Although there’s been lots of heated debate surrounding the World War One Centenary already, the best thing that seems to be coming out of all the media buzz is indeed that the conflict is being spoken about and brand new insight is being unearthed in some cases…
One subject that’s been surrounded by negativity and previously buried with the war involves the stories of the thousands of men who tried to resist conscription.
However, this has now been highlighted by the National Archives who have released the records from hearings held during the war to rule on whether those who had applied for exemptions from military service should be allowed to not serve. These records, released as part of a series of projects to mark this year's centenary of the war's outbreak, have been published online to enable people to learn more about the Great War.
And they are sure to make for fascinating reading as many of the hearings were considered so sensitive after the war that a lot of them got destroyed.
The records come from the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal, which, between 1916 and 1918, heard appeals from local men who had applied for exemption from compulsory military service, and had already lost their first hearing. The panels featured MPs, judges, magistrates and other leading local figures, stated a recent article in the Telegraph.
The intresting information includes the various reasons for people resisting conscription, such as medical, family and economic grounds.
Providing more of an understanding into the social effects of not just the First World War, but also war in general, the files show how families and businesses were affected back at home.
“The conscription appeal records provide a different perspective of the First World War away from the battles, revealing the impact the war had on the Home Front,” said Chris Barnes, records specialist at the National Archives.
"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.”
A few appeals did get granted but only the exceptional ones as in the case of John Gordon Shallis, who appealed on grounds of domestic hardship, having lost three brothers during the war.
Also, before the appeal was heard, a fourth brother had been killed and his parents also lost a son-in-law.
It wasn’t just this tragic loss that was likely to have helped his case, John’s mother was also in need of support having broken her leg, detailed on the support form, and his father was away carrying out Home Defence duties with the Territorial Force.
The chairman of the panel wrote they were "of the opinion that the mother is entitled to the comfort she will obtain by the retention of this last son."
These were very unfortunate circumstances and John, who worked within the munitions industry, was granted an exemption.
However, the majority of people who resisted and appealed didn’t get the same result as John though and many did go on to fight in the First World War.
According to sources, of the 11,307 appeals heard by the Middlesex panel, only 26 resulted in absolute exemptions. A further 581 received conditional exemptions - usually dependent on them staying in their current employment - and 2,813 were given temporary exemptions, often to make arrangements for their businesses to be run. The tribunal dismissed 4,012 cases. Others were withdrawn or were outstanding.
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At the start of 1914 the British Army had a reported a strength of 710,000 men including reserves, of which around 80,000 were regular troops ready for war.
Conscription was introduced in 1916, after the numbers volunteering fell to their lowest level the previous September and efforts to encourage more to enlist failed.
By the end of World War I almost one in four of the total male population of the United Kingdom and Ireland had joined up over five million men. Of these men, 2.67 million joined as volunteers and 2.77 million as conscripts (although, some volunteered after conscription was introduced so would probably have been conscripted regardless).
See the vast collections of records at Forces War Records...
Forces War Records are constantly releasing exclusive lists and nominal rolls, which could mean brand new insight for you.
Collections held include:
• ‘Imperial Prisoners of War in Italy’.
• British Jewry Book of Honour 1922
• Imperial prisoners of war held in Italy 1943
• Home Guard Officer Lists 1939-45
• Home Guard Auxiliary Units 1939-1945
• List of Etonians who served in the War 1914-1919 and 1939- 1945
• UK British & Commonwealth POWs Japanese camps 1939-45
• Bomber/Fighter Command Losses 1939-1945
• London County Council War Service 1914-18
• Cambridge University war list 1914-18
• Bomber Command Ruhr Offensive March –July 1943
• The Crimean War - Naval and Marines Medal Roll
• The India Medal (1895) Roll
• The Army of India Medal Roll 1799-1826
• The Kaffir Wars Medal Roll
• The South Africa Medal (1877) Roll
• The India General Service Medal (1854) roll
• Serving personnel on the 1861 census
• 1870s Military Discharges
• Royal Artillery 1877-81
• 2nd Afghan War 1878-80 Casualty Roll
• And others…