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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Reserved occupation?


old sparky

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Would a railway signalman automatically be considered as an exempt person?

Peter B

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Possibly. The line may have been carrying troops, supplies or munitions.

Then again, he may have been of more use with RE Railway co.

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The signalman in question is William Harris who was born in 1887 in South Petherwin, Cornwall and was working for GWR at Angarrack, Hayle in 1911. The RE Railways department crossed my mind but I can't find any evidence to support that option. Much more likely is the fact that he was a married man with 2 children but something keeps nudging me.

Thanks for your input johnboy.

Cheers Peter B

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The fact that he was a married man with children was irrelevant.

Maybe GWR have records?

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Would not the marriage and children exempted him from conscription or have I misunderstood the LLT? GWR may well have some records and the chances are that if so he will appear as the Hayle job was one of several with that company. I'll give it a go.

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I am not sure what you have read. But logically, if every man with a wife and children were exempt ........

There were exemptions granted for hardship. I think these applied to men with dependent mothers.

Some applied for exemption on grounds of having their own business which would suffer. Unless these were involved in war work they were not granted.

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You may find this part of a letter, from the War Office, that I found in a mans records of interest. Not only were railwaymen sent to the RE, but also to the artillery. Most made excellent signallers, either for RE or Arty, so not necessarily working on the railway. I have seen many in the RGA, my grandfather included. Any man would, I believe, have still had to do their trade test for signalman, not least to find their skill level.

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Kevin

Edit; Forgot to say that the letter was dated 21st july 1917.

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Would not the marriage and children exempted him from conscription or have I misunderstood the LLT

Under conscription married men were not called up until after most of the eligible single men had been but it didn't take long after conscription began for this to happen.

Craig

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A list of occupations considered to be more in the national interest than military service was published in November 1915, it included:-

‘Railway servants employed in the manipulation of traffic and in the maintenance of lines and rolling stock.’

So as a signalman he would have been exempt in the first instance.

The Military Service Act was constantly amended and reviewed as far as exemptions were concerned but essential railway workers remained exempt.

Just for clarity, the original provisions of the Military Service Act exempted married men. On 18th March 1916 all single men aged between 19 and 41 unless exempted were deemed to have enlisted. However it was soon clear that there would be insufficient number and in May 1916 a new Bill was introduced to include married men. The provisions of new Act came into force in June 1916.

There was continuing controversy over listed single men and their exemption but married men seem to have avoided this and unless he volunteered in 1914 it’s likely he remained in post throughout the war. To claim exemption he had to be in post on the 15th August 1915.

As with mining the initial rush of volunteer recruits in the railway industry caused serious problems and shortages. So much so that men working on the railways who enlisted without the permission of their employer were told they would forfeit all privileges and allowances, or in other words they needed the permission of their employer to volunteer.

Railway workers other than those listed were exempt at the discretion of the railway executive and, as with mining, there was co-operation with the trade unions. As the example above shows many railway workers were 'combed out' following the implementation of the Military Service (Review of Exceptions) Act 1917.

Many railway jobs were taken over by women but these tended to be ticket collectors, platform staff, cleaners etc.

By 1918 it was estimated that the number of railway workers serving in the Army was 170,000 and if many more were called up it would seriously effect the efficient running of the service and hamper the movement of troops and munitions in the UK, let alone the peacetime goods such as food and coal carried on the railway.

20,000 railway workers were killed on active service.

As noted above experience was also needed in the Railway Operating Division on the Western Front and other theatres, notably the Middle East so there needed to be a balance struck between the service at home and the need for experienced men in the Army.

Ken

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Thanks for your invaluable help everyone. It explains as fully as I could wish that William Harris, a GWR signalman of some years experience, was, beyond reasonable doubt, exempt 'call up' on the grounds of his essential employment.

Peter B

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