By late 1916 the British Army in France and Flanders was made up of four distinct types of soldier – described by the late Professor Richard Holmes as 'the old, new, borrowed and blue'; the 'old', professional pre–war Regulars; the 'New Army' men of Kitchener volunteers; the Territorial Force (TF) men 'borrowed' from home defence duties and, finally, those 'blue' soldiers conscripted under the various Military Service Acts.

In all, some 4,970,902 men enlisted into these widely diverse elements of the British Army between August 1914 and November 1918 and, of these, 2,504,183 were enlisted after the introduction of compulsory service in January 1916 – a number greater than all other types of soldier combined so that by 1918, the bayonet strength of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Western Front was dominated by teenage conscripts as it launched the final offensives of the last 100 days. [1]

Despite their overwhelming numbers, the men of this conscript army have been at best ignored and at worst deliberately snubbed in the historiography of a war widely presented as being fought as a patriotic endeavour to defend the nation and empire.

Against this backdrop of the war as a patriotic duty, the issue of the 1914/15 Star medal to men serving in operational theatres before the implementation of the first Military Service Act, served as a clear distinction between those regarded as willing volunteers, giving their lives for their homeland and the coerced conscripts forced against their will to do their duty, a distinction with far reaching consequences for the study of those who served. Put simply, the existence of the need for conscription did not fit with the public perception of the war to the extent that when, in 1964, researchers for the BBC's landmark Great War documentary series began interviewing veterans, contributions were only sought from holders of the 1914/15 Star. [2]

Memoirs written by conscript veterans are remarkably rare with a literature search showing just one study of conscription between 1916 and 1918 and, by way of comparison to illustrate the low priority afforded the group, that 242 page book stands alongside a 176 page biography of the war experiences of General Seely's horse and a 352 page study of pets in the trenches.

Negative stereotype

The result of this lack of general interest in the late war army is a skewed and incomplete understanding of the BEF in the Great War and, in particular, a poor understanding of the factors affecting combat motivation and performance in 1917–18. Despite the negative stereotype of the conscript as one reluctant to serve and thus poorly motivated to fight aggressively, the men enlisted into the army in this period were not, in the main, those for whom volunteering in 1914–15 had been an option but rather teenagers, who started the war as children and had come of age after three years on the home front. They were not the naive volunteers of 1914–15, rushing to the colours fearing the war would be over by Christmas but men who knew about the trenches, the gas, the shelling. They were certainly aware of the casualties because they had seen the names of male family members and friends listed in the local papers week after week for several years.

From the oral and social histories available, the impression is quickly gained of the conscript as one helplessly adrift in a sea of khaki bureaucracy without any sense of belonging to the regimental family that had sustained generations of soldiers before him. F A J Taylor, a widely-quoted late-war recruit, for example, complained later that:

'We were regrouped and parted with our insignia identifying us with the 19th City of London Regiment or St. Pancras Rifles for ever. Our cap badges, shoulder names, fancy buttons we all discarded to be replaced by insignia linking us now to the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment. As I had never developed any particular loyalty for the London Regiment, into which I had been unceremoniously thrust a few months previously, and no–one had taken time or trouble to tell us anything about the traditions or battle honours of the regiment it was not difficult to transfer to a new regiment equally unknown'. [3]

Captain J C Dunn of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers reported:

'A rumour, which time proved to be true, was dismissed as a silly joke. Some hairy–eared theorist, in whom the new War Lord trusted, had told him that the way to win was to destroy the Regiment, the immemorial foundation of armies, and nationalise the army.' [4]

Anecdotal material like this suggests that by 1918 the very foundations of the British Army's unit cohesion and combat effectiveness had been deliberately undermined and had reached a state of virtual collapse. So how accurate is this impression of the 1918 army?

