Part 2: Overview of the Peace Movement

Active groups included:

  • From 1912, the Australian Freedom League, which campaigned against what was known as boy conscription, that is, the compulsory military training of males between 12 years and 26 years. During the first three years of the scheme, 5732 youths were imprisoned because they had failed to present themselves for training.
  • The Australian Peace Alliance, formed in Melbourne in October 1914, with 13 affiliated bodies, building up to 54 affiliates in 1918. John Curtin was active in this group (see photo below).
  • Anti-War League led by Professor George Arnold Wood.
  • Sisterhood of International Peace, led by Eleanor Moore, inspired by Reverend Charles Strong of the Australian Church, later part of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).
  • Women’s Peace Army, as mentioned, led by Vida Goldstein and others.
  • No-conscription Fellowship organised in 1915 built around the conscientious objectors. During the war, some 80,000 applied for exemption from military service, possibly more than 2000 of these were COs, who suffered much for their convictions.
  • Two small religious groups, the Exclusive Brethren and the Seventh Day Adventists, produced a number of conscientious objectors.
  • Activists of the Australian Labor Party led by Frank Anstey, Maurice Blackburn, Billy Maloney, Frank Brennan and others.
  • The Industrial Workers of the World, as mentioned.
  • Poets (e.g. Lesbia Keogh Harford, Frank Wilmot), Yarra Bank orators, cast of thousands.


People changed and the failure of the 14-18 peace movement

Whether or not the war had started with just grounds, as it became clear that the war would not be over quickly, as prices rose and wages did not, as wounded men returned with some of them begging on the city streets, as mothers and wives learned to live with the loss of their loved ones or their shell-shocked state on return, as suspicion mounted that this was the same old story of empire versus empire without concern for the workers and farmers who supplied the troops, most Australians changed and wanted the war to end. This change is often ignored in current discussions.

The peace movement of 1914-1918 was a failure in that while it contributed to ending the war it did not of itself stop the war. Other factors brought the war to an end, some on the battlefield, others not often mentioned such as the Bolshevik revolution in Russia and the failed socialist revolt in Germany. However, the activists of 100 years ago took a principled stand and kept alive the flame of commitment to opposing war even as they failed to stop the war.