Conscription: Great Debates

Conscription: Great Debates book cover

Great Debates is a series designed for teachers to encourage discussion on topics from military history. This debate focuses on the variety of attitudes Australians had toward conscription a century ago.

Series: Great Debates

Arguments against conscription

Private Albert Robert Blackmore

Biography

"When I began to think about the matter the other day I was surprised to discover my own attitude."

Conscription was too late for Private Blackmore, Australians at War, accessed 2 September 2015, http://www.australiansatwar.gov.au/stories/stories_ID=25_war=W1.html

It is early December 1917. Private Albert Blackmore, a well-educated teacher from Tasmania, is serving with the 12th Infantry Battalion on the Western Front. He had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in 1916, embarking for the war on 8 August from Hobart.

Albert is an author, having written a book of poems, Shade & Echo, which has been published. He also has a keen interest in politics, particularly conscription.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Billy Hughes determined it necessary to introduce a referendum on conscription. Falling enlistments and rising casualties, particularly from the fighting on the Western Front, have led to a shortage of reinforcements for the AIF. Hughes has announced the referendum for 20 December. Australians will vote on whether conscripts should be sent to fight overseas.

This is not the first time Hughes has called for a referendum on the issue of conscription. A previous vote was held on 28 October 1916. The referendum was defeated: 49% voted for the proposal, 51% were against. Only a narrow majority of soldiers serving in the AIF voted in favour of compulsory overseas service.

On 29 November 1917, Albert wrote a letter about the coming referendum to his sister, Suzannah, in Australia. He wrote that it was too late for conscription, and that if he were to vote in favour, he would only do so on principle.

The United States has entered the war and is mobilising its forces. The Americans are able to supply more men for the war effort in a shorter period of time than Australia possibly could through conscription.

Source 1.1

To Win the War. AWM RC00328

Source 1.2

'"Then America was neutral and Russia an active ally and we had reason to believe that if the Empire mustered its utmost force we could completely smash Germany's military machine," he wrote. "Today there are not, I think, many soldiers who believe that the war will end by crushing defeats in the field. The view now commonly expressed is that war in the air and the shrinkage of food supplies will be the decisive factor. As the enclosed slip shows, military experts are openly questioning the ability of our battering ram tactics. There are, at least, were, sound reasons for conscription but I do not think true the assertion that it will make our lot lighter. The more quickly our battalions are filled the more stunts [battles] we shall do.

"As for the argument that we must do our utmost while America is getting ready, I confess I don't understand it. Troops can reach here from America in a few days; it took us several weeks. Or is it supposed that an unwilling Australian conscript needs less training than a Yankee? It is all too true, I fear, that the next three or four months will be a period to test our endurance and power more severely perhaps than they have even yet been tested. It seems reasonable to suppose that Germany will make one great final effort before America can throw her full weight into the balance. "Well, what can the referendum do? Can it give us a single man more in the trenches within that period? Later? Yes, later there are America's millions. Do you think a few paltry thousand unwarlike Australians will really matter then? Conscription is too late. If I should end by voting for it, it will be purely for its moral effect – now that the beastly question has been raised again. But it is my present judgement that if Australia makes this sacrifice now she will make it to little purpose. And she has done well. Already we have lost more men than the whole Empire did in the South African War – when according to the Jingoes "all the world wondered" at our mighty army. I would vote gladly enough for conscription if it would end the war by a day or send back to Australia the men who have been in it all through; but it will do neither.

"Again, the more one sees of militarism the more one hates, fears and distrusts it. Voluntary as it is, our army is steadily and surely undergoing the process of Tommification. I confess the idea of being confused with conscripts is much more repugnant than it was a year ago. It is something to retain – not liberty, we lost that when we enlisted – but the last faint rays of its halo. Defeat is the one curse worse than conscription.

"Well, I've inflicted an awful lot of stuff on you. My apologies; but writing helps one untangle one's ideas. When I began to think about the matter the other day I was surprised to discover my own attitude."'

A letter from Private Blackmore to his sister, written on 29 November 1917.

Conscription was too late for Private Blackmore, Australians at War, Department of Veterans' Affairs, accessed 2 September 2015, http://www.australiansatwar.gov.au/stories/stories_ID=25_war=W1.html

Source 1.3

An extract from Private Albert Blackmore's service record.

National Archives of Australia, NAA: B2455, BLACKMORE A (pages 7-9)
http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=3088691

Think about how Private Blackmore's service experience might have influenced his thinking on conscription.

Source 1.4

Quick! AWM ARTV05294

Source 1.5

A bar graph with 2 bars comparing casualties at gallipoli to the Western front

The heaviest Australian casualties were suffered in the fighting on the Western Front.

Based on Campaign casualty statistics – First World War (Australia), Australian War Memorial, accessed 2 September 2015, https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/statistics_table.asp#casualty.

Source 1.6

Black and white conscription leaflet. "SINGLE MEN. CONSCRIPTION [GUN]. WHO NEXT?" AWM RC00339

Archbishop Daniel Mannix

Biography

"Every man, woman and child should throw themselves into the fight in the next few weeks against conscription."

Archbishop Daniel Mannix. (AWM P01383.001)

It is November 1917. Daniel Mannix was appointed Archbishop of Melbourne in May. In the same month, Billy Hughes was re-elected Prime Minister of Australia. During the election campaign, Mannix claimed Hughes would try to introduce conscription if re-elected. This has turned out to be true. Hughes has announced another referendum for 20 December. Australians are to vote again on whether or not conscripts should be compelled to fight overseas.

