9. Personal Experiences

The Process of Military Recruitment

In order to understand grandad’s experiences of the war, and those of his family, we need to first understand a little of the process of recruiting men to the military in the first world war.

The Tribunal System

I had thought that all adult men had been in the military apart from those who were conscientious objectors. This was not the case.  I had not realised that a whole system of Tribunals existed to consider those who, for various reasons, sought exemptions to military service. For more detail about how the tribunals operated see the book about Joseph Blackburn below. This book’s title is Joseph, 1917. David Hewitt is the author. I have both the kindle and a print version.

Military Service Tribunals

Councils established Military Service Tribunals to hear applications for exemption from conscription during World War 1. Although not strictly recruiting bodies, they played an important part in the process of conscription. A scheme, developed by Lord Derby in 1915, initially established these but they continued on a statutory basis following the passing of the Military Service Act in 1916.

The Scale of the Tribunal System was Massive

There were 2,086 local Military Service Tribunals, staffed by local dignitaries, with 83 County Appeal Tribunals to hear appeals by applicants not happy with the local Tribunal decision. A Central Tribunal in London served as the final court of appeal.

Only a Small Proportion of Cases Heard by Tribunals Involved Conscientious Objectors

Although they are best known for the way they dealt with conscientious objectors, most of the Tribunals’ work dealt with domestic and business matters. Only around two percent of cases related to conscientious objection.

Grounds Considered by Tribunals

According to the Military Service Act of 1916, grounds that Tribunals could consider were: 

(a) on the ground that it is expedient in the national interests that he should, instead of being employed in military service, be engaged in other work in which he is habitually engaged or in which he wishes to be engaged or, if he is being educated or trained, for any work, that he should continue to be so educated or trained; or

(b) on the ground that serious hardship would ensue, if the man were called up for Army Service, owing to his exceptional financial or business obligations or domestic position; or on the grounds of ill-health or infirmity; or on the ground of a conscientious objection to the undertaking of combatant service.

Exemptions Given by Government Departments

In addition, Government Departments could grant exemptions to men who were employed or engaged or qualified for employment or engagement in any work which wass certified by the Department to be work of national importance.  

More Men Received Exemptions from Military Service Than Served with the British Army Overseas

A very large number of men applied. By the end of June 1916, 748,587 men had applied to Tribunals. Over the same period, around 770,000 men joined the army. Most men received some kind of exemption, usually temporary (between a few weeks and six months) or conditional on their situation at work or home remaining serious enough to warrant their retention at home. As of May 1917, 780,000 men were exempt with 110,000 pending. In addition, at this point there were also 1.8 million men with exemptions granted by the government, for example, those working in war industries. Combined, these exemptions covered more men than were serving overseas with the British Army.

Medical Grading – Two Systems

Two different systems of medical grading appear to have been in use at the time. It is not clear if one was an older system or if one grading was used for an initial medical with another used by the Tribunal itself. There was a change in how the medical assessments were carried out, in November 1917. Before that time, the military conducted medicals but, after that, they passed to civilian control.

One of the Systems Used Roman Numerals I to IV

One of the systems used numbers from I to IV. Under this system, grade III meant that the person had marked physical disabilities and was considered fit only for clerical work. Grade IV meant that the man was totally and permanently unfit for military service.

The Other System Used a Combination of Letters and Numbers

The other system used a combination of letters and numbers as shown below:

   A   Able to march, see to shoot, hear well and stand active service conditions.
AlFit for dispatching overseas, as regards physical and mental health, and training
A2As Al, except for training
A3Returned Expeditionary Force men, ready except for physical condition
A4Men under 19 who would be Al or A2 when aged 19
BFree from serious organic diseases, able to stand service on lines of communication in France, or in garrisons in the tropics.
BlAble to march 5 miles, see to shoot with glasses, and hear well
B2Able to walk 5 miles, see and hear sufficiently for ordinary purposes
B3Only suitable for sedentary work
CFree from serious organic diseases, able to stand service in garrisons at home.
ClAble to march 5 miles, see to shoot with glasses, and hear well
C2Able to walk 5 miles, see and hear sufficiently for ordinary purposes
C3Only suitable for sedentary work
DUnfit but could be fit within 6 months.
DlRegular RA,RE, infantry in Command Depots
D2Regular RA,RE, infantry in Regimental Depots
D3Men in any depot or unit awaiting treatment

