CALLED TO ACTIVE SERVICE....

House of Lords Memorial

As the issue of manpower came to the forefront of Parliamentary Debate in 1914, many men from a cross section of society volunteered for active service, including members of staff of both Houses of Parliament. However, it wasn't until the Military Service Act of 1916 that conscription was introduced.

When Great Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914, most believed the hostilities would be over by Christmas of that year. However, it soon became clear that the war would not be won in a matter of months and so public and political attention quickly turned towards maintaining the war effort. This in itself proved immensely difficult as the need for skilled workers in Blighty began to compete with the need for soldiers on the front line.

A culmination of factors, simple patriotism and the appeal of a regular wage being two prominent reasons, meant that Lord Kitchener's volunteer campaign spearheaded by his famous call to arms poster 'Your Country Needs You', encouraged over 1 million men to enlist by January 1915. However, the voluntary system soon proved insufficient as the war continued and the casualties increased. After attempts by both Lord Derby and Asquith to encourage men to step up, the cabinet could see no alternative - compulsory active service was the only way to win the war.

Military Service Act 1916

The Military Service Act 1916 - HL/PO/PU/1/1916/5&6G5c104


In 1916 the Military Service Act was passed which imposed conscription on all single men aged 18 to 41, with exemptions for those in essential war time employment, those deemed medically unfit, religious ministers, and conscientious objectors. However, although conscription proved necessary during this time to ensure all those who were eligible enlisted, many of those on the front line had joined the armed forces before the war had begun and were considered to be professional soldiers. Two such men, who lost their lives whilst on active service, were members of staff of the Houses of Parliament.

William George Gresham Leveson-Gower (1883-1918), a clerk in the Journal Office of the House of Lords, and Robert Neale Menteith Bailey (1882-1917), a clerk in the Committee Office of the House of Commons, were friends before the war began and both went away to fight, Leveson-Gower in France, Bailey in Egypt and Palestine.

W G G Leverson-Gower

Portrait of W. G. G. Leveson-Gower taken from Parliamentary Archives - LEG/2/2/3


William George Gresham Leveson-Gower obtained a clerkship at the House of Lords in 1907 and was commissioned in the Inns of Court Officers Training Corps (Cavalry) in the same year. He became a General Staff Officer with the rank of Captain in 1915 and devoted himself to training for active service. Eager to get to the front line, he transferred into the Coldstream Guards and left for France on 10th September 1918.

Robert Neale Menteith Bailey obtained a clerkship in the House of Commons after gaining a first class degree in Mods. He moved to Canada in 1913 before returning to join the East Riding of Yorkshire Yeomanry and training with them in Egypt and Palestine.

After only a short period of active service, William George Gresham Leveson-Gower was killed by a shell on 9th October 1918. His name is carved on the House of Lords War Memorial panels in the Royal Gallery.

Photograph of Leveson-Gower's grave

The war grave of W. G. G. Leveson-Gower, Parliamentary Archives - LEG/2/2/3


Robert Neale Menteith Bailey was on active service when he was wounded in the head on 14th November 1917 and subsequently died in Cairo on 1st December. His name is recorded on the Parliamentary War Memorial in Westminster Hall.

Photograph of Bailey's Grave

The war grave of R. N. M. Bailey, Parliamentary Archives - BAI/12


There were of course many other Parliamentary workers who went to fight in the First World War. The document here (HC/SA/SJ/1/13) shows a number of staff members of the Serjeant at Arms Department who were involved in active service. Memorials to all those who fought and died for their country can be found throughout the Palace of Westminster.

Serjeant at Arms Dept

Counting the cost...

It is difficult to give a definite number of British who died in the First World War but estimates range from 550,000 to over 1 million lost in active service. The number of course rises when taking into consideration those lost as a result of other aspects of the war. For example those people on the home front killed by enemy bombs, the factory workers killed by explosions or those serving in the Merchant Navy.

Although the idea that the First World War was responsible for the loss of a generation has come under some criticism in recent years, it did at the time certainly appear so. The majority of those lost overseas were young, single men, predominantly from the working classes of society making up the lower ranks of the British Army and so the hole created in that sphere of society was colossal.

Parliament and the First World War