Worrall family showed united front against militarism


A leader of the Passive Resisters’ Union (PRU), James (Jim) Kirkwood Worrall was one of the group of young resisters to compulsory military training who in 1913 went on hunger strike while they were incarcerated in Fort Jervois on Ripapa Island.

He remained committed to his non-militarist principles during World War I. An articulate and forceful speaker and writer he served time in several prisons:  Lyttelton Gaol and Fort Jervois in the pre-war period and Trentham Military Camp, Paparua and Auckland Prisons during the war.

Manifesto to Conscripts

Manifesto calling on men to passively resist conscription under the Defence Act. The manifesto was likely produced in 1911, during the early days of opposition to compulsory military training.

When the Passive Resisters’ Union (PRU) first began in Christchurch in February 1912, Jim Worrall, as one of the joint secretaries, described the flourishing new organisation for the Maoriland Worker. All members had pledged to have nothing to do with the Defence Act and were refusing to attend drills, he said. The PRU had weekly meetings when members gave addresses, and their membership was increasing every day. Only boys who were liable for compulsory military training - and reporters - were allowed to attend meetings. They had printed badges for their members to wear and a thousand manifestoes and had distributed these around the city. Fund-raising had meant they could now afford to pay a lawyer to defend the members in court. Members attended the drill-hall every night and were very successful in persuading boys not to attend the drill but to join the PRU. He finished his account with a strongly worded statement that the PRU would never give in: ‘Our forefathers fought hard and long for the liberty we now have, and we will not surrender to the military despots while we have breath to last out.’[2]

Events were to show that Jim Worrall had the full support of his parents and older brother William in his determined anti-militarist stand. Born in England in 1892, Jim Worrall arrived in New Zealand in 1901 with his mother Susan, father Henry, brothers Henry and William, and sister Ann.[3] They settled in Tancred Street, Christchurch and the children attended Richmond School.[4] Henry (senior) worked as a labourer and scaffolder. He joined the General Labourer’s Union and become a delegate to the Canterbury Trades and Labourers’ Council serving as president in 1915 and 1916 and again for the years 1921 and 1927. For several other years he was on the CTLC’s Executive.[5] When Ted Howard was elected to Parliament in 1919 Henry Worrall became the Secretary of the General Labourers’ Union and remained in this position until his retirement in 1933.[6] Henry Worrall became secretary of the Christchurch Anti-Militarist League, and a delegate from the League to the National Peace Council.[7] 

Jim Worrall advertised in 1913 as a plumber and gasfitter who fixed and repaired rams, pumps and windmills.[8] 

His first brush with the law seems to have been in February 1912 when he and Frank McCullough were fined for distributing a handbill against conscription. A second charge was dismissed because the item being distributed was not a “dodger” or handbill, but a membership card for the PRU.[9] He was in court again a few days later for failing to register for military training and was fined £1 and costs. He told the court that he was prepared to go to jail in order to achieve the repeal of the Defence Act since the Act was ‘un-British and unnecessary and the only way to get it repealed was to stand out against it’. When the Magistrate asked if he would ‘prefer to go to gaol?’ he replied: ‘Yes; if we boys all register, it will never be repealed.’[10] 

The following month he was committed to Lyttelton Gaol for ten days after failing to pay the fine of £1.[11] James K. Worrall thus became number 6 on the Maoriland Worker Roll of Honour[12] - the list of young men who went to prison rather than submit to compulsory military training. This imprisonment also led to him being presented with the Socialist Cross of Honour, a rare medal that was first presented to William Cornish in July 1911. Harry Cooke received one the following month. Worrall’s medal was the fifth to be presented and bears the inscription: ‘N.Z.S.P. No.5. Anti-Militarism, J.K. Worrall, Imprisoned 5.3.12 For Courage’.[13]

We'll Set the Children Free

Song sheet for We'll Set the Children Free, set to the tune of John Brown's Body. Copies of the song were handed out at a demonstration outside the Lyttelton Gaol in March 1912.

