Harringay online

Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

Newly available at The National Archives, the records from the Middlesex Tribunal which heard appeals from 1916-1918 from men who applied for exemption from military service on the grounds of infirmity, family or economic grounds are presently free to download and explore.

Interestingly, only a handful appealed on the grounds of conscience, just 577 out of 11,307 cases. The majority of cases were dismissed and the men went on to fight

As the Telegraph reports,

The files provide an insight into the impact of the First World War on families, businesses and communities far from the battlefields, and also lay bare the social tensions caused by the conflict, and the resistance of some men to serve.

The hearings were considered so sensitive that after the war, most files were destroyed.

Fortunately for local historians, one of only two sets of reports that were retained were those of the Middlesex Tribunals, which included Harringay in 1916-1918.

A quick search of Harringay throws up men from Hewitt Road, Stainhope (sic) Gardens, Mattison Road, Harringay Road, St Margaret's Avenue and many more familiar addresses.

Just one file picked at random reveals the story  of Frederick George Bowen, 40, of 13 Duckett Road a Motorman with London County Council Tramway and a devoted Christian who was one of those who did apply for exemption on the grounds of "a conscientious objection to the undertaking of combatant service."

Frederick's appeal was upheld provided that he undertake work of national importance within 50 miles of London. Being a motorman in a service that was struggling to run with so many qualified men away at the front and was considered of national importance, he was given exemption provided he remained in his work and that a monthly report be sent to the military authorities stating he was still in post.

The file, downloadable for free at present, has letters attesting to his devoted Christianity and the sincerity of his beliefs as well as the forms and paperwork relating to his applications and appeals. 

Many more stories wait to be uncovered here at The National Archives - who can you find on your street?

If this piques your interest, a reminder of the talk at Stroud Green and Harringay Library on Conscientious Objectors in Hornsey on March 8th

Tags for Forum Posts: National Archives, conscientious objectors, world war one

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Replies to This Discussion

This is fascinating Liz. Thanks for posting.

Someone in my street opposed the fighting and that makes it even closer to home. I might try to follow that up when I've got time.

They were brave to stand up and object though of course those who went were also brave but a lot would rather have not gone but received the white feather pressure from women and so on. 

It's also been mapped on the wonderful Guardian data blog

Here is the local region.

If you zoom out though there is a *very* interesting pattern across London. Sort of a SW-NE band.

I wonder what that is all about?

Thanks Mark. This is a useful sample of what can be found. I think there's probably a story of exemption for nearly every road in Harringay. The records listed at the National Archive also detail people who didn't have a moral reason not to fight but who were too ill, or whose family would suffer hardship. One chap I was reading last night was suffering from tuberculosis but this didn't prevent the army calling him up every few months and him having to go to medical boards several times in the space of a year to get exemptions.

I would love make the time to dig into this stuff. Thanks for the head's up Liz

Poor bloke. Sounds a bit like what happens now with authorities trying to prove people are fit to work even if in hospital with terminal cancer. 

What really came across when call ups happened was how unfit and undernourished the working class of this country were. 

Of course, by this stage the authorities were really struggling to get enough men to volunteer so had to introduce conscription thereby starting to call up those who had managed to avoid going to war through public pressure or private conviction. The splendid book by Ken Weller 'Don't be a Soldier' has a section on the introduction of conscription and many men went on the run from the authorities with those objecting on political grounds being helped by an 'underground'. 

As Weller says,

The authorities went to considerable lengths to catch the large numbers of men who were on the run, frequently raiding possible meeting places and setting up large operations to sweep particular areas. In mid-1916, a lion tamer was actually arrested on the stage of the Edmonton Empire.

Thanks both Liz and Mark - great finds. Mark, I think the pattern you mention is explained above by Liz:

Fortunately for local historians, one of only two sets of reports that were retained were those of the Middlesex Tribunals, which included Harringay in 1916-1918.

For me a fascinating part of this set of records is the data it gives us about who lived here. We're probably looking at a slice of younger rather than older men, early career rather than late career. Given that limitation, it still gives us a sense of the jobs that people who lived did. For me there are no surprises - repeatable working to middle-middle class.

Thanks for that Hugh, makes perfect sense. Along with your point about the social level the inhabitants were at. Hard to imagine that sometimes when this would have been an estate only 15 years or so old.

Liz, I hope you don't mind me plugging the 'No Glory' site here. If you do, please delete this.

I know some HoL members already follow this site, which may not always be 100% correct, but which does offer some food for thought, away from the jingoistic claptrap that half of the current government keeps churning out.

No Glory http://noglory.org/

Oddly enough I think a lot of what Gove is spouting is a slightly mangled version, probably by the way of Max Hastings of a German historian's view of the war, Fritz Fischer. The controversy that Fischer began is a reflection of the time that it was written and the historian himself, as is most history to be honest. As this is a period I studied in depth, I am finding it fascinating how this war continues to provoke such passion on all sides of the debate and reflects much about our own time period and our relationship to war, politics and peace

Sure, but many still see WW1 in the same  light as WW2 and the shoah, etc., etc.,

WW2 only came as a consequence of WW1 and pushing all the blame for WW1, dictated by France's weakness, onto Germany was, IMO, a miscarriage of justice.

WW1 was certainly an Imperlialistic war and at the end of it, all the major allied countries, including the U.S.A, helped themselves to German land and colonies. Therefore, making themselves no better than the enemy they had fought. As well as stoking up the feelings of injustice and the desire for revenge in Germany. (Look at the U.S.A. after 9/11 and you can see how quickly that can happen and how uncontrollable it is).

It may warm the cockles of the hearts in 2014, to feel that the British Empire was the 'good man' of the war. But it is historically incorrect to say, the British were fighting for justice and freedom, when in actual fact, men (mostly working class) were slaughtered in order to further British imperialistic hegemony over others.

The British Empire in 1914 and during most of WW1 was in fact, no different to it's Austrian, German and Russian counterparts

I am agree with you Stephen. It was an appalling massacre committed by all sides, of their own people. It should be seen as a crime against humanity.

Many see WW2 as more 'justified' because it was fighting fascism but it wasn't clear what was being battled against in WW2. One old and corrupt empire against another (and several others). 

The deeply moving stories on men in the trenches, on both sides, bring out their commonalities not their differences. Once they had been waved off to war with flags waving and bands playing, they really wondered what they were doing there…. 

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