Typical draft

On 3 June 1918, 136 men newly arrived from training in the UK paraded at the 'F' Infantry Base Depot at Étaples for assignment to their new unit. Half would be assigned to the 5th Battalion of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (5/KOYLI), the second group to the same regiment's 2/4 Battalion, both forming part of 187 Infantry Brigade of the 62nd (West Riding) Division, a second line TF formation which had arrived in France in January 1917 and which had recently been hard hit during the German March offensive. Forming a typical draft of reinforcements, closer study of this group challenges much of the received wisdom, prevalent today, about the late war army .

The loss of many thousands of military service records as the result of bombing in 1940 means that only sixteen sets of War Office documentation for members of the group have survived but by using Volume 54 of 'Soldiers Died in the Great War' (SDGW), Absent Voter Lists, Census information and local newspaper reports, it has been possible to positively identify 122 members of the draft and to find likely but unprovable matches for a further ten. As might be expected, Private Harry Smith has so far eluded any clear identification and variations in the spelling of Laurence or Lawrence Wright has also prevented confirmation of the most likely candidate. Vagaries in the transcription of the surviving records further complicated matters with KOYLI being interpreted by geographically challenged transcribers as the 'Kent Ordnance Yorkshire Light Infantry' or even the 'Royal Canadian Yorkshire Light Infantry'! Consequently, other documents may be extant but lost in the database. However, a detailed picture has been created of the individuals making up a typical draft of late war reinforcements. So what can a study of the draft tell us?


In any discussion of enlistment during the Great War the emotive topic of underage soldiers is inevitably raised. Figures between 250,000 – 360,000 underage soldiers have been widely circulated but the number raises the question of how to interpret 'underage' in this context.[5] Sources agree that military law prohibited the overseas deployment of men under the age of 19 until the manpower crisis created by the 1918 German offensives forced a temporary reduction to 18½ years but confusion arises in determining at what point a recruit might be viewed as underage. Enrolment into the TF began at 17 and into the Regular Army at 18 but in both cases with the expectation that no man would proceed overseas until he was fully trained and 19 years of age.

Famously, many thousands of young men flocked to join the military in the early days of the war, many still children who lied about their age to recruiters struggling to cope with the tide of paperwork. Under military law, giving a false statement as to age could result in criminal action including a severe fine but, in a time when literacy was relatively poor and documentation scarce, one expert explained,

'It is recommended that as a rule a man should not be tried for making a false answer as to age, as it is considered that his age is not a fact within his own knowledge, and therefore it could not be proved that the answer was willfully false.' [6]

Indeed, the medical inspection report on enlistment referred only to 'apparent age' rather than actual age for the simple reason that many recruits were unable to provide evidence of their birthdate. In other words, many may have been underage without knowing it, their status becoming apparent only in later years. By 1917, the military had had time to develop a more streamlined system for processing potential recruits, which included the completion of a national registration programme in 1915. As a result, the study of the draft shows the degree to which age entry had become controlled.

Of the 122 positively identified members of the draft, it has been possible to establish exact dates of birth for sixty–six individuals and the quarter in which the births of another fifty–six were registered. The oldest member appears to have been born on 24 August 1897 but otherwise all the identified members of the draft were born in 1899, with the youngest being a date of 1 November. In all, some thirty–eight have birthdates in September, another twenty–six in October with a further thirty four births registered in the October–December quarter. In the group of sixty four men born in September – October, thirty two have birthdates between 27 September and 3 October with 28 and 29 September providing no fewer than seven birthdates each. Another six individuals can be traced to July and August 1899. Bet–El (2003) shows that call up took place at the age of 18 years and one month, a fact supported by the available records for this draft. Consequently the vast majority of the draft (104 of the 122 identified) arrived in France under the previously imposed minimum limit of 19 years of age but having reached the age of 18½ and completed at least six months of training. Whilst reports of poorly–trained conscripts are common, it follows that from 1917 onwards the majority of reinforcements had completed a minimum of six to eleven months of training before deployment.

