27. ‘The lions of the evening – the men in khaki': farewells to mid 1915

An earlier post (11) covered the farewell in September 1914 of the first large group of recruits, approximately 50, from the Shire of Alberton. Other posts have pointed out that many more volunteers left the Shire individually and without any sort of formal farewell. Judging by newspaper reports, it appears that after the September 1914 farewell from the Alberton Railway Station there were only 2 additional formal farewells through to May 1915. Both of these farewells came at the end of 1914 and they are the subject of this post.

The 2 farewells came about when recruits were given final leave to return home and bid farewell to their families before being sent overseas. Given this, it was inevitable that the men involved were ‘locals’ in the sense that they had strong, long-standing and on-going association with the district. They were coming ‘home’ before being sent overseas. Other men who had enlisted from the Shire but who had had only passing or limited association with it, as well as those whose association with the Shire had been in the past, would hardly return for such farewells.

One of the farewells was held in the small community of Stacey’s Bridge and the other in Yarram, the most populous and chief town of the Shire. The one at Stacey’s Bridge was more a relaxed, community celebration whereas the one at Yarram was a more stylised and formal farewell. This difference between more community-focused farewells in the smaller townships and settlements of the Shire, as opposed to the more formal farewells conducted at Yarram, was to continue throughout the War.

The farewell at Stacey’s Bridge on Wednesday 4 November 1914 was written up in both local papers – the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative and the South Gippsland Chronicleon 6 November 1914. Both accounts mentioned that word of 4 men coming home for a final farewell was received with only a few days warning and that preparations, not just for the farewell but also for an appropriate ‘souvenir’, had to be organised very quickly. On the night there was a ‘three-fold programme’. First there was a (roller) skating carnival, with prizes for ‘best dressed’ and ‘best skater’. This was followed by the actual farewell presentation ceremony for the 3 local lads who were home on final leave from Broadmeadows before leaving for overseas. Finally, there was a dance social for everyone.

It was a very hot night but nonetheless the skaters, bathed in perspiration, managed to keep up a lively performance, many of them in fancy dress. The four local lads acknowledged that night were: Jack Cantwell (21yo), Aloysius Cotter (19yo), Patrick Sexton (19yo) and Jack Babington (20yo). The last of these – Jack Babington – had not managed to get leave but his presentation gift was accepted by his father and he was certainly acknowledged in the speeches. For their ‘souvenir’ gifts, the men had been given the choice of a ‘gold locket’ or field glasses. After the presentation ceremony the assembled crowd sang a verse each from Rule Britannia and the National Anthem. The dancing that followed ran well into the small hours.

The speech making that night emphasised pride in the fact that ‘boys’ from Stacey’s Bridge had joined the AIF. According to the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative : It was a credit to the Stacey’s Bridge district that four young fellows had volunteered, and they might well feel proud of them. The same paper noted the young age of the volunteers – only 18 or 19 years of age – and remarked that people remembered them as local school boys. There was also praise for their parents .. who did not raise the slightest obstacle to their sons’ desire to go to fight. All of them had been members of the Stacey’s Bridge Rifle Club. Overall, those there noted the young locals were … – straight, honorable young fellows, who were determined to fight for their homes, their relatives and their friends.

At the same time, there was a level of naiveté evident in comments made that night. People were not even convinced the boys would have to fight. Mr Robert Lee was quoted as hoping … they would not have to fight, but if they had to, he felt sure they would give a very good account of themselves. He wished them a pleasant trip and no fighting. The reality, as already indicated (Post 23), was that the death rate in this first group of volunteers from the Shire would be 1 in 3. Of this group, it would be Patrick Sexton. He managed to make it right through to April 1918 before he was killed. On that night of farewell from Stacey’s Bridge, the last night he spent with his family, his sister (Margaret Sexton)  took out the prize for the best dressed skater.

Those who spoke that night at Stacey’s Bridge were all local farmers. There were patriotic sentiments expressed and notions of duty stressed, but the overwhelming sense was that of pride in, and best wishes for, the local boys who had grown up known to everyone and were now off to war, not that people at that point had had any first-hand experience of what the War meant.

The only other major farewell to locals, up to May 1915, took place one month later at Yarram on the night of 9 December. According to the detailed article in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative of 11December 1914, the 7 men farewelled were: Sergeant Newlands (sic), and Privates Harry Bett, W. Sweeney, P. Sweeney, W. O. Sutton, H. Coulthard, and J. Babington. Obviously, this time Jack Babington was able to get his leave. In the detailed account of the same event published in the South Gippsland Chronicle – also on 11 December 1914 – the names of the men themselves were not included. The only reference made was to Sergeant Newlands (sic) who responded to the toast. One consequence of not including the names – and it must have upset the families at the time that the names were not recorded – is that it is not possible to identify precisely who the men were. The definites were (Sgt) William Andrew Newland (34yo), who had spent 4 years in the light horse in South Africa, Henry Drysdale Bett (19yo), Patrick Joseph Sweeney (28yo), William Owen Sutton (19yo) and John Sutherland Babington (20yo). The W. Sweeney was either William Henry Sweeney (28yo) or William Patrick Sweeney (21yo). It was probably William Henry Sweeney, the brother of Patrick Joseph Sweeney, but it is not definite because the other William (Patrick) was also a local who could well have returned for a farewell. He was most likely a cousin of the Sweeney brothers. The problem with the name H. Coulthard is that there was no H Coulthard who had enlisted. It must have been either Eric Osborne Coulthard (20yo) or Samuel Francis Coulthard (31yo) who were most likely cousins.

In terms of the war service of this group of 9 men (5 definites and 4 possibles) only one – Patrick Sweeney – was killed in action (August 1915); but only 2 of the other 8 managed to serve the entire period of the War. The most common experience was that they were discharged early after being wounded. For example, Sgt Newland, wounded at Gallipoli, was back in the Shire by August 1915. Subsequently, he became the local recruiting sergeant.

