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Britain Since the 1930s

by Mandy Barrow
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The British Army is the land armed forces branch of the British Armed Forces.

soldiers firing gun

When war broke out in September 1939, some men volunteered to join the armed services, but Britain could only raise 875,000 men. More men were needed.


In 1940, two million British men aged between 19 - 27 years, who were not working in 'reserved occupations', were ordered to fight. This was known as being "called up". They were trained and sent off to war.

As well as being "called up" for the army, men could also be 'conscripted' into the Royal Navy or the RAF.

Men were also conscripted from 1943 onwards to work down the coalmines of England, Scotland and Wales. 48,000 men were also sent to work in coal mines (the "Bevin Boys"). Their contribution to World War Two was to vitally fuel the war effort from the coalface. (The term 'Bevin Boys' came from the then Minister of Labour and National Service, Ernest Bevin.)

Reserved Occupations

  • Farmers
  • Dock Workers
  • Miners
  • Scientists
  • Merchant Seamen
  • Railway Workers
  • Utility Workers - Water, Gas, Electricity


Soldier carrying a gun
British Bren Mark 1 Light Machine gun

Soldiers captured by the enemy became prisoners of war (POWs). They were sent to prisons called POW camps. Many POWs tried to escape and get back home.

The most famous POW prison was Colditz.

soldier lying down

Soldiersoldier with pistol


Men who were too old, young or not completely fit joined the Home Guard.


The soldiers carried much of their kit around with them.

Find out more about their kit

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