The Call to Arms
Within a few days of the outbreak of war a small British expeditionary force had set sail for France. A popular thought at the time was that the war would be over by Christmas. Lord KItchener, the newly appointed secretary of State for war believed that the war would be a long conflict with which the regular army could not cope, so a bill was passed in Parliment to permit Kitchener to raise half a million volunteers for his ‘New Army’,
As news filtered back to Britain of the severe difficulties facing the British soldiers, up against the power of the German ‘war-machine’, a surge of patriotism swept across the country. Men responded from every walk of life, from city clerks to coal miners, farm and factory workers to university, all of who were itching to get to France to face the ‘Hun’ before the war reached its soon-expected conclusion. This surge of patriotism was to take two million volunteers into the forces before the horrors of war became fully known and conscription finally had to be introduced in early 1916.
In troubled Ireland there was mixed reactions to the call to arms. Just hours after the hostilities commenced both Edward Carson for the Ulster unionists and John Redmond, on behalf of the Nationalists declared their loyalty to the British Government in this time of crisis. Each assured that their followers (Carsons Ulster Volunteer Force and Redmonds Irish volunteers) would be prepared to serve in the defence of the country. Each presumed that a show of loyalty to the Empire would be a sure way of strengthening his claims to his political objectives when the war was over.
On August 8 forms were distruibited to UVF units on which they could sign up for service and on the 11 August a large advertisement proclaiming ‘Your King and Country needs you’ appeared for the first time in the Belfast News-Letter, along with the news of the new ‘pals’ battalions being formed in England, in which groups of friends enlisted together. Throughout August a number of the UVF who were impatient to serve in the army joined up before the decision was made to create a division of the ‘New Army’ out of the Ulster Volunteers.
Newspapers of the time had shown that the UVF were the best prepared civilians in Britain to go into the army and train for battle and this fact of the UVFs potential had not gone unnoticed by Lord Kitchener, for two days after his appointment to secretary-of-war, Kitchener sent for Colonel T.E. Hickman MP, president of the British League for the Defence of Ulster and told him : “I want the Ulster Volunteers”.
Hickman recommended that Kitchener see Edward Carson. The meeting was arranged and throughout it Kitchener and Carson argued about the Home Rule issue, with Carson keen to hold out for a political deal before fully supporting the war effort. Carson also insisted that if the UVF were to be recruited then they were to be kept together as a unit and the prefix ‘Ulster’ was to accompany the number of the proposed brigade of division. A the end of August after the continued debating of Carson and Kitchener a deal was struck which enabled Carson to return to Ulster and invite his volunteers to sign up in large numbers for service abroad.The deal was that although the Home Rule bill would pass on 18 september a guarantee was given that it would not be made operative during the war and that there would be an amending bill introduced in the next parlimentry session to give parliment the chance to alter its provisions to accommodate the needs of Ulster.
At an Ulster Council meeting in Belfast on September 3, Carson announced the formation of the 36th (Ulster) Division. (In the photo opposite, Field telephones were part of the equipment that made the UVF a 'modern' force.)
Recruitment was to begin immediately at the old town and at civil buildings all across Ulster. The men would be trained initially in camps at Ballykinler, Clandeboye and Newtownards in Co.Down and at Finner in Co.Donegal and they would be enrolled in territorial units formed out of the local volunteer regiments and whilst those who joined up and went abroad to fight, sufficient members of the UVF would be kept organised and alert at home to take care of Ulster and ensure that it was not invaded.
Firearms training at one of the camps of instruction On manoeuvres at Clandeboye Estate 1914