Conscription question

Discussion in 'General' started by JoshS, Jun 16, 2019.

  1. JoshS

    JoshS Member


    I am currently writing a novel and part of it is set during the early years of WW2.

    When the war breaks out I plan to have the protagonist (17 yrs old) steal his older autistic brother's (18yrs old) ID and join the army in order to protect him. However, I'm finding it hard to find material on how conscription worked, and was wondering if anyone could recommend books/ websites that will have the answers to the following questions...

    - I know the act of parliament in 2919 allowed the conscription of 18 year olds, but were they conscripted straight away? As I understand, conscription went in waves according to age group. When were 18 yr olds called up?
    - Were conscription letters sent to individual houses, or were people just expected to go sign up without being asked?
    - What was the journey between conscription and fighting, i.e, training, transport etc.

    Most of the books I have are general historical books about the war and have very sparse details about the realities of being conscripted. Being a novel I want, a.) to tell the smaller, personal story of someone in the war and b.) to make sure the thing is historically accurate.

    Any help would be gratefully received!
  2. JoshS

    JoshS Member

    2919!?!?!?! - I meant 1939
  3. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

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  4. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    So what happens a year later when the 17 year old becomes 18 & he gets called up ?
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  5. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    You will have to wait and read the book, knowing that could very well spoil the plot - maybe he has a twin?

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  6. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member


    Your character must’ve been one of the first few cases of diagnosed autism in U.K. as the term was first used in it’s modern sense in Vienna 1938....and was only adopted in English (in USA) in 1943....

    From Wikipedia -

    “The word autism first took its modern sense in 1938 when Hans Asperger of the Vienna University Hospital adopted Bleuler's terminology autistic psychopaths in a lecture in German about child psychology.[183] Asperger was investigating an ASD now known as Asperger syndrome, though for various reasons it was not widely recognized as a separate diagnosis until 1981.[177] Leo Kanner of the Johns Hopkins Hospital first used autism in its modern sense in English when he introduced the label early infantile autism in a 1943 report of 11 children with striking behavioral similarities.[45]Almost all the characteristics described in Kanner's first paper on the subject, notably "autistic aloneness" and "insistence on sameness", are still regarded as typical of the autistic spectrum of disorders.[62] It is not known whether Kanner derived the term independently of Asperger.[184]

    Donald Triplett was the first person diagnosed with autism.[185] He was diagnosed by Kanner after being first examined in 1938, and was labeled as "case 1".[185] Triplett was noted for his savant abilities, particularly being able to name musical notes played on a piano and to mentally multiply numbers. His father, Oliver, described him as socially withdrawn but interested in number patterns, music notes, letters of the alphabet, and U.S. president pictures. By the age of 2, he had the ability to recite the 23rd Psalm and memorized 25 questions and answers from the Presbyterian catechism. He was also interested in creating musical chords.[186]

    Kanner's reuse of autism led to decades of confused terminology like infantile schizophrenia, and child psychiatry's focus on maternal deprivation led to misconceptions of autism as an infant's response to "refrigerator mothers". Starting in the late 1960s autism was established as a separate syndrome.[187]

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  7. TriciaF

    TriciaF Junior Member

    Josh - do you mean the older brother was a bit 'slow'?
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  8. steviebyday

    steviebyday Junior Member

    don't know how it worked, but my father was an apprentice bricklayer/stonemason, but was still called up in 1942 when he was 18.
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  9. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    The flaw in the fiction is that both would have to register for military service as Owen has posed..... what happens next.The police would follow it up..... but while serving after being inducted it would be the responsibility of the appropriate force Military Police to follow up on those who would be indexed as deserters

    There was a case in our location at the start of the war when a married man failed to register and about 6 weeks went by with the man "missing".He was found hiding in his house loft by the police.Another committed suicide using a cut throat razor.

    I suppose that one could evade service by doing a bunk as done by the US President's German Grandfather in the 19th century when he left for the US.However it was not easy to legally circumvent the NS acts at the time with the average recruit having little resources to leave the country.

    There are other countries where the police get involved when people fail to register for conscription....heard of one case where the authorities, ie,the police continued to call on a grandmother to ascertain where her grandson was....he had emigrated and in the end the grandmother gave a contact number for him in his new abode.The recruit was contacted by the police to be assured he had in deed emigrated.

    However a return to his previous country of abode before the age of 27 years would make him subject to conscription.There used to be a number cases reported in the media of naturalised Britons who when paying a visit to their country of birth were nabbed for conscription.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2019
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  10. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member

    Hi Josh,

    I’ve numbered the queries in your post for ease of response -

    1. I know the act of parliament in 1939 allowed the conscription of 18 year olds, but were they conscripted straight away? As I understand, conscription went in waves according to age group. When were 18 yr olds called up?

    It was easier for those aged 20/23 to be called up first as they had registered in May 1939 for the first pre war phase of conscription.

    This BBC site states -

    “Men aged 20 to 23 were required to register on 21 October 1939 - the start of a long and drawn-out process of registration by age group, which only saw 40-year-olds registering in June 1941.”

    BBC - History - British History in depth: Conscription Introduced

    I haven’t found a source for the 18 year old call up but I’m sure that as in WW1 the more mature candidates would be called up first ie 1939/41. The pool would be reducing by late 1941 hence the raising of the age liability to 51. I’m aware from my own family that several then 18 year old Uncles were called up in 1942. Having seen countless numbers of service records posted on the forum over the years I can’t recall seeing many (if any?) 18 year olds conscripted in 1939/40.

    In the scenario you describe your character is “volunteering” rather than being conscripted - men could still volunteer rather than wait for a conscription date.

    2. Were conscription letters sent to to individual houses, or were people just expected to go sign up without being asked?

