By the end of 1915, severe losses of experienced officers and men made it much harder for the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) to plan and fight successful battles. If Britain was to commit to Total War, more men would be needed. Various schemes in 1915 had tried to solve these manpower problems, but still not enough volunteer soldiers came forward. Compulsory military service, or ‘conscription’, was beginning to look inevitable.
On 24 January 1916, the Military Service Act was passed in Parliament. In February, conscription was introduced for single men between 18 and 41. This was extended in May 1916 to include married men.
The ranks of the K.O.Y.L.I. would undertake another transformation. Conscripted men would now stand alongside the few remaining career soldiers of the original B.E.F. of 1914, and the Kitchener volunteers of 1915. The men conscripted under this Act would begin to trickle onto the Western Front from the middle to the end of the year and form the foundation of the BEF that would fight at Arras, Ypres and Cambrai in 1917.
DONCASTER REACTS TO CONSCRIPTION
‘TO THE UNATTESTED
…Come to the colours and cheat the Compulsionist
Prove that it’s humour that’s kept you so long away
Come in your thousands and help the expulsionist
Throw out a Bill that proposes so wrong a way
Doncaster Gazette January 7 1916 pg 7
Opinion pieces, letters and even poems ran in local newspapers early in 1916, urging men to enlist so conscription could be avoided. After conscription was introduced, many local people publically expressed their disapproval of conscientious objectors—those who refused to fight for religious or moral reasons. Their cases were held at tribunals at the Mansion House.
In March 1916, six K.O.Y.L.I. soldiers wrote to the Doncaster Chronicle calling for conscientious objectors to take on the job of ‘wireman’. These men believed that offering conscientious objectors such a dangerous role, but which did not involve front-line fighting would force them to join an ordinary branch of the army. The tone of their letter seems harsh to modern audiences, but as the war raged and casualties rose, tensions ran high. Three of these six soldiers would die on the first day of the battle of the Somme.
‘Dear Editor –[We] would suggest the following method of dealing with men who plead ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ – In front of our trenches. There are miles of barbed wire, and men are always required to repair gaps made by enemy bombardment… Such work has to be done at night and men do not carry rifles, so there is no reason why our conscientious objectors should not be trained as wiremen and sent out here for that purpose only. What could they plead against that? …We, the undersigned, are all Doncaster lads, who have had charge of platoons out here for the last six months.. so many wash-outs are left in the old town.
Sergeant Edward Ellis 20059
Sergeant Walter Gibbons 17232
Sergeant (H)Oriel Marsden 16502
Sergeant Edward Poppleton 16506
Acting Lance Sergeant George Scholey 17570
Company Sergeant Major Harry Winwood 16446
Doncaster Chronicle, March 24 Page 8