This is the second time a referendum has been called on the issue of conscription. The first referendum was held on 28 October 1916. The referendum was defeated: 49% voted for the proposal, 51% were against. In the aftermath, Hughes split from the Labor Party. He partly blamed Irish-Catholics for the defeat, claiming later that 'the Irish question is at the bottom of all our difficulties in Australia'.

There has been some underlying animosity between Australians of Irish and English descent. In 1916, the British Army violently suppressed a rebellion in Ireland, executing the leaders. This worsened an already difficult relationship. Mannix was outraged by the actions of the British and used the growing anti-British sentiment amongst the Irish-Catholic community to influence the vote against conscription.

Although Mannix opposes conscription, he supports the war effort and the troops who have volunteered for service. He is only against conscription. Australia has already contributed a substantial number of men through its volunteer system, especially considering the size of the nation. In Mannix's view, contributing more would not be in the nation's best interests.

Source 1.1

'If you think Australia demands you should vote for conscription, do so. If you think it would not be good for Australia, then my advice is you should vote against it. That is what I hope every one of you will do to those have unfortunately brought this question up again. But if you are going to keep Australia free from conscription, if you are going to keep this military slavery outside Australia, you must leave no stone unturned. Others have money, but you have votes. They will spend their money lavishly in order to carry this vote. If you are lethargic they will carry it against you.

Every man, woman and child should throw themselves into the fight in the next few weeks against conscription.'

ARCHBISHOP MANNIX IN THE FRAY. (1917, November 16). The Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser (NSW: 1886 - 1942), p. 2. Retrieved September 8, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article125931449

Source 1.2

'For a Catholic Archbishop to lead his flock along the paths of sedition is to disobey the clearest teachings of the Catholic Church. Obedience to, and loyal co-operation with, duly constituted authority and all its lawful commands (for there is of course a domain of conscience where no human laws can intrude) is by her most earnestly instilled. The political entity to which we belong is the Empire, of which we are a part as essentially as Victoria is a part of Australia, and as Melbourne is a part of Victoria, and as Archbishop Mannix is a part of Melbourne. The final issue of such teaching is that a man may put himself before his country and as such a man we call a traitor. He may do so, if he chooses, but let there be no mistake about it, the Catholic of the British Empire who tramples the Empire underfoot tramples upon the teachings of his Church with it.'

JUDGE HEYDON'S LETTER. (1917, November 23). Daily Observer (Tamworth, NSW: 1917 - 1920), p. 3.
Retrieved September 8, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article103736638

Source 1.3

'In no circumstances would I agree to send men out of this country to fight against their will. If the day ever comes when men will not fight when their country is at death grips, it will be because the country is rotten to the core, and not worth fighting for. If the enemy comes here it will not be a question of conscription at all, for every one, young and old, must take what comes to his hand, and die, if need be, in the attempt to defend the country.'

William Morris Hughes, Speech to the House of Representatives, 16 July 1915. Commonwealth of Australia Parliamentary Debates, [accessed 07 September 2015]
http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/genpdf/hansard80/hansardr80/1915-07-16/0141/hansard_frag.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf

Source 1.4

Not lies, but-?, State Library of Victoria, accessed 2 September 2015, http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/165231

Source 1.5

A bar graph with 2 bars comparing casualties at gallipoli to the Western front

The heaviest Australian casualties were suffered in the fighting on the Western Front.

Based on Campaign casualty statistics – First World War (Australia), Australian War Memorial, accessed 2 September 2015, https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/statistics_table.asp#casualty.

Source 1.6

'But, for myself, it will take a good deal to convince me that conscription in Australia would not cause more evil than it would avert. (Applause.) I honestly believe that Australia has done her full share and more, and that she cannot reasonably be expected to bear the financial strain and the drain upon her manhood that conscription would involve. (Applause.) If conscription were adopted I should expect to find later on that many who are now its loudest advocates would be the first to rise up against the taxation necessary to redeem our obligations to the returned soldiers or to their widows or orphans or dependants in case the soldiers gave their lives on the battlefield…I think I can say that I have read most of the appeals that have been made for conscription in Australia. But in spite of these eloquent and impassioned appeals my common sense will not allow me to believe that the addition of 100,000 or 200,000 conscript Australians to the 15,000,000 of fighting men that the Allies have at their disposal could be a deciding factor or even a substantial factor in the issue of war.'

Address given by Daniel Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne, September 1916

ANTI-CONSCRIPTION. (1916, September 18). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848 - 1957), p. 6. Retrieved June 10, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1606798

Tom Barker

Biography

"I would not like to have as many murders on my conscience as the politicians who have attempted to force conscription on this country."

Thomas Barker. Ref: 1/2-019136-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23067556

It is November 1917. Tom Barker, an organiser for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a radical international labour union, has been imprisoned for violating the War Precautions Act. Barker came to Sydney in early 1914 and began writing for the IWW's paper, Direct Action. By the end of the year, he had become the editor. A fierce opponent of the war, he sees it as workers fighting workers for the benefit of the wealthy.

In 1917, Prime Minister Billy Hughes determined it necessary to introduce a second referendum on conscription. Falling enlistments and rising casualties, particularly from the fighting on the Western Front, have led to a shortage of reinforcements for the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Hughes has announced a referendum on the issue for 20 December. Australians will vote on whether conscripts should be sent to fight overseas.

