I am a volunteer with an interest in World War 1, but when I was shown a collection of records relating to military tribunals in late 2014, my first impression was that there was little of interest to sort through or transcribe.
These apparently underwhelming documents included: several boxes of unsorted tribunal papers; a collection of over 400 uninspiring looking A3 size official forms, plus 27 ledgers filled with handwritten notes that a drunken spider would have been proud of.
However, after some initial research I soon realised that these documents would be of great interest to both military and family historians and that some of them are important and rare on a national scale.
Many thousands of men up and down the country appealed against call up for military service during World War 1. Their initial appeals were dealt with at local tribunals. About 100,000 men appealed within Gloucestershire (including Bristol) during 1916-1918 and their cases were heard at over 40 different locations within the county, including Thornbury. In 1921 the government ordered all the files of military tribunals to be destroyed. But, perhaps because the Thornbury tribunal papers were buried amongst the voluminous records of a local solicitor, paperwork for over 1000 men survived. These have now been fully indexed (D3789 Box 12a & 12b & D1578/8/3/1). Gloucestershire Archives is one of possibly six archives in the UK to have such a collection. And as a bonus, I have found that personal letters from these men are often filed in with their appeals.
The nuggets of information within the 11,000 entries on the A3 size forms have also now been fully transcribed (D570/1/2). These records relate to the second stage of the appeal process at county level. They reveal some interesting details and include 438 conscientious objectors.
The fact that these forms record the date of the tribunal turns out to be extremely helpful for further research. The County Tribunals were reported in great detail in the local newspapers, but the one piece of information they did not report was the name of the man who was appealing. The information from D570/1/2 now allows us to put names to their stories, and so learn more about these men, their work and home life.
The ledgers with the spider writing turned out to be the County Appeal Chairman’s notebooks (D570/2/1-27). My earlier work indexing the tribunal forms in D570/1/2 allowed me to decipher the entries and to index these notebooks by name. They are surprisingly informative when used alongside the other records, and can provide a further insight into why a man was appealing.
Other interesting documents found within the collections relate to the role of women during WW1. A report from 1917 details the type of work women were doing throughout the country and the opposition women faced from men and the unions. There are also some documents recording women from outside the area willing to volunteer to work on the land, sometimes described as being of “good breeding” or “of the educated class”.
To summarise: solely by looking at one type of record relating to the Military Tribunals, (as listed below), you may not get the full story. But by looking through all the various collections, a more complete picture of a man’s life during WW1 can be revealed.
The indexed and transcribed material can now be found when searching the Archives’ online catalogue. There is also a more detailed index which shows what material exists for an individual across all the Military Tribunal Collections on the “Gloucestershire Remembers WW1 page of the Archives’ website.
Relevant Gloucestershire Archives references:-
D570/1-3 (Gloucestershire Military Service Appeal Tribunal)
D1340/C3/Z1 (Society of Friends, Preparative Meetings, Gloucester)
D3789 Box 1 (Crossman and Thurston of Thornbury, solicitors, Papers relating to Thornbury Military Appeal Tribunals)
D3789 Box 12a & 12b (Crossman and Thurston of Thornbury, solicitors: Thornbury War Tribunal: applications for exemption from military service and related papers)
D1578/8/3/1 (Thurstons and Setchell of Thornbury (formerly Thurston, Jelly and Burbridge), solicitors; Thornbury War Tribunal: applications for exemption from military service and related papers)
by David Drinkwater, Volunteer, Gloucestershire Archives