Falkirk cashier spared war because he was a man

Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders pictured in the trenches during World War One
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders pictured in the trenches during World War One

Signing on for war in 1915 was seen by many men – who queued up to volunteer – as a romantic adventure, fighting for their country to return as heroes, seeing foreign countries, or an escape from a life poverty back home.

The horrors of war quickly became apparent, however, and the queues dwindled.

With a beleaguered army desperate for soldiers to fight in the First World War, authorities brought in compulsory Acts for men to join the ranks fighting the German enemy.

As the war raged on in northern Europe, the Armed Forces needed more and more service men as hundreds of thousands were dying on the front line – by the end of the conflict, known as ‘the war to end all wars’, more than 3000 men from Falkirk would give their lives for king and country.

The Military Service Act required all adult males, aged between 18 and 41, to register for military service unless they were married, widowed with children, serving in the Royal Navy, a minister of religion, or had work in a reserved occupation.

Other reasons were that men were the only butchers, plumbers or policemen in their towns or villages and their communities would suffer if they had to leave.

And with greater numbers required to enlist, a second Military Service Act was then brought in and extended service to include married men from May 1916, before a third Act extended the age range further for 17 to 55-year-olds.

The men of Falkirk went forward in their droves and the town took a great pride in their bravery, however, not everyone unsurprisingly wanted, or could, perform in the theatre of war.

There were exemptions from conscription for some men and the Military Tribunal system was set up under the Military Service Act 1916 which set down terms for mandatory military service and came into force on March 2, 1916.

From 1916, volunteers and conscripted men seeking exemption from military service could apply to tribunals. The exemptions that were granted could be permanent, conditional or temporary, but all were revocable.

Many who appealed were not unwilling to fight and had previously joined up voluntarily but later lodged appeals on grounds of hardship or ill health.

There are also examples where it was thought to be in the interests of the local populace or in service of the war effort itself that these men remain in their civilian jobs.

The records of the tribunals have now been made public on the ScotlandsPeople website where we found only two appeals from men in the Falkirk area.

Wolff Cembler, a 38-year-old draper and jeweller of 4 Melrose Place appealed his conscription on the grounds of ill health in February 1918.

Another appeal was submitted on behalf of cashier and managing clerk John Stewart (29), of Ayrtoun, 71 Alma Street, Falkirk by his employer J A Campbell and Lamond, a solicitor’s firm in Edinburgh citing “serious hardship”.

Mr Stewart had applied to join up in 1915 and was refused before he was called again for compulsory service. The appeal was lodged on November 17, 1916 on grounds that could be construed sexist in the modern era.

His record states: “Mr Stewart was rejected from the Army on several occasions in 1915, was on that account engaged by us in December of that year, and is now the only male assistant left in our office – the other assistants are at present serving in the Army.

“Before the War, the staff consisted of five male clerks. Now one partner and four of these clerks are serving in the Army, and the staff consists at present of only Mr Stewart and three female typists. Mr Stewart has full superintendence of the Trust and Estate work while Mr Bryce (another partner in the business) looks after the Conveyancing and Parliament House work.

“As Factors and Agents for several large landed Estates, it is necessary for Mr Bryce to pay periodical visits extending over several days on some occasions, and it is absolutely essential that there be a male assistant to superintend the work at the office.”

A certificate of exemption was given by the tribunal until January 31, 1917 on condition that he remained in his employment.

Tim Ellis, chief executive of National Records of Scotland, said: “We are privileged to be commemorating the First World War centenary by making available this special series of records.

“The documents will be invaluable to family historians researching their ancestors and the lives recorded also reveal a poignant picture of life on the home front and beyond.”

Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, said: “These powerful online records are an important part of our history.

“I encourage people to learn more about this important period and to contribute any information they have to piece together a fuller picture of what life was like for our men.”