This is not the first time Hughes has tried to introduce conscription. On 28 October 1916, the first referendum on conscription was held. It was defeated: 49% voted for the proposal, 51% were against. Only a narrow majority of soldiers serving in the AIF voted in favour of compulsory overseas service.

Early in the war, Barker created a famous poster (see Source 1.1, p. 5) for the anti-conscription and anti- war campaigns. In September 1915, he was charged with hindering recruiting efforts. He eventually escaped the charges on a technicality.

In the aftermath of the first conscription referendum, the IWW was declared unlawful. Barker, however, continued to push the anti-conscription message. In 1917, in the lead up to the referendum, Barker was imprisoned again but this time he was unable to escape the charges.

Source 1.1

Used with permission of the Industrial Workers of the World. http://www.iww.org/history/biography/TomBarker/1

Source 1.2

'Australian Labor Party', leaflet produced by the Anti-Conscription Campaign Committee. (AWM RC00336)

Source 1.3

'In no circumstances would I agree to send men out of this country to fight against their will. If the day ever comes when men will not fight when their country is at deathgrips, it will be because the country is rotten to the core, and not worth fighting for. If the enemy comes here it will not be a question of conscription at all, for every one, young and old, must take what comes to his hand, and die, if need be, in the attempt to defend the country.'

William Morris Hughes, Speech to the House of Representatives, 16 July 1915. Commonwealth of Australia Parliamentary Debates, Accessed 07 September 2015. http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/genpdf/hansard80/hansardr80/1915-07-16/0141/hansard_frag.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf

Source 1.4

Black and white conscription leaflet. "SINGLE MEN. CONSCRIPTION [GUN]. WHO NEXT?" AWM RC00339

Source 1.5

A bar graph chart with 4 bars and years under the x-axis and numbers in the y-axis

In 1917 Britain sought a sixth division for active service. In order to meet this request, Australia needed 7,000 volunteers per month. However, the number of volunteers in 1917 was failing to meet this target.

Based on Enlistment statistics, First World War, Australian War Memorial, accessed 3 September 2015

https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/enlistment/ww1/#year.

Source 1.6

'"They talk of conspiracy," cried Barker vehemently, "Who are the conspirators? Hughes and Pearce! They took the children years ago to make them conscripts. They talk of murder!

I would not like to have as many murders on my conscience as the politicians who have attempted to force conscription on this country."'

Defence Agitation. (1917, January 20). Direct Action (Sydney, NSW: 1914 - 1930), p. 1. Retrieved September 3, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article111352231

Vida Goldstein

Biography

"For the first time, in history, the people of a whole nation are being asked whether they shall declare their allegiance to the force of Might or the force of Right."

Miles Franklin (left) and Vida Goldstein (right), State Library of Victoria, accessed 3 September 2015, http://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/image/miles-franklin-vida-goldstein

It is November 1917. Vida Goldstein is a well-known speaker, writer, and political activist, who is heavily involved in the women's suffrage movement. She was one of four women who were the first to stand for election in a national parliament in the British Empire. She is a pacifist and has argued against the war since its beginning.

In 1915, she had co-founded the Women's Peace Army; an association that rallies women who oppose the war.

In 1917, Prime Minister Billy Hughes determined it necessary to introduce a referendum on conscription. Falling enlistments and rising casualties, particularly from the fighting on the Western Front, have led to a shortage of reinforcements for the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Hughes has announced a referendum on the issue for 20 December. Australians will vote on whether conscripts should be sent to fight overseas.

This is not the first time Hughes has tried to introduce conscription. On 28 October 1916, the first referendum on conscription was held. It was defeated: 49% voted for the proposal, 51% were against. Only a small majority of soldiers serving in the AIF voted in favour of compulsory overseas service.

The Women's Peace Army (WPA), which has the motto 'We war against war', has participated in the campaigns against conscription in the lead-up to both referendums. Their public meetings are popular and at times controversial, often stirring heated debate. The WPA demonstrates publicly for peace, backs parliamentary candidates who are pro-peace, and helps people who have suffered because of the war.

Source 1.1

'Australian Labor Party', leaflet produced by the Anti-Conscription Campaign Committee. (AWM RC00336)

Source 1.2

'WOMEN of AUSTRALIA! On October 28 we shall have laid upon us the greatest responsibility and the greatest privilege that could be placed upon the women of any country.

For the first time, in history, the people of a whole nation are being asked whether they shall declare their allegiance to the force of Might or the force of Right.'

Manifesto, Australian Women's Peace Army/ Vida Goldstein, State Library of Victoria, accessed 08 September 2015, http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/162336.

Source 1.3

'In no circumstances would I agree to send men out of this country to fight against their will. If the day ever comes when men will not fight when their country is at deathgrips, it will be because the country is rotten to the core, and not worth fighting for. If the enemy comes here it will not be a question of conscription at all, for every one, young and old, must take what comes to his hand, and die, if need be, in the attempt to defend the country.'

William Morris Hughes, Speech to the House of Representatives, 16 July 1915. Commonwealth of Australia Parliamentary Debates, [accessed 07 September 2015]
http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/genpdf/hansard80/hansardr80/1915-07-16/0141/hansard_frag.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf

Source 1.4

AWM RC00335. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RC00335/

Source 1.5

A bar graph chart with 4 bars and years under the x-axis and numbers in the y-axis

In 1917 Britain sought a sixth division for active service. In order to meet this request, Australia needed 7,000 volunteers per month. However, the number of volunteers in 1917 was failing to meet this target.

