The government realised that the
British armed forces were short of manpower and so in
April 1939 introduced the Military Training Act. Under
the terms of the act, all men between the ages of 20 and
21 had to register for 6 months military training to
prepare them for entry into the armed forces.
When war was declared in September,
1939 there were 875,000 men in the armed forces, but far
more were needed, so conscription was introduced in
October 1939. The government announced that all men
between the ages of 18 and 41, who were not working in
reserved occupations, could be called to join the armed
forces. They were allowed to choose between the air
force, the army, and the navy.
The reserved occupations were:
doctors, farmers, merchant seamen, miners,
railway workers, school teachers,
scientists, and utility workers (in
electricity, gas, and water)
People working in occupations that
were considered to be important to the war effort, such
as skilled engineers, were often excused military
Men who were too old or unfit were
expected to join suitable voluntary organisations such
as the ARP (Air Raid Precautions), the fire fighters, or
the Home Guard (Local Defence Volunteers), created on
May, 1940 and known as ‘Dad’s Army’.
There were also conscientious
objectors, men who felt unable to take part in the war.
They had to apply for conscientious objector status, and
appear before a tribunal to explain their reasons for
wanting to opt out.