Conscription in Australia during World War I: An Essay

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At the start of the World War I, Australia was getting so many soldiers volunteering to go over to fight because it was the first war that we were ever involved in. Number of volunteers would skyrocket up until the numbers of death recorded came back putting off so many from enlisting in the war. The Australian Prime Minister at the time did not like this and decided to use the power that he had to start the law that made it compulsory for those who were selected to go over and fight. This law is called the law of conscription and was known for dividing Australia in the process.

When the war started almost every young man in Australia wanted to serve because for most them it would have been an adventure due to nearly all of them having lived in Australia their whole lives. And those who didn’t enlist were called ‘cowards’ and were edged on to enlist by the women they were close to. As they were not allowed serve as soldiers, but as nurses, the problem was though not every woman that wanted to enlist knew how to be a nurse, so they couldn’t serve, but in doing so they caused a lot more men to enlist.

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Eventually it got to the point where there were so many volunteers who went to fight that we had to start turning people away who wanted to fight. Then, during World War I, the then Prime Minister of Australia Billy Hughes went to England to talk with the then Prime Minister of England David George about the war and other military things and during that conversation because in Australia there were so many volunteers Billy Hughes promised David George even more men and George agreed and expected the additional number of soldiers that Hughes had promised as a minimum number. When Hughes got back home to Australia for him disaster struck, the number of Australian soldiers’ deaths that were recorded became public freaking those who wanted to enlist out so much they were scared to enlist because they were fearful of losing their lives on the battlefield like the many before them.

When Australia began implementing conscription, the public had mixed emotions: many hated the law and many loved it. There were many campaigns and rallies fighting against conscription, people called it the ‘death ballot’ and others compared voting at all to hanging themselves. There were also racial issues concerning the conscription. Since the first attempt to draft a law failed (49% for and 51% against), people from Germany and Italy were not allowed to vote.

Australian born citizens with a German or Italian background were not allowed to vote just in case of them being sent from Germany to stop Australia from sending men over to fight against them. After they introduced this rule, they held the second plebiscite and it was even more unsuccessful than the last one: 46% in favor and 54% against. All though it failed twice it was quite close both times, which shows how it managed to divide Australia. Conscription was and still is known for dividing Australia. Conscription divided Australia by splitting up families, destroying friendships, ruining marriages and destroying Australia's infamous partnership in communities all around Australia.

People did not want to be compelled to go to war or force anyone to go to war because they knew how horrible it actually was. The Australians voted ‘no’, because they wanted independence of choice and not to be written up for conscription as though it was just a competition and they were the competitors.

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Conscription in Australia during World War I: An Essay. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 25, 2024, from
“Conscription in Australia during World War I: An Essay.” Edubirdie, 28 Oct. 2022,
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