry Knight’s letter to the military ( Image courtesy of TNA). While   Henry   Knight   was   receiving   his   certificate   and   armband,   his   neighbour   Henry   Bennett   received   his   call   up.   As   a   23   year   old   single   man   Henry Bennett was called up just one month after he enlisted. In   March   1916   compulsory   military   service   was   introduced.   For   local   families   who   still   had   single   men   of   military   age   at   home   they   now   knew   that   it was certain they would be called up to serve, whether they wanted to or not.
Conscription