Prologue - (1915 - 1916)

Posted by Ernest Bates (1917)

12th December 1915 - The Recruiting Centre in the local Town Hall was packed to the doors.  Several hundred enthusiastic recruits were milling around - young men, old men and some who were mere boys.  They came from all walks of life and wore either cap or bowler hat according to the status symbol of the times.  There was no attempt at segregation into age groups, and no distinction between the fit and the obviously unfit.  The sole purpose of the day was to ensure that every volunteer present was signed on for the duration – the sorting out would come later.

We took the oath as one conglomerate whole by repeating the words after an army captain standing on a raised dais.  The operation was concluded by Army Sergeants obtaining each recruit's signature and presenting him with one certificate of attestation, one khaki armlet emblazoned with a large red crown, and, of course the Queen's shilling.

The certificate read - "The above named man has been attested and transferred to the Army Reserve until required for service, when he will be sent a Notice Paper informing him as to the date, time and place at which he is to report himself. Fourteen days notice will be given”.

Certificate of Attestation and transfer to the Army Reserve - December 1915

The following day with some trepidation I informed my Departmental Chief that I had enlisted.  The elderly "Fuzzy" with the pointed beard and enormous mop of snow-white hair laughed rudely, and with some truth, but much to my discomfiture said, "You don’t look the belligerent type”.  He went on to say that no harm was done since my Civil employment was classified as a "Reserve Occupation" and I would not be released.  The promised Notice Paper from the Army never came.

In those early days of the war Whitehall was still a hotbed of Recruiting Sergeants with their broad red sashes and cap ribbons of red, white and blue; whilst military bands marched up and down to the everlasting strains of Colonel Bogey.  Misguided females, in an excess of patriotic fervour, served their King by sticking white feathers in the jacket lapels of every member of the male species whether he be 18 or 80!  The centre of this activity was the Horse Guards Parade where the military might of Britain was on show and the Recruiting Sergeants pounced like hawks on the unwary.  The Civil Servants, forbidden to take up arms, became the "Cuthberts" of Whitehall - those little rabbits tucked away safely in their burrows, as depicted by serial cartoons in every issue of the Daily Mail.  Kitchener still pointed his accusing finger at us from every hoarding.

It was not until February 1917 that large numbers of Civil Servants were released for military service and by formal transfer from the Army Reserve were free to join the Regiment of their choice.  Meanwhile in November 1916 I attended the Central Recruiting Depot at Great Scotland Yard for a medical classification and here it was the Army handed out its first indignity.  After a somewhat cursory examination, the principal requirement being an ability to hop the length of the large room on one foot, and then back again on the other, I was pronounced A1 by the medico.

Actually he said, with obvious lack of enthusiasm, "You'll do".  My return through the crowded hall of nature in the flesh was made with all the dignity possible in the circumstances, but before the sanctuary of the cubicle was reached a voice called to me to halt.  For the benefit of the whole assembled company the MO, remarked in an unnecessarily loud voice, "slightly knock-kneed", and that serious blemish to my person was duly recorded in my medical history for all time.