The process whereby men were called up for service in the army was made simple for the government by a blanket decree (Military Service Act 1916).
It stated that all British male subjects, ordinarily resident in Great Britain who had attained the age of 18 on August 15, 1915, and were under 41, would (on a future date to be appointed) be automatically deemed to be enlisted into the army, unless on November 2, 1915, they were married or a widower with dependent children.
Married men and all widowers would be drawn into the net by May 1916 by the passing of a second Act.
The date of coming into effect of the first Act was set at March 2, 1916, and unless a man was covered by a number of exceptions (chiefly those already regular soldiers, discharged men and territorials who had signed up for overseas service), those covered by the Act would be legally regarded as being in the army and if not already serving transferred to the reserve.
They were henceforth liable at any time to respond to army instructions to report for training and deployment unless they had appealed against enlistment by the appointed date March 2, 1916.
Posters were prominently displayed to notify affected men of the coming into effect of the Act, and the press reports of tribunals the project are now recording show that from March 28 to June 20, 1916, more than 400 appeals had been heard in Tynemouth Borough alone.
Appeals could be heard under a number of categories for exemption from (or deferral) of call-up.
The most common were from men, often self-employed, who foresaw financial ruin and the loss of their business to competitors not serving if required to answer the call-up.
Typical of these were hairdressers whose appeals often fell on deaf ears at the tribunals.
John Robert Allen’s appeal was heard on May 29, 1916, when he was granted a one month deferral.
It would seem that further deferral(s) were granted until April 17, 1917, he was refused further exemption and given one month’s grace.
He argued that he was the last remaining hairdresser in Cullercoats and (probably unwisely) that he knew of many other hairdressers in the borough granted exemption.
The tribunal promptly suggested that he contacted one of them to look after his business.
This aspect of the war is much neglected and the project will be able to relate more stories as it follows the reports of the tribunals from 1916 to the end of the war.
Sadly John Allen would not return to pick up the threads of his business as he was killed in the German Spring offensive near Arras on March 28, 1918.
The project’s next talk at the Low Lights Tavern, Brewhouse Bank, Fish Quay, will be given by Jeff Bennett, of the Western Front Association, on the topic of the The War the Artillery Knew. No tickets are required for the talk at 7.30pm on Tuesday, April 21.
The final public lecture in association with Northumbria University will be given by Richard van Emden, best-selling author of The Last Fighting Tommy and Boy Soldiers. He will talk on his latest work, Meeting the Enemy: the Human face of the Great War.
The free lecture is at 6.15pm on Tuesday, April 28, at City Campus East, opposite Manors Metro Station.
A public talk on the conscientious objectors will be given at Discovery Museum, Blandford Square, Newcastle, by Dr Andre Keil, of Durham University, at 1pm on Saturday, April 18. Tickets (£4) can be obtained by contacting Marleen Vincenten on (0191) 277 2166. The event is a part of the Tyne and Wear Museum’s Wor Life programme of events.
The information centre in Front Street, Tynemouth, is open over the school holidays and at weekends, thereafter for the spring and summer.
The project workroom at Room B9, Linskill Community Centre, Trevor Terrace, North Shields, is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for visitors to learn more.
The address for correspondence is c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields NE30 1AR.