Rare Insight Into Life Away From WW1 Front Line

Rare Insight Into Life Away From WW1 Front Line

A treasure trove of letters recently discovered at the Staffordshire archive service has shed light on the men who made a stand against conscription during World War One for the sake of their families, jobs and communities.

The 100-year-old documents, which should have been destroyed after the war, offer a rare look at home life during the war, as conscription was introduced to bolster the undermanned frontline.

One letter, which pleaded for exemption to the newly introduced military service act of 1916, said: "Serious hardship would ensue if I was called up to service, owing to the fact that I am the sole proprietor of the business upon which the support of my family exclusively depends."

It was then the jobs of military service tribunals to decide whether a reasonable excuse existed to exempt a man from conscription.

The government meant well when it set the panels up - but it was much criticised at the time and after for their composition.

Local authorities were responsible for appointing panel members, which in many cases meant they appointed themselves.

Another letter, from a man's employer, argued: "We contend he's doing work of national importance in helping to supply salt to the government and other munition factories."

The government was trying to strike the right balance between providing much needed soldiers with ensuring manufacturing continued at home to supply the military and those left behind.

Matthew Blake, from the Staffordshire archive, told Sky News: "It divided society - people were going off to war, clearly with quite serious consequences.

"There was division between married men and single men - who should go first, and also, perhaps people couldn't understand why some were given exemptions."

The letters we've seen back this up - with conscientious objectors causing particular concern.

One resident wrote to the panel and said: "I wish to call your earnest attention to a case of exemption, which was granted to G Tooth Jr and which expires within a few days.

"He resides at number 15 Brook Street and it will not be doing justice in the same street if he's allowed to shirk out of doing his duty towards his King and country."