JUSTICE TO MEN AND COUNTRY: The Mitcham Military Tribunal, 1916–1918

Studies in Merton History 8: by Keith Penny

In this study Keith Penny describes how a volunteer tribunal of local men dealt with the hundreds of appeals against conscription that were reported in the local newspapers of the time. Individual cases are discussed and set in the context of national legislation and local business.

In his introduction, Keith explains ‘I first came across military tribunals in 1971 when reading Goodbye to All That. A J P Taylor’s comment that ‘the tribunals were composed of the elderly and retired, unsympathetic to all young men’ came as no surprise. Thus, when I came across local newspaper reports of the tribunals in Mitcham, I expected my prejudices to be confirmed, but they were not.’

This booklet is a companion volume to Keith’s 263-page online resource CONSCRIPTION IN MITCHAM 1916–1918: Cases heard by the Mitcham Military Tribunal and Cases heard by the Surrey and Croydon Appeals Tribunal, which provides fully-searchable transcripts of these newspaper reports, together with introductory material.


The Mitcham Military Tribunal, 1916-1918

Mr G Farewell Jones presided over an almost full attendance of members, and the by no means easy business
was disposed of with as much dispatch as was possible, having regard to the exceptional difficulty of some of
the cases and the importance of weighing the evidence so as to do justice to the men and the country.

(Wimbledon Herald, 25 February 1916)

Published by

© Keith Penny and Merton Historical Society ISBN 978-1-903899-75-5


I am grateful to Merton Library and Heritage Service for access to its collection of microfilmed local newspapers
and for permission to use images from its Merton Memories collection; to the Imperial War Museum for
permission to reproduce images under its Non-Commercial Licence; to The National Archives for permission
to reproduce images under the Open Government Licence.


In 1964, on the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning for Great Britain of the Great War, I sang in a performance
of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, a work that amalgamates the Roman Catholic requiem mass with poems
by Wilfred Owen. I heard the parody of the story of Abraham and Isaac, in which the old man, rather than
sacrifice the ram of pride, ‘slew his son, and half the seed of Europe, one by one.’ I asked for Owen’s poems as
my school prize, watched BBC television’s The Great War and absorbed much of the view of 1914-18 promoted
in Oh what a Lovely War!, a view which descended to a later generation through the selective reading of war
poets and watching Blackadder.

I first came across military tribunals in 1970 when reading Goodbye to All That. A J P Taylor’s
comment that ‘the tribunals were composed of the elderly and retired, unsympathetic to all young men’ came
as no surprise. Thus, when I came across local newspaper reports of the tribunals in Mitcham, I expected my
prejudices to be confirmed, but they were not.

Keith Penny

Military Tribunals in National Memory 1

The Study of Military Tribunals 2

From Kitchener to Conscription 3

The Military Service Act 5

The Establishment of Tribunals 7

The Mitcham Members 8

Regulations, Forms and Certificates 11

The Process 12

A Day at the Tribunal 12

Interactions (1): Tribunal and Appellants 16

Interactions (2): Inside the Tribunal 20

Interactions (3): The Military Representatives 21

Interactions (4): The Tribunal and the Military 23

The National Interests 24

Religious and Moral Convictions 28

Dispatch and Smoothness 37

General Satisfaction 39

The End 40

Appendix 1: Statistics 41

Appendix 2: Medical Grading 42

Further Reading 43

Endnotes 44

The Vestry Hall, Mitcham, c.1906 front cover

(1) Tribunal members and officials, 1909 centrefold

(2) Harry Mount centrefold

(3) Church Road, 1904 centrefold

(4) Military Service Act poster, 1916 centrefold

(5) Exemption form R.41 centrefold

(6) List of documents, 1916 centrefold

(7) Medical Examination centrefold

(8) Female workers, varnish factory, 1915 centrefold

(9) Market garden workers, c.1911 centrefold

Extracts from documents and newspaper reports back cover

George Farewell Jones (1855-1926) back cover

The Mitcham hearings and the appeals heard at Croydon can be read in Conscription in Mitcham 1916-1918,
a searchable PDF document that is available on the Merton Historical Society website and via a link in the

Carved in Stone website of the London Borough of Merton’s Library and Heritage Service:

About the Society


Sittings in the transcription are arranged chronologically according to the ISO year-month-day system, and
in Justice to Men and Country references to a particular sitting appear thus: {16.06.23}. An initial ‘C’ indicates
an appeal hearing at Croydon.

The original format of the originals has largely been preserved, though paragraphs have often been amalgamated.
The grading applied to recruits is explained in Appendix 2.
Until 1971 money was expressed as pounds (£), shillings (s) and pence (d), where £1 = 20s and 1s = 12d. An

agricultural labourer in 1916 might earn £1 a week; a private soldier was paid 1s a day.


In our collective memory of the First World War we retain images of the enthusiastic volunteers of 1914 and
also images of their deaths, cut down in youth. Once the voluntary principle had lost its vitality and then failed
to deliver the replacement manpower required after heavy losses in the campaigns of 1915, the government
drew up laws to introduce and enforce near-universal, compulsory military service for men. Parliament still
operated within a democracy, so pacifists and traditional Liberals among MPs had to be persuaded to accept
conscription; organised labour, too, only reluctantly accepted it. The Military Service Act of 1916 did allow
exceptions to service: besides the medically unfit, the men whose civilian work was of national importance
had to have exemption; men had to be able to make provision for their families and for the continuation
of their businesses; those with conscientious objections to military service had to be officially examined to
determine whether they merited special treatment.

To provide a measure of legal consistency, claims for exemption from conscription were to be scrutinised
according to government regulation and to be heard before military tribunals set up through the mechanism of
local government. However, the implementation of Parliament’s wishes, themselves not always clear, depended
in great measure on the competence and good will of those charged with this responsibility. These tribunals
have not enjoyed a good reputation, being seen as part of a system run by old men that sent young men to
near-inevitable death or mutilation. It seems worthwhile, a century on, to see what one tribunal actually did,
and how it treated those who appealed for exemption, often men from poor backgrounds and far removed
from the volunteer officer class so frequently the centre of literary or ‘lost generation’ critiques of the war.

Although nearly all local tribunal cases were to do with ill health, hardship, and the continued employment
of men whose work might be considered to be in the national interest, the tribunals acquired a controversial
reputation because of the small proportion of appeals that were made on grounds of conscience.* Most of
the criticism came, not surprisingly, from those objectors who wrote after the war about their unsatisfactory

The average ‘local tribunal’ was one of the most stupid and incompetent institutions known to English
history. Composed for the most part of elderly and ardent patriots, it was particularly unfitted to
pass judgement on the most intimate problems of the individual human spirit. The task indeed
was beyond them – one might just as hopefully have appointed a stableful of donkeys to select the
Academy pictures of the year.1

* There are no definite statistics: John Rae suggested 6½%; at Mitcham it was probably under 4%.
Some objectors, however, did perceive their treatment by a local tribunal to be fair, and more
sympathetic overall assessments have been made, starting with John Rae in his 1970 book Conscience and
Politics. It was never likely in mid-war that tribunals whose members had often been part of the local voluntary
recruitment machine would be especially indulgent to the objectors whose beliefs they were required to
challenge. The official advice to tribunals was:
While care must be taken that the man who shirks his duty to his country does not find unworthy
shelter behind this provision every consideration should be given to the man whose objection
genuinely rests on religious or moral convictions.2

Mitcham’s record of interrogation and decision in these cases will be examined in due course. For now, let the
editor of the Wimbledon Herald remind us of the complex responsibilities placed on the members of a local
military tribunal:

It is a difficult and a delicate task which the Tribunals have to perform. They have to decide between
the claims of the State on the individual, and those of his family and dependants, or of his employers
… they are there to deal as fairly and justly as they can with those who appear before them, and they
will have the best wishes of all who love their country for the successful completion of a task which,
in many respects, cannot be a very pleasant one, and which will involve more thought and care than
most people are aware of.3


In 1921 the successor to the Local Government Board ordered the destruction of all tribunal minute books
(except those of Middlesex) and all documents relating to exemption on grounds of conscience. Although
some official material nonetheless escaped, more than was once thought, in most areas it is now only local
newspapers that give us information, and that is confined to the selection of cases made by editors, with even
some of that material lost where individual editions of a title have not survived. However, newspapers give
us much that the bald records of minutes and statistics cannot provide. In Mitcham the weekly newspapers,
besides making formal reports of cases, explain the procedures of the tribunal, and record comments and
exchanges of individual members; the reports are full of details of local businesses and the war’s effect on
them. We come to know a lot about employment in Mitcham and we can hear some of the appellants speak,
albeit through the words of a transcribing journalist.

The editor of the Mitcham Mercury explained: ‘It is quite impossible to report all the cases which come before
a Tribunal. What we endeavour to do is to pick out “specimen” cases so as to convey to the general public
the line of policy adopted by the Tribunals in dealing with the many appeals which come before them.’4 This
was no doubt the earnest intention, but cases were also chosen for their general human interest, or even their
entertainment value. Some editorial slant crept in through the addition of sub-headings, though the reports
themselves were mostly factual.

Articles or booklets about military tribunals in Kingston, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Hampton Wick, as well
as a full-length book about the tribunals in Northamptonshire, have appeared and in 2013-14 the Federation
of Family History Societies in partnership with The National Archives compiled a list of documents available
in local archives. See Further Reading on p.43 for more details.


On 6 August 1914, two days after Great Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, The Times and the Daily
Mail carried advertisements by the War Office which invited men between the ages of 19 and 30 to enlist for
three years or the duration. Headed ‘Your King and Country Need You’, they were not the famous posters with
Lord Kitchener’s pointing finger, but they were widely published in other newspapers and as wall posters.
This principle of voluntary recruitment was outstandingly successful, so much so that the Army’s limited
accommodation for men in barracks and its machinery for training were overwhelmed. 478,893 men joined
the army between 4 August and 12 September, including 33,204 on 3 September alone.

By December the monthly figure had dropped below 120,000, and in July 1915 it sank to around 95,000.5
Because there was no certain knowledge of the number of men actually available for armed service, the
government required local authorities to compile in August 1915 a register of men of military age. The results
suggested that men were indeed available for the Army, and so a second attempt at voluntary recruitment
was launched in October 1915, the Derby* scheme, in which men were invited to attest their willingness to
serve. They were then placed in Groups according to age and marital status, to await call-up when the army
needed them. Two and a half million men attested under this scheme, but by December two problems had
emerged: although over a million unmarried men had attested, around 316,000 unmarried and fit men who
were not in occupations essential to the war effort had not done so. Many of those who had attested had then
appealed to a tribunal to have their call-up deferred (these tribunals formed the foundation of the 1916-1918
Military Service Tribunals). Secondly, married men were reported to be reluctant to come forward unless the
unmarried ones had all been taken first. The government therefore brought before Parliament the Military
Service Bill, which became law on 27 January 1916, and thus on 2 March 1916 nearly all unmarried men
and widowers aged between 18 and 41 who resided in Great Britain (excluding Ireland) were ‘deemed to be

enlisted for the period of the war’.

* After the Earl of Derby (1865-1948), Director-General of Recruiting.
One concern of Parliament was the possible opposition by the Labour Party to what was seen as industrial
conscription. Organised industrial workers were being expected to serve in the Army for a country whose
government many of them had had no part in electing; five million men remained without a vote until 1918.6
Mr Thomas, Labour MP for Derby, warned: ‘Do not make the fatal mistake of assuming that there is unity in the
country. Do not mistake the deep-rooted resentment that is in the mind of the workers. Do not mistake: in this
great issue voluntaryism has not failed.’7 A Congress of Labour on 6 January 1916 voted overwhelmingly against
conscription; later that month the party voted against the Bill, but declined to agitate for repeal if it became law.
A consequence of this episode was an instruction that military tribunals should include a member who could
represent organised labour.
Since 1660 Britain had had a volunteer army. The naval press gang of the Napoleonic wars seemed to one
novelist in the 1860s to be unimaginable, an unrepeatable part of history:

Now all this tyranny (for I can use no other word) is marvellous to us; we cannot imagine how it is

that a nation submitted to it for so long, even under any warlike enthusiasm, any panics of invasion,

any amount of loyal subservience to the governing powers.8

Compulsory military service was seen as something done by foreigners, especially Prussians, and abhorrent
to the British mind. An opponent of the 1916 Bill explained: ‘My strongest reason against Conscription is that
it is a violation of England’s traditions of liberty … I put it to the House that if we surrender our liberties, if
we Germanise our institutions, will {the war} be worth winning?’9 Sir John Simon, who had resigned as Home
Secretary rather than support conscription, spoke at length in similar terms, but only around 35 MPs actively
opposed the Bill to the end of its passage through the Commons.