The imprisonment of Jim Worrall and other members of the PRU in March 1912 prompted a protest meeting in Christchurch (estimates of the number attending ranged between 500 and 2,000), followed by a demonstration of several hundred people outside the Lyttelton Gaol the following day. Extra carriages were put on so that the demonstrators could travel to Lyttelton by train. The crowd sang, ‘We’ll set our children free’, to the tune of John Brown’s Body.[14] Henry Worrall, who addressed the Christchurch meeting, said he had been to gaol that day to visit his son, and advocated the establishment of a volunteer system. The Star reported that: ‘Cheers were given for Mr Worrall and his son.’[15]

By refusing to pay their fines and opting instead to go to prison, members of the PRU carried out a campaign of civil disobedience that was the most effective element in the action against compulsory military training. The number of prosecutions under the Act continued to increase and the government had no effective way to deal with the resisters. Historian Ryan Bodman has concluded that ‘the union’s unique approach was the pivotal contributing factor to the massive pressure placed on CMT [compulsory military training] by the anti-militarist movement’.[16]

Victoria Square Meeting

March 1912 street meeting of Christchurch "Passive Resisters" who protested against the imprisonment of youths for non-compliance with the Defence Act. 

Passive Resisters' Union Pamphlet

A pamphlet produced by the Passive Resisters' Union explaining the organisation's opposition to the Defence Act.

In January 1913 Jim Worrall was one of a group of PRU members who lost their civil rights for three years for their failure to register for military training.[17] Some PRU members were also having deductions taken from their wages to pay for unpaid fines, and it was these attacks on their rights that led the PRU to produce The Repeal magazine between March 1913 and August 1914. In April 1913 Jim Worrall was again before the courts after he chaired a meeting at the Clock Tower, attended by a crowd of about 400. A disturbance began after a speaker, Harold Denton, accused the police of telling lies in order to send [Reg ] Williams to jail; Denton was immediately arrested. Police evidence was that the ‘crowd became very disorderly, and the sergeant was pushed about. He and others went to his assistance, and had to draw their batons’. Several anti-militarists who were in the crowd were charged with obstruction and fined, though Worrall on this occasion was acquitted.[18]

When Jim Worrall was incarcerated on Ripapa Island his mother Susan wrote to the Lyttelton Times. Like many of the other resisters she saw compulsory military training as un-British and deplored it for its attack on British and family values:

Today I was the spectator of the most humiliating scene that I have witnessed beneath the British flag. My son, in company with three other lads, was taken, unarmed, in the custody of two conscripts, (I cannot say men) armed with rifles and fixed bayonets, a superior officer, and one policeman, to Ripa Island military barrack prison, there to serve a sentence of twenty-eight days, during which time the military authorities, to quote the words which an officer said to my son, are to endeavour to “break their hearts”.

As a mother, I, with all reverence, call on the members of Parliament, in the name of God, to stop this iniquitous and pernicious persecution of our lads, and upon the newspapers of this land to take up the cause of outraged motherhood and family life.[19]

She feared that the situation could lead to one of the young resisters losing their life, yet they were demonstrating a strength of character and adherence to religious principles that was entirely admirable:

Mere lads, because they possess some character, because they hold fast to their principles, or because . . . they believe in acting up to the teachings of their religion are haled[sic] time after time before the police court, are cast into gaol, are deprived of civil rights are subjected to the garnisheeing of their wages, and, when all these fail, are handed over . . .  to the tender mercies of khaki  coats and fixed bayonets.

Shame on the flag that floats over such acts of gross injustice, shame on the politicians who, through fears of Imperial organisations will not attempt to cleanse that flag of the dark blotches with which they have befouled it, and, finally, shame on the newspaper press of the dominion for refusing to paint in its true colours this threatened approach of a military despotism.[20]

The leadership role played by Jim Worrall on Ripapa Island was apparent when the Minister of Defence sent officers to Fort Jervois to ascertain whether the claims made by the detained youths had any basis. The prisoners declined to speak individually but asked – through Jim Worrall – to be heard all together. They had grievances, he said, and wanted an enquiry. Yet, according to the Press, he declined to state what the grievances were but shouted out a warning to the officers, that if a report appeared in the papers that said they had no grievances, they would ‘make it as hot for you as we have ever done for anybody else – hotter’.[21] As the officers left the young men responded ‘No’ to some shouted questions: ‘“Are we down-hearted?” and “Will we drill?”. Their final comment to the officers was: “Go back to the dogs that sent you”. . .’[22]

