I'm writing a novel set during the first world war. One of the characters is conscripted to fight for the Austria-Hungarian army while he is studying art in Vienna. How could this realistically go about happening? The final quarter of the novel deals with him facing political repercussions for this "betrayal" against his country.

  • He lives in Vienna
  • He is an Englishman
  • He is an art student
  • He is nineteen.
  • He has no prior military experience.
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    Could he have been mistaken for an Austrian in some kind of Harry Buttle/Tuttle type incident? e.g. The authorities thought his English accent was fake and an attempt at "draft dodging" or something? Maybe then the bureaucrat involved in this mistake was afraid for his job (this wasn't his first mistake) and covered up the error.
    – komodosp
    Apr 29, 2020 at 9:16
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    Technically this is a hypothetical and possibly out of scope for this site; the question is well formed and has two answers, so let's not do anything, but please consult help center to understand why we don't do hypothetical questions. History is about what happened historical sources & methods have trouble with what might have happened; that way leads to discussion, which we don't want.
    – MCW
    Apr 29, 2020 at 10:57
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    @MarkC.Wallace Fiction authors should be incouraged to get the historical facts right. Much 'common knowledge' today still exists from fiction novels where history was 'adapted' to fit the story line. Apr 29, 2020 at 12:16
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    Fully agree - but I want to make sure that new visitors to the site know that hypothetical questions are discouraged. This question works; it has generated good answers and contributes to a healthy interesting site. Most similar questions diminish the site. Kudo's to @Noble.
    – MCW
    Apr 29, 2020 at 12:19
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    Thank you everyone for your comments and responses so far. Also, I really appreciate the kind words @MarkC.Wallace. I wasn't sure when asking my question if this was the best place to ask it, but I decided I would probably attain answers with the highest level of veracity if I asked here. I am grateful for the patience and the interesting discourse that has developed.
    – Noble
    Apr 29, 2020 at 16:46

2 Answers 2


Based on the Austrian conscription law of 1868 and militia law 1886 only citizens could be conscripted.

The only exception would be for a foreigner to be conscripted would be with

  • permission from the Emperor and
  • permission of the government of the foriegner's citizenship
  • with a minimal age of 20

base on the §§1,3,6 and 16 of the conscription law of 1868.

Since the United Kingdom declared war on the Austrian empire on the 14th of August 1914, it is unlikely that they would grant one of their citizens permission to join the Austrian army.

Even had they done so, it is unlikely that the emperor would have granted permission to a minor enemy foreigner to join the army.

To my knowledge, only the United States conscripts residents who are foreigners.

Since the first step of conscription was the checking for eligibility in the registry (where age and citizenship would be noted), it would be more likely that a UK citizen would be sent to Internierungslager Grossau, which is where English and French citizens were interned until 1917.

After the English and French who had, up to then been quartered there, were moved from Grossau on April 29, 1917, the camp was temporarily vacated on May 1, 1917. Among the internees was James Joyce's brother, Stanislaus Joyce, who had been transferred from the Kirchberg an der Wild internment camp.

Arrested as a subversive on December 28, 1914, at the beginning of World War I, he [Stanislaus Joyce] was interned by the Austrians at Katzenau, near Linz.


  • 1
    It seems possible I suppose that if said 19yo were fluent enough in German, they might get pressed into service without a good chance to seek the proper legal recourse.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 29, 2020 at 13:05
  • @T.E.D. Since the first step of conscription was the checking for eligibility in the registry (where age and citizenship would be noted), it would be more likly that a UK citizen would be sent to Internierungslager Grossau, which whrere English and French citizens were interned untill 1917. Apr 29, 2020 at 13:39
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    @MarkJohnson This internment camp is very interesting!
    – Noble
    Apr 29, 2020 at 16:49
  • The United States doesn't conscript anybody at the moment.
    – Spencer
    May 2, 2020 at 22:12
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    @Spencer But a Selective Service system still exists (even if not enforced). In June 2014, due to a Y2K bug, 27,218 conscription notices were sent out to peaple born in the 19th century. Conscription in the United States, Non-citizens The Selective Service (and the draft) in the United States is not limited to citizens. May 2, 2020 at 22:51

British nationality could be transmitted through descent in the male line. It would be lost through naturalization elsewhere.

Austro-Hungarian citizenship was granted, among other things, through descent, but I'm not sure if it is only through the male line.

An out-of-wedlock birth to an English father, later recognized, with muddled papers?

I've heard oral history from WWII of ethnic Germans living in Poland who got their citizenship and a draft notice after the German invasion. They self-identified as German, not Polish, so it is not quite the same.

  • Good question what happens in cases of dual nationality. At least since 1920, Paris Passport Conference, the citizenship of the country of residence took priority. How this was delt with before 1920: no idea. Apr 29, 2020 at 12:25
  • Dual nationality or some sort of national confusion is a good idea, I was thinking of that myself.
    – Noble
    Apr 29, 2020 at 16:50
  • @Noble For both Austria and the UK (until 1948), a wife recieved the citizenship of the husband and lost their original citizenship. So a dual citizenship would not be possible based on the parents citizenship. May 1, 2020 at 1:11
  • Indeed Germany was conscripting ethnic Germans in many Eastern European countries during WWII. Note that ethnicity was well documented at that time, and German minority movements in Eastern Europe were often controlled directly by Germany (see eg Volksbund in Hungary). So your Polish example seems very different than the OPs situation.
    – Greg
    May 1, 2020 at 7:54

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