On this day in history….26th June 1939

On this day in history : 26th June 1939 – Private Rupert Alexander, Service No. 10000001, signs up to the Middlesex Regiment, as Britain’s first National Serviceman….

The Spring of 1939 saw the deterioration of international relations and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had to consider necessary preparations in case Britain found itself at war with Nazi Germany…. Parliament approved the Military Training Act which required men to undertake 6 months military training…. In the beginning this was limited to men between the ages of 20 to 22…. Some 240,000 registered for service….

War was declared on the 3rd of September 1939 and the National Service (Armed Forces) Act came in…. Now all men between 18 to 41 had to register…. There were some exemptions, such as those medically unfit and some key professionals, including farmers, engineers, bakers, doctors and the clergy…. Tribunals were held for conscientious objectors – who were usually assigned essential non-combat tasks it their hearings were successful….

Tribunal for conscientious objectors in Britain during WW2 – Public domain

In December 1941 a second National Service Act was passed…. The age was extended for men, up to the age of 60…. It meant all men up to this age were expected to do some sort of war effort work, such as police and civilian defence – those under the age of 51 were required to be available for military service….

All unmarried women, or widows without children, between the ages of 20 to 30 were liable to be called up to do work related to the war…. Pregnant women were not exempt but were generally not called up….

On this day in history….27th January 1916

On this day in history : 27th January 1916 – The British government passes a legislation which introduces conscription in the United Kingdom….

Known as the Military Service Act the Bill had been introduced by Prime Minister H.H.Asquith and came into force on the 2nd of March 1916…. It was only ever enforced in England, Scotland and Wales due to the political situation in Ireland….


Before conscription the government had relied on volunteers….now all single men between the ages of 18-40 years old were liable to be called up for military service…. There were exclusions – widowed men with dependent children and ministers of religion…. However, there was also a system of Military Service Tribunals which examined claims of exemption…. Claims such as performing civilian work of national importance, domestic hardship, health issues and conscientious objection were all taken into consideration – although the latter with very little sympathy….


By the end of June 1916 748,587 men had applied to tribunals – whereas some 770,000 had joined up…. In the beginning married men had been exempt but this changed in June 1916…. The age limit was raised to 51 in 1918 – and there were changes made to laws in recognition of work of national importance. Towards the end there was even support to call up clergy…. Conscription ended in 1919….

WW1 – British soldiers marching to the Somme. Photo credit: Anders via Flickr