Based on Enlistment statistics, First World War, Australian War Memorial, accessed 3 September 2015

https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/enlistment/ww1/#year.

Source 1.6

'"We are delighted to announce that Miss Goldstein has accepted the invitation of the W.P.A., and will be a candiate for the Senate. There is no one in public life in Australia who has better right to be in the Senate than Miss Goldstein. From the inception of her public career, she has never wavered from principle; she has fought in season and out of season for justice for women, for children , for the people; she was the first person in public life in this state who had the moral courage to delcare that war could not possibly settle any moral principle, and that the negotiation which would have to be invoked to end the war should have been invoked to try and prevent it. She and her associates made possible and led the fight against consciption. She is a non-party politician, and is therefore more entitled than anyone else to a seat in the House that was constituted as a non-party House – the Senate."'

Miss Vida Goldstein. (1917, March 15). Woman Voter (Melbourne, Vic.: 1911 - 1919), p. 3. Retrieved September 3, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article171815264

Arguments for conscription

Prime Minister William Morris (Billy) Hughes

Biography

"Don't leave the boys in the trenches. Don't see them butchered. Don't leave them below their strength or you will cover Australia with shame."

William Morris (Billy) Hughes. AWM H16071

It is November 1917. Billy Hughes was re-elected Prime Minister of Australia in May. During the election campaign, Hughes promised not to revisit the conscription issue unless Germany looked like prevailing in the war. However, after requests from Britain for another Australian division, falling enlistments and Hughes' belief in the possibility of a German victory, he has announced another referendum on conscription. .

Hughes has announced the referendum for 20 December. Australians are to vote on whether or not conscripts should be sent to a war outside of the Commonwealth.

This is not the first time Hughes has called for a referendum on the issue. A previous vote was held on 28 October 1916. The referendum was defeated: 49% voted for the proposal, 51% were against. Most disappointingly for Hughes, only a small majority of soldiers serving in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) voted in favour of compulsory overseas service.

In the aftermath of the first referendum, Hughes was expelled from the Labor Party – the issue had split the party. However, Hughes had many colleagues who still supported both him and the need for compulsion. These men left the party with Hughes and formed a new cabinet. Later, they merged with the Opposition, into the Nationalist Party of Australia. Hughes called an election for 5 May 1917; the Nationalists won the majority of seats in both Houses of Government.

Hughes had long been sympathetic towards Australian soldiers. In June 1916, he visited Australian troops on the Western Front. After meeting the men, he became particularly concerned about their welfare. Not only were they suffering severe casualties and enduring terrible living conditions, but they were also understrength. The military leadership also informed Hughes of coming offensives in which the Australians were likely to suffer even more casualties.

Source 1.1

AWM ARTV00139. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/ARTV00139/

Unlike most other armies of the First World War, the AIF was manned entirely by volunteers.

While Australia did have a form of conscription, these conscripts could not be sent overseas to serve.

Source 1.2

'Don't leave the boys in the trenches. Don't see them butchered. Don't leave them below their strength or you will cover Australia with shame.'

William Morris Hughes, Prime Minister of Australia, to the Australian Labor Party Caucus, c. 1916, Conscription during the First World War, Museum of Australian Democracy, http://billyhughes.moadoph.gov.au/conscription

Source 1.3

'The people of Australia have decided that they will not resort to compulsion to fill the ranks of the Australian divisions at the front. The Government accepts the verdict of the people as given on October 28 last. It will not enforce nor attempt to enforce conscription, either by regulation or statute, during the life of the forthcoming Parliament. If, however, national safety demands it, the question will again be referred to the people. That is the policy of the Government on the great question. It is clear and definite.

The Government accepts the verdict of the electors on October 28, and appeals to the patriotism of the people to uphold the honour of Australia by maintaining the Australian divisions at their full fighting strength by voluntary enlistment.

It appeals to the manhood of Australia to strike a blow for this their country. It appeals to every lover of liberty who is fit to take his place in the ranks to go and stand by the side of those heroic men whose glorious deeds gain them fresh laurels every passing day. It appeals to every loyal Australian not to let the supreme sacrifice made by the thousands of young Australian lads who have offered up their lives on the altar of their country be in vain.'

William Morris Hughes, Prime Minister of Australia, speech as part of the election campaign delivered in Bendigo, Victoria, 27 March 1917, in Australian Federal Election Speeches, Museum of Australian Democracy
http://electionspeeches.moadoph.gov.au/speeches/1917-billy-hughes

Source 1.4

Proclamation for the second and final Australian conscription referendum. AWM ARTV08888

Source 1.5

A bar graph chart with 4 bars and years under the x-axis and numbers in the y-axis

In 1917 Britain sought a sixth division for active service. In order to meet this request, Australia needed 7,000 volunteers per month. However, the number of volunteers in 1917 was failing to meet this target.

Based on Enlistment statistics, First World War, Australian War Memorial, accessed 3 September 2015

https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/enlistment/ww1/#year.

