British World War I conscription appeals go online

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The digitised records of over 8,000 Britons would sought exemption from conscription into the army in the county of Middlesex during World War I have been made available online by the UK’s National Archives.

The conscription appeal records are from the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal that, between 1916 and 1918, heard appeals from men who had applied for exemption from compulsory military service. The records include case papers of thousands of individuals, as well as administrative papers reflecting the changing policy towards conscription as the war progressed.

The collection is one of only two complete surviving collections of tribunal records and provides compelling insights into the impact of World War I on families, businesses and communities far from the battlefields.

Economic reasons

Chris Barnes, records specialist at the National Archives said: ‘The conscription appeal records provide a different perspective of the World War I away from the battles, revealing the impact the war had on the Home Front. Digitising this collection opens up the records to allow people across the globe to discover the lesser known stories of First World War for themselves.’

Of the 11,307 separate appeals heard between 1916 and 1918, only 577 were conscientious objection cases. The vast majority focused on medical, family or economic grounds. Most were dismissed.

John Gordon Shallis

Shallis appealed on grounds of domestic hardship, having lost four of his brothers during the war. His mother is described as a ‘cripple’ on his appeal form, having broken her leg, and his father was away carrying out Home Defence duties with the Territorial Force.

CWGC lists his brother Charles, a Royal Navy stoker on HMS Defence who died at the Battle of Jutland, here. George, an assistant stoker on the armed merchant cruiser HMS Viknor, is listed here. His brother Albert was a private in the Royal Fusiliers and Harry was a rifleman in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

Given these exceptional personal circumstances and his employment within the munitions industry, Shallis was granted an exemption from compulsory military service.

Charles Rubens Busby

An anonymous letter from a local resident, sent directly to the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal, is attached to Busby’s case paper.

The letter questions why Busby is allowed to keep his butcher’s shop and not serve while ‘married men have had to shut up their shop and go’. Busby is described as ‘a proper rotter of a man’ and a ‘rotten shirker’. He later served with the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force between 1917 and 1918.

Harry George Ward

Ward appealed on conscientious grounds based on his socialist beliefs. The tribunal chairman allegedly stated that as a socialist he could not possibly have a conscience. Ward’s appeal was dismissed.

Aden Stone

Stone was a butcher who appealed on economic grounds in order to look after his shop. An exemption was granted by the tribunal, but it was only for one day. This was because the tribunal decided that Stone had deliberately brought out a local competitor in an attempt to increase his business needs and thus improve his chances of exemption.

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