British Military Service Tribunals, 1916-18'A very much abused body of men'
Subject Area: History
BIC Category: First World War
Published: May 2011
234 x 156 mm
Publisher: Manchester University Press
Military Service Tribunals were formed following the introduction of conscription in January 1916, to consider applications for exemption from military service. Swiftly, they gained two opposing yet equally unflattering reputations. In the eyes of the military, they were soft, obstructionist ‘old duffers’. To most of the men who came before them, they were the unfeeling civilian arm of a remorseless grinding machine.
This work, utilising a rare surviving set of Tribunal records, challenges both perspectives. Wielding unprecedented power yet acutely sensitive to the contradictions inherent in their task, the Tribunals were obliged, often at a conveyer belt’s pace, to make decisions that often determined the fate of men. That some of these decisions were capricious or even wrong is indisputable; the sparse historiography of the Tribunals has too often focused upon the idiosyncratic example while ignoring the wider, impact of imprecise legislation, government hand-washing and short-term military exigencies.
2. The Tribunal System: provenance, characteristics and timeline
3. The Matter of Conscience
4. Boot and Shoe
6. 'In a way of Business': Directing Heads, Sole Traders and the Professions
7. Rank, Deference and Empathy
8. Fitness to Serve
9. The Tribunals and the Volunteer Training Corps
The history, or rather histories, of the tribunals has remained largely unwritten, so it is a great benefit to have McDermott’s excellent study of the system .... McDermott fulfils a double service to First World War literature: both providing a first monograph-length study of the tribunals and challenging, through in-depth research, the negative image of tribunals left by conscientious objectors and their supporters.
Stuart Hallifax, English Historical Review, October 2012
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