59. Empire Day celebrations 1915

This post looks specifically at Empire Day celebrations held in Yarram in May 1915. The appeal of the (British) Empire was the fundamental plank in the politics and culture of Australia in the early 20C. Australia’s involvement in WW1 makes little sense without this understanding of what the Empire meant at the time.

The staging of celebrations for Empire Day 1915 in the Shire of Alberton created controversy. Prior to the War, celebrations for Empire Day had been generally restricted to the local schools – see Post 3: Empire Day 1914. Often there would be some sort of community celebration – typically a sports competition – added to the school activities, but the focus was definitely the local school, or more precisely the local state school. However, there was a view in May 1915 that because of the War, the day should receive far more public attention, and that while the celebrations at the schools should proceed as normal, there should also be the opportunity for the wider community to come together, at night, and take part in a ‘demonstration’ of loyalty to the Empire.

The significance of celebrating the first Empire Day of the War was noted across all newspapers at the time. The Australasian (29/5/15 p.25) declared:

The significance of Empire Day has never been realised to the same extent as it was this year, when in no exaggerated figure but in sober truth it may be said that the United Kingdom, the Indian Empire, and the overseas dominions are literally fighting for the Imperial existence.

The Argus featured verse written specifically for the occasion. It laboured the themes of resolute determination and the resigned acceptance of suffering and loss on a massive scale, all for the higher good of the Empire. It even had images from what could have been Arthurian England. The work is included as an appendix.

In Yarram, the local paper, Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, backed the move to have the special demonstration of public loyalty on Empire Day. Its editor, A J Rossiter, was personally involved in the planning and he ensured that the proceedings were reported extensively in the paper. The celebrations were held on the night of Monday 24 May and the detailed reporting appeared in the paper on Wednesday 26/5/15.

The local identity most keenly advocating the idea of  the special celebration was Rev George Cox, the Church of England minister in Yarram. Cox was very influential in the local community. He had been born in Edinburgh and his commitment to the Empire was total. From the pulpit he was a fervent patriot. (See Post 26. Soldiers of Christ). He himself would go on to enlist in the AIF, even though he was in his mid forties and married with children. Over his 5 years in Yarram, Cox served on many local committees including the Red Cross, the Recruiting Committee and Belgium Relief. He was on the executive of the local Rechabite Lodge. In 1911, he had set up a society to record the history of the district (South Gippsland sub-centre of the Historical Society), the first such local history society in Victoria.

Cox was also on the committee of the local school (Yarram SS) and in that capacity he persuaded the committee to send a formal letter to the Shire of Alberton asking it to take the lead in planned community celebrations for Empire Day. However the Shire was not keen on the proposal. It appeared content to stay with the traditional school-focused arrangement.  Following the ‘rebuff’, Cox went ahead and formed a small committee so that the ‘grand public demonstration’ he envisaged could go ahead. Rossiter made sure that this piece of local politics was reported in the paper (26/5/15):

The fact that the Alberton Shire Council did not concede to the request to join in a grand public demonstration in no way deterred those who had the scheme in hand from giving effect to it. The Rev. Geo. Cox … having met with what he considered a rebuff, called townsmen together, and a committee was formed, with the result that “the day” was celebrated in a fashion that became loyal Australians.  … Yarram residents gathered together on Monday night to publicly demonstrate their loyalty, and celebrate Empire Day with feelings of pride and cheerfulness.

The committee working with Cox comprised William F Lakin (bank manager, Yarram), Thomas Whitney (manager of the South Gippsland Creamery and Butter Factory, Yarram), George Frederick Sauer (draper, Yarram), Alfred Edmund Paige (head teacher, Yarram SS) and Ben Percival Johnson (solicitor, Yarram). Members of this group also officiated at the farewells organised for soldiers. They would also serve on the various recruiting committees set up over the coming years.  After Cox himself – as indicated, he enlisted in late 1915 and left the district – the most influential person in this group would prove to B P Johnson.

On the night, the ‘Mechanics’ Hall’ was full – by 8 o’clock every seat was taken . The venue was decorated appropriately:

Never has the hall looked so gay with bunting. The large Agricultural Society’s Union Jack formed a complete background to the stage, and in the hall the flags of Australia, France, Belgium, Russia, Italy and Servia were conspicuous, Japan being represented by chrysanthemums. From the centre of the ceiling lines of smaller flags were run to the four corners of the hall, and in the right hand corner of the hall the name “Lusitania”  was inscribed on a placard in black letters.

The chairman for the night – Thomas Whitney, manager of the local butter factory  – presented a lengthy history of the Empire Movement and Empire Day. Keen to emphasise the role that belief in the Empire could play in daily life, he even went into the specifics of the 4 planks of the Empire Movement – Responsibility, Duty, Sympathy and Self-Sacrifice – and continued on with its fifteen propositions:

1. Love and fear God.  2. Honor the King.  3. Obey the laws.  4. Prepare to advance the highest interests of the Empire in peace and war.  5. Cherish patriotism.  6. Regard the rights of other nations.  7. Learn citizenship.  8. Follow duty.  9. Consider duties before rights.  10. Acquire knowledge.  11. Think broadly.  12. Practise discipline.  13. Subdue self.  14. Work for others.  15. Consider the poor and suffering.

The mix of religious conviction, Christian practice and civic responsibility serves as a reminder of how Protestantism was the religion of the Empire (See Post 16. Righteous war and religious renewal, September – October 1914).

Whitney declared that if people were prepared to embrace the propositions then Australia would be a greater nation, and, in that time of peril, he urged all present to recommit to the guiding principles of the Empire Movement over the coming year. Australia’s history – that of the young, emerging nation – was bound to the Empire’s longer and grander history.

The following resolution was passed by acclamation:

This meeting of citizens of Yarram and district, affirms its confidence in the solidarity of our Empire and the integrity of our cause, and while expressing its unbounded admiration of the gallantry of our representatives at the front, and its deepest sympathy with those bereaved, urges upon all our people to rise to a realisation of our Empire as exemplified in the conduct of our men upon both land and sea.

Much was made of the glorious history of the Empire and its fundamental role in Australia’s own history and development. Whitney even saw the Empire, under God, stretching back one thousand years:

There was something about the British Empire which appealed to Australians, and in the present crisis, a sense of its power and grandeur was felt by all. It sent a thrill of independence through us, and we gloried in the legacy which our forefathers had left us; they who had shed their blood to overcome every hindrance which beset them. The flag that had braved all breezes and all wars for the past thousand years would still keep flying, and vindicate our right to the Divine possession. (Applause).

There was a full program of ‘patriotic airs’ to accompany the speeches – Kipling’s Recessional, England Calls for Men, Your King and Country Want You, Motherland, Army and Navy, To the Front, The Minstrel Boy, and even the Marseillaise –  and Rev. Cox had penned additional verses of the National Anthem for the occasion. One of these verses was printed by the local paper and sung by everyone there:

Australia’s sons uphold
Gallant and strong and bold, God keep our men.
May they victorious be, Whether on land or sea, At all times kept by Thee, God save our men.

A highlight of the night involved a performance by the school children from Yarram SS:

A pretty scene was presented when over thirty Yarram school children marched on to the stage, each carrying Union Jacks. The girls were attired in white frocks, and the boys wore red, white and blue ties. The popular songs “Red, White and Blue” and “Sons of the Sea” were given with considerable vim, the choir and audience taking up the chorus.

At interval, the local Red Cross put on a demonstration:

The interval was filled in very nicely with a demonstration by the St. John Ambulance trainees, who adjusted a “broken” leg, “fractured” collar bone, and “fractured” jaws in professional fashion, the patients looking not at all perturbed in the absence of anaesthetics. … A case of “fractured thigh” gave opportunity for the use of the new stretcher, while the other patients were assisted by various means of hand carrying. The Rev. Geo. Cox had charge of the ambulance trainees, and with his accustomed thoroughness had a telephone rigged up on the stage for demonstration purposes.

Overall the night was declared a great success, as a public demonstration of support for the Empire in its time of peril. However the proceedings may have proved too long and tedious for younger members of the audience because at one point the stage was plunged into darkness when children ‘meddled with the footlights and caused a fuse to blow out’. The fault was quickly fixed.

