National Service

Early years

The first National Service Scheme began in January 1911 and involved boys from the age of 12 through to men in their mid-20s. The young boys were trained at school—the older boys were trained at various times throughout the year, and the men in their 20s were enrolled in the Citizen Military Forces. This scheme lasted through the First World War and was suspended in 1929.

Second scheme

National service was revived in 1939, after the beginning of Second World War. Under this scheme, unmarried men who turned 21 in the year ending 30 June were called up for

three months’ military training. While they were not deployed overseas, national service was performed within Australia, which included New Guinea and nearby islands and, after 1943, as far north as the equator.

Third scheme

In 1951, all men aged 18 were required to register for national service and to undertake various training obligations, depending on which force they served in. Once training was completed, national servicemen were required to remain in the Reserve for five years, with some 33,000 men being trained annually for the scheme’s first six years.

Those called up under this scheme did not see active service. In 1957, the universal obligation for national service ended and a selective system of training was introduced. This lasted until the scheme ended in 1959.

Fourth scheme

The last National Service Scheme was introduced in 1964 when conflicts in Southeast Asia raised fears about Australia’s security. The National Service Bill became law

in late 1964, with conscripts liable for overseas service from 1965. Selection for military service was based on a birthday ballot.

Between 1964 and 1972, more than 804,000 men registered for national service, of whom more than 63,000 were called up to serve in the Army where many were integrated into regular units that served in Vietnam. The Australian Government announced the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam in 1971, followed by the termination of the Scheme in December 1972.

Number of Australians who served

  • First scheme 1911–1929: Some 636,000 were called up during the first four years of the scheme.

  • Second scheme 1939–1945: In 1942 some 290,000 were in the militia

  • Third scheme 1951–1959: More than 220,000

  • Fourth scheme 1964–1972: More than 63,000


  • During the Vietnam War, more than 200 national servicemen died and more than 1200 were wounded on active service.


  • National servicemen who completed their obligation under the third and fourth schemes are eligible for the Anniversary of National Service 1951–1972 Medal.


  • Australians honour national servicemen on 14 February every year.

  • National Service Memorial, Canberra.

Places where national servicemen served

  • Vietnam

  • Malaysia

  • Borneo

  • Papua New Guinea

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