In March 1916, the Military Service Act came into force. It meant that all unmarried men aged between 18 and 41 could be called up into the army, instead of having the choice to volunteer. In May, married men were called up too. However, there were many jobs and professions that were classed as ‘Certified Occupations’. They were considered so important to the war effort that the workers were not sent to fight. Local government tribunals were set up across the borough, including in Doncaster centre, Tickhill, Thorne and Mexborough. They considered applications on the grounds of work commitments, medical grounds and moral and religious beliefs. They had the power to grant exemptions from military service.
In Doncaster, the Tribunal was run by Doncaster Corporation, the precursor to Doncaster Council. The responsibilities of the Tribunal were unprecedented for the Corporation and tensions were common. In one case they started a row with the military! They dealt with the cases of dozens of labourers, foremen, shopkeepers, and many more.
The Doncaster Mutual Co-operative and Industrial Society (the Co-op) was established by a group of shopkeepers in 1868. When the First World War broke out, the Co-op ran many shops in Doncaster including grocers, butchers, chemists, boot stores and drapers. They had nine
branches across Doncaster, as well as four warehouses and a slaughterhouse in Hexthorpe. Their membership was over 13,000 and 246people worked for them. By 1916, over 100 of their workers had gone to war. The Co-op submitted to the Tribunal for 53 workers to be exempted from the army. 42 exemptions were granted, mostly for those working in food or transport. 51 women were substituted into Co-op jobs. Among the exemption applications the Co-op managers put forward was that of C. L. Cowham, who worked at the Manager’s Café. The Tribunal pointed out a woman could be substituted into this job.
Francis Noel Dykes Preston was Deputy Town Clerk to the Doncaster Corporation. In November 1915, Francis signed up to join the army, but Doncaster’s Mayor put in an exemption claim for him. The Town Clerk, R.A.H. Tovey, had health problems throughout the war and Francis covered his work. Having dealt with many exemption claims, in April 1916 Francis came before the tribunal himself. Despite Francis wanting to serve, the corporation decided he was ‘indispensable’. Francis told the hearing Chairman, ‘I will do my best, sir, wherever I am.’ Francis was finally sent to war in April 1917, and served as a private in the Honourable Artillery Company. He suffered with kidney and lung infections throughout the war, and in 1918 returned to his work with the corporation.
Stanley Pinder worked as a self-employed Gents’ Outfitter and was exempted from combat. Uniforms for soldiers were in high demand, so it was common for outfitters to receive exemption. The Tribunal exempted Stanley in 1916, but in 1917 they reviewed his exemption. The Tribunal heard that instead of focusing on the war effort, Stanley was using his exemption to profit his own business. The Tribunal recommended him for the army. Stanley survived the war and lived to the age of 50. He is buried in Hyde Park Cemetery.
At a hearing at Thorne Tribunal on 13 January 1917, George Dunston stood down as Chairman of the Tribunal so that he could appeal for the exemption of William Stainton, his cashier. He stated that six of the men from his estate, including his own son, had already gone to fight. William dealt with coal shipments and George submitted that William was ‘doing more than any ten soldiers’. William Stainton was given three months exemption. Eventually, William joined the Royal Engineers in June 1917 and was sent abroad. While taking his bicycle for repair he was hit by a German shell on 10 October 1918 and is buried near Ypres. His daughter Erena, who he never saw, was born in February 1918.