To coincide with commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, The National Library of Wales (NLW) has published on its website The Cardiganshire Great War Appeals Tribunals Records.
Conscription came into effect in January 1916 through The Military Service Act; this required adult males to register for military service, unless they possessed a certificate of exemption. Men could apply to local tribunals, made up of borough or district councillors, for exemption on the grounds of:
- that the man was engaged in work of national importance;
- that the man was training for a role of national importance;
- family or financial hardship; or
- a conscientious objection.
Members of the local tribunals were not trained and their decisions were highly inconsistent; therefore, county tribunals were set up to adjudicate in cases where men were appealing against the decision of the local tribunals. In 1921, the Government ordered that all county tribunal records should be destroyed; nevertheless the Cardiganshire records survived and were deposited at the NLW in 1924 by George Eyre Evans and Sgt. Major Thomas Richard Fear (founder of the ‘Aberystwyth Comforts for Fighters Fund’). Now the archive is completely unique in Wales, and one of the few of its kind that exists in the United Kingdom.
Completing the Application for Exemption forms, that were presented in English, would in itself have posed a significant challenge to the mainly monolingual applicants, who would often have to rely on their employer or an educated member of the community to apply on their behalf. The information within the Tribunals Records offers an insight to the personal circumstances of those applying for exemption, as well as the impact of conscription on rural communities.
For example, in April, 1916, Davies & Edwards, Corn & Flour Merchants, Baker and General Grocer, based at Mile End, Lampeter, apply for exemption on behalf of Thomas Davies Evans, as follows:- “Thomas Davies Evans is the only male servant employed by us. He does the carting of incoming and outgoing Grain Stuffs, and has to handle generally every day a considerable number of Sacks of Flour (280 lbs), Maize (240 lbs), and other heavy grain; cart and deliver the same to Cottages and Farms up to a distance of about 10 miles from Lampeter. Having regard to the heavy and arduous nature of grain handling, and also to the Compensation Acts, a man of his capacity is absolutely indispensable to our Grain trade. We maintain that by delivering Foodstuffs he supplies essential domestic needs of the district.”
The local tribunal grants him exemption for 3 months, stating:- “Davies and Edwards state that they cannot carry on the business of grain and corn merchants without the aid of this man, as they have failed to find a substitute, and under the circumstances we thought that they ought to have at least two or three months to disperse of that branch of their business, which they state is about two-thirds of their whole business.”
However, Llewelyn Bankes Price, the Military Representative for the area, contests this decision stating “that no serious hardship would ensue if this man were called up for Army service”.
As with the majority of appeals, the county tribunal adjudicates in May 1916 – “that the man be not exempted”. Thomas Davies Evans leaves his home town of Lampeter to serve in the Royal Engineers; sadly, he will never return. His fate can be traced by referencing the Welsh National Book of Remembrance, which was recently transcribed and indexed as part of the ‘Wales For Peace’ programme.
The Cardiganshire Great War Appeals Tribunals Records were digitised and made available to the public through an online crowdsourcing resource recently developed by the NLW, while financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund enabled NLW staff to visit community groups to train their members in how to use the online resource to transcribe and index the records. Thanks to the dedication of over 200 volunteers, the collection can now be searched by name, address, date, etc.
To view The Cardiganshire Great War Appeals Tribunals Records, please visit the Archives section of the Digital Gallery on – www.library.wales