2nd January 1940. Conscription.

One of the lessons of World War I was that conscription should be introduced early, thus in 1938 an Emergency Powers (Defence) Act gave government powers to take special measures in defence and public order including calling up reserves, including RAF Volunteer and Air Raid Precautions (ARP). About half a million responded, but this was insufficient.(1)

11 May 1939, London, England, UK --- 5/11/1939-London, England: Members of Britain's No Conscription League parade in protest of the government's compulsory conscription bill. Some of the 2,000 in the parade are shown carrying posters. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

11 May 1939, London, England, UK — 5/11/1939-London, England: Members of Britain’s No Conscription League parade in protest of the government’s compulsory conscription bill. Some of the 2,000 in the parade are shown carrying posters. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Whatever preparations we did make and in later mobilisation in September, we started ill-equipped with tactics and a strategy based on 1914.

Under the Military Training Act, April 1939 and for the first time in British peacetime, measures were announced for conscription.

However before these were effected, war intervened so by July only one intake of 35,000 had been called-up.(2)

The Act unsupported by Liberal and Labour MPs, was a compulsory national register of youths under 21, superseding the previous December’s Voluntary Register, where conscripts faced six months intensive training before transfer to the Territorials, which were to be doubled in strength to 340,000.

On outbreak of war 3rd September 1939 a National Service (Armed Forces) Act required all those between 19-41 to be conscripted; single men were called first, so by the end of 1939 about 1.5 million were available.(3)

Labour’s Ernest Bevin, later Minister of Labour and National Service in May 1940, felt betrayed as he had been given explicit assurances from the Ministry of Labour and Sir John Anderson that there would be no compulsion.

By Today January 1940 conscription became more urgent with the Daily Telegraph’s headline reporting: ‘Calling up Plans for 2,000,000’.(4)

conscription1939

This two million aged between 19-27 years now helped to make a total of 3,000,000, including those serving and registered. In May conscription was extended to direct an industrial workforce, including women into the varied roles they were to be employed.

By 1943 we were scraping the bottom of the barrel, and now calling up those aged 40. We also realized that to win the war we were dependent on America’s bounty, Lend-Lease, and inexhaustible supplies of food, munitions and men.

(1) By the outbreak of war on September 1939 we could muster about 900.000 men compared with France’s 5 million.

(2) Act passed 27th April, 1939, coming into effect in May.

(3) (1.1 million for the Army with the rest spread between the Navy and RAF. Exemptions included Conscientious Objectors who had to do war-work, and reserved occupations : baking, farming, engineering and medicine etc.

(4) Tuesday 2nd Jan 1940. Daily telegraph.

Ref: bbc.co.uk/history/britain.

Ref: britishmilitaryhistory.co.uk/docs.

Ref: parliament.uk/conscription.

Ref: ppu.org.uk/Pic Images.

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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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