Source 1.6

"Early this year the Prime Minister promised Australia that the question of compulsary service overseas would not be reopened unless the tide of battle, which was then flowing strongly for the Allies, turned against them. To obtain release from their pledge to the electors the Government are bound to show that this set-back has occurred, and whether or not the Prime Minister at Bendigo took rather too gloomy a view of the Russian situation and the Italian reverses, or failed to make sufficent allowance for the compensation afforded by the adhesion of America to the cause of the Allies, it is certain that the change in war situation is so grave as to warrant another appeal to the patriotism of the Commonwealth."

The Chronicle. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 1917. (1917, November 17). Chronicle (Adelaide, SA: 1895 - 1954), p. 30. Retrieved June 10, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article87410856

Private James Edward Allen

Biography

"So I think the referendum as good as law."

Australian soldiers line up to vote on conscription, Western Front, 8 December 1917. AWM E01605

It is June 1917. James Allen, a 31-year-old farmer and grazier from Gin Gin, Queensland, is serving on the Western Front with the 49th Infantry Battalion. The Australian Imperial Force (AIF) has been suffering heavy casualties and enlistments have been falling, leading to a shortage of reinforcements.

The AIF relies solely on volunteers to fill its ranks. Prime Minister Billy Hughes has determined it necessary to introduce a referendum on conscription to address the shortage of men. Hughes has announced the referendum for 20 December, so that Australians can vote on whether conscripts should be sent to war outside the Commonwealth.

This is not the first time Hughes has called for a referendum on the issue. A previous vote was held in October 1916.

Around the same time, James was preparing to embark for the war. He and some fellow soldiers were in Sydney when they came across an anti-conscription rally. They attacked the meeting and 'routed' it (broke it up). Two days later, he departed Sydney to reinforce the AIF on the Western Front.

On 28 October 1916, Australians voted on conscription. The proposal was defeated: 49% voted in favour, 51% were against. Only a narrow majority of soldiers serving in the AIF voted for compulsory overseas service.

James frequently writes letters to his brother, William, in Australia telling him about life on the front. The Allies do not seem to be making any ground, despite the heavy casualties. On 4 June 1917, James writes that he will soon be part of a large offensive on the front. He is killed in action on 7 June 1917. James does not live to vote in the second referendum.

Source 1.1

The German Placard Hoisted after the last Referendum. AWM RC00322

Source 1.2

'[The boys] started operations in a minor way last night by charging an anti-conscriptionist meeting. A fair fight followed, but the civies hadn't a possible [chance] though they resorted to diabolical hun methods. Throwing hot ashes and vitriol, some of our lads got burnt a bit, but routed the meeting. On the other hand, Hughes P.M. got a magnificent reception, every conceivable place was packed and the meeting was very orderly. So I think the referendum as good as law.'

A letter from Private Allen to his brother, written on 5 October 1916. AWM 1DRL/0027

See also, "From your dead soldier son": the conscription referenda 1916–17, Australian War Memorial, accessed 4 September 2015, https://www.awm.gov.au/blog/2013/11/25/from-your-dead-soldier-son/

Source 1.3

'The people of Australia have decided that they will not resort to compulsion to fill the ranks of the Australian divisions at the front. The Government accepts the verdict of the people as given on October 28 last. It will not enforce nor attempt to enforce conscription, either by regulation or statute, during the life of the forthcoming Parliament. If, however, national safety demands it, the question will again be referred to the people. That is the policy of the Government on the great question. It is clear and definite.

The Government accepts the verdict of the electors on October 28, and appeals to the patriotism of the people to uphold the honour of Australia by maintaining the Australian divisions at their full fighting strength by voluntary enlistment.

It appeals to the manhood of Australia to strike a blow for this their country. It appeals to every lover of liberty who is fit to take his place in the ranks to go and stand by the side of those heroic men whose glorious deeds gain them fresh laurels every passing day. It appeals to every loyal Australian not to let the supreme sacrifice made by the thousands of young Australian lads who have offered up their lives on the altar of their country be in vain.'

William Morris Hughes, Prime Minister of Australia, speech as part of the election campaign delivered in Bendigo, Victoria, 27 March 1917, in Australian Federal Election Speeches, Museum of Australian Democracy
http://electionspeeches.moadoph.gov.au/speeches/1917-billy-hughes

Source 1.4

Reinforcements. AWM RC00323

Source 1.5

A bar graph with 2 bars comparing casualties at gallipoli to the Western front

The heaviest Australian casualties were suffered in the fighting on the Western Front.

Based on Campaign casualty statistics – First World War (Australia), Australian War Memorial, accessed 2 September 2015, https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/statistics_table.asp#casualty.

Source 1.6

Conscription, what it means: Vote Yes for the honour of Australia, State Library of NSW, http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/album/albumView.aspx?itemID=1358197&acmsid=0

Canon Joseph Pike

Biography

"…why should I associate with these … when I can associate with men who are with the war workers for the vindication of the greatest cause the world has ever known."

The Kangaroos marching to Sydney. AWM H16093

It is November 1917. Canon Joseph Pike, a clergyman in Wagga Wagga, is busy working hard for the war effort, recruiting men of military age from the local area.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Billy Hughes determined it necessary to introduce a referendum on conscription. Falling enlistments and rising casualties have led to a shortage of reinforcements for the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Hughes has announced a referendum for 20 December. Australians will vote on whether conscripts can be sent to fight overseas.

