Re-enlisting into the army in 1919

Did your soldier re-enlist in 1919? It may not be evident to you, and even if you have his WW1 medals or service record it may not offer a clue. But thousands of men did re-enlist for short periods of service ... and that opens up the possibility that more records exist.

Background

By the end of the Great War, Britain faced greater "peacetime" military commitments than when she entered it in 1914. There were forces to be maintained in the Army of Occupation in Germany; in Palestine; in North Russia; in the garrisons of Empire; in Afghanistan.

Yet she also needed to demobilise the Great War army as quickly as possible, releasing men to get the mines, factories and economy working again, and to deliver the commitment that men had enlisted "for the duration of the war".

Re-enlistment was encouraged by the short-term offer of a considerable financial incentive.

The offer is made

First stage

The first offer was made to noncommissioned officers and men aged between 18 and 35, married or single, who were in medical categories A or Bi, if they were still serving or on demobilisation leave. Men on normal regular army attestations could also re-enlist if their colour service expired before 1 September 1919. It was not open to men who had already been discharged, transferred to reserve or demobilised.

Re-enlisting for 27 months: the man would be paid a £20 Bounty, paid in three instalments, the first being on acceptance. He would receive normal rates of Corps pay but would also receive the War Bonus paid to the men in the Armies of Occupation. He would receive War Service pay and two months home leave on full pay (which would be "wherever possible granted immediately".). Married men would be accepted and separation allowances paid to their family if married prior to 11 December 1918.


Re-enlisting for 39 months: the man would be paid a £40 Bounty, paid in four instalments. All other terms as above.
Re-enlisting for 51 months: the man would be paid a £50 Bounty, paid in five instalments. All other terms as above.

This was a considerable incentive. "The pay ... is on such a scale that the lowest rank can at present expect to put 21 shillings (that is, £1 and 1 Shilling) per week into his pocket clear of all expenses of living. This compares more than favourably with the average man in civil life". Added to which the man would pick up £10 Bounty and two or three month paid leave to begin it all!

Little wonder that "The Scotsman" newspaper of 22 March 1919 reported that men were re-enlisting at the rate of 700 per day.

Extended

An Army Order of April 1919 extended re-enlistment to men who were then serving in Class Z Army Reserve, men who had been discharged (including Special Reservists) and disembodied men of the Territorial Force. Men aged 18 to 37 would be permitted to re-enlist into the regular army for 2, 3 or 4 years service, with no additional reserve commitment. They would only be accepted into a Corps that was open for recruiting and only into a branch of the army in which they had previously served. They must be fully trained and have previously completed at least six months with the Colours, be medically fit, and in the case of former Territorials or Special Reservists, to have been mobilised and embodied. There would be no pay bounty for such enlistments and the man would draw normal Corps pay. He would however receive the War Bonus, as long as Britain maintained the Army of Occupation in Germany. Married men would be accepted and separation allowances paid to their family.

Implications for family historians

As an example, I found a crumpled up old form that suggested my wife's grandfather had re-enlisted. We had previously had no idea of this. We applied to the Veterans Agency for a copy of his papers - and found that we received not only his 1919-23 service record but his full WW1 record with it! We have previously concluded that it was one of those lost in the 1940 fire. So the moral of the story is ... think hard about whether your man might have re-enlisted; search out any details from 1919 to 1923 as to his whereabouts.

If he shows a 7-digit number in any papers you have, he may well have re-enlisted for that number was issued in 1920.

If the man re-enlisted under these terms there is an excellent chance that you to could obtain his papers. Click the link to the Veterans Agency that appears on this page, for instructions on how to apply.