Published 31st March 1917*
(First read 23/07/2014)
* I found this in The Aberdeen Daily Journal for that date ~ it was undoubtedly published elsewhere on the same date, if not earlier.
The National Service Scheme, not to be confused with the later National Service (compulsory military service), was a voluntary one whereby ~ largely but not exclusively men ~ unable to take part in the war would, on a part-time basis, assume extra jobs there weren't enough people to perform ~ bus-driving, policing, etc.
No doubt someone at the relevant ministry could have ghost-written this for EFB to put his name to, but it bears the distinctive hallmarks of his own prose style.
The article is reproduced below. As far as I know this its first appearance, in full and free of charge, in 97 years.
National Service or National Disgrace? by E. F. Benson
There will be hardly one man in a hundred who reads these few lines who, during the last two years and a half, has not [illegible: 'sent' or 'seen'] off some friend or brother or son to face the day-long and night-long dangers of the trenches.
Such a one has gone back home, when the cheerful, gallant train-load pulled out of the station, to his fireside or his office with a thrill of heroism in his heart, wishing that he was stronger or younger, and could take his part in the peril and do something ~ were it only in his power ~ to help Britain. He tells himself that, old though he is, he longs for the opportunity (the privilege he calls it) of doing 'his bit', and out of his comfortable bank balance he perhaps finds himself able to invest a little in the Victory Loan. He swells with pride at the thought of helping his country, and, at the same time, it is very jolly to reflect that 'his bit' brings him 5¼ per cent., which is a most handsome return on so sound a security. And he wants to do more to help his country.
Then he is confronted with the National Service scheme, and about that his patriotism cools a little. He procures a National Service card; he sees in it a trade of which he really knows a little, and in which he could be of use. But he does not enrol. He must consider a little whether he can give up his time, or make a sacrifice at all. Now there is not too much time for such a man, who thought himself so patriotic, to prove his patriotism. Unless he enrols he will definitely have declared himself a neutral in the war. Or, since he is British, he will have declared himself a deserter. This is simple, sober fact.
And, unless he enrols, all his fine thoughts when he saw his son or his brother off to fight, and risk his life for the sake of his country, will have proved themselves shams ~ cheap, tawdry shams. That will not be a very pleasant thought for the rest of his life, will it?Reproduced from The Aberdeen Daily Journal, 31/03/1917