Although this booklet is about the tribunal and those who sought legal exemption from Army service, it is
worth making some brief comments on the success of the voluntary principle in Mitcham. On 18 September
1914, after Lord Kitchener’s nationwide appeal had raised around 500,000 men, the writer of the Mitcham
Advertiser’s ‘Mitcham Notes’ showed some irritation at seeing ‘a bunch of strong, hardy-looking fellows
lounging about on one of the bridges’; he noted that recruitment was ‘going fairly well’ {emphasis added} and
that ‘many more men will have to come forward if Mitcham is to be fairly represented in Kitchener’s Army.’ He
had also seen a large number of young men cheering the speeches made at an open-air meeting on the Cricket
Green and hoped that they had since put their cheers into action. Colonel Seton-Churchill, the recruiting
officer for Wimbledon, evidently realised that he had to make some special appeal to the audience, for he
emphasised that it was not a ‘toffs’ war’ and should appeal to the working men of England more than anyone

Historians have examined the levels of volunteering in different areas and social classes,11 and there needs
to be some local study of numbers of volunteers and conscripts in Mitcham. Numbers are hard to find: by
mid-September 1914 76 men had enlisted at the Vestry Hall, though of course men could join up at centres
besides their home one, and 92 men from St Mark’s church had volunteered,12 but these numbers may well
overlap. Once conscription had begun in 1916, there is evidence of men moving house but omitting to inform
the registration authorities of the change of address, and of men who had avoided registration.13 Some men
retained their exemption cards after the expiry date for the purpose of misleading any suspicious policeman.14
The tribunal’s deliberations were interrupted one evening by a young woman who wanted to know why one
individual had not been taken: ‘He’s been called up, and hasn’t joined. I’ve lost my husband that was to be, and
my sister has lost her husband. It isn’t right, is it?’15 Individual cases, though, do not add up to statistics.


At first, from 2 March 1916, the Act applied to unmarried men and childless widowers aged between 18 and
41 who resided in Great Britain (excluding Ireland), but married men were included by a second Act from 25
May 1916. Men were placed in Classes (whereas the Derby scheme of 1915 had used Groups) and called for

service according to age. Men born in 1897 were Class 1 and those born in 1874 were Class 23. Conscription
was into the Army, but a man could then volunteer for naval service, though the Navy had the right to refuse his
application. According to the Act* exemption, absolute, conditional or temporary, could be granted:

On the ground that it is expedient in the national interests that the man should, instead of being
employed in military service, be engaged in other work in which he is habitually engaged;

On the ground that it is expedient in the national interests that the man should, instead of being
employed in military service, be engaged in other work;

If he is being educated or trained for any work, on the ground that it is expedient in the national
interests that, instead of being employed in military service, he should continue to be so educated or

On the ground that serious hardship would ensue if the man were called up for Army service, owing
to his exceptional financial or business obligations or domestic position;

On the ground of ill-health or infirmity;

On the ground of a conscientious objection to the undertaking of combatant service;

On the ground that the principal and usual occupation of the man is one of those included in the list
of occupations certified by government departments for exemption.16
* These exemptions were simplified on posters, and appear in different versions in print
The first and last of these are similar and show a further stage in the recognition by the authorities that the
new army could not survive without a substantial base of industry and transport. Men in such work had
earlier been ‘badged’ to show that they were working in an essential wartime industry, and under the Act the
previous starred, badged or reserved occupations were now all certified occupations. The government’s list of
occupations that qualified for exemption grew, except in times of military alarm in 1918, when ‘combing-out’
became the watchword, and the complications of this list demanded patience and legal skill from tribunals.
That the direction of labour could not be a purely military matter was accepted in 1917 when Military Tribunals
became National Service Tribunals. In the first year of conscription the national number of exemptions was
more than double the number of men who went into the Army.17
The provision of conscientious objection as a ground for exemption probably came about as a political
necessity, to prevent damaging resignations from the Cabinet. When the Prime Minister revealed this part of
the Bill in the Commons, there was a rowdy demonstration and much laughter. Part of Mr Asquith’s response
was a misleading interpretation of an already ambiguous clause in the Bill, to the effect that conscientious
objectors would only be relieved of combat duties, and could still be conscripted.18

A man could apply for exemption on more than one ground, though that of conscience only had a chance of
success if it was the sole or at least the principal reason. An employer might appeal on behalf of a worker or
speak on his behalf at a hearing, to underline his indispensability, and appellants could be represented by a
third party, who might be a solicitor. There is no evidence from the Mitcham hearings that legal representation
increased an appellant’s chance of success.

Exemptions might be:

temporary – for a fixed period, usually so that business or domestic arrangements could be made
before a man began military service;

partial – conscripted, but with an exemption from combatant service;

conditional – exemption depended on the appellant’s continuing to do work of national importance;

Appellants granted temporary or conditional exemption often had to return to the tribunal for extension or
renewal of exemption, and such repeat cases took up more and more time in the Mitcham tribunal as the war
continued. Absolute exemption was rarely granted, except on medical grounds.

Men were still allowed to attest under the Derby scheme until conscription began, and the Wimbledon Herald
appealed to late volunteers to come forward:

The man who could have volunteered to serve his country in her peril, and who, instead, stood out to

the end and courted compulsion, will not carry a proud and happy memory of his conduct through

his after-life. For his own sake he should attest while yet there is time.19

Some confusion occurred during this overlap of the voluntary attestation scheme with conscription. Posters
exhorted single men in certified occupations to attest, so that they were automatically starred and would not
have to make out a case before a tribunal. Some men attested simply so that they could appeal if called up,
but the War Office took this as a sign that the man concerned had indeed volunteered and could thus not be
allowed exemption under the compulsory scheme. There are examples of this conflict of interpretations both
at Mitcham and at the Appeals Tribunal.


To adjudicate on applications for exemptions, registration authorities, in Mitcham the Urban District Council,
had to appoint a tribunal of not less than five and not more than twenty-five persons. Walter Long, President
of the Local Government Board, added recommendations, including:

Persons should be appointed who will consider the cases impartially, and will be guided in their
conclusions by a full regard for the national interests of the country at the present time … The work
of the tribunals will closely concern the working classes, and it is imperative that they should be
adequately represented on the tribunals … Local authorities should not hesitate to appoint suitable
women on the tribunals, if they think it desirable to do so. For obvious reasons it is considered
undesirable that a man of military age should be a member of the tribunal unless he has been attested
or is unfit for military service.20

At every hearing by a tribunal the War Office, as the recruiting agency, had a military representative, who
might be a past or present officer or, if a civilian, a gentleman ‘of business capacity and influence’. He was to
confine himself to ‘the presentation of evidence and the elucidation of facts relevant to the decision of the
case’ and to ‘refrain from adopting a browbeating and domineering tone in cross-examination.’21 He was not
allowed to vote on the outcome of a case.

Either the appellant or the military representative could appeal against a local decision. Mitcham cases were
heard by the Surrey and Croydon Appeals Tribunal sitting at Croydon Town Hall.

The tribunals were at their busiest when they were first set up; there was no time to gain experience. By August
1916 both single and married men called up under the Act had had their appeals considered, so that for some
time only the new groups of over-18s had to be considered, besides the repeat cases whose previous exemption
had been limited to a specific period. More cases were generated after Acts of April 1917 and February 1918
that revoked many earlier occupational exemptions, and the Military Service Act of April 1918 that raised the
upper age for conscription to 51.


The Urban District Council appointed twenty men* to form the Tribunal:

James Annan
Edward John Baker
Master plasterer
Vicar, St Barnabas
Frank Lawrence Baker
Francis Bates
Insurance broker
George Stephen Cook
Arthur Edward Cubison
UDC 54
Builder and decorator

Harry James Davis 51 Headmaster

Henry Philip Burke Downing 51 Architect

James Douglas Drewett JP UDC 61 Retired builder
Walter John Hill UDC 54 Coachbuilder
George Farewell Jones UDC 61 Solicitor
John Miles Leather JP UDC 63 Nurseryman and pig-keeper
Henry Love UDC 59 General practitioner
Donald McDonald 44 Vicar, Christ Church
Alfred Mizen JP UDC 55 Nurseryman
Edward Johnson Mizen UDC 57 Nurseryman
Henry Mount UDC 53 Black Japan maker
Walter Henry Parslow UDC 55 Builder
George James Poston JP 61 Stockbroker
Robert Richman UDC 67 Congregational Minister
Ernest Edward Snowsill UDC 51 Printer
John Thompson UDC 60 Dairyman
Alfred Durrant Watson 59 Malt extract manufacturer

‘UDC’ shows members who at some time in 1916-1918 were councillors; members’ ages are as in 1916;
occupations are taken from directories and the 1911 census. Not all of these men were members throughout
the existence of the tribunal: Revd McDonald moved to a country living in 1917; Mr Leather died in January
1918; Messrs Bates and Hill joined later.

* Nationally, few women were appointed, perhaps not unreasonably, considering that all the appellants were men.
This was a large group, but it enabled the tribunal to share the work among its members and to operate in
two shifts during long days. Nevertheless, such a number was very unusual, to judge from a selection of local
newspapers elsewhere in England, and contrary to the recommendation of the Local Government Board.
At Finchley District Council the Clerk read out the relevant circular:

The number of persons to be appointed is left to be determined by the local authority, according

to the needs of the district, but must not be less than five or more than twenty-five … Generally

speaking, it is desirable that cases should not be heard by a body of more than five members.

At Preston, with more complex issues of labour representation, the council heard the same instruction, took
the view that sitting in shifts would impair the consistency of decisions and settled for a tribunal of less than
ten. Even the large city of Leeds settled for nine.22

The Clerk was Alderman Robert Masters Chart JP, 65. The Military Representatives were Dr Thomas
Cato Worsfold, 55, solicitor, and his deputy, Arthur Edward Hayne, 48, commercial traveller.

Not surprisingly, most of these men were UDC members or had been involved with earlier forms of local
government in Mitcham. Four had served, albeit briefly, on a recruiting committee set up in November
1915. At least eight members could be called ‘professional’ in status, and apart from Mr Mount (‘worker’ and
‘working man member of the Tribunal’23), the businessmen were self-employed and employers of workers.*
There was no open discussion of how to represent working men on the Mitcham tribunal, whereas a ‘direct
representative of the labour and working classes’ was elected to the Merton and Morden tribunal, and the
issue was initially controversial in Wimbledon, with a letter of protest from the local branch of the National
Union of Railwaymen. Many of the tribunal members were members of local government committees and
prominent in voluntary bodies such as churches, youth movements and charities. Several held positions in
business or government outside Mitcham. Six were Freemasons.

The Chairman, Mr Farewell Jones, was a Conservator of Mitcham Common for nearly 30 years and the President
of Mitcham Cricket Club for 20. He held the title of Lord of the Manor of Biggin and Tamworth, a title with
little, if any, legal value by 1916, and one which he had bought from a country solicitor. His own practice was
in the City. He was known to be a generous supporter of local good causes and a regular worshipper at the

parish church.

