What’s stopping them? Why were Devon lads so reluctant to sign up?

Context

Initially, men were enthusiastic about enlisting and there was an early rush to sign up. But by 1915, following heavy casualties in the trenches , the need for more troops emerged. This time, there was a marked lack of volunteers.

Research shows that Devon and Dorset appeared to be sending fewer men than other parts of the country, despite exhortations from the Lord Lieutenant of Devon, Lord Fortescue, who was particularly angry about Devon’s tardiness.

It was Lord Fortescue who was at the forefront of the organisation of recruitment marches.

Objective

Consider some of the possible reasons for why Devon’s young men may have been reluctant to sign up. Despite heavy campaigns to encourage enlisting, we know many men here were unenthusiastic. Were they opposed to the cause, or might they have reasons to stay?

Method

You may find some clues in Recruitment Sheet 1 and in the excerpts from David Parker’s book, to be found in the Resources section. This will provide you with information about the recruitment marches and provides some ideas of contemporary attitudes.

Teacher Notes

You may like to look at the discussion ideas that accompany the task: “I don’t want my son to go to War – must he?” This may offer the student some idea of the conflicting thoughts that were undoubtedly part of both public and private discussions.

Possible lines of thought on the tensions and conflicts of this moral dilemma are:

* Patriotism v Fear

* Excitement v Knowledge of casualties (from telegrams, letters home, injured men in local hospitals)

* Desire to go v Pressure from family not to (mothers, girlfriends, employers)

* Farming families reluctant to lose labour v Patriotic pressure to join up

Resources

Recruitment Information Sheet
David Parker on Recruitment
Peace Pledge Union

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