On this day 100 years ago, the first conscription bill was introduced in the UK

A WWI recruitment poster. Pic: Everett Historical
A WWI recruitment poster. Pic: Everett Historical

On January 5, 1916, the First World War was well and truly under way and the first military conscription bill in the history of the United Kingdom was introduced by then Prime Minister Herbert Asquith.

Regular divisions of the British army went into action in the summer of 1914, and Lord Kitchener’s famous recruitment drive - with the slogan ‘Your King and Country Need You’ - gathered momentum that same year.

Despite impressive numbers of volunteer soldiers joining up to do their patriotic duty, by the end of 1915 British losses were mounting and over 60,000 officers had been killed in action.

Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener began to lobby that conscription would be necessary to ensure an allied victory.

Asquith introduced the bill on this day 100 years ago and the Military Service Act was passed into law later that same month, coming into effect in March 1916.

By the end of the war it is estimated that some 2.5 million men were conscripted.

But not everyone called up to fight ended up serving in the armed forces. Exemptions were allowed for the medically unfit, clergymen, teachers and certain classes of industrial worker.

Conscientious objectors - men who objected to fighting on moral grounds - were also exempt. Many conscientious objectors were given civilian jobs or non-fighting roles at the front.

Using the website Scotland’s People it is possible to search archives of Military Service Appeals Tribunals in Scotland and glimpse a snapshot of local history and the stories of the men who applied for exemption from military service.

These include:

William Colquhoun Niven, a branch manager of a wholesale oil, paint and varnish manufacturer, of Dennistoun, whose appeal based on occupation and serious hardship was dismissed.

Tim Ellis, chief executive of National Records of Scotland, said: “The documents will be invaluable to family historians researching their ancestors and the lives recorded also reveal a poignant picture of life on the homefront and beyond.”

Do you have a family member who was conscripted into the armed forces during the First World War? Or perhaps you have a relative or loved one who was a conscientious objector serving in a medical role or drafted to do work of other national importance. If so, we’d love to hear from you with what you know of their story.