Year
1916
Month Day
January 05

First conscription bill is introduced in British parliament

With the Great War edging into its third calendar year, British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith introduces the first military conscription bill in his country’s history to the House of Commons on January 5, 1916.

Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener, Britain’s secretary of state for war, had warned from the beginning that the war would be decided by Britain’s last 1 million men. All the regular divisions of the British army went into action in the summer of 1914 and the campaign for volunteers based around the slogan “Your King and Country Need You! began in earnest in August of that year. New volunteers were rapidly enlisted and trained, many of them joining what were known as Pals battalions, or regiments of men from the same town or from similar professional backgrounds.

Though the volunteer response was undoubtedly impressive—almost 500,000 men enlisted in the first six weeks of the war alone—some doubted the quality of these so-called Kitchener armies. British General Henry Wilson, a career military man, wrote in his diary of his country’s “ridiculous and preposterous army” and compared it unfavorably to that of Germany, which, with the help of conscription, had been steadily building and improving its armed forces for the past 40 years.

By the end of 1915, as the war proved to be far longer and bloodier than expected and the army shrank—Britain had lost 60,000 officers by late summer—it had become clear to Kitchener that military conscription would be necessary to win the war. Asquith, though he feared conscription would be a politically unattractive proposition, finally submitted. On January 5, 1916, he introduced the first conscription bill to Parliament. It was passed into law as the Military Service Act later that month and went into effect on February 10.

Britain had entered the war believing that its primary role would be to provide industrial and economic support to its allies, but by war’s end the country had enlisted 49 percent of its men between the ages of 15 and 49 for military service, a clear testament to the immense human sacrifice the conflict demanded.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Pope Clement VII forbids King Henry VIII from remarrying

On January 5, 1531, Pope Clement VII sends a letter to King Henry VIII of England forbidding him to remarry under penalty of excommunication. Henry, who was looking for a way out of his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, ignored the pope's warning. He went on to ...read more

The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” becomes hip-hop’s first Top 40 hit

Hip hop’s roots as a musical phenomenon are subject to debate, but its roots as a commercial phenomenon are much clearer. They trace back directly to January 5, 1980, when the song “Rapper’s Delight” became the first hip hop single ever to reach the Billboard top 40. Prior to ...read more

Prague Spring begins in Czechoslovakia

Antonin Novotny, the Stalinist ruler of Czechoslovakia, is succeeded as first secretary by Alexander Dubcek, a Slovak who supports liberal reforms. In the first few months of his rule, Dubcek introduced a series of far-reaching political and economic reforms, including increased ...read more

Pol Pot renames Cambodia

On January 5, 1976, Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot announces a new constitution changing the name of Cambodia to Kampuchea and legalizing its Communist government. During the next three years his brutal regime sent the nation back to the Middle Ages and was responsible for the deaths ...read more

Kamikaze pilots get first order

On January 5, 1945, Japanese pilots received the first order to become kamikaze, meaning “divine wind” in Japanese. The suicidal blitz of the kamikazes revealed Japan’s desperation in the final months of World War II. Most of Japan’s top pilots were dead, but youngsters needed ...read more

First divorce in the colonies

In the first record of a legal divorce in the American colonies, Anne Clarke of the Massachusetts Bay Colony is granted a divorce from her absent and adulterous husband, Denis Clarke, by the Quarter Court of Boston, Massachusetts.  In a signed and sealed affidavit presented to ...read more

Alleged spy Alfred Dreyfus stripped of his rank

French officer Alfred Dreyfus, condemned for passing military secrets to the Germans, is stripped of his rank in a humiliating public ceremony in the courtyard of Paris’ Ecole Militaire. The Jewish artillery captain, convicted on flimsy evidence in a highly irregular trial, began ...read more

Golden Gate Bridge is born

On January 5, 1933, construction begins on the Golden Gate Bridge, as workers began excavating 3.25 million cubic feet of dirt for the structure’s huge anchorages. Following the Gold Rush boom that began in 1849, speculators realized the land north of San Francisco Bay would ...read more

New York Yankees announce purchase of Babe Ruth

On January 5, 1920, the New York Yankees major league baseball club announces its purchase of the heavy-hitting outfielder George Herman “Babe” Ruth from the Boston Red Sox for the sum of $125,000. In all, Ruth had played six seasons with the Red Sox, leading them to three World ...read more

President Truman delivers his Fair Deal speech

On January 5, 1949, President Harry S. Truman announces, in his State of the Union address, that every American has a right to expect from our government a fair deal. In a reference to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, Truman announced his plans for domestic policy reforms ...read more

President Nixon launches space shuttle program

Richard Nixon signs a bill authorizing $5.5 million in funding to develop a space shuttle. The space shuttle represented a giant leap forward in the technology of space travel. Designed to function more like a cost-efficient “reusable” airplane than a one-use-only ...read more

Sonny Bono killed in skiing accident

In his characteristically blunt and self-deprecating manner, Sonny Bono transformed himself relatively late in his life, morphing from the shorter, homelier, masculine half of a 1960s husband-and-wife singing and acting sensation (alongside his glamorous second wife, Cher) into a ...read more

Bodies of family killed by United Mine Workers found

The bodies of dissident union leader Joseph "Jock" Yablonski, his wife, and daughter are discovered in their Clarksville, Pennsylvania, farmhouse by Yablonski’s son Kenneth. The family had been dead for nearly a week, killed on New Year’s Eve by killers hired by the United Mine ...read more

President Eisenhower proposes new Middle East policy

In response to the increasingly tense situation in the Middle East, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivers a proposal to Congress that calls for a new and more proactive U.S. policy in the region. The “Eisenhower Doctrine,” as the proposal soon came to be known, established the ...read more

Benedict Arnold captures and destroys Richmond

American traitor and British Brigadier General Benedict Arnold enjoys his greatest success as a British commander on January 5, 1781. Arnold’s 1,600 largely Loyalist troops sailed up the James River at the beginning of January, eventually landing in Westover, Virginia. Leaving ...read more