Doncaster at War: 1916

Military Service Act Poster, IWM


By the end of 1915, the British Army was struggling to supply enough men and fill the gaps caused by high casualty rates. In February 1916, compulsory military service, known as conscription, was introduced for single men between 18 and 41, extended in May 1916 to include married men.

As more men left Doncaster, the women of the town were needed in greater numbers than ever before to work as farm labourers, munitions workers, tram drivers and postal workers. Men who opposed the war on moral or religious grounds, such as Conisbrough’s John Hubert Brocklesby, divided public opinion as many refused to be conscripted.


Doncaster Chronicle June 16 1916 pg.2

Although women had worked in industry before 1914, the war and conscription increased the need for female labour. There were debates and arguments played out in Doncaster newspapers and across the country about the ability of the ‘fairer sex’ to handle their new responsibility. These women learnt their agricultural skills at a farming school based at Plumtree Farm, Bawtry, founded by Mrs Peake of Bawtry Hall.

Women also played important roles as nurses and medical staff working at local auxiliary hospitals and convalescent homes treating wounded soldiers. Loversall Hall, near Balby, was the home of Sophia Skipwith. She opened it as a hospital shortly after the outbreak of war and treated hundreds of soldiers throughout the conflict. This photograph shows nurses and patients in June 1916.


By kind permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library and Mary Brocklesby. LIDDLE/WW1/CO/011

After the introduction of conscription, a tribunal system was set up to allow men to seek exemption from compulsory military service. Throughout 1916, the ‘tales told to the tribunals’ were the talk of the town and the local press.

John Hubert Brocklesby refused to do any war work as it went against his religious beliefs of peace and non-violence. After his appearance at a Doncaster tribunal in February 1916, Brocklesby was arrested and imprisoned in Richmond Castle. Later in 1916, he and 15 others were sent to France and sentenced to death. His sentence was reduced to 10 years imprisonment and he was moved back to the UK. Many conscientious objectors received poor treatment from the military and their community alike. However, John’s three brothers, two soldiers and a recruiting officer, supported his decision.


Hyde Park School boys. Doncaster Gazette, June 1916

Throughout 1916, the Doncaster Gazette ran a series of photographs of children from local schools that had family fighting at the Front. The aim of this series was to allow Doncaster soldiers around the world to ‘catch a glimpse’ of their loved ones through the newspaper.


The Kitchener Memorial Service, June 1916. Doncaster Archives

The death of Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War in June 1916 was described by the local Doncaster press as a ‘national calamity’.

A huge church service was held in Doncaster Minster in his honour. The service was so popular it filled the church. Mayor Samuel Balmforth (centre), councillors, wounded soldiers from local hospitals and V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detatchment) nurses were among the attendees.