In March 1916 the Military Service Act was passed, this imposed conscription on all single men aged between 18 and 41 but exempted the medically unfit, clergymen, teachers and certain classes of industrial worker. Married men of the correct age were exempted until May 1916.
The Wrotham Urban Council held the first Military Service Tribunal in Borough Green during late February 1916. These Tribunals were formed to hear applications for exemption from conscription into the Army, and although not recruiting bodies themselves, played an important part in the conscription process. Many men from Platt were brought before the tribunal by their employers, who often made the case that they were not able to continue business without them. One of these was a groom from Crouch named Alfred Bathurst. In most instances, the men were given a temporary exemption, but eventually found their way into uniform shortly afterwards, Alfred was not so fortunate and was drafted almost immediately after his hearing.
Alfred Bathurst was born in Horsmonden, Kent during 1888, the son of Alfred and Mary Ann Bathurst (née Russell.) He was the sixth of nine children and by 1891 was living at the Blue Boys Gate House in Kippings Cross. By 1901 his family had moved to Winfield Farm in Crouch, and Alfred’s father was working as a horse waggoner.
In 1906 Alfred married Elizabeth Billings and by 1911 three children had been born to the couple. Alfred’s parents had moved away from the area; however he remained in the parish and lived with his in-laws at Ivy Cottage in Crouch.
At the time war broke out, Alfred had been working as both a groom and gardener for Mr Adams of ‘Penilyn’ in Crouch. Smaller households often doubled up on staff to reduce costs, and it seems likely that Mr Adams paid Alfred to look after his horses in addition to maintaining the two acres of land he owned. Alfred would have also acted as a caretaker in his employer’s absence, and lived locally at Bank Cottages in Plaxtol.
On 8 March 1916, Mr Adams, knowing that he was at risk of losing his trusted employee to the war, made an application on behalf of Alfred, asking to exempt him from military service or, at the very least, put him the last group scheduled for conscription. Despite pleading ongoing ill health, and pressing Alfred’s status as an ‘indispensable worker’, the committee was not persuaded and refused the application, commenting that ‘we shall have ten times harder cases than this before us.’
It appears that Alfred was called up shortly afterwards and enlisted with the Army in Tonbridge. As a conscripted man he was not given the choice of which regiment to join and found himself posted to the Cambridgeshire Regiment. Unfortunately, Alfred’s military papers have not survived, however, based on the records of those with similar service numbers, it seems likely he was sent to Halton Park in Tring, where he would have joined the 3/1st Battalion, a reserve unit that fed men into the 1st Battalion, who had been in France since early 1915.