Discover your ancestor in this unique resource from the First World War. Military tribunals occurred across the country after conscription was brought into force in Britain. The tribunals heard appeals for exemption from military service from individuals for a number of reasons. The records will include your ancestor’s hearing date, the reason they thought they should be exempt from service and the outcome of the hearing. The records also include images of the original tribunal documents.

Each record will include an image of the source and a transcript of details found within the record. The detail in each transcript can vary, but most will include

  • Name
  • Occupation
  • Address
  • Age
  • Employer’s name
  • Employer’s business
  • Employer’s address
  • Grounds of application – the transcript will display a letter which represents a type of appeal. Here is a key provided to the letter system.
    • A -- 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
    • B -- 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 which he wishes to be engaged
    • C -- 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 trained
    • D -- 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
    • E -- on the ground of ill-health or infirmity
    • F -- on the ground of a conscientious objection to the undertaking of combatant service
    • G -- 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
  • Application made by man or employer – the transcript will display this information as M, for man, or E, for employer.
  • Date received
  • Date of hearing
  • Case serial number


The image will provide you with further details of your ancestor’s hearing including the decision of the tribunal. The record will show if your ancestor was temporarily, conditionally or absolutely exempt from service or if your ancestor’s appeal was refused, which meant your ancestor was subsequently sent to war. If your ancestor was temporarily exempted from service, the length of time is provided.

Discover more about these records

In January 1916, Prime Minister Asquith introduced the Military Service Act. The act came into force on 2 March 1916 and meant that all men between the ages of 18 and 41 who were single, childless and/or widowers could be conscripted into military service. As the war waged on and the need for more men increased, conscription was extended to married men in May 1916 and then the age was extended to 51 in May 1918.

Individuals had the opportunity to apply for an exemption from military service. A person could appeal on the grounds of ill health, serious economic hardship, or conscientious objection to the war, or if their education or employment was of national importance. In the later cases, the individual’s employer could appeal for exemption on their employee’s behalf.

Due to their sensitive nature, most tribunal records were destroyed after the First World War; however, some local governments, such as the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar, preserved the records. The Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives have digitised and indexed the Poplar military tribunal case records. They are an exciting resource for family historians but also for anyone interested in the social history of Britain during the First World War.