Pike is pro-conscription, although he has not always been. In early 1916, he was a strong supporter of recruiting efforts but he did not support conscription as it went against his principles. He was a supporter of the war but opposed to conscription. He was a strong backer of the 'Kangaroos' recruiting march, a march that left Wagga Wagga by foot, recruiting men for the war effort on the way to Sydney.

By the time of the first conscription referendum, Pike had changed his mind. The referendum was held on 28 October 1916. It was defeated: 49% voted for the proposal, 51% were against. Only a narrow majority of soldiers serving in the AIF voted in favour of compulsory overseas service.

In the aftermath of the referendum, Pike continued his recruiting efforts by delivering patriotic speeches to local school children and the general public.

Source 1.1

Quick! AWM ARTV05294

Source 1.2

Canon Pike invited people to walk the length of the town and "make a note of all kinds of men in Baylis and Fitzmaurice streets. Then for comparative purposes mark off the names of those men who were making personal service in the cause of the nation, and leave the others who were not making any personal service blank. " and to later ask themselves "why should I associate with these last when I can associate with men who are with the war workers for the vindication of the greatest cause the world has ever known."

RECRUITING. (1917, January 29). Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, NSW: 1911 - 1954), p. 4. Retrieved September 4, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article142333060

Source 1.3

'The people of Australia have decided that they will not resort to compulsion to fill the ranks of the Australian divisions at the front. The Government accepts the verdict of the people as given on October 28 last. It will not enforce nor attempt to enforce conscription, either by regulation or statute, during the life of the forthcoming Parliament. If, however, national safety demands it, the question will again be referred to the people. That is the policy of the Government on the great question. It is clear and definite.

The Government accepts the verdict of the electors on October 28, and appeals to the patriotism of the people to uphold the honour of Australia by maintaining the Australian divisions at their full fighting strength by voluntary enlistment.

It appeals to the manhood of Australia to strike a blow for this their country. It appeals to every lover of liberty who is fit to take his place in the ranks to go and stand by the side of those heroic men whose glorious deeds gain them fresh laurels every passing day. It appeals to every loyal Australian not to let the supreme sacrifice made by the thousands of young Australian lads who have offered up their lives on the altar of their country be in vain.'

William Morris Hughes, Prime Minister of Australia, speech as part of the election campaign delivered in Bendigo, Victoria, 27 March 1917, in Australian Federal Election Speeches, Museum of Australian Democracy
http://electionspeeches.moadoph.gov.au/speeches/1917-billy-hughes

Source 1.4

The voice of the tempter. AWM ARTV10140

Source 1.5

A bar graph with 2 bars comparing casualties at gallipoli to the Western front

The heaviest Australian casualties were suffered in the fighting on the Western Front.

Based on Campaign casualty statistics – First World War (Australia), Australian War Memorial, accessed 2 September 2015, https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/statistics_table.asp#casualty.

Pro-conscription propaganda leaflet by Edward Nuttall AWM RC00320

Mrs Kitty Brill

Biography

"Shall "stay-at-homes" do naught but snivel and but sigh?" – A Little Mother

Jim Brill’s Rising Sun hat badge, damaged by shrapnel.

It is December 1917. Mrs Kitty Brill has just received an anonymously sent copy of the anti-conscription leaflet, 'The Blood Vote', from someone in a nearby town. A message, 'from your dead soldier son', is handwritten on the back. Mrs Brill has been targeted because she is thought to be in favour of conscription.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Billy Hughes decided it necessary to introduce a referendum on conscription to address the shortfall of new recruits for the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). He announced the referendum for 20 December. Australians will vote on whether conscripts can be sent to fight overseas.

This is not the first time Hughes has called for a referendum on conscription. A previous vote was held on 28 October 1916. It was defeated: 49% voted for the proposal, 51% were against. Only a narrow majority of soldiers serving in the AIF voted in favour of compulsory overseas service.

On 14 March 1917, one of Mrs Brill's sons, Jim, was killed by a shell on the Western Front. In November, she received his personal belongings, some of which were damaged by shrapnel. Her other son, Les, is still serving on the Western Front, having previously participated in Gallipoli campaign. He was awarded the Military Medal for bravery.

Mrs Brill recently asked a local newspaper to print a letter called 'A Little Mother'. It was originally published in a British newspaper and is critical of those who are not willing to serve in the war. The local paper published it on 14 December and, in so doing, publicly aligned Mrs Brill with pro-conscriptionists, less than a week before the second referendum.

Source 1.1

'The blood vote', leaflet drawn by Claude Marquet, with a poem by WR Winspear. (AWM RC00337)

'The blood vote', leaflet drawn by Claude Marquet, with a poem by WR Winspear. (AWM RC00337)

Source 1.2

A Little Mother

Tommy Atkins to the front,

He has gone to bear the brunt.

Shall "stay-at-homes" do naught but

snivel and but sigh?

No, while your eyes are filling

We are up and doing, willing

To face the music with you – or to die!


"From your dead soldier son": the conscription referenda 1916–17, Australian War Memorial, accessed 4 September 2015, https://www.awm.gov.au/blog/2013/11/25/from-your-dead-soldier-son/

Source 1.3

'The people of Australia have decided that they will not resort to compulsion to fill the ranks of the Australian divisions at the front. The Government accepts the verdict of the people as given on October 28 last. It will not enforce nor attempt to enforce conscription, either by regulation or statute, during the life of the forthcoming Parliament. If, however, national safety demands it, the question will again be referred to the people. That is the policy of the Government on the great question. It is clear and definite.

