Military Tribunals came into being in 1915 as a result of the National Registration Bill that required all men and women between the ages of 15 and 65 to register. This Bill paved the way for the Derby Scheme which had a foundation that men between the ages of 18 and 41 should sign up or attest. Originally, they would only be called up for military service as and when needed dependant on marital status and importance of their jobs to the war effort. It was hoped to call up the single unemployed men first.
However, conscription was finally introduced in January 1916 under the Military Service Act and in May 1916, the Second Military Service Act made all men between the ages of 18 and 41 liable for military service. The Act graded all potential recruits according to medical fitness. If a man wanted to apply for an exemption from fighting he had to appear before a local tribunal. Eastbourne had three tribunals running namely: The Eastbourne Borough Tribunal, The East Sussex District Appeal Tribunal and The Eastbourne Rural Tribunal.
The Tribunals were made up of men of influence in the town, mostly councillors and magistrates and met weekly. There were also present representatives from the war ministry, who would put forward the case for conscription. The most famous Eastbourne representative was the formidable Mr. M.H. Beattie who was renowned for his vigour in getting everybody he could to the front. He was often challenged himself, for not joining up but was over the age for military service. However, as soon as the age limit was raised he confounded his critics by volunteering and served in France in 1918 as an officer.
Special mention should be made of Mr. Norfolk Megone, the conductor of Devonshire Park Orchestra who had to attend many, many meetings in order to fight for exemptions for his musicians. In one tribunal defending one of his musicians, he was up against Mr Beattie who was reported to say “This man would not be taken as he is passed fit for garrison duty. As a musician he is of no use to the nation. As a soldier he would be of some use.”
The Eastbourne Gazette, Four page pull-out on 20th December 1916 “How Eastbourne has provided Men and Money” provides an insight (albeit a rather ‘Flowery’ one) into the works of the tribunals and their members:-
Frequent Sittings at Eastbourne
Almost Unexampled Patience
Three tribunals are holding frequent sittings at Eastbourne and naturally enough, their proceedings are keenly scrutinized and subjected to criticism which is sometimes friendly and sometimes very much the reverse. Men who for various reasons consider that they have a right to claim exemption are not likely to accept unfavourable decisions with equanimity. The wonder is not that protests are occasionally made, but that they are not more frequent, angry and empathic.
The Major and the Bootmaker
The Chairman of the Eastbourne Borough Tribunal (Major Harold P. Molineux, J.P), has attended the great majority of the sittings, his absence during a period of some weeks due to regrettable fact that he was summoned to France; where his son (Lieutenant Molineux) had sustained injuries of a very server character whilst engaged in the performance of his military duties on the Western Front. The other members of the tribunal are the Mayor (Alderman C. O’Brien Harding, J.P.), the Deputy Mayor (Councillor C.W. Bolton, C.S.I., J.P.), Alderman Edward Duke, J.P., Mr. Claude Bishop, J.P., Mr. C. Peerless Dennis (representing the Master Builders’ Association), Mr. T.B. Hasdell, Mr. R.J. Mines (representing the Labour interest) and Mrs. Campbell (St. Brannocks).
Deeply moved at the threatened loss of his only workman, a bootmaker uttered some earnest words of expostulation, pointing out the seriousness of the deprivation.
“You have the right to appeal, go and appeal!” exclaimed and irritated member of the Tribunal.
“We believe every word you have said!” These words spoken by Major Moilneux , in his clearest and most kindly tone, had an instant effect on the bootmaker, who went away consoled, if not satisfied. The worthy man deserves every consideration as he devotes himself to making improved footwear for the people who suffer torture when their boots are badly shaped and ill-fitting.
The Military Representative (Mr. M.H. Beattie) always suave and imperturbable has a keen sense of humour and he has assistance from Mr. W.W. Hugill and Mr. Jennison. The clerk is Mr. H.W. Fovargue and the assistant Clerk Mr. E.W. Batchelor.
It should be mentioned that nearly all the members of the tribunals have sons, brothers, or other near relatives at the Front. Mr. Beattie has two sons who have been in the thick of the fray, one of them having been wounded. The much discussed Mr. Beattie finds his work as military representative leaves him practically no leisure; he performs duties gratuitously and believing he is of some use, he retains the position in spite of the fact that he has been offered highly paid appointments.
An Urbane and Debonair Chaiman.
In Major R.L. Thornton, J.P., (High Cross, Framfield), the East Sussed District Appeal Tribunal has an experienced, able and courtly Chairman; and he is supported at the sittings at Eastbourne by Mr. E.J. Gorringe, J.P., (farmer of Chyngton, Seaford), Mr. T. Pargeter (a railway employee from Newhaven) and two Eastbourne town councillors, Mr. Stephen N. Fox, J.P., (barrister), and Mr. F.J. Huggett (town postman). Major W.W. Grantham (a very stalwart and soldierly figure in his perfect fitting khaki uniform) acts as military representative and Mr. Montague Harris (barrister) acts as clerk.
A conscientious objector, who had met with censure and criticism at the Borough Tribunal, was pleasantly surprised at the marked urbanity of Major Thornton, who, of course, has no sympathy with the views of anyone opposed to the resolute prosecution of the war.
An Athletic Military Representative.
