Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Great Wave Of Patriotism

In December 1915 the Group Scheme for recruitment came to a close. This had been introduced in order to bolster the dwindling numbers of volunteer recruits, and it is at this time that William Britton stepped forward for military service.

4 Dowry Place, Hotwells,
is the fourth property from the right
William Edward Britton was born on 11 June 1895 at 4 Dowry Place, Hotwells, Bristol. He was the son of Thomas John Britton (1869-1939) and Georgina Eliza Vale (c1869-1947). In 1911, aged 15 William was a postmasters errand boy.

The National Registration Act of July 1915 required men aged between of 15 and 65 and not already in the military to register, giving details of their employment. Subsequent to this, Lord Derby, Director-General of Recruiting, brought forward the Group Scheme (often called the Derby Scheme) of recruitment in October 1915.

Bristol newspapers kept the topic of recruitment before their readers and the following article extract explains local arrangements:
The Bristol Recruiting Committee, in company with other recruiting authorities throughout the country, have, during the past few days, been giving serious attention to Lord Derby’s scheme – the final scheme as it is thought – for securing by voluntary means the men needed to keep our armies in the field up to strength. Briefly it means that all men of military age not starred, i.e., not engaged on munitions, aeroplane, or other Government work, are to be personally canvassed and urged to join the colours. Also, that the canvass is to be carried out by civilians under the auspices the Local Parliamentary Recruiting Committees, or where such does not exist, the political agents of the district.

As is well known the Bristol Recruiting Committee has been in existence since August, 1914, to deal with schemes of this description, and they have delegated their duties connected with the carrying out of Lord Derby’s scheme to a sub-committee consisting of the various political agents who are already members of the Committee, and also representatives of the Labour party. We understand that steps have been taken to put the canvass into operation at once.

Western Daily Press - Wednesday 20 October 1915
Under the Group Scheme, men aged 18 to 40 were informed that they could continue to enlist voluntarily or attest with an obligation to come if called up later on. A period of notice would be given to all such men before they were called up to join, so that they might wind up business affairs.

Voluntary enlistment under the scheme was to have ceased at midnight on Saturday 11 December 1915. As this date approached so there was a great rush of recruits.

Western Daily Press - Friday 10 December 1915



No one could have imagined such a rush of recruits for the Reserve as occurred yesterday, and but for the magnificent accommodation the Colston Hall afforded and the perfection of the organisation, might well have been hopeless chaos. As soon as the doors were open the rush began, and duirng the morning the throng was so great that there was hardly standing room in the great hall and the corridors. For time the doors had to be closed and the men let in in batches, but by strenuous efforts the great staff of helpers met all demands, and by nine o’clock last night the actual enlistment figures made the previous highest number for one day look commonplace.

It would be difficult to find, anywhere in the country, hall more suitable for such a purpose as the Colston Hall, and as we have said, the whole work has been wonderfully well organised. In addition to a large staff of military men, voluntary helpers have responded to the call most generously. All classes have joined in the work. One could see hard at work last night prominent citizens and heads of well-known firms sitting side by side with men in humble walks of life. Ex-policemen were lending a hand, pensioners from Government departments, and the energetic and business-like Boy Scout was here, there, and everywhere. The hon. secretary’s office was just a whirlwind of inquiries, and the telephone bell survived one of the severest tests such an apparatus has ever been called upon to bear.

Yesterday, of course, there were hundreds from the countryside who took advantage of market day to make good their claim to an armlet. The prospect of missing the chance to wear this symbol of true patriotism was too much for hundreds of young farmers and farmhands, and so they flocked in, and for an hour or so during the morning gave the Recruiting Staff about as hard job as could be imagined. It seems likely that the number of Reserve men marked off for Bristol to supply will not only be achieved but exceeded. Just now it seems as though every available man was rolling up, and the few who after Saturday night realise too late that they have failed their duty, will very likely be the saddest men the city.

Colston Hall, Bristol, c1915 [source]
So great was demand nationally that there was not enough time to attest all and 24 hours grace was granted, with names being accepted up to midnight on Sunday 12 December. The Gloucestershire Echo of Saturday 11 December 1915 also recorded that:
Recruiting officers have also been instructed to make a list of men who apply for attestation under the group system today or to-morrow whom it is found impossible to attest before midnight to-morrow (December 12). Men on such lists on presenting themselves at the same recruiting office up to and including Wednesday next will be considered on the same footing for attestation under the group system as men dealt with this week.

If should be clearly understood by every available man, especially single men at present unattested, that the opportunity afforded carries with it equal responsibility to present himself to-day or to-morrow, and add to the volume of evidence now presented to other nations – allied, neutral, and hostile – that the determination of the country resolute prosecute the war to victorious conclusion.
Men who attested under the Group Scheme, who were accepted for service and chose to defer it were classified as being in “Class A”. Those who agreed to immediate service were "Class B". The Class A men were paid a day’s army pay for the day they attested; were given a grey armband with a red crown as a sign that they had so volunteered; were officially transferred into Section B Army Reserve; and were sent back to their homes and jobs until they were called up. (More detail on the Group Scheme can be found on 'The Long, Long Trail' web site).

The Western Daily Press of Monday 13 December noted that "there was no lack of enthusiasm in the streets of the city on Saturday morning, and the wearing of the khaki armlet obtained by the fortunate 5,000 Bristol men who were quick to snap them up in the early days of last week was much more general than before." The following day the paper also noted with satisfaction "that the historic scenes at the Colston Hall during the closing stages of enlistment for Lord Derby’s scheme have been photographed, so there will be a permanent memento of the aspect of the great recruiting station (Colston Hall)."

It was amidst this period of patriotic fervour that William Britton applied for attestation under the Group Scheme. Born in 1895, and just 20 years old, William as a single man fell into Group 3. On Monday 20 December 1915, under the headline "First Call to Single Men!", the Western Daily Press published news that four groups had been called up by Official Proclamation:
Arrangements have now been completed for the calling up of Groups 2, 3, and 5 of men who have been attested and classified Army Reserve, Section B. The public poster is dated to-day (Monday). It authorises the calling up of the above groups, and constitutes public notification to the men in those groups that their services will required. Further, it draws attention to the fact that, under the Army Act, the public exhibition of the poster is sufficient warning to the men concerned, even they do not receive an individual notice paper.
The men were required to commence to present themselves for actual service on 20 January 1916. To reduce pressure on recruiting offices and depots, the men were drafted gradually into service, some summoned on 20 January, another batch summoned for the 21st, and so forth.

Service records for William Edward Britton do not appear to have survived, however researching those of others with a service number close to William’s suggest that he was mobilized on 21 January 1916. Two days later, on 23 January, he was posted to the 16th (Reserve) Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment as Private 26208, for training. Twelve weeks later, on 12 April, William was posted to the 13th (Service) Battalion (Forest of Dean) (Pioneers) Gloucestershire Regiment.

Lives of the First World War: Profile

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