The international growth and influence of bioethics has led some to identify it as a decisive shift in the location and exercise of 'biopower'. This book provides an in-depth study of how philosophers, lawyers and other 'outsiders' came to play a major role in discussing and helping to regulate issues that used to be left to doctors and scientists. It discusses how club regulation stemmed not only from the professionalising tactics of doctors and scientists, but was compounded by the 'hands-off' approach of politicians and professionals in fields such as law, philosophy and theology. The book outlines how theologians such as Ian Ramsey argued that 'transdisciplinary groups' were needed to meet the challenges posed by secular and increasingly pluralistic societies. It also examines their links with influential figures in the early history of American bioethics. The book centres on the work of the academic lawyer Ian Kennedy, who was the most high-profile advocate of the approach he explicitly termed 'bioethics'. It shows how Mary Warnock echoed governmental calls for external oversight. Many clinicians and researchers supported her calls for a 'monitoring body' to scrutinise in vitro fertilisation and embryo research. The growth of bioethics in British universities occurred in the 1980s and 1990s with the emergence of dedicated centres for bioethics. The book details how some senior doctors and bioethicists led calls for a politically-funded national bioethics committee during the 1980s. It details how recent debates on assisted dying highlight the authority and influence of British bioethicists.
We met many heroes of that kind.1
Referring to the devotion of single young men to their parents and siblings, the chairman of the Preston military service tribunal, Harry Cartmell, spoke of his work as a valuable instruction on the economic condition of the country. What makes this admission most surprising is Cartmell’s former experience as a Poor Law guardian. His admission indicates the hidden depths of familial support borne by young men and women, especially in working-class families.2 Caring for dependants was embedded in the Poor Law legislation, the gendered bias of financial responsibility originating from the so-called ‘liable relatives’ clause of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act requiring blood kin to bear financial responsibility for poverty-stricken welfare recipients.3 By the late nineteenth century, the rhetoric of relief altered to redefine this as a moral duty.4 Convictions for failure to support dependent relatives averaged 8,000 per annum throughout the 1880s.5 Most did not shirk from this obligation; rather, as was found by a survey of working-class life in Middlesbrough, it became a natural extension of strong affection and duty.6
A hierarchy of responsibility underpinned this duty. Despite the vital contributions made by wives and daughters in many households, single, able-bodied young men were predominantly identified as the main providers for dependent family members.7 Shouldering the brunt of family survival this way fed into notions of masculine respectability, demonstrating the mindset of serving men attempting to maintain this role. One example of the Poor Laws in operation, reported in the Burnley Express, involved a brother and sister, Edward and June Spencer, brought before the magistrates to explain why their family of four was not contributing to the upkeep of their sixty-seven-year-old father. June, unmarried and suffering periods of ill health, successfully pleaded that her income was insufficiently reliable to sustain a regular payment. The son’s argument that his father had put himself in the workhouse through drink was rejected and Edward was ordered to make a weekly payment of two shillings out of his 45 shillings earnings.8
The wages of young men and women often made a crucial contribution to total household incomes. Social surveys conducted in the interwar years consistently found that working-class families with children in work were the least likely to fall below the poverty line.9 Temperance movements such as the Band of Hope and the Church of England Temperance Society fostered youthful breadwinning through messages to children and young people that duty to home and family took precedence over individual pleasures.10 Familial security came at a personal emotional cost, and siblings experienced loneliness when economic necessity forced their departures from home. Education legislation facilitated work by school-age children. Under the 1870 Elementary Education Act, children passing a labour certification or attending at least 250 sessions of schooling over a five-year period (the ‘dunce’s clause) were permitted to leave school before the official leaving age of twelve years if there was a good prospect of work.11 Even though the 1890s and 1910s saw incremental increases in the school-leaving age, this ‘half-time’ system remained in place until the 1918 Education Act. Although this practice was concentrated in the textile industries of Yorkshire and Lancashire, a study of the London School Boards suggests that regular labour during school hours was replaced by work undertaken before or after the official school day.12
Economic security helped to shape the emotional culture of men’s domestic lives.13 Boys leaving school regarded employment as an important marker of manhood and were proudly aware of their vital contribution to household economies. In the pre-war years, working-class boys and adolescents found it comparatively easy to obtain temporary, ‘blind-alley’ occupations.14 Focus on the plight of ‘boy labour’ glossed over similarities in the work patterns of young people, with no comparable debate emerging about ‘girl labour’, despite girls’ input into household economies.15 Research carried out against the backdrop of the equal pay campaign during the First World War highlighted women’s role in supporting households. A survey of 2,870 women undertaken by the Executive Committee of the Fabian Women’s Group in 1915 found that almost half were partially or fully responsible for the maintenance of others.16 A separate investigation by Seebohm Rowntree and Frank Stuart in 1919 reported a far lower figure of 12.06 per cent by discounting working women’s contributions if the male breadwinner’s earnings were above the poverty line.17
Personal narratives proffer an insight into sisters’ attitudes to war work and how they balanced the conflicting demands of family and state. Violet Page was in domestic service. Her regular correspondence with her older brother, Fred, a private in the Middlesex Regiment, betrayed little dissatisfaction with her position. At just shy of 1.5 million, in 1901 domestic service formed the largest group of working people. The relationship between servants and employers was widely regarded as a microcosm of society.18 Like many young women in service, Violet was contemplating following the example of her mother and aunt by joining the approximately one million ‘Tommy’s Sisters’ employed in munitions.19 Instead of the reasons commonly given for leaving service, namely unsatisfactory relations with employers and low wages, the factors propelling Violet to consider alternative work were primarily family centred.20 Out of a family of eight, only Violet and her two soldier-brothers lived away from home. The lure of returning to her packed and lively South Acton home trumped the prospect of better pay and conditions outside of domestic service. Like many working-class women, Violet did not view the war as an opportunity for improvement.21 In the pre-war years, domestic service was regarded as a ‘soft’ job for working-class girls, enabling progression and, in the main, offering far better conditions than in industry.22 Although Fred concurred with their mother that his sister should stay in a secure position, Violet tartly dismissed his opinion, placing the domestic realm at the centre of her reasoning:
you would not [say that] if you was only off 4 hours once a week & had to get home & back in that time & see all the others have their evenings & the weekend free, it [domestic service] is alright for girls with no home.
