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Paddy Webb's resistance to conscription


Member of Parliament Patrick Charles (Paddy) Webb (1884–1950) was the most prominent casualty of the government’s desire to quash anti-conscription sentiment after the passing of the Military Service Act in 1916.

Webb was elected to the Grey seat in 1913 as a member of the Social Democratic Party (a forerunner of the modern Labour Party). The militant and politically conscious coal mining workforce was an important part of the West Coast community, and Webb argued their causes in Parliament.

Webb took a public stand against conscription from the outset of the war, and opposed National Registration in 1915. When conscription was introduced he demanded its immediate repeal, but stopped short of advocating mass resistance. As a result, some union leaders and activists accused him of having lost his socialist sympathies.

The first strike over conscription took place in late November 1916 when miners at Blackball on the West Coast sought both the repeal of the Military Service Act and a pay rise. Watersiders and miners began a go-slow against conscription in January 1917. When miners' leaders were arrested in April, all West Coast miners went on strike.

Webb praised the miners' struggle against conscription as a battle for democratic freedom. Charged with making a seditious utterance, he served three months in prison. The strike ended when Allen agreed no charges would be laid against those responsible for starting the go-slow and the strikes.

Webb’s opponents on the West Coast, including both local newspapers, had urged him to volunteer for service. They contrasted his cowardice' with the 'heroism' of T.E.Y. Seddon, the Member of Parliament for Westland, who had volunteered in August 1915. When Webb was called up for military service in October 1917, he decided to seek a renewed mandate from his electorate. The government refused to rise to his challenge of a by-election on the issue of conscription, and Webb was returned unopposed.

Webb refused any form of military service, and was court-martialled and sentenced to two years' hard labour as a result. His parliamentary seat was declared vacant in April 1918. Webb spent two years planting trees on the Kaingaroa Plains, and was deprived of his civil rights for 10 years after being declared a defaulter in 1919. He subsequently served as a cabinet minister in the first Labour government, elected in 1935.


Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference no: 1/2-044394-F
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Paddy Webb's resistance to conscription, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated