Conscription rears its ugly head

Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener's famous recruitment poster for the First World War.
Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener's famous recruitment poster for the First World War.

JULY 27, 1915: The C-word rears its ugly head in The First World War - #conscription.

If they had Twitter a hundred years ago the issue of forcing young men to fight in the Great War would be trending.

Six local "gallant boys in khaki" from Harborough and the surrounding villages which featured in a rare photo in the Harborough Mail's forerunner, the Market Harborough Advertiser, from July 27, 1915.

Six local "gallant boys in khaki" from Harborough and the surrounding villages which featured in a rare photo in the Harborough Mail's forerunner, the Market Harborough Advertiser, from July 27, 1915.

Lord Kitchener’s famous Call to Arms had brought forth hundreds of thousands of volunteers but the numbers of young men joining up is slowing.

That, coupled with a frightening casualty rate, means that compulsory service may be introduced.

It’s the issue at the heart of a long-winded report in the July 27, 1915, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser about town dignitaries discussing the snappily-worded War Office Anniversary-Week-of-the-War Scheme aimed at recruiting more soldiers.

Even though it is only a week away from the first anniversary of the conflict, on August 4, this story is the only one that even gives a nod towards any kind of marking of the event.

Private Frank Bromley, the son of Mr and Mrs Chas Bromley of Logan Street, Market Harborough, was shot while on sentry duty. His picture was used in the Harborough Mail's forerunner, the Market Harborough Advertiser, from July 27, 1915.

Private Frank Bromley, the son of Mr and Mrs Chas Bromley of Logan Street, Market Harborough, was shot while on sentry duty. His picture was used in the Harborough Mail's forerunner, the Market Harborough Advertiser, from July 27, 1915.

Certainly, today’s media would have pages of editorial looking back at what’s happened and looking forward to likely future actions as well as reporting the community events being held to mark the milestone.

But there is next to nothing.

The story, however, does sum up the mood of a nation that’s proud it is the only one in the conflict that has a voluntary Army – but that conscription will have to come.

The War Office has suggested marching bands in every corner of the country to drum up support for recruitment but the Market Harborough dignitaries think this is derisory.

Mr E F Jeffries says: “[The idea] was the most futile thing possible to come from the War Office. There was only one way to deal with the question now.

“Men who were asked to go said ‘Why should I go when Bill does not go?’

“The late Government had not the pluck to introduce compulsory service and the present Government ought to do it. If they did not it would be a crying shame.”

In fact it would be March 1916 before conscription forced men aged 18-41 to sign up unless they were unfit or in a ‘reserved job’ like mining or farming.

It is understandable why some men did not want to join.

Elsewhere in the paper there are stories that would make anyone question why they should put themselves in harm’s way.

One report catalogues the number of deaths and casualties in the Gallipoli campaign which already exceeds 40,000 [the doomed initiative eventually ended at the turn of the year with 187,000 Allied casualties].

Another report discusses the high death rate among men who have been injured – running at 24 per cent which is higher than the Crimean War ‘despite its appalling insanitary conditions’. This is apparently because in trench warfare it is difficult to get back behind lines so injured men must suffer without medical treatment until nightfall.

And even closer to home, there is news of another Market Harborough fatality. Private Frank Bromley, the son of Mr and Mrs Chas Bromley of Logan Street, was shot while on sentry duty.

The Advertiser reports: “The greatest sympathy will be felt with Mr and Mrs Bromley for they received a cheery letter from him the day before he was killed.

“He has two brothers serving the country and an especially sad feature is that Mr and Mrs Bromley, on the day they received the news of the death of their son, also had an intimation that their daughter had to undergo a serious operation at Leicester Infirmary.”

The Advertiser publishes a picture of Private Bromley to illustrate the story – still a relatively unusual occurrence in the editorial columns of 1915.

And to counter-balance the doom and gloom, there is another picture – this time of six local ‘gallant boys in khaki’ from Harborough and the surrounding villages – which will be of ‘considerable interest’ to the Advertiser’s readers.

The caption says the photograph was taken ‘somewhere in France’, a nod towards the Defence of the Realm Act which bans all pictures taken in the battle zone.

Once again the Advertiser just sidesteps the issue, although the plain background and publication of the picture will certainly not provide any intelligence for a German general who got his hands on the newspaper.