Download British Military Service Tribunals, 1916-18: 'A Very Much by James McDermott PDF

By James McDermott

Military carrier Tribunals have been shaped following the advent of conscription in January 1916, to think about purposes for exemption from army provider. speedily, they received opposing but both unflattering reputations. within the eyes of the army, they have been tender, obstructionist "old duffers". To lots of the males who got here prior to them, they have been the unfeeling civilian arm of a remorseless grinding computing device.
 
This paintings, using a unprecedented surviving set of Tribunal files, demanding situations either views. Wielding remarkable strength but acutely delicate to the contradictions inherent of their job, the Tribunals have been obliged, frequently at a conveyer belt’s speed, to make judgements that frequently made up our minds the destiny of fellows. That a few of these judgements have been capricious or perhaps fallacious is undeniable; the sparse historiography of the Tribunals has too usually concentrated upon the idiosyncratic instance whereas ignoring the broader, influence of vague laws, govt hand-washing and temporary army exigencies.

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78 Below, p. 109. 79 Below, pp. 74–75. 80 Below, p. 74. indd 35 04/03/2011 14:00 3 The matter of conscience Of the hundreds of thousands of men who appeared before the Tribunals, the relatively few who claimed exemption upon the ground of conscience have attracted the most, and the most subjective, attention. Modern empathy with pacifist principles has made almost mandatory the depiction of the conscientious objector as a victim of, and even martyr to, the thenprevailing spirit of militarism. By the same token, posterity has judged the Tribunals’ record almost exclusively upon their treatment of such men.

3 The most trenchant criticism of the Tribunals is that, having been given the option of granting conscientious objectors unconditional or absolute exemption from service, they chose not to exercise it. The accusation is sustainable, but partial. Superficially, the wording of Long’s instructions regarding cases of conscience seems straightforward: There may be exceptional cases in which the genuine convictions and the circumstances of the man are such that neither exemption from combatant service nor a conditional exemption will adequately meet the case.

Some men claimed that they had misunderstood the implications of attestation (at least one Northamptonshire applicant admitted frankly that he had attested only because ‘I didn’t think for a minute that I should have to go’50); others, that they had been misled as to the consequences of not attesting. 52 Many attested men were also to resent the tighter criteria applied to their certificates (particularly the absence of a two-month ‘grace-period’ following the expiration of their exemptions) as compared to those offered under the Military Service Act – in effect, it was believed that their patriotic gesture in attesting a willingness to serve was being penalized.

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