Jim Worrall was released from Ripapa Island on 16 July 1913 and was probably present at the welcome home event in the Colosseum, organised for the detainees and attended by 2,500 supporters.[23] 

While Jim was detained on Ripapa Island his father Henry engaged in a spirited exchange of letters with the Minister of Defence, James Allen, later reprinted by the National Peace Council as a supplement to its monthly circular. The first concern that Worrall raised with Allen was that while there were 20 boys on Ripapa Island the Defence Department’s launch could only take 11 visitors at a time, yet each boy was entitled to one visitor per week on the weekly visiting day. He asked that either the launch make two trips on visiting days, or the number of visiting days per week be increased.[24] 

In 1914 Henry and Susan Worrall visited England, and while there Henry became embroiled in a controversy with the Daily News newspaper after an account of an interview with Henry was published containing several factual errors which Worrall tried – unsuccessfully - to correct in a letter to the editor.[25] New Zealand newspapers and the New Zealand High Commissioner in London hit back at Worrall’s reported statements on the mis-treatment of the youths who had been detained on Ripapa Island.[26] 

Jim Worrall’s resistance to militarisation continued after the introduction of conscription in 1916. When he was balloted in May 1917 he did not appeal but ignored the call-up. After he failed to attend for a medical examination he was arrested in September 1917 and sent to Wellington.[27] On 6 November 1917 he was court-martialled at Trentham Military Camp, and sentenced to two years imprisonment and remained in prison until 2 May 1919.[28] 

After his release from prison James Worrall married Marion Susanna Barns in 1921.[29] He was also secretary of a Conscientious Objectors’ Fellowship – which seems to have been short-lived.[30]

Jim’s older brother William (born in 1889) does not appear to have been imprisoned for resisting compulsory military training in the pre-war period but became a conscientious objector during the war. An accountant, he had won prizes for English and shorthand and advanced Pitman’s shorthand at Christchurch Technical College in 1909.[31] He was called up for service in February 1917, shortly after his marriage to Beatrice O’Donohoe on 30 January 1917 and was described in his military record as an accountant working for the NZ Refrigerating Company.[32] In March 1917 his appeal against conscription was dismissed by the Canterbury No. 2. Military Service Board on the grounds that he had been classed as ‘fit for home service only’ and it appears from his military record that he then entered D Company, as a C1 serviceman – which was defined as one who was ‘likely to become fit for active service after special training’.[33] The act of defiance (disobeying a lawful command) which led to his imprisonment seems to have occurred sometime in 1917.

An incident at Featherston Military Camp. included in a submission compiled by the Christchurch writer Blanche Baughan detailing ‘Recent Cases of C.O.’s Treatment under Military Authority in N.Z.’ was sent to every member of both Houses of Parliament. The case of William Worrall featured prominently because the submission included both a statement by William and a statement by another prisoner who had witnessed a disturbing episode in the next door cell when six soldiers had forcibly dressed Worrall in ‘denims’. The other prisoner, who was a member of the Richmond Mission wrote: ‘the strain was awful. I would sooner be in the Civil gaol five years than put up with much of this, the struggling in the next cell sounded awful. I heard the Sergt. Major say, “Put him on his head”, and then again say, “I would enjoy more the pleasure of shooting you”’.[34] 

Worrall was sentenced to 168 hours in detention by the Camp Commandant and he was taken to the ‘Clink’ where denims were brought to him:

We were then shut up each in a cell with the denims and given ten minutes in which to put them on. I refused, and at the end of the ten minutes six men. . . instructed by the Sergt. Major told them to frog-march me, head down. . . I asked him if he were enjoying himself, to which he replied that he would enjoy shooting me very much more. Witnesses have informed me that he further instructed his men, one to sit on my chest, and another on my head, and again to “give the b.. one under his b.. jaw, that will settle him.” The trousers were badly torn in the attempt to get them on me, and in spite of my protest that it was not my fault, the Camp Commandant subsequently fined me . . .  ‘to be deducted from my pay’….Finally the trousers were put on far enough to enable the men to fasten my braces, and I was locked up in the cell, no attempt being made to put on the coat. It is at this point, I understand, that the order to go out and work is alleged to have been given me, and that I was charged with saying I refused. . . . I consider this treatment of prisoners entirely wrong’.[35]

Rotoaira Prison for First World War objectors

Photograph of Rotoaira Prison camp number two and Whakapapanui stone bridge.