Unregulated hours of work and lack of holidays, coupled with loneliness, stretched Violet’s tolerance for her employment.23 Drawing attention to her financial contribution to the household and jostling for a new place on the family hierarchy, Violet requested that Fred ask her, not their mother, for additional money, stating, tongue in cheek, ‘don’t forget I am the millionairess’. By subtly reinforcing her growing independence and the fact that money was not a prime motivation, Violet asserted her autonomy over her life choices. Her professed longing to be immersed once more in family life placed her among the estimated one million who left domestic service during the war.
Violet’s sense of isolation from the family hub is echoed in a conversation between a brother and sister in Kate Roberts’s novel, One Bright Morning. The protagonist Ann Owen’s older brother, Roland, spends five years in England as an apprentice before joining the army, the cost of travel to rural Wales limiting his annual visits home to a mere two. Although Ann observes the struggle that Roland has in reintegrating with his family, and his swollen eyes on leaving, she does not appreciate the emotional toll that separation places on her sibling. In one conversation, Roland confides how terrible it is to be sent away, his isolation heightened by his family’s belief that he is ‘quite happy’.24 Nostalgic yearning for home was common among men and women detached from their working-class homes for financial rather than military reasons – an under-appreciated emotional cost resulting from economic conditions.
The centrality of young men’s wages to familial breadwinning models remained underappreciated both by government and by many sections of society. Total family income, as Gregory reminds us, was the actual determinant of wellbeing in wartime.25 Not until 1917 were war pensions extended to dependent parents. Economic factors influenced the timing of men’s decision to volunteer. The chronology of recruitment patterns shows that many waited until the official clarification over pay and separation allowances on 28 August 1914.26 The relative youth of combatants meant that a greater number of mothers than wives received the benefit.27 Some mothers experienced the paradox of benefitting financially from having a son or sons in service. Annie Taylor, the mother of two serving sons in an Oldham coal-mining community, was better off due to the dual effect of having fewer mouths to feed and receiving a regular income from service pay. The receipt of regular payments had a similarly beneficial effect on many households.28
Examining brothers’ caring and breadwinner roles casts a different perspective on familial financial and emotional interdependencies and how these were disrupted by war. Caring for loved ones was as much of a man’s job as soldiering. The five Holmes brothers grew up in Battersea, London. When war broke out, Gus, the eldest, was sent to an Australian supply column; Arthur was already serving with the 7th Lancers in India and the youngest, John, lied about his age in order to volunteer. This left the remaining single brother, Bill, to look after their widowed mother, aged fifty-five in 1914, and two youngest sisters for as long as he was able. He shouldered this responsibility despite feeling that the ‘patriotic thing’ would be to volunteer. Anxieties about the persistent bombing raids and blackouts affecting London, the first iteration of war on the home front, doubtless influenced the Holmes brothers’ reasoning, based on the individual make-up and economic circumstances of their family. The expectation rested on Bill, rather than on his married brother or two older sisters – one married and one in domestic service. Local awareness of his family circumstances meant that Bill experienced no backlash from his neighbours or at his workplace; it was ‘only normal’ that he should stop at home.29 Bill’s misgivings coalesced following the introduction of conscription, and he joined the London Regiment. When Gus was killed later that year, his mother unsuccessfully requested that the War Office release him. Regardless of his mother’s wishes, Bill’s ‘strong feeling of patriotism’ committed him to serve ‘to the bitter end’. Fraternal guilt and frustration at playing a passive role at home stiffened his resolve. Such reservations could be firmly squashed by serving brothers. When Joe Miller’s mother told him that his younger brother was ‘anxious’ to join the Army Service Corps he acted swiftly, writing ‘don’t be silly, stop where you are and look after mother’, and reminding him bluntly, ‘that’s your job’.30 Men took, or were made to take, their military and family duties equally seriously.
Conscription and the tribunal system thrust fraternal decision making into the public eye. Evidence of brothers’ economic relationships emerges from the hearings of the local and county tribunals established to determine exemptions from service under the Military Service Act 1916. Surviving tribunal papers, together with press reports of hearings, reveal how brothers framed their claims, and official attitudes towards their reasoning.31 Details of fraternal interdependencies emerging from these ‘enforced narratives’ show the careful balancing of cultural expectations of masculine roles in wartime.32 In his analysis of working-class respectability, Peter Bailey makes a cogent case for the ‘calculative’ nature of this concept.33 Respectability was a socially expedient choice made in particular settings. This ‘calculative choice’ provides a useful framework when considering the weight given by appellants to their familial and national duties. Under the legislation, local tribunals could issue absolute, conditional or temporary certificates of exemption for claimants appealing on the grounds of serious hardship due to exceptional financial or business obligations, or of domestic situation.34 Charged with implementing the legislation, tribunals undertook this task with only intermittent, non-binding guidance issued by the Local Government Board (LGB) to support them. Consequently, the guiding principles developed by these quasi-judicial bodies were often contradictory or swayed by individual or local prejudices.35 Implementation of the regime rarely met conscripted men’s expectations.
