During peacetime Britain traditionally maintained only a small army. When war broke out in 1914 the British army was so small that the Kaiser dismissed it calling the British soldiers “contempable.” Despite the initial surge to enlist Britain needed to expand its army as quickly as possible and so came up with the promise that those who joined up together (as pals) would stay together and fight together…..
Until that point Britain had recruited its soldiers on a county basis – Lancashire Regiment, Worcester Regiment, etc. Now, with this promise in mind thousands of young men signed up in local groups. Every town was urged to match the commitment of its neighbours and produce its own company or battalion. There were even clerk’s battalions or companies formed by old boys from a particular school or university. The result of all this was a recruiting sergeant’s dream come true as groups of young men from all walks of life formed “Pals” units rapidly swelling the army numbers.
However, disaster was just around the corner because pals that fight together die together. On the first day of the first battle of the Somme alone Britain suffered nearly 60,000 casualties. The Pals battalions were decimated and many were completely wiped out. Nothing could hide from those at home the scale and full horror of the war they were involved in when the telegram boy called at every other house in every street of a small town bringing the awful news of husbands, fathers and sons.
Not surprisingly recruitment quickly shifted back to its traditional methods with those joining or being conscripted from the same towns and villages being split and spread out through all the regiments. The horrors of such high local losses had to be diminished hence local lads were sent to different regiments and battalions recruiting from all over the country.