A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Page 81

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THREE YEARS' SERVICE BILL IN FRANCE


recognized, when the storm burst, as the salvation of the nation. In March, 1913, the ministry led by Aristide Briand introduced a bill for increasing the term of service with the colours from two to three years.

In Germany, where a population of 64,000,000 had always provided a margin of men over and above requirements, it had been easy to enlarge the army by merely calling to service with the colours a number of recruits who would otherwise have been allowed to pass into the category of men capable of service but untrained. France had no such superfluity to draw upon. Her population of 40,000,000 had remained practically stationary for some years past. How was she to reply to the increase which Germany had resolved upon for her own army? There was only one solution. Each individual Frenchman must be called upon to make the sacrifice of another whole year of his life for the defence of his country. It is small wonder that this gigantic tax on the very life blood of the nation's industry aroused the bitterest opposition among the working classes who would be called upon to contribute most to it. Many schemes for half measures - such as service for 30 months — were proposed by the more moderate antagonists of the bill, but all were rejected by the army commission and the Chamber of Deputies. The scheme evoked, too, great discontent in the army, resulting in one case in something very like mutiny.

Amid all this travail, however, three years' service in France was born. In spite of the loud protests of the politicians, in spite of the secret plotting of the anarchists, the great mass of the French nation resigned itself patiently to the heavy burden. In the autumn of 1913 the last Frenchman to do two years' service left the colours, and two drafts, the recruits of 21 years and at the same time the class aged 20, who would otherwise not have come up for service till the following year, were added to the army. France's reply to the increased armaments of Germany was made.

The French army consisted of the national army, styled the metropolitan army, and the colonial army, recruited from colonial subjects in Algeria and Morocco. Early in 1914 the strength of the former was 703,000 and of the latter 87,000. Behind these were the men who had passed through the ranks, and so France was able to put in the field a force of 3,785,000 men with 92,000 officers a fortnight after the declaration of War,

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