Did your ancestor appeal for exemption from military service during the First World War? Search through this index of Northamptonshire military tribunal case records. The index will provide information on the box number the case file is kept in at the Northamptonshire Archives and the appeal number, as well as your ancestor’s name, age, residence and occupation. The index will also show the reason for appeal, outcome, date of the decision and additional information on the final decision.

Discover more about these records

Military Service Act

The Military Service Act was passed in January 1916 and came into force on 2 March 1916. It saw the introduction of conscription for the first time to Britain. To begin with, it applied to single men and childless widowers aged 18-41, however, by May 1916 it was extended to married men. In May 1918, the conscription age was raised to 51. Conscription was brought in because after over a year of the war the army needed more men to fight than they could get from those volunteering. However, there could be exemptions based on:

  • Occupation
  • Hardship because of personal, business or domestic circumstances
  • Medical
  • Conscientious objectors
  • In training for important work

If someone felt they should be exempt from military service, they could apply to the local tribunal,on the Urban and District Council level. If a person was not happy with the tribunal’s decision (i.e. they would have to join the armed forces), they could make a final appeal to the Northamptonshire County Appeals Tribunal. No records have survived for the Local Tribunals of Northamptonshire, but for the County Appeals Northamptonshire Archives 11,200 case files have survived.

The records

These are records that should not have survived because everyone wanted to forget this side of the war. However, by an unknown quirk of fate, they have survived and are a view on a period of little-known British history. The records highlight the tensions the war created within communities. The records also tell the story of not only the steely hand of the state reaching into people’s homes and workplaces, going against many British values, but also about the human effort to limit this reaching. They also offer a glimpse into ordinary Northamptonshire life that census returns can never offer.

These are a unique and very large set of records that are not often found in other archives. Due to the sensitive issues that surrounded compulsory military service during and after the First World War, only a small number of the tribunal papers survive. In the years that followed the end of the war, the government issued instructions to the Local Government Boards that all tribunal material should be destroyed, except for a sample for Middlesex (which are stored at The National Archives) and Lothian and Pebbles (stored at the National Scottish Archives). Additionally, there was a smattering of records that survived around the country, unauthorised. For example, 11,200 case files for the Northamptonshire County Appeals have survived.

Since 2013, a team of dedicated volunteers have been going through all the case files to create an index of all the men who appeared before the Northamptonshire County Appeals Tribunal. The index, now available on Findmypast, will provide information on the box number the case file is kept in, appeal number, name, age, residence, occupation, reason for the appeal, outcome, date of the decision and additional information on the final decision.

The original tribunal case records are held at the Northamptonshire Archives and because they provide information on a cross section of Northamptonshire men’s health, work and home lives, the records are extremely useful for those studying social, local, business, military and family history. Industries such as the boot and shoe trade or farming, which once dominated the county but leave very few records, can now be better understood due to the wealth of information provided in these records.. People using this index are welcome to visit Northamptonshire Archives to look through the case files themselves, or else can order copies of the documents to be made for them. For more details please see the Northamptonshire Archive website.

It is the human stories that come out of the case files that are so powerful. There are examples of mothers writing to the tribunal begging them not to take their last sons away to fight, of villages pleading for the last baker in the village not to be taken away, and even of sisters writing to the tribunals begging them to take their brothers away into the army because it will do them well. All these examples show the tensions the war created amongst communities and families, and the index created is a huge step forward in unlocking these personal stories.