Back in October 2012, we provided a blog outlining the start of a project to digitise the First World War Military Service Tribunal papers that we hold in our MH 47 collection. Subsequent blogs have followed from Chris Barnes, David Langrish and Emily Ward-Willis and it is with great delight that we now announce the launch of the online images, free to download from Discovery.
The papers predominately relate to the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal, which heard appeals for exemption from the Military Service Acts of 1916 and 1918. The grounds (reasons) for appealing for exemption cover employment status, domestic, business, financial and medical hardships, as well as the more well-known topic of conscientious objection.
So, how can we search this collection?
The most straightforward way to search is to use our online search form. Here you can search by first and last name, occupation and town name, such as Acton or Kew. Remember, this collection is predominately for people residing or employed in Middlesex between 1916 and 1918.
Of obvious interest to genealogists when trying to find a little more out about First World War ancestors, this collection will also be of interest to academic researchers. The papers provide a snapshot of a specific area of the country during the unique period of conscription. The papers provide insights, albeit slightly confined, to the ways in which a major industrial conflict affected individuals, households, businesses and communities on the home front.
So an additional way to draw out information from the collection is to use our advanced search function on Discovery, our online catalogue. Try searching by the terms “Conscientious’, “Domestic”, “Financial” or “Business” and this will return all case papers which included these grounds for appeal. This can work just the same way if you wish to search for a specific occupation or trade, such as “Piano Tuner” or “Chemist”, or if searching by town. If you utilise the download function once you have a results list, this will enable you to create a very quick spreadsheet (which will require some tidying up) of all applicants and their addresses who sort exemption on a specific ground of appeal, of a specific employment or residing in a specific town.
The appeal of utilising this sort of data can be seen when looking at other projects, such as the Bomb Sight project which has used the World War Two bomb census data to create an online map of where bombs fell across London. For the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal, using the data in this way might be of particular interest when looking for specific areas of resistance to the Military Service Act within the county. It is important to note, however, that this data is limited to only the cases heard before the County Appeal Tribunal in Middlesex. Thousands of cases would have been heard at local tribunals across the county and not had their decisions appealed to the county tribunal.
Researchers interested in Tribunal areas of the rest of England, Scotland and Wales should contact their local record office but not all records survive following official orders to destroy Tribunal records in the years following the end of the conflict. This was a unique period in our history, however, and any surviving records provide a fascinating insight into how the demands of modern, industrial warfare impacted households, communities and businesses as the country struggled to balance military, industrial and home front needs.