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Military Service Act

The Military Service Act 1916 introduced conscription, initially for Pākehā only. The act also made limited allowance for people who objected to serve. Only members of religious bodies that had, before the outbreak of war, declared military service 'contrary to divine revelation' could be exempted from service. Those excused had to be prepared to undertake alternative non-combatant service in New Zealand or overseas. Only Quakers, Christadelphians and Seventh-day Adventists met this qualification.

No escape for the shirker

Men eligible for military service who remained at large faced hostility from the wider community. Prime Minister William Massey made it clear that there would be 'no escape for the shirker'.

Conscientious objectors received little sympathy from the Military Service Boards that were set up to administer conscription. Between September 1917 and October 1918, 170 objectors were sent overseas in non-combatant roles. Men like Archibald Baxter and Mark Briggs received military punishments. Many were beaten and abused for their stance. All objectors not considered genuine were eventually imprisoned, and some, such as the Labour MP Paddy Webb, were sentenced to hard labour.

How to cite this page

'Military Service Act', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 17-May-2017