Mr Watson, who sometimes took the chair, was a Deputy Lieutenant of the City of London; Mr Poston was
Chief Inspector of the Mitcham Special Constabulary and a magistrate;

* Perhaps because of his ‘worker’ status, Mr Mount was the target of an attempt at bribery. {16.10.27}
Messrs Cook, Leather and Snowsill were Poor Law Overseers; Messrs A Mizen and Drewitt were members of
Surrey County Council; both Mizen brothers were founder members of the congregation of St Mark’s church;
Mr Davis, Head of Fortescue Road School, was Commandant of the Mitcham Volunteer Force or Town Guard.
The weight of legal representation on the tribunal, from the chair downwards, was undoubtedly a strength;
whatever feelings individuals had, the law and the regulations were followed in fact and usually in spirit.

Unusually, the Military Representative was not an Army officer: Dr Worsfold was a solicitor* and magistrate
and a Deputy Lieutenant of Surrey. A leading member of the Conservative Association, he later became the first
MP for the Mitcham constituency. Before becoming Military Representative he had been the chairman of the
recruiting committee under the Derby scheme. He had extensive involvement with many local organisations,
including the parish church.

Mr Hayne was at some time chairman of the Conservative Association, and his commission as Second
Lieutenant in March 1917 came from his membership of the Volunteers, not from previous active service.
Alderman Chart, another magistrate, who was acting in wartime as Clerk to the UDC, came from a well-
known family of Mitcham public servants.

Messrs Farewell Jones and Poston lived in substantial houses set in their own grounds; the Mizens lived among
their market gardens; Dr Love had a large house by the Cricket Green; Mr Watson lived at Mill House on
Mitcham Common; Mr Drewett had his self-built house at the Fair Green. Otherwise, the members of the
tribunal occupied cottages, small villas and terraced houses. Their addresses were fairly well spread around
the district, though Mr Mount was the only member resident in the industrialised district between the parish
church and Colliers Wood. Dr Worsfold resided in some grandeur at Hall Place, off Lower Green West, a
detached double-fronted house approached by a carriage drive, with stables, greenhouses, pleasure gardens
and lawns24 on which garden fetes for charities were held. Though this description of houses may seem a crude
exposition of social class, it is of importance for understanding some of the feelings probably experienced by
those who appeared before the tribunal; they had to go to the Vestry Hall by the Cricket Green in the centre of
the ‘village’, and many came from ‘that portion of Mitcham which is so often called “the other end”‘.25

* His doctorate was LLD (Dublin), a legal, not a medical, qualification.
In the first days of the war, the government introduced the Defence of the Realm Act (often known as DORA),
preceded by a royal proclamation that ‘We strictly command and enjoin our subjects to obey and conform to
all instructions and regulations which may be issued by us or our admiralty or army council.’26 It is well known
that ensuing regulations brought censorship of newspapers, food rationing, summer time and the afternoon
closing of public houses, so that conscription was but the greatest of governmental interferences with the
individual’s pattern of life. Although there had been censuses every ten years, these had been descriptive,
whereas the national registration of 1915 brought with it a requirement for changes of address to be notified
to the authorities. Since 1837 the registration of births, marriages and deaths had been required, but the
certificates were rarely needed in personal life. In wartime, though, other certificates were needed; if a man
could not produce a valid exemption certificate to a police officer, he could be fined up to £20 or imprisoned

for up to three months. If a conscript failed to report at the time and place specified, he would be allowed a
second chance, but further default would render him liable to a fine of not less than 40s. but not more than
£25, or imprisonment.27 Lists were published of those who had failed to attend; the ostensible purpose was to
establish the whereabouts of such men, though probably some name-and-shame effect was also intended.28

The enlistment process ran thus: using the registers compiled during national registration of 1915, pink forms
were distributed to all men of military age. Once returned to the authorities the forms were marked with a star
for those in a certified occupation. Three index cards were completed and given a number and the information
was then transferred to the classification registers. One card remained at the recruiting office, another card
was sent to area headquarters and the third was sent to the General Registrar.29

The men who applied for exemption had probably not had much experience of filling in forms, though
universal elementary education would have enabled them to do so. Form R.41, obligatory for an application
for exemption, began by warning that ‘any person making a false statement or false representation is liable
to imprisonment’; the applicant had to write full reasons in support of the application, select his ground of
application from a list (six sections in small type) and fill in a duplicate form. It is hardly surprising that some
men made mistakes that amused the more literate reporters: ‘On the appeal form applicant stated “I am a
woman” but he explained that he had missed out the word “learning”‘. {16.06.30}

The tribunal members too had to adjust to living in a new world of bureaucracy, and it was probably only
lawyers and those with experience of local government who could keep pace with the circulars and lists of
exemptions that came down from the Local Government Board, more than 18 within 6 months in 1916,30
whilst Registration and Recruitment, the instructions for the military, ran to 140 pages, fortunately with a
helpful index.


A man who had received call-up papers and who believed that he had a ground for exemption from military
service had to complete his Form R.41 and return it to the Clerk at the Vestry Hall. At least three clear days
in advance the appellant was informed in writing of the time appointed for his appearance before the military
tribunal. Except for the first hearing, held on a Saturday, Wednesday was the usual day chosen, with as many
sessions as were needed to deal with the cases pending. At the hearing the Clerk invited the appellant to sit
down, read out to the tribunal the information from the R.41 and invited the appellant to speak for himself.
The Chairman and other members could pose questions, as could the Military Representative. While the
tribunal discussed the case and decided its verdict, the Military Representative withdrew to an ante-room, and
the appellants waited on the landing outside the hall. The appellants were informed immediately or by post of
the tribunal’s decision (this procedure varied over time).

The Mitcham hearings were in public, as required by law, unless the circumstances of a particular case
demanded privacy, though the limited evidence suggests that hardly anyone (other than relatives) came to
listen. Reporters attended hearings and seem to have remained during the deliberations of the tribunal on each
case: certainly some comments made by individual members during the discussion of cases were reported,
though not always attributed. Apart from the very first hearings, appellants’ names were not reported until
early 1917, and the Press was trusted to ‘use a wise discretion in dealing with facts which had better not be


A hearing from 12 May 1916 (held unusually on a Monday) will give an idea of the variety of cases and serve
as an introduction to a commentary on tribunal business and the relationships between the several participant
individuals and groups:

Mr. G. Farewell Jones presided at a meeting of the Mitcham Military Tribunal

at the Vestry Hall on Monday evening. The other members present were: Dr.

H. Love, Alderman R. M. Chart, J.P., Messrs. G. J. Poston, J.P., J. D. Drewett,
J.P., C.C., A. Mizen, J.P., C.C., E. J. Mizen, W. H. Parslow, J. M. Leather, J.
Thompson, H. J. Davis, J. D. Watson, J. Burke Downing, F. Baker, H. Mount,
E. E. Snowsill, G. S. Cook, and Dr. T. Cato Worsfold and Mr. A. E. Hayne
(Military Representatives).

One of the largest firms of nurserymen and market gardeners applied for the
exemption of five men, on the ground that it was essential to the cultivation of

the land and the production of food that they should remain. A representative of

the firm said at the beginning of the war they employed 206 men of all grades on
their Mitcham farms, which were about 400 acres in extent. No fewer than 84
had since joined the colours, and of the remainder about 60 were still with them.
Few of the 60 were of military age, as long as the age remained at the present
limit. The firm were entitled to eight ploughmen, under the regulations of the

Board of Agriculture.
In reply to a question, appellant said they employed 38 boys, and some of them

wanted four men to look after them. (Laughter.) He added that the firm had only

put on two men of military age since the war started. In reply to the Military
Representative, appellant said other men would be affected by the new Bill then
before the House of Commons.*
On that ground it was decided to adjourn the applications so that all the cases
could be dealt with together.

The head of a firm of dyers and cleaners at Colliers Wood asked for six months’

exemption for his son, eighteen years of age. Seven of their men had already
joined the Army, and it was impossible to carry on the business successfully
without his assistance. He had been trained in it from boyhood. In reply to the
Chairman, appellant said the boy was anxious to go the war, and he himself, as
an Englishman, was willing that his son should take his share of the national
burden, but the business really could not do without him.
Dr. Worsfold: The cleaning of gloves is hardly of national importance, is it?
Appellant: It is, sir, inasmuch as we must carry on our business in order to pay
our way in the interests of the nation.

In reply to a question, appellant said the firm now employed eight, all young


The Military Representative: Could not a woman do the boy’s work?
Appellant: No, sir. We have tried them. Cleaning is a big strain on the heart, and

all the muscles of the body are employed.
The claim was disallowed.

* The Bill to extend conscription to married men.
A mother who appealed for the exemption of the only boy left to her, one son

having been slain on the battlefield, and the others being in the trenches, was
made happy by the unanimous decision of the Tribunal to grant him six months’


Tooting Junction grocer, who had been given a month’s exemption in order
to enable him to wind up or sell his business, appealed for a further month’s

exemption to wind up the negotiations now proceeding. It was granted.

A similar extension was granted to an insurance clerk whose wife was in a
delicate state of health.

postman with difficult
domestic circumstances was given two months’


Ahouse furnisher’s salesman, aged 34, and employed at Kingston-upon-Thames,

impressed the Tribunal with the story of his domestic circumstances. He said he

had five children, all under nine years of age, a big rent to pay, an ailing wife,

and others to support. How could his family live on 25s. a week, the amount
scheduled under the present regulations, when they had hard work to make a
living of it on £3 10s a week? Two of his brothers were already in the Army.
He asked for six months’exemption to enable him to make adequate financial


It was moved that six months’
respite be given, but in the end it was decided
to adjourn the case for a month, until the new Military Bill and its financial

proposals are settled.
A journalist applied for temporary exemption in order that he might make better
provision for his wife and family. He said he was engaged in writing a serial
story which, when completed and accepted, would ensure his wife having at
least £1 a week for some time to come. Applicant added, that he had served over
two years in the London Scottish, and consequently, would not need so much
Three months’ exemption
was granted.

The mother of a music hall artiste, aged 18, applied for exemption on the ground
of hardship. Dr. T. Cato Worsfold (Military Representative) said the appeal had
been marked not in order by the military authorities as the lad was under age.
The mother said she had received a yellow form telling her son to report himself.

When she went to the recruiting office at Wimbledon, she was told to apply to

the Tribunal.
Dr. Worsfold told the mother she could go home and rest assured that the mistake
would be put right.
Mr. Mizen said unless the clerk or military representative communicated with

the recruiting
officer, two soldiers and a policeman would be coming to arrest

the lad as they had done in another case.
It was arranged that representations on the matter should be made to the proper

Several applications were made by men for periods of exemption to tide them
over certain “happy events” which were expected in the near future. The appeals
were granted.

There is a large turnout of members. When appellant numbers declined, so did the size of the tribunal, to the
point that one meeting was only saved from being inquorate by the modern inventions of the telephone and
the motor car.31

The appellant on behalf of market garden workers is probably one of the Mizen brothers. Alfred Mizen was
rebuked by the chairman of the Appeals Tribunal for being both a tribunal member and, occasionally, an
appellant on behalf of employees. Nevertheless, the evidence is that tribunal members who appealed for their
employees took no part in discussions where they were interested parties. In this respect, and in others, the
Mitcham tribunal was legally scrupulous. The paragraph says a lot about the dreadful damage the war did to
local business, and the laughter at the ineptitude or idleness of boys is heard in other cases:

Counc. Frank Baker: Do you employ boys?
—Yes, but they are a deuce of a trouble. They worry you to death. They go to sleep, stop away and are
a nuisance generally. (Laughter.) {17.10.19}

The Colliers Wood cleaner’s case shows the effect on a small business of voluntary recruitment, and the
response of the appellant to the employment of women is one of the politer ones, even though it is based on an
assumption of physical feebleness. Elsewhere, a grocery company representative said the lady assistants were
not capable of managing a branch, because there were many things which a woman could not lift; a gardener
said that women were only useful for weeding; a dairyman thought there were no women who would get up
at four in the morning to milk cows. Even the female proprietor of a laundry responded with horror to the
idea of losing her boiler engineer: ‘What, I would not trust a woman to attend to my boiler with 120lb. steam
pressure.’ {16.02.25; 16.06.16; 17.06.15; 16.03.17}
There are several temporary exemptions in this report, to enable appellants to sell their business interests, or to
allow a ‘delicate’ wife to give birth before the husband reported for service. The tribunal also accepts a mother’s
hardship as grounds for temporary exemption. The salesman’s case shows the hardship of wartime service to

a family that depended on one man’s income; soldiers’ pay and allowances to dependants were periodically
reviewed by Parliament.

