The second conscription referendum is held in Australia. The referendum is resoundingly defeated, with an extra 21,000 people voting NO than in the first referendum held in 1916. Western Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory vote in support of conscription; the remaining states against. The referenda spark bitter debate about the merits and dangers of conscription, dividing Australia politically and socially. The decisive defeat of the second referendum closes the issue of conscription for the remainder of the war. When Australia voted no to war: the 1916-17 conscription referenda
East is East and West is West cartoon commenting on the result of the conscription referendum held 20 December 1917. Image courtesy State Library of Western Australia.
We are camped now in the most famous town of the war—of course I can’t tell you the name, though you might guess it. But you should see it after three years of hammering, first by one side and then by the other, there is not much left of it. I thought Bapaume was bad, but it is like a palace to this … Round the town is a high rampart, with a wide moat outside, and from the ramparts one can look out over miles and miles of low level country, which must have been beautiful once; but is now a stretch of desolation, broken trees, and torn ground. At intervals over it are spurts of flame and clouds of smoke that mean guns, or big black splashes where shells are bursting.
No 4 Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps arrives in France. The squadron, based at Bruay, is assigned to the 10th Wing of the Royal Flying Corps. Operating Sopwith Camels and Snipes the squadron undertakes offensive patrols and escorts reconnaissance missions for the British 1st Army. No 4 Squadron would claim more victories than any other AFC unit: 199 enemy aircraft destroyed and 33 enemy balloons destroyed or driven down.
The US Senate proposes the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which outlaws the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic liquors. The proposal is presented to the states for ratification.
Leslie Clifton Keane, Leslie Charles Lemon, Robert Newton and Keith McClymont send news home from the front. Soldiers’ letters. Keith states:
Three weary years have gone by, and still the guns are booming louder than ever. Both sides have organised as rapidly as possible, and now the science of slaughter and devastation and destruction is more pronounced than ever.
The recent reverses in Russia and Italy have created a situation so grave as to threaten the very existence of Australia and the Empire, and have imposed a tremendous added responsibility upon the English-speaking peoples.
Until America has marshalled her great resources the chief burden of the war must rest upon the British Empire. Every part must do its share. Australia must maintain her five divisions in Europe and her forces in Palestine and elsewhere at their full strength. To do this 7,000 men per month are necessary.
Voluntary recruiting, though given every opportunity, has proved itself quite inadequate to raise this number. National safety imperatively demands that Australia should do her duty.
The Government therefore asks the electors to give it power to raise 7,000 men per month in the terms of the following proposal:
1. Voluntary enlistment is to continue.
2. The number of reinforcements required is 7,000 per month.
3. Compulsory reinforcements will be called up by ballot to the extent to which voluntary enlistment fails to supply this number.
4. The ballot will be from among single men only, between the ages of 20 and 44 years (including widowers and divorcees without children dependent upon them).
5. The following will be exempt:
(a) Married men;
(b) Persons who are physically unfit for service;
(c) Judges of Federal and State courts, and police, special, and stipendiary magistrates;
(d) Ministers of religion;
(e) Persons whose employment in any particular industry is declared by the prescribed authority to be necessary for the supply of food and material essential for the war;
(f) Persons whose religious belief does not allow them to bear arms; but this exemption will only exempt them from combatant service;
6. The Government will prescribe the industries essential to the prosecution of the war and the national welfare of Australia, and a special tribunal will determine the amount of labour necessary for their effective operation.
7. Where a family is or has been represented in the Australian Imperial Force by the father or a son, or by a brother, one eligible son, or brother (as the case may be), shall be exempt.
8. Eligible males of families which now are or have been represented at the front shall not be balloted for until after eligible males of families not so represented have been called up.
9. All ballots shall be so conducted that families will contribute as nearly as practicable pro rata, and that in no case shall the sole remaining eligible member of a family which is or has been so represented be called up for service. Males under the age of 20 will be exempt, in addition to the one eligible male over that age.
10. In determining the pro rata contribution, regard shall be had to all members of the family who have joined the Australian Imperial Force, irrespective of age.
11. Ballots will be taken by States, on the basis of the proportional number of eligible persons in each State.
12. The tribunals for deciding exemptions will be constituted by magistrates specially appointed; and an appeal will lie to a Supreme Court Judge.
This is the proposal of the Government upon which the electors are asked to vote on 20th December.
The power asked for is definite and limited. It applies only to single men, and widowers and divorcees without dependents, between 20 and 44 years of age.The Government gives the electors a definite pledge:
(1) That the power here asked for will be limited to the period of the war.
(2) That the limits of the power will not be exceeded.
(3) That the total reinforcements, including volunteers, will not exceed 7,000 per month.
(4) That the: number of divisions will not be increased.
(5) That if through any cause fewer men than 7,000 are needed for reinforcements in any month only the number actually required will be called up or enlisted.
(6) That married men will be exempt.
(7) That other classes or persons exempted under the proposal will not be called up.
(8) That sufficient labour to carry on the necessary industries of the country, including the rural industries, will be exempted.
Curtis Robert Payne was born in Orange in 1891, the second son of William, a popular local hairdresser, and Mary Ann nee Jones. William and Mary married in Orange in September 1886; their first son, William Henry, was born the following year.
In 1911 Mary Ann applied for a dissolution of her marriage with William on the grounds of desertion. This was granted, and Mary and Curtis moved to Sydney.
Curtis and William enlisted together in Sydney on 19 February 1917. Both were assigned to the 1st Cavalry Divisional Signal Squadron; Robert as a sapper and William as a captain. The brothers embarked HMAT A15 Port Sydney for overseas service on 9 May 1917.
Two weeks later, on 23 May, the Port Sydney arrived in Fremantle, whereupon Curtis disembarked to take a tour of the city. He failed to re-embark on time, and the vessel left without him. He was forced to wait for five weeks until the next transport vessel arrived.
Sapper Payne re-embarked from Fremantle on 30 June 1917. In August he joined the 1st Cavalry Divisional Signal Squadron in Mesopotamia, but was hospitalised shortly after arrival with fever. Sapper Payne was discharged from hospital on 10 September 1917 and rejoined his unit on 7 October.
Two months later, in December 1917, Curtis’ brother, William Henry Payne, died of smallpox whilst serving in Mesopotamia.
In early January 1918 Curtis embarked HT Ekma in Basra, for return to Australia. In June he underwent a medical examination at the 4th Australian General Hospital in Randwick. The subsequent report noted that Curtis was suffering from debility, weight loss, palpitations and tremors. The report also noted that he had been hospitalised on two occasions with malaria and neurasthenia. On 14 August 1918 Curtis was discharged from the AIF due to medical unfitness.
Curtis Robert Payne returned to his mother’s house in Coogee. He passed away at a private hospital in Randwick on 23 September 1924, aged 33. He is buried at the Catholic Cemetery in Long Bay Road, Coogee.