The Government accepts the verdict of the electors on October 28, and appeals to the patriotism of the people to uphold the honour of Australia by maintaining the Australian divisions at their full fighting strength by voluntary enlistment.

It appeals to the manhood of Australia to strike a blow for this their country. It appeals to every lover of liberty who is fit to take his place in the ranks to go and stand by the side of those heroic men whose glorious deeds gain them fresh laurels every passing day. It appeals to every loyal Australian not to let the supreme sacrifice made by the thousands of young Australian lads who have offered up their lives on the altar of their country be in vain.'

William Morris Hughes, Prime Minister of Australia, speech as part of the election campaign delivered in Bendigo, Victoria, 27 March 1917, in Australian Federal Election Speeches, Museum of Australian Democracy
http://electionspeeches.moadoph.gov.au/speeches/1917-billy-hughes

Source 1.4

The voice of the tempter. AWM ARTV10140

Source 1.5

A bar graph chart with 4 bars and years under the x-axis and numbers in the y-axis

In 1917 Britain sought a sixth division for active service. In order to meet this request, Australia needed 7,000 volunteers per month. However, the number of volunteers in 1917 was failing to meet this target.

Based on Enlistment statistics, First World War, Australian War Memorial, accessed 3 September 2015

https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/enlistment/ww1/#year.

Source 1.6

A Mother's Lament. RC00318

Source Analysis Worksheet

Source What is the source? Who created it? What information does the source provide? What argument does this provide your character? What questions are you left asking?
         
         
         
         

Glossary of terms

conscription A policy that compels citizens of a nation into military service.
referendum A public vote called by the government to approve a change to the Australian Constitution. The 1916 and 1917 referenda were in fact plebiscites. A plebiscite, also known as an advisory referendum, is used to decide a national question that does not affect the Constitution. It can be used to test whether the government has sufficient support from the people to go ahead with a proposed action.
Western Front A series of trenches running from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border, seperating the Allied and Central Powers in the First World War.
suffrage The right or privilege of voting.

Teacher's Guide

Introduction

Great Debates: Conscription is designed for teachers and students of Year 9 Australian Curriculum: Humanities and Social Sciences. It enables them to investigate the variety of attitudes Australians had toward conscription a century ago.

While an event may be significant in our nation's history, it will not always be of interest to young students. This resource is intended to engage students with, as well as educate them about, our political and wartime history.

Learning approach

Great Debates: Conscription is modelled on inquiry-based learning. It adopts a debate format using role-play of key characters. Students are not given the information synthesised but rather they are provided with primary and secondary sources to investigate from the perspective of an individual. Students must examine the evidence to ascertain what their character would most likely have felt about conscription.

Lesson structure

The amount of time that this unit of work takes will vary but teachers could expect it to take 4–7 lessons of 45-minutes duration.

In the first lesson, it is recommended that students be given time to analyse their sources. They should do this in teams of four. Another lesson may be provided so that students can conduct further research.

Part of a lesson should be dedicated to discussing the procedures of a debate and the qualities of a good argument. Students can also be given the assessment rubric to see how they will be assessed. For the remainder of the lesson it is suggested they be given some time to plan their debate as a team.

Students may be given a lesson to compile their arguments for the debate, or this could be given as a homework task. Students should have an opportunity to discuss their completed debates with their fellow team members and to make adjustments.

The final lesson could include conducting the debate, discussing the results, and exploring the debrief questions.

Links to the Australian Curriculum

This resource is aligned with the Year 9 Australian Curriculum: Humanities and Social Sciences (History) focus, 'The Making of the Modern World', specifically Depth Study 3: World War I (1914–1918), providing:

  • An overview of the causes of World War I and the reasons why men enlisted to fight in the war (ACDSEH021)
  • The places where Australians fought and the nature of warfare during World War I, including the Gallipoli campaign (ACDSEH095)
  • The impact of World War I, with a particular emphasis on Australia including the changing role of women (ACDSEH096)

Structure and components of this resource

This resource is available as both a PDF and Word document on the Anzac Portal at anzacportal.dva.gov.au.

Advice to teachers

This section provides teachers with the overarching inquiry question and debate topic, with guidance and suggestions for conducting the investigation and debate.

Background

This section provides teachers with a brief historical context on the conscription debates in Australia during the First World War. Teachers may choose to share this information with the students – however, students should first form their own conclusions based on analysis of the sources provided.

Assessment Rubrics

Two rubrics are included in this resource. The first is designed for teachers to assess students' performance.

The second is designed so that students can conduct a peer assesment. This is used to inform the vote that they cast and to avoid votes being cast based on popularity, rather than the quality of argument.

Debrief

This section provides guidance for the teacher on how to end the activity and includes some questions for further exploration.

Character folders

There are eight roles to be played in the debate: four in favour of the proposal and four against.

Biographies

This section provides a brief biography of the character to further students' understanding of them and the opinions they were likely to have held.

Sources

Each character has six sources for students to investigate. These include speeches, excerpts from newspaper articles, graphs, political cartoons, propaganda posters and significant quotes.

The students' investigations are scaffolded by the 'Source Analysis Worksheet'. The questions are designed to help students form conclusions related to the debate topic.

Debate Topic

The second conscription referendum question as posed to Australians on 20 December 1917:

Are you in favour of the proposal of the Commonwealth Government for reinforcing the Australian Imperial Force overseas?

