A century on from conscription
Penny Douglas recalls her grandfather, James Worrall, as a staunch Methodist with very strong Christian values. ’’My memories of him were of a very gentle man, who was very strong in his ethics and his beliefs.’’
Sticking to those beliefs cost Worrall dearly in the years before, during and after World War I. As conscientious objectors, he and his brother William were imprisoned on Ripa Island, Lyttelton, in 1913.
They were sent for breaching the Defence Act 1909, which created New Zealand’s territorial force and introduced compulsory military training.
But it was another piece of legislation – which came into effect 100 years ago yesterday – that would have an equally severe impact on the Worrall brothers and others like them.
Ancestry.com researcher Nigel Seeto said August 1, 1916 was ‘‘one of the most profound single dates of the Great War from the New Zealand perspective’’. It ushered in an age of conscription.
Before August 1916, the war effort relied on volunteers at locations such as Gallipoli and Egypt.
But as fighting continued into 1916 conscription was introduced when the number of volunteers fell below requirements - only 30 per cent of eligible men had volunteered.
The Military Service Act required all non-Maori men aged between 20 and 46 to register.
They were sorted into two divisions – the unmarried or
Running away from thewarwas no guarantee of freedom or a long life, as three West Coastmen discovered. Vincent Carroll, Thomas Kiely, and Patrick Skinner took to the bush in April 1917 to evade military service. They were camping about 50 kilometres from Ikamatua railway station, south of Reefton, and were said to be working as ‘‘bushfellers’’. But on November 1, 1917, Carrollwas struck on the head by a falling tree limb and died the next day. Kiely and Skinner took his body to Reefton, and were arrested under the Military Service Act. Kielywas sentenced to three months’ hard labour for desertion and sent to Trentham military camp. While there, got a further two years’ hard labour for ‘‘disobeying commands’’. Skinner allegedly deserted again. It is assumed he then began using a false name, and nothing more is known of his fate. recently married, and everyone else. Under the act, all registered men could be called upon for compulsory service.
Those who objected could appeal to the Military Service Board – on grounds of family hardship, public interest or religious objection – and about half of those called up did so.
By the end of the war two years later, almost 300 men were imprisoned for refusing military service. Many more elected to take up non-combatant roles in New Zealand and overseas. Only 73 objectors were offered an exemption.
Many conscientious objectors received military punishments, and were beaten and abused for their stance. In July 1917, 14 of the most uncooperative objectors – including Archibald Baxter, father of poet James K Baxter – were forcibly sent to Europe to serve.
About 2000 ‘‘military defaulters’’ had their names published in the New Zealand Gazette from 1919 onwards. But punishment for not serving did not end with being named and shamed.
Those on the list were deprived of civil rights for 10 years, includ- ing the right to vote or hold public office. They could not be employed by the Crown or any local or public authorities. Those defaulters outside New Zealand from late 1918 were prohibited from returning for 10 years.
Worrall was among those on the list, having been arrested as a deserter in September 1917 and sent to camp under escort.