The farewell at Yarram was a very formal affair and once again it was put together with little notice. The organisers even managed to place an ad for the event in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on the day it was held. The ad noted that it was to be a Farewell to Our Soldiers, that there would be Speeches by Prominent Residents, and that admission would be by a small donation at the door to defray expense of refreshments.

Both local papers reported the event in detail on 11 November 1914.

The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative set the scene under its heading: Our Soldier Boys. FAREWELL. PRESENTATION OF SOUVENIRS. MONSTER GATHERING IN THE MECHANICS ‘ HALL.

Short as was the notice – about 24 hours – the Mechanics’ Hall on Wednesday evening was crowded to its utmost capacity by a gathering of local and district residents, met to honor the young men who were, perhaps, giving their lives for their country. It was an enthusiastic assemblage, an air of patriotism being imparted by the flags representing England, Australia, Belgium and Russia. While on the stage sat the lions of the evening – the men in khaki.

Occasions such as this in the early days of the War served the dual purpose of recognising the sacrifice of the individuals who had volunteered and providing a platform for declarations of patriotic loyalty. The latter function was very evident that night in Yarram. There were 6 designated speakers. As has been noted earlier, the speech making at such functions in Yarram was dominated by the class of proprietors, managers and professionals.  It was this group that, effectively, had taken responsibility for articulating the narrative of the War on behalf of the Shire. The local papers disseminated – and also augmented – the narrative. Admittedly, there were 2 local graziers who spoke that night but one of them was Neils John Christensen who spoke as the then Shire President and the other, Arthur Hugh Mooore, had very little to say beyond wishing the men a safe return. The key speakers were Rev. George Cox, Fr. Patrick Francis Sterling, George Frederick Sauer, draper from Yarram and also the President of the local Australian Natives’ Association branch and Ben Percival Johnson, solicitor of Yarram.

Rev. Cox was keen to emphasise religious justification for the War, arguing that Germany was, effectively, no longer a Christian nation. The account from the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative noted:

The Rev. Cox was called upon first. He did not know if this form of gathering was unique in Yarram, or had been held in connection with the South African war. To many it was an unusual experience to have a number of citizens going from amongst them in the name of God and the Empire, to fight in the greatest battle in history. It was fitting, he thought, that the church should be first to speak, because he believed the war was a religious one fundamentally. He realised that it was a war of Christianity against a philosophy born of hell. … These young men were going to fight in the name of God. May He give them His sheltering care, and may they be instruments for His glory.

The fact that Fr. Sterling was called upon to offer a speech reflected the common support, at that time, across all Christian denominations for the Nation’s and the Empire’s commitment to the War. Sterling had been born in Nenagh, Tipperary. He would have left his audience in no doubt about his patriotism. The paper wrote:

He had a letter from his old Irish mother the other day, whom he had never heard swear, but she was hot when she wrote that letter. She said, speaking of the sinking of the Emden, “I notice your country has sent the poor devils to hell.” (laughter). He echoed those sentiments, and hoped the young men from this district would send many a German to heaven. (Loud Applause)

On the face of it, Sterling’s reported hope that the locals would be despatching Germans to heaven does not appear to match his mother’s sentiments and, not surprisingly, the version in the South Gippsland Chronicle is a better fit:

He had lately had a letter from his mother in Ireland and she had said, commenting on the Emden, “I see some of your people have blown some of the devils to hell.” (Laughter) He had never known his mother to swear before. (Laughter). He hoped the Yarram soldiers would send many of the Germans to hell. (Loud laughter and cheers)

Whether the German dead were heading for heaven nor hell there was clearly popular support for killing them. Given the comments of both Cox and Stirling it is worth reflecting on just how difficult it would have been at the time for any clergyman to question either the justification or conduct of the War.

Sauer, as President of the local ANA, laboured the idea that Australians could always be relied on now, just as they had been in the Boer War – they were there when wanted every time – and that they were natural fighters: The fighting blood in our veins came from the old stock, and they would find that Australian boys at the front would keep their end up with the best troops in the world. (Applause).

Johnson, the local solicitor, had the task of presenting the souvenir to each soldier – a wristlet watch . He was keen to stress their youth:

He preferred to call them boys; he had known some of them as toddlers. Some had attended the local state school, and other schools in the district and now they were about to depart to fight in the greatest war the world had ever known.

Johnson pressed the common themes of the Empire – they were going to fight alongside their kinsmen, the British of Canada – the sacrifices being made by the men, and their families – particularly their mothers and wives and sweethearts – and the confidence that everyone had in their fighting abilities. Johnson also touched on another of his favourite themes: the belief that very few people, even including the people in the UK, really understood the seriousness of the situation unfolding in Europe. People needed to wake up to the enormity of the danger they faced.

The musical items presented that night – and there were very many – were as patriotic as the speeches. The following list is compiled from the account in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative : The Veteran’s Song, Sons of the South, Harlequenade, The Soldier’s Pardon (recital), (It’s a Long Way to)Tipperary, Flight of Ages, John Bull (repeated), Bianca, (It’s)The Navy, The Englishman, The Sergeant of the Line, Jonathon Jones, Home sweet Home. The South Gippsland Chronicle added to the list: Trooper Johnnie Ludlow. All told, and with lively audience participation, the items must have stretched for at least one hour.

The morning after the farewell there was another short send-off immediately before a scheduled meeting of the Shire Council. It was attended by about forty people. There was a toast to ‘The King’ and those there sang one verse of the National Anthem. Speeches were short but there was mention of how the men from the ‘back blocks of Gippsland’ were going to hold their own and show the British soldiers how good they were. Everyone wished them a safe return home and, again, some even hoped they would not have to face battle. Events were concluded with one last toast. In the words of the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative:

Glasses were charged, and the health of the soldier boys drunk, musically honoured with “Jolly Good Fellows” and “Tipperary.” Good-byes, bugle calls, and they were soon off to Alberton, to catch the train.