Concerns about Fairness and Objectivity

People raised concerns about the fairness and objectivity of the system. These concerns included that some men were given an unduly positive medical grade while others, who were accepted into the military on one basis (e.g. grade III), could have that grading changed (e.g. to grade I) so that they ended up directly in the firing line. This happened to Frank Seville’s brother Horace. He was initially considered unsuitable for foreign service because of problems with vision. But, he was later posted to Salonika on the basis that the vision problem was corrected with glasses. 

Grandad’s Poor Health

There are many entries in grandad’s diary concerning his relatively poor health. In February 1915, he noted being examined by a doctor. He started exercising as a result. He recorded using various remedies including Zam-Buk for his knees, some “embrocation stuff”, Doans backache pills, bone marrow, a porous plaster, a medical coil, a magneto machine, St Jacob’s oil, iron jelloids, Hall’s wine, Regelax and some Dr Cassels tablets.

A Small Slight Youth

Grandad was a small, slight youth. In June 1914, he weighed 7st 1¼lbs (45kg) and measured 5ft 2½ins. He had a height and weight card from September 1913 and this was among mum’s papers. This gave his height then as 5’ 1¼” and his weight as 6st 11lbs (43kg). He also recorded problems with his teeth. In January 1917, he had at least ten teeth out. He had dentures made in March 1917 and had them repaired and modified in January, June and July 1918.

Grandad’s height and weight 1913
Examples of some of the remedies grandad used during this period. At the back are bottles for a free sample of Hall’s wine tonic, St Jacob’s oil and Dr Cassell’s tablets. There is also a small tin of Zam-Buk. In front of those are adverts for Dr Cassell’s tablets and Hall’s wine and, in front of those, another advert for Dr Cassell’s tablets and one for St Jacob’s oil .

Discharged on Medical Grounds

In August 2015, grandad filled in “degesteration forms”. I assume this was some kind of deregistration form in relation to military call up for consideration by a Tribunal. In June 1917, he recorded that his papers came from Mansfield and, in July 1917, he went to Mansfield to be examined. As a result of this, he wrote the single word “discharge”. At the end of July 1917, his discharge papers came from Derby (see below). In January 1918, he received a doctor’s bill of one guinea for his certificates.

Grandad’s discharge papers

Len Parkin

So, it seems grandad was discharged from military service on health grounds. But, there was then the matter of what happened to his brothers. In January 1917, he noted that “Cyril & Len went to Derby”. It is not clear if this referred to the place or the Tribunal, i.e. as part of the so-called Derby scheme. It seems that it was related to the Tribunal in some way as, on 1 February 1917, grandad noted that “Len got Cond Ex at Mansfield”. I assume that this means a time-limited conditional exemption. In June 1918, “Len got discharged at Pinxton”.

Why Was Len Discharged?

It is not clear why Len was discharged while others in the family were called up. One factor may have been that, from May 1918, Len had been running the Pinxton business on his own. It is also possible that the decision to take this business on by himself might have been influenced by the pending Tribunal appearance.

Cyril Parkin and a Tribunal Strike

In Cyril’s case, in May 1917, he went to Mansfield for his medical examination and was “passed grade III”. On 4 June 1917, he saw Dr Battle and also went to the Tribunal. On 18 June 1917, he appealed to Nottingham but the Tribunal was “on strike” on the 19th.

The Case of Joseph Blackburn

I am not sure why this Tribunal was on strike. However, there is one fairly well-documented case of such a strike related to the case of Joseph Blackburn. In this case, the local Tribunal, in Thornton, decided that an exemption should be given on the basis that Joseph was a market gardener. However, the Central Tribunal overturned the exemption. They considered that he was merely a “hawker” of fruit and vegetable. He was sent to the front. The Thornton councillors were outraged. They vowed not to entertain any more military service appeals until Joseph was sent home. However, he was not. He was killed in action in August 1918.

