National Archives files reveal touching pleas and ruses against conscription

tags: World War I, Great Britain




The stories of the "rotten shirker" butcher of Finchley, of the German baker whose shop was destroyed by crowds shouting anti-German abuse, and of the last son at home whose four brothers had already died in the first world war are revealed in records released online by the National Archives at Kew.

Many of the files, which come from a tribunal that judged thousands of appeals against conscription, have supporting letters, typed or handwritten on shoddy wartime paper. Often the letters have heartbreaking pleas from relatives fearing they will be left destitute, or explanations from employers of how their businesses might be destroyed.

Some of the letters are more startling, however. There is the anonymous denunciation of the Finchley butcher Charles Rubens Bushey, which says: "He made a heap of money in this shop, he is a proper rotter of a man."

The case of Harry Ward, a 20-year-old conscientious objector who strikingly described himself as "foreign correspondent and bookkeeping clerk", led to questions in parliament over claims that the tribunal chairman told him that as a socialist it was impossible he was a man of conscience. Ward lost the appeal but survived the war.



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