Saturday, 23 August 2014

‘Armchair patriots’?

As the need for volunteers became more acute, the Government launched a campaign using posters such as this one.  Commissioned by the British Parliamentary Recruiting Committee (PRC), and designed by Savile Lumley, it was published in 1915.  


Equally effective as a piece of recruitment propaganda was this 1915 PRC-commissioned poster by the artist E.V. Kealey.  While encouraging men to enlist to protect their defenceless womenfolk, it subtly appealed to women to persuade their men that it was their moral duty to serve King and Country. 


The East Budleigh and Budleigh Salterton Territorial Army on parade in Rolle Square, Budleigh Salterton, in 1914. Pictured are: (front row) Reginald Ford, George Annis, Andrew Leaman, Frank Steward, G. Sanders, B. West and E. Annis; (back row) Frank Henry Cowd, H. Clarke
Image credit: Fairlynch Museum

A recent University of Exeter PhD thesis has examined the way in which a crucial role in the recruitment campaign was played by the county’s elites. For the author, Richard Batten, they were “armchair patriots”  who became “the self-appointed intermediaries of the war experience on a local level and who took an explicitly exhortative role, attempting to educate Devonians in the codes of ideal conduct in wartime.”


 A photo of March 1915 showing the forming of a Volunteer Training Corps at Budleigh Salterton, led by Colonel Milne. The Corps was open to all men who were able to prove that they were ineligible for Lord Kitchener's Army
Image credit: Fairlynch Museum 

In places like Budleigh, retired army officers - and there were plenty of them -  were ready to recruit local men, as Budleigh’s William Cowd recalled:  “Soon came a call for volunteers for military duties, a ‘National Reserve’ was formed, men of all age groups fell in on the South Parade by Raleigh's Wall, known locally as the Quay Wall, and were addressed by a local, Col Baker, who spoke of the need of such an important force.”

In other parts of Devon the picture was rather different.  Results in the remoter north-west parts of the county have shown, according to recent research, that the recruitment campaign failed to convey the true gravity of the country’s position and that residents were sluggish in responding to the war effort.

Even in the more populated areas of the county, the recruitment figures were disappointing. In frustration at the relative lack of volunteers, retired Major-General Joseph Laye bitterly attacked his home town of Dawlish at a local recruiting rally. A veteran of the Zulu Wars of the 1870s, he was quoted in the Dawlish Gazette of 15 September 1914 as observing that “Devonians are too content  away from the war in the sunshine.”

In a letter to the Western Morning News in the autumn of that year written under the synonym of  Devonian, one resident pointed out that whilst “we all sing and shout ‘Glorious Devon’ but is it not humiliating to know, so far that not one in every hundred of the population in the county have volunteered their services?” 

Devon’s Lord Lieutenant, Earl Fortescue, was equally unhappy about the county’s poor record of achievement in attracting young men to the battlefield. In the matter of recruitment,  Devonians “had nothing to be proud of”, he was quoted as saying in The Western Times of 24 November 1914. “It was time they applied themselves to a new effort to make up for their shortcomings of the past.”

But it seems that the ‘armchair patriots’ had extremely limited success. By April 1915, the rural 9th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment could boast of only 80 local men and was forced to fill up with Londoners and Midlanders.

In January 1916 the Military Service Bill was introduced in Parliament, providing for the conscription of single men aged 18–41.

It was a grim move, confirming that the slaughter being carried out worldwide by a relentless war machine was now on an industrial scale. The Western Times of 1 June 1917, reporting on the wedding of Corporal W.H. Eales and Miss M. Curtis at St Peter’s Church in Budleigh Salterton, noted that a Mr Park Perriam was best man “in the absence of the bridegroom’s and the bride’s brothers, who were all on active service.”

Their names do not appear on any local war memorials. They were the lucky ones. 

Visit ‘The Great War at Fairlynch’ exhibition at Budleigh Salterton’s very special museum! Reviews include: “Wonderful display on WW1, informative, bright and relevant. Well done!!!”  



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