National Service and Conscription

Pressing on with the Les Darcy research and the things that you find out whether you wanted to know or not. I should have mentioned that the Park/Champion book is available in paperback from quality booksellers etc.
The foundation for the book was was laid by Darcy Niland (named after the boxer) who conducted many interviews during the 1950s while numerous people who knew Les were still alive and sound in mind.
Darcy Niland died before he started to organise his research notes and these were kept by Ruth Park until she was about to donate them to the Mitchell Library when she decided that we could keep the work in the family (Ruth is the mother of the Rathouse webmistress).

The issue that triggered the departure of Les Darcy to the US was the threat of conscription which was the great cause that Billy Hughes pursued and split the Labor Party when he defected after the first conscription referendum returned a No vote (by a tissue-thin margin). This provides a sketch of that episode.

Les Darcy was fighting not just for the world championship but even more for the sake of his mother and his family, eleven children fathered by a drunk who showed his true colours when he rapidly pissed away the small fortune left by Les.

Darcy was prepared to join the army, and he wanted to follow some of his mates who volunteered early to fight. He did not want to be put in some safe position for PR and recruiting purposes. But his first priority was to ensure the economic future of the family, assuming that he would not survive the war. For that purpose he needed two or three major bouts in the US which would have consolidated the bank account and the property investments that he had in place after his short but spectacular career at the Stadium.

He assumed that the conscription referendum would get up and he would be drafted to the colours before he had achieved his primary aim.

Anyway, getting back to the story of conscription and national service, when I started doing library research on Hughes and conscription I kept turning up references to the battle that Hughes fought to put in place a system of military training for civilians in peacetime. This went on for years until round about 1911 Hughes finally got on top of the groups that opposed compulsory national service. This episode has been completely overshadowed by the later issue of conscription during the war and nothing helpful can be rapidly turned up on the net (go on, someone prove that is wrong!

The details are not at my fingertips but young men in various age groups had to attend drill halls and go into camps for short periods. There were exemptions for youths in isolated locations and in special circumstances of work or family responsibilities. The camps were only of weeks duration and not the many months or years fulltime that some National Service schemes require. Les attended one of those camps at some point, although he must have been exempt from the drill on account of the long hours that he was working at the blacksmiths forge. Anyway, that was an interesting but not especially relevant discovery that turned up in the course of the Les Darcy research.

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2024 years ago

If you want some more information about this, there is a good section in Bobbie Oliver’s “Peacemongers”.