The music hall artiste introduces us to the clerical errors inevitable in a newly created system stretched by sheer
numbers: although the young man is 18 and has received call-up papers, the Army has also classed him as
underage. To deal with this, the mother has to go to two different places. One man went to Kingston Barracks
for a medical to be told that the Medical Board had been transferred to Camberwell; another received papers
in error and found a sergeant had come to arrest him; a baker went to Camberwell Baths to be medically
examined, but was told he had to apply to Kingston in person to get a permit to have another examination.
{18.04.05; 17.11.16; 18.05.03} Some men clearly felt hopelessly lost in the bureaucratic world created by the
war, as in this report from the Surrey and Croydon Appeals Tribunal:

M. Claxton, of Mitcham, had been told by the Tribunal to go to the Labour Exchange in order to be
given work of national importance. He had gone there, but they refused to have anything to do with
him unless he had a card from the Tribunal. He was referred to the Recruiting Officer at Wimbledon,
and from there to the Substitution Officer at Kingston Barracks. What he was anxious about was to
know where he was. The Chairman said Mr. Claxton ought to have a card, and the case stood over for
14 days, the Chairman telling Mr. Claxton not to leave the building until he got his card. {C17.01.05}

Tribunal and Appellants

The appellants seem to have been treated politely (though less so in cases of conscience). Most of them showed
deference by using ‘Sir’, whilst the tribunal members asked questions and sometimes challenged the answers,
but without personal rudeness. In the opening of the case below we can see an example of the ‘unfailing
courtesy’32 exhibited by the Clerk:

“Take a seat, Mr. Swan, will you?” said Ald. Chart to Mr. E. G. Swan, age 35, of Pitcairn-road,

Mitcham. The applicant did so. He said his wife suffered from consumption, and the doctor said she

must not be left alone. Applicant said he did all the domestic work himself. He had had 16 months’

exemption altogether.

Counc. Baker: Have you any lady relative that could look after your wife?

Applicant: No, sir, I have not, worse luck.

The Chairman: Who looks after her during the day?

—The woman downstairs.

Applicant said he was passed C3.*

Military Representative: Has your wife’s health improved since you made the last application?

—No, sir.

Military Representative: Is it likely to improve?

—No, sir, I am sorry to say.

Three months’ exemption. {17.11.02}

Ideas of humour change and in some cases it is hard to see now what was funny in the laughter that broke out
amidst the gravity of the proceedings. Sometimes it was at the expense of an appellant:

The Chairman to the man: How many children have you?

—Four, sir.

—What are their ages?

—The eldest is 14, I don’t know about the others. (Laughter.) {17.04.20}

A metal and bottle sorter was applied for by his employer, who said the work was skilled and it

was important to retain his services … He thought that three months’ exemption would answer his

purpose. He assured the Tribunal that the work was really skilled, and, as proof of the business done

appellant produced two cheques received that day, one for £18, and one for £30.

The Chairman: Are we to keep these?

Appellant: I rather you didn’t. (Laughter.)

Three months’ exemption. {16.06.30}

Solicitors, though, were not highly regarded and had to accept the routine barbs and sarcasms of courtroom

Mr. Moore {solicitor} said his client’s business was known to many people in Mitcham. He supplied

beers and spirits to a large number of customers. That kept people out of public-houses, submitted

Mr. Moore. There was a large turnover and the case warranted exemption … It was much better to

have off-licences than public houses, said Mr. Moore.

Ald. Chart: You sometimes appeal for public houses. (Laughter.)

Three months’ exemption “to make final arrangements,” said the Chairman. {18.09.13}

* See Appendix 2.
The tribunal was never publicly enthusiastic about sending men with personal or business difficulties into the
army. Early on, when cases were being decided by public show of hands, Revd Macdonald noted that when
there was a postponement everyone was ready to propose it, but directly something unpleasant had to be
done there was considerable diffidence. It was decided to revert to the previous week’s procedure of deciding
a number of cases together and communicating the decisions by post. {16.03.03}
Far from being unthinkingly enthusiastic about the Army, the tribunal (or at least some of its members)
pointed out the errors made by the recruiting machinery. When a medically rejected man who had been reexamined
and passed for home service said he had received his call-up papers, Mr Mount said the military
authorities were sending out those papers ‘broadcast’. A policeman had come for his son, who had been with
his regiment in Cornwall for five months, while in another case he had gone for a man with a wooden leg.

Comments that ridiculed the Town Guard, a volunteer unit formed from the pre-war Rifle Club, surfaced:
‘”I would not have German prisoners. They would be too much trouble, unless the Town Guard would turn
out to guard them.” (Laughter.)’ {16.03.10} When the Military Representative suggested that in cases where
provisional exemption was granted an appellant might be required to attend a course of drill with the Volunteer
Training Corps or the Town Guard, Dr Love thought the tribunal had no power to make such a stipulation.
‘Some of us might not be impressed with the Town Guard,’ observed a member, ‘and how can we ask a man to
do a thing which we would not, perhaps, do ourselves?’ {16.08.31} Nevertheless, a requirement of Volunteer
service was attached to several reported exemptions, until in 1918 the tribunal started deliberately releasing
men from such an obligation. One appellant claimed he had lost three litters of pigs through having to attend
the drills {17.06.01}; in other places also these Volunteer corps were unpopular with exempted men and did
not enjoy a high reputation in their communities.33

Attention was paid to men with large families and those with pregnant wives. Although such circumstances
could not gain absolute exemption, the Mitcham tribunal offered temporary exemption to many men, usually
of three months, as in the sample hearing printed above. At least some of the members were sensitive to the
disruption to domestic life caused by conscription:

“It is very easy for us to talk of disposing of other people’s children and wives on their relatives,”
commented a member, when it was suggested that the claim of a commercial clerk, recently married,
should be disallowed, because there was no hardship “as the wife could go back to her mother.”

Parents who had already lost sons received consideration:

Mrs. Higgins, of Tynemouth-road, Mitcham, asked for exemption for her son, Cecil. On the last
occasion the case was adjourned for medical examination. Cecil had now been graded 2. He was 18
years old and a grocer’s assistant. He was her last son. Her eldest was reported killed in 1915 and the
other returned to France a short time ago after being twice wounded and is now reported as being
killed … Six months’ exemption was granted conditional on the boy taking up work of national
importance. {18.04.19}

Tribunals were expected to listen carefully to the self-employed, because of the hardship that would be caused
by loss of income to dependants and the difficulty of selling a business:

A newsagent and tobacconist was granted one month’s final exemption. His life’s savings had been
invested in the business, and he had three persons dependent upon him. He had been unable to
dispose of his business, and it was impossible for his wife to manage it. {16.06.09}

A foreman packer and picture-frame maker applied for absolute exemption. His business would, he
said, have to close if he went. He also had a widowed mother and wife to support. One month’s final
exemption given. {16.06.09}

The Army’s medical examination process produced apparently ridiculous outcomes:

No fewer than seven men asked for leave to go before the Central Medical Board, including two
originally classed C3 now classed fit for general service, and a man totally blind in one eye, half blind
in the other, and extremely deaf. Four applications were granted. All men looked physically unfit.

A young man, employed by a local dairy firm, wished to go before the Appeal Medical Board. He was
classed C3 at Reading in July, but at Kingston this month he was classified A, yet his eyes were very
bad and his feet were crippled.
Dr. Love said one had only to see the man walk to appreciate how absurd it was to say he was fit for
general service.
Counc. Thompson: If many men in the Army are like him, God help us!
A voice: You may well say so. {17.03.23}

Mr. J. K. Harvey, the well-known chemist, and Vicar’s Warden of St. Mark’s Church … asked for
permission to go before the Central Medical Board. He did so mainly for the following reasons: His
total weight was only 6 stone 7 lbs. A soldier’s pack, when he was on active service, was 90 lbs., and in
addition there was his rifle and his own clothes. As his weight was 91 lbs. and the pack 90 lbs. without
the rifle, the military authorities were actually asking him to carry many pounds more than his own
weight (Laughter). He was physically incapable of doing it.
The Chairman: I think you had better await the result of the report, Mr. Harvey. It may not be
necessary to go to the Board.
Dr. Love: What Mr. Harvey wants to know is whether he will be perfectly safe meanwhile. The
Military Representative has refused to agree to his exemption simply because he is an A man.
The Chairman: Certainly he will be safe.
Dr. Love: Speaking as his medical attendant, I say the classification is perfectly absurd. {17.06.15}

Similarly absurd instances occurred at Croydon34 and in Northamptonshire, where by early 1917 the tribunals
‘had lost faith in the Medical Boards.’35

The members and officials of the tribunal were not insulated from the consequences of Army service: Geoffrey
Chart, Douglas Drewett and Lewis Farewell Jones all died in action.

Inside the Tribunal

Meetings were not necessarily calm. ‘Mitcham Notes’ observed proceedings with both praise and amusement:

It is many-headed, but so far it has adjudicated with single-mindedness and with tolerable despatch.
It is fortunate in possessing a clerk of experience, acuteness of intellect and worldly wisdom in
Alderman R. M. Chart. It is no less fortunate in its Chairman, whose integrity and long-headedness
are assets of the highest value … It must not be assumed that all the sittings of the Tribunal pass off
as smoothly and pleasantly as the annual meeting of a limited liability company with a 20 per cent
dividend. It is of too large and composite a character for that. Like the Cabinet, which it resembles
in number and variety of talent, the Tribunal occasionally suffers from contrariness of opinion,
and momentarily neglects its duty to listen to the inconsequent barkings of one or two well known
irrepressibles … Mr. Parslow rolled in a fine frenzy last Wednesday, and referred to a colleague’s
remarks anent one case as disgraceful, Mr. Leather upset himself with the idea that some of the
decisions respecting small business people were unfair, though he made the good point that, while
the Government calls for more produce from the land, the Tribunal refuses the farmers and market
gardeners the men to work it. There are several members who would shine better as recruiting
sergeants than they do as judges, but no public good is gained by making virulent speeches about
them, and few are entertained, for, strange to say, the public does not attend the sittings.36

The same writer also described how the ‘lambs’, while awaiting a verdict, ‘smoked, speculated on their chances,
and occasionally stared through the glass panels of the doors at the remarkable gestures of some of the more
dramatic tribunes’ and watched ‘the spectacle of their judges in the throes of thought’.37

Decisions were by majority, and a few comments recorded by reporters suggest that not all members were
always satisfied: when one conscientious objection was disallowed, a member exclaimed ‘This shows class
distinction,’ and another member observed ‘Because we made one mistake, it is no reason why we should
make another.’ {16.03.24}


The Military Representatives

The Military Representatives were bound to put some pressure on appellants in order to secure the maximum
number of recruits and also to challenge employers to find substitute female labour. They were entitled, as
were appellants, to appeal against a local decision. ‘Mitcham Notes’ observed:

Dr. Worsfold is a decided success. He puts awkward and sometimes painful questions with as little
of the magisterial manner as possible, and it is a pleasure to listen to him—if you are not sitting in
one of the three uncomfortable positions reserved for appellants. I have seen many a happier man in
a dentist’s chair than some of the armletted* ones who faced the Tribunal on Saturday afternoon.38

