Enlistment – the Mons effect

000048ea_mediumIn the first weeks of August 1914, the rate of recruitment into the British Army was comparatively low, and this was put down not so much to a lack of enthusiasm on the part of British manhood, as to congestion at the recruiting offices across the country.

This was despite spirited war recruitment drives and rallies.

All this changed after August 25th when newspaper reports began appearing of the British Expeditionary Force’s first large scale encounter with the German army at the little Belgium town of Mons and the fighting retreat over the following fortnight to the Marne just north of Paris. Alarmed reports spoke of a ‘broken army’.

That day 10,000 men volunteered, the first time numbers reached five figures. In the first week of September nearly 200,000 had enlisted, far outstripping any hope the army had of providing the new recruitments with uniforms let alone weapons. Soon lines of young men wearing increasingly soiled civilian clothes were being marched to railway stations en route to camps, many clad in street trousers, bowler hats, the odd khaki tunic – what Prime Minister Asquith described as ‘East End costumes’.

Recruitment was more enthusiastic in urban areas, where manufacturing activity was badly effected by the sharp down turn at the shock at the start of hostilities. In agricultural areas, on the other hand, recruitment was slow, partly due to the 1914 harvest being a bountiful one.

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