From the start of the First World War casualties were far higher than had been anticipated. The losses required rapid replacement in order to maintain operational effectiveness, but the provision of manpower and the drafting processes would require consideration and refinement throughout the war.
Using original sources, this work examines the provision and management of Other Rank replacements for British Infantry battalions on the Western Front. It is predominantly pitched at the management level, but the subject requires exploration of the political context and the impact on battalions of political and managerial decisions. The provision of new sources of manpower with the coming of conscription and the introduction of National Service are considered, and the suggestion that the Government actively withheld reinforcements in 1918 is reviewed.
The initial influx of volunteers had created a much larger Army than had previously existed. The maintenance of its battalions consequently required the creation of new draft-finding units and successive changes to be made to the drafting and reinforcement processes. It has previously been assumed that these changes and the introduction of conscription destroyed the cohesion of regiments by causing replacements to be drafted with no concern for the traditional recruiting areas of the battalions to which they were sent. Detailed analysis of individual fatalities sustained by battalions belonging to Regiments recruited from the English/Welsh Marches of Western Command shows, however, that the majority of men in these battalions in late 1918 had been drawn from the Regiments' parent Home Command.