At the first sitting he showed some delicacy of feeling by asking whether the sittings would be held in private
or in public, because he was hesitant to make purely personal details of appellants public. In examination
of appellants he sometimes deployed a rather ponderous form of irony or adopted the pose of a ‘man of the
world’: a double-bass player was asked ‘How is the double-bass of service to the nation?’ {16.08.31} and in a
case concerning cowmen, questions were being put to Mr. Moore {solicitor}, when Dr. Worsfold interrupted
with the observation ‘I do not think it fair to ask a solicitor how to milk a cow.’ {16.03.10} A claim that a lady
could not take the place of a male commercial traveller drew the comment that ‘lady commercial travellers
are becoming a very important and charming feature of the day!’ {16.03.10} Employers could be faced with a

facetious simplifying of their business:

* Armlets marked with a crown were issued to men who had attested under the Derby scheme. Appeals against call-up
under this scheme ran concurrently with the first appeals against conscription.
The Military Representative: I suppose the girls put the cardboard in at one end of the machine, and
they come out boxes at the other end?
—Well, no, the machines are not quite so perfect. {16.10.20}

He was less affable when dealing with the conscientious objectors, as will be seen below, and his role changed
when military representatives became national service representatives and he had to take a less single-minded

If Dr Worsfold was generally respected, his deputy, Mr Hayne, seems to have been self-important and inept.
With no combat experience he gained the temporary rank of Second Lieutenant and even before that used his
status as Dr Worsfold’s deputy to demand attention. The secretary of the Tandem Smelting Company told the
tribunal of his experience:

He asked questions about our employees, and I answered him in a proper manner. He made
comments on them which I immediately thought was rather strange. I thought appeals to the
Local Tribunal would be considered before the Local Tribunal and not over the counter of my office.
I asked him by what authority he asked such questions, and he merely replied that he was the Deputy
Military Representative … For a person to be able to go about without any sign of authority and say
he is entitled to receive information about our employees is preposterous. {16.05.26}

Elsewhere, his bluster drew rebukes from the Clerk:

Mr. Hayne: Eighteen and single! I think he ought to be here. We should like to see this young man
who is only eighteen and single.
Ald. Chart: The Chairman will say whether the Tribunal requires the young man’s attendance.

The National Service Representative: Mr. Martin is only asking for a month.
Mr. Mizen: That is nothing to do with the National Service Representative.
Mr. Chart (the Clerk): You have no right to interfere with the judgment of the Tribunal.
Mr. Parslow suggested he should keep his place while he was at the Tribunal and not interfere with
its decisions. He was too personal. {18.10.11}


The Tribunal and the Military

Because many of the members were the social equals of Dr Worsfold a certain cosiness of relationship might
have been expected; there was certainly trust, but the tribunal did not allow Dr Worsfold to override the
regulations that governed them all. In the early days the Military Representative, as well as the appellant, retired
from the hall while the tribunal deliberated. Gradually this practice lapsed and Dr Worsfold stayed, believing
that the members could trust him not to trespass beyond his duties. Examples of military representatives who
were acting improperly were brought before Parliament in March 1916,39 and in January 1917 the Lord Chief
Justice ruled that when a military representative was allowed in the room it would be better if the appellant

was also permitted to remain. The Mitcham tribunal discussed its procedure and decided that it was right that
neither party should be present during its deliberations. Dr Worsfold accepted this ruling without argument:
‘Well, I hope you will supply me with fire and candles as I do not want to be frozen in the sanitary department.’
The Clerk assured him there was a nice fire in the adjourning room. {17.01.19; 17.01.26}

In 1918 Dr Worsfold argued that he could appoint a deputy from inside the tribunal, but the Chairman disagreed:
‘A member of the Tribunal should not be an advocate of one party and be a member of the Tribunal at the same
time.’ {18.04.05; 18.04.19} The Chairman’s view was upheld by higher authority. The usual relationship, though,
was summed up in one statement by the Clerk: ‘The doctor would, I feel sure, use his discretion (hear, hear).’

Not everyone got on well with ‘the doctor’; Alfred Mizen made his feelings known more than once. The
number of employees taken by the military from the market garden business probably explains this outburst:

Mr. A. Mizen said the application proved the foolishness of the question so often addressed

by Dr. Worsfold, as Military Representative, to the effect that women could do the work. {16.08.11}

In 1917 he hinted at darker goings-on:

Mr. A. Mizen … asked why other appeals against similar exemptions had not been made by the

Military Representative. He did not understand the principle on which the Military Representative

acted, adding: “There are wheels within wheels.”*

Mr. Hayne strongly protested to the Chairman against such a statement.

Mr. Mizen: I did not mean you.

* Perhaps there is a hint at freemasonry: Dr Worsfold was on the square; Mr Mizen was not.
Mr. Hayne: But I am the representative of the military and strongly protest against such imputations.
Mr. Mizen: We can all say and think what we like. {17.02.09}
When Dr Worsfold resigned in preparation for his candidacy as an MP, he said that his task had been a painful
one to him, a piece of war work which had to be done. He said how much he had appreciated the courtesy that
had been extended to him by the Clerk and the members of the tribunal. The Chairman ‘voiced the Tribunal
views when he stated they were very sorry that the doctor was leaving them. He had always been very fair and
they had always worked well together.’ {18.08.23} It is clear, though, from the number of exemptions, albeit
temporary, awarded by the tribunal, that working well together did not mean that the military always won,
and the Mitcham tribunal and military were certainly less hand-in-hand than those at St Marylebone, whose
chairman reported at the end of the war that all had worked together ‘as a band of brothers with one object in
view – to do our duty.’40


An appellant might argue that his work was important for the national interests, and the same argument might
be made by an employer, who could also suggest that a man was indispensable for the continuation of the
business, especially if the company concerned was engaged in fulfilling government contracts. The tribunal
often accepted the first argument, and it was guided in its decision by the increasingly complex government-
provided list of certified occupations.

However, the tribunal was also sceptical about indispensability, suspecting that companies pressed this point
for their own benefit. Cases from the hearing on 19 May 1916 indicate the issues that arose:

A highly skilled gum runner and varnish manufacturer, who had been employed in the same factory

for 15 years, was appealed for by his employer, who said the man and his son were the only makers

they had. To take one away would halve the output of the firm, which had several important con

tracts on hand.

Claim disallowed.

A master dairyman applied for total exemption on the grounds that the trade was certified, and
serious financial hardship. Milk was served to between 300 and 400 customers, and he had two in his
employ, a man aged 65 years and a youth. His father, who lived with him and assisted when his health
permitted, made over the business to him on the occasion of his marriage last July. An interesting
event is expected in July.
Two months’ exemption.

An assistant to a gas mantle manufacturer, earning 35s., was granted one month’s exemption. It
was stated that the firm was capturing a trade hitherto mainly monopolised by Germany, and was
building up an export trade.
One month’s exemption.

Some cases of national importance were unusual ones:

The manager of Blume’s varnish factory was appealed for by the controller appointed by the Board of
Trade under the Trading with the Enemy Act. In support of the appeal, which was for an extension
of the period of exemption till the end of September, it was stated that the controller was working
the business up to sell it as a going concern. It would be sold at the end of September, and it would
be most essential that the man’s services should be retained till then.
Application granted. {16.08.25}

Though appellants were usually pleased to have the support of an employer, this was not always the case, and
members sometimes indicated their doubts about the sincerity of an employer’s claim:

Applicant said he wished to withdraw his claim and go to the front. His employers, a firm of mineral
water manufacturers, applied for him on the ground that he was indispensable. He was the machine
minder and being the only man in that part of the factory was also employed as a carman. It was
impossible for women to do the work as it was too heavy. The wages were 30s. a week. A member
of the Tribunal thought that was a very poor wage to pay a man who was indispensable. {16.10.06}

In reply to the Chairman, the employer said applicant’s salary was £4 a week. The principal part of
the firm’s work was for the Government, and a lot of colour was being used for the painting of shells.
Mr. Mizen: If this man died, the business would have to close?
The Employer: We should do our best to carry on. (Laughter.) {16.03.24}

Mr Mizen also made several appeals on behalf of his own market garden workers, some successful:

A well-known Mitcham firm of market gardeners applied for the exemption of 25 men, carters and
market gardeners’ labourers. The employer, in support of the application, said the men were of as
much value on the land as they would be in the Army, as they were assisting in the production of
home produce.
It was decided to allow all of them six months’ exemption with one exception, this one being
disallowed. {16.03.03 }

Others were not:

Mr. Mizen, on behalf of Messrs. Mizen Bros., market gardeners, was desirous of retaining his
employee, Samuel Wheeler, aged 20, who cuts mustard and cress, and although it was contended
that it was in the national interest to go on growing cress, the claim failed. It was stated sixty of the
employees had joined the colours. {16.03.03}

This case went to appeal, where it caused some judicial merriment. {C16.05.05} The national interest claim
was not, however, frivolous, according to a later appeal at Croydon, where it was said that large quantities of
cress seed were being sent to Mesopotamia to prevent scurvy. {C17.01.26}

Men or companies who claimed to be performing an essential public service were questioned, but usually
allowed a temporary exemption:

Messrs. Lancaster & Co. applied for the exemption of two men on the ground of public utility. Mr.
Green pointed out once more the grave importance of collecting house refuse, and said that after
repeated applications to the Labour Exchange no men could be got to do the work except casuals.
One man, 40 years of age, was engaged carting sludge from the Sewage Farm. More men and vans
were required in the summer to cope with the danger from flies, &c.
Three months each, conditional. {17.04.13}

A horse and cattle slaughterman and his leading workman were granted four months’ exemption
each, chiefly on the ground of the humane character of the work. It was stated that the man was called
out at all times of the day and night to slaughter horses injured in street accidents. The employer’s
exemption was conditional on his joining the Volunteers. {16.09.15}

The Streatham Park Cemetery Co. asked for exemption for Mr. J. T. Ruff, aged 44, Grade 2. Three-
fourths of the staff had joined up. One of the sons of Mr. Ruff was with the colours. He was digging
common graves which are dug very deep. It required an experienced man to do the work. They
had between 4 and 5 thousand interments a year. The cemetery had no reserve labour whatever.
Advertising in the local papers for men was of no avail. Young men could not be trusted to do the
work, and it was not possible for an old man to do it.
Two months’ exemption. {18.06.21}

Mr. Alfred Jenner, Superintendent of the Mitcham Fire Brigade, applied for the exemption of B.
Dendy, the driver of the motor fire engine. It was urged that Dendy was indispensable for the safety
of Mitcham, as, although there were two others capable of driving, they were making munitions, and
out of the parish a greater part of the time. Mr. Jenner added that he felt the responsibility very much,
and he did not know of another similar brigade that had not a resident motor driver. If he drove the
engine himself it would be impossible to properly superintend the brigade while at a fire.
The Chairman said the responsibility was entirely on the shoulders of Mr. Jenner, and if he
recommended exemption in this case the tribunal would grant it. {16.06.30}

When this case was heard again, the Council members present were not allowed to participate, as happened
when the Council appealed for its accountant:

The first case dealt with was that of Mr. C. H. Parslow, accountant and assistant clerk to the Urban
Council. It was taken in camera. The whole of the members who are also members of the Urban
Council retired … The acting Clerk to the Council (Ald. R. M. Chart, J.P.) stated the case for the
Council, but made no special appeal … There were more than 100 books in the office to look after,
and it was very difficult to obtain any one with technical knowledge to do his work.
Disallowed, but not to go till May 1st. {17.04.20}

Exempted in the public interest was Captain James Crook of the Church Army:

The Rev. Roberts, Chaplain to the Forces, asked for exemption for Capt. Crook, who is missionary at
the Mission of the Good Shepherd, Lonesome. He was working under the Church Army. The district
in which he was engaged was a very difficult one. His chief work was writing letters to soldiers on
behalf of their wives. He had a parish of over 2,500. Doctors would not go there in illness unless they
had a guarantee from Captain Crook.
Three months’ exemption was granted. {18.02.22 – his second appearance}

After this hearing Captain Crook received an anonymous letter, and the Mercury made it clear that he ‘has been
insulted for statements he did not make.’41 Captain Crook was similarly exempted on two further occasions,
and it was stated that he ‘had a strong hold on the affections of the people.’ {18.05.24} Although Anglican
clergy were not subject to conscription, this exemption did not automatically apply to the Church Army,
and we can see in his case that the importance of his work in a notably remote and bleak part of the parish
was recognised by a tribunal that contained several church supporters. That Revd Roberts, Vicar of St Mark’s
Mitcham, had volunteered as an Army chaplain no doubt strengthened the case.


