The Bells, The Bells…


Cah. Start out with the best of intentions and then you get sidetracked. Not looked at or done anything with the blog since the summer.

So you come back and see that 19 comments are pending and waiting approval. And they all say how marvellous this blog is and how much they love what “you guys are doing.” Which is nice, even if it is all spam.

I’ve been very busy with a lot of things, Bristol in World War One included. So here’s a story.

One of the things which unarguably put Britain on the side of the Good Guys in WW1 was that it started out trying not to conscript people into the army. It was also the only major combatant to permit conscientious objection to war service, difficult though this process was.

By 1918, though, we had full-blown conscription, and any man of military age who wasn’t in uniform because he was performing some other vital work needed an exemption certificate.

In March 1918 a man was called before the Bristol military service tribunal. He was the male half of a husband-and-wide acrobatic act called The Bells, who were then performing at the Hippodrome.

The man’s solicitor, Mr F.E. Metcalfe, explained that the act had previously been two men, but when one of them was called up to the army, the man had trained his wife to take the man’s place in less than eight weeks.

Naturally, the tribunal wanted to know why on earth a man who was performing as a music hall acrobat wasn’t in the army.

Mr Metcalfe said that his client had made four attempts to join the forces but had been rejected as Grade III – unfit. In desperation, the man, who spoke fluent French and German from his time as a travelling performer, had offered to join the Army as a physical training instructor. This offer, too, had been turned down.

Mr Metcalfe explained that although his client was an accomplished stage gymnast, the Army did not want him because: “He has a fractured skull, due to falling 75 feet whilst performing, a fractured ankle, a loose cartilage, flat feet, and is blind in one eye.

“His father was a gymnast, his grandfather was a gymnast and his brother, who was one of the few cases of a man continuing alive with a broken neck, was also a gymnast.”

The tribunal granted six months’ temporary exemption.



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