There were no further organised farewells in the district until May 1915 when one of the local doctors, John H Rutter joined the army medical corps. Then, after Gallipoli, the rate of farewells increased dramatically and the whole process of farewelling the locals who had enlisted became more organised and, over time, more directed to the process of recruiting.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

26. Soldiers of Christ


The Great Sacrifice, by James Clark [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

ed 2 church window

Detail of stained glass window by William Montgomery in St. Martin’s Chapel, based on The Great Sacrifice. Photo courtesy of Saint George’s Anglican Church, Malvern (Victoria).

In December 1914, just before Christmas, a commemorative print of the painting – The Great Sacrifice – by James Clark (1858-1943) was issued in the (British) illustrated weekly publication, The Graphic. The print had an immediate appeal and became one of the key religious images of WW1. It was picked up and adapted across the Empire. For example, the basic image appears in the stained glass window in St. George’s Anglican Church at Malvern (Victoria). In this particular work a distinctly Australian slouch hat has been included.

Some idea of how influential the poster was and just how quickly it was pressed in to service across the Empire comes from the following article which appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 8 January 1915.

Special services in connection with the Empire’s Day of Intercession concerning the war were held in the Anglican churches throughout the district on Sunday last. At Yarram the pulpit was flanked with the Union Jack draped round a copy of the new painting by James Clark, entitled “The Great Sacrifice,” depicting the Saviour on the Cross, at the foot of which lies a dead soldier, in the uniform of the present-day British infantry, whose hands rests on the Saviour’s feet, as though seeking to identify himself with the “Great Sacrifice.”

Reverend Cox (Church of England, Yarram) was still employing the image of The Great Sacrifice in a sermon that was reported in detail in the paper in May 1915 (7/5/15). It is difficult for us, 100 years on, to appreciate just how influential the idea of the British or Australian soldier as a ‘soldier of Christ’ was at the time. In a far more religious Australian society and at a point in the War well before the AIF had established its own more secular ideology that represented sacrifice as an expression of ‘mateship’, it was seen as natural that religious leaders like Cox explained such sacrifice in war in terms of religious teaching. Cox stressed in this particular sermon:

“Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

He was definitely not talking about secular notions of ‘mateship’ but about Christian love and duty.

For Cox, the soldier lying dead at the foot of the cross, his hand touching the foot of the crucified Christ, was at one with the Lord who had sacrificed His Life for the sins of the world and the One who would rise triumphant over death. In his death, fighting the just war, the soldier had also won his eternal life with the Saviour. The soldier’s individual sacrifice was an expression of The Great Sacrifice.

On this particular occasion Cox was also keen to emphasise that Christ Himself identified with the dead soldier. Referring to the text quoted and the actual picture of The Great Sacrifice, Cox told his congregation: I want by means of this text, illustrated by the picture, to show you Christ suffering, bleeding, dying, thereby identifying Himself with suffering humanity. For Cox, Christ in His compassion was taking the soldier to Himself. We might find all the imagery overdone – perhaps uncomfortable and even unfathomable – but for religious congregations of the time, the sermon would have been easily understood; and later in the War as death became so common, parents, families and whole communities could take consolation in such religious teaching. As tragic as the death of a soldier fighting overseas was in the bitter world of everyday reality, there was higher purpose to all the suffering and Christ would take to himself those who died in His name. These were profoundly powerful religious beliefs.

Such a religious perspective on the thousands of Australian deaths that, in early 1915, were still to come was based on several key beliefs. The first was that God was on the side of the Allies: it was a just war against an enemy that had turned its back on Christian principles and conducted war in a barbaric manner. The second belief was that there had to be both a moral and martial campaign against Germany. The War called for religious renewal because for the Christian believer it did not make any sense to see the War simply in terms of competing armies. There had to be a higher, more divine purpose to all the suffering and horror. True Christians had to turn again to God in prayer and commit to leading upright lives. The third belief was that those on the front line facing the enemy were acting selflessly to protect those at home, and their sacrifice would be recognised by God. Therefore they were under His protection. However, the significant qualification here was that the individual soldier, exercising his free will, had to stay true to his religion and live a decent life as a soldier. He could not allow himself to be corrupted, or even seduced, by the evil that war inevitably spawned. War could destroy innocence and the young and impressionable had to be both warned and protected.

All these beliefs could be seen in the sermon Reverend Cox delivered that day in May 1915. He reminded his congregation of the suffering of those in Belgium and he then added the outrages inflicted on those in Poland, alluding to the sexual predations of the German army on the women and girls of that nation. Continuing the theme of German perfidy, he turned to the treatment of British prisoners of war: We read almost daily of the treatment meted out to British prisoners in Germany of their being fed on stuff that we would scorn to give to our pigs, of their being insulted, cruelly treated and murdered in cold blood. He even gave an example of the brutality of German colonising methods, citing an incident from 1897 when a leading German colonial officer ridiculed British attempts to deal ‘fairly’ with the Massai and proceeded to shoot dead any native who challenged – even in the most moderate and reasonable way – German authority. Germans were ruthless tyrants and Cox warned his congregation that because Australia had pledged such strong support for the Empire against Germany, and had already done everything possible to exasperate the enemy, they could expect no mercy if ever Germany overcame Britain; and therefore God must always be their last refuge: If ever the enemy gets a foothold we will have to look to God for help. So for Cox, prayer – and the attendant recognition of God’s supremacy above everything – was the primary line of defence: Prayer – earnest, believing prayer. Why do I put this first? Because we are fighting not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of evil. Therefore no other weapon will avail. But as Cox saw it, people were not turning to God in this hour of national crisis and the power of prayer was not being realised. As Cox, lamenting the size of congregations, noted … it seems as though prayer has lost much of its meaning nowadays.

Faced with this indifference, Reverend Cox believed strong action was required to force people to wake to the national crisis at hand. Sacrifices had to be made and, again, football was high on his list. He declared:

And what do we see? Many a man who ought to be on the battlefield, fighting for the sufferings and honor of womanhood staying home to play football, and women and girls flocking to watch them play. I have no quarrel with football. I have played the game, I like the game, but under present conditions! no, certainly not.

