Recruiting for the army – 1914

Will Crooks was among the first Labour MPs. In 1914 he became active in recruiting for the army. This is is own account of his contribution to the first world war effort.

The Labour movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries had been consistent in its commitment to peace and internationalism. But the outbreak of the first world war brought about an immediate u-turn.

One of the most active recruiting agents for the armed forces was Will Crooks (1852-1921). Despite his desperately poor start in life, including a spell in the workhouse, Crooks became the first Labour mayor of Poplar and, in 1903, one of the first Labour MPs.

During late 1914, Crooks travelled more than 6,000 miles and spoke to an estimated one million people to promote the cause of enlistment. He was made a privy councillor for his efforts.

This account is taken from a 1917 biography of Will Crooks.

Recruiting for the army, Staffordshire, 1914

will crooksThe other week I was in a little Staffordshire village. It was a wet, cold day, and there was only a dark, rather cheerless, little hall that would hold three hundred people. It was full. Well, I asked them straight away what they would do if they came back in the evening and found no home. If they found a mass of ruins lying over the dead bodies of their wives and children? I asked them if they would sooner fight amidst such scenes, shooting and dodging round their own street corners, or else do their fighting now , helping to drive the enemy back to his own country. Before that meeting was over thirty-five men had walked out and enlisted straight away. And then I called “Three cheers for the King!” and someone else called “Three cheers for Lord Kitchener!” – and suddenly a woman stood up and cried, “Three cheers for our recruits!” That did it. I don’t believe there was an eligible man in that audience of three hundred who didn’t offer his services that night.

Source: The Life Story of Will Crooks MP, by George Haw (Cassell and Company, 1917).