Mother’s heartache saves Linlithgow man from World War One conscription

argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in the trenches during during World War One
argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in the trenches during during World War One

A mother’s anguish and heartache saved one Linlithgow man from the horrors of the First World War after she pleaded to the Army for some empathy.

Peter Brand’s mum was a widow with four sons. Three of them were already serving on the front line in Europe fighting the Germans. Two of them were married and one had been MIA (missing in action) for five months – but Kitchener wanted the fourth to join the ranks.

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 of poverty back home.

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

With a beleaguered army desperate for soldiers to fight, authorities brought in compulsory Acts for men to fight.

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.

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 which extended service to include married men from May 1916.

A third Act extended the age range even further for 17 to 55-year-olds.

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 in the First World War could apply to tribunals. The records of the tribunals have now been made public on the ScotlandsPeople website.

The appeal of Mr Brand (22), who lived at 3 Lion Well Wynd, was heard on May 13, 1916. A heartfelt letter from his mum was submitted which read: “I think as a family we have surely done our part.

“Seeing I am a widow with four sons and three of them already with the Army and you are the only one left to me, surely the Army will leave you with me.”

The tribunal, which was held in Linlithgow where many others were heard, agreed with the family and granted an exemption.

Robert McCabe (23), a dairyman from Queensferry, was also given an exemption from service when it was deemed at this tribunal on May 31, 1918 that his work was in the “National Interests”.

He worked at Banks Dairy and his exemption application was supported by the Board of Agriculture for Scotland who said Mr McCabe was: “...in the course of such occupation or employment is engaged in work of national importance”.

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.”