More Men

The number of men volunteering for the war effort remained strong until late 1915.

Press, 16 December 1916

As the War went on, men who hadn’t enlisted were being described as cowards and nick-named shirkers for not doing their duty. 

In late 1915 a downturn in volunteers coincided with the Government raising the reinforcement rate from 3,000 to 5,000 men every 2 months. This led to a shortfall in recruitments for the first time.

The Military Service Act, passed on 1 August 1916, required all men aged between 20 and 45 to register for the conscription ballot. This, the Government thought, would ensure a continuous supply of new recruits and equality of sacrifice.

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Arm badge worn by Herbert Walter Clutterbuck after he was rejected for military service in mid 1916

Courtesy of Barry O’Sullivan


Arm badges were accompanied by a certificate, authorising the person named to wear it. The certificate had to be carried at all times in case it was requested by a military or police officer. Herbert Walter Clutterbuck’s Certificate of Authority to Wear dated 4 July 2016 indicates that he did not meet the Defence Departments requirement for military service. 

Courtesy of Barry O’Sullivan

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Not a Shirker

Under the Military Service Act 1916 every man between the age of 20 and 45 years needed to enrol for the Expeditionary Force Reserve. Those enrolled received a certificate and took their chance in the ballot. Any men found who were not enrolled were sent straight to camp.

William Moffat and Bert Clutterbuck courtesy of John Moffat3

Herbert Walter Clutterbuck (standing) photographed with his friend William Moffat in England. The men left New Zealand on the same transport ship and both returned to New Zealand at the end of the War. Herbert died in Christchurch in 1969.

Courtesy of John Moffat. All Rights Reserved

Shoulder badge for 29th Reinforcements issued to Herbert Walter Clutterbuck

Courtesy of Barry O'Sullivan

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Achieving Medical Fitness

Despite being turned down by the military in 1916, Herbert Clutterbuck was later accepted. By 1917, the supply of single men was becoming exhausted and the Defence Department operated dental clinics and funded minor operations so that men who hadn’t initially passed the medical examination could enlist. It is likely that Clutterbuck had dental work done by the military before he started his military service in May 1917.

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Henry Edward Beckett

Canterbury Museum PIC88/86

Conscription letter received by Henry Edward Beckett, January 1918

Canterbury Museum PIC88/86

9731 Beckett Album 141

Chancing the Ballot

The National Registration scheme, which started in October 1915, collected 208,513 names of eligible men. These were used as the basis for conscription by ballot. For the ballot, numbered wooden marbles were tumbled into one of two revolving boxes. Once the balls were sufficiently scrambled, they were extracted by hand through a sliding rectangular lockable lid.

From November 1916, monthly ballots were drawn to maintain reinforcement numbers. Altogether 134,393 men were called up through the ballot system, exemptions, lack of medical fitness and the ending of the War, meant that only 19,548 of these served overseas.

Henry Edward Beckett tried to enlist when war was declared but was rejected after his father advised the authorities that he was only 17 years old. He was conscripted in January 1918, four days after his 20th birthday. Henry joined the 42nd Reinforcements and served with the Mounted Rifles in Egypt.

Do You Measure Up?

When war broke out, volunteers had to meet strict physical requirements and pass a basic medical examination. Women were not accepted in the armed forces; if they wanted to serve, they had to do so as nurses. Male recruits had to be between 20 and 35 years old. This was raised to 40 years old in October 1914 and again to 44 in July 1917. From September 1917, until the end of the War, 19 year olds could also enlist, but only with their parents’ permission.

Recruits had to be over 5 feet and 4 inches (162.6 cm) tall. In October 1915, when volunteer numbers were dropping, the height restriction was lowered to 5 feet and 2 inches (157.5 cm). Recruits also had to be under 12 stone (76.2 kg), although muscular men who weighed more than this were accepted.