After a period in detention at Featherston Military Camp, William Worrall was court-martialled at Featherston on 28 February 1918 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour.[36] Like his younger brother, William Worrall seems to have served his sentence in more than one prison: at the end of the war when the Religious Advisory Board travelled around interviewing all the conscientious objectors still in prison, William was at Rotoaira Prison in the central North Island and he was released in August 1919 from Waikeria Prison.[37]

Post-war both Worrall brothers were on the list of 2320 Military Defaulters who lost their civil rights for 10 ten years, though in fact the Government restored their rights in 1927, one year earlier than planned. Loss of civil rights meant they could not work for the government or a local body, could not seek election to Parliament or to any local body and could not vote in any election.[38] After regaining his civil rights Jim Worrall was elected a councillor in the New Brighton Borough Council in 1933 and again in 1935.[39]

William Worrall died in 1930 aged just 40 after being knocked off his bicycle by a car in Oxford Terrace.[40] Henry Worrall died in 1960 aged 94 years and was buried in the Bromley Cemetery. His son Jim, described as a retired building contractor, died seven years later at the age of 75 and was also buried in the Bromley Cemetery.[41] His granddaughter later recalled that he was a staunch Methodist, a gentle man with strong Christian values.[42]

Margaret Lovell-Smith

2017 Updated 2023


[1]Letter to Mother and Father from Jim [Worrall] 2 July 1913, Letters written at Fort Jervois by Worrall, James Kirkwood, ANZAC Archives. (MS921), Christchurch City Libraries.

[2]‘Things We Ought to Know: Passive Resisters’ Union’, Maoriland Worker, 8 March 1912, p.6.

[3]Family information emailed to author by Hugh Worrall and Jill Worrall, 22 September 2016.

[4]H. Worrall to Charles Mackie, 12 June 1912, Charles Mackie Papers, Series 26, Box 3, Folder 13, Canterbury Museum, Christchurch. Worrall’s address is 140 Tancred Street; ‘Richmond’, Press, 20 December 1902, p. 9; Richmond School Register 1894-1903, Richmond School Records 1869 – 1975, Item 14, ARC1991.2, Canterbury Museum, Christchurch.

[5]Church Registers Index, Christchurch City Libraries; Kath Clark, A History of the Canterbury Trades and Labour Council 1889 – 1937, (Christchurch, 1993) Appendix A. Henry Worrall was on the Executive 1918-1920; 1928 – 1929; 1931-1933.

[6]David Gee, Our Mabel, (Wellington: Millwood Press, 1977) pp.31, 35.

[7]H. Worrall to Charles Mackie, 12 June 1912, Charles Mackie Papers, Series 26, Box 3, Folder 13; H. W. Reynolds to Charles Mackie, 23 September 1914, Series 26, Box 3, Folder 13, Canterbury Museum, Christchurch.

[8]Advertisement, The Repeal, No.7., 13 October 1913, p.7.

[9]'Anti-Militarists: Prosecuted for Distributing Literature: What is a “Dodger”’, Press, 15 February 1912, p.2; ‘Against Compulsory Training: “Dodger” Distributors Fined’, Dominion, 17 February 1912, p.4.

[10]‘Failing to Register: more Anti-Militarists at court’, Press, 21 February 1912, p.3.

[11]Ashburton Guardian, 6 March 1912, p.2.

[12]‘Jailed Anti-Conscripts’, Maoriland Worker, 19 April 1912, p.1.

[13]“Socialist Cross of Honor: markings of a working class counter-culture’, http://garagecollective.blogspot.co.nz/2012/12

[14]‘Anti-Militarism’, Wanganui Herald, 11 March 1912, p.3; Fred Cooke, ‘The N.Z. Press and Conscription’, Maoriland Worker, 29 March 1912, p.3; E.H.C. Ridder to H.A. Atkinson, 30 July 1955, Roth, Herbert Otto, 1917 – 1994: Papers. 82-213-02, Pacifism in New Zealand, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

[15]‘The Anti-Militarists’, Star, 11 March 1912, p.1.