By this stage of the war it was not possible to have any sort of civic function and not at some point call for more volunteers. That night, Whitney had spoken for too long and several of the later speakers had to either shorten or cancel their prepared efforts. However, one speaker who definitely did feature after the interval was local solicitor, B P Johnson. As indicated, Johnson was probably the most important public speaker over the entire period of the War. He was heavily involved with the various recruiting committees and campaigns, and that night he was given time to call for more enlistments. He argued that Australia had not yet sent its quota for the Empire – on the basis of Australia’s population he gave this quota as 300,000 men – and that too many locals were hanging back refusing to go. He singled out the footballers as the classic example of the very types who should enlist. Johnson finished his appeal with what had become by then standard recruiting flourishes:

Only those who do their duty know true happiness. If a man fell, how can he die better (Applause).

Empire Day celebrations in 1915 highlighted how people in the Shire of Alberton viewed and interpreted the War through the lens of the Empire. The planning and management of the celebrations also underscored the role of the professional, managerial and propertied class in controlling the narrative of the war. It was this group of townspeople who, literally, held the stage. As will become evident in future posts, the same group of townspeople would come to drive the business of soldiers’ farewells, recruiting campaigns and, in time, the push for conscription.


Empire Day, 1915

Not with the pomp and circumstance of yore,
Not with the flaunted pride of other days,
Not with the joy-bells pealing from the shore
To sound their placid note of self-sung praise

But rather as some knight who in the fray
Halts for a moment at a wayside shrine,
And bows his helmed head to humbly pray
For God’s good guidance in his task divine.

Mother, we stand before you! At your call
We struck for Empire, and we struck for right;
Not ours to falter – better far to fall
And win a hero’s guerdon in the fight.

Not for a moment will we sheathe the sword
We wield for freedom in its hour of need,
Duty and honour call with one accord
To prove our plighted word by dauntless deed.

And if the cost demanded by the cause
Means that we sacrificed a nation’s brave –
Then must we sacrifice, and only pause
To lay our tribute in their glorious grave.

Thus by the flag which proudly floats above,
Thus by the valour of an unshed tear,
We’ll prove to all the world our loyal love,
And make each day an Empire Day this year!

The Argus, Tuesday 25 May 1915, p 8


The Argus

The Australasian

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

58. The case of Rudolph Schmidt, postal worker at Traralgon

Rudolph Schmidt was a postal worker at Traralgon who in September 1915 was convicted of being ‘disaffected and disloyal’ and interned at Langwarrin. He was to be interned for the duration of the War. However, in November 1915, after only one month, Schmidt was released from military custody on the direction of the Minister of State for Defence ( Senator G F Pearce). Schmidt’s release prompted public outrage in Traralgon and the wider Gippsland community, and it fostered a long-running  protest that attracted the attention of the Melbourne press. The Minister was portrayed as weak and indecisive and his harshest critics claimed his actions undermined recruiting efforts.

Throughout the case, the Shire of Alberton backed its neighbour, the Shire of Traralgon, in its condemnation of Schmidt and criticism of the Minister. The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative reported on 11/2/16:

At the meeting of the Alberton shire council yesterday a circular was read from the Traralgon Protest Committee, bearing on the treatment of the disloyal citizen Schmidt by Senator Pearce.

The President remarked that it was people of that class who were responsible for the tremendous amount of damage throughout the world. Ships were sunk and factories blown up. In nine cases out of ten it was due to the people of the Schmidt class. …

Cr. Barlow moved, and Cr. Barry seconded – That this council, having heard the facts of the case of Rudolph Schmidt, interned for disloyalty, and released by the Minister of Defence, expresses its strong dissent from the actions of the Minister in releasing Schmidt.

An earlier editorial in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 24 November 1915 made it clear how unpopular the Minister’s action in releasing Schmidt had been:

Rudolph Schmidt, an employee in the Traralgon post office, was interned, witnesses having stated in evidence that the accused said he would “rather be under the rule of the Kaiser than a week-kneed drunkard like the King of England” and that it was “all tommy rot for the Australian boys to fight for England.” Naturally the residents of Traralgon are incensed at the release of Schmidt, who it seems entered into a bond for his good behaviour. The president of the Traralgon shire is being requisitioned to convene a public meeting to protest against Schmidt’s release. Men of this class, having proved themselves disloyal, should not only be interned, but made to work for their tucker.

The Schmidt case reveals the complex interaction during the War between community politics and legislation covering national security. It also appears that the Minister (Pearce) ran the prosecution of Schmidt as a test-case.

There was extensive newspaper coverage of the Schmidt case at the time. Additionally, a comprehensive personal file on Schmidt was compiled by the Intelligence Section of the 3rd Military District.

Papers in the Schmidt file reveal that the Criminal Investigation Branch of Victoria Police and the ‘military authorities’ first started investigating Schmidt in May 1915. The first formal report (17/5/15) referred to him as being ‘anti-British’. Attention was drawn to his obviously German name and background. However, from the very beginning, there were questions over the veracity of the stories that were circulating about Schmidt. For example, the first report noted that a certain T A Pettit from Traralgon would be able to provide ‘valuable information’ on Schmidt, subject to his identity and information being kept ’strictly confidential’. However when this person was interviewed, he stated that all he knew about Schmidt was ‘hearsay’ and that he, personally, had not heard any ‘disloyal’ comments from him. But he added that from what he had heard from people, he was ‘certain’ that Schmidt was making disloyal comments. There was also a vague story – again hearsay – about Schmidt taking small flags from some children and jumping on them.

From the beginning, there was confusion over Schmidt’s background. Some of those investigating him believed that while he had been born in Australia, his father had been born in Germany. In fact, it was the grandfather who had been born in Germany.

The investigation of Schmidt began in May 1915. But not much more than 3 months later, on 8 September 1915, he was found to be ‘disloyal and disaffected’ under the Suspected Persons Inquiry Order 1915. This particular order under the War Precautions Act 1914 had been introduced on 25 June 1915, and there is a note in the Schmidt file, dated 22/6/15, from the Secretary, Department of Defence to the Commandant 3rd Military District, which specifically links Schmidt’s fate to the creation of this particular order:

An order called the “Suspected Persons Inquiry Order”, will be submitted to the Executive Council to-morrow. An inquiry can be held under this Order if you think the circumstances so warrant.

Obviously, by late June, Schmidt had been identified as one of the first to be pursued under this new order. The recommendation from the 3rd Military District for the inquiry to go ahead was made on 9/7/15. The authorities were also keen to select the magistrate who would conduct the inquiry. The 3rd Military District recommended on 2/8/15 that ‘Mr Walter William Harris, Police Magistrate at Sale, be asked to conduct this enquiry.’ The Defence Department agreed to the recommendation re Harris, and Crown Law was asked to set the matter in train on 18/8/15:

The Minister of State for Defence believes that one RUDOLPH SCHMIDT, Postal Assistant at Traralgon is disaffected and disloyal and it is desired that Schmidt be given an opportunity under the Suspected Persons Inquiry Order, 1915, of proving that he is not disaffected or disloyal.

It would be most convenient for this Department if you could arrange for Mr. W. W. Harris, Police magistrate, to conduct the enquiry (sic)….

By the time Schmidt was compelled to attend court on 8 September 1915 there was not much chance for him. The desired legal instrument was in place, the chosen magistrate had been appointed and, under the Order, Schmidt had to prove that the Minister’s claim that he, Schmidt, was disaffected or disloyal was false. Quite apart from the onus of proof being on Schmidt, there were, by that stage, 13 current or former residents of Traralgon who were prepared to state that they had heard Schmidt utter disloyal comments.

Many of the court witnesses were fellow postal workers. One repeated claim was that Schmidt had referred to the King in terms like ‘weak-kneed drunkard’ and declared the Kaiser a better person. Schmidt was also alleged to have praised Germany as a place where working conditions were better, and products were made in Germany were also said to be better. One witness claimed Schmidt went so far as to claim that things would be no different under German rule. While he said he would fight for Australia he declared he would not fight for England. He criticised Llyod George and Churchill. Several witnesses claimed he justified the sinking of the Lusitania, on the grounds that the vessel was carrying contraband and warnings had been given by the Germans. One claimed that Schmidt had refused to wear a patriotic badge. Schmidt also, apparently, justified Germany’s use of gas as a weapon of war. Witnesses made it clear that they regarded Schmidt as disloyal, and that, as one claimed to have told him, he should ‘take the first boat back to Germany.’