The local football competition in the Shire would be wound up several months later, under the relentless pressure from patriots. Cox was also keen to push the cause of temperance and hoped that many more would follow the lead of King George V who had only recently pledged to abstain for the duration of the War. There was also a passing shot at trade unionists undermining the war effort by holding up ships with war supplies.

For the young men who could enlist, Cox had the simple message that they should: Go, because your country needs you. Go, above all, because Christ needs you. As such ‘soldiers of Christ’, they needed encouragement and direction and therefore Rev. Cox was keen that young man enlisting had access to the Scriptures:

There is one object for which I would ask. The men who are going to the front are going to face death – they know it – they volunteer with that in mind, and at such times men are prepared to receive divine truth. There is then a unique opportunity presented to us of helping them. The British and Foreign Bible Society undertakes that every man who cares to have it receives a copy of the Scriptures. This requires funds, and I will gladly forward any contributions for that purpose handed to me.

The sermons of Reverend Cox were repeated from countless pulpits across the nation. Protestant churches tended to have a sharper focus on Imperial duty but the Catholic clergy definitely preached for the War. There was a collective sense of turning to God in the hour of need. God Himself was enlisted in the cause. The AIF was charged with doing God’s work to overthrow evil. And death in war was seen as an expression of Christian sacrifice.

However, the AIF – idealised as some sort of righteous army of God, with its individual members, as soldiers of Christ – could easily fall short of religious benchmarks. It was inevitable that the pressured creation of the AIF would concentrate the very anti-social behaviours – drunkenness, gambling, ‘filthy’ and blasphemous language, disrespect for proper authority, larrikinism .. – that religious leaders had railed against for years. Certainly in the early months of the War, the image of the AIF was not as wholesome as the sermons suggested.The following account is taken from The Argus of 21 December 1914. It covered one of the riots in Melbourne by soldiers from Broadmeadows. The headlines read: SOLDIERS ATTACK CHINESE. TUMULT IN THE CITY. ORGY OF WINDOW BREAKING. POLICE USE THEIR BATONS. SEVERAL ARRESTS MADE.

Little Bourke street, the scene of many a conflict, probably never witnessed such a serious disturbance as that which occurred last evening in consequence of certain members of the Expeditionary Forces acting on a desire to wreck the place. From Swanston street to Russell street hardly a window which was not sheltered remains whole, and during the conflict, which in this quarter lasted for more than an hour, many extraordinary scenes were witnessed.

The article claimed that the trouble began when a story circulated that a soldier had been treated roughly on the previous night by a Chinese shop owner. The story eventually had the soldier involved dying from his injuries in the Melbourne Hospital. There was no such death, nor possibly even any injury, but as the paper pointed out, … the indignity of having been kicked by a Chinese evidently rankled so bitterly that the story became magnified… .

The paper suggested that the attack on Chinese business along Little Bourke Street was an organised affair:

About half-past 6 o’clock last evening a number of soldiers assembled in Little Bourke street , and shortly afterwards a brick hurtled through the plate-glass window in Wallach’s furniture shop. The crowd then dispersed, but returned to the same place about an hour later, and there were then indications that the disturbance was more or less organised. Several men carried bandages and Red Cross outfits to salve the wounds of those who might come into conflict with the police, and the bugle call to assemble brought hundreds of men to the lane. The soldiers by this time had reached a state of extreme anger, and talked openly of running all the Chinese out of Little Bourke street at the point of the bayonet. It was stated on all sides that 7,000 men had broken camp, and were marching from Broadmeadows to avenge their comrade’s death.

The picture that the paper gives of the men’s sense of military discipline was not encouraging:

Major MacInerney, provost marshal, was on the scene shortly after the disturbance became general, and many of the men obeyed his command to fall in and march away. Every time, however, that a missile found its objective, the men would break their ranks and cheer vociferously. On one occasion, when being marched away from a side lane, the soldiers came upon a heap of stones and bricks which almost seemed to have been placed there for some fell purpose. On seeing them, joy filled their hearts, and they instantly broke their ranks, and made a dash for Little Bourke street, where hostilities were resumed.

It appeared that the larrikin defence of the White Australia Policy proved far stronger than military discipline.

The episode in Little Bourke Street was not the only such ‘riot’. The most serious one was the ‘strike’ at the Liverpool camp in NSW in February 1916.

Historians -e.g., Stanley, P (2010) – have written extensively of the struggle military authorities faced with the new volunteer army – made up primarily from the working class – that was the AIF. In time, however, some of the very qualities that proved so intractable at the beginning -for example, attitudes towards military authority – would come to be extolled as the distinguishing strengths of the AIF.

The larrikin soldier of the early AIF hardly appears compatible with the idealised image of the soldier of Christ, but the more important observation is that both realities were at play, in obviously complex and often contradictory ways.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

The Argus

Stanley, P 2010, Bad Characters: Sex, Crime, Mutiny, Murder and the Australian Imperial Force, Pier 9 (Murdoch Books Australia), NSW.

For more on The Great Sacrifice see this entry in Wikipedia

For more on the stained glass window in St George’s Anglican Church, Malvern see this entry on the collection of Stained Glass in the Church.

The attached image of a memorial card based on ‘The Great Sacrifice’ was kindly supplied by the Stratford and District Historical Society. It comes from a photograph album kept by a family in memory of their son, and it shows just how common the imagery of ‘The Great Sacrifice’ was in WW1.

25. The Belgian Narrative. Part 2: The Shire responds

A previous post (15. The Belgian Narrative. Part 1: to the end of September 1914) looked at the development of the Belgian Narrative in the opening months of the War. This narrative placed Germany as the unprincipled aggressor prepared to crush any nation that stood in its way, and Belgium as the heroic but doomed small nation upholding its rights as an independent state. In the same narrative, Britain and the Empire, as defenders of Belgium’s neutrality, were drawn, reluctantly, into war in Europe against the military tyrant. Belgium’s heroic and fierce resistance had slowed the German plans for the conquest of France and brought precious time for the Allies. The resistance of the Belgians also brought out all the latent savagery and barbarism of the German nation and the world press was full of stories of German outrages and atrocities against the civilian population.