[16]Ryan Bodman, “'Don't be a conscript, be a man!': A History of the Passive Resisters' Union, 1912 – 1914” (Postgraduate Diploma in Arts in History diss., University of Auckland, 2010), p. 29.

[17]‘”Defence”: Prosecutions at Christchurch: An Onlooker’s Items’, Maoriland Worker, 31 January 1913, p.5.

[18]‘Tumult at the Tower’, NZ Truth, 12 April 1913, p.5.

[19]Letter to the Editor from Susan Worrall, Lyttelton Times, 13 June 1913, p.9.

[20]Letter to the Editor from Susan Worrall, Lyttelton Times, 13 June 1913, p.9.

[21]‘”Go Back to the Dogs That Sent You”’, Press, 9 July 1913, p.12.

[22]‘”Go Back to the Dogs That Sent You”’, Press, 9 July 1913, p.12.

[23]‘News of the Day’, Press, 16 July 1913, p.8; Charles Mackie to P.C. Webb, 22 July 1913, Series 359, Box 12, Folder 44, Charles Mackie Papers, Canterbury Museum, Christchurch.

[24]H. Worrall to Jas. Allen, 27 August 1913, National Peace Council of New Zealand Monthly Circulars 1913-1914, Supplement. Item 88, Box 32, Folder 146 Charles Mackie Pamphlets, Canterbury Museum, Christchurch.

[25]'“Objectors Unfit”: The Defence Scheme: Controversy at Home: the Lonely Island Fortress’, Star, 8 May 1914, p.1.; ‘Our Defence System: A Heartrending Story’, Otago Daily Times, 9 June 1914, p.6.; ‘Anti-Militarist Fiction: the Ripa Island “Martyrs” Two Sides of the Picture’, Press, 20 June 1914, p.12; ‘Anti-Militarist Fiction’, Press, 26 June 1914, p.4.

[26]‘”Anti-Militarist Fiction”’, Press, 24 June 1914, p.10.

[27]‘Failure to Report’, Star, 20 September 1917, p.1.

[28]List of imprisoned conscientious objectors 1916 – 1918, http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/first-world-war/conscientious-objection

[29] Letters written at Fort Jervois by Worrall, James Kirkwood, ANZAC Archives. (MS921), Christchurch City Libraries.

[30] Letter to Charles Mackie, 26 January 1920, Series 618, Box 18, Folder 68, Canterbury Museum, Christchurch. '

[31] ‘Technical College’, Star, 30 March 1909, p.1. 

[32] Church Registers Index, Christchurch City Libraries. 

[33] ‘Military Service Boards: Canterbury No. 2: Sittings in Christchurch’, Press, 20 March 1917, p.10. '

[34] 'Recent Cases of C.O.’s Treatment under Military authority in N.Z. [1918], (AAYS 8638 AD1 box 734 10/407 pt 3), Archives New Zealand, Wellington. 

[35] Recent Cases of C.O.’s Treatment under Military authority in N.Z.’ [1918], (AAYS 8638 AD1 box 734 10/407 pt 3), Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

[36] ‘Soldiers Sentenced’, Evening Post, 1 March 1918, p.8; New Zealand Police Gazette, 1919, p.565. Paul Baker, King and Country Call: New Zealanders, Conscription and the Great War, Auckland 1988, p.111; ‘Disobeying Orders: Soldiers Sentenced by Court-Martial’, Dominion, 15 April 1918, p.4. 

[37]List of imprisoned conscientious objectors 1916 – 1918, http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/first-world-war/conscientious-objection


[39]Simon Hendery, ‘How conscription changed New Zealand society 100 years ago’, 31 July 2016, Stuff.co.nz

[40]Accountant’s Death’, Auckland Star, 5 July 1930, p.10; ‘Cyclist Struck by Car: Fatal Accident: Evidence at Inquest’, Press, 30 July 1930, p.5.

[41]Christchurch City Council Cemeteries Index; ‘Mr H. Worrall’, Press, 20 July 1960, p.17.

[42]Simon Hendery,  ‘How conscription changed New Zealand society 100 years ago’, 31 July 2016, Stuff.co.nz