First World War
Military Service Tribunals

About the records

The MH 47 series contains up to 11,000 case papers from the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal which, between 1916 and 1918, heard appeals from men who had previously applied to a local tribunal for exemption from compulsory military service. The reasons provided by applicants are varied, with applications made on moral grounds (conscientious objectors), on medical grounds (disability), on family grounds (looking after dependents) and on economic grounds (preserving a business). The vast majority of cases relate to the impact of war on a man’s family or their business interests, and the papers reveal some fascinating and tragic stories.

The case papers within MH 47 provide a unique insight into the tensions created between Government and society during the First World War, which saw casualties and fatalities reach previously unimaginable levels.

The series is now fully searchable and available online in January 2014, following the completion of a digitisation project jointly funded by the Friends of The National Archives and Federation of Family History Societies (FFHS). Search the case papers through our search form or browse the series in Discovery, our catalogue.

The MH 47 series is a key collection of First World War records, of interest to social, local, military and family historians alike. You can find out more about the project and read case studies from some of the papers on The National Archives' blog.

Records destroyed

Due to the sensitive issues that surrounded compulsory military service during and after the First World War, only a small minority of the tribunal papers survive. In the years that followed the end of the war, the Government issued instructions to the Local Government Boards that all tribunal material should be destroyed, except for the Middlesex Appeal records and a similar set for Lothian and Peebles in Scotland, which were to be retained as a benchmark for possible future use. A sample of records from the Central Tribunal were also retained, which are also part of the MH 47 series. Some incomplete sets of records relating to local tribunals are held at local Record Offices in areas that resisted destroying all of their records. For more information on which records do survive, search for ‘military service tribunals’ on the Access to Archives database.

Project background

The digitisation of this series has been made possible through funding from the Friends of The National Archives and FFHS. This joint funding partnership is the first such venture for The National Archives, and we are delighted that the support of both organisations has supported the opening up of a valuable resource, which was formerly poorly-described and consequently under-used.

The project benefited, like many other cataloguing and digitisation projects at The National Archives, from the work of a dedicated team of volunteers. The volunteers painstakingly went through each of the case papers, removing pins and other tags so that each sheet could be scanned individually. Specialist paper wraps were then inserted into the collection to maintain the individual identity of each case papers and new boxes were added to house the collection. This volunteer work was invaluable in the process of making this collection more accessible.

For more information about The National Archives' User Participation programme, please see the Volunteering section of our website.

The records of MH 47

Typically, each case paper will include an appeal form, local tribunal application form and a notice of decision form which confirms the final decision of the Appeal Tribunal. Some examples of these papers are available below. Additionally, many of the case papers have surviving evidence attached to them. These range from letters, medical certificates or statements and religious pamphlets to business information. Where they survive, the evidence provides a direct insight into the impact of total war upon individual households. For more examples from some of the collection, please see our series of blog posts at The National Archives’ blog.

Further information on other related material available through our catalogue, Discovery, can be found by using our research guide on conscientious objectors and those exempt from military service.

 

  • Example image from catalogue reference: MH 47/115
  • Example image from catalogue reference: MH 47/115
  • Example image from catalogue reference: MH 47/54
  • Example image from catalogue reference: MH 47/54

'Mr William King Baker, the father of the applicants, attended before the tribunal, and stated that his sons were not shirkers but were workers.'

Extract from MH 47/66


First World War portal

First World War centenary
The National Archives will be marking the centenary of the First World War with an extensive programme, spanning the period from 2014 - 2019. To find out more about our plans, visit our dedicated First World War site.