Instructions for the physical examination of recruits

The following details are extracted from War Office Instructions issued with Army Orders 1 August 1914. They were “for the guidance of Medical Officers of the Special Reserve and Territorial Force and civilian practitioners. Extracted from the Regulations for the Medical Services of the Army, the Regulations for Recruiting, and the regulations for the Territorial Force.

Imperial War Museum image Q30062. Medical officer examining a recruit. Taken at Treaty Lodge, Hounslow, the HQ of the 8th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, in September 1917.

Principal points in the medical examination of recruits

  • That the recruit is sufficiently intelligent;
  • That his vision, with either eye, is up to the required standard;
  • That his hearing is good;
  • That his speech is without impediment;
  • That he has no glandular swellings;
  • That his chest is capacious and well formed, and that his heart and lungs are sound;
  • That he is not ruptured in any degree or form;
  • That the limbs are well formed and fully developed;
  • That there is free and perfect motion of all the joints;
  • That the feet and toes are well formed;
  • That he has no congenital malformation or defects;
  • That he does not bear traces of previous acute or chronic disease pointing to an impaired constitution;
  • That he possesses a sufficient number of sound teeth for efficient mastication.

General conditions of rejection

  • Indication of tubercular disease;
  • Constitutional syphilis;
  • Bronchial or laryngeal disease;
  • Palpitation or other diseases of the heart;
  • Generally impaired constitution;
  • Under standard of vision;
  • Defects of voice or hearing;
  • Pronounced stammering;
  • Loss or decay of teeth to such an extent as to materially interfere with efficient mastication;
  • Contraction or deformity of chest or joints;
  • Abnormal curvature of spine;
  • Defective intelligence;
  • Hernia;
  • Haemorrhoids;
  • Varicose veins or varicocele, if severe;
  • Inveterate cutaneous disease;
  • Chronic ulcers;
  • Fistula;
  • Or any disease or physical defect calculated to unfit them for the duties of a soldier.

Correlation of height, weight, chest measurement and age

The height, weight and chest measurement of a recruit should accord with each other, and with his age, agreeably to the table of standards

Height and weight tests for recruits to Regular Army

[Details of the methods and standards required for other forms of service will appear in a separate page on the Long, Long Trail in due course].

A recruit, if otherwise eligible, who comes up to the standard of height and chest measurement laid down in the tests will be passed as medically fit for the Army.

Determination of age by physical development

Should a recruit, on presenting himself for enlistment, bring no satisfactory proof of his age, the medical examiner will, by comparing the height with the weight and general development, and also from the recruit’s appearance, decide his age, which will be entered on the attestation as “apparent age”.

Directions for general examination and objects

The recruit having, if possible, had a bath or been washed, and being wholly undressed, the following should be the order in which the examination is carried out:

  • He is measured under the standard;
  • He is weighed;
  • His chest measurement is taken;
  • His vision is tested.

If he satisfies requirements in these respects, and appears otherwise eligible, the general examination will thus be proceeded with:

  • He is directed to walk up and down the room smartly two or three times; to hop across on the room on the right foot; and back again on the left. (The hops should be short and upon the toes.)
  • He is halted, standing upright, with his arms extended above his head while the medical examiner walks slowly round him, carefully inspecting the whole surface of his body.
  • An estimate is formed of his general physique, of his age, and whether he presents the appearance of having served before.

If no disabling effects are found, the second part of the examination is proceeded with:

Examination of the trunk. The recruit stands with his arms extended above his head, the backs of his hands being in contact.

  • The medical examiner notes indications of venereal disease.
  • He examines the scrotum to see if the testicles are descended and normal, or of there be varicocele or other disease.
  • He inserts the point of his finger into the external abdominal ring of each side, to ascertain if he be ruptured or be liable to that condition.

Examination of chest. 

  • He examines the abdominal walls and parieties of the chest.
  • Hes desires the recruit to take in a full breath several times, while he watches the action and notes the capacity of the chest. Careful stethoscopic examination of the lungs is made.
  • He examines the action of the heart, and notes its sounds.

Examination of the upper extremities.

  • [The medical examiner requests and observes certain movements of the arms, thumbs, fingers, wrists]
  • The medical examiner examines for marks of vaccination.

Examination of the lower extremities and back.

  • [The medical examiner requests and observes certain movements of the feet,toes, ankles and knees. He observes the action of the knee joints, the condition of the perineum, and of the spinal column. He also notes the presence of haemorrhoids, prolapsus ani, fistula in perinaeo, and spinal deformity.]

Examination of the head and neck.

  • The medical examiner will note the intelligence, character of voice, and power of hearing of the recruit by the replies to questions put to him. Have you had any blows or cuts to the head? Sre you subject to fits of any kind?
  • He examines the neck, scalp, ears, eyes and eyelids, nostrils, mouth, teeth and palate, and tells the recruit to say loudly “who comes there?”
  • He is looking for injuries of the head, deafness, defect of the voice, polypus of nose, tubercular ulceration, glandular enlargements, and defects of the eyes and teeth. Squint or any morbid condition of the eye or eyelid will case rejection of the recruit.

Examination of the teeth.

The acceptance or rejection of a recruit on account of loss or decay of teeth will depend upon the consideration of relative position of the sound teeth and the physical condition of the recruit. The loss of many teeth in a man of indifferent constitution would point to rejection, while a robust recruit who had lost the same number of teeth might be accepted.


A soldier’s life