Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, February 10, 2018

How the Kitchener's New Army Was Recruited & Prepared for Battle

When war was declared in August 1914, many believed it would be "over by Christmas." Horatio Kitchener, however, suspected differently and set about creating his "New Armies" to fight in the long term.

At the start of the War, the Army consisted of just 700,000 soldiers, a tiny force compared to the mass armies of France, Germany and Russia. Lord Kitchener, then British secretary of state for war, instigated a mass recruitment campaign, calling for 100,000 new recruits to bolster British forces. He wanted to transform the nation’s small, specialist-trained force into a mass civilian army.

Showing Up to Volunteer

In the wave of patriotism that followed the declaration of war, his tactics worked. However, these new volunteers needed to be trained, and it soon became apparent that existing barracks across the UK simply would not suffice.

Initially, public buildings such as schools, churches, and warehouses were used in response to the need for more adequate training spaces. Eventually, with the assistance of the Royal Engineers, purpose-built training camps were developed and original barracks expanded, including Shorncliffe in Folkestone.

Meeting the Sergeant

While at the training camps, new recruits were put through their paces with physical fitness training, as well as marching and drills. There was no set program in place for training, so each squad could have a very different training experience.

In a letter sent from one training camp, a soldier writes:

I don’t know whether you get any Swedish drill or not but we do, and my word is it hard when you are not used to it. Our squad have had it twice and there are plenty of sore muscles amongst us.
Lance Corporal Frank Bentley, Grenadier Guards, to his brother, 1915

As well as the skills to fight, new recruits learnt the basics of survival on the front line. Cooking, for example, was taught to all trainees, as revealed in another letter:

I had cottage pie for supper yesterday and am going to have another tonight. I suppose you wonder where I got it. Ah! I made it (some cook; What!).
Private George Walters, Middlesex Regiment, to his mother, 1915

Although not traditionally a male pastime in the early 20th century, the ability to cook up a hot meal would be vital—for nutrition and for morale—while on active duty.

As soldiers began to specialize in a particular role, for example in the infantry as a machine gunner or a bomber, they would receive more expert training. When the time came to travel to the Western Front, soldiers would also be given basic training in wiring, gas defense, and first aid.

Mass Exercise Formation

Although training continued after going on active duty, for many soldiers it simply could not prepare them for the horrors that they were to experience on the front line. While tactics taught at training camps evolved with the war, the thousands who did not return paid the highest price for the steep learning curve experienced by all sides in the conflict.

Source:  Text and Images from the National Army Museum Website


  1. Kitchener completely ignored the Territorials at first. As these men would only be used to defend England. However as war with Germany appeared more likely, many were asked if they would serve outside the UK. The majority agreed and several thousand were posted to India and other colonies to free the Regulars to return to England for duty in France. These men when sent to reinforce the BEF in the fall of 1914 gave a good account of themselves and allowed the Territorial division still in England to be sent to France. If Kitchener had used his hundred thousand to fill up the Terriers first, many more units would have been available for Ypres.

  2. America went through similar challenges in building and training its forces, but the draft helped to increase the numbers.