Statistics amply corroborate the importance attached by men to their domestic responsibilities. Challenging Ilana Bet-El’s characterisation of conscription as a passive bureaucratic process, Gregory argues that ‘a perfectly normal response’ was not passive acceptance, but an appeal.36 A breakdown of grounds of appeal from one local tribunal found 40 per cent of cases were on domestic grounds; 40 per cent on business grounds; 10 per cent a combination of business and domestic; and 10 per cent on grounds of conscience.37 These statutory grounds masked men’s underlying emotional concerns as brothers acted in consort to create a generational shield against parental anxiety and grief. Four factors affected deliberations concerning brothers: government policy regarding the treatment of single men; the relative ignorance of the vital support these men (and their female counterparts) made to household economies; tribunals’ treatment of brothers as ‘economic units’; and the challenge made to tribunals’ autonomy by the military representative. Even where tribunals appeared sympathetic, the military representative would appeal decisions, usually successfully. One such representative was instructed ‘to press all cases of single men under thirty years of age’ regardless of merit.38 Little consideration was given to how failure to facilitate men’s statutory rights might affect morale. Instead, a highly oppositional system developed, pitting men’s financial and domestic concerns against the military imperative of the state. Claims for full exemptions were rarely successful. Of the 11,307 cases heard by the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal, only 26 applicants received a full exemption and 581 a conditional exemption, while 2,813 were granted time to make alternative arrangements. That men continued to appeal despite such high odds illustrates their real anxieties and their calculative weighting of familial versus national duty.
Temporary exemptions were still valuable. They garnered time to put financial and domestic affairs in order. When casualty rates ran high, exemptions of three to six months could be life saving.39 A prime example is seen in the efforts of Ernest and Percy Pratley to preserve their two grocery businesses in Bexhill, Surrey. Percy joined the Coldstream Guards in 1915, leaving Ernest in charge of running both businesses, a hard-won achievement for the two eldest sons of a coal merchant’s labourer. Ernest, married and aged 36 in 1916, made a series of claims. Initially he focused on securing the services of his three married assistants, arguing that their physical labour was essential. His pleas were unsuccessful, making him reliant on his sister, three boys and three girls to help run the shops – a situation which the local paper branded as ‘girls’ taking men’s places. Rather than a pejorative use of the word ‘girls’ for women workers, this was a factual statement of the substitution of underage labour to free up men of military age. In 1917, Ernest made his first personal claim. The burden of managing both businesses with a depleted staff had been detrimental to his health, resulting in severe neuritis. The chairman articulated the tribunal’s misgivings over exempting a man passed fit for general service, mindful of the public distaste for businessmen apparently prospering at the expense of fighting men. Ernest, he cautioned, should take care not to kill himself by ‘working too hard and getting money quickly’. Percy’s hospitalisation with severe shrapnel wounds in July 1917, together with his sister’s joining the WAAC, garnered Ernest a further exemption, this time conditional on his joining the Sussex Regiment volunteers. Having complied with this condition, Ernest obtained a final exemption in July 1918, succeeding in his ambition of maintaining both businesses intact for the war’s duration.40
Brothers of military age were frequently regarded as socioeconomic units rather than individuals by tribunals determining claims. In turn, numerous examples show siblings regarding themselves as a joint resource, determining between themselves who was best placed to enlist and who should remain at home, acting as a generational cohort to safeguard present and future prospects. It was common for brothers to establish separate business entities in the same trade or profession; setting up multiple single businesses as opposed to one family-owned business was a far more effective familial strategy in the mid- to late nineteenth century. Especially in the early years of their inception, such businesses were too fragile to sustain more than one household.41 Little information exists on the war’s impact on these small businesses, caught up as they were in the demands of the wartime economy. While the normal course of trade must continue, ‘every private interest’, declared Edward Lloyd, an official at the Ministry of Food, ‘must be subordinated to the successful prosecution of war’.42 According to the 1911 Census, there were approximately 1.2 million employers or proprietors out of a population of 18.3 million. A comparatively small number within the workforce, they formed a significant proportion of appeal cases.
