When war broke out in 1914, young New Zealand men rushed to sign up for a big adventure overseas. As time went on, news of the horrific realities of war filtered back home and it became clear that the fighting would not be short lived. Volunteer numbers fell, and to maintain the numbers of troops required to fight, New Zealand passed legislation introducing conscription.
The Military Service Act 1916 required all Pākehā men aged 20 to 46 to register for the military. Men were divided into two groups; the unmarried and newly married, and all others. Names were drawn by ballot from the first group, and later, the second. Conscripted men were sent to training camps, and from there, many were sent overseas to join the war effort.
Poster, ‘Enrolment of Expeditionary Force Reserve’, August 1916, New Zealand, by National Recruiting Board, Government Printer. Gift of the New Zealand Government, 1919. Te Papa (GH017655)
In 1917 the act was extended to include Māori, though no Māori conscripts were sent overseas.
Ngā Taonga has, in its collection, a fascinating film of the first conscription ballot, which took place on 16 November 1916. The ballot was drawn in Routh’s Building, Wellington, and took more than 20 hours to complete. It’s possible to imagine the women employed to draw the ballot inadvertently sending their own brothers, fathers and boyfriends off to war.
Ballots were drawn monthly for the remainder of the war.
The conscription programme attracted much opposition. Some conscripted men appealed to the Military Service Board to be excused from service. Such appeals were rarely approved. Men who refused to serve were imprisoned, and some were shipped to the front lines in an attempt to force them to fight. Look for a follow up post about conscientious objection in a few weeks.
Tamara Patten, Content and Resource Adviser, National Services Te Paerangi