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Conscription : Conscription during World War Two

The Scullin Labor government 1929-32 abolished compulsory military training so, on the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 the conservative government, led by Robert Menzies, chose to reintroduce the measure. All single men on turning 21 were required to undertake three months training with the militia to prepare them for home defence. Over the next two years the military position greatly worsened. The Japanese successes in the Pacific meant that Australia faced a serious threat of invasion. In February 1942 the Labor Prime Minister, John Curtin (an opponent of conscription in the First World War), expanded the definition of 'home defence' to cover the south-west Pacific.

There was again a public debate of the conscription issue. The flavour of this is given by selected material in the Library's collection. The case against conscription was set out by South Australian trade unionists. The case for was put by the Australian War Services League and in a pamphlet produced by Adelaide's Advertiser.

In contrast with the First World War, an overall majority of Australians supported Curtin's proposals; South Australia was one of four states where a majority approved conscription for this broadened 'home defence', which was, of course, conscription for overseas service in the areas where Australian forces were needed. The conscripted militia forces in fact played a vital role in the Pacific war.

A call to action
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Conscription move approved : Enthusiastic rally in Adel
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Letter to the Editor dated 7 July 1941
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Letter to the Editor, The Advertiser, Adelaide
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