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Conscription : Conscription after 1945

For a short period after the Allied victory in 1945, conscription became a non-issue. The development of a 'cold war' between the Western powers and the countries of the Soviet bloc led the conservative Menzies coalition government to introduce yet another conscription scheme with universal national service for 18 year old men. Conscripts were not part of the Australian forces who served in Korea, Malaya and Borneo. From 1954 communist North Vietnam and South Vietnam were at war. In the 1960s hundreds of thousands of United States troops were involved in support of South Vietnam and the Australian government also decided to commit troops.

A new National Service Act of 1964 required 20 year old men, selected by a ballot of birthdays, to serve for two years in regular army units. In May 1965 the Defence Act was amended to provide that these conscripts could also be required to serve overseas. Between 1965 and 1972 (when the last Australian troops were withdrawn from Vietnam) over 800,000 men were registered for National Service, 63,000 were conscripted by the ballot. From 1965 to 1972, 15,381 national servicemen served in the Vietnam War, with 200 killed and 1,279 wounded. Australian War Memorial website

Many Australians were opposed to involvement in the Vietnam War and even more objected to the use of conscripts there. The first conscript to die in Vietnam, Errol Noack, was a South Australian. Groups such as the Campaign for Peace in Vietnam campaigned vigorously against conscription, and thousands joined protest marches in Adelaide.

Many young men refused to register and were supported by citizens opposed to conscription. Two conscientious objectors arrested for refusing to register were John Zarb and Robert Martin and both were jailed. Robert Martin talks of his experiences in an oral history recording held in the Library's archival collections.

Out now : Anti-War March
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Report on the September moratorium demonstration : [ext
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Vietnam : a time for action
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