Conscription in the Great War

When war was declared the British Armed Forces were full time or Territorial both of which relied upon men/women making the choice to join.

Even at the declaration of war the immediate increase of armed forces was supplied by the many volunteers fired by patriotism.

By the end of 1915 the number of volunteers was dropping with barely enough new troops to make up for losses let alone expand the size of the army.

In June 1916 the matter had become critical so the Government introduced conscription for all men between 18 and 41 years of age.

The were exemptions for ministers of religion, those medically unfit,  men involved in essential work and conscientious objectors.

Those men called up could appeal that they were exempt to a tribunal who were set up locally containing respected local residents representing local government and tradesmen. A military representative was also often present.

In the case of medically unfit the decision was normally based upon a Doctors examination but in other cases, especially that of "involved in essential work" the circumstances were often argued in depth as to what was essential.

Conscientious objectors tended to have a difficult time at tribunals. While some of there appeals were allowed the majority were required to join up albeit in the many non combative roles such as the Pioneers, Medical Orderlies etc.

The Tribunals could agree to:-

Exemption from call up for the duration of the war

A time limited exemption to provide time for the person to make arrangements to cover for their absence

Dismiss the appeal which would mean an immediate call up.

If a Tribunal dismissed and appeal then a further appeal could be made to the central Essex Tribunal set up to hear all appeals and on rare occasions the Military could themselves appeal a decision to give an exemption.

If an appeal against conscription was dismissed and the person refused their call up then a prosecution ensues with imprisonment invariably the result.

  In Essex tribunals were set up at Billericay, Braintree, Brentwood, Burnham on Crouch, Chelmsford, Clacton on Sea, Colchester, Colchester Rural ( Lexden & Winstree) Dunmow, Epping, Frinton on Sea, Harwich, Leyton, Romford, Saffron Walden, Shoeberryness, Stansted, Tendring, West Ham and Wivenhoe.

The tribunals were public committees, which means that details of appeals often appeared in the local newspapers and minutes were taken, many of which can be read at Essex Records Office.

In April 1918 The Manpower Bill made all men aged up to 50 to be liable for military service.

The men who were called up were used for Home Defence which in turn released younger men for front line duty.

Conscription continued after Armistice Day but was phased out by mid 1919 with the army reverting to traditional recruitment.