23/4/1918 Ireland strikes against conscription as London prepares a crackdown #1918Live

Ireland is in a tumult over British plans to extend conscription there. After rallies were held across the country two days ago, today the country is engulfed in a general strike against conscription called by the Irish Trade Union Congress. The strike is hugely successful with shops, factories, railways and even pubs closing across the country. The one area that remains largely immune from the strike is the north-east, where pro-British sentiment remains strong among the Protestant and Unionist community.

The strike is disconcerting to the British authorities, who note the involvement of the subversive Sinn Féin party in the anti-conscription campaign. Meanwhile in London Joseph Dowling, who was arrested in Galway in mysterious circumstances, is under interrogation by British intelligence officers. The British promise to spare Dowling’s life if he co-operates; in return he confesses that he is a former British soldier who joined Roger Casement‘s Irish Brigade after being captured by the Germans. He further reveals that he was transported to Ireland by German U-boat and tells his interrogators that he was sent to liaise with Sinn Féin leaders in advance of a forthcoming German invasion of Ireland.

Dowling’s fanciful tale of a Sinn Féin plot to assist a German invasion finds a receptive audience in London. British leaders now make plans to decapitate Sinn Féin by rounding up its troublesome leaders. Perhaps in so doing they will also break the back of the anti-conscription movement.

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First Irish Conscript (National Library of Ireland, @NLIreland on Twitter)

21/4/1918 Nationalist and Catholic Ireland unites against conscription #1918Live

The German offensives on the Western Front are taking a heavy toll on the British. Every man is needed refill the depleted ranks of its force on the Continent. Britain introduced conscription in 1916 but did not extend it to Ireland, fearful of the consequences in that restive part of the United Kingdom. Now the army’s desperate need for more men has turned attentions back to Ireland’s exemption from the draft.

The authorities in Ireland continue to warn of the dangers of forcing men into the army, but they are not heeded in London. Parliament has passed a new law allowing for the extension of conscription to Ireland (with older men across the United Kingdom also being subject to the draft, such is the army’s need for manpower). It looks like it will not be long before Irishmen are being rounded up and sent to die in France and Belgium.

The threat of conscription has the effect of uniting broad swathes of hitherto mutually hostile Irish opinion. At a conference in Dublin on the 18th hosted by Lord Mayor Laurence O’Neill, representatives of Sinn Féin, the more moderate Irish Parliamentary Party, the Labour Party, the trade unions and smaller parties formed the Irish Anti-Conscription Committee, agreeing to oppose conscription by any means at their disposal.

Today rallies are held across the country to oppose conscription. It is a Sunday, so much of the focus is on meetings at the church gate. The Catholic Church is wary of involvement in politics, save in defence of its own interests, but so broad is opposition to conscription that it lends its support to the struggle. Protests against conscription happen within the churches as well as at their gates, with many priests denouncing enforced enlistment from the pulpit.

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Members of the Irish Anti-Conscription Committee (Wikipedia: Conscription Crisis of 1918)

20/12/1917 Australia votes against conscription again #1917Live

Conscription is a divisive issue in Australia. Prime Minister Billy Hughes wants to introduce a draft to keep up the numbers of men the country is sending to the war but the move is strongly opposed by the trade unions and the Catholic Church, as well as by socialists, pacifists and other malcontents.

Last year in a plebiscite Australia voted narrowly against the introduction of conscription. That led to a political convulsion, with Hughes leaving the Australian Labor Party and forming a new pro-conscription party with members of the Liberal opposition.

Hughes decided to hold another conscription referendum after his party won a resounding victory in a general election earlier this year. Unfortunately for him, today Australians once more vote against a draft, by a larger margin than last year. Hughes’ dream of sending his countrymen to die in Europe looks like it is over.

image sources:

Vote No Mum (National Museum of Australia: Conscription Referendums)

Scum of the Earth! (Australian War Memorial: the Conscription Debate)

The Blood Vote (State Library of New South Wales: Australia’s Conscription Debate)

all of those links are worth clicking on to see more posters

17/12/1917 Canada’s conscription election #1917Live

Earlier this year the Canadian parliament authorised the introduction of conscription. The measure is controversial, with French Canadians being in the forefront of opposition. Prime Minister Borden decided against the immediate introduction of a draft for fear of provoking unrest.

