Recruiting Victorian armies

With the return to peace at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 military expenditure was heavily reduced. As a result the regular army was gradually slimmed down from 230,000 men to 91,000 by 1838.  

In these conditions recruitment was hardly a problem. By the 1850s, however, Britain’s involvement in the Crimean War against Russia had revealed serious weaknesses in the size of the army.  

Insufficient troops

Terms of service required men to serve for long periods of 21 years during which many became unsuited and unfit for actual military combat. The alternative was to resign early without a pension.  

During the Crimean conflict Britain’s effective fighting force was only some 25,000 strong, and the War Office had been forced to send militia men to increase numbers. With its other forces serving elsewhere in the Empire, Britain critically lacked sufficient troops for its own defence.  

A volunteer force

In 1859 the War Office decided that the army should be supplemented by a part-time volunteer force. Each county was to raise its own men, and by 1862 a new volunteer force of over 160,000 had been recruited. 

In 1863, in response to a royal commission report on the army, Parliament passed the Volunteer Act, the purpose of which was to deal with any actual or anticipated invasion.  

By the early 20th century these part-time forces had established their worth in the Boer War in South Africa and were regarded as an essential part of the British Army. 

An Act passed in 1907 reorganised the volunteers and gave them their modern name - the Territorial Army.

The Army Enlistment Act

In 1870 Parliament passed a law that helped to make the regular army more attractive to potential recruits. The Army Enlistment Act, introduced by Gladstone’s war minister, Edward Cardwell, allowed short-term enlistments. 

This meant men could sign on for a maximum of twelve years, but serve usually six years with the regular army, and the remainder as part of a reserve force.   Service in the reserves would involve only part-time training, but with a commitment to serve wherever necessary if called up.