The Belgian Narrative summarised the origins of the War in essential elements for patriotic Australians – the resolute Empire, the beastly Hun and the heroic Belgians – and through to the end of April 1915 it dominated Australian reporting of the War.

This post examines how the story of Belgium was presented in the Shire of Alberton and what the locals did by way of support for the cause.

Post 15 concluded with an advertisement for a Handkerchief Afternoon Tea to be held in Yarram on 7 October 1914, with the proceeds to go towards Belgian relief. Admission to the fund raiser was by handkerchiefs for wounded soldiers. The following is an account, taken from the South Gippsland Chronicle of 9 October 1914, of this particular fund raiser. The headline was Patriotic Garden Fete.

The residence of Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Fleming, of Yarram, presented a very pretty appearance Wednesday evening last, when a garden fete was held to collect money and kind for the Red Cross Society. … The residence and grounds were adorned with flags and bunting, emblematic of the British Dominions and allied forces. … A large number of the residents of Yarram and district were present and all expressed themselves freely of the splendid work of the host and hostess. … Refreshments of a very sumptuous nature were provided. Withal, the visitors were attended to in a right royal fashion, and all enjoyed themselves immensely.
As a means of collecting funds games were carried on and charges made. Croquet, putting and rifle shooting were all well patronised, and the competitions were interesting and keen. …
Altogether, gifts of 363 handkerchiefs, 36 tea-bags and 5 bandages were received, which is very commendable. The Hostess (Mrs. J. W. Fleming) requests us specially to make mention of W. G. Growse, of handkerchiefs, tea-bags and bandages. For all other donors thanks are also tendered.
The amount collected per medium of the various games amounted to £2 10s. … This amount will, we understand, be given to the Belgian Fund.

James Weir Fleming was a ‘manager’ of Yarram. He was an executive member of the local branch of the People’s Party (Liberal), a member of the board of management for the local Presbyterian Church and he would in time become a member of the local Recruiting Committee. William Charles Growse was a local merchant who ran one of the main emporiums (Growse’s Leading Stores) in Yarram.

The newspaper account of the fundraiser suggests an almost surreal disconnect between faraway Yarram and the suffering in Belgium. At the same time, there was an ongoing attempt by the local press to drive home just how dire the true situation in Belgium was and how Germany was such a ruthless enemy. In an editorial at Christmas that year, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (Wednesday, 23/12/1914) claimed:

For fifteen years past the cult of brutality has been preached as the German spirit in the army, on political platforms and in the University. Brutality with the German nation has become a disease; all virtue has clean gone at the will of a military despot, who has demoralised his people with the one thought of gaining power by brute force.

Germany was held totally responsible for the War, the cause of which was … Germany’s attempted self-aggrandisement at the expense of her more peaceful neighbours. In the process of ruthless conquest, she had turned her back on Christian principles, as shown so forcefully in her invasion of Belgium:

The guiding principle of “do unto others as you would that they should do to you” has had no place in the hearts of the German leaders, otherwise the peace-loving Belgians would not have had their neutrality violated, because they resisted the depredations of a burglar nation. They were ruthlessly murdered – men, women and children. What is Christmas for the brave little Belgian nation today? A desolate country, with the pall of death spread over their fair land, for daring to intercept the march of a foe intent on battle.

By the end of February 1914, support for Belgium had shifted away from the occasional fete to a more sustained and organised contribution scheme. It was run under the slogan of Bread for the Belgians. The local paper, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, was one of the the driving forces for the campaign. In the edition of Friday 26 February 1915 there was an article under the headline Bread for the Belgians. Appeal to Gippsland. It started by setting a grim scene,

In Brussels over 200,000 people every day wait in the snow for their bread. In Liege, where for 6 months the bravery of a small nation altered the whole complexion of the greatest war in history, 30,000 old men, women, children and cripples daily line up to get their half pound of bread and litre of soup, which alone enables them to live. Babies and children are barely kept alive for want of milk.

The paper reminded its readers of the debt owed to the Belgians – We in Australia have been asked to help these most deserving people, to whom we owe our liberty today – and listed in detail all contributions, both in cash and kind, that had been received. The paper called for the setting up of a committee to manage the appeal.

In the same edition, the editor had organised for a letter from the Reverend F Tamagno (Presbyterian) to appear in support of the contribution scheme. The Rev Tamagno would become another key player in the local Recruiting Committee. The letter itself stands as something of a classic account of the Belgian Narrative.

I am sure that the appeal to loyal Australians, from Belgium, will be generously responded to. Surely the faintest hearted Australian can now see that little heroic Belgium gave Britain and France time to gather their forces together and meet the nation of “kultur”. There is no doubt that had Belgium assented to Germany’s diabolic demand, to march through her country unmolested, then France would have been the awful sufferer, and most probably Britain would have been seriously hampered from getting her transports quickly into France. Can we who know very little of indescribable agony and want shut our ears to the bleeding nation of Belgium? Will we not prove our intense admiration of the Belgian people by giving month after month a few shillings each to sustain starving men, women, children and babies? Sacrifice! we know not the meaning of the word. Let us do immediately and constantly something practical, which is the beginning of sacrifice. God forbid that, through our indifference, millions of Belgians should continue to suffer and starve, when it is in our power to relieve them, hearten them, and give to their succeeding generations the sweet consciousness of a nation’s heroism. I suggest that all who can will contribute, month by month, towards the fund you have opened in your columns. Every man, woman and child among us ought to keep on doing a little regularly, until either Belgium gains her freedom, or the devilish foe is forced out – baggage and body. I enclose 5s, and I shall continue to do so month by month, until heroic Belgium breathes yet once again the air of peace, hope and love.