Siblings engaged in the same reserved trades were rarely both able to claim exemption from service. The direct effect of rationing on food businesses, the general loss of manpower, the reallocation of resources to larger industries, weak distribution systems and the declining purchasing power of customers worsened the plight of single-owner businessmen, who would conceivably face ruin if called up. Conscription placed particular strains on one-person businesses, which often represented an investment of life savings. As one opponent to conscription, Liberal MP William Pringle, pointed out, if a single businessmen was pressed into service, his capital would be conscripted as well, disadvantaging his chances of re-establishing himself afterwards.43 A twenty-six-year-old married man maintained that it was his ‘duty’ to preserve the ironmongery business in which he and his soldier-brother had invested their life savings.44 Uncertainty as to the war’s likely duration fuelled men’s anxieties and complicated contingency planning. Against this economic backdrop, brothers who were permitted to pool resources gained an advantage.45
Even where tribunals were sympathetic, recognising not only the personal devastation but also the risk to the local economy, the odds were against sole proprietors. Of the 165 cases heard in the Buckinghamshire town of Marlow, over three-quarters of the thirty-three claims made by one-man businesses were ultimately rejected.46 These statistics belie a more complex picture. Originally, the LGB accepted that single-owner businesses should receive special treatment. As the war progressed, attitudes became entrenched. Officials believed that businessmen had ample time to make preparations, whereas local concerns focused on the continuity of key services.47 As the parameters for eligibility expanded, the pool of community businesses becoming vulnerable to closure grew.48 In December 1917, new guidance clarified the ‘special hardship’ condition for sole proprietors. To obtain exemptions, businessmen must have explored all possible means of carrying on the business through a relative or friend or, as a last resort, disposing of the business. If this drastic measure was required, the tribunal was obliged to assess the man’s chances of later reviving the business.49 Eventually, action was taken to address the issue more systematically. In 1918, the Minister of National Service appointed Frederick Pickering, a Bradford businessman, to coordinate cooperation among trade associations and regional one-man business associations to help safeguard businesses once their owners had been conscripted.50
Tribunal work was arduous.51 In March 1916, several members of the Manchester Appeal Tribunal resigned, due to the ‘prolonged and exacting’ work.52 The Salford tribunal alone heard 2,500 appeals between January and April 1916.53 Even a conservative estimate suggests that tribunals dealt with 1.25 million cases.54 Membership was predominantly male and tended to be dominated by local ‘worthies’.55 Portrayed by one sketch writer as ‘a leading light, a kindly light’, Harry Cartmell, Mayor of Preston, is an exemplar of the typical member.56 An English solicitor and justice of the peace, a conservative councillor, active church-goer and a Poor Law guardian, Cartmell was firmly ensconced in the town’s social and business life. Determining cases affecting the livelihoods and wellbeing of men and their families, many of whom would have been known to tribunal members, weighed heavily on some. Speaking to the council in November 1916, Cartmell acknowledged the high personal stakes involved, reassuring his audience that his colleagues did not forget the ‘seriousness’ of their duty, actually, as well as figuratively, a matter of life and death.57 In April 1918, the Conwy Borough tribunal dealt with a ‘difficult case’ when refusing to grant a further exemption to a young man performing the national service of sea fishing. Six brothers were in service, and the remaining two could not physically man the fishing boat. At this late stage of the war, the decisive factor was the man’s Grade I assessment, the highest category of fitness.58 The livelihood of the remaining two siblings and the viability of the family business was sacrificed in the national interest. Doubtless, the Preston tribunal was not alone in endeavouring to give every applicant ‘a full, patient, and careful hearing’. The human cost of ‘hard’ decisions is lost in the public records – official recognition of their emotional and practical consequences prompted their post-war disposal. What remain clear are the persistent efforts made by men to protect fraternal and familial interests.
These ‘intimate, local and highly personal’ tribunal decisions came under intense scrutiny.59 The staggering number of cases produced plentiful copy for the press. ‘Difficult’ or ‘hard’ human-interest stories were headlined, signalling the emotional tenor of the mostly factual reports and recognising the difficulties these placed on both applicants and decision makers. Cases about siblings commanded attention. These appear rarely to have attracted the levels of public scorn directed at conscientious objectors, perhaps as a result of the ‘normalising’ of the appeal process when driven by domestic or business concerns.60 Within this acutely politicised arena, such stories provided a useful peg on which editors and journalists could hang the wartime tropes of patriotism, family sacrifice and brotherly bonds. Interestingly, it was often within these cases of note that appellants were labelled as ‘brothers’ rather than as ‘sons’.
Tribunals became an arena where men’s behaviour was both judged and praised. Men sprang to the defence of brothers whose characters were slurred, one man protesting against the portrayal of his sibling as lazy and idle.61 Brothers placing their familial responsibilities on a secondary footing to military service were lauded using the rhetoric of manly heroism; a public affirmation that national duty should prevail. Offering to go in place of his younger sibling, one brother was congratulated for having ‘spoken like a man’.62 Approval greeted a man caring for his mother, who stated that it would be no hardship if he had to serve. Drawing a parallel with one of the man’s decorated serving brothers, the chairman shook his hand, proclaiming, ‘You are a bit of a hero yourself’.63 Thus, the tribunals laid down clear markers of praiseworthy, manly behaviour. Contradicting Cartmell’s retrospective categorisation of men caring for dependants as heroes, this distinction was more frequently directed at those who uncomplainingly accepted the tribunal’s finding against them.