Today Canada votes in a general election that has become something of a plebiscite on conscription. Borden has tilted the ballot in his direction by allowing soldiers deployed overseas to vote and by giving the vote to women whose menfolk are serving in the armed forces; he has also taken the vote from conscientious objectors and immigrants from enemy countries. In the election campaign, Borden’s opponents are denounced as playing into the hands of the Kaiser.

Borden’s Unionist party wins a landslide victory. Taking this as a mandate for conscription, he prepares to introduce a draft in the new year.

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Election poster (Canada’s First World War Experience: Federal Election Posters, 1917)

Robert Borden (Wikipedia: Canadian federal election, 1917)

29/8/1917 Canada moves towards conscription

At the start of the war, Canada was like Britain and the other dominions in having a small professional army. Since then it has relied on voluntary enlistment to make up the numbers of its expeditionary force in Europe. But as the war has assumed an increasingly bloody character the number of volunteers has reduced. Within Canada enlistment is somewhat uneven. French Canadians appear to be particularly disinclined to enlist. This may be because they are unenthusiastic about the war, but the Canadian government’s failure to create francophone units for them may also be a factor.

In an effort to continue the flow of recruits to the Canadian army, Prime Minister Robert Borden proposes to introduce conscription. This should also ensure that each part of Canada plays its part in feeding the guns. So today Canada’s parliament passes the Military Service Act, which gives the government the power to conscript. The measure is bitterly opposed by many, not all of them French Canadians.

Borden does not yet invoke the powers given to him by the Act. There is an election due later this year, which will most likely be fought on the conscription issue. Rather than inflame the opponents of conscription now he decides to wait until after the election to begin enforced recruitment. In the meantime he looks at ways to manipulate the electoral rolls in order to maximise the likely votes of those who support conscription.

images source (A City Goes to War: 1917 Election – Conscription)

3/8/1917 The Green Corn Rebellion: Oklahoma rises up against the war #1917Live

Since the USA declared war on Germany it has been struggling to build a large army that can take on the Germans in France. Conscription has been introduced, so now men are being compelled to take part in the war whether they want to or not. This is not a development greeted with universal enthusiasm.

While some go on the run to avoid the draft, a group of farmers and rural folk in Oklahoma go considerably further. Motivated by anti-war sentiment and fear of the effects of conscription on their families’ livelihoods, several hundred (perhaps a thousand) of these anti-conscription activists come together and resolve to bring an end to the war. They stage a rebellion, planning a march on Washington where, joined by similar groups from across the country, they will overthrow Wilson and take America out of the war. On the way they will live off the land, roasting green corn, thereby giving their rebellion its name.

The Green Corn Rebellion proves to be short-lived. More law-abiding elements in Oklahoma quickly form a militia and face down the rebels. After a few shots are fired (killing three) the rebellion breaks. The authorities carry out mass arrests and prepare to send the rebels for trial. They also prepare to crack down on the various socialist and anarchist groups seen as being behind the unrest.

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Anti-war poster (Jane Little Bodkin: Frank Little and the IWW)

Newspaper cartoon accusing the anarchist IWW of being in league with Germany (Wikipedia)

18/5/1917 America introduces conscription

US warships have arrived in Europe to join patrols against the U-boat menace. President Wilson knows however that if the war is to be brought to an end it will be done so on land. Here the USA is at a considerable disadvantage. The country’s army amounts to just 145,000, insignificantly small compared to the great armies of Europe.

In order to make a difference in Europe, the American army will have to be expanded. Today the President signs into a law the Selective Service Act, which allows for conscription. Even so, it will be some time before the army will have been built up to a level that can take on the Germans. Given the task facing the Americans, that of building a large modern army almost from scratch, some wonder whether the USA will be able to deploy troops to Europe in strength before 1919.

In keeping with the traditions of the United States, draftees will be segregated by colour.

image source (Wikipedia)