Book about the experiences of Joseph Blackburn and the Tribunal during the first world war

Cyril Joins the Army

At the end of July 1917, Cyril “went to Derby”. On 10 August 1917, “dad went to Derby” and on the 13th “Cyril went to Derby Passed in C1 Domestic”. It appears that this meant the Tribunal considered him to be free from serious organic diseases and able to stand service in garrisons at home.

On the 14th, grandad noted that “Cyril came from Derby in khaki”. He then went to barracks in Nottingham the following day but received a permit to come home on the 21st. In April 1918, grandad recorded that Cyril had 14 days leave and, in September, he achieved promotion to corporal.


Concerning Joe, grandad recorded that, in May 1917, “Joe went to Mansfield for exam grade III”. In July 1917, grandad noted, “Joe got Cond Ex at the Tribunal”. Again, I assume this means he received a time-limited conditional exemption. On 3 December 1917, he once again appeared before the Tribunal. In December, he had another medical examination and “passed in grade III”.

Joe’s Call Up Was Overtaken by Events

On New Year’s Eve 1917, grandad noted that “Joe got 3 months final at the Tribunal”. On 4 February 1918, “dad appealed for Joe at Nottm” but to no avail. On the 8th, “Joe had his calling up papers”. Grandad’s father did not give up. On the 11th, he once again went to Nottingham about Joe’s calling up papers. However, it seems that his appeals were overtaken by events which are covered in Chapter 10.

Len Teece

On 8 September 1915, grandad simply records that  his friend “Len Teece was missing”. Len’s name is recorded among those killed in the war on the Trinity Sunday School memorial in Kirkby in Ashfield.

The Teece Family Lived in Kirkby

From other sources, Leonard Teece had been born in 1897 in Hucknall. His father (Philip) was a coal miner. His mother was called Annie (nee Holland). Leonard had two brothers – James William and Frank. As of 1911, they lived in Milton Street in Kirkby-in-Ashfield.

Killed at Gallipoli

Leonard enlisted with the sixth battalion, Lincolnshire regiment. He was killed in action on 9 August 1915 at Gallipoli. He was 19 when he died. His name is commemorated on the Helles Memorial in Turkey along with 20,770 other names.

Helles memorial, Turkey © Commonwealth War Graves Commission and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

A Soldier Who Died of Wounds

On 29 September 1915, grandad noted that there was “a Milertary [sic] Funeral a soldier who died of wounds”. However, he did not name the soldier.

Willie Clover

On 10 June 1918, grandad’s friend Willie Clover “joined the colours”. On 7 November 1918, just four days before the signing of the armistice, “Billy Clover got wounded”. I have as yet been unable to find anything about how serious his wounds were or what happened to him.

Willie Clover Survived the War

Willie Clover appears to have survived the war as, in October 1921, grandad bought him a wedding present. He married Elizabeth M Cuddy in Mansfield in Q4 1921 and they had five children – William H (1922), Ronald (1923), Dorothy M and John (1926 ) and Joseph D (1928). Grandad noted going with him to Colwick to the Nottinghamshire show in June 1922. In 1929, he became unwell. Grandad and/or grandma visited him in hospital in March, April and May of that year. He died in October 1929 aged just 30. Grandad went to his funeral and visited his grave.

In Summary

So, towards the end of the war, grandad and his brother Len had been discharged from military  service. Cyril had been called up and was serving locally as a corporal. Joe had received his call up. Of his friends, Willie Clover had been injured and Len Teece had been killed.

Discharged Soldiers

Grandad recorded that a number of discharged soldiers “started to learn the trade”, i.e. shoemaking with one starting in 1917, two in 1918 and one in 1919.

Buying Old Army Boots

In addition, the business bought in a large number of old army boots. It is not exactly clear where these came from. But, presumably, they were from dead or injured soldiers. A whole grading system existed, presumably based on quality, which determined price.

Grandma’s Side of the Family

I have less information about anyone on grandma’s side who served in the first world war.

