4th August 1914. Call to Arms.
When Britain entered the War today in 1914, like other nations we thought it would be over by Christmas.
None had made adequate economic plans and ammunition soon started running out. We hoped to bolster our allies by Naval power and the efforts of a small professional army.
From the start losses were so high, in October alone, 30,000 were killed, that the height requirement was reduced from 5ft 8in to 5ft 3in.
The Liberal Prime Minister, Asquith supported by Churchill had stood by our defence of France and Belgium whilst others in his Cabinet were resigning, now had to call for another 500,000 men.
By November the War Office announced that all potential soldiers would be issued with khaki armbands bearing a crown as a deterrence to being given a white feather denoting cowardice.
Despite over one million men at the Western Front, casualties were so high that more men were needed. However even by July 1915, no conscription was being contemplated and The National Registration Bill of those aged 15-65, it said at the time, was only needed for ‘census purposes’! War Secretary, Lord Kitchener had always favoured a volunteer army and was persuaded more would volunteer if friends could fight together.
Thus fifty towns and cities formed ‘Pals’ battalions such as the ‘Grimsby Chums’ and ‘Accrington Pals’.(1)
When war was declared on August 4th, football carried on as players were loath to forgo their rolling one year contracts and it was left to author Conan Doyle to suggest that West Ham players were cowards for not enlisting. Charles Fry the celebrated sportsman called for football to be abandoned and contracts voided.
Eventually the 17 Service (football) Regiment was formed and one of the first to join was English international Frank Buckley, later Wolves Manager.
The Football Association and League also now encouraged unmarried players to join -up.
All Clapton Orient and Heart of Midlothian (Hearts) players joined. However the Athletic News grudgingly thought it was affecting the ’Poor Man’s Sport’. (2)
A 1600-strong ‘Stockbrokers’ Battalion was formed in the City of London; in all 643 volunteer battalions were raised.
Country estates were denuded, as scions of the aristocracy led by example, becoming officers to the thousands of their workers, many not to return.
The peer-pressure to join up was immense, together with the ignominy of being given a white feather often by a woman. (3)
There were also the ubiquitous posters: one was headed, that there were three types of men: ‘Those who hear the Call of Duty/ Those who delay/ And-the others/ To which do you belong’?
(1) The Accrington Pals lost 750 out of 900.
(2) The Hearts of Midlothian were the first British Football Club to enlist in November 1914, to become the 16th Royal Scots.
(3) One of which survived and shown on a BBC TV Antique Roadshow Programme in 2012 and still inside a note berating the recipient for cowardice.
Ref: wikipedia.org/pals_battalions. Image of Football Battalions.
Ref: iwm.org. Image of Irishmen Battalion.
Ref: google.com.Images of Pals Battalions and Cyclists.
Ref: hellfirecorner.com. image of Lonsdale Battalion.