I'm currently (at the beginning of) researching the process people would go through for joining the British army (including the RAF and navy) during WW2 in England for a story I'm writing.

Specifically, the following:

  • What would happen if someone were to walk in to the recruitment office wanting to join?
  • Were there any historic cases of this process I could look at that are publicly available?
  • The questions asked by the office?
  • The types of papers needed to be filled out by the person?
  • The checks/exams made on the wannabe recruit.
  • And, if they were turned away because they were in protected wartime jobs i.e. engineering, farming, baking etc. or could they still choose to join despite this?

Any links to materials would be greatly appreciated on this topic.

The only thing I can seem to find (with Google at least) is a sentence from Wikipedia with no references but this is for the pre-war army.

The only pre-conditions placed on candidates were an interview with a recruiting officer, who could only glean partial information on a recruit, a medical examination, and some educational tests. If these requirements were met, the recruit was posted to the arm of his choice, there was no scientific selection process unlike the rapidly growing German army.

Which can be seen in full here on Wikipedia

If people can point me in the direction of reading materials, books, public papers/documents this would be a great starting point for me

  • my grandfather was a farmer and he was not protected, he was at arnhem Apr 25, 2022 at 13:05
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    @MCW Thanks for getting in touch. I've only just begun looking in to this and haven't been successful via Google so my question is really asking for materials to read through or places to start researching this topic. The only thing I have found is a sentence on Wikipedia that has no references. I've added this to my original answer above Apr 25, 2022 at 22:59
  • The Wikipedia quote is about the pre-war army. Apr 27, 2022 at 13:50
  • @DJClayworth good spot! Just updated my question to reflect this Apr 28, 2022 at 23:08
  • I haven't looked at it thoroughly, but the Imperial War Museum website might be a starting point. iwm.org.uk
    – TheHonRose
    Apr 30, 2022 at 0:34

1 Answer 1


In the early days of the war, it was possible to just try to join up. Thomas Firbank's memoir I bought a Star includes his experiences of joining the Coldstream Guards as an officer. This was definitely class-based; working-class men could not become officers until the War Office Selection Boards were created.

Once the arrangements had become systematic, the process was largely "wait to be called up" rather than being able to volunteer for service earlier. When you were called, there were individual interviews, and they tried to put men in branches that they had some interest and/or experience in.

My father, born in 1915, was definitely working-class. He'd qualified to enter university, but the family could not remotely afford to send him there, so he worked as an administrator for a local electricity supply company. His account of his call-up interview was that he wanted to be a motorcycle dispatch rider, but the recruiter, observing that he had imperfect sight and good grades in mathematics and physics, suggested being a radio operator instead, which he accepted. He was quite successful at that, being promoted to corporal after finishing the course and posted as an instructor for signals officers. He landed in Normandy on about D+15, and served out the war as a signaller at Second Army HQ. His twin brother became a PT instructor. Both did worthwhile service without ever being front-line soldiers.

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