Arthur James Cirket Ford

On mum’s extensive Cirket family tree, there is reference to an Arthur James Cirket having been killed in action in France. He was the son of Sarah Jane, the sister of grandma’s father Charles, and her husband James Alfred Ford. So, he would have been grandma’s cousin.

Cirket as a Middle Name

Arthur James was born in 1892 and, of course, his surname was Ford, so Cirket was presumably a second middle name.

Died of Wounds

He died on 5 March 1916. He is buried at Lapugnoy Military Cemetery in France. He is also remembered on a war memorial at Elstow Bunyan Meeting House. A corporal in the 5th Battalion, Northamptonshire regiment, he died of his wounds. His brother Stanley Edgar Graham Ford, named his first son David Arthur Cirket Ford.

Bunyan Fellowship Hall war memorial © WMR-1920 and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons BY-NC licence

Arthur Charles and Ernest Webb Bowler

The Elstow Bunyan Meeting House war memorial mentions two Bowlers. Arthur Charles Bowler was the son of Christopher Ernest Bowler. He died on 17 November 1916 aged 20. He is buried in Contay British Cemetery in France.

The other Bowler is Ernest Webb Bowler who was in the Machine Gun Corps. He died on 26 November 1916 and is buried in Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord. I don’t know if and how he is related to our family but, as a Bowler from Elstow, he is likely to be related in some way or other.

Visiting Elstow

In August 2022, Jo and I visited Elstow. We attended a service at the church where the memorial is.

Two Memorials

Interestingly, there is also another memorial outside the church. There is overlap of the names on the two memorials. Eight names appear on both memorials – Stanley A Blain, Arthur C Bowler, Ernest W Bowler, Joseph S Caves, Arthur Cox, Donald C Gordon, Frederick C Robinson and James W Wells. But, there are three names on the village memorial that are not on the church one. They are Ernest H Bygrave, Richard F Chillery and Joseph E Goddard.

Arthur Ford’s Name is Only on the Memorial in the Church

Arthur Ford’s name only appears on the church memorial and not on the village memorial. The same is true for Frank E Jakes. One possible explanation is that people attended the church who were not from Elstow. However, Arthur Ford was from Elstow or at least his mother was. According to the 1911 census, the family lived in Kempston, some four miles from Elstow. Arthur was working as an elementary teacher. Perhaps, his mother was considered to have left Elstow when she married. So, he was not counted as coming from there. Also, according to the 1911 census, the record for his mother Sarah shows that she was born in Elstow but his shows that he was born in Bedford.

Photo taken on visiting Elstow in August 2022 of the war memorial in Bunyan Fellowship Hall
Photo taken on visiting Elstow in August 2022 of the village war memorial in Elstow

Ray Cirket

Among mum’s photographs, I found some of grandma’s brother Ray in uniform. I discovered that he served in the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment, the Sherwood Foresters. I also found out that,  on 7 January 1918, he was transferred from No 11 Casualty Clearing Station to No 2 Casualty Clearing Station. From the original records, it appears he had influenza.

Grandma’s brother Ray in uniform. It is dated 13 November 1917 and says “To Ethel with fondest love Ray
Grandma with her brothers Bert and Ray (in uniform)

Intriguing Photo

I came across a photo in one of mum’s albums that I have found extremely intriguing. From the other photos that are with it, it seems to date from 1949 or 1950. It shows the Portsmouth Naval Memorial in Southsea with a group of people standing in front of two cars. It is annotated on the back and says “off Southsea near Portsmouth. The war memorial for the naval losses in 1914-18. Ted’s name is on the panel facing the camera, the Cirket family & two cars”.

Panels 9 to 16

From a map of the site, the visible panels seem to be numbers 9 to16. However, there is no-one with the name Cirket anywhere on the memorial and I was unable to find any reference to a Ted or Edward Cirket in any of mum’s papers. I tried multiple lines of enquiry over several months, including reviewing all the Edwards listed on the memorial to see if any seemed familiar. I drew a blank.

Cirket family group in front of Portsmouth Naval Memorial
Annotation on the back of the photograph

Another Line of Enquiry

Then, I wondered if perhaps mum had visited the memorial with the Cirkets who lived in Hastings when she visited them in either 1949 (see Chapter 40) or 1950 (see Chapter 52). Perhaps Edward could have been related to grandma’s sister-in-law Doris.

