National Records of Scotland

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Military Service Appeal Tribunals

Military Service Appeal Tribunals

The Military Tribunal system was set up under the Military Service Act 1916, which set down terms for mandatory military service. This updated the Derby Scheme, a voluntary recruiting scheme devised by Edward Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby, Director General of Recruiting, whereby men who 'attested', or voluntarily registered to serve in the military, would only be called upon for service when necessary. That scheme was introduced in autumn 1915 but was unsuccessful and abandoned by December. The new Military Service Act required all single adult males, aged between 18 and 41, to register for military service unless they possessed a certificate of exemption. By April 1918 the age range was extended, so that men aged from 17 to 51 could be called up, and exemptions were further restricted.

From 1916, men seeking exemption from military service could apply to various tribunals. There were three types: Local Tribunals, Appeal Tribunals and a Central Tribunal based in London.

Local Tribunals were appointed by the Local Registration Authorities designated under the National Registration Act 1915 (in most cases these were burgh and city councils). They dealt with attested (voluntary servicemen) and non-attested (conscripted) applications. Recruiting officers or other military representatives were also entitled to attend any hearing and to question applicants.

Military Service Appeal Tribunals were appointed by the Crown, and in Scotland these were held within sheriffdoms. Any applicant refused exemption by the Local Tribunal, or dissatisfied with the type of exemption granted, had a right of appeal to it. Conversely military representatives or recruiting officers could appeal against the exemption granted to an applicant.

A Central Tribunal at Westminster in London was the final court of appeal. It largely dealt with difficult cases that would stand as precedent for local tribunals. Any person dissatisfied with a decision of an Appeal Tribunal could appeal to it, but only provided they were given leave to do so by the Appeal Tribunal. The Central Tribunal frequently took over cases in which conscientious objection was made by men who had already been called up. A sample of these records survive in The National Archives at Kew (The National Archives reference MH47).

Exemptions granted by tribunals could be permanent, conditional or temporary, and all could be revoked.

Due to the sensitive issues that surrounded compulsory military service during and after the First World War, only a small minority of the tribunal papers survive. In the years that followed the end of the war, the Government issued instructions that all tribunal material should be destroyed, except for two samples - the Appeal records for Middlesex in England, and the Lothian and Peebles records in Scotland. These were to be retained as a benchmark for possible future use.

The Lothian and Peebles Appeal Tribunal are now deposited in the National Records of Scotland  (reference: HH30) and cover the Local Tribunal areas of Edinburgh, the Lothians and the Borders. Other chance survivals for Scotland exist, including papers from the Ross, Cromarty and Sutherland (Lewis Section) Appeal Tribunal, which are preserved in the NRS as part of Stornoway Sheriff Court records (reference: SC33/62). Both of these records series are now available on ScotlandsPeople.

Frequently men, or their employers, might request exemption on the grounds that it was in the national interest to continue in their current work. Exemptions were also considered on personal grounds, for example hardship, ill-health or conscientious objection. It was certainly not the case that all applications submitted were from men who were unwilling to fight, as large numbers of applicants were previously attested men (volunteers).

What can I learn from Military Service Appeal records?

You can find out the grounds on which people appealed against military service, whether they appealed themselves or whether their relatives or employers appealed on their behalf and whether their appeal was successful or not. The records can include a statement furthering the reason for the appeal. Some of these statements can include further information about the person appealing and his family. Each set of case papers should include an appeal form, local tribunal application form and a notice of decision form which confirms the final decision of the Appeal Tribunal. The appeal application form gives the address, age and occupation in most cases. Some appeals papers include additional correspondence  in support of the appeal.

For some entries the appeal papers themselves do not survive, but related applications for medical re-examination have survived. This will be indicated in the relevant index entries. Applications for medical re-examination include the name of a person, address, occupation, age and the result of the examination. In some cases you can also see the handwriting of the person who appealed