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British subjects abroad WW1

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SylviaInCanada Report 12 May 2013 04:19

My mother's father and my father's eldest brother both fought in WW1

Both were called Harry

Grandfather was in his mid-30s, had a wife and 3 children ................... but was still called up.

Uncle was 19, and single.

Both survived, although uncle was gassed and quite badly injured.


RolloTheRed Report 11 May 2013 23:57

The Great War was no surprise and had been anticipated right from the accession of Edward VII. Indeed the king spent most of his short reign pulling strings trying to avert war, with some success. By 1913 George V and most of the population were resigned to it. Although the ensuing horrors were not expected few thought it would be "over by Christmas" except for jingoist newspaper writers and the gullible.

As it happens my GF was a regular army officer and had spent some time on the continent before 1914. He let his brothers-in-law know that (a) the Army expected a long war and (b) that the coming war could not be fought solely using the regular armed forces, that there would have to be large scale civilian recruitment. Accordingly the economy was moved onto a war footing well before Aug 1914.

So on 9 Aug 1914 my grandfather was in Mons, Belgium and his brother in law in San Francisco. So the cookie crumbles.

Nobody was "prescient" some were just a little better informed than others.

Moving to Ireland was hardly an option - the place had been in open revolt for years and most of the population were living in poverty. A great many Irishmen joined up in order to get regular meals and boots on their feet.


mgnv Report 11 May 2013 21:45

Rollo - remarkably prescient of him, not only to foresee the war two years in the future, a war that everyone thought would be over by Xmas, but to foresee that conscription would be introduced in parts of the UK in 1916. Course, if his express intention was to avoid being called up, he could have stayed in the UK, and just moved to Ireland. Although conscription was made law there in 1918, it was never put into effect.


RolloTheRed Report 11 May 2013 20:54

My granny's brother emigrated to the USA in 1912 with the express intention of avoiding call up. A good move as two of his brothers were killed.

In the end though, British citizen or not, he was called up into the AMERICAN army and by 1917 was serving in France!

After the war he returned to the USA and became a US citizen.


Mayfield Report 10 May 2013 15:02

Thank you both for you help.
I skimmed through the link and while it seems to be mainly concered with aliens in the UK being called up there is mention of Britons abroad.too,
I don't know if the bill actually got through parliment, but going on the Melbourne clipping it seems unlikley that any law was enforced, at least untill after 1916.
On a lighter note I love the typical government tight hold on purse strings, you can make your way back from the other side of the world to die for us, but you have to pay for it yourself :-D



Andysmum Report 10 May 2013 14:35

from The Sydney Morning Herald - 4 July 1916



The Minister for Defence stated to-day that
he had received a message from the Secre-
tary of State for the Colonies, advising that
the question had been raised as to whether
British subjects, ordinarily resident In Great
Britain, but at present living abroad, should
return to enlist, The Army Council does not
Intend at present that persons liable for
military service, who are at present residing
in tho overseas dominions, be called upon to
serve. While every endeavour will be made
to utilise the services of such .persons should
they return, they must do so at their own
risk and expense.

Rambling Rose

Rambling Rose Report 10 May 2013 13:45

This is a very long read but looks interesting

"......the Military Service Act, and to apply the operations of that Act outside our own country. It seems to me to be a most extraordinary thing that this House should be engaged in legislating outside the area of the British Empire. As I understand this Bill, the countries with which conventions are made are given the power to impose all the conditions of the British Military Service Acts upon British subjects who are residing in that foreign country with which the convention is made."

Rambling Rose

Rambling Rose Report 10 May 2013 13:41

Interesting question Mayfield.

I can so far only find this, unsourced comment on another site

"Military Service ( Conventions with Allied States ) Act 1917 ----July 1917 Allows for conscription of British subjects living abroad and of Allied citizens in Britain . "


Mayfield Report 10 May 2013 13:20

I have been wondering what happened to British subjects that were abroad at the outbreak of WW1.
Many would have been serving on ships or working abroad, as conscription was not till some time after the outbreak of hostilities were British subjects obliged to make themselves available?
If someone was in a cushy part of the world and decided either to keep their head down, or to do their own thing to sabotage the enemy were they considered deserters?

Edit I have found that the question was raised in Hansard on 18 June 1941when it was stated that subjects that had left before the outbreak of war or a call up was started were exempt, but I don't know what may have been later decided and I am really thinking about the first WW.