Commemorating Conscription

Appeal form for Charles Street (catalogue reference MH 47/72/106)

Appeal form for Charles Street (catalogue reference MH 47/72/106)

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.

Discovery advanced search results when searching for Newsagents within the collection highlights 87 case papers

Discovery advanced search results when searching for Newsagents within the collection highlights 87 case papers. Similar searches can be made by grounds of appeal and town of residence

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.


  1. Alexandra Shallis Morphet says:

    I just wanted to register my delight and appreciation. I heard David Langrish this morning talking to Dan Damon on the BBC World Update: Daily Commute Podcast. I was stunned to hear you mention the case of John Gordon Shallis and the compassionate exemption from conscription he was granted in 1917. I immediately recognized this to be the story of my grandfather Cyril Shallis’ adoptive family. I went online and downloaded all the materials. How marvelous to see the newspaper cutting about poor Mr. and Mrs. George Shallis of Harlesden. My grandfather never knew the “brothers” lost in the WWI as he was adopted later as Mr. and Mrs. Shallis rebuilt their family and livelihood. –

    Alexandra Shallis Morphet, Bloomington, Indiana, USA

    1. David Langrish says:

      Hello Alexandra – thank you so much for getting in touch and for providing the extra information regarding the case of John Gordon Shallis and family. It really is a devastating story and a reminder of the way in which this conflict affected so many families. These papers provide a fascinating insight into how the war impacted upon society at home, and so provide living relatives, family historians and researchers with an opportunity to discover the many different ways in which the war changed the lives of individuals, families, businesses and local communities. I’m so pleased that you’ve been able to find the papers for John following our media coverage. Thank you again for being in touch and for your support for the project.

    2. jason shallis says:

      hello distant cousin!!! 😉

  2. Catherine Brubeck says:

    Wish I had heard the broadcast but have read all the documents because my maiden name was Shallis and my father was brought up in the Shallis household featured in your report.
    I believe there are direct descendants still living in Raneleigh Road and wonder if you were in touch with them. I have lost contact with them but it would be great if they knew this moving story.

    1. David Langrish says:

      Hello Catherine. Thank you so much for being in touch. The case of John Gordon Shallis and his family is really heart breaking, and a reminder of the tragic ways in which this conflict affected so many households. It is very pleasing to hear that these papers have been accessed by living relatives of the Shallis family, and that there is the possibility of tracing living relatives in Raneleigh Road. One of the drawbacks when carrying out this sort of project work is that it is not always possible to follow up the subsequent stories and lives of the people concerned. In some cases military service records won’t survive or will not have been released yet, in other cases a common name will make it difficult to trace the correct individual. So it is fantastic to have heard from you, Catherine and for the extra information you have provided. We really do hope that you have enjoyed reading through the case paper of John, despite the very tragic nature of the case. Thank you again for being in touch.

  3. jean says:

    Was there a book written about the Shallis family? I see in the interview on MSN that someone is reading a book entitled The Road Home. Is it available at most sources?

    1. jason shallis says:


      the book is available, my mum, the granddaughter you saw reading it, got it off amazon,

  4. Diane says:

    I too saw the CNN report on MSN and wondered if the book the grand daughter was reading was still available. I would love the locate it…been unsuccessful thus far.

    1. jason shallis says:


      try amazon, that’s where my mum got it from,

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