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Wednesday, 27 January 2016

First World War Conscription: our Cheshire records

The Military Service Act introduced conscription to, and the right of exemption from, military service on 27 January 1916. Local tribunals were established to hear requests for exemptions. Local authorities were advised to destroy records in the years following the First World War – two sets of records were kept nationally and the Middlesex documents can be searched by name, place and profession and viewed on The National Archives catalogue Discovery for free.

What if the instruction to destroy the records was overlooked? For Cheshire this was the case in Macclesfield and Hale – the only two local authorities that we hold tribunal records for. A University of Chester student volunteer has extracted the details that follow to give us an idea of workings of the tribunal and the lives its decisions touched.

In Macclesfield minutes, case numbers rather than names are used to reference the requests for exemption so we cannot identify individuals granted conditional exemption, six month’s temporary exemption, three month’s temporary exemption or in certified occupations. Letter books, so copies of the tribunal’s correspondence, also survive allowing further insight into the role of the tribunal.

In advance of conscription ‘German guns that were captured in the war were to be exhibited in some Cheshire and Lancashire towns. Captain Gossett requested that they be shown in Macclesfield in order to place pressure on men into recruiting for the war.’ 13 November 2015

Replies to businesses and individuals place men in groups for postponement ‘not exceeding 10 groups from the number of group the attested man is originally placed in.’

The Hale tribunal minutes include names and details as to how this worked in practice and expand on the decision-making process with some fascinating insights.

22 February 1916 A dissented case - Mr Hendry, 21, from Hale, who had previously been postponed to group 11 and who appeared to claim the longest further postponement, was denied further exemption.

29 February 1916 John Steele appeared in support of his claim to have his son John Cecil Steele employed by him as a window cleaner and was given one month to find a replacement.

14 March 1916 Phillip O’Hara, a bricklayer, was not awarded exemption based on the grounds that the case has not yet been established.

21 March 1916 Mr Arthur Leslie William appeared to support his claim for absolute exemption on conscientious objection. No exemption was given and he was placed in a non-combat group. Mr Robert Lees supported his case for total exemption on the ground of conscientious objection. No exemption was given and he was placed in a non-combat group. Mr Thomas Neild, appeared to support his claim on behalf of his son, Jos Neild. Absolute exemption was given on medical grounds.

May 23 1916 Donald Gillies was given temporary exemption till 23 September 1916 and was not allowed to make a claim on any other ground other than his wife’s health. He accepted this. Fredrick Broad Smith, a solicitor, supported his claim for exemption on ground (a) and the case was adjourned whilst waiting for instructions as to the allowances for married men.

11 July 1916 Charles Harold Matley supported his claim on conscientious objection and other grounds, which included submitting a certificate as to his wife’s health. Exemption was not granted and he was placed in a non-combat group. The applicant gave notice of appeal. John Yates, an agricultural wheelwright, was allowed temporary exemption till 11 September 1916, as long as he remained in similar employment and joined the local volunteers.

18 July 1916 Thomas Dolan supported his claim on ground (a) and with his rejection by the Army Medical Board, the claim was withdrawn.

November 1917 Joseph Swindle, a hairdresser, was allowed conditional exemption due to the man complying with the requirements of the Hale Red Cross hospital in hair cutting for the wounded soldiers.

24 September 1918 Mr Astbury, a gardener, was given temporary exemption due to continuing work on the farm and being relieved from service with the volunteers. Edward Dillon produces a Baptism record to show that he is outside the military age required under the military service act.

A separate Tribunal Register states the numbers and names of men who are exempt from military service for specific reasons and how long for. For each tribunal they give the name and reason for exemption. They are divided into adjourned cases and new cases.

The wartime records of Hale Urban District Council are included in our online catalogue where you can find the reference numbers to request if you would like to visit and view the original documents.

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