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

Monday, November 19, 2018

Remembering the Tommies

The 1914 Original BEF Shortly After Arriving

Unlike France, Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary, Great Britain entered the First World War with a small, volunteer force. It believed it could rely on the Royal Navy for most of its contribution should general war come. But the war that came in 1914 seemed to be a land war on the European continent. War Minister Gen. Horatio Kitchener quickly apprehended that major increases in the British Army were needed. A mass volunteer army was recruited at his recommendation. They became known as "Kitchener's New Armies."

As the professional British Army was devoured in the futile 1914 and 1915 campaigns, the new units trained, fated to have their main entrance onto the stage of war on 1 July 1916 at the Somme. Alas, even the mighty recruiting effort of Kitchener proved insufficient to the demands of total war. Eventually, the nation turned to conscription to bring the war to its conclusion.

Recruiting Poster from Mid-War Period

● "Tommy" as a name for British soldiers came from the name in the sample paybook given to new recruits in Wellington's time: Thomas Atkins.

● The original 1914 British Expeditionary Force was composed of six infantry and one cavalry division. totaling 150,000 men.

● 5,704,416 Tommies from the United Kingdom (Great Britain & Ireland) eventually served in the war.

● About 2,670,000 volunteered, of which 1,186,000 had enlisted by 31 December 1914.

● About 2,770,000 were conscripted.

● 724,000 Tommies were killed; 2,000,000 were wounded; and 270,000 were POWs.

● Besides the regulars, the British Army overseas was supplemented by "Territorials," volunteer reserves, originally  intended for home defense, but who could opt for "Imperial Service" overseas.

● "Pals" battalions were special units of the British Army composed of men who enlisted together in local recruiting drives, with the promise that they would be able to serve alongside their friends, neighbors, and work colleagues ("pals"). By one count, there were 643 Pals battalions. 

A 1917 Illustration from The Sphere Depicts WWI's Tommy
As He Is Remembered Today

1 comment:

  1. That last painting is quite powerful. The Tommy is suffering from some major head wound.
    And he's holding a German helmet, having rescued a little girl from the Hun.