Universal Service Scheme, 1911–1929

2094 Private George Lee served for three years with the Universal Service Scheme which required compulsory military training of men between the ages of 12 and 26.

Before the First World War, Australia was the only English-speaking country which had a system of compulsory military training during a time of peace. The legislation for compulsory military training was introduced in 1909 by Prime Minister Alfred Deakin and passed into law in 1911 under the succeeding Fisher Labor Government.

The legislation provided for three levels of training:

  • Junior cadets for 12–14 year old boys
  • Senior cadets for 14–18 year old males
  • Home defence militia, officially known as Commonwealth Military Forces, for 18–26 year old men

Boys were required to enrol in the cadets, while young men had to register with the local militia. Exemptions were given to:

  • those who lived more than five miles (eight kilometres) from the nearest training site
  • those passed medically unfit
  • resident aliens
  • theological students

Those who failed to register for military training were punished with fines or jail sentences. Many boys did not register for their military training, and between 1911 and 1915 there were 34,000 prosecutions, with 7,000 jail sentences imposed.

During the First World War, two referenda were held over conscription for overseas service, causing enormous bitterness in the community in general and within the Labor Party in particular. This was partly why Labor rescinded its support for compulsory military training and abolished the scheme when elected to government in October 1929.


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