The war that was thought to be ‘over by Christmas’ had stretched on into 1916. By May of that year, the British public had seen the introduction of conscription of men of military age and zeppelin air raids over England; whilst the armed forces suffered losses at sea and one of the heaviest bombardments on the Western Front.
The Military Service Act of January 1916 was extended by additional legislation in May 1916. The bill brought conscription to Britain for the first time, and meant that unmarried men aged between 18 and 41 were liable to be called up for active service. Men were able to apply for exemptions – whether temporary or permanent – on a range of grounds. The extension of the 25th May made married men liable for conscription, alongside those men who had previously been discharged or even rejected for enlistment.
In mid-May, an agreement was signed in London for the transfer of British and German wounded and sick prisoners of war to Switzerland.
On the 21st May, the German Army began an offensive at Vimy Ridge with the aim of capturing the entrances to the Allied tunnels. It was one of the heaviest bombardments of the war, with 70,000 shells fired in four hours. The British front line was captured and a counter-attack failed. The British command chose to focus instead on the Somme offensive.