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Enlisting in Kitchener’s Army

Kitchener's Army

When war was announced in August 1914 it became apparent to the newly appointed Secretary of State for War, Lord Herbert Kitchener, that Britain desperately needed to bolster and prepare the armed forces – most importantly the Army – for battle. This was achieved by creating an army of volunteers, which became known in popular culture as ‘Kitchener’s Army’.

Photo shows a third Battalion Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry recruiting march in Ruan Minor, Cornwall. 29th June 1915. During this march the battalion met a contingent of the Devon & Gloucester’s..

© From the collection of the RIC. Third Battalion Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry in a recruiting march Ruan Minor, Cornwall, 29th June 1915. During this march the battalion met a contingent of the Devon & Gloucester’s.

Recognising the power of manufacturing an army out of volunteers as opposed to a forced one, Kitchener made a direct and personal appeal to the people of Britain. A huge recruiting campaign ensued, led predominately by newspaper advertisements and supported by posters appealing to a variety of the population. Slogans such as ‘[Men] Step into place’, ‘An enquiry from the front: “When are the other boys coming?”’, ‘Woman of Britain say “GO!”’ and ‘“Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?”’ were just some of the concepts created to encourage men to voluntarily enlist. The most famous of these campaigns though is without a doubt Reginald Leete’s iconic image of a mustachioed Kitchener pointing his finger at passers-by above the inscription: ‘Britons Your Country Needs You’.

First World War Kitchener recruiting poster, image of a mustachioed Kitchener pointing his finger at passers-by above the inscription: 'Britons Your Country Needs You'.

Kitchener’s infamous September, 1914 recruitment poster with the inscription: ‘Britons Your Country Needs You’.

Through Kitchener’s campaigns men were made to feel proud and morally obligated to fight for their country, as a result many queued outside recruitment offices all over Britain to join. They clearly worked as on average in the first weekend of the war 100 men an hour signed up to join the armed forces.

Picture of a First World War recruitment poster, slogan reads: ‘Woman of Britain say “GO!”’

A First World War recruitment poster.

Fun Facts

Facts on Kitchener’s Army:

Over the course of war more than:

  • 54 million posters were issued
  • 8 million personal letters were sent to eligible men.
  • 12,000 war meetings were held, in every town and village politicians, priests, and local worthies exhorted men to do their patriotic duty.
  • 20,000 speeches were delivered by military spokesmen to drum up support and recruits.
  • By the end of 1914 1,186,337 men had enlisted
Picture of a First World War recruitment poster, slogan reads: Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?

First World War recruitment poster. Slogan reads “Daddy what did YOU do in the Great war?”.

  • The youngest authenticated combatant to have entered and fought during the war was 12-year old Sidney George Lewis of 53 Defoe Road, Tooting, London. The schoolboy soldier deployed to France with the 106th Machine Gun Company aged 13 and fought for 6 weeks in the Battle of Delville Wood (one of the bloodiest engagements of the Battle of the Somme, 1916). He was eventually sent home but only after his mother, Fanny, sent in a letter pleading for his return with a copy of his birth certificate to War Office officials.

1914 Enlisting Requirements For Kitchener’s Army

1914 enlisting requirements dictated not everyone was eligible to enlist. Only men could join up as soldiers. All new recruits be had to be at least 18 years old to join the army, and 19 years old before they could be sent abroad to fight and no older than 41 years old (the age limit was increased to 51 years old in April 1918).

Photograph of a group of soldiers and civilians during third Battalion, Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry recruiting march during the First World War. Lance Corporal Rendle (far right) pictured before he received his Victoria Cross on 12th July 1915.

© From the collection of the RIC. Group of soldiers and civilians during 3rd Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry recruiting march during the First World War. Lance Corporal Thomas Rendle (far right) pictured before he received his Victoria Cross on 12th July 1915.

These restrictions did not stop lots of young boys and teenagers trying to ‘join up’ too.  Many lied about their age, hoping the recruitment officer would believe them so they ‘wouldn’t miss out on the fun’.

 

All men had to pass a rigorous medical exam – including a fitness test, eye test and hearing test. This process was originally designed to weed out those with prior health conditions or those unfit for the rigours of a soldier’s role but by 1916 with volunteer numbers decreasing, the criteria became less stringent.

 First World War recruiting poster. Slogan reads "the New Army Terms of Enlistment for the present war".

First World War recruiting poster. Slogan reads “the New Army Terms of Enlistment for the present war”.

 

A minimum height limit was also dictated, it started at 5 feet 3 inches but was raised to 5 feet 6 inches in order to prevent an unmanageable flood of volunteers coming forward when the numbers joining up was at its peak. This process was subsequently reversed in the latter years of the war in response to the dwindling number of new recruits coming forward to enlist.