The cumulative impact of such witness statements, formally presented in court, and in the context that the Minister and the authorities had already claimed that Schmidt was disloyal, was overwhelming. However, the conduct of the inquiry was just as prejudiced. Schmidt’s legal representative – A F Rice – had only met with Schmidt the morning of the court proceedings. He challenged the jurisdiction of the police magistrate and the legality of the entire proceedings. He claimed that Schmidt, in the meaning of the Order (Suspected Persons Inquiry Order 1915) was not a ’suspected person’ and, again within the wording of the Order, he pointed out that Schmidt had definitely not called for such an inquiry. He stated that Schmidt was neither disaffected nor disloyal. Police Magistrate Harris was unmoved. However he did acknowledge that he had difficulty in stating that Schmidt was a ’suspected person’ in terms of the Order. Faced with such a fundamental problem Harris concluded that he could not challenge his commission, which he presumed was ‘regular’. The inquiry went ahead.

The actual court dynamics were also very revealing. There was no cross examination of the witnesses. After the first witness had made his statement, Rice attempted to cross examine and go to the question of motivation but he was cut short by Harris. The exchange was written up in a local paper – Gippsland Farmers Journal, 10/9/15  (p3) – :

[After Rice had challenged the witness to be more precise with his recollection of the timing of an event and explain why he had let the matter lie so long before he finally reported it]
Mr. Harris here interposed, and said that he had no intention of allowing the witnesses to be subjected to endless cross-examination as to motives etc. The main thing was the impression left on their mind by what Schmidt had said.

No further witnesses were cross examined. The Police Magistrate had signalled that witnesses could, in effect, say what they wished and even play to the public theatre of the court room. Indeed, at the end of the proceedings Harris thanked all the witnesses for coming forward and he pointedly and publicly acknowledged their patriotic spirit.

Rice had asked for an adjournment which was denied. In the end, Rice effectively gave up and refused to advise his client. Schmidt did not take the stand.

Police Magistrate Harris found that Schmidt was disaffected and disloyal, to the applause of those in the packed court house. He left the sentence up to the Minister. But he did add that in his view 6 months in prison would be appropriate.

On 17/9/15, the Minister (Pearce) signed the warrant for Schmidt’s arrest and imprisonment, as a prisoner-of-war. He was taken into custody at Traralgon on 23/9/15 and transferred to Langwarrin the next day. Later there was a public service hearing which also found Schmidt guilty of disloyalty – it could hardly do otherwise – and he was also expelled from the local ANA.

On the face to it, the whole affair had been a great success and the local community, assisted by legal instruments and scheming that facilitated what amounted to little more than a kangaroo court, had been able to demonstrate its patriotism by removing a proven German sympathiser and someone disloyal to the Empire. Everyone, and not just the townspeople of Traralgon, was on notice that disloyalty would not be tolerated. But from the day that PM Harris found Schmidt to be a disaffected and disloyal person there were 2 serious problems for Minister Pearce. The first was the growing body of evidence that Schmidt was most likely the victim of paranoia and vindictiveness. The second problem was Schmidt’s citizenship, because legally there was nothing to tie him to Germany: he was as British a subject as all his accusers.

As indicated, the possibility that the claims against Schmidt had been spread as rumours intended to harm him had been there from the very start. Prior to his court appearance, Schmidt had written to the Deputy Postmaster General stating that the stories being spread about him were false, he was not disloyal and he had said nothing seditious. He also stated that people opposed his political views and had threatened to ‘get him’ for sedition. Perversely, this letter was actually employed to justify the inquiry into Schmidt’s claimed disloyalty. The authorities claimed in court that Schmidt’s written protestations about his innocence were a plea to the Minister to conduct the inquiry so he, Schmidt, could prove that he was not disloyal.

It was not long before other citizens of Tralralgon took up Schmidt’s cause. The part played by Schmidt’s father in visiting the town and talking to people is unclear. He might have been the critical catalyst but it could also have been that people were genuinely shocked at what had happened and exercised initiative themselves. In any case, the Minister soon had a number of statutory declarations from leading townspeople stating that while Schmidt had a temper and was prone to making extreme statements, he had been victimised and pressured relentlessly over his German name and supposed German background, and that he had been goaded or tricked into making foolish and extreme statements. Moreover, this group of townspeople individually found him to be a decent, law-abiding citizen whose loyalty could not be questioned. It was a totally different perspective.  It was also hard to dismiss the declarations when they came from, amongst others, the Shire of Traralgon Secretary (Walter G West), the local Church of England Minister (Rev. William James Thomas Pay) and an Inspector of Public Works (William Philip O’Mara). The identities of these townsfolk were not released at the time. The Minister for Defence was now presented with the possibility that his special legislation and hand-picked legal officer had been employed to effect an injustice.

The other major problem the case now posed for the Minister probably came more from blind prejudice than anything else. It has already been noted – and at the time some officials certainly knew – that, other than the name, there was little to tie Schmidt to Germany. His wife’s family were Australian. He had been born in Australia, as had his father. His grandfather had been born in Germany but he had come to Australia decades earlier as a 15 year old. In terms of all the legislation, Schmidt was not an ‘alien’ in any form. However, the Minister had incarcerated Schmidt at Langwarrin under Regulation 56.A (sic) of the War Precautions Regulations 1915. This regulation was very explicit:

56.(1) Where the Minister has reason to believe that any natural-born British subject, one at least of whose parents was or is a subject of a State which is at war with the King, is disaffected or disloyal, he may, by warrant under his hand, order him to be detained in military custody, in such place as he thinks fit, during the continuance of the present state of war.

Even if Schmidt had been disaffected or disloyal his incarceration under this section was not lawful. He did not meet the criteria: both parents had been born in Australia. Possibly, the Minister could have imprisoned Schmidt under a different regulation. For example, Regulation 43. – If any person attempts to cause mutiny, sedition, or disaffection among His Majesty’s forces, or among the civilian population, he shall be guilty of an offence against the Act ( War Precautions Act 1914). However, the Minister had clearly exceeded his power in incarcerating Schmidt under 56(1).

The solution Minister Pearce decided on was to release Schmidt, but only under a bond that he would cause no further problem. There is a minute paper, signed by Pearce, included in the Schmidt file and dated 25/10/15. It begins by outlining the correct details of Schmidt’s citizenship and recommends that In view of the whole circumstances of this case Schmidt may be released on his entering into a bond of £50 to observe the War Precautions Act & to abstain from the further use of disloyal language.

However the matter was not to be dismissed so easily. Once news of Schmidt’s release from Langwarrin on 29/10/15 became known there was uproar. Pearce’s action was seen as high-handed and totally at odds with the findings of the formal proceedings conducted at Traralgon. It was claimed that he had been fooled by people, including the father of Schmidt, who had personally approached him and requested that he reconsider the finding. The Minister had been manipulated. Pearce was in a difficult position. He could not criticise his own Department or his own decisions. At the same time, people demanded some better explanation of why such a clear-cut case of disloyalty was now set aside. Both the local and Melbourne press reported the community’s outrage.

Protest or ‘indignation’ meetings were held at Traralgon where the chief spokesperson was the Rev William H Scurr, the local Methodist minister. This particular member of the local clergy was absolutely certain about Schmidt’s disloyalty, unlike the Church of England minister referred to above who was one of those who came to Schmidt’s defence, and who wrote in his letter of support, I can only say that as far as I am concerned personally I have never heard him make one single statement indicating disloyalty… However, notwithstanding the division in the local clergy over Schmidt, it was very clear that overwhelming opinion in the town, local community and right across Victoria was against him.

In an attempt to limit the political damage, Minister Pearce released statements to the press. The following report in The Age 19/11/15 is interesting because while it assessed Schmidt’s comments as rash and intemperate, rather than disloyal, it still misrepresented Schmidt’s background:

Minister of Defence Explains
The Minister of defence yesterday referred to a report that had appeared in the press stating that the inhabitants of Traralgon were incensed at the release of Rudolph Schmidt, a former letter carrier, on parole. In August certain alleged disloyal utterances of Schmidt were the subject of a magisterial inquiry, as a result of which it was recommended that Schmidt should be interned. Senator Pearce stated yesterday that the evidence in the inquiry had been sent down to the Defence department, and the authorities had gone very carefully through it. The whole matter appeared to have arisen out of a quarrel, and as Schmidt expressed regret at having used certain expressions in the heat of the moment, and had given satisfactory assurances for the future, it had been decided to release him on parole. Schmidt had been born in Australia, and was really a British subject, one of his parents being an Australian, the other a German.

