The British Army at the beginning of the war was small in comparison to other countries involved. In 1914, Britain had 975,000 soldiers including reservists. France had over four million and Germany four and a half. To solve this shortage in numbers, Lord Kitchener, the war minister, began a recruitment campaign to boost numbers in the army.
The first and most obvious reason for British men enlisting was the use of propaganda by the British government. The series of adverts that were published played on the emotions of men and this may have caused them to enlist. The advert to the left is a typical example of the adverts published by the British government during the war period. This advert suggests that brave British men who are “friends” should join the army and fight. Many of the men who enlisted at the time were not educated to a great extent so playing on their emotions was a definite way to manipulate and get men to enlist e.g. the case of William Dove: “They showed the Fleet sailing the high seas and played ‘Britons Never Shall Be Slaves’ and ‘Hearts Of Oak’. And you know one feels that little shiver run up the back and you know you have got to do something.”
Pressure from women also persuaded men to enlist. Suffragists and ordinary women convinced men to go to the front against their better judgement. It was women who presented the “Order of the White Feather” to men who were capable of fighting but who chose not to. This became a symbol of cowardice and this coaxed men into signing up as Rifleman Norman Demuth shows, “I was given a white feather when I was sixteen, just after I had left school. I was so astonished I did not know what to do about it, so I went round to the recruiting offices with renewed zeal.”
The British public were excited about the prospect of war. This is due to the common perception that the war was going to be over by Christmas. “We were quite clear that Germany would be defeated by the 7th of October.” Private Godfrey Buxton. At the time, many men had badly paid and boring jobs and wanted to do something different e.g. miners in Wales.
The conception of “Pals Battalions” also persuaded men to enlist. This was a way for men from a certain area to enlist and fight together. Men thought that the prospect of going to war with their friends was a good idea so in places the whole male population of a town signed up. The peer pressure that resulted from this effectively forced thousands of men to sign up who wouldn’t have done so otherwise. This method was successful as a recruiting tool but its result where whole towns lost their male population was not so and resulted in reduced morale among ordinary people back in Britain later on in the war.
Patriotism was a big factor in the decisions that men made on whether to enlist or not as Private George Morgan shows: “We had been brought up to believe that Britain was the best country in the world and we wanted to defend her.” Propaganda posters released by the government also played on patriotism and in fact created jingoism, false patriotism. This was where men believed that being a British patriot meant joining up to the army and fighting, and if they didn’t, then they weren’t a patriot. All forms of encouragement to enlist contributed to jingoism e.g. women coercing men into enlist by saying things such as, “What are you doing for the war effort?” This made men feel pressured to fight even though they could be making contributions to the war effort in a less obvious manner.
Revenge is another factor that could have convinced men to enlist. The root cause, however, of why men wanted revenge is because of propaganda released by the government and by articles published in British newspapers about alleged German atrocities. These included raping women and gouging out the eyes of civilians. As one British general put it: “to make armies go on killing one another it is necessary to invent lies about the enemy.”
Of all these factors, I believe that propaganda is the single most important reason that persuaded British men to enlist. Not only is it a reason in itself, it is also a contributing factor to other reasons such as revenge and pride. An example of its success in 1914 is that it was used in World War Two and is still used today to put forward points of view.