Peter Kannengiesser and Dennis Buck, Gunnedah RSL sub-Branch:

In a previous submission to the Gunnedah Times, we have acknowledged the contributions of members of the Australian Defence Force, Royal Australian Navy (RAN), Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to the defence of Australia. In this missive we would like to acknowledge the contribution of conscripts, later known as national servicemen.


Conscription has always been divisive since it was first introduced as an amendment to the Defence Act in 1908 allowing for the conscription of boys from 12 to 14 and youths from 18 to 20 for the purpose of home defence.


Full conscription for overseas service was attempted during World War I in two plebiscites, however these attempts were not successful. Throughout World War I, the Australian Defence Force (Navy and Army) was a totally volunteer force. By the end of the war in November 1918, a total of 416,809 men had voluntarily enlisted in the Australian services, representing 38.7 per cent of the male population aged between 18 and 44. On November 1, 1929, the mandatory service provisions of the Defence Act were suspended, and after 18 years, conscription for home defence had come to an end.


In 1939, at the start of World War II, all unmarried men aged 21 were to be called up for three months’ military training. The men could serve only in Australia or its territories.
Conscription was effectively introduced in mid-1942, when all men aged 18–35 and single men aged 35–45 were required to join the Citizen Military Forces (CMF). Several CMF militia units fought under difficult conditions, suffered extremely high casualties in 1942 and slowed the Japanese advance on the Kokoda Track in New Guinea – then an Australian territory. In January 1943, the geographic boundaries in which conscripts could serve was extended to include most of the South West Pacific.


Australia entered the Korean War on September 28, 1950, following the invasion of South Korea by North Korea.
Troops from the Soviet-backed Korean People’s Army (KPA) crossed the 38th parallel on June 25, 1950, beginning a civil war.
With the commitment of Australian forces to the Korean War, the Australian government called for 1000 men who had prior military experience in World War II to enlist in the army for three years, with one year of overseas service in Korea, and were called Korean Force or K-Force.

The 77 Squadron RAAF was the first Australian unit to be deployed and 3 RAR deployed in September 1950. Both units had been stationed in Japan as part of the BCOF. RAN fleet units were also deployed from Japanese waters to the Korean Peninsula. About 17,000 Australians served in Korea in between 1950 and 1953, with casualties numbering 339 dead and 1200 wounded.

Compulsory military training for young Australians was reintroduced in 1951. It was the third such scheme to have existed in Australia since Federation. 

Eighteen-year-old men were required to undertake 176 days of military training as part of the national service scheme. 

Those who elected to undertake their training in the army could break up their training requirements into two periods, 98 days in the Australian Regular Army and 78 days in the Citizen Military Forces (CMF). Those who elected to undertake their training with the Royal Australian Navy, or the Royal Australian Air Force had to complete their 176 days in one stretch.

The scheme was criticised as being irrelevant to modern defence needs, with skills becoming more important than numbers. The scheme was also costly for the regular services, as manpower resources and funding was diverted from ongoing operational requirements to support the recruitment and training of short-term personnel. In 1959, the scheme was abolished.


The Malayan Emergency was fought from 1948 to 1960 between Commonwealth armed forces and the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA). Australia’s commitment to the emergency lasted 13 years, between 1950 and 1963, with Australian army, air force and naval units. It was at that time, the longest continuous military commitment in Australia’s history personnel served numbered 7000, while 51 were killed in action and 27 were wounded.

The Gunnedah RSL will be detailing more of Australia’s military history in the lead up to Anzac Day.

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