A further complication to the definition of underage comes from the use of the military term 'immature'. Whilst widely used to denote one who was underage, it could also be used in a different context to refer to one who was of age but physically underdeveloped. Two members of the draft, after being given new regimental numbers and assignments, were rejected for frontline service and sent instead to No. 5 Convalescent Camp at Cayeux where a dedicated holding facility had been set up to manage 'immatures' of all types.


It has been noted above that only sixteen sets of records have so far been found relating to the draft. However, in fact, seventeen records have been found but two relate to the same man. Private John Warwick first attempted to enlist illegally shortly after his 16th birthday in September 1915. Discharged when his true age became known, he tried again at a different depot in January 1916 with the same result. At least seven members of the draft have records that show they completed enlistment in the period 1915–16 but were discharged a short time later when their true age became known. How many of the recorded enlistments in 1914–15 relate to such experiences will never be established.

Pic 02

 Recruits at No 5 Convalescent Camp, Cayeux, July 1918. Recruits Tom Hall and Joseph McNulty were at the camp at this time

Contrary to widespread belief, voluntary enlistment did not stop after 1916 and the authors of the few available conscription period memoirs are at pains to explain that they volunteered before receiving their call up papers. Frederick Hodges, for example, recalled that he and his friend volunteered at the age of 17 years 8 months in the hope of obtaining commissions. Likewise, R H Kiernan's description of volunteering for the same reason and F A J Taylor's application to become an officer cadet in the Royal Flying Corps. [7]

Whatever the reason, in addition to those who enlisted illegally, another ten members of the draft show enlistment dates before their 18th birthdays. Typical is Private Norman Bundy, who enlisted on 4 February 1917 and turned 18 on 23 March. Private Albert Gillman shows an enlistment date of 13 September 1916 but a birthdate in the April-June quarter of 1899, hence joining shortly after his 17th birthday, presumably into a TF unit. The others show a similar pattern of enlistment shortly before becoming eligible for call up. The evidence, then, shows that a significant number (at least seventeen) of the draft not only chose not to resist conscription but to pre–empt it, suggesting that despite the mounting casualties, motivation to serve remained strong amongst a significant portion of the population.


With reference to the 1901 and 1911 Censuses, it is possible to build up a picture of the civilian status of the draft. They were, as one might perhaps expect, overwhelmingly working class. In all, the occupations of the fathers of 107 men were recorded of whom only one is listed as having a managerial role in an ironworks, one an insurance agent, two as commercial travellers, one as a Church Officer (Registrar) and one a Trades Union official. Amongst the draft itself, the pre–military occupations of forty men have been noted. Of these one is recorded as a clerk and one (the Trade Union official's son) as a Technical College student.


The area of origin of the members of the draft was identified from Census details and birth registries and showed that the majority (99 of 122) were associated with the West Riding of Yorkshire and, more specifically, an area bounded by the towns of Keighley, Bradford, Leeds, Halifax and Huddersfield – a roughly triangular area measuring 15 miles on each side.

Small contingents of fewer than six each were drawn from Sheffield, Durham/Middlesbrough and North Nottinghamshire. Only five individuals showed no connection with any of these areas. In all, 104 (85 per cent) of the known individuals show addresses within a 25 mile radius of the KOYLI depot at Pontefract and less than 20 miles from the 4 /KOYLI headquarters at Wakefield.

Pte F Sutcliffe Hebden Bridge

 Private Fred Sutcliffe

The home addresses of the West Riding group were located from sources such as Absent Voter Lists, the Commonwealth War Graves database and contemporary local newspapers and plotted using a 1930s A–Z atlas of the county to explore what, if any, kinship patterns might emerge. It was noted, for example, that SDGW showed Privates 62578 Fred Sutcliffe and 62579 Clement Smith had both been killed serving with 2/4 KOYLI. It further showed that they had previously served in the 8 /Training Reserve Battalion as 93712 and 93714 respectively. The close similarity in army numbers can easily be dismissed as coincidence but plotting their home addresses shows that they were also near neighbours.

