The Military Service Act 1916
Published by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, No 153. Printed by Roberts and Leete, 1916 (c).
For the first 18 months of the war the British Army had relied on volunteers to fill the ranks, but as casualties mounted it became apparent that volunteering alone would not fill the shortage, and that service must be compulsory. The Military Service Act was first introduced in January 1916 and became law in March.
It specified that men from 18 to 45 years old were liable to be called up for Army service unless they were married, widowed with children, serving in the Royal Navy, a minister of religion, or working in one of a number of reserved occupations. It was the first time that legislation had been passed in British military history to introduce conscription. It was specifically designed to support the Army. A second Act in May 1916 extended liability to married men, and a third in 1918 extended the upper age limit to 51. Significantly, due to political tensions the act did not cover Ireland.
NAM Accession Number
National Army Museum, Study collection