Was the British army ready for war in 1914?
With around 730,000 troops to call upon in August 1914 – compared with France's 1.8 million and Russia's 3.4 million – Britain lacked the manpower to prosecute what would prove a long and costly conflict
Kaiser Wilhelm II considered the British army “contemptibly small”. Yet, all that was to change rapidly thanks, in no small part, to recruitment posters. The most famous of these featured the new minister for war, Lord Kitchener staring out with piercing eyes at would-be recruits – finger pointing accusingly – exhorting them to “Join Your Country’s Army”.
The poster was designed by Alfred Leete and first appeared in London Opinion magazine. Although there is some dispute about how widely this iconic image was actually seen in 1914, the recruitment drive worked and within days, thousands were answering the call.
Kitchener had originally hoped that 100,000 would sign up immediately to meet the “grave National Emergency”. Yet, by the end of September, over 750,000 men had enlisted. By the end of the year, that figure had soared to one million.