Pte C Smith

 Private Clement Smith

This again may be coincidence, although seeming increasingly unlikely as further examples emerged, such as that showing George Spencer to have a home address of 629, New Hey Road, Huddersfield whilst Irvin Darlington's family were three doors away at number 635. A third man, Private Crosland lived at number 257 and yet another, Joseph Hainsworth at number 165.

Map 1

 The West Riding of Yorkshire and the recruitment area for the draft

Private Ben Crawshaw was traced to 207, West Lane, Keighley – where his family's tenancy overlapped with that of the Meeking family at 229, whose son John would join Ben as part of the draft. John Meeking's older brother, Harry, had been killed serving with the Canadian army in 1915 but in 1913 had been a member of the local TF company of the 6 /Duke of Wellington's Regiment (6/DWR), where he served alongside Ben's older brother. Also joining the draft was Harold Wiseman whose home was just a few minutes walk away. Harold's brother James was also a prewar member of the 6/DWR, had also served with Meeking and Crawshaw before the war and was still serving with Ben's brother. Another Keighley man, Ernest Carter, also lived nearby and is found to have had a similar Training Reserve number and birthdate, as did Wilfred Berry, thus placing five members of the draft within an area of less than a quarter of a square mile, three of whom can be confirmed as joining the 8 /Training Reserve Battalion at the same time.

Map 2 V2

 Homes of Privates Sutcliffe and Smith

Repeating the exercise with other men showed that some close geographical link with another member of the draft was commonplace and it appears highly likely that social connections through school, work, youth organisation or family could be established between individuals.

The available evidence shows that on reporting for duty a recruit would be offered at least some measure of choice in his assignment. Describing his call up in June 1917, F E Noakes recalled that his companion asked for, and was given, a posting to the Army Service Corps whilst he himself was invited to join the Guards. [8] The evidence gathered from the progress of the members of the draft from enlistment to training and deployment therefore shows that friends or even groups of friends could potentially remain together during enlistment and throughout their service. Captain Dunn of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers even describes the bartering of drafts of men between divisions so that local men reached the most appropriate unit, suggesting at least some measure of sympathy in ensuring men served alongside people with whom they felt some connection. [9]


A total of thirty–seven men are known to have entered service through the 8th Training Reserve (TR) Battalion of 2nd Training Reserve Brigade at Brocton Camp in Staffordshire, all showing regimental numbers in the range 5/93631 to 5/93833. Using these numbers, a further seven recruits discharged during training were located along with other recruits who would form part of later drafts to the frontline KOYLI.

Pic 04

 Brocton Camp, Staffordshire. Home to the 8th Training Reserve Battalion

Listing the numbers sequentially and matching them to the few available records showed different intakes arriving at ten day intervals from 2 to 22 November 1917 inclusive. From here recruits graduated to the 51st Battalion of the KOYLI and/or the 52nd or 53rd Young Soldier battalion, also of the KOYLI between February and March of 1918. Here they underwent specialist training for roles within the platoon – as Lewis gunners, scouts, bombers and so on. Embarkation took place after a period of leave with the draft arriving in France on 2 June 1918. From Boulogne they marched to Étaples and were placed at the 'F' Infantry Base Depot for processing and in–theatre training before joining the battalions in the field on 15 June.


The draft was assigned to the 2/4 and 5/KOYLI on 15 June 1918 and therefore served 149 days on active service before the Armistice. During that period it suffered thirty four fatalities, averaging one every 4.4 days. Wounded rates were determined from the award of the Silver War Badge and/or reports in the local papers of an individual's injuries. Less serious injuries or illness, following which a man might be medically downgraded to another unit, are indicated by moves recorded on the Medal Index Card.

In all, seventeen men were awarded the Silver War Badge whilst a further nine were reported wounded. Another seventeen are recorded as having been transferred to other units. Consequently, at least 77 of the 136 men became casualties at some point during their service.

