Here are 10 facts that tell the story of recruitment and mobilisation to World War One. As the network of alliances pulled more countries into a pan-European conflict, enthusiastic, jingoistic populations rose to support their governments. A sense that war was a noble enterprise, and in many cases high unemployment, drove young men to sign up.
Mobilisation followed pre-set plans which relied on anticipating enemy manoeuvres, and the sense of paranoia this engendered was a key factor in bringing countries into the war. Each wanted to advantage of mobilising first, and feared the possibility of being caught unprepared.
1. Tsar Nicholas II agreed to a full mobilisation of the Russian Army on 30 July 1914
Mobilisation was seen as a declaration of war, and Germany declared war on Russia on 1 August.
2. Russia was able to call upon the largest army on mobilisation, approximately 5 million men
Germany was second with 4,500,000 and France third with 3,781,000.
3. Britain only had an army of 733,500 men on mobilisation, but by 1918 this stood at 3,196,000
Lord Kitchener recognised that the British Army was far too small in comparison to the French and German forces and wanted to build an army of 70 divisions.
4. Lord Kitchener called for 200,000 men to sign up for the British army in the 1st month of the war – 300,000 men enlisted
War represented adventure for new recruits, who were often of the opinion that they would ‘be home by Christmas.’
5. Almost as many men joined the army voluntarily as joined after the introduction of conscription (1916) in Britain
Altogether just under 2.5 million men volunteered to fight in the British Army, approximately 25% of those eligible.
6. 750,000 British men appealed against their conscription in the first 6 months
Most were granted exemption of some sort, even if it was only temporary. Often a white feather was given to those who refused to fight out of principle alone.
7. Britain was theoretically able to call upon an Imperial population of nearly 400 million
By 1914 Britain had a vast empire and, for example, could call upon India’s population of 316,000,000.
8. By December 1915 just under 27% of Scottish men aged 15-49 had volunteered
In the end 26.4% of all Scots who enlisted became casualties.
9. Several Russian Women’s ‘Battalions of Death’ were raised by the Russian Provisional Government in 1917
Although rarely seeing conflict, these units were effective in shaming their male counterparts into fighting harder.
10. In total during the war, 13.4 million German men were mobilised
This was the highest number of men mobilised by any nation.