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A Comical Tragedy. I


A Comical Tragedy. I By THOMAS THOMAS. The Tribunals for dealing with exemption claims under the Military Service Act have af forded much amusement to those who have fol- lower. their proceedings. No burlesque could ever induce more laughter; and, indeed, their functions being of the nature of a farce, the result was bound to be conducive of merriment. i attended some of these tribunals-, and I have never enjoyed myself more in my life. Were I an applicant for exemption myself, per- haps the procedings would be less suggestive of humour, but being outside the scope of the Compulsory Act, I could let myself go. It. was a, sight for the gods to see the composition of some of these Tribunals. Such a fine stalwart lot of men—men of robust health, just turned their 41st birthday; strong, virile, and active,, they were men who would have 'oeen a crediti to any army; but. alas! they were over age, and consequently had to forego the duty of combatant warfare for the less hazardous, but none the Jess important duty of sitting in judgment on the shirker. And they did sit. It was all so funny. These members—they had such a pompo?lic, df?- such a took of authority; such a pompous de- portment and they exercised their functions, with such sovereign dignity, with such a pat- riot; > sense of responsibility and national re- quirements that were their functions not known to represent a farce, some of the incid- ents witnessed could easily be mistaken for a tragedy. Being a farce, one was expected to laugh—though tears might have been more ap- propriate. For instance, in one Tribunal, a weak, sickly youth, hard of hearing, claimed exemption on, tb-3 grounds of a conscientious objection to war. The height of the lad was about five feet and' a shadow, and he looked as if a year's deten- tion in a convalescent home might fit him for milking cows. The healthy, robust members of the Tribunal* looked at him with that lofty air of impartiality so essential for the proper conduct of their difficult duties; and the chairman, who looked young an d strong enough to undertake any military service, began ask- ing the presumptuous youtn a rew questions. The questions—I forget what they were ex- aütJy-but were something to the effect: "Where was Moses when the light .went out?" And if a German sought his mother's life, would lie not have the culprit's gore?" The youthful craven did not answer because he could not hear the questions, though to give the questioner credit, he shouted loud enough. Eventually the Tribunal decided that the claim for exemption could not be entertained, which decision was made known to the cowardly shu'ker by violent gestures. To see the look of wonder oil that child's face was excruciatingly funny. I simply rolled with laughter, though I noticed a few sentimental fools in the audito- rium snivelling and weeping. The silly idiots; there is no place for effeminacy under military law. The Tribunal was there to get men into the army—and the were getting them. After disposing of this case to the satisfac- tion of their own consciences, and the appro- bation of Lord Derby, the members of the Tribunal prepared to dispense justice to the next shirker. This was a brisk, strong, active younu man who asked for partial exemption on the plea of the importance of his labour- a, footman to his employer, a wealthy city mag- nate. He was rightly granted two months' exemption. Afterwards, another young man appeared ,k.fte,i,wa.r& I("Xe?nWtion on the grounds of do- c l ?i.,Iiiilri.g tot-a mestic necessity. He was one of fouB brothers —one of whom had been killed at the front, whilst the other two were on active service, and he alone remained to his widowed mother and sister. The claimant had tIe temerity to remind the Tribunal of Mr. Asquith's pledge (or was' it assurance) about the sole remaining sons of widowed mothers, but the chairman in- terposed saying they, as a Tribunal, were only concerned about getting men into the army, and had no time or inclination to bother with assurances which were not embodied in an Act of Parliament. The application was dis- missed. Main other interesting cases came before the Tribunal, which were all dealt with patriotically and relentlessly. Mothers, with tears running down their faded cheeks, pleaded for exemption for sons w ho were their only support; fathers, pale with anxiety, appealed for sons who were physically and mentally unfit for the army; but the Tribunal was inexorable. In many cases the Advisory Committee had determined the issue before the applicant made his appearance, and the Tribunal gave its verdict in accordance with the Committee's decision. It was a case of Heads I win, tails you lose" with every appeal. It was screamingly funny to see the pur- blind, the lame, the consumptives and other victims of chronic diseases appealing for ex- emption on the grounds of bodily infirmities; and as their claims were summarily dismissed their woe-begone stricken faces were enough to make donkeys laug,h, and we did laugh up- roarousliy. It is difficult to understand the mental make-up of these physical wrecks who so bare-facedly hide their cowardice behind their infirmities. Had they a grain of patri- otism in their constitution they would not think of asking for exemption. Are not their miser- able bodies safeguarded by the-Navy? And yet they had the audacity to shirk, or to try to shirk their obvious duties as citizens. Sup- posing a brutal German were to swim the North Sea and attack their mothers and sisters? Would they then hide behind their infirmities or would they manfully catch hold of the ruffian and pitch him headlong into the Dolico station ? Fortunately, members of the Tribunals are made of sterner stuff than than these miserable shirkers. Should a murderous German attack their wives, or mothers, or sisters' they would patriotically demand the protection of the po- lice, which, of course, would not be right for shirkers to demand, though they pay the police rate. Moreover, the Tribunals are engaged to make I good Lord Derby's nebulous figures of 650,0001 unattested young mem. The number has to be I found even should our jails and asylums be exempted for the purpose. That sufferers, from chronic ailments who are passed wholesale! into the army will spend their time in hospit- aIR matters not; that beds set apart for woun- ded soldiers will be occupied by physically un- i fits is of no consequence; what matters is — that 650,000 shirkers have to be accounted for, and the Tribunals have been established to achieve that object. And they are doing it. Ye gods, they would pass a corpse into the army if of military age; for it is age and not fitness which is the qualincation. To see a six- foot member of a Tribunal questioning the claims for exemption of a five-foot, puny, ema- ciated bit of male protoplasm whose only visible signs of life are a pair of shivering pants is enough to crack one's ribs. Thelll the Conscientious Objector is a soure" of infiite delight. The members of the Tribunals are in their dement when these shirkers are placed on the rack. Not that the Tribunals get it all their own way, but the questions* put to Conscientious Objectors are a marvel of Scriptural knowledge. Quotations from Aristotle are brought forward and attributed to one of the Prophets. Sometimes Shakespeare is mis- taken for Jeremiah; and as for the New Testa- ment its interpretation at the Tribunals com- pletely outclasses every theological expert's ex- position. Still, with all the little defects of the Tribunals, their main function will have been accomplished—for assuredly Lord Derby's 650,000 are Being, accounted for.

No Confidence in Tribunal.…

A Voice in the Wilderness.


At Random. I -I


I Injured and Fined.I