Regiment and identity

With its subtle distinctions of dress, rank and traditions, the British Army's regimental system has frequently been described as 'tribal', yet, oddly, virtually no attempt has been made to study it as such. War is undeniably a social activity, in which soldiers join a closed society that completely dictates their existence, creating a distinct subculture of the society from which the army is drawn. Key to membership of the subculture, though, is a personal sense of being part of it – the "esprit de corps" for which the British regimental system has become famous.

The experience of F A J Taylor quoted above, in suddenly finding himself transferred from one regiment to another, echoes other examples of the phenomenon but raises the question of whether this represented the norm for late–war recruits or was a short–term crisis management measure to deal with pressures at the front. His description of himself as never having developed any loyalty to the London Regiment also begs the question as to whether his comments reflected a majority view, or simply his own lack of engagement. Taylor had, after all, volunteered for an officer cadetship in the Royal Flying Corps specifically to avoid being conscripted into infantry service but had been rejected as unfit for flying duties. The fact that he did not wish to serve in any infantry battalion must have had some bearing on his attitude towards both of the units with which he later served. We cannot know how many of the draft presently under study made the KOYLI their first choice of regiment but we can track the progress of significant numbers of them through training with the 8/TR battalion in November/December 1917.

At the start of the war, the British Army relied on its existing system of recruitment and training through regimental depots. Geared towards the needs of the small pre–war army, these depots rapidly became overwhelmed by the sheer numbers involved. The system struggled on but the introduction of conscription brought new challenges and, in September 1916, a more centralised TR was created. Initially this focused simply on creating a pool of trained infantrymen without specific regimental affiliations to replace the losses of that summer but by the spring of 1917, the regimental system began to reassert itself. The 8/TR Battalion, to which so many of the draft were sent for basic training, had previously been designated the 11th (Reserve) Battalion of the KOYLI and by the time the recruits arrived in November, the KOYLI link was firmly re–established with newly commissioned Lieutenant Gilbert Hall being 'posted to a training battalion of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry' [10], having been gazetted into the regiment from officer training.

It is difficult to imagine that, having (potentially) consciously chosen the regiment and served in it for around eight months, those men arriving via this route would not have identified themselves as KOYLI. However, the group also includes a number of men from other areas. The contingent from the north–east might have been destined for the Durham Light Infantry, whilst those from Sheffield may have been intended for the York and Lancaster (which shared its regimental depot at Pontefract with the KOYLI). The group from North Nottinghamshire could perhaps have been earmarked for the Notts & Derbys Regiment. All three regiments were also represented within the same Training Reserve Brigade as the KOYLI and it may be that these were the waifs and strays of earlier drafts to parent regiments.

Evidence for this last comes from the presence of five individuals from Manchester, Oldham, Tamworth, Wolverhampton and Bridlington. Again, all are areas represented at Brocton Camp in late 1917. Of particular interest is the note in SDGW that Lance Corporal William Fay of Manchester was 'formerly 48400 Lancashire Fusiliers'. Like the majority of his comrades, Fay was born in October to December 1899 and his medal index card shows no previous service. Similarly, John Davis of Sheffield is listed as formerly of the West Riding Regiment and it is interesting to speculate on whether these are examples of men from outside the main group, maintaining their sense of regimental identity after transfer.

In the popular imagination, the narrative of the Great War has become inextricably entwined with the story of the New Army 'Pals' battalions, based on a strong regional or occupational identity. In a great many histories of the army of 1914–18 the introduction of conscription is seen as eroding the presumed link between regional and regimental identity, frequently implying that this brought with it a deterioration in the quality of the units affected. Evidence for this corrosion of the regiment comes from historian Charles Carrington, who served for a period in early 1918 as an instructor at a Training Reserve unit in the UK, and recalled; 'By these days the regimental system had quite broken down. [Recruits] came from any part of England and might be sent to any regiment'.[11]

So entrenched is this view today that, taking just one example, when writing of General Bernard Montgomery's career, Peter Caddick–Adams comments on the Regular battalions of 19th Brigade and writes that '[i]nto all these battalions trickled conscripts, who might have come from anywhere; certainly the Cameronians were obliged to welcome Cockneys from London's East End and the 2nd/Royal Welsh were compelled to take conscripts from Edinburgh or Glasgow'. [12]