Praise was directed towards siblings who determined with a minimum of fuss who should serve. Often, siblings made these decisions without obvious friction, reflecting an in-built cultural and familial calculation by means of which resources were pulled together. Some tribunals allowed brothers to choose which one would serve. In many cases, men placed themselves at the mercy of fate, usually by tossing a coin. Local press reports frequently highlighted these ‘sporting’ gestures, with their echoes of childhood practices, perpetuating a discourse of masculine insouciance in defiance of danger, and presumably seeing such incidents as the ultimate exercise of fairness between brothers. Interestingly, winners of the toss chose either to enlist or to stay at home – a further sign that both options had equal merit, depending on the specific circumstances of the sibling unit. Chance was not permitted to override the tribunal process. One ‘sporting’ offer made by two brothers to toss the coin was rejected as the elder brother, unfit for active service, had already received a temporary exemption. Acts of fortune could not displace tribunal deliberations.64
Fiercest criticism was levelled at large families of brothers disinclined to serve their country. Mr E. Brierly, Manchester tribunal chairman, declared the case of four brothers owning six butchers’ shops between them, ‘one of the worst’ he had heard. Particularly demeaning in his view was the evident fact that none wanted to serve.65 In May 1916 the Liverpool Daily Post reported one case with the headline, ‘Farmer’s six sons. Not one “disposed to go”’. The headline reflected their shared belief, articulated by the eldest brother, Joseph Pope, that they were doing as much good at home as in the army.66 Farmers regularly expressed this view, supported by guidance repeating the government’s message that maintaining high food outputs was ‘essential’.67 The Board of Agriculture lobbied hard to give rural areas a tribunal representative pressing the case for the maintenance of food production. This official endorsement meant that tenant farmers had ‘a very good war’, with average profits per acre in 1917 running at 445 per cent of 1913–1914 levels.68 The Pope brothers’ collective unwillingness to serve counted against them, one tribunal member stating that it was unfair for others to fight on their behalf, while another expressed astonishment that not one had gone. Showing little sympathy for their stance, the tribunal granted conditional exemptions to only the two eldest brothers. Naming of the brothers in the press report broke the convention that claimants’ names and addresses would not be published;69 removing this protection was a further sign of disapprobation at the brothers’ perceived failure to do their duty.
From the regime’s outset, brothers of serving age were treated as models to illustrate how the system should work. The War Office attempted to instil trust in the workings of tribunals in a ‘homely’ way by using a fictional case study, Single Men First, written by Captain Bernard Townroae, the private secretary to the Director-General of Recruiting. Widely disseminated in the local press, this told the story of Henry, persuaded by his widowed mother to stay at home after his brother enlisted. Despite working in munitions, Henry determined to join up, a move opposed by his employers. Taking both Henry’s domestic responsibilities and workplace indispensability into account, the tribunal postponed his call-up. That evening Henry articulated his ‘relief’ at having subrogated his decision by entrusting it to ‘the hands of my country’.70 The message that the tale wanted to impart was that for willing men like Henry, whose family had already made a requisite sacrifice, the tribunal process should hold no fear.
Prime Minister Herbert Asquith bolstered men’s ‘trust’ through his public statements. Introducing the first Military Service Bill in January 1916, Asquith pronounced that it would be ‘a monstrous thing’ to call up a single, unmarried son caring for a mother who had already sent three or four sons to fight, and whose sons had been killed, wounded or disabled.71 The sentiment was repeated by Walter Long, President of the LGB, and endorsed in instructions to the tribunals.72 These statements appear to mark official recognition that young, unmarried men were often mainstays of household survival, and placed limits on the sacrifice demanded of individual families.73 Notwithstanding this, the main obstacle facing single men with caring responsibilities was an earlier pledge made by Asquith, that married men would not be called up before their unmarried counterparts.74 This stance shaped the politics of military service by maintaining the centrality of marital status.75 As a result, married men were more than twice as likely to be successful in gaining exemptions.76 Fit young males were prime fodder for military recruitment. As such, any privileging of family responsibilities ran counter to the pressing military demands and, over time, according to one tribunal chairman, were ‘tacitly abandoned’.77
What constituted a ‘fair’ level of family sacrifice remained a matter of interpretation for individual tribunals, often setting them at odds with families’ view of what was fair. The lack of overriding guidance contributed to the arbitrariness of the process. Men performing similar roles in supporting dependants had no way of predicting the outcome of appeals.78 Highly subjective and inconsistent reasoning added to the anxieties facing conscripted men. One man caring for his invalid mother claimed a greater domestic responsibility than many married men. A joint decision between himself and his two serving brothers had determined that he should stay at home. Dismissing the appeal, the tribunal’s bias towards military ideals of masculinity was illustrated by a challenge from the military representative. He asked if the man was not ‘burning with fury to have a go’ at the German who had shot one of his brothers. From his standpoint, revenge took precedence over filial duty.79 Other brothers believed that they had entered into a firm ‘agreement’ with the tribunal over their respective service and exemptions. Tempers ran high when these were ‘broken’. Alfred Baggs protested angrily when his younger brother, David, lost his agricultural exemption. An earlier hearing, concluding that Alfred’s and his father’s farms could be run as one business, offered Alfred the option of volunteering in his brother’s place. In return, he was promised a favourable response to David’s upcoming case. Outlining his personal sacrifice, Alfred reasoned that the ‘cost’ of relinquishing his ‘happy’ home life with his wife and children was only lessened by the consolatory knowledge that he had ‘done the right thing’ by his brother.80 The Baggs’ case highlights the predicament tribunals faced when determining the genuineness and underlying anxieties of ‘domestic’ concerns. Shortly after the refusal of David’s exemption their father, depressed and worrying a good deal about his serving sons, committed suicide.
For some tribunal members, the extent of unmarried men’s domestic responsibilities was an unknown quantity. This had especial relevance for cases involving brothers, siblings often sharing such responsibilities. Harry Cartmell was struck by the ‘unselfish’ commitment of young, unmarried men bearing caring and breadwinning responsibilities for dependants. Such cases demonstrated ‘the greatest devotion’ and cast the young men undertaking them as ‘heroes’.81 It seems unlikely that Cartmell was alone among his peers in coming face to face with the realities of economic survival for many households and, as noted earlier, he would have been better placed than many in his understanding of these. The focus of Poor Law administrators on the recalcitrant or unwilling may have masked the commonality of this obligation to support dependants. Ignorance of such responsibilities undoubtedly influenced tribunal deliberations, reinforcing the bias against young men filling traditionally ‘feminine’ caring roles and infantilising them by ignoring their financial contributions to household coffers. Despite Cartmell’s retrospective praise, the tribunal system devalued men’s ‘acts of devotion’. The consequences for families were grave.
