On 5 August 1914, the day after Britain declared war on Germany, Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener (1850–1916) – already a national war hero – became Secretary of State for War. He foresaw a long and costly campaign, needing a much bigger army than the current British Expeditionary Force, and appealed for volunteers for a much-expanded BEF.
Nearly half a million joined up between 4 August and 12 September, including 33,204 on 3 September alone. A key factor in stimulating enlistment was locally-raised ‘pals’ battalions’, which promised men enlisting from the same community or workplace that they would fight together. Many other men, however, enlisted for adventure, or to escape from an arduous, dangerous or humdrum job.
This image, designed by Alfred Leete (1882–1933), and famous for Kitchener’s pointing finger and the words ‘Your Country Needs You’, has become an icon of the enlistment frenzy. However, it did not appear in poster form until the end of September 1914, after signing-up peaked. Its supposedly vital influence on recruitment is largely a myth.
Though 2.5m men joined the British army voluntarily between August 1914 and December 1915, even this was not enough to supply the front line, and conscription had to be introduced in January 1916.