Island Bay - Ernest Kilby

Ernest Kilby resisted conscription during the Great War due to his religious and pacifist convictions.


Ernest Kilby was born in Wellington on the 17th of June, 1891, the seventh child in a family of eight. He and his siblings went to Island Bay school. In the end-of-year prizegiving in 1905, Ernest was one of four pupils in Standard 6 (Year 8) to receive a class prize.

On 23 November 1915, Ernest, who had become a carpenter, married Elizabeth McKeag Stevenson.

At the end of 1916, the newlyweds were living in Edinburgh Terrace in Berhampore. However by March 1917, they had moved to 93 Melbourne Road in Island Bay, just a few doors up from Ernest’s family home, number 39.

Ernest was a member of the Open Brethren, a Christian denomination where many believed that engagement in conflict was not the will of God. Because of his religious faith, Ernest did not enlist in the army during the first half of World War One.

Conscription and objection

In September 1916, with the number of soldiers volunteering to fight dwindling, the New Zealand government introduced military conscription.

When his name was drawn in the second ballot in December 1916, Ernest applied for exemption to the Military Service Board based on religious grounds. However, despite heated governmental debate, at that stage there were only three religious groups whose objections to conflict were considered legitimate grounds for exemption from military service: the Society of Friends (Quakers), the Seventh Day Adventists, and the Christadelphians. The Brethren were not one of them. Ernest’s appeal was refused.

Although the state decreed him fit and able to fight, Ernest continued to act in accordance with the tenets of his faith, which included refusing to be an auxiliary to conflict. He thus declined the opportunity to take a “non-combat” role in the Medical Corps or the Army Service Corps. He refused to sign the form that all new recruits were required to fill out, and when he was sent to Trentham training camp in Upper Hutt, he refused to don a military uniform.

Hard labour at Paparoa

As a result of his religious convictions and his steadfast adherence to pacifism, on 6 November 1917 Ernest was sentenced to two years’ hard labour at Paparoa Prison Farm, near Christchurch.

His older brother Herbert also spent time in Paparoa, although their brother Walter, who listed his religion as “Church of England” on his enlistment form, fought on the battlefields of France and was promoted to Lance Corporal.

When the war was over, in 1919, the government set up an advisory board to reassess the cases of the 273 men who remained in prison. The board found that 113 of these so-called “Military Defaulters” had had “bona fide religious objections to military service”, and should not be considered as defaulters.

Ernest, whose behaviour during his time at Paparoa was described as “very good”, was one of them.

After the war

By September of that year, he and the other imprisoned religious objectors had been released. The war had ended nearly a year previously.

Ernest returned to Wellington to become the foreman of the timber yard at timber and hardware company C & A Odlin, which would eventually become part of the PlaceMakers franchise. He and Elizabeth had two children.

Ernest Kilby died in 1977.

Find out more

  • Details of New Zealand soldiers’ activity in World War One can be found by examining their digitised defence personnel file, most of which can be accessed online via the Archives NZ catalogue.
  • More about conscientious objectors in New Zealand during World War One can be read on
  • More information about conscientious objectors in the First World War, and information about the Mount Cook Barracks where some of the objectors were held, can be found on our Story Map.
  • Paul Baker’s book King and Country Call: New Zealanders, Conscription and the Great War (Auckland, 1988) provides an excellent history of the complicated issues surrounding conscription during World War One. It is available from Wellington City Libraries.
  • The C. & A. Odlins timber and hardware company, where Ernest and soldier Leslie Hawker worked, is included in our Story Map.
  1. Ernest Kilby.
  2. 1905 Island Bay school prizes, Evening Post, Volume LXX, Issue 144, 15 December 1905, Page 2.
  3. Details of Ernest’s marriage, taken from his digitized defence personnel file.
  4. Dominion of New Zealand. Military Service Act, 1916: Enrolment of Expeditionary Force Reserve...Call at nearest post-office.. 1916.. Ref: Eph-D-WAR-WI-1916-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
  5. “Exemption claimed”, New Zealand Herald, Volume LIV, Issue 16453, 1 February 1917, Page 9.
  6. Detail from Ernest’s digitized defence personnel file.
  7. Detail from Ernest’s digitized defence personnel file.
  8. Correspondence from the Office of Religious Objectors Advisory Board, 20 March, 1919. Archives New Zealand, ref. AD1 734.
  9. Documents pertaining to religious objectors: assessment of men resident at Paparua Prison, 12 February, 1919. Archives New Zealand, ref. AD1 734.