Australia's Prime Minister, William Morris (Billy) Hughes, addressing a large crowd in Brisbane during the conscription referendum campaign (Photo courtesy of the Australian War Memorial - HO2151)

Centenary of Australian WW1 conscription vote

Posted on centenarynews.com on 28 October 2016
Share |

Australians rejected a proposal to introduce compulsory military service overseas in a referendum, or plebiscite, held on 28 October 1916.

Prime Minister Billy Hughes called the vote in response to shortages of men as the First World War went into its third year.

In the wake of the Gallipoli campaign, Australian troops joined the Allied Western Front offensive in the summer of 1916, suffering thousands of casualties at the Battle of the Somme. 

Conscription provoked heated debate, and the Australian Government's move was narrowly defeated. For more, see the Australian War Memorial website.   

Britain, the Commonwealth & Conscription

Unlike the conscript armies of France, Germany and Russia, British and Dominion forces relied on voluntary enlistment at the outset of the Great War, supported by intensive recruiting campaigns.

The UK Government broke with tradition as the need for more men grew increasingly acute, getting legislation through Parliament in January 1916 to introduce the call-up for single men aged 18-41.

Britain's Military Service Act also included the right to claim exemption on grounds of conscience.

*New Zealand passed its own Military Service Act in August 1916 to conscript men aged 20-45.
*The Canadian Government's move to impose conscription in 1917 provoked widespread unrest, with riots in French-speaking Québec City and a general strike in Vancouver in 1918.
*Australian voters again rejected conscription in a second referendum in December 1917.
*Britain's colonial Indian Army remained a volunteer force - more than one million men were deployed overseas in 1914-18.
*British moves to extend conscription to Ireland (then still part of the UK) in 1918 were dropped in the face of nationalist opposition.

Memorial to conscientious objectors, Tavistock Square, London (Photo: Centenary News)

Also in Centenary News:

Conscientious objection & dissent - New Zealand WW1 study

100 Years Ago - Britain introduces conscription

Images courtesy of the Australian War Memorial-HO2151/public domain); Centenary News (conscientious objectors' memorial)

Sources: Australian War Memorial, Wikipedia