John O'Neill, sedition

John Patrick O’Neill
Slaughterman, born 1892, New Zealand
Tried: 11 August 1917, Rotorua Magistrate’s Court
Charge: Sedition
Sentence: 11 months’ imprisonment

The conscription system could be used as either carrot or stick in the complex game of forcing reluctant men into uniform, as the case of slaughterman John O’Neill illustrates. O’Neill’s card was pulled in the 5 March 1917 conscription ballot, but he failed to appear at the appointed time and place for military service and was placed on the wanted list. The Defence Department’s claim on him was, however, pre-empted when he was arrested with two other men in August 1917 for sounding off about the war in a Morrinsville pub. O’Neill was sentenced to 11 months in Kaingaroa Prison for sedition, though he served only till April 1918.

Defence reactivated O’Neill’s call-up on his release from prison, but he once again eluded the authorities and was classified as a deserter in May. Masterton police tracked him down on a farm in October 1918, and he was evidently given a choice between further gaol time and immediate enlistment in the NZEF. O’Neill enlisted ‘under grant’ and entered Trentham Camp on 4 November, perhaps realising that the war would soon be over. The influenza pandemic hit soon afterwards, however, and O’Neill was among the many afflicted. He died at the camp hospital on 20 November 1918, aged 27, and was interred in the soldiers’ section at Karori Cemetery under an official ‘war graves’ headstone.


Sources: New Zealand Gazette, 1917, p. 919; Police Gazette, 1918, pp. 254, 403, 626; Waikato Times, 8 August 1917, p. 4; J.P. O’Neill NZEF personnel file, AABK 18805 W5549/102 88607, Archives New Zealand

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