WWII British Draft process?

Discussion in 'Service Records' started by Toby123, Jun 28, 2019.

  1. Toby123

    Toby123 Researching FEPOW, 2nd Cambridgeshire Regiment

    I'm a PhD Researcher, writing a memoir of my father William 'Bill' Norways (1918-86) a Far East POW and artist. He served in the 2nd Cambridgeshire Regiment.

    I have lots of questions about the draft.

    Does anyone have a copy of a WW2 draft letter?

    How did the whole thing work? Were you called to attend a local assessment / medical?

    Did you have a choice of service or regiment?

    Are there Draft records I can access?

    The 2nd Cambridgeshires was a Territorial Regiment. Does that mean Bill volunteered, or would it have been compulsory conscription?

    I’m interested to discover how Bill ended up in the Cambridgeshires. He was born and lived in Hackney, East London. He enlisted in Ipswich in January 1940. Why would a young man from Hackney end up in the Cambridgeshires? From their nominal roll it looks like 90% came from local towns & villages.

    Any help would be appreciated.

    Best wishes,

    Toby Norways
  2. ceolredmonger

    ceolredmonger Member

    Hi Toby.
    Thanks for adding to the available material with your useful PhD subject .
    I wonder where you are as the term 'Draft' is not usually a British thing. The British process was covered by the National Service Acts - which comprised 'Registration' and 'Call Up'

    These required Registration for Service with issue of a classification card. At this stage eligible people were examined and classified for service or not. A card was issued to be kept with the person's National Identity Card and produced on demand. They were then put into 'groups' of others in the same category. When the national emergency required people with that health or other status, the group was allocated to a role and 'Called Up' (I don't recall the size of the groups).

    From experience in the First World War, the Registration process was made to appear relatively benign however it was a legal process, overseen by local magistrates in the primary instance. Conscientious objectors for example were tempted by promises that they were simply registering and had every opportunity to put their case. If anyone refused they were jailed. As they were released they were given their civilian documents and a new registration card...

    I suggest that for PhD research you need to get some background from places such as the Imperial War Museum Imperial War Museums, National Archives The National Archives and such. Most local Museums and Archives will have relevent materail in their Home Front collections as well as military.

    I trust this helps. By all means be in touch.
    Keith Matthews
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2019
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  3. idler

    idler GeneralList

    The umbrella term was, of course, conscription.

    Draft - as seen in other threads you've looked at - related to a group of soldiers being posted to units overseas.

    There was an element of choice in the first half of the war, even more so if you volunteered and signed on as a regular. Later on, outside your timescale, those called up went through primary training which included mental and physical assessments as a means of sorting the raw material to suit the Army's needs rather than the individuals'.
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  4. ceolredmonger

    ceolredmonger Member

    With regards ending up in Cambridgeshire, there are too many potential answers.

    I take Issue with 2 Cambs being territorials. Reforms of the 1870's and 1902 Established Regiments as umberella organisations and Battalions as the working parts. The Cambs. Regt. follows the commonest pattern.

    1st and 2nd Battalions were taken from the old numbered regiments and were Regular Army, usually one at home one in the Empire.

    3rd Bn. was the Depot usually in the home town. This served as Admin for the two regular Bns. and oversaw the reserve and recruits. In wartime this was not exclusively regulars.

    4th - c.8th Bns were Territorials attached to a Drill Hall and with its own admin. When 'Mobilised' the infrastructure was used to form a second version either to serve in its own right or as a training reserve. This led to the confusing numbering of : 1st/4th, 2nd/4th, 3rd/4th, 1st/2nd, 2nd/2nd, etc.

    Once the territorials were dealt with Bns raised for the War were numbered next - no depot, administered with some input from the 3rd Bn. Higher numbers may be formed from non combatants or convalescing troops e.g.Pioneer Battalions. So 9th, 10th, 11th.

    There may at times even be others for example 111 (Officer Training) Battalion however we are getting esoteric.
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  5. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Hi Toby,

    I don't think there was any rhyme or reason for how a man was allocated to a regiment. My grandfather was from Hampstead in London, enlisted at Paddington and was posted to the 9th Devonshire Regiment in December 1940.

    In the book, Winston's Specials by Archie Munro, it is stated that the 2nd Cambs. voyaged as part of convoy WS 12X. The convoy was mustered on the Clyde in late October 1941 and the 2nd Cambs. were allocated to the troopship Sobieski, which was Polish I believe. Unlike most WS convoys, WS12X eventually headed west and sailed for Halifax in Canada. Here they, alongside the rest of 53rd Brigade were transhipped to the Mount Vernon of the US Fleet. It was with this ship that they sailed east, stopping eventually at Mombasa (on Christmas Day) before joining Convoy WS12Z and heading for Singapore.