Pic 05

 Postcard showing a typical draft receiving news of their deployment

Dr. Caddick–Adams' passing comment clearly assumes that neither unit welcomed the arrival of these outsiders and typifies the belief that conscription was a negative experience for all concerned but as such it merits closer inspection. The two units to which he refers were Regular battalions which arrived in France in 1914. The 1/Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) suffered some sixty five fatalities in the period August to December 1914. According to SDGW, sixteen of these men - although perhaps not technically 'Cockneys' - were born in London, whilst at the same time, only fourteen appear to have been born in Scotland. Repeating the exercise in September 1918, the battalion shows seventy four casualties, for whom sixty eight birthplaces are recorded, with London accounting for one man, England for a further eleven, with two Irishmen and one New Zealander – a total of fifteen non–Scottish soldiers. In other words, taking the SDGW record as a snapshot of the battalion, the proportion of Scots serving in the Scottish Rifles rose from 21.5 per cent in 1914 to 88 per cent after the introduction of conscription.

Likewise the other battalion mentioned, the 2/Royal Welsh Fusiliers underwent a similar transformation with its medical officer, Captain J C Dunn, later reporting:

'The battalion which arrived in France was largely English, the 'Birmingham Fusiliers', as it was chaffingly called, with a sprinkling of Irishmen for good measure (of those killed in 1914–15 there are about two English for one Welshman). By the beginning of this summer [1918] it had become about 85 per cent Welsh and there were fewer Irish. Three officers and two or three men, in my time, were Scots.' [13]

In fact, SDGW shows four results for Glasgow, one of whom was a Welshman who had enlisted in the Highland Light Infantry in the city. The pattern is repeated elsewhere with David French [14] reporting that in the pre–war Regular Army, those soldiers actually originating in the county associated with a particular regiment were likely to be the minority. So, far from diluting the Regular Army's regional flavor, conscription appears to have potentially significantly increased it, at least in terms of new drafts from the UK.

Whatever the situation in the Regulars, the New Army is perhaps best remembered for its strongly localised 'Pals' battalions. Taking that most iconic of all those battalions, the losses of the 11/East Lancashire (Accrington Pals) in July 1916 again show a reality very different to the mythology. SDGW shows 244 fatalities throughout July 1916, including the infamous experience of the first day of the Somme. Of these, 237 birth locations are listed showing that forty three of the Accrington Pals were born in the town or, conversely, that 194 (81.9 per cent) were not. Indeed, twenty four (10.1 per cent) were Yorkshiremen – not exactly enjoying a county association with Lancashire!

Of all the units sent to France, those of the TF were, by their nature, perhaps the most 'local' of all, due primarily to the practicalities of part–time soldiering, which required the men to live within an easy commute of their company headquarters. Certainly a search of SDGW for TF battalions in the early war shows losses concentrated into very small geographical areas as a result. Space here does not allow for an examination of the various types of units within the British Army and the effect of the war on establishing or eroding local identity. However, the evidence clearly points towards the need to reconsider some widely and sometimes deeply–held assumptions about the relationship between region and regiment both in 1914 and again in the latter stages of the war.

Cohesion and motivation

Central to the effectiveness of any army is the ability to create and maintain cohesion in the face of enemy action. At its simplest, cohesion refers to a sense of united purpose and is usually described on two axes – vertical and horizontal. The first of these can perhaps most easily be defined as having identified a common goal and accepting the need to work together towards it. Alongside this, 'horizontal' cohesion bonds people to others like them, into the 'band of brothers' so familiar in representations of war from Shakespeare to Spielberg.

