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Alfred Leete's recruitment poster for Kitchener's Army

The New Army, often referred to as Kitchener's Army or, disparagingly, Kitchener's Mob,[1] was an (initially) all-volunteer army formed in the United Kingdom following the outbreak of hostilities in the First World War. It was created on the recommendation of Horatio Kitchener, then Secretary of State for War.


1914 poster describing terms of enlistment

Contrary to the popular belief that the war would be over by Christmas 1914, Kitchener predicted a long and brutal war. He believed that arrival in Europe of an overwhelming force of new, well-trained and well-led divisions would prove a decisive blow against the Central Powers. Kitchener fought off opposition to his plan, and attempts to weaken or water down its potential, including piece-meal dispersal of the New Army battalions into existing regular or Territorial Force divisions (the view of the Commander-in-Chief of the BEF, Field Marshal French). Kitchener declined to use the existing Territorial Force (which, ironically, had been set up by Haldane and Douglas Haig as part of the Army reforms of the Edwardian period) as the basis for the New Army, as many of its members had volunteered for "Home Service" only, and because he was suspicious of the poor performance of French "territorials" in the war of 1870-1. In the early days of the war, the Territorial Force could not reinforce the regular army, as it lacked modern equipment, particularly artillery. In addition, it took time to form First-Line units composed only of men who had volunteered for "General Service." Those recruited into the New Army were used to form complete Battalions under existing British Army Regiments. These new battalions had titles of the form "xxth (Service) Battalion, <regiment name>". The first New Army divisions were used at the Battle of Loos in the autumn of 1915, and they were sorely tested in the Battle of the Somme. The initial BEF - a single army of 5 regular divisions in August 1914, two armies comprising 16 divisions by the end of the 1914 when the Territorials had been deployed - had grown to five armies totalling around 60 divisions in strength by the summer of 1916, approximately 2 million men of whom around half were infantry (the rest were gun crews, supply and logistics men etc.).


All five of the full army groups (meaning a group of divisions similar in size to an army, not a group of armies) were made up of volunteer recruits, which included the famous Pals' Battalions. Due to the huge numbers of men wishing to sign up, in places queues up to a mile long formed outside recruitment offices. There were many problems in equipping and providing shelter for the new recruits. Rapidly the Government added many new recruitment centres, which eased the admissions burden, and began a programme of temporary construction at the main training camps. Almost 2.5 million men volunteered for Kitchener's Army.

By the beginning of 1916, the queues were not so long anymore. Information about the true nature of the war had reached Great Britain, and enthusiasm for volunteering plunged. Great Britain had to resort to conscription like the other great powers involved in the war. (Conscription was also applied "in reverse", so that skilled workers and craftsmen who had volunteered early in the war could be drafted back into the munitions industry, where they were sorely needed.)

The first conscripts arrived in France in late 1916 to fill the gaps in the volunteer units, which had been greatly diminished during the Battle of the Somme. After the bloody battles of 1916 and 1917, the British army facing the Ludendorff Offensive of 1918 were mainly conscripted youths, most of them under 20 years of age, although there were also some men in their late thirties or older. Roughly half of those who served in the British Army throughout the war, including more than half of the five million men serving in the British Army in 1918, were conscripts.


A Church of England service at the 10th (Irish) Division's camp at Basingstoke in 1915

A recruit accepted into the army was first sent to his Regimental depot, where he received his kit and was introduced to army discipline and training. Next he was sent to the main training camps to join his battalion. In practice, no Regiment had the required stocks of equipment, or the manpower to train the flood of recruits; men trained wearing their own clothes and shoes. To mitigate this problem, the army issued old stored uniforms, including First Boer War-vintage red jackets. Some regiments bought their own uniform and boots with money paid from public collections. Many regiments were also issued with emergency blue uniforms, popularly known as Kitchener Blue. Whilst this crisis went on, the soldiers wore regimental and unit badges or patches on their clothing. Many photographs from the era show uniformed soldiers drilling alongside civilian clothed soldiers, perhaps led by red-jacketed NCOs.

The Regiments also suffered from a lack of officers to train them. The government called up all reserve-list officers and any British Indian Army officer who happened to be on leave in the UK during the period. Men who had been to a recognised public school and university graduates, many of whom had some prior military training in Officer Training Corps, were often granted direct commissions. Commanding officers were encouraged to promote promising leaders and later in the war it was common for officers ("temporary gentlemen") to have been promoted from the ranks to meet the demand, especially as casualty rates among junior infantry officers were extremely high. Many officers, both regular and temporary, were promoted to ranks and responsibilities far greater than they had ever realistically expected to hold.

The Army had difficulty supplying new units with enough weapons. No artillery pieces had been left in Britain to train new artillery brigades, and most battalions had to drill with obsolete rifles or wooden mockups. By early 1915 the government had overcome many of these problems. Among its methods was pressing into use old ceremonial cannons and unfinished modern artillery pieces (they lacked targeting sights). During 1915, it corrected such shortages.