Brothers built their cases around real domestic anxieties. Tribunals dismissed claims of deprivation when concluding that dependants would be better supported by charitable relief or the allowance system. Rebuffing the fears of an eighteen-year-old who ‘could not bear the thought’ of his invalid mother relying on charity, the tribunal calculated that the mother would not be ‘much’ worse off once her son was in the army. This optimism did not match the experience of some families who viewed separation allowances as ‘starvation money’.82 In this instance, the mother was kept in the family home by the joint endeavour of the man, his sister and younger brother. The sister’s role was unheralded by the local newspaper, which instead indicated its approval of the ‘two good boys’, amplifying the supposed ‘rarity’ of such devotional acts.83 At first, the system of allowances did not allow for the multifarious systems of familial support. The Bristol tribunal adjourned a case after the military representative confirmed that the dependent younger brother and sister of a married man would not be eligible for a separation allowance.84 When young women entered the workforce, they faced similar prejudice. One lathe worker complained bitterly at the dismissal of her claim for equal pay. Despite the fact that she was supporting her elderly parents after her brother’s death at Gallipoli, her foreman brushed off her request, stating that a married man with children needed more money than a girl. Women’s wants were less, as ‘they don’t require tobacco; and tea and toast is cheaper than beer and beefsteak’.85
Although it is difficult to judge whether claims were made in good faith, many fraternal concerns appear genuine. As discussed in Chapter 1, siblings’ caring instincts for weaker or ‘delicate’ brothers and sisters were forged from a young age. A greengrocer asked what would happen to his dependent brother, discharged from the army with no pension and suffering from consumption.86 A twenty-seven-year-old labourer, fearing that his brain-damaged brother would become ‘the laughing stock of the barrack room’, preferred to go in his brother’s place, doing ‘my bit and his as well’.87 In one ‘pathetic appeal’ before the Todmorden tribunal, a local weaver and sole carer of a blind sister outlined her almost total reliance on him: she could not ‘fight her own way’ without his assistance. The youngest of a family of ten, these two siblings had adapted their lives ‘one to the other’. Having given up everything to care for his sister, the man insisted that he was not sheltering behind her. Given the geographic dispersal of the remaining siblings, the tribunal granted him a conditional exemption based on his domestic circumstances remaining unchanged.88
The war service of sisters was not immune from scrutiny. A military representative made short shrift of the household expenses of a jobbing labourer who was supporting his delicate mother and sister. Concluding that his contribution amounted to 16s a week, he recommended that the man’s sister leave school and take up employment.89 During a hearing based on the dependency of a mother and two younger brothers on their elder sibling, Cartmell pointed out that the man’s twenty-nine-year-old sister, who kept house for him, need not be destitute at a time when ‘all sorts of people’s daughters’ were finding work, many at their country’s behest.90 Cartmell’s professed sentiments did not extend to his own family. While all four of his sons saw active service, records suggest that his two single daughters played a supportive role in the charitable and civic activities of their mother and father. Cartmell’s thinking was in line with that of other tribunals in the area. Refusing an appeal by a farmer on behalf of his sibling who acted as cow-man, shepherd and horseman, the chairman stated that his three adult sisters, a teacher, a town hall clerk and a housekeeper, should be utilised to assist with the dairy farming. In these ‘exceptional’ times, he reasoned, ‘we all have to be inconvenienced’.91 Some tribunals demanded a sacrifice of life chances. Twelve-year-old Henry Catlow was withdrawn from school to help his father plough their 88-acre farm. The tribunal also recommended that his two sisters, both mill workers, help at home. Combining the resources of the available Catlow siblings freed their eldest brother for service.92 Employers facilitated these arrangements. Liverpudlian firm J. Bibby & Sons, an oil cake manufacturer, offered one sister a position in her brother’s place for the duration of his wartime service.93
In better-off families, responsibility for providing practical and emotional support to ageing parents fell on the ‘dutiful daughter’, even when the household was well supported by servants. Gender and class expectations framed familial expectation of these ‘dutiful’ acts, described by Phyllis Puckle, the daughter of a country doctor, as being little more than the work of ‘a general dogsbody’.94 Very few of ‘our sort of girl’ worked, explained former VAD Charlotte Bush, ‘you sat at home and did your embroidery and the flowers sort of thing’.95 Concerns about morality fuelled parental opposition to specific forms of service. Hearsay evidence given to Lucy Streatfeild, charged with heading the inquiry to investigate allegations of immorality among members of the WAAC, included that of a soldier-brother. He begged his father to refuse his sister permission to join: ‘if you knew what the women were like out there, you’d never allow it’.96 Feelings of frustration are expressed in We That Were Young, through the character of Pamela. Referring to the drudgery of household tasks falling to middle-class daughters, she drew on the chore-based metaphor of seeing her talents dry up like ‘washing gloves in the sun’ to express her dissatisfaction. Rankling her further was her mother’s hero-worship of her feckless brother, Leo. Sick of her restricted options and bemoaning the absence of her male friends and cousins, Pamela resolved to go and nurse, or some other drastic action.97
The experiences of the munition worker or VAD overshadowed those of ordinary women.98 Further eclipsed are the voices of single women contributing to household tasks but lacking the authority of the household ‘mistress’. The few glimpses we see of these lives are through the escapees, those women war workers who wrote about their service. Still living in the family home, Kit and Eve Dodsworth immersed themselves in community initiatives: collecting for Belgian refugees; helping with teas at the YMCA; knitting socks; and filling hot-water bottles and performing other ‘thankless’ duties at the local hospital. Like many of their middle-class peers, the Dodsworths fulfilled a tradition of volunteering that remained largely unbroken during the war.99 From January to May 1915, variants of the refrain ‘very dull’ and ‘nothing of interest’ litter Eve’s diary entries.100 Eve epitomised the ‘many sisters’, in Rose McCauley’s 1914 poem for whom the war was ‘poor fun’, idling at home while their ‘many brothers’ sat in the ‘blood and muck’ of the trenches.101 York was a garrison town and the Dodsworth family home was an ideal site from where to view local regiments parading on the green. A favourite pastime for the sisters was sitting and observing from the window seat, talking to rankers whom they had befriended at the YMCA. The Dodworths’ situation in the domestic sphere, watching men march off for war, emphasised their status as passive bystanders and stoked the sisters’ restlessness. Having determined to volunteer for overseas service as VADs, ‘the most exciting moment of their lives’ occurred on Friday 7 May 1917, when they received the wire asking them to proceed to France.