Pic 07

 Soldiers of the 5/KOYLI clearing trenches near Courmas, July 1918. For the draft, this was their first set–piece battle

Accounts of the late–war period frequently refer to a deterioration in morale brought about by the erosion of the 'regimental family' yet, as we have seen, conscription appears more likely to increase rather than decrease regional links. As a result of studies conducted in the US Army in the Second World War, by 1950 the practice of posting men individually to their first operational unit ended, to be replaced by a 'buddy system' intended to cushion the stress of becoming integrating into an established group, by sending men forward in pairs or small groups with whom they had something in common. [15] By plotting the homes of the draft, we can see such a system in place by 1917, as shown by evidence that in virtually all cases, members of the group arrived at Brocton with at least one other man from within a few miles of home. By tracking Tom Hall and Joseph McNulty, we can see that these two men, classified as 'immature' at Etaples, would be posted together to the Royal Fusiliers five months later, along with a draft of specifically Yorkshire–based immatures from the Convalescent Camp at Cayeux. Evidence such as this suggests that this was a common practice, intended to create conditions that would enable and encourage bonding and with it, a sense of being part of a cohesive whole.

John Bourne has argued that the 'British soldier of the Great War was essentially the British working man in uniform' [16] and that the strictly hierarchical nature of the Edwardian workplace and society socialised the population in a way that made the transition from worker to soldier a simple one – the soldier is, after all, simply a man paid to complete a task. To 21st Century sensibilities, accounts of rats running over sleeping men exemplifies the squalor and hardship of the trenches, yet to conscripts drawn from the poverty of urban slums, such sights were a part of their everyday homelife. It is notable how often the writers of negative accounts of the conscript experience are middle class observers encountering the poor for the first time.

The men of the draft were overwhelmingly men who shared a common dialect, had mutual friends and family connections, who lived in towns known to other members of the group and worked in similar occupations. All these factors helped to create common ground. They were not men who avoided their responsibilities to their country but instead formed part of a highly-motivated, highly-trained and, most importantly highly-effective fighting force that for the first and only time in British military history defeated the main body of a European army in the field – only to become the true unknown soldiers.


My thanks to Dr John Bourne, Alison Hine and Professor Peter Simkins for their help and support in preparing this article.


Article and images contributed by Tim Lynch.

This is the website featured article from Stand To! No 98, published in September 2013.



[1] Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire in the Great War, (HMSO: 1922), p.364.

[2] Ilana R Bet–El, Conscripts: Forgotten Men of the Great War, (Sutton Publishing: 2003), p. 203.

[3] F A J Taylor,The Bottom of the Barrel, (Chivers Press: 1986), pp.63–4.

[4] Captain J C Dunn, The War the Infantry Knew, (Abacus Books: 2003), p.245.

[5] John Oakes, Kitchener's Lost Boys, (The History Press: 2009), p.27.

[6] Lieutenant Colonel S T Banning, Military Law Made Easy. 11th Ed., (Gale & Polden Ltd: 1917), p.298.

[7] F J Hodges, Men of 18 in 1918, (Arthur H. Stockwell Ltd: 1988), R.H. Kiernan, Little Brother Goes Soldiering, (Constable & Co: 1930), F. A. J Taylor, Bottom of the Barrel, op. cit.

[8] F E Noakes, The Distant Drum, (Frontline Books: 2010), p.7.

[9] Dunn, op. cit., p.245.

[10] P W Turner & R. H. Haigh, Not For Glory, (Robert Maxwell: 1969), p.82.

[11] Charles Carrington quoted in Max Arthur, Forgotten Voices of the Great War. (Ebury Press: 2003), p.135.

[12] Peter Caddick-Adams, Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives, (Arrow Books: 2012, p.91.

[13] Dunn, op. cit., p.429–30.

[14] See David French, Military Identities: The Regimental System, the British Army, and the British People, c. 1870–2000, (Oxford University Press: 2005).

[15] See S A Stouffer, Studies in Social Psychology in World War II: The American Soldier, (Princeton University Press:1949), or S. L. A. Marshall, Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command, (William Morrow: 1947).

[16] John Bourne, 'The British Working Man in Arms' in H Cecil and P Liddle (eds) Facing Armaggedon, (Leo Cooper: 1996), p.336.



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