Fears over national security

The Boer War (1899-1902)

The Second Boer War began in 1899 in the south of Africa. It was fought between the two Boer Republics and the British Empire, which held lands in the area. The Second Boer War lasted three years and required a great deal of soldiers.

However Britain only had a small army. It needed to enlist more recruits and many British men volunteered.

The British army experienced great difficulty in finding able young men to recruit as soldiers.

Before men could join the army, they had to pass a medical inspection. As the war progressed the number of men failing army medical inspections was found to be one in three. They were declared unfit for military service and refused entry.

This led to questions being asked about the physical condition of the working class male. The government would have to do something to ensure basic health levels among the population.

Concern regarding the security of Britain

There was growing concern for national security (the safety of Britain).

Many believed that the British Army was not powerful enough. If there was difficulty recruiting for a small-scale war, then it would be even more difficult to enlist a large number of able soldiers for a large-scale war.

This meant Britain was at risk of defeat by a strong, industrialised nation with a large army, such as Germany. Germany seemed to be challenging Britain for international supremacy.

Governmental reports published in 1904 stated that free school meals and medical examinations should be introduced in Britain to help combat the poor physical condition of many British citizens.

The reports emphasised that diet should be improved and overcrowding reduced, as the worst cases of ill health were found in the industrial cities. Pressure was mounting on the Government to act, to ensure that the safety of the nation was not in jeopardy.