    This has to be one, if not the most convoluted journey's of the war and must have been extremely tedious for the men aboard. That is to say nothing about dropping them off just in time to face the Japanese invasion.
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  6. Toby123

    Toby123 Researching FEPOW, 2nd Cambridgeshire Regiment

    Thanks Keith. So what was the first stage in the process, and order of events? A letter asking you to register? Then you get sent somewhere locally to be 'classified'. Then you get a 'Call up' letter? Then pack your bags and get on a train to ipswich?
  7. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

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  8. Toby123

    Toby123 Researching FEPOW, 2nd Cambridgeshire Regiment


    Yes. The 2nd Cambs route was Dep Gourock, Scotland on the Sobieski, with a view to fighting to the Middle Easthen to Halifax NS changing onto US ships including the Mount Vernon (secret deal with FDR because the US hadn't joined the war yet). On to Trinidad, down the coast of S.America almost to the Antarctic (!) to avoid U-Boats. Pearl Harbour occurs. Cape Town for first 3 days shore leave. Mombasa for Xmas day, then on to singapore to arrive mid air-raid on 13th Jan 1942. Within 72 hours they were fighting the Japanese in Malaya.
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  9. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Hope you arent doing geography :whistle:

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  10. Toby123

    Toby123 Researching FEPOW, 2nd Cambridgeshire Regiment

    Yep. Typo. I should amend that!
  11. ceolredmonger

    ceolredmonger Member

    QUOTE=So what was the first stage in the process, and order of events? A letter asking you to register? Then you get sent somewhere locally to be 'classified'. Then you get a 'Call up' letter? Then pack your bags and get on a train to ipswich?
    More or less. The pack of documents went out either as the Bill was enacted, or on the relevant birthday or passing other eligibility requirements (release from prison or improving health). Checking returns, medicals, eligibility boards and tribunals were a local government responsibility so location of records of details can vary. Call up could take a while.

    Many people took classification as fit for active duty to be a warning and used the time to voluntarily join up on either (slightly) more favourable terms or to join the service of their choice. I know one man wh steamed open his call-up paper enough to see the word 'mine' and ran to the recruiting office to join the Armoured Corps.
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  12. Toby123

    Toby123 Researching FEPOW, 2nd Cambridgeshire Regiment


    Thanks ceolredmonger,

    I'm something of a novice. I was basing my Territorial theory on what it says on Wiki:

    In early 1939, just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, the Territorial Army was again doubled in size with each unit forming a 2nd Line duplicate. As a consequence, a 2nd Battalion was raised. Following mobilisation both battalions served with the 18th (East Anglian) Infantry Division, initially on the Norfolk Coast and were then sent to the Far East where they fought in the Malayan Campaign and the Battle of Singapore.[1]

    This seems to be supported by the following document from the MOD... Territorial?.png
  13. ceolredmonger

    ceolredmonger Member

    OK (rolls sleeves up!)...
    You are understandably compounding two facts. See my comment for the '4th - c.8th Bn'. They are referring to 1st and 2nd incarnations of the Territorial Battalions - 1st Battalion of the 4th Battalion and 2nd Bn./4th Bn these are not the Regular 1st and 2nd Bn (phew).

    During wartime the enlistment/transfer rules don't apply as conscripts and territorials are on the same wage scale as the regulars (for the duration). As many people found they may think they enlisted in one type of unit however found the wartime circumstances bent this. The Army Form B200 is really useful it shows your Father was enlisted into the Territorials - he will revert to their terms after the war, rather than be demobbed and go on the regular reserve. It looks like he's conscripted although I can't say for sure.

    Just throwing in, that one reason for people enlisting 'out of area' was 'Reserved Occupations'. My Wife's Grandfather was a butcher (and well known too) so his Registration card said he was inelligible for any service conscripted or otherwise. When he attempted to enlist, all the local, Huddersfield, recruiting offices turned him away. He had another go a couple of weeks later (with packed shoes as he was short too) and ended up walking to Dewsbury where they didn't recognise him.
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  14. idler

    idler GeneralList

    I know we don't say this often but Wiki is right: the Cambridgeshires were Territorials with a distinct title from their affiliated Regulars, c.f. the Monmouthshire Regiment, the Hertfordshire Regiment etc.
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    JITTER PARTY Well-Known Member

    Yes, both battalions were Territorials; I don't think there were any regular battalions. They were some sort of weird offshoot of the Suffolk Regt. Look at some of the FEPOW records and you will note that many had service numbers from the Suffolk block.
    As a 'PHD Researcher' I'm sure that will already have read 'Battalion At War: Singapore 1942' by Michael Moore, 'With The Cambridgeshires At Singapore' by William Taylor, and 'The Cambridgeshire Regiment 1939-42'.
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  16. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

  17. Toby123

    Toby123 Researching FEPOW, 2nd Cambridgeshire Regiment


    Thanks for the info. Yes. I've got both the books you mention. Battalion at War is the 1st Cambs. The W.Taylor book is 2nd Cambs, but starts on depature from Gourock on the Clyde - so no preliminary stuff!
  18. idler

    idler GeneralList

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  19. SteveDee

    SteveDee Well-Known Member

    Don't know if this is helpful, but in my dad's case, he joined the local TA in 1938 at the age of 17. Then in 1939 received this "Embodiment/Notice to Join" document, which required him to attend some kind of a meeting, implying that it was more than just a simple paper-work exercise.


    He "ended up" in an Essex regiment (a long way from his home town in Dorset) because he was transferred as an "immature" gunner when his original regiment were sent overseas.

    By 1946 dad was clearly very keen to get back home to Mrs Davis, so he must have written to the government, complaining that people with less service than him had already been demobbed. The response seems to indicate that he was low priority because he had volunteered rather than been called up.

  20. ceolredmonger

    ceolredmonger Member

    OK. Eggs on my face (and I'm allergic).
    It's one of 'those' regiments. I was generalising for most of the line Battalions. The various Territorial only Battalions were anomolies left from the absorption of the TA into the Army system (1870's and 1900's). Based on the volunteers infrastructure coming under government control. You will need to gen up on the specific Battalion history as generalisations often fall short.

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