The next week, 27/11/15, Philip Schmidt, Rudolph’s father, wrote to The Age (p 20) trying to correct the false statement about him (the father, Philip Schmidt) being born in Germany. It was the grandfather who was born in Germany, and this – in terms of 56(1) – was the critical difference:

… I would like to state, Schmidt’s mother is Australian born of English people; his father [Philip Schmidt] is also Australian born. Rudolph Schmidt’s grandmother was born in Western Australia of English parents, and his grandfather, German, came to Victoria at the age of 14, and resided within fifteen miles of Melbourne for 50 odd years, and never at any time did he try to teach or show us any German ideas, but quite the reverse.

He closed his letter, I remain loyal to the end.

A few days earlier – 23/11/15 – Rev Scurr had a letter published in The Argus (p 7).  He had clearly identified the basic weaknesses in the Minister’s decision:

Was the Minister right in interning him, and is he wrong in releasing him now, or was he wrong in interning him and is he right in releasing him now? Which? If one convicted and interned man can be released on his “bond to be of good behaviour,” can any of the men at present interned be released on the same recognissance? If not, why not?

On 25/11/15 The Argus  (p8) reported on the public meeting held at Traralgon to protest against Schmidt’s release. In reporting the hostility directed at Minister Pearce, it noted:

The Minister, it was declared, had released Schmidt on the flimsiest of reasons, and his action was high-handed and a direct insult to the people of Traralgon.

A more complete account of the story behind Schmidt’s release was revealed at the end of November. By this point, G H Wise the local MHR had been pressed to pursue the matter with Minister Pearce. Wise passed on the reply he received from the Secretary of the Department, and it appeared in the Traralgon Record  (p 2) on 30/11/15:

… I am to inform you that subsequently (sic) to the enquiry held as to Schmidt’s loyalty, representations were made to the Minister on Schmidt’s behalf by several residents of good standing in the Traralgon district. From their statements it appeared that so far as they knew Schmidt he had confirmed himself as a loyal subject. It was further represented to the Minister that many of the statements as to which evidence was given at the enquiry (sic) had been made during arguments in which Schmidt’s temper had been affected by provocation.

The Minister was also informed that both Schmidt’s father and mother had been born here, and that his mother was of British descent; and also that his grandfather had spent nearly all his life in Australia.

Schmidt’s internment had been ordered in the belief that he was a naturalised subject. It is not the practice of the Department to intern a natural born subject except in circumstances of undoubted danger to the public safety, and in view of the doubts which the information furnished to the Minister raised as to the necessity for keeping him interned, the Minister authorised his release on his entering into a bond to be of good behaviour.

Interestingly, the letter argues that the Department interned Schmidt in the mistaken belief that he was a naturalised subject. However, nowhere in Schmidt’s file is there any indication that the authorities ever believed he was a naturalised subject. Rather, the mistake made was that officers thought Schmidt’s father was naturalised. Throughout the whole affair there appeared to be constant indifference, and confusion – if not dissemblance –  over the question of Schmidt’s citizenship. Incredibly, even the bond under which he was eventually released referred to ‘the date of his arrival in the Commonwealth of Australia’! The basic problem was that while Schmidt was not, legally, in any way German, politically he was always regarded as such.

The opposition to Schmidt’s release eventually faded away in the first half of 1916, but not before virtually every shire and local council in Victoria had formally expressed its condemnation of both Schmidt’s disloyalty and his release by the Minister.  Rev Scurr was still protesting as late as April 1916 when, according to The Argus of 12/4/16 (p 10), he attended a meeting of the Anti-German League in Melbourne in his capacity as the Chairman of the Rudolph Schmidt Committee, Traralgon. Pearce’s status as one of the most powerful men in the Hughes Government – he was Minister for Defence through the War, and in fact to 1921 – meant that he could survive the protests over his actions.

The lesser figure of Rudolph Schmidt suffered most. Apart from the period he spent as a prisoner of war, he had to live under the highly prescriptive conditions of his bond. He lost his employment with the Post office, after 9 years of service. He also had to leave Traralgon.  He was only twenty-four, married with one child, and his name and reputation had been badly damaged, if not destroyed. His last known address appears to have been Woorarra via Welshpool, in early 1918. We know this because his mail was still being intercepted at that point. Woorarra was a remote settlement on the boundary of the Shire of Alberton.

It seems that Schmidt’s fate was driven by his quick temper, his surname and the unchecked hysteria of patriotism in the local community. The political mandarins of the day sought to exploit this obsession with patriotic loyalty to shore up support for the War. They showed they could be ruthless in their actions; and when they made mistakes they instinctively dissembled. The supreme irony was that the War was being fought against tyranny, to preserve the British Empire and all its institutions, including, most importantly, its system of justice.


Intelligence file for Rudolph Schmidt


The Argus

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Traralgon Record

Gippsland Farmers Journal, Traralgon

The Age

See also:

Stanley, P 2011, Digger Smith And Australia’s Great War : Ordinary Name – Extraordinary Stories, Pier 9, Miller’s Point NSW. (pp114-117)

57. Enlistments in the first half of 1915: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

This post concludes the overview of the group of 102 men who enlisted in the first half of 1915. It matches the scope of Post 23. Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history.


Post 23 gave a breakdown of religion in the general community. The relevant data was taken from the Commonwealth Census of 1911 –Table 38. Male Population Of The Counties Of Victoria At the Census of 3rd April, 1911 Classified according to Religion (Exclusive of Full-blooded Aboriginals). – for the county of Buln Buln, Victoria. The data identified 4 key religions for the Gippsland community: Church of England (39%), Presbyterian (23%), Roman Catholic (19%) and Methodist (12.5%). The remaining 6.5% covered relatively small groups of men who identified as: Baptist, Congregationalist, Lutheran, Church of Christ, Salvation Army, 7 Day Adventist, Unitarian, Undefined Protestant, Greek Catholic, Undefined Catholic and Other Christian.

The table below shows – in percentage form – the breakdown in religious affiliation between the census of 1911 and the 2 enlistment cohorts of 1914 and the first half of 1915. Clearly the pattern of over-representation from men who gave the Church of England as their religion had been established by the end of the first half of 1915. Arguably, this group identified most closely with the cause of Imperial War. At this point – the end of the first half of 1915 – the numbers involved with the other religious groupings are probably too small to draw definite conclusions. The drop in Methodist enlistments could easily prove to be a one-off aberration. Significantly, the figures continue to show that Roman Catholic enlistments were in proportion to their numbers in the local community.


The unit that appears against each man is taken for the Embarkation Roll.

Once again it is apparent that most men enlisted in infantry battalions. The actual number from this cohort of 102 who left Australia in the Light Horse was only 14. By far the largest group of men (38) enlisted in the 4 battalions ( 21-24) of the new 6 Brigade which were formed at Broadmeadows from February to May 1915.

Service history

Post 23 revealed the very high casualty levels that characterised the first cohort of volunteers to the end of 1914. Basically, 29.5% died on active service and another 38% were repatriated to Australia and discharged as ‘medically unfit’.

The extent of casualties for this second cohort – from January to June 1915 – was only marginally better:  28% died on active service and 31% were repatriated to Australia and discharged as ‘medically unfit.’

Again, this is only part of the story because the table below shows the large number of men who were either wounded or hospitalised with disease or injury but who were not discharged as ‘medically unfit’. After their time in hospital they were returned to their units and they served out the war, typically returning to Australia in 1919. Moreover, some of those men who died on active service had been wounded and/or hospitalised with disease or injury before death. In fact, there is only a handful of men in this cohort – 4 to be precise – who managed to survive the War without being wounded or admitted to hospital with either disease or injury.

The table also shows that most of those killed from this cohort were to die later in the War, many as late as 1918. While casualty figures of alarming proportions were appearing in Australia by the end of June 1915, the extreme levels reflected in the table were not to occur until the AIF moved to the Western Front in early 1916.

As for the first cohort, the most common diseases that saw men hospitalised included: enteric fever, dysentery, pleurisy, pneumonia, tonsillitis, mumps, influenza, rheumatic fever, malaria, scabies, neurasthenia and VD.

The special ‘Anzac Leave’ that PM Hughes instituted in September 1918 did not apply for this group of volunteers who enlisted in the first half of 1915. Those who survived the War, and who were not discharged early on medical grounds, were typically discharged as TPE (‘Termination of Period of Enlistment’) in the second half of 1919.  A small number of men ( 2 ) were discharged in the UK. They had been immigrants to Australia prior to the War.

There was one case of a compassionate discharge. It involved Private G Keillerup. His father had just died and it was believed at the time that 3 of his brothers in the AIF had been killed. Pte. Keillerup was only 18 yo at the time and he had already been wounded.

