In the month of the Gallipoli landing in April 1915, the number of volunteers fell to 6,000. However, shortly after, voluntary enlistments rose sharply once the news had reached the homes and families all over Australia. Many men were keen to avenge their fallen countrymen and the seriousness of the conflicts and casualties were no longer in question. With five divisions overseas, Australian leaders were committed to retain the strength of these divisions and that meant continuous reinforcement with new troops.
By 1916 there were insufficient new volunteers to cover the AIF's massive casualties and to meet the British authorities' requests for reinforcements. Labor Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, whose promise before the onset of war was that Australia would support Britain to the ‘last man and last shilling’, had overseen the first year of the war and the casualties it had brought along with it. He was succeeded by William Hughes whose support for the war effort was even stronger. Hughes had visited the Western Front and believed that conscription was necessary and that military service was a moral duty of all eligible Australian men. Hughes called on a vote to gauge the public’s thoughts on compulsory overseas military service. If conscription was approved, it would guarantee 7000 men each month.
The idea of conscription in the First World War led to many disputes and debates, eventually dividing Australia into those who were for and against conscription. The Australian troops were also split on the issue of conscription. Some men expressed no wish to be joined in the fight. In the letter of Victor Brown, written on 19 May 1917, he talked about fellow French soldiers who described the idea of conscription as a form of murder and he said that with the approval of conscription it would lead to the end of free Australia. On the other hand, others felt it was the right thing to do in order to fight for the country. A letter written by Jack Jensen to his Aunt Hannah dated August 1915, quoted ‘If I am wounded again I will be able to bear it as I did the last time & if I am crippled I shall have to bear it as many other young chaps are doing & I shall know at least that I have done my duty to the country which I have got my living in.”
Hughes led two referendums which both failed and conscription was put on hold for many more years.
Several years before the Second World War, the Scullin Labor government abolished compulsory military training. With the outbreak of World War 2, another volunteer army was raised for overseas service. Recruitment of these troops was driven by movies, music and sideshow performers to create interest. In World War I, Australian…