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The fate of those who refused to fight for king and country; During World War I, men who felt they should be exempt from the draft due to poor health, potential damage to their business, family hardship or a conscientious objection had to apply to a tribunal, which would decide whether or not they should be conscripted. Marcus Hughes looks back at some local cases.

ON JULY 26, 1918, a tribunal was held in Barry to decide the fate of a young man who had applied for exemption from military service.

A year into the war, it had become evident that volunteering was not meeting the numbers required to fight the expanding conflict.

In March 1916, the Military Service Act - conscription - came into force, meaning that unmarried men or widowers between the ages of 19 and 41 could be forced to report for military duty.

By May, that age had been lowered to 18, and conscripted men had no choice about which service regiment or unit they joined.

Some men were exempt from the draft, including clergymen, teachers and some classes of industrial worker.

Men who felt they should be exempt due to poor health, potential damage to their business, family hardship or a conscientious objection had to apply to a tribunal, which would decide whether or not they should be conscripted.

All conscientious objectors who were called up had to explain initially to a local tribunal why they should not be forced to serve in the military.

The tribunal could either reject the application, meaning that the individual would be called up into the Army, or they could allow an exemption.

If the decision of the tribunal went against the applicant, he had the right to appeal to a more rigorous county tribunal.

Convincing a tribunal could be very difficult. A Barry Dock News article from 100 years ago today reported a meeting of the Barry Local Military Tribunal to decide the fate of a young man who had applied for exemption due to ill-health.

The report read: "In connection with an application for exemption on the ground of ill-HEAITH, the Chairman remarked that no young man of 18 should be anywhere but in the Army.

"Applicant was granted three months' exemption on the ground of ill-health, but [must] present himself for service in the VTC (Volunteer Training Corps).

"He must be ready to join the Army at any time. Several medical certificates to the effect that applicant was at present practically unfit were handed in. This was all the business."

Those who were exempted from military service were issued with papers and badges to prove they were undertaking war work.

This was important due to the social pressure to be seen to do your duty - men remaining at home while their neighbours' sons and husbands were on the front line needed to be able to demonstrate they were working in the national interest.

Around 300 conscientious objectors who failed to convince the tribunals that they should be granted an exemption were transported to France, where they were told they would be shot.

In fact, the death penalty was not imposed - but some were marched to face a mock firing squad as a form of psychological punishment.

Most conscientious objectors were sentenced to terms of imprisonment with hard labour, and many were not released until June 1919, seven months after the end of the war.

Conscientious objectors fell into three categories - alternativists, who were prepared to undertake alternative civilian work not under military control; non-combatants, who would accept the call-up on the condition of having a non-combat role in the Army; and absolutists, who believed that any alternative service supported the war effort.

Many claimed conscientious objection to stay in line with their religious beliefs.

For the Quakers, who had been instrumental in getting the conscience clause added to the Military Service Act, the decision to be "absolutist" or "non-combatant" wasn't as clear-cut as might be imagined.

Many Quakers did enlist because they wanted to show their patriotism.

Those Quakers who didn't want to join the military established what became known as the Friends' Ambulance Unit, which was an avenue for them to demonstrate their loyalty to their country without having to take up arms.

This fitted in with another aspect of the Quaker concept of "peace testimony" - that they wished to show their support for the victims of war.

Barry Military Tribunal heard dozens of cases each week from local people who had applied for exemption, and many were granted it on the grounds that their work was necessary to the war effort.

A report from the Barry Dock News on June 21, 1918, read: "Four months was granted a provision dealer, coaltrimmer, buyer and manager for a wholesale potato merchants, and a master plumber and house decorator.

"To a master plumber and house decorator, an ironmonger, builder, outfitter, ship furnisher, tailor, boot and shoe retailer, grocer and engineer, four months' exemption was granted.

"And three months was granted to a plumber, three butchers, furniture dealer, engineer, motor and cycle agent, and a fishmonger."

In all, about 16,000 men refused to take up arms or fight during the First World War for any number of religious, moral, ethical or political reasons - Quakers forming a large proportion of them.

By the Second World War, following the National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939, there were nearly 60,000 registered conscientious objectors. Testing by tribunals resumed, this time by special conscientious objection tribunals chaired by a judge, and the penalties were thought to be much less harsh.

By this time, if a person objected for a reason other than religious grounds, it was generally enough to say they objected to "warfare as a means of settling international disputes".

However, conscientious objectors still faced a great deal of hostility within their communities, where often hundreds of husbands and sons had been sent to fight in the conflict.

Conscription in the United Kingdom was retained, with rights of conscientious objection, as National Service until the last call-up in 1960 and the last discharge in 1963.

CAPTION(S):

A local military tribunal in 1916, which may be similar to one held in Barry

Conscientious objectors transported to France were told they would be shot. In fact, the death penalty was not imposed - but some were marched to face a mock firing squad as a form of psychological punishment
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 26, 2018
Words:1000
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