There was also one case of apparent desertion. Private William Henry Cutts went absent without leave in the UK in early 1916 and then enlisted under an alias in a English unit that was sent to India. The AIF tracked him down and wrote him off their list in June 1916. His record was marked ‘ service no longer required’ and he was marked as not eligible for Australian war medals. Presumably he reasoned that the odds of survival were far better in India than on the Western Front.

Two characteristics not shown in the table are the number of men from this cohort who ‘rose through the ranks’ and became commissioned officers and, second, the extent of awards won by the men generally. Both characteristics were also a feature of the first (1914) cohort of volunteers. Both characteristics will be analysed in detail later.


There do not appear to be significant difference between the 2 cohorts of volunteers reviewed thus far.

The cohort from the Shire of Alberton was young – typically between 18 and 25 – single, and drawn predominately from the rural working class. The mobility of this group was a striking feature. There was only a relatively small group of sons from local farming families.

Enlistment levels generally reflected the distribution of religious affiliation in the community. The apparent over-representation of those of the Church of England faith will need to be further investigated.

While much was made at the time of the creation of a special light horse unit from South Gippsland, most of the men enlisted in the new infantry battalions of the AIF.

The odds of enlisting in the period from August 1914 through to the end of June 1915, and surviving – alive, unwounded and in good health – to the end of the War, were particularly poor.

Note: in working through enlistment dates with this cohort, there were several cases of inconsistency between what was recorded in the individual service file and the embarkation roll. While I have tried to employ the date shown on the embarkation roll, in a limited number of cases – noted on the above table – I have chosen to use the date recorded on the individual service file. One of the consequences of this work has been that 3 men – Ray Robert Hudson, William Jacobson and Leslie Mcleod – who were originally included in this cohort have been shifted to other cohorts: Hudson and McLeod to the second half of 1915; and Jacobson to the first half of 1916.  The tables in both Post 55 and Post 56, and the related commentary, have been adjusted accordingly . This fine tuning is inevitable in this sort of research.

56. Enlistments in the first half of 1915: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

This post continues the analysis of Post 22: Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status, in that it examines the same characteristics,  and employs the same approach, for the group of 104 men who enlisted in the first half of 1915.

The specific characteristics covered in the attached table are: the place of birth, the place of enlistment, the address of the next-of-kin at the time of enlistment, the address of the individual volunteer at the time of enlistment, the occupation at the time of enlistment, and age and marital status at the time of enlistment.

As for Post 22, most information in the table is taken from 2 key sources. Place of birth and place of enlistment are taken from the enlistment papers in each individual’s AIF service file. The other pieces of information are taken from the Embarkation Roll.

However, for ‘occupation’, the evidence covers not just the Embarkation Roll and the individual AIF service file but also the Shire of Alberton Rate Book and the Commonwealth Electoral Roll for the Subdivision of Yarram Yarram.

This extended range of evidence is needed to identify those men who were from the ‘family farm’. As is shown in the table, in one or two cases, a young man described himself as a  ‘labourer’ when in fact his father was a farmer in the Shire and the young man was, presumably, working on the family farm. Also, there were cases where the young man described himself as ‘farmer’ when the evidence – principally from the rate book – indicates that he was working for his father on the family farm. Consequently, in the table below, the description of  ‘family farm’ – highlighted – covers all situations (12) where the son was, most likely, working on the family farm.

There was also the situation where a young man described himself as a ‘farmer’ when all the evidence points to him being a ‘farm labourer’. In the table, this is most evident with immigrant farm workers: they were relatively young; had been in the district only a short period of time; there is no record in the local rate book of land in their name; and where they do appear on the electoral roll they are not described as ‘farmer’.


As for Post 22, the table covering the first half of 1915 highlights movement as a key characteristic of this group.  Again continuing the analysis from Post 22, it is possible to identify 4 broad groups.

First, there are what can be termed long-term residents: those who were born in the Shire, enlisted in Yarram – and were working in the local area at the time of enlistment – and gave a location in the Shire as their own address and that of their parents. This was the largest single group and, not surprisingly, individuals from this group were most likely to be included on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll and, in the case of those who died on active service, the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. One minor qualification to make with this group of volunteers is that increasingly the men were formally being enlisted in Melbourne. This was the case even where they had their (first) medical, completed the enlistment paper work, took the oath and were issued with their railway warrant in Yarram. In part, this arrangement reflected the concern that country doctors were too inclined to pass volunteers as fit. It appears that by the end of June 1915, all men were medically ‘re-examined’ in Melbourne.

The second group involved those who had been in the Shire for some time – they had been born in the Shire and/or spent time there as a child or adolescent – but who, by the time of enlistment, had moved out of the Shire. As before, whether or not they were included on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll – and, if relevant, the Shire of Alberton War Memorial – appeared to be tied to the presence of some ongoing family link to the Shire. There needed to be immediate family members or relatives working to keep the individual soldier’s memory alive in the local community.

Generally, those in this second group only featured on local school honor rolls. However, the individuals concerned were often well known – or more correctly ‘well-remembered’ –  in the local community. For example, Bertram Atkinson only appears in the table because he attended Yarram State School as a child. His name appears on the school’s honor roll. He was 26yo and married when he enlisted, and his wife was living in Hawthorn. He had even attended Malvern East Grammar some time after leaving the state school at Yarram. Clearly, his link with the local area had finished many years before he enlisted. Yet because he was the son of the Church of England minister based at Yarram at the turn of the 20C – the Rev. James C Atkinson – locals definitely remembered him. In fact, there were several articles in the local paper reporting his death (21/9/15) and describing his family’s association with the district.

The third group takes in those who came into the Shire and had established themselves as local by the time of enlistment. The largest group here were the immigrant workers from the United Kingdom. There were 19 in this group. Added to the 15 from the group who had already enlisted by the end of 1914, the total number of UK immigrant workers to enlist to the end of June 1915 becomes 34. Doubtless there would have been a high expectation in the local community that these young men from the ‘Mother Country’ should enlist.

Another example from this group of people who had come into the Shire and established themselves as local, was the local medical practitioner Dr John Hemphill Rutter. There was extensive reporting in the local paper of his farewell and then his service overseas. He returned to Australia at the end of 1916.

The last group was made up of those who had moved into the Shire, but only recently, and in some cases it might well have been that they enlisted in Yarram because that was where they found themselves just at that point in time. Had their work, or search for work, taken them to Foster or Sale they would have enlisted there. But as transient as their work was, the fact is that they enlisted in Yarram.

As pointed out in Post 22, the creation of these 4 groups is arbitrary:  an attempt to impose some sort of order on what was a highly complex pattern of movement. Inconsistencies and anomalies across the table suggest that the boundaries between the groups were not as fixed as the model suggests. However, it is clear that the movement of this group, over what was typically not much more than 20 years of life, was a distinguishing feature. Such movement is also evident in the number of the group who were born interstate – 8 – and the number who enlisted interstate: 7. Moreover, there is only one person common to these 2 sub-groups. It even appears that one of the 104 men – Roy Liddelow – enlisted in New Zealand. All of this data questions the local historian’s natural tendency to try to tie people’s lives to a specific geographic location. ‘Local’ in the context of early 20C Australian History is a highly problematic concept.


Obviously the high incidence of movement is tied inextricably to occupation. By far the largest single group (50) was made up of ‘ labourer’ or ‘farm labourer’. As well, there was the typical range of rural working-class occupations. Within this solid rural working-class cohort, there were some men in semi and skilled trades, and there was a small group of young men in clerical positions. However, as with the previous group – the one to the end of 1914 –  the number of professionals and higher level administrative and managerial positions is very limited. Overwhelmingly, in the Shire of Alberton, in the period we have looked at so far – from the start of the War to the end of June 1915 – the typical volunteer was a member of the rural working-class and, most commonly, he simply gave his occupation as ‘labourer’.

In this particular group, it appears that there were 11 cases where a son who was working on the family farm enlisted. The cases are highlighted in the table.  As noted, this included some young men who described themselves as ‘farmer’ – but there was no evidence of them holding any property in their own right – as well as some who had described themselves as ‘farm labourer’, when in fact the evidence suggested they were working on the family farm and their labour contributed to the overall success of the farm.  However, it is possible with this latter group that the son was actually working as a ‘farm labourer’ on a neighbouring farm. Such work provided additional family income. So, conceivably, the number of family farms might be overstated in the table.

