Professions and Social Background

Chapter 5


'The lads in B [squadron] were mostly from the towns, Hull, Driffield, York and seemed to be more happy go lucky types' (memoirs of Leonard May)

In studying the men of the East Riding Yeomanry, much information has been gathered on the jobs that the men did prior to (and occasionally also after) their military service.

The principal sources for this information has been the 1911 census, supplemented at times by service/pension records, newspaper reports and information from family sources.

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Object identification

Recent recruits still in their civilian clothes, possibly summer 1917. Image in private collection.

Issues with profession data

One of the biggest issues is that we lack information on the jobs that many ERY soldiers did prior to their service in the unit. Some men cannot be definitely identified. Others were too young to have a job at the time of the 1911 census (or at least none was recorded) and their service record has not survived. A different issue often occurs with the officers. "Gentlemen" may have been socially disinclined to admitting how they acquired their wealth (much of which would have been inherited anyway), so census entries like "landowner" or "living on own means" are not uncommon. Some did have business interests of course and where possible these have been identified through other sources - mainly newspapers.

With the initial recruitment of the ERY having largely been confined to Hull & the East Riding, it is not surprising that amongst pre-war recruits to the regiment, farm workers and rural craftsmen formed a fairly substantial block within the regiment. After all, given this was a mounted regiment, it made sense for the ERY to recruit as many men as possible who had at least some familiarity with horses - if not with riding them, then at least using them for transport or pulling agricultural machinery. Men with associated trades like harness making, blacksmiths and wheelwrights would also have been very useful. The East Riding's predominantly rural character at the time was well placed to supply men with suitable experience of horses and their care.

A slightly different case was the pre-war A Squadron, based in Walton Street, Hull. Here, as one might expect, the recruits were more urban based.

Tradesmen, clerks and labourers made up a high proportion of the potential recruit pool. This was not necessarily as big a problem as it might seem on the surface. In 1900, motorised transport was still fairly uncommon and many businesses would have relied on horses for moving goods and supplies. Whilst Hull men would have been less likely to own a horse or have ready access to one than their rural comrades, many of them would have regularly encountered horses in their civilian lives.

A factor to be considered with wartime recruitment is the possibility of some kind of "peer pressure" operating within businesses. Certainly we do see evidence for numbers of men from the same company joining the ERY - the Wilson Shipping Line being one obvious example. In this particular instance, a roll of honour survives recording men from the company who served during the war.

Profession codes in the database

In analysing the data, professions have been coded in the Database using a 1-20 numbered scheme. This scheme is as follows.

  1. agriculture, forestry, fishing;
  2. mining and quarrying;
  3. metal manufacture;
  4. engineering, boat/shipbuilding, electrical goods;
  5. textiles / clothing manufacture;
  6. religious profession
  7. food, drink, and tobacco manufacture;
  8. paper and printing;
  9. miscellaneous crafts / manufacturing industries;
  10. building and contracting;
  11. public utilities (gas, electricity, water);
  12. transport and communications;
  13. distributive trades (wholesale and retail);
  14. insurance, banking and finance;
  15. public administration and defence; (police, army etc.)
  16. professional services (legal, medical etc.)
  17. general labour
  18. domestic service
  19. miscellaneous other (includes those listed as "gentlemen" etc.)
  20. unknown
Wilson Brothers

Clive and Guy Wilson in hunting dress. Image courtesy of Hedon Museum and the Estate of Mr W. Palmer.

See the accompanying ERY database (using the downloadable link below) for a chart showing the breakdown of the regiment by profession. Note that where a man has more than one recorded profession, this will be reflected in multiple numeric entries. The circumstances where this occurs are either a) Where a different profession is recorded in a service or pension record from that given in the 1911 census or b) Where a soldier's post war job was radically different from his pre-war employment.

The 20 categories chosen attempt to pull together broadly similar jobs. Where someone progressed within the same profession e.g. a clerk in a legal firm who later qualified as a solicitor, that individual would only get one profession code.


William Jesse Green demobilisation certificate. In private collection.

Professions recorded

In all about 1187 professions have been recorded, amounting to about 50% of the men included in the database. Not really surprisingly, Agriculture / forestry and fishing (category 1) comes out top with 209 entries (17.5%). There were for example at least 75 farmers or farmer's sons (ranging from small tenant farmers to holders of large estates) some 20 odd horsemen or grooms and innumerable farm workers/servants.

The second highest category is no.13 Distributive trades with 162 entries (14%). This group were mainly shop workers of all sorts, although also a fair number of wholesale merchants / dealers too. Many of the men from the towns fell into this category.

Many of category 9 Miscellaneous crafts & manufacturing industries (90 entries, 7.5%) were agriculture related, there were at least a dozen shoeing smiths and blacksmiths for instance.

Third highest in the data, with 141 entries (12%) were those in the Transport and communications category - no. 12). Not surprisingly, given that A squadron ERY was based in Hull (and Walton Street was the principal recruiting point during the war), railway workers (50+) and shipping company workers (40+) were well represented.

Otherwise there is a fairly even spread across the categories.

Category 16 (Professional workers such as doctors, teachers, lawyers etc.) only amounts to about 58 individuals in all (about 7.5% of the whole). These were overwhelmingly officers of course.

The ERY was in summary drawn from a cross section of society and this is reflected in the professions of those who served. There were certainly plenty of men who would have been familiar with hard physical labour and equally considerable numbers who knew about horses - a vital skill in a Yeomanry regiment. There were more than enough clerks (at least 240) to carry out administrative functions. The officers, as we have seen in The Officers, tended to be drawn from the landowning / big business class, although this opened up somewhat during the war, to include more 'middle class' professionals.

It is also evident that a sizeable number of ERY recruits worked for small businesses, often family run, rather than larger companies. We can trace at least 25 men who were working for their father prior to enlistment.

Occasionally you find individuals with more unusual jobs and one does wonder how and why they ended up in the ERY. Private Charles Buckingham was a chocolate maker for instance, whilst according to the Hull Daily Mail (18th November 1915), Private W. Tim Wright was a centre back with Hull City football club - he continued to play whilst training with the regiment. Private Austin Creaser Davison was a gold block printer, though also a stock farmer. Lt. Geoffrey Norman Foster was a county cricket player (for Worcestershire) and was no doubt a welcome addition to the ERY's own cricket team (he is recorded paying in at least one match on the Norwood cricket ground in Beverley).

Further work is ongoing in this area and it may well be that in the future, more links between individuals will become apparent in terms of their workplaces before enlistment.