If military tribunals are remembered for anything, it is for their presumed maltreatment of conscientious
objectors. Most modern books draw on the examples given in J W Graham’s Conscription and Conscience,
published in 1922, but it is worth pointing out that Graham accepted both that it was impossible to make any
universal statements about the tribunals and that, in their attitudes to recruitment and would-be ‘shirkers’,
‘they were, after all, only in harmony with the general feeling of the time’. Graham quoted ignorant and abusive
comments made to appellants, such as ‘Yours is a case of an unhealthy mind in an unwholesome body’ and
‘You are exploiting God to save your own skin. You are nothing but a shivering mass of unwholesome fat.’
He detailed widespread and flagrant illegalities: tribunals that were not open to the public, or refused to hear
evidence from friends or relatives; a military representative who tried to prevent publication of speeches; a
chairman who told an appellant that he was liable to be shot for refusing non-combatant service.42 Many of
these abuses were raised at the time in Parliament by Philip Snowden and collected in a pamphlet, British
Prussianism. The Scandal of the Tribunals,43 that was widely circulated in late March 1916. However, the
publicising of singular and outlandish statements in the national and regional press of the day, though it had
the effect of calling forth some worthy if isolated protests, is no evidence for the general condemnation of all
two thousand or so local tribunals.

The extreme youth of many of the first group of objectors, those heard in March-April 1916, prevented many
from claiming membership of a pacifist body before the war began, whilst pacifist Anglicans were hindered
by the publicly bellicose utterances of many of the Church of England’s bishops, notably Arthur Winnington-
Ingram, Bishop of London, whose portrait in Fulham Palace shows him in Army uniform.44 Objectors were
not all from a religious background; some were political objectors against the aims of the war, who might or
might not have a moral belief in the sanctity of life. A young man might be certain in himself of the strength
of his convictions, yet uncertain of how to articulate them in a place of public interrogation: ‘The first batch of
sufferers was, on the average, under twenty-one years old. They did not always shine in argument. They were
new to this kind of dialectic.’45 Harold Brewster, an objector in neighbouring Merton, ‘was too nervous to
assert himself sufficiently’46 when questioned on his conduct, even though he had just made a clear, prepared

The objector had to expect that his moral and religious opinions would be challenged. When the tribunals
were dealing with their greatest workload they had little time in which to conduct a detailed examination, and
no guidance as to how they should do so. Their first response was a challenge to the objector’s initial statement
of beliefs, especially why he might not be willing to undertake military service as a non-combatant. Military
representatives were primed with a list of non-pacifist Old Testament quotations with which to confound
arguments based on the New Testament and the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’. Men who followed the
ethics of Leo Tolstoy were meant to be unsettled by news that Tolstoy’s relatives were not pacifists. In June
1916 tribunals were supplied with Form R.87,47 a ten-point questionnaire, and instructed to write down the
objector’s answers; the objector was meant to forward written evidence, from ‘persons of standing if possible’,
to confirm his sincerity, besides setting out his precise objections in public. Some of the later Mitcham reports
do contain answers that can be connected with the questionnaire, but there is no sign of all ten being used in
a methodical way as a form of interrogation.

Tribunals searched for inconsistency of argument or behaviour which could be interpreted as insincerity, and
their best-known tool was the ‘What if …?’ question, explained here by John Graham:

The usual poser set by the tribunal was to ask what the applicant would do if a criminal assaulted
his mother. If he said he would resist, he was a war-man; if he said he would not, he was a liar
and a humbug. The proper answer required a rather careful statement of the difference between
the policeman and the soldier, the difference between a testimony against organized violence in
war and a testimony against all use of force – which an impatient tribunal, even if it followed such
subtleties, turned out to be unwilling to hear, and which the nervous applicant might find it difficult
to formulate really well and convincingly.48

However convincing an objector might be, the judgement of a tribunal was usually limited by the general
interpretation of the first Military Service Act: conscientious objection to undertaking combatant service
was the ground for exemption as stated by the Prime Minister, so exemption from that was all that could
be granted; absolute exemption was thought by many tribunals to be inapplicable to conscience cases, and
conditional exemption to apply only if the appellant was already engaged in work of national importance.
Directives to alter these assumptions came from the Local Government Board and from Parliament in the
second Military Service Act, but they were too late for the first groups of objectors and in any case not all
tribunals changed their policy. Although a Non-Combatant Corps was formed, many objectors did not accept
being posted to it, because they were thus still part of the military machine, and, if they were in medical units,
they were effectively helping the war effort by returning the wounded to active service.

Many of these issues can be found in the small number of conscience cases dealt with at Mitcham. The local
newspapers, though they did not exclude minority views, were fairly clear in the direction of opinion given to

The attitude adopted by many of these puny claimants is sickening to the men who are leaving
everything to fight in a cause which the neutral world agrees is just and righteous. To say that
Christianity is opposed to war is ridiculous, for it is the sword which has made Christianity secure
in a world in which the majority of mankind is still outside its pale. The man who says that he would
not raise a hand to defend mother or wife from a brutal aggressor is obviously not fit to be made a
soldier. But that is no reason why he should not be made to do something for the country which is
shielding him and his.49

Beneath its tribunal report on 17 March 1916 the Mitcham Mercury printed ‘Lloyd George’s Suggestion’: Sir
William Henry Dunn* had lunched with David Lloyd George, then Secretary of State for War, who was of the
opinion that ‘it would be a very good idea to put them {objectors} to the work of repairing the barbed wire
entanglements in the front line trenches.’ Though most of the tribunal reports (but not the appeal reports) are
presented without comment, the Wimbledon Herald’s reporter a week later covered a conscience case thus:
‘The appellant, who looked the part of a conscientious objector, made quite a little speech in his own behalf,
and said he had been a conscientious objector for nine years.’

At Mitcham it was the Military Representative who conducted almost all the questioning of appellants.
Unusually among tribunals, Mitcham’s Military Representative was a civilian, as was his deputy until later in
the war, so that appellants were not immediately confronted by a uniform and badges of rank. Dr Worsfold
was nevertheless a formidable interrogator of great personal presence and legal experience who did bear down
hard on some of the objectors, either with the ‘Yes or no?’ technique beloved of barristers in courtroom
dramas, or with a logical sequence of questions that ended with one that was impossible to answer succinctly:

The Military Representative: You would say it is better to suffer an evil than resist it by force?
—Well, you see—
—Answer “Yes” or “No”, please.
—I cannot answer “Yes” or “No”.
—You do not believe in resisting by force?
—It depends upon the circumstances. {16.07.07}

I take it you have no objection to relieving the results of evil by behaving with a Christian spirit?
Appellant—I agree to that.
And, therefore, you would not object to help in alleviating the suffering of those who are sick and ill?
—I should do so under the military.
The Military Representative: By rendering assistance in such a case you would not be taking life. It is
saving life. Then if you saw a fellow-countryman dying from injuries you would not give him a cup
of water?

* Lord Mayor of London for the year from November 1916. It is not obvious why readers outside the City would have
recognised the name or thought his comments important.
Appellant: I don’t know what I would do. I would not, according to my conscience.
What is that?
—I really cannot tell you.
The Military Representative: I thought not. {16.03.24}

The Chairman usually confined himself to simple requests for explanation – ‘What is your conscientious
objection?’ – or ‘Yes, but …’ qualifications: ‘But some of the texts are very inconsistent’; ‘{he} agreed with many
of the contentions put forward, but unfortunately we had to look at things as they were and not as we should
like them to be.’ Other tribunal members sometimes asked brief questions or commented on procedural
matters. A few personal comments about appellants and their views are recorded; they are beyond the bounds
of judicial impartiality demanded of tribunals, but not as outlandish as those quoted above:

A member of the Tribunal: Your own common sense must tell you it is no use talking about love to
the Germans. That would not save your home or your life. {16.04.14}

Mr. Leather: If you live in a country you ought to be ready and proud to fight for it.* {16.07.07}

Mr Leather, who had served with the Army in Burma, tried a sarcastic parting shot at the end of another case,
but the intended victim took no notice:

… he was prepared to suffer any penalty rather than reconcile himself to going against his religious
Mr. Leather: Were you born in Germany?
Applicant: Oh no, in London. {16.06.30}

From what was recorded it is sometimes quite hard to work out the reasoning behind the verdict given, though
some cases are straightforward:

An application for total exemption on many grounds, inclusive of that of conscientious objection,
was disposed of in camera, and the Tribunal decided to free applicant from combatant service, it
having transpired that he was willing to drive an ambulance car. {16.03.03}

* He was not alone in this thought. The Mayor of Aberavon said during a hearing that the appellant ‘had no right to live
in a country unless he was prepared to fight for it.’ (Hansard HC Deb, 22/03/1916)
One man lost because he had attested (see above) and two others because they refused to accept non-combatant
status, which left the tribunal with no option other than absolute exemption, which was only accorded to
special, well-known cases such as Mr Pitt (see below).
One man’s reasons were as much political as the religious and moral ones specified in the Act:

He was not a member of any religious body, but he was a member of the No Conscription Fellowship,
and had belonged to the Communist Club. He could not undertake any other work than that in

which he was engaged: bootmaking and repairing, which he considered of national importance. He
had not much time to engage in philanthropic work. He was compelled to sacrifice all his time to
earn money to pay for his share to this calamitous war, much against his will. {17.09.07}

The tribunal may have simply lost patience with him, for his objections ran to the length of eleven pages of
foolscap. No objections were made to the basis of his claim, a contrast to the local tribunal at Burnley, where
the chairman told socialists that they could not have a conscience.50

The son of a Mitcham market gardener applied for exemption on conscientious and business grounds and
obtained six months’ exemption:

With regard to his conscientious objections he said that he went by the commandment “Thou shalt
not kill.” He would not serve for non-combatant service, as he regarded it as accessory to the same
object as combatant service. He appealed also on the ground that he was at present doing work of
national importance. In answer to a question he said his father, himself, and one other man did the
entire work of the business, and he was therefore very necessary to its continuance. {16.06.30}

There seems no substantial evidence for accusing the Mitcham tribunal of unfair or improper treatment of
the conscientious objectors, given that it was an agent of a legal process and bound to test the claim of an
individual against the needs of the state. The comments about objectors that are reported hardly add up to
abuse or bullying, and anything more sensational would probably have gained publicity in the newspapers. 51

The cases were in themselves usually more complex than simple ones of hardship and were often reported at
some length. The following three give some idea of the variety of appellants and their claims, and the attitudes
revealed towards objectors in the newspapers, both by correspondents and the editors.

1. Conscience before Wife
This case is a standard one, but quoted because of the reactions reported in the press. Here, as elsewhere, the
Military Representative deployed the ‘What if …?’ question:

At the Mitcham Tribunal on Wednesday, a varnish maker named Turner applied for exemption on
conscientious grounds. He pleaded that he had no hatred or bitterness to anyone, and he refused
to take human life. He would refuse to bear arms under any conditions, whatever the provocation.
On being acquainted with the fact that his work was connected with the war, he said he would be
willing to relinquish his situation rather than have any connection with the war. The applicant said
he would be willing to do any work of national importance, providing it was not connected with the
destruction of human life.
The Military Representative: Supposing a brutal man was going assault your wife would you stand by
or would you stop him with violence if necessary?
The applicant repeatedly avoided the question, but finally with reluctance said he would allow his
wife to be ill-treated rather than resort to violence.
Claim disallowed. {16.06.09}

Whereas the Wimbledon Herald covered this case plainly among all the other applications of the day, the
Mitcham Mercury singled it out with the heading ‘Conscience before Wife’ and added ‘repeatedly’ and ‘with
reluctance’ to the applicant’s response.

