Conscription and Conscientious Objectors


Conscription was introduced in January 1916 for single men aged 16-41. A few months later married men were also included.

Men who were called up for service could appeal to a Local Military Tribunal. Tribunals were held at town level and also at county level. Reasons for appeal included ill health, hardship, moral or religious grounds or if they were already doing important war work. Men who appealed on moral or religious reasons were known as Conscientious Objectors (Conchies or COs).

Conscientious Objectors

16,000 men registered as conscientious objectors in Britain between 1916 and 1918 when conscription was introduced. Men who were called up were automatically considered to be enlisted, therefore when they refused the charge stated “when on active service they disobeyed a lawful order from a superior officer”. This usually resulted in a prison sentence.

In the Queensferry area one man applied for exemption on these grounds, he was a Salvation Army Officer. He was refused at first but by 1917 he was granted an exemption.

Many COs who refused to fight but weren’t sent to prison were usually sent to work camps in various parts of the country.

Image of COs   ©GreatWarDundee

Military Tribunals

Employers appealed to the local Military Tribunals on behalf of their employees, and Estate Owners usually applied to the county tribunals. Some had already lost workers either to enlistment or conscription. Most of the employers were doing work for the war effort such as the local saddler and shoemaker Robert Ruthven who repaired boots for the army, he appealed on behalf of shoemaker John Mill, but his appeal was dismissed. Employers could be given time to find replacements but not always.

The occupations of people who applied in Queensferry and Dalmeny, were varied; a stationer, master butcher, dairyman, hotel manager, farmers, and police constables. The police were usually given exemption and some other jobs were certified occupations (considered essential for the war effort) which meant that these employees should have been exempted but often were not.

Men whose appeal was dismissed were not necessarily conscripted immediately, if at all. A local dairyman James Lamb Hardie was called up, served, and returned home at the end of the war. He is remembered on the local Church Roll of Honour.