The more important point is that the number of volunteers who were independent farmers – the farm was in their name, and they were working and managing the farm in their own right – was very low. In fact, from this group of 102 volunteers, if you discount the 2 men from outside the Shire who claimed to be farmers (Ferres, H D G and Kiellerup, G R) there does not appear to have been a single case where an independent farmer or grazier from the Shire enlisted.  The case has already been made  in Post 22 that there was very little possibility that a farmer would – or even could – simply leave the farm and enlist.

Overall, to the end of June 1915, the burden of enlistment continued to fall on the rural working class –  whose employment was typically itinerant and casual – and a small group of young men –  they were in their late teens or early twenties – coming from family farms. There was also a significant number of immigrant rural workers from the UK who enlisted.

The complex questions surrounding this pattern of enlistment – was enlistment driven fundamentally by economic forces ; why did patriotic duty fall so heavily on the working class; were rural workers searching for an identity and status in the AIF that they could never attain in the life style of the itinerant, rural worker? – will continue to be explored in the blog.


The following table gives a breakdown of ages. The number of ‘minors’ – those between 18 and 21 required written permission of their parents – is high. When the minors are added to those to the age of 25 it is evident that this group – as with the first one – was very youthful.  Overall, the age profile is very similar to that for the first group of volunteers – to the end of 1914 – from the Shire

Ages of volunteers – first half of 1915
ages                       %
18-20        25       25
21-25        46       44
26-30        18       17
31-35          8         8
36+              5         6
total        102      100

Marital status

As before, the expectation continued to be that only single men would enlist. This is evident in this particular cohort, where only 8 of the 102 men were married.

Those rejected

The table below has been developed from 2 sources of evidence from the archives of the Shire of Alberton. The first is a list of 128 ‘Recruits Rejected by the Local Doctors’ and the second a bundled collection of enlistment papers (38) of men who had failed the medical. The latter set of files runs from September 1914 to July 1915. There are gaps and inconsistencies with these 2 sources, but they provide some critical insights on the men who failed the medical examination in Yarram, particularly in the period to the end of 1915. In the table, the specific period covered is the first half of 1915.

The table shows that at least 18 men who presented themselves for enlistment at Yarram in the first half of 1915 were rejected by the local doctors. In most instances, the local doctors simply recorded that the men failed the medical but in other cases there was some basic reason given. As for all other enlistments, the socio-economic profile of the men was typically rural working class.  There was also the typically high number of immigrant farm workers in the group: nearly half the group had been born in the UK. .

The table shows the high number of men who made subsequent attempts to enlist, and also the number who, in fact, did enlist (9), in many cases without revealing that they had been previously rejected. Samuel Henry Young failed his first medical (Yarram) but then passed his second one (Nagambie) within the first half of 1915. He was definitely a local as his name appeared on the electoral roll as a ‘sleeper hewer’ of Mullundung. He appears to be the classic case of someone who left the district to enlist elsewhere. Many local men were determined to enlist and an initial rejection was not taken as final.


As for the first group of volunteers to the end of 1914, the preceding analysis of the second group – to the end of June 1915 – reveals that it was overwhelmingly the young, single, rural workers – most commonly described as ‘labourer’ or ‘farm labourer’ – who answered the call to enlist. Of the the total number of some 240 volunteers from August 1914 to the end of June 1915, there was a group of young men –  about 30 – who came from the ‘family farm’. This group was roughly the same size as the group of immigrant rural workers ( 34) from the UK who ‘answered the call’.



Embarkation Roll

Shire of Alberton Archives

Archive One, File Number 703B, Recruiting & Enlisted Men, Box 398.
Included in this collection was a tied bundle of enlistment papers that covered men medically rejected.

Box 379, “Correspondence etc of Recruiting Committee, Formed April 26th 1917”.
Contains an undated and unsigned list headed, “Recruits Rejected by Local Doctors”.

55. Enlistments in the first half of 1915

This post presents the table of all those with an association with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in the first half of 1915. It builds on the work of Post 21: Enlistments to the end of 1914: identifying the ‘locals’.

As detailed in Post 21, one of the overall intentions of the blog is to build the complete profile of all those from the Shire of Alberton who enlisted over WW1. This work is being done in intervals of 6 months.

Overall, the same set of records has been employed, with one omission – the list of men who were medically examined in Yarram was only compiled for the period to the end of 1914.

At the same time, from 1915 the Shire created a medallion which was intended to be presented, either personally or via a relative, to each man who enlisted. This additional record has been introduced into the table under the heading, ‘Med’. Unfortunately, unlike the issuing of railway warrants, there was no formal record kept by the Shire on the presentation of the medallions. Or, more accurately, no such record has been uncovered. Much was made of the medallion and, over time, the local paper published lists of men who had received it. Wherever a specific reference was made in the local paper to an individual receiving the medallion, this has been noted in the table. However, the fact that a person’s name did not appear on any list published in the local paper did not mean that he did not receive a medallion. The way the paper handled the reporting of the medallions was neither consistent nor comprehensive. The value for our purposes is that the report of the medallion in the paper can be a significant factor in making the link to the Shire.

In summary, the following records are the ones used in the table to establish the connection to the Shire:

The Shire of Alberton Honor Roll

The list of railway warrants issued by the Shire Secretary

The Shire of Alberton Medallion

The Shire of Alberton War Memorial

The honor rolls of state schools in the Shire of Alberton

Community honor rolls in the Shire of Alberton

Newspaper accounts (Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative)



Some observations on the table

For the detailed discussion on what constituted ‘local’ in this context see Post 21.

As before, the table has been designed to show at a glance the nature and extent of the historical evidence used to link the individual to the Shire of Alberton. Again, in some cases the evidence is overwhelming but in other cases it rests on just a single record.

It is also important to recognise the small number of cases where it has not been possible to link a name to an actual AIF service file. These individuals have not been included. The most common problem is where the surname is common and there is only a single initial or very common first name. The following cases are still being pursued:

Dove, Albert: newspaper accounts claim he enlisted in first half of 1915. He was from Gormandale. It appears that there was another brother – Dove, Wilfred – also from Gormandale, who enlisted in New Zealand.

Gilbert A W: newspaper accounts claim he enlisted in first half of 1915

O’Connor, John: railway warrant and newspaper reports indicate he enlisted in first half of 1915

O’Connor, E: newspaper account states that he enlisted at same time as 2 other locals, in May 1915.

There is the usual issue of inconsistencies between the various record sets. Names are, for example, featured on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial but they are not included on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll. The most striking example of this involves the Nicholas brothers – George Matson Nicholas and Byron Fitzgerald Nicholas –  both of whom had been school teachers in the local district. On the face of it, it is remarkable that the brothers could be included on the Shire’s war memorial, and other local school memorials, but not on the Shire’s formal honor roll of all who served. The Nicholas brothers are important in their own right and will be discussed in depth in a future post.

Ethel Meta Horton, from Alberton,  who gave her calling as ‘trained nurse’, joined the Australian  Army Nursing Service in Melbourne in May 1915. She was the first woman from the local district to ‘enlist’.

The number of men linked to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted to the end of 1914 was 136. The corresponding figure for the period to the end of June 1915 was 102. To the end of June 1915, in excess of 200 men had left the Shire of Alberton to fight overseas. The adult population of the Shire at the time was approximately 2,500.

One striking statistic is that of the 240 men who had enlisted to the end of June 1915, 65 (26%) were to die on active service. It reflected the grim and obvious equation between early enlistment and death on active service.

Following the Gallipoli campaign – and most particularly, the high casualty levels associated with the fighting and the heroic press that the Anzacs received – there was a surge in volunteers. This higher rate of enlistments will be reflected in the next six-monthly report (enlistments from July to the end of December 1915).

54. Arthur Charles Valentine KENNEDY 146

Arthur Charles Valentine Kennedy, who was born in Yarram, was another of the many young men from the Shire of Alberton who had moved to Queensland before the outbreak of WW1. He enlisted at Oakey – near Toowoomba – on 30 January 1915. At the time of enlistment he gave his address as Jondaryan, about 20K north-west of Oakey, and his occupation as ‘contractor’. He was 25 yo and single. He gave his religion as Roman Catholic.

Arthur Kennedy recorded his brother, Patrick Christopher Albert Kennedy, as his next-of-kin. This brother, who was married, was living and working at Barcaldine, suggesting that the 2 brothers had moved to Queensland together. Both parents were dead, but there were several siblings back in Gippsland. The eldest brother of the family, Alexander Kennedy, lived at Morwell. There were 2 sisters, one of whom – Mrs Felix Donnolly – also lived at Morwell. The other sister, Mrs Maria Baxter, lived at Mack’s Creek via Yarram. It also appears that there was another sister living in Melbourne.

