Britain entered this war with an all-volunteer army, making her unique among the major combatants of Europe. The British army was small at the war’s start and suffered horrendous casualties during fighting in late 1914 that more or less wiped out the pre-war cohort of troops. Since then large numbers of volunteers have swelled the ranks but now recruitment has slowed. Voluntary enlistment will not maintain the British army at the level needed to fight the war.
The solution for this problem is conscription. Today the Military Services Act becomes law, allowing the authorities to forcibly recruit unmarried men into the army. The measure is controversial, with trade unionists particularly opposed. Exemptions are put in place for men working in a variety of key professions or where their recruitment would lead to extreme hardship for their families.
The Act only applies to England, Scotland and Wales. Irish nationalist politicians had strongly objected to conscription (while maintaining support for the war itself). The British government decides that it would be best not to provoke unrest in Ireland by forcing people there into the army.