When conscription was introduced in 1916, the provisions of the act seemed clearcut. On 11 February 1916, the West Lothian Courier reported:
Military Service Act, 1916.
Every unmarried man of military age, not excepted or exempted under this Act can choose one of two courses:-
He can enlist at once and join the colours without delay.
He can attest [promise to go when needed] at once under the group system, and be called up in due course with his group.
If he does neither, a third course awaits him: - He will be deemed to have enlisted under the Military Service Act on Wednesday March 1st, 1916.
Conscription was soon extended to include married men as well. And when the need for soldiers became every more pressing, the Government returned to the men who held exemptions and combed out the munitions works and mines, for those men who could be spared for the services.
But conscription was not a blanket and automatic call-up for all men of military age. A man could appeal against conscription – and many did – on various grounds, such as, domestic hardship, business necessity, unfitness, or being an essential worker.
Appeals were held by local tribunals, usually composed of one of two councillors, and respected businessmen. They decided each case on its merits. At first they were fairly sympathetic, and were open to being persuaded that a man should not be sent into the army. They might agree that the man need not go, as long as he would take on essential war work in addition to his existing job; or as long as he would join the Volunteer movement – a sort of WW1 Home Guard; or they might give him a few weeks or months to sort out his domestic or business affairs, before re-examining his case.
As the war progressed and the need for more soldiers became ever more desperate, the tribunals became tougher to convince and were more apt to dismiss the applicants’ claims and send them off to the army.
Open the attached PDF to find out what happened to some of the Fauldhouse men who appealed against conscription.
©1914-18: Fauldhouse Remembers Group
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