When Patrick Kennedy – the brother nominated as next-of-kin – completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he identified Yarram as the ‘town or district’ with which his brother had been ‘chiefly connected’. There is other evidence to indicate that Arthur Kennedy was still regarded as a local in the district. Most significantly, his name appears on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll. However the entry on this roll does not indicate that he was killed. His name also appears on the honour rolls of 2 local primary schools, Yarram SS and Balook SS. On the Yarram SS roll A C Kennedy is recorded as having been killed, and at the ceremony to unveil the roll at Balook SS, Arthur Kennedy was  acknowledged as one of those who had made the ‘supreme sacrifice’. The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative noted in its edition of 15/11/16 that the Shire Medallion for Arthur Kennedy had been given to his ‘nearest relative’, presumably the sister living at Mack’s Creek. Overall, Arthur Kennedy was definitely regarded as a ‘local’ and his name featured on numerous memorials. However, his death on active service was not universally noted and, as a consequence, his name is not recorded on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial.

The fact that the names of those killed were not added to the Shire of Alberton War Memorial until some 10 years after the War suggests, at least in part, why Arthur Kennedy’s name was omitted. In fact, by the time the names were added to the memorial some 13 years had passed since his death on the Gallipoli Peninsula in November 1915.  However, there may have been other factors at work. Obviously his memory could only be represented in the local district by family or friends who were keen to advocate on his behalf; and there is evidence to suggest that, after his death, communication between his siblings, only one of whom was actually living in the immediate district, was poor. It is possible that his memory was compromised not just by time and distance but also by family dynamics. For example, Arthur Kennedy had nominated as his next-of-kin, his brother who was living in Queensland, and so his few personal belongings – Photos, Purse, Religious book – were duly returned to him (Patrick Kennedy of Barcaldine). However when it came to the distribution of the medals there was a problem. The relevant legislation – Deceased Soldiers’ Estates Act 1918 – required that in this case – the parents were deceased – the medals went to the eldest brother. Consequently, Base Records in Melbourne wrote on 2 March 1921 to the eldest brother, Alexander Kennedy at Morwell, asking if the younger brother, as next-of-kin, should receive the medals or whether they should go to him.

Will you kindly favour me with advice as to whether you would care to have the late soldier’s war medals etc., as the person entitled to receive them, in keeping with the instructions under the Deceased Soldiers’ Estates Act of 1918, or whether you have any objections to these items being handed over to your brother, Mr. Patrick Kennedy, who was nominated as next-of-kin.

The file indicates that, remarkably, Base Records received no response to this explicit request. Consequently, in line with the legislation, the medals were in fact despatched to the eldest brother.

Similarly, in July 1916, nearly 2 years after the death of her brother, the sister in Yarram, Mrs Maria Baxter, wrote to Base Records in Melbourne asking for any personal belongings of her brother. Additionally, claiming that he had told her that he had made a will in her favour, she sought advice on … what course I should take to secure his assets. She was also keen to learn details of his burial. In reply, Base Records noted that ‘certain personal effects’ had already been returned to the next-of-kin – the brother living in Queensland – and that there was no record of any ‘will’. In relation to her brother’s financial affairs she was told to communicate with the Military Paymaster, Victoria Barracks, Brisbane.

It is difficult to interpret this very limited range of written evidence from 100 years ago, but it does at least suggest that there was not much communication between this particular set of siblings and that this could have been a factor that compromised the memory of Arthur Kennedy in the local community.

The official record states that Private Arthur Kennedy ‘died of wounds’ on 27 November 1915. However, the actual details recorded in his service file are, on the face of it, confusing.  The file states that Private Arthur Kennedy rejoined his battalion from the 7th Field Ambulance on 3 November 1915 and the next, and only other, entry states that he ‘died of wounds’ on 27 November 1915. Without any additional evidence, interpreting these two details would be fraught. For example, did he die of wounds received sometime before 3 November?  Or was there no causal relationship between the two details? Fortunately, the war diary for the 25 Battalion over this period featured a detailed list of those men who were killed or wounded. This list indicates that Private Arthur Kennedy did not die of wounds but was in fact ‘killed in action’ on 27 November.

The 25th  Battalion did not reach the Gallipoli Peninsula until early September 1915. In early November it was in the front line at Gallipoli, engaged in reinforcing trenches and mining the Turkish lines. There was a steady flow of casualties and, as indicated, these were recorded in detail in the war diary. There is no record in the war diary of Arthur Kennedy being wounded at this time. This suggests that his stint in the 7th Field Ambulance in early November was not related to any wound received in battle. It was more likely to have been a common field sickness such as diarrhoea.

On 10 November 25 Battalion was withdrawn to the relative safety of Reserve Gulley and started work constructing bomb proof dugouts and quarters for Winter. This work continued until 25 November when the battalion was told to prepare to embark immediately for Mudros. In the end, it did not leave the Peninsula until the complete evacuation of all Anzac forces in mid December.

On the 26 November the weather broke and there was a major storm. Its impact was recorded in the battalion war diary:

Weather broke and storm lasted about 24 hours – first rain – afterwards snow during night 26/27. Snow on ground – mens bivouacs bad – much discomfort experienced by Bn. The first time many men of the Bn. saw snow. [ 25 Battalion had been formed in Queensland]

Despite the atrocious weather – Prior (2009, p.226) claims that in the storm as many as 8,000 Allied troops suffered frostbite and perhaps 500 drowned in their trenches and dugouts – there was little let up in the fighting. An appendix in the war diary of 25 Battalion – List of men killed in action for November – records that on 27 November Private Arthur Kennedy was killed in action. It appears he was the only battle casualty in the battalion that day. The records states: S.W. in dig-out Reserve Gulley. Presumably he was hit by a shell and died from his wounds soon after, before they could get him to a casualty clearing station. It is academic whether his death should have been reported as ‘killed in action’ or ‘died of wounds’ (within a very short time of being hit by shrapnel). He was buried the next day by Chaplain Canon H S Reid at New Zealand Point Cemetery.

Arthur Kennedy died a very long way from Yarram where he was born. He was clearly identified as a ‘local’ but the actual memory the local community had of him was destined to be imperfect.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Prior, R  2009, Gallipoli: The End of the Myth, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney

National Archives file for KENNEDY Arthur Charles Valentine

Roll of Honour: Arthur Charles Valentine Kennedy

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Arthur Charles Valentine Kennedy

War Diary 25 Battalion




53. Anti-German sentiment in the Shire of Alberton to the end of 1915

Why does the Kaiser drink out of a saucer? – Because all the German “mugs” have been ordered to the front.
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, 16/10/1914, p2.

This post continues the focus on the hyper-patriotism that was evident from the start of the War. It looks at anti-German sentiment evident in the local community through to the end of 1915. While there were very few people with a German background living and working in the Shire of Alberton, there was widespread fear and loathing of ‘Germans’, and anti-German sentiments and actions were on display. 100 years on, the anti-German behaviour exhibited in the local community seems far-fetched, if not farcical.  However, it also points to the degree that people used the anti-German hysteria to flaunt their patriotism. Patriotism became a cover for anti-social, vindictive and even violent behaviour. The local media reported, and thereby fuelled, the general hysteria.

In the public mind, Germany had caused the War. It had denied Belgium’s neutrality and drawn Britain and its Empire, reluctantly, into the War. Germany’s military conduct in Belgium, characterised by real and imagined atrocities, was further proof of its brutality.  Also, over several decades the view had formed that the German state and German culture itself were inherently and overtly militaristic. On the other hand, Britain and its Empire were regarded as democratic and liberal. Germany was portrayed as a ruthless, technologically-advanced and implacable enemy, and it posed the greatest threat the Empire had ever faced.

The 1911 census gave an indication of the small number of Germans in the Shire of Alberton. In the County of Buln Buln, which included the Shire of Alberton as well as the greater number of towns and settlements in Gippsland, there were only 176 people who had been born in Germany. By contrast, 2,119 had been born in England, 768 in Scotland, 87 in Wales and 1,168 in Ireland. There were even more born in Scandinavian nations (190) than Germany.  In terms of the general immigration of German-born people to Victoria – for the whole of Victoria, the overall number in the 1911 census was just over 6,000 – the data indicated that those born in Germany tended to be in their fifties, sixties or seventies, indicating that they had been living in Australia for many years prior to the outbreak of War. Moreover, the great majority of these were naturalised. They were also English-speaking. Basically, the number of German immigrants living in the Shire of Alberton was minimal, and the great majority of this small number would have been naturalised. However, the more important observation is that the minimal numbers did not in any way curb the general sense of paranoia in the community or the obsession to expose ‘Germans’ or German sympathisers.

