War history: Registration cards and pink forms were sign the First World War had arrived on the Home Front

Ominous or sensible? A National Registration card

Ominous or sensible? A National Registration card - Credit: Archant

Mike Peters previously wrote about the 5th Suffolks’ first battle ? fighting the Turks on the Gallipoli peninsula.

Herbert Henry Asquith was Prime Minister 100 years ago, heading the coalition Government. Photo: PA

Herbert Henry Asquith was Prime Minister 100 years ago, heading the coalition Government. Photo: PA - Credit: PA

Here, Galloway’s resident military historian talks about the realisation at home that Britain was in for a long and costly war

In England, 100 years ago, things seemed to be in a constant state of change ? the war affecting every facet of society and daily life. The fighting on the Western Front still dominated everything and it seemed the entire country was steadily being converted into an armed camp.

The shell scandal that rocked the Government and led to the fall of Winston Churchill from the Admiralty had helped reform the munitions industry. Lloyd George was very much the rising star in Whitehall and he was now at the heart of the war effort, while Churchill languished in the political wilderness. Later that year Churchill, a veteran soldier, himself would be commanding an infantry battalion in the Ypres Salient.

People in Britain and the Commonwealth were beginning to understand just how long this war would last. Over the course of the year the newspapers reported the use of gas on the Western Front, the advent of flamethrowers and numerous submarine attacks on unarmed merchant ships and passenger liners. This was war on an unprecedented scale ? war that reached into every home in the land.

A century ago, Britons were left in no doubt that the population was not divorced from the war being

A century ago, Britons were left in no doubt that the population was not divorced from the war being waged in Europe and further afield but was actually part of it - Credit: Archant

April, 1915, had seen the Second Battle of Ypres literally erupt in Belgium and it seemed to signal the beginning of a long attritional stalemate neither side could hope to break. Casualties soared, with newspapers printing column after column listing the names of the dead, the wounded, prisoners of war and the missing.

Unlike previous wars, civilians in Britain began to feel as though they too were involved in the struggle. East Anglians had certainly had a taste of war. German naval raiders shelled our ports and Zeppelin airships crossed the east coast regularly, cruising with a menacing invulnerability through the night skies over Suffolk and Norfolk.

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The U-boat threat was beginning to be felt, although submarine technology was in its early stages. The advent of U-boats, like the Zeppelin, had a psychological impact on a population that for almost two centuries had felt secure behind its navy. The idea of a “Home Front” was born. The population could no longer consider itself a spectator or supporter of the war... it was in it.

In May, 1915, the shell scandal triggered the creation of a new coalition Government intended to work in the national interest and ultimately to steer Britain to victory. In July, with continuity and unity of purpose in mind, the new Government led by prime minister Asquith extended the life of the parliament by 12 months into 1917.

Another significant piece of legislation introduced by the Government, on July 15, was The National Registration Act. This required every adult in the country aged between 15 and 65 to be registered by their local authority.

One month later everyone within the specified age group was required to fill in a form stating his or her name, age, nationality, marital status and trade.

In England the forms were held locally and filed by occupational group, then alphabetically by name within categories. The registration scheme was primarily introduced as a way of prioritising the allocation of skilled labourers to munitions factories, armament plants, shipyards and the mining industry.

Registration was also intended to root out what were referred to as “shirkers and slackers” who were not doing their duty or pulling their weight.

This unprecedented state supervision of industry and everyday life did cause concern, not least among those who rightly viewed registration as a key pre-cursor to the introduction of military conscription.

One distinct group had been singled out during registration: males between the ages of 19 and 41 had their details transcribed onto pink forms. Those categorised as working in essential industries had their form “starred” as exempt from military service. The pink forms were collated and handed over to the military authorities for the purpose of recruitment.

Recruiting officers began a programme of visiting men who were not exempt, encouraging them to enlist voluntarily. The recruiters adopted a robust form of encouragement, visiting the named man at least three times and enquiring about his reasons for not joining up. These pressure tactics were frequently successful, embarrassing men into enlistment.

Eventually the register would be used to coordinate conscription when it was introduced in 1916. The National Registration Act was just one of myriad new laws and Acts of Parliament that irrevocably changed the face of Britain during the First World War ? changes to the government of our society that we still live with today.

One hundred years ago this week, these events confirmed this was going to be a very long war.

Would you like to organise your own bespoke group visit to the Western Front? Visit the Galloway website to find out more.

You can also follow a battlefields feed on Twitter @GallowayBattles and find battlefield tour reports on the Galloway Travel Facebook page.See more about how the war affected life in Suffolk here

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