British Military Service Tribunals, 1916-18

'A very much abused body of men'

By James McDermott

British Military Service Tribunals, 1916-18


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-8477-5
  • Pages: 264
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: May 2011
  • BIC Category: c 1910 to c 1919, HISTORY / Military / General, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain, Military & Defence Law, Humanities / First World War, Modern History, History, United Kingdom, Great Britain, First World War, European history


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.


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


1. Introduction
2. The Tribunal System: provenance, characteristics and timeline
3. The Matter of Conscience
4. Boot and Shoe
5. Agriculture
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
10. Conclusion


James McDermott is an independent scholar

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