More typical of many middle-class unmarried women’s experience is that of Ethel Spofforth, daughter of a prominent Bristolian. Following a motoring accident while pregnant, her mother, Esther, suffered from poor health. Her youngest sister, Dora, was born with one leg shorter than the other. Interviewed in 1975, Ethel spoke of her aspiration to become a nurse, an occupation for which she was ideally suited, having nursed her mother, father and sister throughout her life. Her volunteering at Bishops Knoll, a private hospital established to care for wounded Australian soldiers, was a guilt-fuelled activity. Short-staffed after the call-up of his clerks, her father worked excessively long hours at his law firm. This, coupled with their mother’s frailty and the departure of the families’ two domestic servants to work in munitions, made Ethel painfully aware of the patriarchal expectation that she should stay at home. Her limited volunteering was approved of only grudgingly. Duty to her family blighted Ethel’s desires and prospects. Her father refused to allow her to take up nursing professionally, on the somewhat spurious ground that she would be depriving work to those less well off. Ethel tussled with these conflicting pulls on her time. In contrast, her older sister, an administrator with the Red Cross, was ‘lucky to have a life’. Familial expectations trumped patriotic duty and economic concerns for many young women.
Even women performing senior roles found themselves bound by domestic responsibilities. Commandant Grace McDougall initially faced opposition from her brother, who, questioning whether the FANY would ever make it to the front, advised his sister to ‘get some useful work’.102 Grave family matters, including the deaths of her two brothers and the terminal illnesses of her sister and mother, disrupted Grace’s important work. At one point, only the arrival of her sister from South Africa, ready to take up the task of looking after their mother, freed Grace to resume her role. Apart from the toll on her heath, she was continually torn in two directions by a resurgence of the ‘old struggle’ faced by women – that of balancing family life versus work. Towards the war’s end, Grace again faced the heartbreak of this dilemma when she returned home to nurse her mother. Unable to bear leaving her dying relative, she was bombarded by ‘angry and frantic’ letters from FANY personnel clamouring for her return. Once her mother was strong enough, Grace was obliged to tell her with a ‘sad heart’ that she was needed back on the fighting line. She never saw her mother alive again.103 The ‘old struggle’ that Grace referenced can be seen in the operations of the Military Service Tribunals. When a quarry worker, the sole supporter of his mother and invalid father, applied for exemption, his sister, on service overseas, was directed to return home to release her brother.104
Authorities in charge of ‘voluntary’ services exerted pressure to ensure that women, although not ‘conscripted’ into service, did not prioritise family over military duty or use family responsibilities as a shield to shirk their duties. The first time that her family called upon her to look after her mother, suffering from a severe chill, Vera Brittain obtained a ‘sceptical and grudging’ leave of absence after much difficulty.105 Arriving in Brighton to find her mother in no urgent need, Vera believed that she was ‘perpetrating exactly the deceit of which I had been suspected’. Compounding her dismay was her parents’ disregard of the rigours of her war service, accompanied by their refusal to accept that nursing discipline was comparable to that of the army. Pressure could be exerted in subtler ways. In 1916, Marjorie Denys-Burton worked as a VAD at a military relief hospital established by Celandine Hanbury-Tracy at Woodcote, her Oxfordshire home. When Marjorie returned home for an unspecified reason, Celandine asked her to be ‘firm’ with her family and return as soon as possible. She also wrote directly to Marjorie’s mother, impressing upon her what a ‘godsend’ her daughter had been and hoping that she would be allowed to return ‘for a good long spell’.106 Both the Hanbury-Tracys and the Denys-Burtons were members of the aristocracy. Moving in ‘the best of circles’, they belonged to what David Cannadine calls ‘a carefully integrated and functionally significant’ network of social and political connections. Membership of this influential community added peer-level weight to Hanbury-Tracy’s request.107 Her direct appeal to maternal patriotism, couched in the language of praise rather than duty, did the trick. Both Marjorie and her sister continued working at the hospital.
