If you have been following our numerous posts regarding Eugen Sandow, you already have an idea of how Great Britain regarded its population in times of war. During the Boer War, the British government judged that soldiers were not physically ready to fight for their country so they sent in Sandow who taught the basics of physical culture to soldiers; thus preparing them to protect their nation.
During the First World War, things did not improve. According to Joanna Bourke, during the Boer War, “out of 20,000 volunteers, 14,000 were deemed unfit to fight,” with numbers being worse during the Great War.
With this in mind, the War Office released a grading scheme to evaluate the physique of soldiers. Although the first scheme presented three grades, the final draft in 1917 displayed four grades (as seen above).
- Grade 1 – Fit. Period. Meaning that they could enroll and be successful soldiers.
- Grade 2 – Fit for service at home and for service abroad but in a support capacity. This was judged by the ease one could walk six miles.
- Grade 3 – Unsuitable for Combat.
- Grade 4 – Utterly unfit.
Within each category height, weight, chest width, and overall shape of the body were evaluated, resulting in a final decision to judge if that specific individual could successfully protect the nation.
The main goal with this grading scheme was to evaluate “lower-end” men and train them with the help of military drills to ensure they reach at least the second Grade and be sent overseas to participate in the war. However, there is evidence that, when numbers were dwindling during the Great War and volunteers were scarce, men in the Third Grade who were deemed unsuitable for combat were signed off as Grade 1 men without medical inspection and sent overseas to fight.
Surely this sort of evaluation and bending of the rules was not unique to Great Britain; especially during times of great conflict.