The Group System (Derby Scheme)

By spring 1915 the flow of volunteer recruits was dwindling. The government, torn when it came to the question of compulsory military service, tried a half-way house scheme.

Voluntary recruitment was drying up

In spring 1915 enlistments had averaged 100,000 men per month, but this could not be sustained. The upper age limit was raised from 38 to 40 in May 1915 in an effort to keep the numbers up, but it had became clear that voluntary recruitment was not going to provide the numbers of men required. The government passed the National Registration Act on 15 July 1915 as a step towards stimulating recruitment and to discover how many men between the ages of 15 and 65 were engaged in each trade. All those in this age range who were not already in the military were obliged to register, giving details of their employment details. The results of this census became available by mid-September 1915 : it showed there were almost 5 million males of military age who were not in the forces, of which 1.6m were in the “starred” (protected, high or scarce skill) jobs.

Lord Derby

Born in 1865, Edward Stanley became the 17th Lord Derby in 1908. He played a major part in raising volunteers, especially for the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment, before being appointed Director-General of Recruiting in October 1915.

On 11 October 1915 Lord Derby was appointed Director-General of Recruiting. He brought forward a programme five days later, often called the Derby Scheme although its official title was the Group System, for raising the numbers. Men aged 18 to 40 were informed that under the scheme they could continue to enlist voluntarily or attest with an obligation to come if called up later on. The War Office notified the public that voluntary enlistment would soon cease and that the last day of registration would be 15 December 1915.

The public was repeatedly told that the groups of unmarried men would be called up before married men.


Men who attested under the Derby Scheme, who were accepted for service and chose to defer it were classified as being in “Class A”. Those who agreed to immediate service were “Class B”.

The “Class A” men were paid a day’s army pay for the day they attested; were given a grey armlet with a red crown as a sign that they had so volunteered; were officially transferred into Section B Army Reserve; were given a completed Army Form W.3914 with their own details and group number; and were sent back to their homes and jobs until they were called up.


The men who attested under the Derby Scheme were classified into married and single status and into 23 groups according to their age.

StatusYear of birthGroup
Note: the Group numbers are not the same as the industrial classification numbers often seen in the man’s service record.


Attested men would be given an armlet to signify their status, along with an explanatory leaflet.

A Derby Scheme armlet in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.
Receipt for the armlet signed by a man who attested in Hull.

Mobilisation dates

Mobilisation dates applying to those men who had chosen deferred service and were thus placed into Class A:
125 Feb 191628 Mar 1916
220 Dec 191520 Jan 1916
320 Dec 191520 Jan 1916
420 Dec 191520 Jan 1916
520 Dec 191520 Jan 1916
68 Jan 19168 Feb 1916
78 Jan 19168 Feb 1916
88 Jan 19168 Feb 1916
98 Jan 19168 Feb 1916
1030 Jan 191629 Feb 1916
1130 Jan 191629 Feb 1916
1230 Jan 191629 Feb 1916
1330 Jan 191629 Feb 1916
1416 Feb 191618 Mar 1916
1516 Feb 191618 Mar 1916
1616 Feb 191618 Mar 1916
1716 Feb 191618 Mar 1916
1816 Feb 191618 Mar 1916
1916 Feb 191618 Mar 1916
2016 Feb 191618 Mar 1916
2116 Feb 191618 Mar 1916
2216 Feb 191618 Mar 1916
2316 Feb 191618 Mar 1916
2413 May 191613 Jun 1916
257 Mar 19167 Apr 1916
267 Mar 19167 Apr 1916
277 Mar 19167 Apr 1916
287 Mar 19167 Apr 1916
297 Mar 19167 Apr 1916
307 Mar 19167 Apr 1916
317 Mar 19167 Apr 1916
327 Mar 19167 Apr 1916
3327 Apr 191629 May 1916
3427 Apr 191629 May 1916
3527 Apr 191629 May 1916
3627 Apr 191629 May 1916
3727 Apr 191629 May 1916
3827 Apr 191629 May 1916
3927 Apr 191629 May 1916
4027 Apr 191629 May 1916
4127 Apr 191629 May 1916
4213 May 191613 Jun 1916
4313 May 191613 Jun 1916
4413 May 191613 Jun 1916
4513 May 191613 Jun 1916
4613 May 191613 Jun 1916
Note: many men were called up on dates later than that on which their Group was first mobilised. Those men who attested later than the Group mobilisation were given a month’s notice of call-up. Many also chose to appeal for even later call-up: their cases were referred to local tribunals.