Correspondence ensued, and it is interesting to see the variety of views expressed; although the editorial
stance is plain, there is no suppression of contrary views. After allowing that ‘it is sometimes possible to have
sympathy with the conscientious objectors,’ the Mercury editor commented: ‘He is the most contemptible
thing – it would be an insult to the manhood of the nation to call him a man – that has ever donned a pair of
trousers.’ A week later ‘Volunteer’ wrote that no one had a right to ask the ‘What if …?’ question, and that it
did not help to establish the appellant’s declaration of belief. More generally he criticised tribunals and their

inbuilt imbalance between the interrogators, numerous and often practised in public speaking, and the single
objector, who might not be articulate or confident: ‘In many cases applicants are unlettered people, quite
unused to expressing their feelings in public … doubtless they get confused and answer at random.’ A further
week later John Marsh Pitt, a well-known Mitcham member of the Society of Friends, wrote that nationally
the tribunal had ‘turned out to be a sort of Inquisition for heretics. It works not to liberate the genuine man,
but to catch the innocent (generally single-handed amongst a pack of experts) on either horn of a dilemma.’ At
the end of a wide-ranging letter he concluded that ‘men with a conscience are not inhuman cowards … they
have the crowd against them.’

Further correspondence followed: the editor denounced Mr Pitt’s letter, mainly for its ‘slander’ of the British
Army {he had suggested that Indian women had not been safe from assault by British soldiers}, though he did
concede that ‘with some phase of the conscientious objection we can sympathise.’ Mr Leslie pointed out that
the inferences of cowardice or hypocrisy drawn from the ‘question’ were wrong, because a personal challenge
could not be compared with the impersonal forces of war. Other responses were more predictable: Mr Jerem
wondered how it was possible

to permit a few cranks, each posing under the name of ‘Conscientious Objector’, to evade their duty

to King and country, by refusing to join in our fight for freedom … liberty of conscience is a priceless

asset, but when its abuse becomes a danger to the State, why should the State permit its continuance?

‘F.B.’ reminded objectors that they were members of an earthly kingdom as well as a spiritual one. Mr James
complained of Mr Pitt’s ‘superior conscience’, called him the ‘crankiest of all impossible cranks’ and thought
his letter did a disservice to the genuine conscientious objector.52

Mr Turner, the cause of all this comment, appealed at Croydon and was exempted from combatant service,
conditional on work of national importance. He went as an attendant at Netherne Asylum but appealed again,
and said his nerves would not stand it. At his own request he was transferred to non-combatant service.*

2. God Gave Me a Conscience
John Marsh Pitt’s grandfather, George, had established a draper’s business at London House in London Road,
Mitcham, around 1830, and his father, also George, in 1853 became a Quaker, or member of the Society of
Friends. The Meeting House was established first at the Pitt family home and then at a nearby hall. George
junior built many cottages for letting, and he and his wife were well known in Mitcham from the 1860s onwards
for their generosity and acts of charity, though George was also regarded as an eccentric.53 Mr Pitt appeared
before the tribunal in August 1918, after the upper age for conscription had been raised to 51:

John Marsh Pitt (46), B2, 5, The Park, builder, who owned fifty cottages and superintended the
repair of 50 others, appealed on business grounds, and also for absolute exemption as a conscientious
objector. Several letters were put in supporting the claim. The Rev. R. Richman wrote that although
he held different views to Mr. Pitt, he felt bound to testify to the earnestness and sincerity of his

* The Pearce Register of Conscientious Objectors states that he left because of war work being done at the hospital; the
reason given in the newspaper report sounds more straightforward.
convictions. Mr. R. A. Bush and Mr. Ed. Grubb, M.A., of Croydon, wrote in similar strain and the
Society of Friends wrote to the effect that appellant acted as their visiting chaplain at Brixton Prison.
Mr. Mizen did not think it necessary to have the replies read to the set of questions specially provided
for C.O.’s: they had all known Mr. Pitt longer than the writers of those letters.
Appellant, in reply to Dr. Worsfold, said he had two sons employed on the land, one had just left
school and the other was going to France to work with the Society of Friends War Victims’ Relief
Committee, of which he was also a great helper. He would not object to going to France for similar
work, but he thought it was more suitable for younger men.
The Tribunal eventually decided to grant absolute exemption, and Mr. Pitt promised to use all his
spare time in the interests of the community. {18.08.02}

The ‘eventually’ suggests that the outcome was not predictable: absolute exemptions were rare, even after
clarification of the law and advice from the Local Government Board. What is notable is the acceptance of Mr
Pitt’s sincerity by tribunal members, not because of what he said or what his referees said, but because he was
already known to them in the Mitcham community; he is not asked the usual questions in an attempt to find

Mr Pitt spoke on behalf of his oldest son, William, at the tribunal in 1916, where his claim was disallowed, and
at Croydon the tribunal would not hear a conscience case without the appellant being present, so the case was
adjourned. When William appeared, he was exempted from combatant service conditional on his continuing
to work on the land.54 The second son, Ernest, had appeared at Mitcham, and maintained the true Quaker

—God gave me a conscience and I must hold to it.
You claim to believe unreservedly in the teaching of Christ in all that he said and taught us?
—I follow the teaching and nature of Christ’s life, and to me it seems exactly opposite to war.
You believe all that He taught when on earth, and your conscience is entitled to the fullest respect?
—I believe in the spirit of Christ’s teaching. Of course, you can quote passage upon passage of the
Bible one way or the other, but the spirit of His teaching is absolutely contrary to war.
Dr. Worsfold read the manifesto issued by leading members of the Society of Friends, deploring the
attitude of those who refused alternate service, and urging them to do their duty as loyal citizens, and
said, having heard their opinion: Do you still adhere to the contrary one?
—We adhere to the principle of the society as laid down in the society’s minutes. God is our guide,
and we must be faithful to Him day by day, and not be led by any man, whether he calls himself
Quaker or Friend.
And yet you are willing to accept the sacrifice of other men. You owe your freedom to them. They are
fighting for your freedom now.
—I do not wish them to fight for me. {16.03.10}

Ernest was exempted from combatant service conditional on his continuing to work on the land, and his war
service was on a farm in Herefordshire.55

3. An Advance of Civilisation
Not all those who appealed on conscience grounds were nervous or uncertain. An unidentified postman dealt
vigorously with the questioning by the chair and the demand for a one-word answer:

A postman applied for total exemption on grounds of conscience. He said war was immoral, and
he could not logically lend himself to non-combatant service, as it was assisting war and was not
conducive to the moral welfare of the human race. The use of arms did not settle a dispute, but only
aggravated it, the cause of quarrel being left for subsequent adjustment by tactful administrators.
He was not willing to join a corps for saving life, as to nurse a wounded soldier back to life in order
that he might go back to face death and be a death dealing unit was, in his opinion, barbarous and
criminal. Any service to mankind except in a military capacity would be willingly rendered. From
his youth he had been a Unitarian, though was unconnected with any society for the propagation of
peace with the exception of the American Association for International Conciliation. Had he joined
the R.E. Postal Section, a non-combatant corps, his wife would have had the usual allowance and he
would have received his full civilian pay. Having been in the postal service for 14 years he contended
he could not be better engaged in work of national importance.

The Chairman said he agreed with many of the contentions put forward, but unfortunately we had
to look at things as they were and not as we should like them to be. When the Germans marched
through Belgium, the applicant with all his eloquence would not have stopped the advance. If all

the conscientious objectors in England had gone to Belgium and tried to argue with the Germans, it
would have had no effect. They would have done no good without the use of violence.
Appellant: Two wrongs do not make a right. The invasion of Belgium was a military necessity to
Germany, and any other nation would have done the same thing under the same circumstances. That
was proved by the Allies occupying territory at Salonika.
The Chairman: And yet we have advanced in civilisation under the very rules and doctrines to which
you now object. You will not say we have not advanced since the times when we were painted blue?
Appellant: If you think it is an advance of civilisation to use poison gas and high explosive shells to
maim and destroy life, then I say civilisation is not a desirable attainment.
The Military Representative: You would say it is better to suffer an evil than resist it by force?
—Well, you see—
—Answer “Yes” or “No”, please.
—I cannot answer “Yes” or “No”.
—You do not believe in resisting by force?
—It depends upon the circumstances.
—If a man tried to take your mail bags by force, wouldn’t you resist by punching his head?
—I don’t think so.
—If he was going to kill you in order to secure the mail bags, would you kill him?
—Well, I hope not.
Replying to further questions, appellant still maintained that it was barbarous to nurse a wounded
soldier back to health in order that he might return to fight.
Mr. Mount: You know there is the military power against you, and you are prepared to sacrifice
yourself on the altar?
—I quite realise my position.
Mr. Leather: If you live in a country you ought to be ready and proud to fight for it.

The appeal was dismissed. {16.07.07}

Unfortunately there is no case reported at Croydon that can be linked to this one, so we do not know what
became of the combative postman.


Early in its life the Mitcham tribunal was held up as a good example of administrative competence: ‘What
a difference prevails at Mitcham! There the work proceeds with a dispatch and smoothness which is quite
a credit to the old world “village”.’56 {The contrast was with Wandsworth, where relationships between the
Mayor and reporters were difficult.} With such a large body to manage, Mr Farewell Jones must have been an
outstanding and respected chairman. In July 1916 Alderman Chart, the Clerk, informed the members that
the work of the Tribunal was ‘closer in hand than that of many neighbouring Tribunals,’ and the members
congratulated themselves with calls of ‘Hear, hear’. {16.07.14} He had a remarkable grasp of the regulations
and procedures so recently imposed by the government, as well as a rich local knowledge that ran in his
family, ‘a veritable encyclopaedia of local affairs’.57 The tribunal rightly thanked Alderman Chart in 1918 for
his kindness in writing out a summary of some peculiarly – or typically – abstruse changes to regulations, and
when a member wanted to know the whereabouts of Sherbourn Farm, Mitcham, the Clerk could locate it, with
easy personal familiarity, as ‘Old Tom Annan’s place in East Fields’. {17.12.14}

At the end of November 1917 Alderman Chart, in reply to a question, reported that the tribunal had so far
heard about 1,513 cases under the 1916 Act, 320 of them in the first six weeks.58 It is hard to know how long
each case took, but on one day in 1916 80 cases were heard in 12 hours, or about nine minutes each, including
time for adjudication. Nevertheless, the tribunal found time for difficult cases: one conscience case in 1917
(after the pressure of time had eased) lasted 45 minutes.

Captain Wyatt, the recruiting officer from Wimbledon, attended the hearing on 12th January 1917 and

‘congratulated the tribunal on the excellent work it had been doing.’ Even though he added that ‘throughout
the whole of his area the duties of the tribunals had been performed in the same satisfactory manner,’ it is
possible to feel a little uneasy at congratulations from this particular source, especially when all applications
except one were dismissed – though the applications were not especially strong ones.

