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The Spectator at war

The Spectator at war: The inalienable right to enlist

26 August 2014

8:30 AM

26 August 2014

8:30 AM

The Spectator, 29 August 1914:

“WE need all the recruits we can get,” said the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, and he said no more than every thinking man knows to be true. We need, not one hundred thousand, but at the very least five hundred thousand men, and as many more as will volunteer. That is the meaning of Mr. Asquith’s statement. Unfortunately, we have hitherto not gone the right way, but the wrong way, to get them. Under a voluntary system if you want half a million men you ought to ask for a million. No other way will certainly give you the proper result. When you are calling on men to make a great sacrifice, as soon as they think that other people have done the job, or nearly done it, and that there is no longer any fear of there being a failure in a necessary piece of work, being human, they hold back and wait till the need is more apparent. When the Government and Lord Kitchener came to the conclusion that they wanted at least five hundred thousand men, it was a still worse error to give the impression, as they did, that they were only asking for one hundred thousand. Can one wonder that, now the hundred thousand have been got, there is a very serious falling off in the flow of recruits? “You have got the men you asked for. What more do you want ? The job’s finished,” is the comment of the man in the street.

We are not, however, going to cry over spilt milk, and we fully realize that great allowance must be made for the War Office, burdened as they have been during the last three weeks with the need of mobilizing, equipping, and despatching the Expeditionary Force. The essential thing now is to devise a better system of recruiting. We suggest that it should be on the following lines :—

4 (1)

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(1) Let the Government issue a carefully thought out appeal to the nation for another four hundred thousand men, and let that appeal be in the form of a message from the King to his people, countersigned by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Kitchener, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Home Secretary, and the Lord Chancellor. The appeal should not merely affirm the need for more men, but should shortly and simply describe why they are needed. Chief among those reasons is the fact that, though the Navy can protect our shores from invasion, it cannot end the war. Unless we provide a very large military force, the war may drag on for years. A speedy end for the war is what every responsible man and woman in the realm prays for daily, for unless the war is quickly finished untold misery must fall upon the majority of our population. Every man, then, who joins the colours is helping not merely to beat the enemy in the field, but to beat back, from his own hearth and home miseries as great as or greater than the miseries of war. Let the appeal bring this out clearly.

(2) The various public appeals through newspaper advertisements and by means of placards and handbills must be maintained, but those advertisements must be worded in a much clearer and more businesslike way than any we have yet had. The people who draw them up must remember the kind of questions that men are asking, and rightly asking, in regard to the call to arms. Any one who, like the present writer, is doing recruiting work among the people, knows that when at a recruiting meeting questions are invited, they are on the following lines :— (a) What are the terms of service? (b) What is the pay? (c) What provision is made for the wives and families of the men who are married when they go on service? (d) What happens to the men who are maimed for life? (e) What security is there that a man will find his old job open to him when he comes back from the war ? Plain, short answers to these natural and inevitable questions must be given by those who appeal for volunteers. We give on this page a specimen advertisement meeting four of the questions. We should like to have answered the fifth question by saying that the Government would give the man a statutory right to demand reinstatement in his old work at the end of the war, but, unfortunately, we cannot make that statement as the Government have not yet decided upon such action.

(3) There must be a much wider devolution of the work of recruiting than there has been up to the present. The War Office are trying to manage the job themselves in a centralized fashion. By all means let them keep the final training of the recruits in their own hands, but, as we shall show below, they had far better devolve the raising of the men and the preliminary training and equipment on the County Associations. Here we may remark that the best recruiting agent the Government could possibly call to their aid would be Lord Roberts. He is the man who is not only known to every soldier, but to every civilian. Appeals from Lord Roberts would not only be heard in every corner of the land, but would be attended to, for the people know they can trust their veteran General. There is a natural sympathy between him and the ordinary workaday Briton which inspires full confidence.

(4) The Government and the War Office must strike while the iron is hot. We are fully aware that what the War Office would like, and very naturally, is an even flow of recruits, but unfortunately that they cannot have. The volunteers must be got, not when the War Office would like, but when they (the volunteers) like. To talk about a great rush of men being embarrassing is like a great manufacturer objecting to a sudden rush on his goods. We must take recruiting at the tide, like other things that lead on to fortune. A man who decides to volunteer must be taken at once, or the desire may never return to him. Again, the impression must never be allowed to prevail outside that men are not wanted, or that the authorities are “fed up” with recruits. If such an impression once gets about, recruiting will suffer a most severe check. The present writer can cite a case in point only a few days old. In the county town near him the notion got abroad that the barracks were quite full and that no more men could be taken. Recruiting instantly declined, and it required a very great effort to re-establish the flow of men. Men must be taken when they offer themselves. The gates must, as it were, stand open day and night, and no offer of a man between nineteen and thirty should ever be even temporarily rejected, provided that he is not a man of bad character and that he can pass the doctor. The right to enlist must be recognized as the inalienable right of every Englishman of military age.

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