Date of Award

Spring 5-2023

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Dr. Andrew Wiest

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Brian LaPierre

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. Courtney Luckhardt

Committee Member 3 School



Within weeks of the outbreak of World War I, the British Army faced a critical demand for more soldiers to replenish its casualties and to compete with the mass conscript armies of the Central Powers. Hesitant to break from its tradition of non-conscription, the British government relied on a period of voluntary recruitment from 1914 to 1916, resulting in the enlistment of nearly 2.5 million soldiers.

This thesis examines the period of British voluntary recruitment during World War I by exploring how conceptions of British national identity served as a technique of persuasion and as a catalyst for individual enlistment. By comparing official propaganda with the diaries and letters of soldiers, this study makes two arguments. First, the British government based its recruitment system on the ideal of national unity by positing an indivisible bond between the nation and its citizens. Capitalizing on popular nationalist sentiments, British wartime recruitment sought to solidify the citizens’ loyalty to the nation by enforcing the idea of national-individual congruence. Second, it asserts that the soldiers who volunteered did not blindly accept the national ideal but responded to it with varying degrees of acceptance based on their personal idiosyncrasies, social standing, and familial commitments. While scholars have studied British wartime propaganda and soldier motivations separately, this thesis joins these spheres together to reveal the relationship between the national identity promoted by the government and the one internalized by the soldiers who volunteered to defend it.

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