Rare Staffordshire records reveal WW1 hearings

Conscription was introduced in 1916, after the number of volunteers fell

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Volunteers are being sought to help collate a rare collection of documents from World War One.

The records, which should have been destroyed, document the Staffordshire tribunals for men appealing against conscription - introduced in 1916.

Hearings were held across the country for men hoping to avoid the trenches.

The archive, held at the records office in Stafford, is believed to include the details of 20,000 such tribunals.

Communities 'struggling'

Orders went out after WW1 to destroy documents from hearings, but Matthew Blake, from the records office, said he believed this collection was kept out of "benign neglect".

Professor Karen Hunt, from Keele University, said it was unclear why the Ministry of Health issued the order in 1922, but it might have been simply because they were no longer needed.

They were later entered into the Staffordshire archives as part of the personal papers of the then clerk of the county council George Eustace Joy.

Mr Blake said the collection had never been opened up and needed collating before they could be digitised and made accessible to the public.

Professor Hunt said appeals against military service were often brought by conscripted men's employers.

She said the hearings were set up to balance the need for men on the frontline, while supporting manufacturing to provide supplies for both the army and the country as a whole.

Mr Blake said the records revealed how communities and businesses were coping with conscription.

"What we see are communities that are stressed and struggling," he said.

Trench Conscription was introduced in 1916 as casualty rates rose and the number of volunteers dropped
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Van man

In one case, bakery owner Jane B Mackery appeals on behalf of her assistant and delivery driver George Astles, 27.

According to the records, she told the tribunal: "He is my van man and is absolutely essential to my business.

"When not employed on his rounds he is otherwise fully employed in assisting.

"My staff has been considerably depleted, three are already serving in the army."

Mr Astles was subsequently exempted from military service.

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WW1 tribunal document Bakery owner Mrs Mackery produced a photo for the tribunal, showing which of her staff had already joined the army
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Conscription
  • Until 1916 Britain depended on a vigorous recruitment campaign to find the men to serve on the Western Front
  • It led to the formation of the Pals battalions, groups of men who joined up and often died together
  • An increase in casualties and drop in recruits meant the government introduced conscription for the first time in the country's history in January 1916
  • The Military Service Act became law, requiring men aged between 18 and 45 to join up, with a number of exemptions
  • In May, the act was widened to include married men and two years later the upper age limit was raised to 51
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Matthew Blake in archive stack Archivist Matthew Blake said the collection of about 20,000 documents had been known about for some time, but had never been opened up

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