Was my soldier in "Kitchener's Army"?

Early decisions to increase the size of the army

KitchenerOn 5 August 1914 - the day that he took over as Minister for War - Field Marshal Earl Kitchener of Khartoum issued orders for the expansion of the army. He did not believe that the war would not be 'over by Christmas' as the popular press in both Great Britain and Germany put it, but would be long and costly. He had been opposed to the creation of the Territorial Force in 1908 and did not plan to base the expanded army upon it. Instead, he decided to expand the regular army by raising a new component composed of wartime volunteers. Each man would sign up for new "general service" terms of three years or the duration of the war (whichever the longer) and would agree to being sent to serve anywhere the army needed them. On 6 August Parliament sanctioned an increase of 500,000 men of all ranks.

The decision to raise of the new armies was insightful; the implementation a significant national feat and vital to winning the war.


K1: the "first hundred thousand"

All call to arms'Your King and Country need you: a call to arms' was published on 11 August 1914. It explained the new terms of service and called for the first 100,000 men to enlist. This figure was achieved within two weeks. Army Order 324, dated 21 August 1914, then specified that six new Divisions would be created from units formed of these volunteers, collectively called Kitchener's Army or K1.

It also detailed how the new infantry battalions would be given numbers consecutive to the existing battalions of their regiment, but with the addition of the word 'Service' after the unit number. Most line infantry regiments raised one K1 battalion, and a few, such as the Rifle Brigade, raised more. These first six Divisions were originally numbered 8 to 13. The first would be the 8th (Light) Division - composed of battalions from the Light Infantry and Rifle regiments. Each of the five Army Commands in Great Britain would also organise one Division. These K1 Divisions were administered and supplied by the War Office from the beginning. However, by September 1914 an 8th regular army Division was being formed, so the 8th (Light) was renumbered the 14th (Light) Division

K1 thus eventually comprised
9th (Scottish) Division | 10th (Irish) Division | 11th (Northern) Division | 12th (Eastern) Division |
13th (Western) Division | 14th (Light) Division.

The K1 Divisions began to move overseas from May 1915.

K2 and K3

On 28 August 1914, Kitchener asked for another 100,000 men to volunteer. Army Order 382, issued on 11 September 1914, specified an additional six Divisions, which naturally would be called K2. They would be organised on the same basis as K1, and came under War Office control.

K2 thus eventually comprised
15th (Scottish) Division | 16th (Irish) Division | 17th (Northern) Division | 18th (Eastern) Division |
19th (Western) Division | 20th (Light) Division.

The K1 Divisions also began to move overseas from May 1915.

The rate at which men volunteered increased, partly at least due to news from the front that the British regulars were in action and in retreat. A third 100,000 men were called and placed into another six Divisions, called K3. They would be organised on the same basis as K1 and K2, and came under War Office control. However, these divisions received no Command titles in addition to their numbering. They all moved to France from August 1915.

K3 thus eventually comprised
21st Division | 22nd Division | 23rd Division | 24th Division |
25th Division | 26th Division.

K4 and the Fifth New Army

Enough men came forward not only to fill the ranks of K3, but to form reserves. These units were not necessarily formed at their traditional home stations (e.g. the 13th Highland Light Infantry was formed in Gosport, Hampshire). They were initially formed up into six Divisions of K4, and were initially numbered 27 to 32. Once again, however, enough regular units to create three additional Divisions had been withdrawn from service around the Empire and took precedence in taking the Divisional numbers 27 to 29. Thus K4 was renumbered 30th to 35th Divisions and the units were initially trained not as reserves but as fighting units.

A decision was subsequently taken to re-convert the battalions of K4 into Reserve units, breaking up the Divisions, and creating Training Reserve Brigades.

Eventually enough men had volunteered that on 10 December 1914, the order was issued to create a Fifth New Army (which was never called K5). Its six Divisions were initially numbered 37 to 42. It was renumbered K4 when the original K4 was conmverted to reserve units and broken up, and the Fifth New Army Divisions took the original numbers 30 to 35. Most of the units of this Army were locally raised units, often referred to as Pals. All moved overseas in late 1915 or early 1916.

K4, formerly the Fifth New Army, thus eventually comprised
30th Division | 31st Division | 32nd Division | 33rd Division |
34th Division | 35th Division.

The Sixth New Army

In March 1915 an order was issued to create a Sixth New Army. Its six Divisions were initially numbered 37 to 42. This was renamed Fifth New Army when the original K4 was broken up. Most of the units of this Army were locally raised, often referred to as Pals.

The Fifth New Army, formerly the Sixth New Army, thus eventually comprised
36th (Ulster) Division | 37th Division | 38th (Welsh) Division | 39th Division |
40th Division | 41st Division.

The "stiffening" of the New Army Divisions

In December 1915 many Divisions and Brigades of the New Armies were reorganised by exchanging some units for those of the original (and by now very war experienced) regular army. The idea was that the regulars would 'stiffen' the new army battalions. In practice, by late 1915 even the original regular battalions had a large and increasing contingent of wartime volunteers who had replaced the losses among the professional soldiers.

tipTip: Can I tell if my soldier was in Kitchener's Army? First we need to be specific. The entire army could be called Kitchener's Army, but what we usually mean are the units in the six New Armies and the men who sailed with the original contingents. To determine whether a man was in that category it is necessary to find his unit and his date of disembarkation (from medal or service records) and match it up with the dates of that unit, which you can find in the relevant regimental sections of the Long, Long Trail. If he sailed with the battalion, yes, you could quite rightly say he was a volunteer of Kitchener's Army.