The appeal was for locals to contribute a fixed amount on an ongoing basis. There were more letters in the next edition (3 March 1915), together with lists of more donors – now nearing one hundred – and a breakdown of their individual donations. The total raised stood at £176. The letter by Ben Percival Johnson – a well-known lawyer in Yarram who would become heavily involved in key patriotic associations, including the Recruiting Committee – also laboured the idea of the debt owed to Belgian for holding up the German advance. He argued that the Belgians … could easily have protested against the German invasion and then let the invaders through. The result would have been the loss of many more lives, the infliction of much more suffering and sorrow, and the expenditure of millions more in money by the people of Great Britain and her colonies, that is us. France would have, for the time being, crushed; Paris and Calais would have fallen, and, perhaps, Britain invaded, for our army was too small to offer any serious resistance to the hordes of trained Germans. Belgium saved all this, and their pathetic appeal should meet with the most generous response.

Future editions kept up the appeal for Belgium with the growing list of donors being published. The practice created a type of honour board of patriotic citizens. A formal fund-raising committee was duly formed and it included clergy from all faiths, including Fr Sterling (Catholic), Rev Tamagno (Presbyterian), Rev G Cox (Church of England). At this point there was very much a combined religious front to the War, and both France and Belgium, the 2 nations suffering most at the hands of the German invaders, were Catholic. Another key committee member was A J Rossiter, the editor of the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative. The first meeting of the committee closed with everyone there singing a verse of the National Anthem. The grand total continued to grow. At the start of March 1915 it was £257. The committee stressed that the fund was not a case of charity, rather it was about repaying a debt owed to the Belgians. But not everyone was as committed as the members of the committee and the conviction that people had to be made aware of their responsibilities – set to become one of the most critical political themes of WW1 – was there from the start. Rev. Tamagno wrote in the paper (23/3/15), The people must bear in mind that there were 7,000,000 Belgians to be fed. Some people seemed quite unconcerned, but they must be woke from their slumbering, and be induced to give in large or small sums. By the end of May the total was £716. The Shire’s efforts were being mirrored all over Victoria and the nation as a whole, and across the Empire. Newspapers throughout Australia over the first half of 1915 featured countless articles on funds being raised for Belgian relief. As a quick comparison with the Shire’s efforts, articles in The Argus gave Ballarat’s total to early May (12/5/15, p. 10) as £1,350 and Broken Hill’s to the middle of June (18/6/15, p. 4) as £2,625. The funds were distributed by the American based Commission for Relief in Belgium, whose chief executive – and future US president – Herbert Hoover, had been recently involved in the mining industry in Australia.

Evidence of just how pervasive the preoccupation with Belgium was in the first year of the War can come from the most unlikely places. For example, in March 1915 a new football club was formed in Yarram. The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (31/3/15) reported that an attempt was made to call the team the ‘Yarram Imperials’ but this rather patriotic title lost out to the far more specific ‘Yarram Fire Brigade Football Club’. However, on the issue of colours, patriotism did win out: The colours were under discussion, when a smart looking guernsey was placed on the table, red and yellow. It was suggested that the letters be black, so that the players would bear the Belgian colours. This, of course, appealed to the patriotism of all present, and these colours were adopted amidst applause.

From late April 1915, reports of events unfolding in the Dardenelles would come to dominate Australian reporting of the War but even as the focus shifted to the experiences of Australia’s own soldiers, the plight of the Belgians was still being written about. The following account is of a fund-raising concert held at Kjergaard at the end of April 1915. It was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 7 May 1915.

Friday night, 30th ult., was fixed for a Belgian benefit, and the elements being propitious, people flocked to Kjergaard from miles around. … Enthusiasm had been aroused in the good cause. Some people thoughtfully brought “live” produce, one of the number, an Aylesbury duck, being very much alive during the concert. It had been deposited on the stage, and much merriment was created at intervals when it showed its appreciation of a song by a pronounced “quack quack”. …
The chairman called on Mr. N. J. Cook, head teacher of the Blackwarry State School to address the gathering. Mr. Cook referred to the appeal to help the brave little Belgium nation, which had been trampled upon by a relentless foe, and was now in deep distress – an appeal that would not be made in vain. Germany expected to have got to Paris, and would not have been disappointed had she not been held fast at Liege and Namur. They all had admiration for the brave Belgium nation.

Total receipts for the night came to some £18, and the duck in question – clearly a key player in the night’s entertainment – fetched the princely sum of £1/1/6. After the speeches and auction, the hall was cleared for supper and dancing. The purpose of the night was serious but it was also a an opportunity for the community to come together and socialise.

Late in May 1915, (Gippsland Strandard and Alberton Shire Representative, 26 May 1915) Alberton Shire received its share of 1,100 ‘Belgian Buttons’ to sell. They were 1s each and were sold from a number of businesses in Yarram. The slogan that went with the buttons was, “Be a Briton! and buy a button for a ‘bob’ to buy bread for the Belgians!” The ambitious plan was to sell one to every adult in Australia (2.7M). Like the lists of donors which was published regularly in the local press, the buttons were a means of identifying those in the local community who were serious about supporting the Belgians. Tellingly, the buttons came with a new measure of patriotic commitment: There are two kinds, one for those who have father, husband, son or brother at the front, and these have white circle round the edge; the other kind is for those who have no near relative at the front. The design of the buttons is a tangible illustration of how the Belgian Narrative became a test of commitment to the Empire and the War. The Belgian Narrative was always more than any simple or even heartfelt account of the terrible fate of Belgium. It became a test of commitment.

Finally, to emphasise the extent to which the Belgian Narrative was both interpreted and presented within Christian teaching – it served as a modern parable – consider the following poem written by J. C. D of Welshpool, which appeared in the Gippsland Strandard and Alberton Shire Representative on 14 April 1915. Little of the poem’ s intent or style strikes accord with modern sensibilities, but it does demonstrate how for some – or many – the War had to be seen as some expression of divine purpose, where both the generic call to arms, and the more immediate appeal for Belgium, were divinely sanctioned.

