A cen­tury on from con­scrip­tion

Kapi-Mana News - - OUT & ABOUT -

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.


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