George Billings, disobeying lawful command

George Ernest Billings
Electrician, born 1892, England
Tried: 7 December 1917, court martial, Auckland
Charge: Disobeying a lawful command
Sentence: Two years’ imprisonment

Electrician George Billings was one of the several hundred men called up for military service who refused to serve on moral grounds. Balloted on 20 August 1917, Billings failed to appear for his medical inspection and the Defence Department ordered his arrest. He was court-martialled on 7 December along with his brother Joseph and a man named Colin Robertson.

The press labelled Billings, a member of the Brotherhood of Reconciliation religious sect, a ‘defiant reservist’. Explaining that his rejection of military service represented a choice ‘between weak and inconsistent human law and divine law’, Billings insisted that ‘all the glory and honour claimed by the nations engaged in the war was not worth one single human life.’ The officer conducting the court martial ruled this explanation – and its criticism of British law – irrelevant and inappropriate. Billings, unrepentant, told the court, ‘I am not looking for this to do me any good. I don’t care if I get ten years for it.’ The court sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment, the maximum punishment available, which he served in Christchurch’s Paparua Prison.


Sources: New Zealand Gazette, 1917, p. 3385; Police Gazette, 1919, p. 312; Auckland Star, 7 December 1917, p. 3

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