Reporting for duty

Many local newspapers carried reminders of the instructions that men were to follow.

  1. The instructions included in the Notice Paper calling up each man who is required to join must be strictly complied with.
  2. Every man must be in possession of the White Card (Army Form W.3194) issued to him at attestation; also his armlet, both of which will be handed over to the Recruiting Officer at the office where he is required to present himself.
  3. It is essential that all men who have been married since 15 August 1915 should bring with them their Marriage Certificates, in order that no delay may be caused in the issue of separation allowance to their wives.

Scheme seen as a failure

215,000 men enlisted while the scheme was on and another 2,185,000 attested for deferredr enlistment – but 38% of single men and 54% of marrieds who were not in “starred” jobs had still avoided this form of recruitment. Their reticence did much to hasten a move to full conscription. Voluntary attestation reopened on 10 January 1916, while the government considered the position.

Call up under the Derby Scheme began: Groups 2 to 5 were called up in the last two weeks of January 1916, and Groups 6 to 13 in February. The last single groups other than the 18 year-olds were called up in March. This last batch were called up in parallel to the first men to be summoned under conscription under the Military Service Act. Attestation under the scheme ceased on 1 March 1916. The recruits were not necessarily posted to their local regiments and from this time one it is not wise to assume that a man would go into his local regiment. Group Scheme recruits rarely had a say in the regiment to which they were assigned.

End of Group recruitment, men born in 1898, and men who had been medically rejected

On 9 June 1916, the Sectreary of the War Office announced that, “From midnight last night, no man can attest and join a group unless either he was born in 1898 and is not yet 18 years of age, or unless he was rejected on medical grounds subsequent to 15 August 1915. For lads born in 1898, voluntary attestation will remain possible up to the day before their 18th birthday. After that, they cannot attest and join their group. For those who were medically rejected subsequent to 15 August 1915, voluntary attestation into the groups will remain possible until 31 August 1916”.

An extension to the scheme

On 6 September 1916 a start was made in posting notices announcing the formation of a new “Group B”. This was to be open for voluntary attestation of those born in 1899, with the assurance that they would not be called for service until they reached 18. At the same time all men in “Group A” and those in “Class A” and who were born in 1898 were informed that they would be required to serve from the age of 18 years and 7 months (previously 18 and 8 months). This category of man began to be mobilised from 7 October 1916.

For researchers: did your soldier enlist between October 1915 and February 1916?

If you find that your man enlisted between 15 October 1915 and the end of February 1916, there is a strong probability that he did so under the Group Scheme. This is an important thing to know, as it hints at why and how he enlisted and certainly gives clues as to what happened to him.

How do I find that out?

If you have been fortunate enough to locate your soldier’s army service record, it is likely to include his Attestation Form, which was completed when he enlisted. If this particular paper happens to be missing, you should still be able to see the dates from other documents.

If you have not got his service record but he was discharged on medical grounds, he is likely to have been eligible for the Silver War Badge. The roll of this award gives his enlistment date.

With neither of those two you are in more difficulty, but by following advice elsewhetre on this site you may be able to pin the date down.

What am I looking for, exactly?

The major clue to spotting the Group Scheme recruit is a combination of

1. an attestation date between 15 October 1915 and 15 December 1915, or in January or February 1916; and
2. a different mobilisation date.

The extract (below) from a “Short Service” Attestation Form is typical of a Group Scheme recruit. This soldier attested on 10 December 1915 and was mobilised in early February 1916.


It was possible for a man to enlist under the Scheme but be mobilised immediately, so do not discount the possibility that he was a Group Scheme recruit if his enlistment date is within the period described but he appears to have begun service right away.

If he enlisted before 15 October 1915 he was definitely not a Group Scheme recruit. If after 1 March 1916, it is possible that he was, subject to the various limitations mentioned above.

A soldier’s life


The 1916 Military Service Act