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.
Britain only had a small, though well-trained regular army. The Second Boer War lasted three years and the British needed to enlist more recruits. Many British men volunteered.
During the war, the British army experienced great difficulty in finding fit young men to recruit as soldiers. Before men could join the army, they had to pass a medical inspection.
It was discovered, through these medical inspections, that one third of volunteers was unfit for military service. It appeared that the physical condition of the working class male prevented him from fighting, as well as working effectively in his job.
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 that Britain may be easily defeated by a strong, industrialised nation with a large army. Germany was such a nation which seemed to be challenging Britain for international supremacy.
Government reports published in 1904 stated that free school meals and medical examinations should be introduced in Britain. This would 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 were found in the industrial cities. Pressure was mounting on the Government to act, to ensure basic health levels were met in Britain.