On This Day in 1916, Conscription Was First Introduced in Britain

Soldier’s Draft Card from World War One

Introduced halfway through the First World War in 1916, conscription was abolished four years later in 1920, only to be introduced again in 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War, remaining in force from then on until 1960.

In total, more than 8,000,000 men were drafted along with several hundred thousand women. Starting in early 1942, unmarried women aged 19 to 30 were conscripted. Most of these were sent to the factories to replace the men who were fighting in the war, but if they so wished, they could volunteer for the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and other women’s services. No women were assigned to combat roles unless they volunteered.

During the Second World War, 1.4 million men volunteered for duty while 3.2 million were conscripted. Volunteers comprised 20% of the Army, 40% of the Royal Navy, and 50% of the Royal Air Force.

The abolition of conscription in Britain was announced on 4 April 1957, by recently elected prime minister Harold MacMillan, with the last conscripts being recruited three years later.