    The National Register was compiled in late September 1939 (from that identity cards were issued) and the list of persons eligible for conscription could be identified.

    The first stage would be an instruction to appear before a medical board. Once graded men would be called up - by letter instructing them to report at a given time, date and place - as required (unless exempt).

    The idea of conscription is that it enabled the state to manage Armed Forces resources and to build up strength incrementally - rather than training resources being swamped by the massive number of volunteers in early WW1 (many of whom had to be released when it was belatedly discovered that had skills essential to the civilian war effort)

    3. What was the journey between conscription and fighting, i.e, training, transport etc.

    The “journey” depended on the arm of service - it could be some 2 1/2 years after recruitment that potential RAF aircrew saw active service.

    In your “plot” the 17 year old joins the Army purporting to be 18 years of age. At that early stage men under 20 years of age were not sent overseas on active service so your “man” would have been home based after his initial training - pre war infantry training schedule of 20 weeks would’ve applied (later reduced) - and would’ve been employed on home service - 1940/41 defending U.K. against the threat of invasion.

    Conscription in the United Kingdom - Wikipedia

    I’m sure there is an academic piece of work available somewhere on the internet that will give you full chapter and verse on early WW2 conscription - similar to Peter Simkins well regarded WW1 book about the raising of Kitcheners Army -

    Kitchener's Army: The Raising of the New Armies 1914-1916: Peter Simkins: 9781844155859: Books

    Your starting point for research ought to be in the U.K. National Archives - this file ought to help

    Records of the Military Recruitment Department, 1939-1960 | The National Archives

    Last edited: Jun 16, 2019
  11. Juha

    Juha Junior Member

    ^^Yes that is true, in mid-70s we had one conscript from Australia, he was born there or had immigrated there as a very young child with his parents, but had the double citizenship. He had thought that he might well visit Finland before his 28th or 30th birthday, I cannot remember which was the age limit here then, so he had decided to do his military service as normal at the age of 20-21 years old. And because he came here to do his military service Finnish State paid his flights in and out. During his weekend vacations he visited his relatives living in Finland. I remember him because while he did not serve with my platoon he began his service with the same coy and I talked sometimes with him on his life in Australia and because he had told us that he had never skied, so when we heard that his platoon had its first excersice on skies we went to look what will happen. It was very hilarious and odd to us who had learned to ski during our childhood, e.g. I at the age of 5 or 6 years old.
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  12. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member

    Just to add that you might find the mention of the August 1939 pre conscription medical in this account of his father’s service (end of Chapter 4) by forum member bexley84 of interest - as well as his father’s “journey” on his first day of conscripted service in London Irish Rifles in October 1939 (beginning of Chapter 5). He was subject to pre war Military Training Act.

    All My Brothers – Chapter 4

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  13. JoshS

    JoshS Member

    Easy - he gets injured while serving, so doesn't have to serve. Although I do need to work out what kind of repercussions there are for someone who fakes ID to sign up.
  14. JoshS

    JoshS Member

    Thank you! I should have thought of searching - I'm not very computer literate. Lots of useful threads there!
  15. JoshS

    JoshS Member

    Thank for this,

    In the book they refer to him as being 'a strange lad' or a 'queer fellow' etc. I only used the word Autism for the sake of brevity here - but the word is never actually used in the book. But this information is still helpful none the less! Thank you!
  16. JoshS

    JoshS Member

    Thanks for this Harry, once again, very useful info. The older sibling wants to enlist, and is angry at his brother for stealing his identity and denying him the opportunity to serve his country. Eventually he attempts to enlist, but is not accepted into the forces and is written off as being mentally unfit, either to fight in the army, or to be prosecuted for letting his brother go in his place (even though he didn't know his brother went until it was too late). What I do need to research is what repercussions both lads might face.
  17. JoshS

    JoshS Member

    Thank you! That was massively helpful! Even though it kind wrecked my plot! But that's why I came on here before I started writing that particular chapter! I ideally wanted him to see a bit of action, get injured, and return to Bristol in time for the Bristol blitz of November 1940 - but that doesn't really look possible now, if he wouldn't have seen active service at that age. I'll have to re-jig a few bits and pieces of the plot. Thanks again, much appreciated!
  18. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member

    Just increase the age slightly Josh......there is evidence of underage soldiers enlisting in WW2 but not as prevalent as WW1.

    If your character volunteered for a Territorial Infantry Battalion in Sept/Oct 1939 he might have a better chance of deployment to France 1940 than joining a “regular” Battalion - ie 42nd (East Lancashire) Division TA went to France April 1940 and saw action up to and including the evacuation from Dunkirk.

    42nd (East Lancashire) Infantry Division - Wikipedia

    I’m sure if you look in the BEF ORBAT you’ll find a suitable “West Country” TA Battalion to use in your story.

    British Expeditionary Force order of battle (1940) - Wikipedia

    Perhaps 5th Battalion Gloucester Regiment might suit your purposes?

    BBC - WW2 People's War - ‘5186379 - My Story’

    Good Luck

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  19. JoshS

    JoshS Member

    Steve, you are a life saver! Or a novel saver at least. I always thought it would be great to place him at Dunkirk. I think it'll work out nicely with only a few tweeks to birth-dates. If my book wins the booker prize I'll be sure to acknowledge you in the acceptance speech!
  20. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member


    You’re welcome.

    If you want to base your “fiction” in any way around “the facts” you ought to consider having sight of the 5th Gloucester War Diary for the period Sept 1939/Dec 1940.

    2 forum members offer a look up and copy service at U.K. National Archives. They might even already have a copy WD on file.

    Just click on the forum name and start a conversation for a quote - Drew5233 (1940 BEF expert) or Lee PsyWar.Org


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