Conscription campaigners

With increasingly heavy losses at the front and fewer recruits enlisting, there was a growing campaign - especially among those who would not get called up - for conscription.

One person who was not in favour of conscription was a Luton News columnist who went under the name of Mr Jinks. In the November 12th, 1914, edition he very much regretted that the advocates of conscription were taking advantage of the falling off in the number of recruits offering themselves for enlistment "to push their pet idea for all it is worth, and for a good deal more than it is worth".

He went on: "They tell us that if compulsory service had been in force at the outbreak of hostilities we could have put such an army in the field as would have saved Belgium and driven back the Kaiser's hordes at the very outset. They do not tell us that the real cause of the war is conscription; that it is conscription that has produced in Germany the 'swollen head' which is the root of all the mischief; and that it was because the Kaiser was able to think in millions that he dreamed of world power and flattered himself that he could meet and beat all the rest of Europe.

"It is conscription against which we are fighting, and truly it would be the very irony of fate is success in the war should only result in placing us under the militarism which led Germany to destruction and compelled us to sacrifice the lives of our bravest and best."

Conscriptionists, he said, felt compulsion was required as recruiting became slower and slower. They did now say that over a million men had already responded to the country's call.

"Then again, conscriptionists overlook the fact that the news that has been allowed to come through from the seat of war has not been of such a character as to fill the youthful British breast with military ardour; that the barest possible outlines only are given, and that is left to the imagination to fill in the details; that the troops disappear in mystery from this country and are swallowed up somewhere in the operations on the Continent; and that the casualty lists and letters from the front, or from wounded men who have been there, furnish almost the only clue to what different regiments have been doing."

One important consideration was the question of making it easy financially for the men who were ready to offer their lives in defence of their country. Conscriptionists talked only of compulsion when it was a case of a man not volunteering himself, they said nothing of compulsion for the man who failed to volunteer his money.

"I am afraid it has to be admitted that the wealthy and well-to-do have shown a great deal more slackness in realising their responsibilities than the young men who are so freely condemned as slackers, and I am convinced that if the financial side of the question is put right, little difficulty would be experienced in getting the men required."

Mr Jinks pointed out that Luton's response to the Prince of Wales' Relief Fund, for instance, was unquestionably poor. Having regard to population and rateability, the total reached to date (£2,371 11s) was the smallest anywhere round about.

"Luton people show more faith in the saying that 'God helps those who help themselves' than in the scriptural injunction that 'it is more blessed to give than to receive'."

[The Luton News, November 12th, 1914]