This is a brief guide to researching records of British conscientious objectors and those exempt from service.
Records of British conscientious objectors are varied and incomplete. Those records which do exist are mostly available at The National Archives and local record offices.
What do I need to know before I start?
Try to find out:
- the name of the person
- the date range and location to help focus your search
What records can I see online?
There are no significant collections of records of conscientious objectors available online.
What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?
Nominal lists of appeals (1939-1962)
Browse Discovery, our cataloguea search tool with descriptions of tens of millions of documents from the UK central government, law courts, and other national bodies, for sample documents and nominal lists of conscientious objectors during and after the Second World War in LAB 45. These are arranged by surname.
Tribunal and Middlesex appeal records (1915-1922)
Browse MH 47 for surviving minute books and case papers from the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal and a sample from the Central Appeal Tribunal in London.
The case papers include:
- conscientious objectors
- men who appealed for exemption from compulsory military service during the First World War
- men who appealed on grounds of family or business hardship and medical conditions
A card index in MH 47/136-141 lists all men who appealed to the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal. It gives the relevant case paper number(s) but the index does not state the tribunal decision.
Records of Ministry of National Service (1915-1918)
Browse the following policy files:
- NATS 1/909 and NATS 1/935 for those who had fled to Ireland to avoid conscription
- NATS 1/964 for a plan to 'comb out' hunting and racing establishments for people evading military service
- NATS 1/975 for the problem of men enrolling as war work volunteers in order to avoid the call-up
Names of individuals are not given although they are all generally referred to as 'shirkers'.
Additional material (1916-1918)For additional material related to conscientious objection or exemption tribunals, search our catalogue using terms such as 'conscientious objection', 'conscription' or 'military service tribunals'.
- policy papers in WO 32
- examples of conscientious objectors seeking employment from the Civil Service Commission in T1
- Home office papers in HO 45
What records can I find in other archives and organisations?
What other resources will help me find information?
Consult local newspapers at libraries or the British Library Newspaper Collection which may provide details of tribunal hearings at local level.
Read Family History in the Wars by William Spencer (The National Archives, 2007).
Read We will not fight! by Will Ellsworth-Jones (Aurum Press Ltd, 2008).
Read British Military Service Tribunals, 1916-1918 by James McDermott.