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Conscription appeal records go online

Published: 19 Nov 2015 00:01

Issued on behalf of National Records for Scotland

The details of approximately 6,000 Scottish men who appealed against conscription during the First World War are being made available online for the first time. From today (Thursday 19th November) the information, which dates back to 1916, will be accessible via the ScotlandsPeople website.

The records of the Lothian and Peebles Military Appeal Tribunal and the Ross, Cromarty and Sutherland (Lewis Section) Appeal Tribunal contain thousands of cases of men who appealed against their compulsory call-up for military service following the introduction of conscription. The reasons ranged from ill health, personal or family hardship and conscientious objection to claims for exemption because their work was important to the national interest.

The online cases are all that survives of the many local tribunals that handled appeals throughout Scotland; many were destroyed in 1921 following an order by the Ministry of Health. The cases from the Lothian and Peebles Appeal Tribunal were kept as a sample, while the records of the Ross, Cromarty and Sutherland (Lewis Section) Appeal Tribunal survived by accident.

Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, said:

"These powerful online records are an important part of our history and demonstrate the challenges thousands of Scottish men and their families faced during the First World War. I encourage people to learn more about this important period and to contribute any information they have to piece together a fuller picture of what life was like for our men."

Tim Ellis, Chief Executive of National Records of Scotland, said:

"We are privileged to be commemorating the First World War centenary by making available this special series of records. The documents will be invaluable to family historians researching their ancestors and the lives recorded also reveal a poignant picture of life on the home front and beyond."

Case study

The appellants were a cross-section of Scottish society and reflect the deep impact of the First World War on the home front.

An appeal by Henry Drummond, a plumber in Loanhead, illustrates the weighing up of national and local public interests.

On 30 May 1916 the Local Tribunal had granted Henry Drummond a conditional exemption from military service by reasoning that his current employment as a Sanitary Engineer was in the national interests. At the time he was installing a new water supply to Roslin Powder Mills which was imperative for the continued production of munitions.

By 9 March 1917 he had trained with the Loanhead Volunteer Corps and applied for withdrawal of his certificate of exemption to make him available for the Army. However, the Local Tribunal considered that his continued exemption from military service was in the interests of the 3,500 people living in the burgh.

"This man is the only Plumber in the Burgh… The Public Health Acts have to be carried out, and any arrangement of the Sewage system – a choke for instance – might endanger the health of the Burgh. The recent weather and the number of burst water pipes is an indication of the necessity of a local plumber" (HH30/13/8/43 page2). The Tribunal decided that it was in the public interests for Henry to remain in his civil occupation and dismissed the case for withdrawing his conditional exemption.

Notes to editors

The Military Tribunal system was set up under the Military Service Act 1916 which set down terms for mandatory military service. The Act required all adult males, aged 18-41, to register for military service unless they possessed a certificate of exemption. By April 1918, the age range was extended, so that men aged from 17 to 51 could be called up, and exemptions were further restricted.

From 1916, men seeking exemption from military service could apply to various tribunals. There were three types: Local Tribunals, Appeal Tribunals, and a Central Tribunal based in London.

The record set was catalogued, repaired and digitised in a two-year project (2008-2010) involving student volunteers from the University of Edinburgh, supported by archivists and conservators of the National Archives of Scotland (now National Records of Scotland).

The records can be accessed via

The attached images relate to Henry Drummond's case.