Retro: public pressure on Sheffielders to go to war

For Retro: World War One piece by Nick Cook on pressure for young men to join armed forces in August 1914
For Retro: World War One piece by Nick Cook on pressure for young men to join armed forces in August 1914
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Across the country in August 1914 unmarried men aged 19 to 30 were called upon to fight for King and country.

Sheffield’s young men were quick to answer.

This was a decision few would have taken lightly. After all, they would be giving up the security of their jobs and family life to fight in a distant land for an unknown length of time.

Influential Sheffielders were quick to reassure men that jobs at home would be kept open and that recruits would only serve until war was over.

The Sheffield Telegraph estimated the conflict would last six months.

In the first week an average of 82 men enlisted per day but these numbers were considered to be insufficient.

One problem encountered by recruiters was the number of men being turned away on medical grounds.

Workers were not accustomed to healthy diets and high living standards. Many suffered from poor health and the newspapers estimated that the average height of a Sheffield grinder was only five foot four!

Some men were turned away due to relatively minor medical complaints and standards were soon lowered in the context of war.

The Sheffield Telegraph published a notice calling upon men rejected on the grounds of bad teeth and poor dental health to present themselves again!

Local newspapers supported enlistment campaigns and the letters page saw fierce debate over volunteer numbers.

One reader questioned the number of young men they saw every Saturday at the football grounds and called for a ban on matches.

The Sheffield Telegraph did not support a full ban but did want to see “the gates confined to old men, boys, physical weaklings, and men with

wives and families”.

The paper felt felt the presence of “healthy, young men as spectators would be a scandal”.

Another reader called for press gangs and suggested they recruit at local hunt meets.

He exclaimed: “If a man can shoot birds he can also shoot Germans.” He also appealed to young

women to have nothing to do with any man who was “money-grubbing or pleasure hunting when he should be fighting”.

Some argued that young men in Sheffield did not understand the severity of the situation, blaming the press and its “confidence in success” as the cause of this apathy.

In these early days of war, some were already calling for conscription.

The pressure on young men to enlist was considerable and by the end of August some 300 to 400 were volunteering every day in Sheffield.

n We’d love to hear your thoughts on Sheffield 1914 and to hear your own stories and memories.

Please get in touch at @Sheffield1914 or write to Sheffield 1914 Team, c/o Dr Amber Regis, Jessop West, Upper Hanover St, Sheffield, S3 7RA.

Photographs courtesy of Sheffield Archives at