The end of conscription

The First Military Act failed to deliver the desired number of men. An estimated 43,000 of the men called were qualified for military service. 93,000 eligible men did not appear when called. 750,000 men claimed exemption from military service, and many of them were granted at least temporary exemption.

The Second Military Act of May 1916 expanded those eligible for conscription to married men. It also allowed for 18 year old conscripts to be sent overseas if they had six months training, prior to this only men over the age of 19 could be sent overseas. In July 1917 legislation also allowed for the conscription of French and Russian citizens residing in Britain.

By 1918 the number of troops was getting seriously low. David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, introduced a Third Military Act which extended conscription to Ireland, further working groups in Britain and to men aged 51.

The introduction of conscription was not popular. In April 1915 over 200,000 people protested against it in Trafalgar Square.

© IWM (Art.IWM PST 12191)

Liberal politicians, who had supported it, were accused of abandoning the Liberal Party’s commitment to individual liberty. Men flooded the Military Service Tribunals with exemption requests and many men called to service did not show up.

The end of the war saw the end of conscription, which officially ceased 11 November 1918. All conscripts, if they had not already been so, were discharged by 31 March 1920.

There were an estimated 2.5 million British men conscripted from 1916-1918.