21st November 1916
Guernsey recruits caused concern in Parliament
Despite their independence, Guernsey and Jersey frequently come up in Parliament. On 21 November 1916, with the First World War raging, Ian Malcolm, MP for Croydon, voiced his concerns about two recruits to the Royal Court.
According to Hansard, the official record of proceedings in the house, he asked the Home Secretary, Herbert Samuel,
…whether two appointments have been made by the Royal Court of the Island in Guernsey of young men of military age in connection with the execution of a Compulsory Military Service Bill recently voted, although these duties could be competently performed by men over military age or by women; and, if so, what action he proposes to take?
The Home Secretary confirmed that yes, two men, aged 28 and 35, had been employed by the Royal Court. One, he said, “is a cripple from birth and unfit for any form of military service”, while the case concerning the other was “now before the Guernsey Tribunal”, which would decide whether he should retain his permission or be enrolled into the army.
Guernsey passed a Compulsory Military Service Bill on 23 August 1916 requiring all men of military age to report for duty as soon as it became law. That was scheduled to be 50 days after it had been passed.
The Bill ran along similar lined to that instituted in the mainland, but with one additional proviso: there was no allowance for conscientious objectors. Such objectors could elsewhere obtain exemption from service on the grounds of conscience, religion or freedom of thought.
Conscientious objection doesn’t always excuse someone from being sent to an active front line with the army, so it’s not necessarily a way of avoiding service. Such an objector could, for instance, be attached to a troop as a stretcher bearer or cook, which may put them within range of fire, but without a weapon to defend themselves. It was not, therefore, simply a way to avoid seeing action altogether.
The Bill becomes an Act – and a law
The Compulsory Military Service Act came into force on Guernsey on 16 November 1916. Exactly 30 days later, all male British subjects on any of the islands within the Bailiwick, aged between 18 and 41, would be automatically enrolled in the army or navy.