Last, but very far from least, we must mention the Eastbourne Rural Tribunal, over which Colonel C.W. Owen, C.M.G., C.I.E., presides with marked ability and unfailing courtesy. The Tribunal also includes the Rev. J.T. Burns (Rector of Berwick), the Rev A.A. Evans (Vicar of East Dean), Mr. Harold Matthews, Mr. J. Birch, Mr. Youell, Mr. F.J. Hickman, Mr. Charles Thomas, Mr. G. Hornsby, Mr. J. Lockhart Reid, and Mr. E.G. Smith. Mr. Alfred Hunt is the military representative and such is his zeal and energy that he seems to have acquired a perfectly astonishing knowledge of the district.
In one instance at least, Mr. Hunt’s kindly intervention was the means, we have reason to believe, of rescuing a family of young children from a position of profound misery and possible danger. The details of the case would be interesting, but under the circumstances it will be wise to withhold them.
Mr. Hunt attends the sittings of the East Sussex Appeals Tribunal. On one occasion a man who had refreshed himself not wisely but sufficiently well, was guilty of smoking and putting his feet on an expensive table in the Council Chamber. Mr. Hunt, who is a man of considerable vigour, suddenly seized the offender by the collar and evicted him bodily from the room. For this useful and unexpected service the athletic military representative in the Rural District received the smilingly expressed thanks of Major Thornton.
Mr. T.E. Varley Kirtlan is the clerk to the Eastbourne Rural Tribunal, which has certainly done its work exceedingly well.
Two Patient Patriots
The patient and patriotic endurance of some long-suffering residents has been subjected to the most severe strain imaginable. For example, the Rev. E.L. Brown is frequently seen at sittings of local tribunals and it is probable that he holds an undefeated record in respect of the number of attendances. The story is often told of Sir Henry Hawkins having sent – to one of the counsel engaged in an almost intolerably tedious lawsuit which was being heard before him – a piece of paper on which was inscribed the words, “Honourable mention, Job; gold medal, Mr. Justice Hawkins.” A list of awards corrected up to date would take this form:-
Diamond Star – The Rev E.L. Browne
Gold Medal – Mr. Justice Hawkins.
Honourable mention – Job.
As the head of St. Andrew’s School, Meads, Mr. Browne is responsible for the education of boys intended for the Navy and unless they are properly grounded in mathematics they are not likely to be able to serve their country to the extent expected of them in these days of scientific warfare. Mr. Browne is only too well aware of the vital importance of this branch of education. Several of his colleagues (former assistant masters) are serving, and some, alas! Have fallen. His object in attending the Tribunal has been to retain the services of a master, who is qualifies to teach mathematics on the most modern lines. At the Eastbourne Tribunal there have been several discussions. Councillor Bolton has spoken of the merits of Todhunter. The Mayor, who is of opinion that modern methods are essential, is regarded as particularly well qualified to speak on the subject, having shown on many occasions that he has what is popularly styled a head for figures.
When the local tribunal decided in Mr. Browne’s favour, the urbane military representative (Mr. M.H. Beattie) intimated that he must appeal. Instead of expressing anger at this announcement, Mr. Browne said he realised that Mr. Beattie was “only doing what he regarded as his duty.”
In due time the military appeal came before the East Sussex Tribunal. The Chairman (Major R.L. Thornton) asked whether there was an objection to his presiding during the hearing of the case as he had sent both his boys to Mr. Browne’s school.
Major W.W. Grantham, speaking on behalf of the military, said he should not think of raising any objection, and he added, “I have a nephew at St. Andrew’s. It is the best school I know of.”
In the performance of his public duties, Major Grantham favours neither personal nor political friends, as was shown in a notable instance some time ago. Having spoken as he did of St. Andrew’s, it might have been supposed that he would alter his attitude; but he said, “Although it is such a good school i must still ask for this mathematical master for military service.”
Mr. Browne, who was neither elated by compliments nor cast down by persistent opposition, acknowledged the friendly remarks recorded by saying that those concerned with the school did their best.
For the present he retains his mathematical master. But the members of the tribunals may see him again and they are evidently found of a discussion with him.
Another patient frequenter of tribunals is Mr. Norfolk Megone, who may possibly succeed in beating Mr. Browne’s record of attendances. The conductor of Devonshire Park Orchestra has to attend to give information in reference to musicians serving under him. He has spent many hours in the Council Chambers at the Town Hall – waiting! waiting! waiting!
When the court is cleared – by the Borough Tribunal – the members of the County Tribunal do not resort to such an inconsiderable practice – Mr. Megone withdraws with the solicitors and others to a more or less cold and draughty corridor. But not a word of complaint ever falls from his lips.
Others may contrast the charming affability and politeness of Major Thornton with the less agreeable action of some of the Borough Tribunal, but Mr. Megone’s good humour is always unruffled. He can ill spare the time which he spends in the Council Chamber, but he realises that it is his duty to give all the information that can be required of him and as might be expected of a gentleman with an Irish patronymic, he has relatives serving with the colours and has a full share of patriotic fervour.
In connection with the shortage of labour the question of advertising has been raised at the tribunals and “The Eastbourne Gazette” and “The Sussex County Herald” have been frequently mentioned by would-be employees. One point should ever be borne in mind by members of tribunals and others it is not sufficient to advertise care must be taken to word the advertisement in such a way as to encourage people to reply to it. “
A final note:
The Chairman of the Eastbourne Borough Tribunal (Major Harold P. Molineux, J.P), had a son killed in the First World War.
Captain George King Molineux of the 2nd Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers who died aged 28 on 5th May 1915 near Frenzenberg, Belgium. He has no know grave and is remembered on YPRES (MENIN GATE) MEMORIAL, Belgium.