Both appellants and the Military Representative had the right to go to a higher tribunal if dissatisfied with the
local decision. According to the reports in the local newspapers, the tribunal at Croydon reviewed in March
1916-December 1917 around 300 cases of the 570 or so cases reported at Mitcham from 1916 to the end of
the war, which suggests that appeal to the higher tribunal was seen as worth trying. The Clerk occasionally
reported on appeals:

The Clerk reported that Mr. Matthaie, baker, of Denison-road, Merton, had appealed against the

Tribunal at Croydon, who dismissed the appeal. {18.04.19}

The Clerk gave a report on appeals to the Surrey and Croydon Appeal Tribunal. In one case, where

a man was turned down, he appealed and was granted exemption until February: another was given

to October. An undertaker’s appeal was dismissed. {18.08.30}

Mr. H. P. Lipscombe, of High-street, Colliers Wood, had his exemption appealed against by the

National Service Representative. The N.S.R.’s appeal was allowed and applicant to join up. {18.06.21}

No doubt the tribunal members liked to think that their decisions had been validated by a higher authority,
as an umpire might be pleased to have a decision confirmed by television replay. The reports of the Croydon
hearings suggest that over twice as many Mitcham decisions were endorsed as were overturned. This compared
well with Sutton’s local tribunal,* which on one day had five out of six decisions rejected.59

* The Military Representative at Sutton was a local clergyman who held the rank of Major.
Most appeals granted at Croydon only resulted in a change to the length of time allowed before enlistment, or
an instruction that there were to be no further extensions, though it is not always easy to draw conclusions,
because many reports are sketchy. Appeals by the Military Representative against the Mitcham tribunal mostly
proved fruitless.
Although the Croydon tribunal was a higher body (and therefore served by three KCs – barristers, not mere
solicitors), it acknowledged the skills of the lower one:

The Croydon Appeal Tribunal … wanted to adjourn any case {of single-owner businesses} that came

before them for consideration by the Tribunal who knew the local circumstances. {18.01.25}


On the whole, it must be stated, the decisions of the Tribunal, of which Mr. G. Farewell

Jones was the Chairman, gave general satisfaction.

(Sutton Advertiser, 27/12/1918)

The Mitcham tribunal did all it was required by law and directive to do. It weighed the demand for soldiers
against the regulations that defined certified occupations and against the assessment of hardship. It was proud
of its businesslike approach and did its work speedily, but it allowed appellants the time they needed to make
their cases heard. Its judgement was not routinely questioned by the appeals tribunal, and it never featured
adversely in The Tribunal, the No-Conscription Fellowship’s bulletin that ran to 182 issues. There were tensions
inside its membership; some were obviously keen to press for recruits, whilst others had a more sceptical view
of the claims of the military machine. Some members, especially the Chairman, made some effort to engage
with conscientious objectors, though the questioning was largely left to the Military Representative, and there

is little evidence of the kind of blatant prejudice that erupted into personal abuse, such as was discussed
above, though one recorded outburst went close. They were men of their time, but followed the regulations;
many appellants were indeed forced into military service, but the tribunal offered time for men to put their
affairs in order. Perhaps in keeping with Mitcham’s disappearing village status, members, particularly the
Chairman and Clerk, mostly treated appellants with benevolent paternalism, polite and indeed considerate;
they assumed a social responsibility based on their standing in local society. As James McDermott said in
his study, the unstated task of tribunals was to be ‘the accountable face of the “unBritish” necessity that was
conscription’. Tribunals ‘provided a humane perspective’,60 a compliment that could fairly be applied to the
twenty ‘good Mitcham men and true’61 who sat in judgement at the Vestry Hall a hundred years ago.


The Mitcham tribunal met for what was to be the last time on 6 November 1918, and the last case reported
was that of Mr J W Rondeau, aged 28, proprietor of a general hardware business at 4 Western Road, Mitcham,
who was making his fourth appearance:

He said he had a right withered arm. He had a wife and five children to support. Applicant said he

had invested his little savings in the business, and serious hardship would ensue if he were called. Six

months’ exemption and exempt from the Volunteers.

With the Armistice the tribunal disappeared from public view: there are no reports of a final meeting or of
any fulsome congratulations on the performance of its duties, either in the newspapers (apart from the brief
mention quoted on the previous page) or in the minutes of the UDC, a contrast to the sequence of tributes
paid at a special meeting of the local tribunal in Croydon.62 Mr Farewell Jones became Chairman of the UDC
in 1924-5 and died in 1926, ‘one of Mitcham’s leading public men’;63 Dr Worsfold became MP for Mitcham
1918-23, a baronet in 1924, and died in 1936, ‘one of the most outstanding personalities in Mitcham for many
years’;64 Alderman Chart, who had ‘dominated the stage of lavender-scented Mitcham’,65 became in 1934, at
the age of 84, the first Mayor of the Borough of Mitcham, and died in 1942. Mr Rondeau continued in business
in Western Road and died without obituary in 1970.

These are approximations, extracted from newspaper reports in 1916-1918:


Individually identifiable cases
Grounds for application:
value to employer/national interest
Temporary and/or conditional exemption
Refused outright366
Results for conscientious objectors:
RefusedPartial (Non-Combatant Corps)
Absolute exemption:

The discrepancies in numbers are caused by information missing from the newspaper accounts. Cases heard
under the Derby scheme are not counted.

About 300 Mitcham claims against the local tribunal decision, lodged by appellants or by the Military
Representative, were reported as being heard at the Croydon Appeals Tribunal.


To give some idea of the socio-economic status of many of the applicants, the following totals by business or
occupation, as reported, are offered:

market gardens 57
varnish industry 40
cows and pigs 39
clerks 33
bakeries 25
cartage 21



Appellants are often introduced by age and medical grade. These grades are set out below:

January 1916-November 1917

A Fit for General Service
B Fit for service abroad in a service capacity

1. Garrison service abroad
2. Labour units (road making, entrenching works etc)
3. Sedentary work (clerks, cooks etc, or if tradesmen, at their trades)
Fit for home service

1. Garrison service
2. Labour units (as B2)
3. Sedentary work (as B3)
D Temporarily unfit for service

E Unfit for military service
November 1917-1918

Grade I General Service
Grade II Garrison service at home and abroad
Grade III
Grade IV
Equivalent to B1 and C1
Labour units and sedentary workEquivalent to B2, C2, B3 and C3
Unfit for military service

(Source: Christine Housden, Kingston’s Military Tribunal 1916-1918)


Paul Barnfield, I have a weak heart and military service would knock me up (The Borough of Twickenham
Local History Society, 2015).

Christine Housden, Kingston’s Military Tribunal 1916-1918, available for reference at Kingston History Centre.

James McDermott, British Military Service Tribunals, 1916-18 (Manchester 2011).

Philip Spinks, ‘The War Courts; The Stratford-upon-Avon Borough Tribunal 1916-1918’,
The Local Historian, Vol.32, No.4, (2002), pp. 210-217.

The following web pages (as at December 2016) have information about conscription and appeals:



A survey of tribunal document holdings listed by area can be seen at

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/ Military-ServiceTribunal-


George Farewell Jones (1855-1926)
Chairman, Mitcham Military Tribunal, 1916-1918

1 Harry Stanton, Will You March Too?, photocopy of typescript, n.d., Leeds University Library,
2 Local Government Board Circular R.36, quoted in John Rae, Conscience and Politics (London,

1970), p. 105.
3 Wimbledon Herald, 25/02/1916.
4 Mitcham Mercury, 23/06/1916.
5 Professor Peter Simkins on website of the British Library; table in Beckett & Simpson (eds.), A

Nation in Arms (2014 edition), p. 8.
6 Neil Lyndon, ‘Why has everyone forgotten about male suffrage?’ Daily Telegraph, 02/04/2015.
7 J H Thomas, Hansard HC Deb 05/01/1916.
8 Elizabeth Gaskell, Sylvia’s Lovers (London, 1863), quoted in Andrew Sanders, In the Olden Time

(New Haven, 2013).
9 Sir William Byles, Hansard HC Deb 05/01/1916.
10 Mitcham Advertiser, 18/09/1914.
11 See Beckett & Simpson, pp. 9-10; Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War (London, 1998), p. 199.
12 Mitcham Advertiser, 18/09/1914; Wimbledon Herald, 19/09/1914.
13 Mitcham Mercury, 07/07/1916; The Times, 16/03/1916.
14 {16.10.17}
15 {16.11.27}
16 Website of The National Archives.
17 Official statistics quoted in Rae, p. 4.
18 John Rae, Conscience and Politics (London, 1970) pp. 34-6.
19 Wimbledon Herald, 18/02/1916.
20 Quotations in Rae, p. 54.
21 Quotations in Rae, pp. 101-2.

22 Hendon & Finchley Times, 11/02/1916; Preston Herald, 12/02/1916; Leeds Mercury, 18/02/1916.
{online} www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk
23 1911 Census; Advertiser, 27/10/1916.
24 1910 Valuation Office Survey at The National Archives.
25 ‘The Commoner’ in Mitcham Advertiser, 18/09/1914.
26 Supplement to The London Gazette, issue 28859.
27 Registration and Recruiting (London, HMSO), p.13: The National Archives, MH 47/142/1.
Viewable online.
28 Wimbledon Borough News from 29/07/1916 to the end of the year.
29 Surrey History Centre, description of record 2496.
30 Registration and Recruiting, p. 131. See Illustration (6).
31 {18.05.24}
32 Cllr Drewett, quoted in Wimbledon Herald, 31/01/1919.
33 James McDermott, British military service tribunals, 1916-1918 (Manchester, 2011), pp. 198-202.
34 Moore and Sayers, (eds), Croydon and the Great War (Croydon, 1920), p. 129.
35 McDermott, p. 181.
36 Wimbledon Herald, 25/02/1916, 24/03/1916.
37 Wimbledon Herald, 19/01/1917.
38 Wimbledon Herald, 25/02/1916.
39 Hansard HC Deb 22/03/1916.
40 Quoted in Rae, p. 96.
41 Mitcham Mercury, 01/03/1918.

42 J W Graham, Conscription and Conscience A History 1916-1919 (London, 1922), pp. 71-6.

Readable online at the Hathi Trust website, www.hathitrust.org.
43 Readable online at the Hathi Trust website,
44 See Alan Wilkinson, The Church of England and the First World War (London, 1978 and 1996),

pp. 35-6 and 251-4; Robert Beaken, The Church of England and the Home Front 1914-1918

(Woodbridge, 2015), pp. 201-5.
45 Graham, p. 75.
46 Letter to T Edmund Harvey from R St John Yockney, 15/05/1916: Friends Library, London,

Temp MSS 835/B/5.
47 The National Archives, MH 47/142/7 p. 107. Viewable online.
48 Graham, p. 76.
49 Mitcham Advertiser, 03/03/1916.
50 Philip Snowden, Hansard HC Deb 22/03/1916.
51 For comparison with other tribunals, see Rae, pp. 108-9; Ann Kramer, Conscientious Objectors of

the First World War (Barnsley, 2014), pp. 46-7.
52 Mitcham Mercury, 23/06/1916; 30/06/1916; 07/07/1916.
53 E N Montague, Mitcham Histories (Merton Historical Society), 4, pp. 75-8; 12, pp. 114-120.
54 Imperial War Museum, Pearce CO Register Online Transcription: William Pitt.
55 Imperial War Museum, Pearce CO Register Online Transcription: Ernest Pitt.
56 Mitcham Mercury, 13/03/1916.
57 Cllr Drewett, quoted in Wimbledon Herald, 31/01/1919.
58 {17.11.30}; Mitcham Urban District Council, Annual Report 1915-6.
59 Mitcham Advertiser, 07/04/1916.
60 McDermott, pp. 217, 228.
61 Wimbledon Herald, 18/02/1916.
62 Moore and Sayers, pp. 131-2.
63 Mitcham Mercury, 26/02/1926.
64 Mitcham News and Mercury, 17/07/1936.
65 ‘The Commoner’ in Mitcham and Tooting Advertiser, 19/02/1942.


Front Cover: Merton Library and Heritage Service, Merton Memories Photographic Archive, Mit_Transport_ Mit_

(1) Merton Library and Heritage Service Merton Memories Photographic Archive,
(2) Merton Library and Heritage Service, Merton Memories Photographic Archive, Mit_2_4-10.
(3) Merton Library and Heritage Service, Mitcham News and Mercury, 26/09/1941.
(4) Imperial War Museum, Art. PST 5044.
(5) The National Archives, MH 47/142/7.
(6) The National Archives, MH 47/142/1.
(7) Imperial War Museum, Q 30064.
(8) Courtesy of Ian Garbett
(9) Merton Library and Heritage Service, Merton Memories Photographic Archive, Mit_Industry_T2Back cover: photograph from Mitcham Mercury Charter Day Souvenir

19/09/1934, Merton Historical Society