If Military Service Tribunals have a negative public image, then the military representatives attending them have an even worse one – although perhaps slightly more deserved. Although not necessarily Blimpish zealots, they were there to argue the army’s case and often displayed offensive and bullying attitudes. They were, however, another part of the civil-military body that was the tribunal – an odd position interestingly demonstrated by Alfred Eve, the military representative in Walthamstow.
Alfred Eve was an electrical and mechanical engineer, born in 1861 in Kent. In 1887, living in Homerton, he married his next-door neighbour Alice H Mote; the couple had eight children. In the 1911 census the 7 surviving children (6 sons and one young daughter) were living with Alfred and Alice in their house at 25 Greenleaf Road, Walthamstow. By 1914, Alfred Eve was also a councillor for the Hoe Street ward on the local urban district council.
Following eight years of youthful service in the East London Engineers, the Great War brought Alfred back into uniform. He became the recruiting and organising officer for Walthamstow and Chingford. He was granted an army commission in October 1914. In that year, he has response – as recruiting officer – for recruiting 350 men into the 1/7th Essex Regiment (the Walthamstow Territorial battalion) and 500 into the 2/6th (the second line of the West Ham battalion). In 1915, he brought in 800 to the 3/7th Essex, 2,500 into the 2/6th, and another 3,200 into London Regt (according to the Walthamstow Gazette, 7/12/17). In June 1915 he became a Captain and was put in command of a company of the 2/6th Essex.
When the military service tribunals were established in early 1916, military representatives were appointed to examine each case and to argue the military’s case. Many did this with vigour and agdressively cross-examined and criticised appellants, although most still tried to balance the needs of the local community and those of the armed forces.
Most ‘military representatives’ were not military men in peacetime, they were described in Parliament as ‘charming men… nine out of ten of them being solicitors in khaki’ (House of Lords Hansard 12/4/16). Indeed the two military representatives who served Eat Ham in 1916-18 were solicitors, as was the military representative for the Essex Appeal Tribunal that heard appeals against local tribunal judgements in Walthamstow, East Ham and other areas that were then part of Essex. Many though, like Alfred Eve, had had experience in the Territorials or their predecessor force the Volunteers.
Captain Eve was forcefully in favour of pursuing the war to a conclusion. He was an advocate of the anti-German policies of the British Empire Union. He was also a hard-working military representative.
One exchange shows both Alfred Eve’s perspective and the less pro-military attitude of the tribunal members. The tribunal members were discussing the case of a sheet-metal worker rated C1 (a low category of military fitness), whose exemption from service Eve was challenging:
Councillor Wilkes said he thought perhaps appellant might be better employed on munitions work than in doing C1 work in the Army.
Captain Eve: We are here to find the men for the Army.
The Chairman: No. We are here to see that the rights of the civil population are respected and that no injustice is done. If a man can show a good case for exemption it is our duty to give it. If you don’t fall in with our view it is your duty to appeal against our decision and the Appeal Tribunal will act as umpire between us.
Captain Eve: I know my duty thoroughly, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman (to appellant): You have good grounds since you are the only support of your widowed mother and four children, three of whom go to school.
Appellant was granted a fortnight in which to find work on munitions.
(from Walthamstow gazette 30/3/1917)
At other times, the other tribunal members gently mocked their military colleague:
Mr A.M. Lloyd, market gardener, Woodford Green, asked for [an exemption for] G.W. Taylor (C2), on the ground that he was doing work of national importance, among other things, they grew vegetables for the military hospitals.
In the course of the hearing of the case the Chairman favoured the granting of the applications.
The Military Representative [Capt. Eve] remarked that some applicants told “such tales”.
Councillor Goodger: I’ll tell you what they can’t do, captain!
The Miitary Representative (eagerly): What’s that?
Councillor Goodger: They can’t tell ‘em like you can!
The Gallant Captain (nearly bursting with laughter): That’s done it.
Six months [exemption granted to Taylor].
(from Walthamstow Gazette, 12/10/17)
Despite his pro-military attitude, Eve was clearly seen as approachable though, as he complained in March 1917 that those appealing to the tribunal were calling at his house to discuss their cases, despite clear instruction in their paperwork telling them to address them to the recruiting office.
Like other military representatives, Eve investigated the rumours of shirkers working in local factories instead of serving their country. When people – including other tribunal members – complained that the local Xlonite Works were holding back fit men of military age, Eve an his assistant (Lieut Paine) went to visit the factory. They found that there were indeed youths there, but that they were 16 and 17-year-olds not liable for conscription yet.
Much maligned though they were – often rightly given the aggressive attitudes some took – the military representatives played an important role in wartime recruitment alongside the other tribunal members. Their role was also unpaid, so involved a sacrifice on their part – fittingly given that they were calling for younger men to make such great sacrifices. In addition to this, Alfred Eve forwent his chance of becoming chairman of the council in 1917 due to the potential clash with his existing tribunal role (the chairman usually chaired the meetings, which he could not have done as military representative).