Recruitment Tactics

Geoff Cordingley

Watford Illustrated
Watford Illustrated 1914
Hertfordshire Mercury
Hertfordshire Mercury
West Herts and Watford Observer 1915
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Recruitment Poster in Hertfordshire Mercury 1914
Hertfordshire Mercury
Soldiers of the London Regiment leaving Watford in 1915
Watford Illustrated
Hertfordshire Mercury 1915
The West Herts and Watford Observer
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
West Herts and Watford Observer 1914

In the early stages of the war there was little problem with recruitment.  On the outbreak of war in August 1914, there was a rush of volunteers from towns and villages across Hertfordshire: men willing to serve King and Country.  The war was expected ‘to be all over by Christmas’ so hundreds of men cheerfully marched off, never expecting it to last over four, long years.

In August 1914, Watford was described as being ‘alive with the artillery of London Territorial Forces.’   Over 2,000 men and 3,000 horses came to the town and the streets were said to be ‘full of excitement.’  Potential recruits were invited to sign up at the Clarendon Hall or at open air meetings in the market place.  The West Herts and Watford Observer advertised large rallies with processions, bands and speakers, whilst shop keepers were asked to decorate their premises.

Mobilization of the County Forces caused “stirring scenes in Hertford,” and the town “presented the appearance of an armed Camp.”  At the headquarters of the 4th Battalion, Hertford Territorials and Yeomanry there was a constant influx of companies.  Every one of the 134 Yeomanry reported for duty and recruits “poured in.”  Several old yeomen re-joined.  The men were billeted on various local public houses.

The Herts and Essex Observer reported that ‘young man after young man to the number of 90 ascended the platform’ at a meeting in Bishop’s Stortford

In a single week, 305 men from St. Albans enlisted.

The Hemel Hempstead Gazette reported that the townspeople of Berkhamsted ‘have responded nobly to the country’s call for assistance’.

In September, a lively recruitment meeting was held at the Waltham Cross Conservative Club.  The men who volunteered at the end were made to feel like heroes.  As 25 men ascended the platform they were given flowers and the assembled crowd cheered them on.

Lord Horatio Kitchener1, Britain’s Secretary of War, stated “I shall want more men and still more until the enemy is crushed.”  Those who did volunteer were known as Kitchener’s New Army.

Throughout the remainder of 1914 and continuing through 1915 there was a massive recruitment drive.  Posters, ‘Patriotic’ meetings and ‘recruitment’ parties were three examples.  Cartoons were published in the local papers and were designed to shame men into joining up.

Women were encouraged to persuade young men to enlist.  One man from Hemel Hempstead who was away from his business when war broke out discovered, when he got home, that none of his forty men had volunteered.  After his wife had a few words twenty volunteered.

Other posters glorified the war and emphasised the importance of the King, Country and Empire.  Some suggested how well the troops were getting on in Europe.

Horror stories of what was purported to have happened to women and children in occupied territories played on fears of what might happen to men’s loved ones if Germany won the war.

Recruiting Pals

‘Pals’ Battalions were created from groups of men who worked at the same place or were in the same club or lived in the same area.  As a tactic it worked well presumably because once your friends started to join up then the pressure for you to do so increased.

In September, 24 men from Redbourn Cricket Club joined up together.

John Dickinson’s and Co Ltd of Croxley, Apsley and Home Park paper mills urged employees to join up with the assurance that their places would be kept open.  The firm paid half wages to married men and those with dependents and quarter wages to the unmarried.  They were also promised a bonus of one month’s wages when they returned.  The names of 225 men are on the company’s war memorial.

Census of Eligibles

By May 1915 Viscount Hampden2, the Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire believed that so far, the county had sent around 10,000men to fight.  He ordered parish councils to make a list of eligible men between 19 and 40 with their addresses, nature of employment, marital status and the number of children if married.  This was referred to as a ‘census of eligibles’.   King’s Langley was one of the parishes that refused, saying it was unworkable and entirely a matter for government, questioning the authority of those who asked them to act.

Still life must continue at home.  Advertisements appeared in the local newspapers asking for lads or old men to do the jobs of those who had joined up.


  1. Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener of Khartoum and of Broome, born June 24, 1850, near Listowel, County Kerry, Ireland—died June 5, 1916, at sea off Orkney Islands
  2. Brigadier-General Thomas Walter Brand, 3rd Viscount Hampden, GCVO, KCB, CMG, KStJ, JP (29 January 1869 – 4 September 1958)
This page was added on 21/04/2021.

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