Library resources for researching World War I: Wartime Statistics Committee

The Wartime Statistics Committee was established by Meeting for Sufferings in June 1917, a year after the introduction of conscription, to collect statistics on men of military age. Its records are of value for researchers interested in British Quakers and World War I at a national, local and individual level.

In the years up to the war, the Society of Friends campaigned vigorously for peace and against militarism, as an expression of its continuing peace testimony.  The declaration of war in August 1914 presented a new challenge, as patriotic fervour swept the country and voluntary enlistment soared in response to a mass military recruitment campaign.

Like other young men of military age, young Friends were exposed to intense pressure to enlist, and from March 1916 they were obliged to do so by law. Many objected on grounds of conscience, appearing before their local Military Service Tribunal: some offered themselves for alternative work (such as service with the Friends Ambulance Unit), while others were “absolutists” who refused all service associated with the military (and were frequently imprisoned). Some Friends did enlist, however, as two recently published accounts of Quaker schools and World War I describe (Sidcot in the Great War by Christine Gladwin, and Great ideals: Leighton Park and the First World War by John Allison and Charlotte Smith).

What can the records of the Wartime Statistics Committee tell us about these choices?

Wartime Statistics Committee returns

Wartime Statistics Committee “Returns of service during wartime” – 1 of the 4 Kalamazoo binders (Library reference YM/MfS/WSTC/R/1-4)

The Wartime Statistics Committee was set up in June 1917 under the convenorship of Edith M. Ellis (1878-1963). Its remit was to obtain and tabulate statistics of members and attenders of military age who were working for, or in connection with, Friends Emergency Committee, Friends War Victims Relief Committee or Friends Ambulance Unit.  In July Meeting for Sufferings decided that “associates” (i.e. non-Quakers closely associated through adult schools, Bible study groups, or similar) should be included, as well as members and attenders.

No minutes of the committee have survived, but we can follow its gradual progress in reports to Meeting for Sufferings. It finally reported[1] on 3 November 1922 that returns had been obtained from all but seven monthly meetings[2]. In most cases the information covered the period up to December 1917, a few going on to March 1918.

YM Proc 1923 p.232

Wartime Statistics Committee final report to Meeting for Sufferings, November 1922 (Yearly Meeting Proceedings 1923, p.231-232)

The brief report tells us that an analysis of 1,666 returns for members of the Society of Friends showed, for example, that 40.2% of men of military age applied for, and were granted, exemption as conscientious objectors, and 17.3% on other grounds, while 33.6% enlisted. However, these statistics are far from straight forward, as we found when preparing this blog post. The report refers to figures for members of the Society of Friends – presumably excluding hundreds of returns for attenders and “associates” – but it is not even clear whether all members’ returns were analysed. Tantalisingly, no mention is made of data gathered on occupation, age, pre-war social or religious service, specific wartime occupation (for example, which Quaker organisation, whether combatant or non-combatant military service). The report suggests that this rich data was tabulated, but unfortunately no tables survive. As we discovered though, a file on the “Statistics Scheme” among the records of the Service Committee (Library reference YM/MfS/SER/3/2) does include sample tables and keys to at least some of the codes used on the returns.

While the analysis and final report may be scanty, the returns from which they were compiled do survive, and are of great interest for researchers. These “Returns of service during wartime” (Library reference YM/MfS/WSTC) consist of record sheets for named individuals sent in by monthly meetings, grouped by wider quarterly meetings (QM) into four “Kalamazoo” binders. The arrangement is described on our online archive catalogue, as follows:

YM/MfS/WSTC/R/1
South Australia Two Months Meeting (Melbourne and Sydney Monthly Meetings are in volume 4), Bedfordshire QM, Berkshire & Oxon QM, Bristol & Somerset QM, Cumberland QM, Derby, Lincoln & Nottinghamshire QM, Devon & Cornwall QM, and Durham QM.

YM/MfS/WSTC/R/2
Essex & Suffolk QM, Kent QM, Lancashire & Cheshire QM, and London & Middlesex QM.

YM/MfS/WSTC/R/3
Norfolk, Cambridge & Huntingdon QM, Sussex, Surrey & Hampshire QM, Warwick, Leicester & Stafford QM, and Western QM.

YM/MfS/WSTC/R/4
Westmorland QM, Yorkshire QM, Scotland General Meeting, South Africa (Cape Monthly Meeting) and Australia (Melbourne and Sydney Monthly Meetings; South Australia returns are in volume 1)

Each monthly meeting’s returns are filed alphabetically by surname, members separate from attenders and associates. The return sheets include sections for personal details, pre-war occupation, pre-war social, religious or public work, employment or service record since the start of the war, and a record of tribunals, courts, decisions and sentences. Click on one of the images below for a closer look.

The returns offer scope for a re-analysis of the national or regional data about the wartime experience of Quakers and those associated with Quaker meetings, and, perhaps more importantly, fascinating biographical data for those researching individuals or local meetings during the war.

 

[1] Yearly Meeting Proceedings 1923, p.231-232

[2] Witney, Witham, Canterbury & Folkestone, Ratcliff & Barking, Alton, Southampton & Poole, Staffordshire, and Hereford & Radnor

 

Postscript

The Committee’s 1922 report states that 1666 returns of members of the Society were analysed. Some heroic work has been done by one of our volunteers (a former colleague) to count all existing sheets in the series and tabulate them by Quarterly, General, 2 Months and Monthly Meetings. Her work shows that the Committee eventually filed nearly 2500 returns, enlarging the potential data set by 50%. Future statistical work on the returns, to draw out information they offer (such as occupation, age, pre-war social or religious service, specific wartime occupation), could be most informative. Researchers who have already drawn on these records include Cyril Pearce (author of Comrades in conscience) for his C.O.s database, and Barry Mills (for his paper, The achievements and limitations of the Northern Friends Peace Board 1913-1920).

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2 Responses to Library resources for researching World War I: Wartime Statistics Committee

  1. Pingback: Quaker Strongrooms blog at the turning of the year | Quaker Strongrooms

  2. Pingback: “In turbulent times”: sources on local Quakers and their meetings over the centuries | Quaker Strongrooms

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