Conscription was not introduced until January 1916 and so, unlike in the Second World War, the government relied on volunteers for the first two years of the war. Consequently recruitment of men was vital and the senior management of the Poly was keen help. Given the central London location of Regent Street and the numbers of its young male members it was a natural step for it to become a recruitment centre and to encourage its men to join up. With a Territorial Force regiment already in existence at the Poly many of its members were keen to serve their King and Country. In August 1914 JEK Studd, the President of the Poly, put out the following message in the Polytechnic Magazine:
"[I] appeal with confidence to every member of the Polytechnic to take his or her share in the heavy burden which has fallen on the nation."
A key feature of early local recruitment drives was the creation of ‘pals battalions’ promising that men could serve with their friends. By November 1914 the Poly had already filled 2 regiments – the 12th London and the Kensington. In addition, by this date they had also established the Polytechnic Volunteer Training Corps with 400 new recruits comprising men who couldn’t enlist or were only able to fight on the Home Front. By April 1915 the Poly had over 1,600 men on active service.
The senior management actively publicised recruitment in the Polytechnic Magazine, whether it was for the Territorial Forces regiments, the Voluntary Training Corps, British Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment or the Polytechnic Cadet Corps (for boys not old enough to fight). Alfred West’s Our Navy and Army films were shown daily at the Polytechnic’s cinema throughout the war to encourage enlistment, and recruitment marches took place on Regent Street. By the end of the war at least 4,800 Poly members had joined His Majesty’s Forces and at least 858 passed through the Training Corps, many of whom later enlisted.
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