Pity for Belgium

Pity for Belgium! Yes, and all beside
Who suffer in the world, this Easter tide
Grant us, O Lord, the power to realise,
Not only for our friends, but for ourselves,
In England and in Honor’s name,
The shame
That lies in loyal lips and cringing hearts,
The pity of infamy we dig, forsooth,
With prudent hands – While o’er ensanguined hands
Hurtle the portents of colossal war.
The thorn-besprinkled path illuminate!
Our stricken souls with avarice and fear
Are blind to that imperial sacrifice,
That quickens in the hearts of dullest men
In crises and abysses of alarm.
On the cold hearthstone of our pampered lives
Lay Thou the fuel of compassion, now
The miraculous spark with power endow,
To kindle and consume, but not expire.
Pity for Belgium! Yes, and all beside
Who suffer in the world at Easter tide,
The bread and wine ye give will Christ restore
With power growing ever to give more.


South Gippsland Chronicle

Gippsland Strandard and Alberton Shire Representative

The Argus

24. Honor Roll of the Shire of Alberton

Framed Honor Roll: Alberton Shire

Framed Honor Roll: Alberton Shire


Detail: Alberton Shire Honor Roll

Detail: Alberton Shire Honor Roll

The Roll of Honor of Alberton Shire lists the names of 446 men who served in the AIF and identifies (*)  62 of these who were ‘killed’.

The names are printed on parchment which is framed under glass. The measurements are approx. 78 cm x 67.5 cm. The Honor Roll is held by the Yarram & District Historical Society.

The Honor Roll was prepared in early 1920. It is based on a hand-written list prepared by the Shire Secretary under the title: Shire of Alberton. Roll of Honor. Men who enlisted and went overseas, or who were in camp at the signing of the armistice preparing for active service. 1914-1918. This list is also held by the Yarram & District Historical Society.

The table below features the full names of the 446 men. In a few cases it has not yet been possible to identify a person listed on the Honor Roll. Work is continuing in this regard and when the identities are uncovered the table will be updated.

There are some striking shortcomings with the Honor Roll. To some extent the problems came in the process of transcription from the hand-written list. For example, family names and first names have been transcribed incorrectly: GEARING on the list became GEDRING in transcription and GOULDEN became GOULDER. Also, the apparently idiosyncratic order of the names came from the hand-written list. Apparently what was meant as a working document became the de facto formal list.

At the same time there are shortcomings that go beyond transcription. Probably the most serious is the identification of those ‘killed’ on active service. The table below shows the extent of the problem. First, 2 men (Loriman and Pulbrook) were identified as having been killed when in fact they were not. There is a slight possibility that in one case this could have been another transcription error, but whatever the cause, the seriousness of the error is obviously of a high order and it is hard to understand how it occurred or why it was not picked up.  Second, the Honor Roll did not identify another 27 men who died or were killed on active service. It seems remarkable that a public memorial such as this could be so wrong on this point, particularly given that 9 of the 27  names not acknowledged as ‘killed’ on the Honor Roll were in fact featured on the Shire War Memorial in the main street of Yarram, under the inscription: These men Gave Their Lives For Their Country.

The accuracy and completeness of memorials is a complex issue.  There were problems with transcription and there were also significant slippages of time, for example while the Honor Roll was created in early 1920, the names of the dead were not added to the War Memorial for nearly another 10 years. But beyond such technical considerations, there are deeper issues to do with perceptions of how the efforts and sacrifices of those who served in WW1 were to be honoured and, more importantly, who precisely was to be ‘named’. The ongoing research indicates that the 446 names on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll is not an accurate count of the real number of men from the Shire who enlisted in the AIF and that the real number is more than 600. The research also suggests that most of those missing from the memorials came essentially from the rural working class.

23. Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

The last post examined a set of characteristics in relation to the men who enlisted from the Shire of Alberton prior to the end of 1914. This post concludes the overview of the men.

As noted in the two previous posts there were 134 men who enlisted in this group. However, the situation is more complicated than this because even though 134 men formally enlisted in the AIF prior to the end of 1914, not all of them were still serving up to the end of 1914. In fact, 15 (11%) of them were discharged before the end of 1914. The notes in the table below show that in most cases the men were discharged as ‘medically unfit’. The notes also show that most of those discharged at this point – prior to the end of 1914 – did eventually enlist. Individual enlistment papers indicate that when men fronted again to enlist they often did not indicate that they had already been discharged as medically unfit. There were also cases where an alias was used for the re-enlistment.

For the purposes of this post, the full complement of men who enlisted prior to the end of 1914 – the 134 of them – is used in relation to the single characteristic of religion, but the lesser cohort of 129 is referenced when looking at individual service histories. The service histories of the 15 men who were discharged to the end of 1914, but who then re-enlisted some time later, will be picked up in the relevant future cohort.


The relevant data from the Commonwealth Census of 1911, taken from 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  has been matched against that of the cohort of the 134 enlisted men.

From the Commonwealth Census 1911:

Church of England          8,306         39%
Presbyterian                    4,897         23%
Methodist                         2,665        12.5%
Baptist                                  274
Congregationalist                 93
Lutheran                              192
Church of Christ                 114
Salvation Army                     78
7 Day Adventist                    17
Unitarian                                 9
Prot. (Undefined)               359
Roman Catholic               4,044          19%
Greek Catholic                         2
Cath. (Undefined)               176
Other [Christian]                 123
Total                                 21,349

From the individual enlistment papers of the 134 men:

Church of England                77       58.5%
Presbyterian                          20       15.5%
Methodist                              14       10.75%
Roman Catholic                    17       13%
Other Protestant                    3         2.25%
no record                                 3        –
Total                                     134

On the basis that the group of enlistees is a small sample, and accepting that the designation of ‘Church of England’ could have been used as a generic description for ‘Protestant’, there is little to suggest that, at this point in the War, the religious profile of those enlisting was markedly different from that of the wider community. At the same time, the over-representation of those identifying as Church of England and the under-representation of Presbyterian could be significant and warrant closer attention over time. However, as suggested, it might reflect not much more than the use of Church of England as a generic identifier for Protestant (as opposed to Roman Catholic). As the research progresses and the number of enlisted men becomes greater it will also be instructive to match the 2 characteristics of religion and occupation.