Doris Wright

Her maiden name was Wright. She was born in 1905. Based on the 1911 census, she lived in Hucknall with her father Joseph and her mother Mary.

Joseph Edward Wright

She had two older siblings, Joseph (b1893), who was working as a coal miner (road repairer below ground), and Rachel (b1895). Intriguingly, her brother’s middle name was Edward. Given that he had the same first name as his father, whose middle name was Armstrong, it seems plausible that he would have been known as Edward or Ted.

He Was a Royal Navy Seaman

I then found a record of a Joseph Edward Wright who had been a British Royal Navy seaman. His birth date was 4 May 1893 and his place of birth Alfreton, Derbyshire. Viewing the original record, he worked as a pony driver in a colliery. It seems he joined the navy on 13 March 1912, that is before the war started. His service number was SS3878.

Shore-Based Training in 1912

Joseph Edward Wright’s naval record was as follows. From 13 March 1912 to 15 May 1912, he was at HMS Victory I which I believe refers to shore-based training in Portsmouth.  

HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Superb

From 16 May 1912 to 8 November 1912 he served on HMS Prince of Wales and then on HMS Superb for two years, from 9 November 1912 to 1 November 1914.  

More Training

He then returned to HMS Victory I for two days, presumably for further training before going to the shore establishment HMS Excellent for six months from 4 November 1914 to 13 May 1915. Might this have been for further training? 

HMS Blake, HMS Broke and HMS Hecla

From 14 May 1915 to 8 May 1916, his record noted that he served on Blake (Broke) and then from 9 May 1916 to 31 May 1916 on Hecla (Broke). I don’t quite understand these records but it may be that the unbracketed name is a shore accounting base and the name in bracket a seagoing ship. However, it seems that HMS Blake, Broke and Hecla were all navy vessels during WW1. But, Blake and Hecla were both described as depot ships.

Killed at the Battle of Jutland

He was killed in action at the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916. Fire from the German battleship Westfalen hit HMS Broke killing 50 crew and injuring a further 30. The helmsman was killed and this caused HMS Broke to collide with HMS Sparrowhawk leading to the loss of the latter.

Buried at Sea

In a record of British Armed Forces Overseas Deaths and Burials, Joseph Edward Wright was recorded as buried at sea. His father’s name was given as Joseph Armstrong Wright who, at that time, was living in Rotherham. I confirmed that his name is indeed on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial on panel 14.

HMS Broke in dry dock in Tyneside following the Battle of Jutland in 1916. The picture shows the damage caused when she collided with HMS Sparrowhawk – Public domain image provided by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Postcard showing HMS Broke
Cigarette card showing HMS Broke produced by R & J Hill Ltd.
The reverse side of the cigarette card gives some details of Broke but focuses on a later battle and does not mention her involvement in the Battle of Jutland
Sign for the Battle of Jutland in the National Museum of the Royal Navy that I visited in September 2022
Book about the Battle of Jutland that I bought following my trip to the National Museum of the Royal Navy in September 2022
Large commemorative medallion from the Battle of Jutland in 1916
Death penny” for John William Wilson who was also killed aboard HMS Broke during the Battle of Jutland. He is also commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial but on panel 20 as he was a Stoker First Class
Entry for John William Wilson on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial
This is a photograph of panel 14 of the Portsmouth Naval Memorial . I am grateful to Nick Wooster, who took this in 2017, for permission to include this here.
This is a photograph highlights the entries for V A Wooster and J E Wright . I am grateful to Nick Wooster, who took this in 2017, for permission to include this here.
This is a photograph of Joseph Edward Wright which appeared in the Sheffield Independent of 9 June 1916 along with notice of his death and of seven others.

Visit to Portsmouth Naval Memorial

In September 2022, Jo and I managed to visit Portsmouth and went to visit the memorial. We found the memorial to Ted and also for John William Wilson whose “death penny” I have. We also visited the National Museum of the Royal Navy and found out more about the Battle of Jutland. We had a go at recreating the photo that mum had in her album which triggered my interest in this story. 