Adding piquancy to some tribunal cases are pleas for the safeguarding of the family home. Having given up a good position in order to serve, one man wrote from the trenches to support his brother’s claim. If his sibling was conscripted, they would probably have no home to return to.108 One sister made a touching and eloquent appeal on behalf of the last of seven brothers for him to remain at home. Aged sixteen when their mother died, she had ‘sacrificed her life’ to bring them up, four of the boys being under the age of ten at the time. Three brothers had joined the army and one had been killed. With the siblings united in their efforts, she feared that if the last brother went the family home would be broken up and there would be no place for the men to return to when the war was over. The claim was refused.109
The regime’s arbitrariness is borne out by the contradictory treatment of siblings’ service as evidence in support of claims. When the solicitor for one appellant drew the Okehampton tribunal’s attention to the fact that the man had four brothers in the army, the chairman pithily dismissed his appeal, commenting ‘it would be a pity to spoil the family record’.110 In contrast, a forty-one-year-old traveller was granted a three-month exemption. His four brothers had volunteered when war broke out, and four sisters were nurses, two serving overseas.111 The case report commented twice on the ‘excellent’ record of his brothers.112 There was some softening of attitudes as the number of ‘hard’ cases increased. In January 1918 the Bermondsey tribunal congratulated the family of eighteen-year-old George Samuels. The ‘exceptional’ nature of their sacrifice justified a temporary exemption. Six of Samuels’ brothers had joined up: three had been killed, one had been wounded and permanently discharged, one was still in France and the last was waiting to be sent overseas.113 Local sympathy for claimants and their families is occasionally reflected in the tribunal records., The local community concurred with the tribunal’s belief that Kate Shallis, well-known and liked, a widow who had already lost four sons, was ‘entitled to the comfort’ of her son, John.114 One newspaper reported that the entire neighbourhood felt sympathy for the ‘almost overwhelming loss’ suffered by the family.115 Typically, there was no acknowledgement of the grief of John, the sole surviving brother. Irrespective of public sentiment, military exigency prevailed, limiting his conditional exemption to six months. Here, the family’s naming signalled public approval of their patriotism, adding to the rhetoric of national duty.
Once war fatigue set in, people increasingly questioned the plight of families. Sympathy swayed some military decisions. When, in April 1917, Joe Fitzpatrick was preparing to be drafted to the front line, his regimental sergeant major asked him how many sons his mother had in the army. On learning that all six Fitzpatrick brothers were on active service, and with his colonel’s approval, he struck a disappointed Joe from the draft. Their mother’s sacrifice was sufficient justification for his action.116 Siblings who were denied active combat respected the underlying logic of such decisions. All three Wolton brothers, Eric, Owen and Hubert, were in the 5th Suffolk Regiment. A demoralised Eric was left behind on the troop transport RMS Aquitania while his unit, including his two brothers, left to take part in the Sulva offensive. Despite his disappointment, Eric accepted the rationale behind the decision, ‘you don’t want the whole lot killed’.117 Recognition of familial suffering influenced these unofficial measures to protect families against multiple losses.
The effective waging of war required the classification and reclassification of individuals according to the needs of the armed services and the labour market.118 Siblings and parents were accustomed to determining the best use of familial resources, dividing responsibilities for the financial and practical care of dependants. In wartime, the state replaced the family’s role in determining the best use of these resources, bringing these intimate decision-making processes into the open via the arena of the military service tribunals.
Tribunals viewed siblings of both sexes as a unit, making decisions about their businesses, employment, homes and the care of loved ones. It is testimony to the importance that individuals placed on these responsibilities vis-à-vis their patriotic duty that, notwithstanding the overwhelming odds against them, men continued to plead their cases. Knowledge of familial circumstances within their neighbourhoods and good standing seem to have offered some protection against the social disapprobation levelled at shirkers or slackers. These intangible and hidden protectors against public disdain hint at the emotional norms operating at community level. The tension between men’s domestic obligations and their patriotic accountability was a matter of public debate in the years preceding the introduction of conscription in 1916. Discussions centred on men’s roles as fathers, husbands or sons, but overlooked their roles as siblings.119 The experiences of brothers before the military service tribunals highlight the joint economic responsibilities and ‘acts of devotion’ that many men bore on behalf of parents and siblings, a contribution that was widely under-appreciated in the First World War. The military imperative to send men out to the firing line regardless of their statutory rights and domestic circumstances increased the economic hardship suffered by their families. Men’s and their families’ understanding of ‘fairness’ rarely matched the views of tribunal members.
Middle-class families exerted an element of control over single daughters. Dependent on family make-up, some young women felt constrained by the expectation that they should assume the burden of household management. The paternalistic attitude may explain the willingness of some tribunal members to require working-class sisters and brothers to relinquish employment or educational freedom in order to free up a brother of fighting age. Peer pressure could be exerted to encourage elite families to relinquish their domestic stranglehold over their daughters and allow them to carry out war work. Such negotiation occurred in the privacy of social circles rather than in the public arena of the tribunal.
Brothers were expected to share business and familial responsibilities so that one or more might be free to serve. Men’s narratives rarely record discord over the decisions regarding enlistment, despite evidence of the emotional and physical toll experienced by fighting brothers. Instead, serving men relied on their siblings at home to look after their business affairs and their loved ones, so as to maintain some continuity in their lives. A sibling’s-eye view of men and women’s war service highlights the centrality of the domestic concerns informing their decision making. This perspective focuses attention on what was at stake for men regarding their futures, the wellbeing of their families and their patriotic duty.