The MH 47 series contains 11,000 case papers from the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal which, between 1916 and 1918, heard appeals from men who had previously applied to a local tribunal for exemption from compulsory military service. The reasons provided by applicants are varied, with applications made on moral grounds (conscientious objectors), on medical grounds (disability), on family grounds (looking after dependents) and on economic grounds (preserving a business). The vast majority of cases relate to the impact of war on a man’s family or their business interests, and the papers reveal some fascinating and tragic stories.
The case papers within MH 47 provide a unique insight into the tensions created between Government and society during the First World War, which saw casualties and fatalities reach previously unimaginable levels.
This project, jointly funded by the Friends of The National Archives and Federation of Family History Societies (FFHS) will digitise these papers and make them name searchable online, making them much more accessible to our readers.
The MH 47 project team will be examining case studies from the papers as the work progresses, so keep an eye on The National Archives’ blog.
Due to the sensitive issues that surrounded compulsory military service during and after the First World War, only a small minority 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 the Middlesex Appeal records and a similar set for Lothian and Peebles in Scotland, which were to be retained as a benchmark for possible future use. A sample of records from the Central Tribunal were also retained, which are also part of the MH 47 series. Some incomplete sets of records relating to local tribunals are held at local Record Offices in areas that resisted destroying all of their records. For more information on which records do survive, search for ‘military service tribunals’ on the Access to Archives database.
The MH 47 series is a key collection of First World War records, of interest to social, local, military and family historians alike, and the collection will be available to download by the centenary of the outbreak of war in 2014.
The digitisation of this series has been made possible through funding from the Friends of The National Archives and FFHS. This joint funding partnership is the first such venture for The National Archives, and we are delighted that the support of both organisations will allow the opening up of a valuable resource, which is currently poorly-described and consequently under-used, to researchers.
Like many of our current projects, the MH 47 project benefits from the work of a team of dedicated volunteers under The National Archives’ user participation programme. The volunteers are currently preparing and repackaging the documents for conservation prior to digitisation and catalogue enhancement work.
Access to certain pieces will be disrupted until summer 2013. Advance ordering is possible but we cannot guarantee that the documents required will be available. Please contact us to check that the records that you wish to consult are not affected before you travel.
You can find out more about the records in the catalogue, and further background information in our our guide to researching conscientious objectors. Examples of some of the case papers can be seen below:
Manchester University Press, 2011
'Mr William King Baker, the father of the applicants, attended before the tribunal, and stated that his sons were not shirkers but were workers.'
Extract from MH 47/66