Loss and sacrifice on the Home Front, 1914-1918
Today’s blog post, using the Military Service Tribunal papers from MH 47, will look at the emotional impact of the First World War on the Home Front. We will specifically see how the shared experiences of military service, loss and sacrifice affected individual households and the local communities they formed a part of.
97 years ago, on 25 May 1916, compulsory military service into the Army was extended from single men and widowers without children to cover all men – single and married – aged between 18 and 41, and who had been resident in Great Britain since 4 August 1914. This extension of conscription was a result of the continued difficulties of manning the army due to the number of casualties overseas.
The story of John Gordon Shallis is one of the many interesting finds from our MH 47 pre-digitisation work. Mr Shallis appealed for exemption from military service on grounds of domestic hardship, having lost four of his brothers during the war. John’s mother is described as a “cripple” on his appeal form, having broken her leg, and his father was away carrying out Home Defence duties with the Territorial Force. This left John as the only son left for the family.
The first of John’s brothers to lose his life was George Victor Shallis, a member of the Merchant Navy. George was on board the armed merchant ship HMS Viknor when it went down off the coast of Northern Ireland on 31 January 1915. The Admiralty case file in ADM 116 reveals that the Viknor most likely struck a mine having been blown off course by bad weather. George is listed as a Steward, with his wife and their address listed under Next of Kin (see image, below).
Entry for George Shallis found in Admiralty case file for loss of HMS Viknor (ADM 116/1442)
Continue reading »
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.
Continue reading »
I am going to start this blog post by asking a few questions. If faced with compulsory military service today, what would be the impact on our own individual lives? Would we need time to settle our domestic responsibilities before being able to serve? Would it be in the national interest for us to stay in the employment, training or social role which we currently hold? And what personnel would businesses and industries require to ensure the continued support to our local communities, especially the young and elderly?
Fortunately for us in Britain today these questions are purely hypothetical but 97 years ago (give or take a few days), on 27 January 1916, the British Government passed the first Military Service Act, meaning compulsory military service for every British male aged between 18 and 41 who was either unmarried or a widower without children. Exemption could be granted from this conscription into the military forces with a Tribunal system established to hear applications and appeals at local district or borough level, County appeal and a final Central appeal level in London.
Continue reading »