By the end of the first year of the First World War, in the autumn of 1915, the Army's need to replace the high casualties being suffered on the Western Front and the increasing demands of the war effort, could not be met from voluntary sources. After much debate and opposition the Military Service Act was passed and came into force at the beginning of February 1916, the first compulsory conscription law ever made in Great Britain. Initially all single men and childless widowers aged 18 to 41 were registered for the call-up, and local tribunals were formed to hear applications for exemption. During the remaining years of the war, the call-up would be extended to other categories and age groups as the Army's losses and manpower needs increased; more than 2.3 million men would be conscripted before the war was over.

The first application to be considered by the Yeovil Borough Tribunal in February 1916 was that of an un-named hairdresser who stated that he had invested all his capital in the business and his one assistant had already joined the Army. He was now working single-handed, and his widowed mother was dependent on him. His younger brother was in the Army, another was paralysed and could not work and a third brother was away working in a munitions factory. Efforts to find a new assistant had proved fruitless. The Tribunal granted a conditional exemption on grounds of hardship. The Tribunal granted temporary exemptions for one month to enable arrangements to be made for their replacements to a draper, gents' outfitter, a motor engineer's cashier, and the son of a milk retailer; the application of a tailor was refused.

During the next three years the Borough Tribunal, under the chairmanship of Councillor (later Alderman and Mayor) W.R.E. Mitchelmore, held 72 formal hearings and dealt with 2,686 applications. The applications came from a wide range of ages, occupations and situations, and I've selected a few of the cases to show what the members had to deal with. The Tribunal's proceedings were reported in the local press and although, in the beginning, the names of applicants were withheld, within a few months names were given.

At the beginning of March 1916 the first two conscientious objectors presented their applications. One was a Sunday school superintendent who pleaded for absolute exemption as he was completely opposed to war, his mother was blind, his father had been operated upon three times for cataracts, and he had to look after his father's affairs. The Tribunal ignored the conscientious objection but granted a conditional exemption on grounds of hardship. The second, from a thirty year old glove cutter, was refused as the Tribunal considered his objection was on political and not religious grounds.

At the hearing on 15 March 1917, Frederick Taylor, married, proprietor of a drapery, dressmaking and undertakers business, and classed as B1 (work not of national importance) requested that he should not be given exemption on condition that he joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment of the British Red Cross or the Volunteer Training Corps, because the whole of his time was devoted to the work of the Boys' Briogade, of which he was captain of the Yeovil company. The application was supported by the Wessex Council of the Boys' Brigade which emphasised the importance of his work. Temporary exemption was granted to 1 June next and no further appeal without leave. The application of a twenty year old glover, Frederick Glover of Hillview, on grounds that he had been suffering from bronchial catarrh for six months was dismissed. The twelve other applications heard by the Tribunal included a commercial traveller, motor and agricultural engineer, groom/gardener, plumber, foreman mechanic, and a head warehouseman, all of whom were given conditional exemptions to 1 August next.

On 26 April 1917 some twenty applications were heard, including an accountant, foreman coach body builder, foreman printer, ironmonger, estate agent and auctioneer,master tailor, solicitor's clerk, who was also secretary of the Town Volunteer Fire Brigade, and a discharged soldier; the applicants were married and single with ages ranging from 20 to 41 years.

I found the meeting of 13 September 1917 of special interest. Mr R.L.Hiscott, Clerk to the Tribunal, reported that he had received a recommendation from the military representatives regarding all the cases which would come before them this afternoon. Of the 99 cases applied for, 96 should be given temporary exemption until 1 February 1918, E. Robbins, aged 39, a manufacturer, an unconditional exemption, but those of R.W.Sweet, single, 18 (Messrs Thring and Luffman) and B. Jennings, 18, single (Messrs Atherton and Clothier) should be dismissed as it was not in the national interest that they should be retained in civilian employment. The two young men had just completed their gloving apprenticeships. The Tribunal adopted the recommendation in full. The R.W. Sweet was my father, Reg, and within one month both he and Burt Jennings had joined the Wiltshire regiment. They were sent to France at the beginning of April 1918, but sadly Burt was killed two months later, and my father was badly wounded at the end of October, a few weeks before the fighting ceased. It appeared that the reason for the 96 exemptions was that all the men were glovers and there were large Government contracts to be completed by the end of Defember 1918.

The last meeting of the Borough Tribunal was held on 31 October 1918 following the Local Government Board's decision to amalgamate the Borough and Rural District Tribunals. At this meeting the Western Gazette reported that the following cases were heard:

Alfred E. Stevens (41) married, Pen Park Road, cardboard box manufaturer, applied on several grounds, including that of certified occupation and that he was the directing head of a large business. The application was objected to. The Chairman stated that they understood that the business was entirely dependent on Mr Stevens' control. Mr Kent Francis said that therefore he had the right to claim exemption on that ground. Temporary exemption to May 1, to join the VAD.

Other cases - Henry R.S.Templeman (43), 25 Queen Street, miller (Bradford & Sons), Feb.1st - William John Hewlett (41) 6 Rustywell, cartage contractor &c, May 1st - Alexander Buchanan (50) widower, 20 Brunswick Street, painter &c (Mr E. Minson), May 1st, to join the VAD, Harold Walter Larcombe (18), 64 St. Michael's Avenue, tailor's apprentice, adjourned for re-examination.

Eleven days later the guns fell silent and the war was over; the Tribunals were disbanded within a few months.

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