Medal roll of Samuel Ostroi
In October 1917 Russia withdrew from the First World War. One consequence of this withdrawal that you may not be aware of is that Russian nationals living in Britain suddenly became eligible to serve in the British Army.
Throughout 1915 there had been what was referred to as the ‘Conscription Crisis’. Too few men were enlisting in the forces to meet the needs of the industrial, mechanical nature of the First World War. In January of 1916 conscription was brought into force to meet the demand for men.
On 14 April 1916 the Home Secretary, Herbert Samuel, sought an amendment to Section 95 of the Army Act which imposed limitations on the enlistment of foreigners into the Army. He was hoping to encourage more aliens to join the British forces, or at least the territorial force. It was decided that foreign nationals who wished to join the British forces could do so as long as no more than 2% of the fighting force was made up of aliens.
The exception to this rule related to nationals of Allied countries. There was an agreement in place that all French, Belgian and Russian subjects living in the UK who desired to fight in the War should be compelled to return to their own country to join their respective armies. Since Russia was no longer a belligerent after October 1917 the government felt that this agreement no longer applied. Mr Samuel especially considered it unfair that Russian shopkeepers should remain exempt from service, profiting from the absence of British shopkeepers who were serving in the Army.
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As we are nearing the end of preparing the Middlesex County Appeal tribunal papers for digitisation, we are beginning to get an appreciation of the type of people who were appealing their conscription and their reasons for doing so.
We have papers of former German nationals, Russian Jews, Socialists, Quakers, Christadelphians and large employers appealing on behalf of their workers.
Edward's appeal form
However, since this is a festive themed post I thought I would blog about the story of a man we have discovered called Edward Christmas Church.
Our ‘Mr Christmas’ is a great example of what you will typically find in the MH 47 records, as well as how you can link into other record series here at The National Archives.
Edward was born in 1878 in Edmonton and married Martha in July of 1912. His initial form submitted to his local tribunal tells us that he is appealing on ground ‘D’, serious hardship, explaining that he is father to three young children (two girls and a boy, all under the age of three). Continue reading »
On the 27 January 1916 the Military Service Act came into force in the United Kingdom (except Ireland), making every unmarried male aged between 18 and 41 (who was not in a reserved occupation) eligible for conscription into the armed forces.
Example of a certificate
Men could apply to their local military tribunals for some manner of exemption based on a variety of grounds. Many men subsequently appealed this local tribunal decision, with appeal hearings held at County Appeal tribunals. After the war it was decided that only a sample of records from the Central Tribunal in London and the papers from the Middlesex County Appeal tribunal should be kept as a benchmark for England and Wales. It is these papers which make up record series MH 47 here at The National Archives.
These papers contain a wealth of personal information relating to the applicants, their jobs and their families. Currently the collection is underused due to its complex arrangement and convoluted indexing system. By making these papers name searchable and providing digital access we are hoping to open up these records to a much wider audience and open up another valuable First World War resource to those who have been frustrated in their search for a military service record.
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