To go or not to go?


In 1917, Government rules regarding how farmers provided the much-needed food, alongside problems created by the absence of blacksmiths, rick builders and mechanics, coupled with more assertive tribunal decisions, put farmers under considerable pressure. Further pressure to accept female labour caused some of the farming community to feel very disgruntled indeed.

By late 1917, early 1918, casualty figures continued to grow and the Army were determined to sign up enough men to enable another big push to take place. Following conscription in 1916, tribunals were established to decide the fate of those who refused to fight, and by 1917, these were becoming much less sympathetic to these arguments. Indeed, many earlier sympathetic decisions were reversed.

National campaigns to bring women into farming were set up and, in many parts of the country, had some success. In Devon, however, there was some reluctance to take women onto the land. These exercises enable students to explore the practical impact of the war on the farming community and encourage discussion regarding attitudes toward women working on the land.


Re-create a dinner table conversation between a farmer and his son, where the father explains why he doesn’t want his boy to go to War

Or, stage an argument in a pub, between a farmer and a public official who makes the case the signing up would be the patriotic thing to do.


Make use of the resources to show how a father or employer can make a good case for a son or labourer not to be taken for military service.


  • The loss to the war effort of labourers Sons and horses
  • The impact of increased demand on Farmers to provide food coupled with uncertain prices for goods
  • How early tribunals were often unsympathetic to the challenges facing farmers

Teacher Notes

This task offers another approach to understanding the dilemmas faced by people during the war years. Farmers were often reluctant to send their sons to war and deprive themselves of experienced hands as much as by the desire to keep their son’s safe.

Many farmers accepted their patriotic duty to produce food for the war effort.

It is important to help students get a sense of the competing arguments that the “to go or not to go” dilemma produced.