I’ve managed to get hold of a copy of the Portsmouth section of the National Roll of the Great War. This volume was compiled in the early 1920′s, and compiles many of the men from Portsmouth who fought between 1914 and 1918 – casualties and survivors. It is not a complete list, however – we suspect that families had to pay for their menfolk to be included. But it is a useful source none the less.
Each entry tells us the man’s name, initials, rank, and unit that they served with. It also includes a brief biography, such as when the person enlisted, where they served, if they were wounded, and often the circumstances of their death. Crucially, it also gives their house number and street. Therefore I have been able to add some information about some of the names on my database.
One thing that we can learn a lot from the National Roll is when exactly men joined the Armed Forces. A small amount of men were regular soldiers who had enlisted prior to 1914 – but a small number, given that Britain had a relatively small army in 1914. Sadly most of these men seem to have died earlier on in the war with the original BEF.
A significant amount of men were also mobilised in August 1914. This suggests that they were men who were serving with the Territorial Army, or were ex-regulars liable for recall to the Army. Interestingly, more men seem to have fallen into this category than the regulars.
Popular myth suggests that most men who fought in the Great War volunteered in August 1914, along with their mates joining the crowds outside Town Halls. While a large amount of men did join the Army in August 1914, there was a steady trickle of men volunteering until early 1916, as they came of age or felt able to join up.
With grevious losses on the front, however, the Government was aware that conscription would have to be introduced. Therefore from 1916 onwards most men are recorded as having ‘joined’ – otherwise, they were conscripted.