Sign at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial which gives information about it including that the original first world war monument was unveiled in 1924. The second world war extension was unveiled in 1954 and would not have been there when mum visited in 1949 or 1950
Portsmouth Naval Memorial in September 2022 from Southsea Common with the WW1 obelisk in the centre and the WW2 wall extending to both sides
Mum’s original photo alongside a similar one I took in September 2022 more than 70 years later. The lampposts are the same but the parking meter is new!

Another Intriguing Photo

I also found another photograph among mum’s papers. She did not know who was shown in it. It is simply labelled “Your Old Sport, still smiling 1917”. It is clearly a photograph of a soldier from the First World War.

Royal Artillery

Initially, I thought it might have been Cyril, grandad’s brother as I knew from the diaries that he was drafted in 1917. However, with some help from the Kirkby Living Memory Facebook group, I discovered that the cap badge in the photograph is from the Royal Artillery. But, from the diaries, I knew that Cyril had been in the Army Pay Corps, at least at the time he was discharged. I learned that it was common for soldiers to be drafted into one regiment and then posted to another. I managed to locate quite a lot of detail about Cyril’s military service but this showed that he initially joined the Sherwood Foresters and then transferred to the Army Pay Corps. So, it seems unlikely that the photograph was of Cyril.

James Parkin

I also found a record of a James H Parkin who was in the army from 1914 to 1920 initially as a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery and then with the Labour Corps . My suspicion is that this photograph is of grandad’s older brother James (Jim).

Royal Field Artillery

The Royal Field Artillery was one of three regiments within the Royal Artillery in World War One. The other two were the Royal Horse Artillery and the Royal Garrison Artillery.

The Labour Corps

The Labour Corps was in operation from 1917 to 1918 and consisted of men with experience of picks and shovels, e.g. miners who might be unfit for fighting.   

Is the Photo of James Parkin?

My suspicion is that this photograph is of grandad’s older brother James (Jim). However, grandad’s diaries say nothing about any military service Jim might have done during the first war. But, there is a note to say that Jim started work at the Summit in March 1920. So, this would fit with him leaving the army at that point. The fact that he served in the Labour Corps might indicate that he had prior experience as a miner.

I believe this may be a photograph of grandad’s oldest brother James (Jim) Henry Parkin
Royal Artillery cap badge

Edith Searson Recalled the War

In her book(let) “I Remember” (from p23), Edith Searson describes her experiences of the first world war. Her family farmed in an area adjacent to one the government chose for a new air base at Cranwell. She described going to the funeral of the first trainee pilot killed there and also Zeppelins coming over to bomb the airfield. She recalled a number of young men killed during the first world war. They included a farmhand, Sam, her cousin, Richard and a farmer’s son, Harry.

Alfred Searson

Her brother, Alfred, served in the war. She describes in detail journeys she used to make to Sleaford by bike to collect letters from him. Eventually, letters stopped coming from him. He died on 31 July 1917 aged just 21. He was a private in the Lincolnshire Regiment and he is remembered at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial in Belgium.

William Newcombe

I got some details of the experiences of the Newcombe family of the first world war from Helen Jay. William Newcombe served as a Bombardier in the Royal Field Artillery. His service number was 82032. He died on 9 October 1916 and he is buried/remembered at St Sever Cemetery, Rouen B 16 61. The memorial at Trinity Methodist Church also includes his name. William’s older brother Phil also served in the first world war. His service number was 61099 and he reached the rank of Corporal in the West Yorkshire Regiment. 

Notice of William Newcombe’s death that was sent to people to post in their windows. I am grateful to Helen Jay for this photo and permission to include it
Phil Newcombe’s medal. I am grateful to Helen Jay for this photo and permission to include it
Phil Newcombe (top right) with his colleagues. It looks like he may have been Acting Sergeant at this point. The photo appears to have been taken in Bury St Edmunds. I am grateful to Helen Jay for this photo and permission to include it
Phil Newcombe’s dog tag. Note the service number. I am grateful to Helen Jay for this photo and permission to include it