The British army prior to 1939 was quite small, still suffering the hangover of World War One, and consisted almost entirely of volunteers. The army was tentative, and reluctant to engage in anything that would be seen as similar to the reckless destruction of the First World War. However, with the threat of Hitler growing more and more severe, conscription was instigated in early 1939 , and the age boundaries were widened when war was declared, and kept widening until 1945. At the peak of conscription fervor, men between the ages of 18 and 41 were called up to fight. In September 1939, the entire army – including reserves – amounted just over a million men; by the end of the war, 3.5 million had served in the British Army. The British Empire – though weakened by the First World War – was still a significant part of the British Army, especially the recruits from India. As such, whilst the ‘typical’ soldier in the British Army would have been British, a large proportion of the entire Army was international. Because of the insecure state of the army prior to the outbreak of war, the first soldiers to serve in 1939 were not adequately trained or prepared for a conflict of this scale, and thus the army was quite a weak contribution to the Allied effort to begin with. However, as the war progressed, and the Tommies (slang word for British soldiers) proved their mettle on the battlefield, the confidence that had been lost in World War One slowly began to grow, and the army went from strength to strength. The average British soldier in the war was therefore a conscript unprepared for warfare, fearful that this world war would be just as brutal and dehumanising as the previous one. A huge proportion of the entire British force was made up of soldiers from the British Empire, and yet black men and women living in Britain who volunteered to serve were often turned away, with even Winston Churchill sent telegrams to the High Commission, suggesting they find some ‘administrative means’ to reject black volunteers.
Most British soldiers had never been abroad, and so for many of them France was a new territory, though they perhaps had heard about it from older relatives who had served in the First World War. Soldiers would have come from a wide range of educational and financial backgrounds, which continued the break-down of the ‘us and them’ class mentality that had begun to weaken in the First World War. The average soldier was a conscript, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task ahead, and only partly aware of why Britain had gone to war in the first place. American Soldiers World War 2 Similar to Britain, the American army instigated a ‘peacetime conscription’ in 1940 after the defeat of France. Having started the war in a neutral position, it became apparent early on that American involvement may come at some point in the war. In 1940 and 1941, America supplied resources to the Allies, and then after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour , America declared war on Germany. The British soldiers – though conscripts who were ill-prepared for warfare – considered their American counterparts to be unrefined, crass, and loud. American men aged between 21 and 45 were conscripted in 1941 – before the attack of Pearl Harbour – requiring service of a year. This later increased to two years, and after Pearl Harbour, this was extended to the duration of the war, and the age boundary was widened to 18-64. Some 50 million American men were registered into the army during World War Two. The average American soldier was a conscript, but significantly more prepared for warfare than the British conscripts, since the American army prior to the war was in better condition than the pre-war British army. The G.I.s, as they were known, were unlikely to have ever been abroad. German Soldiers WW2