Advice to teachers

  1. Before commencing work with the students, read the background information. Let the students complete the debate before sharing this information with them.
  2. Split your class into teams of four and distribute a character folder to each student.
  3. Ask students to fill out the 'Source Analysis Worksheet'. This is located at the front of each character profile to assist in their investigation and note-taking on their character.
  4. Discuss with students what they have learned from the sources in relation to the referendum question.
  5. You may choose to give students further time to research their characters.
  6. Discuss how debates are conducted with students. See Helpsheet: Effective debating (used with permission of the Teaching and Learning Unit, University of Melbourne) for more information on running debates.
  7. Give students time to work in their team and formulate a general idea of the arguments they will each deliver.
  8. Give students time to write their arguments.
  9. Allow students to consult with their team and make final changes.
  10. Conduct the debate. Students who are watching can use the rubrics to help guide their voting.
  11. Go through the questions in the 'Debrief' section.

Background

Before the First World War began, Australia already had compulsory military training and service. Military service within Australia was compulsory for all males between eighteen and sixty years of age.

At the outbreak of war, enlistment numbers were high. Recruiting standards were strict and some volunteers were rejected.

As the war progressed, the number of casualties began to increase. This coincided with a decrease in the number of new enlistments. The Australian Imperial Force (AIF) began to accept those who had previously been rejected but still failed to meet recruiting targets.

By 1916, the AIF was struggling to maintain the full strength of its divisions. To reinforce the troops at the front, Prime Minister William Morris 'Billy' Hughes determined it necessary to introduce a referendum asking the people if they would agree to compulsory military service outside Australia.

The referendum was held on 28 October 1916. The referendum was defeated by a narrow margin: 49% were in favour, while 51% were against. The AIF voted 'yes' by a narrow majority.

The referendum divided the Australian community and split the Australian Labor Party.

In the aftermath, the Labor caucus passed a vote of no-confidence in Hughes as leader. He left the party with some of his supporters, creating the National Labor Party, later merging with the Liberal Party to form the Nationalist Party. Winning the next election in 1917, Hughes promised not to introduce conscription again, unless Germany looked like prevailing in the war. In November 1917, this seemed possible so Hughes announced another referendum for December.

The lead-up to the second referendum was just as divisive as the first for the Australian community. It was held on 20 December 1917. Australians, again, voted 'No'. This time, slightly more people voted against the proposal.

Debrief

Following the debate, reveal the outcome of the actual referendum of 1917 to students – you may decide to read the 'Background' to them – and discuss the following questions:

  • How might Australians vote on a conscription referendum today?
  • What people/groups of people would be for or against conscription?
  • What arguments would they make to support their positions?

Rubrics

Teacher

  Criteria/Grade A B C D E
Quality of Argument
  • proposes and delivers logically structured arguments supporting for/against conscription
  • addresses the overarching inquiry question
  • includes a clear supporting example
  • anticipates possible arguments from the opposition and presents rebuttal points.

Proposes an argument that addresses the inquiry and all of the elements of a successful argument

Proposes an argument that addresses the inquiry and most of the criteria

Proposes an argument that addresses the inquiry and is supported by an example

Proposes an argument but does not address the overarching inquiry and/or lacks logical structure, supporting example, or clarity

Does not propose an argument

Quality of Research

  • uses source material to support arguments
  • includes statistical information, facts and events from the period of debate

Goes beyond the provided sources and integrates own research in supporting their arguments

Makes use of multiple sources, including facts, events and/or perspectives to support arguments

Makes use of multiple sources

Makes use of only one source

Does not use source material or research information

Quality of Teamwork

  • makes use of the 'Team Line', the connecting thread, for a coherent and connected team argument

Arguments all connected under the 'Team Line'; arguments complement each other

Arguments all connected under the 'Team Line

Arguments are connected but the team lacks coherency overall

One or more arguments are not connected to the others

No collaboration evident; arguments are completely disconnected

Quality of Presentation

  • uses body language, eye contact and visual aids to convince the audience
  • speaks clearly and fluently with appropriate volume and pace
  • uses vocal expression
  • uses rhetorical language to emphasise points
  • uses palm cards with notes

Meets all the elements of quality presentation

Meets most elements of quality presentation

Meets multiple elements of quality presentation

Only meets one element of quality presentation

No evidence of making an effort in presentation

Student

TEAM #

Criteria / Demonstrated

Student 1

(Score 1-3)

Student 2

(Score 1-3)

Student 3

(Score 1-3)

Student 4

(Score 1-3)

Quality of Argument

  • proposes and delivers logically structured arguments for/against conscription
  • addresses the overarching inquiry question
  • includes a clear supporting example
  • anticipates possible arguments from the opposition and presents rebuttal points
       

Quality of Research

  • uses source material to support arguments
  • includes statistical information, facts and events from the period of the debate
       

Quality of Teamwork

  • makes use of the 'Team Line', the connecting thread, for a coherent and connected team argument
       

Quality of Presentation

  • uses body language, eye contact and visual aids to convince the audience
  • speaks clearly and fluently with appropriate volume and pace
  • uses vocal expression
  • uses rhetorical language to emphasise points
  • uses palm cards with notes
       

Subtotals:

         

Copyright

Permission is given by the Commonwealth for this publication to be copied royalty free within Australia solely for educational purposes. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced for commercial purposes.

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