The work of the Military Service Tribunals in Northamptonshire, 1916-1918

  • James McDermott

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Military Service Tribunals were established following the passing of the first Military Service Act, 1916, to consider applications for exemption from men deemed thereby to have enlisted. Given that conscription itself was an entirely novel mechanism to early twentieth century Britons, there existed no criteria or known models against which the function of these bodies might have been measured or standardized. Gifted a marked degree of independence by Government, even to the point of determining the nature and quality of evidence they should consider in adjudicating cases, they represented a uniquely autonomous stage in the processes that took men from civilian to military life. Being comprised entirely of civilians, drawn from the communities upon which this new coercion fell, the Tribunals were also the visible, accessible face of Government policy. Their sittings became in effect the sole ‘official’ forums in which the human cost of industrial-scale warfare might be rehearsed without circumspection. Though charged with keeping the national interests of the country foremost in mind, many tribunalists appreciated, or discovered, that local issues and concerns represented no less fundamental a part of those interests than did the maintenance of the New Armies. This thesis, utilizing a rare, near-complete body of Appeals Tribunal records, examines the minutiae of the exemption process. It considers to what extent the contradictions inherent in a ‘system’ staffed by volunteers, implementing legislation that aimed towards an as-yet undefined manpower policy were, or could be, resolved. It also tests largely negative assumptions regarding the attitudes, motives and preconceptions of tribunalists in discharging their role. Finally, it assesses the validity of two prevalent, though conflicting, judgements upon the Tribunals collectively: that either they were too receptive to localist pressures in exempting far more men than had been anticipated by the architects of conscription, or, that in demonstrating an unswervingly middle-class empathy with militarist values, they fell far short of the judicial impartiality required of them by legislation
    Date of Award2009
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Northampton
    SupervisorIan F W Beckett (Supervisor)

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