Thursday, 26 May 2011

Australia's "Yes or No" Campaign

The "Yes" "No" campaign was a political debate about Australia's involvement in World War One. In two referendums (1916,1917), Prime Minister Billy Hughes offered Australians the chance to vote for conscription .

Yes Badges
Strong ideas about the war were being passed around at the time. The Australian Government already had the power to conscript soldiers in defence of Australia; what they couldn't do was conscript men to fight overseas. This is what Hughes was trying to achieve.
The major Australian newspapers, The Argus and The Age, supported the vote for conscription, as did representatives from every political party.

Arguments in favour of conscription included:

  • It was Australia's duty to support Great Britain
  • Australia's good reputation would be maintained
  • Voluntary recruitment had failed
  • Conscription ensured an equal sacrifice from all Australians
  • Other countries, such as New Zealand, Canada and particularly Great Britain already had conscription.

As Australia was a colony of Great Britain, patriotism played a major role in pro-conscription arguments.

Anti-conscription supporters argued that:

  • It was an unjust war and conscription was an unjust policy
  • No one had the right to send someone else to their death
  • An absence of men would see women and non-European men entering the workforce, causing wages to fall and worsening work conditions
  • Too many Australians had already died or been seriously wounded.
Both the 1916 and 1917 referendums were defeated by very close margins. As a result, conscription was not used in World War One.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Youtube Post

 Although relating to Canada, this video portrays the aftermath of conscription. Thousands of men in Canada were forced to fight in the war. Both Australia and Canada supported the British Empire. Australian politicians undertook similar campaigns, Prime Minister William Morris Hughes being a particular supporter of conscription in Australia.

In 1916 Hughes needed the Australian public's vote to allow conscripted men to fight overseas. He was defeated. 1n 1917, he didn't need the Australian people's support to pass his act but he asked them anyway. Again he was defeated. Canada used conscription in World War One. Australia did not.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Hughes: My Political Fight for Conscription

We needed more soldiers. Couldn't the Labor party see that? It was a choice between supporting conscription or disappointing Great Britain. I started a referendum to make enlistment in the army compulsory but it had been rejected. Of course, I would not give up. I was trying my hardest to enforce conscription.

Parties against Labor knew this. They knew that we had to help Great Britain win this war against the enemy. So why didn't my own party understand? I had succeeded Andrew Fisher as Prime Minister. I was their leader. The Prime Minister. Naturally I tried to convince the Labor Party, but they wouldn't listen. I broke off from them in November, 1916. I formed the National Labor Party. 

William Morris Hughes
I had followers, of course. Twenty five members of the Labor party joined me. The Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson was also on my side. Britain was on my side. I started negotiations with the Liberal Party (not today's party formed by Menzies). Together we merged coalitions, forming the Nationalist Party of Australia.  

We won a huge victory at the 1917 Federal Election. Confident, I held a second referendum pushing for conscription.  

The Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix, went against me. He had spoken out against my first referendum and now he was doing it again. He insisted that we had no right to compel a man to fight and kill.

Although I was defeated, I, William Morris Hughes, one of Australia's greatest political figures, played a major part in shaping Australia's political landscape.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Voluntary Recruitment: Why it Wasn't Enough

Conscription is the compulsory enrollment of personnel into a national service, usually involving the military. Its origins can be traced all the back to ancient times. Military conscription was widely used in warrior societies such as Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Japan in the time of the samurai and the Aztec Empire. Conscription found its way into Europe during the middle ages.

At the beginning of the first world war, all European countries aside from Britain had the system of conscription in place. During the first two years of the war, over three million British men had volunteered into the army. However due to heavy losses on the Western Front, in 1916, Britain was forced to introduce compulsory military conscription for healthy men between the ages of 18-41.

Australia, a devoted colony of the British Empire, faced similar problems.

An Australian Recruitment Poster
In Australia, many men wanted to join the army and fight for the country. Sadly most could not because the entry requirements were very strict. Half of the contingent had to have had some sort of war experience. The rest of them had to be physically fit, between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five and be over 167cm in height. Because of these restrictions, the number of enlistments for the army declined. However, when the Gallipoli campaign was started, the physical requirements were slackened and the number of enlistments increased again.

World War One saw 416,809 men volunteering to fight in the Australian army.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

WWI: An Introduction

On the 28th of June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austria-Hungarian throne, was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip in the city of Sarajevo (then part of Serbia, but now the capital of Bosnia). In reaction to the Archduke's death, Austria-Hungry sent Serbia an ultimatum and one month later, unsatisfied with Serbia's response, Austria-Hungry declared a state of war. This conflict was increased tenfold when the main powers of Europe chose opposing sides. Russia was quick to stand beside Serbia and together with Britain and France, formed the Triple Entente. Germany pledged their support to Austria-Hungary and together they formed the Central Powers of Europe.

The Alliances of World War One
What followed was a four year blood bath, accounting for nearly ten million deaths.

These four years, from 1914 to 1918, delivered some of the darkest chapters in human history, giving the world its First World War, then called The Great War. Colonies of the British Empire, such as Australia and New Zealand, willingly contributed forces to the war effort, adding to the millions of casualties suffered on both sides.

With many of the major powers already using conscription (with the exclusion of Britain), it was heated social issue of the times. Although enthusiastic, Australia received a huge decline in voluntary recruitment towards the end of the war and the idea of conscription tied itself intimately into Australian politics.