‘Nothing will make me cut short a life’

‘Nothing will make me cut short a life’

‘Nothing will make me cut short a life’

First published in News

The first ever use of military conscription two years into the war was a sign the conflict was like no other in history.

Single men between the ages of 18 and 41 could be drafted into military service from January 1916 and within a few months, conscription was extended to include married men.

They could appeal on grounds of work, education or training, health and in rare cases, conscientious objection.

This year The National Archives published the digitised records of 8,791 men seeking exemption from conscription into the army.

Documents from the Middlesex appeal tribunal, which covered what is now Waltham Forest, are among the few that were not destroyed after the war.

They reveal a snapshot of what the lives of young men who remained at home during the war were like and how the government felt about their jobs and morals.

Of the men from the borough who appealed, 14 came from Walthamstow, four from Leyton, two from Leytonstone, six from Chingford and one from Higham Hill.

Only one man from the area listed conscientious objection as one of his reasons for appealing.

John Grattan, 30, lived at 6 Percy Road in Leytonstone with his heavily pregnant Irish wife.

He first appealed his conscription on the grounds of his work in a travelling post office, sorting mail on a train on the way to its destination.

He said women, who were not called up, would not be able to take over the job, as they could not cope with the heavy lifting involved.

He also appealed on the grou-nds of ill health and his wife’s pregnancy.

Those claims were thrown out and ironically, the judgement notice was delayed, as it was stuck in the post.

He replied to the tribunal claiming his Roman Catholic faith meant he could not kill another man on the battlefield, as an enemy soldier may not have had a chance to repent for his sins before being judged by God.

At first, the tribunal found this was not a valid objection.

But Mr Grattan sent a letter, accompanied by a statement from the priest of his Leyton catholic church, James Joyce, appealing this ruling.

He wrote: “After death a man is judged by his creator and punished or rewarded for his sins or virtues.

“Nothing will ever make me take part in war or the cutting short of men’s lives, sending them unprepared and without a chance of repentance in their judgement.”

This appeal was upheld on March 30, 1917.

More than three quarters of Waltham Forest men who appealed did so based on their jobs and just over one in 10 because of ill health or a combination of both.

Thomas Thomson, 34, of 139 Howard Road in Walthamstow, worked at shoe manufacturer and leather merchant A&W Flatau in Tottenham Hale as a ‘rough stuff sorter’.

He appealed his conscription in May 1917 on the grounds that it was in the national interest that he should continue his work rather than serve in the military and that being called up would lead to serious hardship “owing to his exceptional financial or business obligations”.

The tribunal ruled that Mr Thomson’s occupation was worthy of exemption.

Alfred Pettit of 42 Albert Road, Walthamstow, cut and repaired umbrella covers Holloway Road in North London.

He appealed his conscription on the basis that his work was nationally important.

His claim was rejected in November 8, 1918, three days before the war ended.

Richard Shirley of 5 Ainslie Wood Road, Chingford, also claimed his occupation as a pig feeder and slaughterer was important to the nation.

The tribunal agreed with him, noting that he slaughtered animals for numerous firms, and granted him an exemption.

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