The focus for this post is the initial display of attitude to those very few people in the local community who did have a German background.

The local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 23 October 1914 gave an account of proceedings in the police court at Yarram involving an assault on a local man, Robert New. Robert Rodgers New was a labourer of Yarram. New was assaulted by another local, Stanley Campbell, who was convicted and fined £1, in default one month’s imprisonment. The charge of assault was common at the time but what was striking about this case was that Campbell assaulted New because he was convinced that he (New) was a German. It is worth quoting the report in some detail because it offers an insight into the inevitable consequences of the heady mix of paranoia, alcohol and innate aggression.

While walking from Freudenthal’s shop [Frederick William Max Hellmutt Freudenthal was the local baker in Yarram] to Weir’s boarding house he [Robert New] saw Campbell with some children, to whom he gave some lollies. Noticed he had drink, and said to him “You appear to be having a good time.” Campbell followed him along Commercial Street as far as the Commercial Hotel, and joined other men.  He called out “are you German?” New replied, “Who told you so? I am an Australian, like you.” Coming back, Campbell stopped him, and kept repeating ”You are a German.” New jokingly replied, “What if I am.” Campbell then drew a bottle full of beer from his pocket and hurled it at his head. Fortunately it missed its mark.  New said, “You are mad: I am a Britisher born and bred.” Campbell tried to get another bottle out of his pocket, at the same time using filthy language. New then went inside the passage where Campbell struck him. New told Campbell that he was so helpless that he would not hit him. Others interfered and wanted them to go to the rear of the hotel and have it out. The invitation was declined. New then informed the police.

At the trial, New was keen to make it clear he held no German sympathies:

… New said he was not a German, nor had he expressed sympathy with the Germans. A brother of his had enlisted, and were he a single man would go to the war himself.

For his part, Campbell had no recollection of events:

Accused, interrogated by the bench, said he knew nothing about it, and had nothing to say.

The two justices on the bench were keen to make an example of Campbell and they were clearly keen to rein in people’s aggressive and misplaced patriotic urges. This was not how decent, law-abiding people who were committed to democratic principles behaved.

Mr Blanc [one of the 2 justices] said no man should be accused of being a German, even if he were, so long as he was a peaceable and law-abiding citizen. He cautioned accused [Campbell] to let Germans alone, so long as they did not interfere with the people. Australia was a free country.

What was not made clear in this report was the fact that Campbell was calling out New as a German because he had been in Freudenthal’s bakery. The bakery was called the Yarram Bakery.

The connection to Freudenthal and his shop  became much clearer about a month later when another local – Walter Mitchell, pound-keeper of Yarram – was found guilty of offensive behaviour against Frederick Freudenthal, baker of Yarram. Like Campbell, Mitchell was also under the influence and he claimed he had no recollection of the events. The report of the court proceedings in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative  on 13 November 1914 was detailed and would have been read very closely by the locals.

In brief, Freudenthal claimed that he was outside his shop when Mitchell approached him and asked first for some tobacco and then a coat. Freudenthal noted that Mitchell was ‘a bit under the influence of liquor’. When Freudenthal turned down Mitchell’s requests, Mitchell proceeded to call out loudly and repeatedly that Freudenthal was a ‘___ German’. He was doing this so that all those within earshot, including the neighbours, would hear.  Freudenthal’s wife heard the yelling and carry on from inside the shop and she, not Freudenthal,  called the police. Freudenthal himself did not want to make anything of the incident.

Subsequently, Constable Mcleod had become involved. Only after this did Mitchell seek to apologise for his behaviour. Constable McLeod obviously took a poor view of the attack on Freudenthal’s reputation and argued that … such behaviour should be put down. He also wanted to make it very public that Freudenthal … was a naturalised British subject.

The justices agreed with Constable Mcleod and even though the behaviour had not gone beyond the offensive, taunting and very public remarks, Mitchell was found guilty of the charge of offensive behaviour in a public place and fined £1, in default seven days.  The bench noted that … Freudenthal was a respected member of the community, and was entitled to the same protection as other men. They also warned that, The Patriotic business ran riot at times.

Interestingly, Mitchell was represented by local solicitor, B P Johnson. Johnson was one of the most outspoken, high profile patriots in the local community, actively involved in the recruiting process. Johnson’s basic defence for Mitchell was that he was drunk and had no recollection of events. But he also managed to insert his client’s undoubted patriotism into the defence and he also attempted to raise doubt over Freudenthal’s real allegiance.

Mr. Johnson said that having heard that Freudenthal was a German, accused’s patriotic feelings came up, although respectable Germans should not be interfered with. They could not help their love for their Fatherland.

The clear implication was that a person’s German background could never be denied or ignored. Even if such people were respected in the community, and even if they were naturalised, there would would always be the lingering doubt that they would never be able to overcome their first love for their Fatherland.  The logic was that just as a true Britisher could never forsake their loyalty to the Empire and all its values, someone with a German background could never totally renounce the equivalent set of loyalties.

The local hostility and suspicion directed at Freudenthal continued into 1915. Freudenthal himself felt the need to defend himself in a letter-to-the-editor which appeared in the paper on 14 May 1915. There was a story about town that he had justified the the sinking of the Lusitania.

Sir. _ A serious rumour has got about that I in an argument with a person in this township justified the drowning of women and children by the sinking of the Lusitania. This I emphatically deny. I may state that I utterly deplore such acts, and I defy any person to say that I have justified any act of outrage during this unfortunate war. My whole nature revolts at such acts, and I appeal to British fair play to be allowed to live as a law-abiding citizen. I left Germany as a youth, and became a naturalised British subject, and my wife and child are both Australian born. I am aware at these times passion runs high, and can fully sympathise with those who condemn the Germans for such atrocities as they have recently appeared in the press.

But such appeals were never going to work in the hyper-charged environment of the time and the hostility directed at Freudenthal, and the associated boycotting of his business, continued.

In the July 16, 1915 edition of the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative  a letter-to-the-editor appeared from W T Johns, the Methodist minister in Yarram. Incredibly, Johns felt the need to write to the paper to deny the charge that he too was a German sympathiser.

Sir, __ There are some suspicious rumours current to the effect that the local Methodist minister is pro-German. He stoutly avers that he is not; that all his utterances, private and public, are directed against the arrogance and aggressions of that nation; that he has frequently exhorted his hearers to rise to their full duty as Britishers….

Overall, the tone of the letter was one of light-hearted mockery.

It is generally known that at the Parsonage there is a cement lined well, evidently designed as a howitzer emplacement. The arrangement of the clothes line also bears more or less resemblance to a wireless installation. … A tall pine in his garden is admirably adapted, and has been grown specially for signalling to von Tirpitry’s (sic) ships, as they roll gently in Kiel canal.

He also mocked himself for lending his field glasses – expensive, but more pointedly of German manufacture – to Sergeant Newland when he enlisted.

But in all the nonsense, there is a direct reference to his refusing to join the boycott of Freudenthal’s bakery.

Furthermore, he holds aloof from the policy of starving a long-naturalised baker and his British born wife and child. The Almighty must have meant that man to be damned by having him born in Germany, so let us do the will of God and starve all three.

It is interesting to reflect whether key local leaders like Johns – as well as being the local Methodist minister, he played a lead role in the temperance movement and was the secretary of the local Rechabite Tent – saw that there was far more to fear from alcohol-fuelled, lower-ordered, loud-mouthed patriots than the hard-working, respectable and quietly-mannered proprietor of the local bakery, even if he had been born in Germany.

As much as some of the leading citizens of the community tried to curb the excesses of patriotic extremism, it is clear that for many others in the local community the chance to vaunt their patriotic credentials by attacking anyone with any sort of German background was too much to resist. It was a very simple, easy and no-risk variety of patriotism.

Future posts will continue to explore the anti-German sentiment. One will definitely examine the case of the ‘disloyal’ postal worker from Traralgon, Rudolph Schmidt, who was sentenced in late 1915 to be interned for the duration of the War. The problem, it turned out, was that he was not even German.


Census of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1911 Volume 2, Part 2. See tables 19, 46, 96.

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative