From the office: Appealing against conscription

By Editor, 23 January 2014 - 10:45am

From rotters to the righteous  appeals against conscription tell 8,000 different stories, says editor Sarah Williams

Thursday 23 January 2013

Sarah Williams, editor
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The release yesterday online of 8,000 conscription appeal records by The National Archives shines a light on a less well-known aspect of the First World War.

These appeal tribunal records come from Middlesex  (one of only two complete surviving collections of tribunal records) and give an insight into the reasons why thousands of men felt they had grounds to appeal against conscription.

Interestingly, only 5% of the appeals were on the grounds of conscientious objection. One of these examples is Frederick Lunkenheimer whose appeal includes an account of anti-German feeling at the start of the war “we had our business premises wrecked by the public owing to the bitter feeling against us as being Germans. We were also prevented from carrying on further business and grossly insulted in various ways”.  His appeal is based on being a conscientious objector and him doing national work as a baker and confectioner but you can’t help feeling that he didn’t want to die for a country that didn’t love him.

Lunkenheimer’s appeal was rejected, as were most of those submitted to the tribunal. One successful candidate was John Gordon Shallis who was exempted on the grounds that his crippled mother had already lost four of her sons and a son-in-law to the war and needed to keep one son to look after her. A newspaper clipping describing the loss of her sons is included in the appeal – two column inches for what would be a front page story in any other time.

You can’t help hoping that the local community supported Shallis’s application but this was not always the case. Charles Rubens Busby’s application for exemption on the grounds that he would have to shut up his shop and would not be able to support his family and mother has a letter from an anonymous neighbour attached to it. This letter, written by someone who has lost two sons in the war, complains that Mr Busby has been bragging about his ability to get exempted and that he is a “proper rotter of a man”. 

Unfortunately we will never get these records released for the whole country. Due to the sensitivity of the content it was decided to destroy the records except those for Middlesex and Lothian and Peebles in Scotland, which were retained as a benchmark for possible future use.

What has survived is rich material for family historians. Each record is different: some have medical certificates and statements, religious and business information and letters of support (or otherwise) from friends, family and neighbours. 
 
The records are free to access thanks to the generous support of The Friends of The National Archives and the Federation of Family History Societies. If you find someone from your family included in the collection, please email me, I would love to hear from you.

 

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