Reserved occupation

Reserved occupation

A reserved occupation (also known as essential services) is an occupation considered important enough to a country that those serving in such occupations are exempt - in fact forbidden - from military service. In a total war, like the Second World War, where most fit men of military age were conscripted into the armed forces, exceptions were given to those who performed jobs vital to the country and the war effort which could not be abandoned or performed by others. Not only were such people exempt from being conscripted, but were often prohibited from enlisting on their own initiative, and were required to remain in their posts. Examples of reserved occupations include medical practitioners and police officers, but what is or is not a reserved occupation will depend on war needs and a country's particular circumstances.

World War II

In the UK, in 1938, a Schedule of Reserved Occupations had been drawn up, exempting certain key skilled workers from conscription. This was as a result of the problems from World War I, when too many skilled workers were allowed to enlist, thus creating serious problems in certain key industries. The reserved (or scheduled) occupation scheme was a complicated one, covering five million men in a vast range of jobs. These included railway and dockworkers, miners, farmers, agricultural workers, schoolteachers and doctors. Ages varied, for example a lighthouse keeper was 'reserved' at 18, while a trade-union official could be called up until the age of 30. Engineering was the industry with the highest number of exemptions.

The situation and the Schedule were constantly reviewed, most particularly because of the influx of women into the workplace, for example into the munitions industry, which freed up men to be called up. Many in reserved occupations joined civil defence units such as the Home Guard or the ARP, which created additional responsibilities on top of their work, although this allowed the men to ‘serve’ without having to join up, thus alleviating the frustration many felt.

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