Later developments

At the beginning of 1918, the shortage of manpower in the British Expeditionary Force in France became acute. The Army ordered infantry divisions to be reduced from twelve infantry battalions to nine. The higher-numbered battalions (in effect the New Army units, and some Second-Line Territorial units) were to be disbanded rather than the lower-numbered Regular and First-Line Territorial battalions. (Since Kitchener's death in 1916, no other major figure opposed this fundamental change to the principles on which the New Army had been raised.) In some cases, New Army divisions had to disband about half of their units to make room for surplus battalions transferred from Regular or First-Line Territorial divisions. While the change reduced the unique sense of identity of some New Army formations, it developed the divisions in France into more homogeneous units. By this time there was no longer much real distinction between Regular, Territorial and New Army divisions.

Following the failure of the Ludendorff Offensive in the spring of 1918, the BEF performed a combined arms counterattack. The Hundred Days Offensive drove the German forces back through Belgium, with high casualties. The British took many hundreds of thousands of German soldiers by capture or surrender. Coupled with a revolution in Germany, the German generals requested an armistice, which came into effect at 11 o'clock on 11 November 1918.


Kitchener's New Army was made up of the following Army Groups (meaning a group of divisions similar in size to an army, not a group of armies) and Divisions:

K1 Army Group
K2 Army Group
K3 Army Group
K4 Army Group

Broken up into reserve regiments.

K5 Army Group

Redesignated K4 following break up of original K4.

K6 Army Group

Redesignated K5 following redesignation of original K5.

Divisional structure in 1915

In 1915, the prescribed structure of one division would have comprised the following units:

  • Mounted troops:
    • 1 cavalry squadron
    • 1 cyclist company
  • Artillery:
    • HQ Divisional Artillery
    • 3 field artillery brigades (12 batteries - 18 pounders (~8 kg) with three ammunition columns)
    • 1 field artillery howitzer brigade (4 batteries - 4.5 in. (114 mm) howitzers with one ammunition column)
    • 1 heavy battery (4 x 60 pounder (27 kg) with one ammunition column)
    • 1 divisional ammunition column
  • Pioneers:
    • 1 pioneer battalion (with 4 machine guns)
  • 3 field ambulances
  • 1 sanitary section
  • 1 mobile veterinary section
  • 1 motor ambulance workshop
  • 1 divisional train


  • Number of Soldiers: 19,614
  • Horses & mules: 5,818
  • Guns:
    • 48 x 18 pounder (8 kg)
    • 16 x 4.5 in (114 mm) howitzer
    • 4 x 60 pounder (27 kg)
  • Vickers machine guns: 52
  • Assorted carts & vehicles: 958
  • Cycles: 538
  • Motor vehicles:
    • cycles: 19
    • cars: 11
    • lorries: 4
    • ambulances: 21

Divisional structure in 1918

In 1918, a typical division would have comprised the following units:

  • Artillery
    • H.Q. Divisional Artillery
    • 2 field artillery brigades, each comprising 4 batteries with 6 x 18 pounders (8 kg) and 2 x 4.5-inch Howitzers
    • 2 medium trench mortar batteries with 6 x 2 in (51 mm)
    • 1 divisional ammunition column
  • Engineers
    • H.Q. Divisional Engineers
    • 3 field companies
  • Signals Service
    • 1 signal company
  • 3 field ambulances
  • 1 sanitary section
  • 1 mobile veterinary section
  • 1 motor ambulance workshop
  • 1 divisional train

Number of troops and equipment:

  • All ranks: 16,035
  • Horses & mules: 3,838
  • Guns: 48
    • 18 pounder (8 kg): 36
    • 4.5 in (114 mm) howitzer: 12
    • trench mortars: 36
      • Stokes: 24
      • Medium: 12
  • Machine guns: 400
  • Assorted carts & vehicles: 870
  • Cycles: 341
  • Motor cycles: 44
  • Motor cars: 11
  • Motor lorries: 3
  • Motor ambulances: 21

See also

External links


  1. "'Kitchener's Mob' they were called in the early days of August, 1914, when London hoardings were clamorous with the first calls for volunteers. The seasoned regulars of the first British expeditionary force said it patronizingly, the great British public hopefully, the world at large doubtfully. 'Kitchener's Mob,' when there was but a scant sixty thousand under arms with millions yet to come. 'Kitchener's Mob' it remains to-day, fighting in hundreds of thousands in France, Belgium, Africa, the Balkans. And to-morrow, when the war is ended, who will come marching home again, old campaigners, war-worn remnants of once mighty armies? 'Kitchener's Mob.'"
    -Kitchener's Mob: Adventures of an American in the British Army by James Norman Hall

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