New Documents Emerge of Thousands That Pleaded Not to Fight in World War One

Young men registering for conscription in New York, June 1917
Young men registering for conscription in New York, June 1917

Documents put online today by the National Archives show the court records of thousands of men that begged not to fight in the Great War. Citing a variety of reasons, including medical, family and economic grounds, the cases were taken to court to determine whether they should be exempted from service.

Out of 11,307 cases in the files, only 507 of them were related to conscientious objectors: those who refused to fight on moral grounds. The majority of cases were dismissed and the men went on to fight in the war, but some exemptions were granted. In one case disclosed in the archives, the tribunal deciding on the case of Charles Rubens Busby, a butcher, was sent a letter signed only “a father and householder S H M”, questioning why he had been allowed to keep his shop open and remain at home while “married men have had to shut up their shop and go”. Having joined a voluntary organisation deliberately so as not to be called up to war, Busby apparently bragged about how he would never be called up, but eventually lost his case and went on to serve in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.

The hearings were considered to be so sensitive that after the war, many of the files were destroyed.

The full story can be seen here.