Learning intention

Students explore the controversial issue of conscription in the two World Wars through detailed source analysis.

Students will:

  • Understand the impact of the conscription debates in World War I and II 

  • Process and synthesise information from a range of sources for use as evidence in an historical argument 

  • Identify and analyse the perspectives of people from the past 


During both World War I and II, the government considered conscription (compulsory military service for men). It was a controversial issue with people on strong views on both sides of the argument. The sources in this activity show how different groups tried to promote their point of view and gain support for their cause.

You can find background information for students in the World War I and World War II sections of Explore history and the Select resources section of Learn skills.


Primary sources on ergo:

Evaluating sources - student template [Word, 8.52 KB]


Ask students what they know about conscription. What is it? How did it work? Why was it considered necessary? What were the results?

Introduce primary sources from ergo. Each source provides contextual information, including transcripts where relevant, and a zoom function so students can investigate detail.

Use the evaluating sources template [Word 8.52KB] as a basis for analysis.

Lead a reflective discussion using questions like:

  • Why was conscription an issue during each of these wars?
  • Why would people support conscription?
  • Why would people not support conscription?
  • How did people try to convince others of their point of view?
  • Would you support conscription?
  • What would it take for you to change your mind?

More to explore

Run a class debate or referendum on the issue of conscription with small groups researching pressure groups from the time and taking their side in the debate.

Ask students to create and share a piece of propaganda to support a point of view.

Conscription in World War I from the Australia War Memorial

Conscription in World War II from the Australian War Memorial

Enlistment poster, World War II.
Pamphlet supporting conscription in the first World War.
Handbill produced against conscription in World War I