IN a small room in the Turnpike Centre a group of volunteers are working away to digitalise a very rare set of documents.

Leigh is one of around 30 places in the country where the documents from tribunals to decide whether a man was exempt from military service in the First World War or not have survived – despite government orders for their destruction in the 1920s.

The team will create an online database where people will be able to search for relatives and find their applications to the tribunal.

Organising the volunteers is Alex Miller, WLCT’s archive manager, who told the Journal a little bit more about what the documents revealed about the process.

“We have two different types of documents from the same military tribunal process.

“We have the formal registers where all the information, such as name, address, occupation and the decision, was entered of each individual case.

“We also have all the military tribunal application forms where each applicant in their own hand or the hand of their employer explained their situation and why they were applying for an exemption from military service.

“I think the overwhelming impression we get from these records is that this was a process that caused an awful lot of upset and an awful lot of heartbreak within the town.

“It is men’s lives and their family’s lives turned over completely by a single decision of the tribunal.

“We’re learning that this was not a clear process and there is very little in these records to indicate how the tribunals arrived at their decision.

“There is no supporting paperwork – there is nothing that tells us what was going on. You can see exactly why these papers were in the 1920s seen as being potentially divisive, that these records could hold the people making the decisions to account and that is why the government ordered them to be destroyed.”