The unit that appears against each man is taken for the Embarkation Roll. It is possible that there were changes after this point, particularly given the re-organisation of the AIF battalions after Gallipoli. It is also possible that there were changes between when the men first signed on and when they left Australia.

Most of the group embarked from Australia in an infantry battalion, with the most common ones being the Victorian 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and the Melbourne-based 14th. Approximately one-third of the men left in the Light Horse, with the most common regiments the Victorian 4th and 8th, and the 9th, which was a combined Victorian-South Australian unit.

Service history

As indicated, this section looks at the service records of the 119 men who had enlisted up to the end of 1914 and then served in the AIF from the time of their 1914 enlistment to the point when either they died on active service or they were formally discharged from service.

Given that they were the first to sign on and that they did so on an open-ended basis – ‘until the end of the War, and a further period of four months thereafter…’ – this first group were committing themselves from the very beginning of the AIF’s war to its very end; and, not surprisingly, there was a simple logic that generally held that the earlier a person enlisted, the greater the risk they faced.

The men faced a limited range of outcomes. Certainly one was that they would die on active service. They could be killed in action (kia), die of wounds (dow) or die of illness/injury (doi). In fact, 35 of the 119 men (29.5%) met this fate. This group faced roughly a 1 in 3 chance of either being killed or dying on active service.

Another outcome involved being wounded and then repatriated to Australia for discharge as ‘medically unfit’. Most commonly the wounds were either gunshot wounds (gsw) or shrapnel wounds (sw). Another common example, but later in the War, was ‘gassed’. Usually, the soldier experienced extended hospitalisation, commonly in the UK, and then repatriation to Australia. They generally carried some level of disability for an extended period, if not the rest of their lives. Some men were also discharged as medically unfit after being hospitalised with major illness or disease or even injury. The group of men discharged on the basis of being medically unfit numbered 33 or 38% of the cohort.

The figures are grim. An earlier post described the jubilant send-off for the men at the Alberton Station on 21 September 1914. With the benefit of historical hindsight the men that day should have had some basic maths put to them: they stood a 1 in 3 chance of being killed; or a 1 in 2 chance of either being killed or coming back wounded – or suffering from some major disease/illness – to live with a disability of some kind, most probably for the rest of their lives. Moreover, they might have been as young as their early twenties when they started on this path.

In fact, the men’s prospects were even worse than this because, as the table below shows, there were many cases where men were wounded but not then discharged as medically unfit. 48 individual men were wounded – some were wounded more than once – but only 33 men were discharged as medically unfit. Notice also that some of those killed later in the War, had already been wounded in earlier battles. Also, some 69 men were hospitalised at least once with some illness or disease – pneumonia, dysentery, VD, enteric fever, trench fever, malaria, neurasthenia, pleurisy, shell shock… – but clearly not all of these men were medically discharged. In short, the levels of deaths and medical discharges do not reveal the true extent of casualties. Of those still alive at the end of the War, there is only one man in the table below – William Henry Wheildon – who managed to last the entire duration of the War without being wounded or hospitalised with a disease or sickness or injury of some kind. He served in the Naval & Military Forces and was discharged in late 1918. Ironically, he died of influenza within one year of being discharged.

For those men who managed to make it through without being killed or discharged as medically unfit, there were two possible end-points to their military service. On 17 September 1918, PM Hughes announced that the 1914 veterans were to be brought back to Australia on special leave or furlough – commonly it became referred to as ‘Anzac Leave’ – in time for Christmas. The plan was that after 3 months leave in Australia they would return to the Western Front in time for the planned Spring offensive of 1919. At the time it was estimated that 7,000 men remained of the original 1914 enlistments. The plan caused consternation with the military command on the Western Front, as it was already grappling with the very much reduced size of the AIF, but in Australia the plan was popular. Effectively, this group of men had already been away for four years. In the table below there are 22 cases where men were returned under this provision. The earliest – Sydney George Collis – returned home in early October 1918 and the latest case involved John Comber Robertson who did not make it back until mid February 1919. Most of the men reached Australia in December 1918, with the War then over. Ironically, 3 men on the table either died or were killed round the time the leave was announced: James Singleton was killed in action of 9 August 1918; Terence Charles McCarthy was killed in action on 19 September 1918, 2 days after the plan was announced; and William Donovan Glanfield died of illness on 15 October 1918.

More men (26) simply served out their time and were returned to Australia and discharged through 1919 and even in to 1920. The discharge for these men commonly read as TPE: Termination of Period of Enlistment. It was up to a full year after the completion of the War – and 5 years of service – before many of these man finally made it home.

There were a few cases involving variations on the above patterns. 3 of the group were discharged in the UK in 1919. They were men who had immigrated to Australia in the period before the War: Thomas Courtney Sullivan (born London); Alfred Hartfield (born Sussex); and Thomas James Paterson (born Glasgow). Another of the men (Jack Garland) served from 1913 in the Royal Australian Navy and there is no record of his discharge available .

Finally, there are 2 cases that stand out because it appears that in both cases the individual concerned effectively discharged himself. It appears that Reginald Henwood who was wounded at Gallipoli in May 1915, hospitalised in the UK before being sent back to Egypt and then repatriated to Australia in September 1915, went missing without leave – ‘illegally absent’ – from 23/12/15. Eventually, in July 1920 he was formally discharged to close the book on him. However, it can be difficult interpreting what exactly happened when you rely on formal records like those in the personal files of the men who served in the AIF; and it is virtually impossible to use the same records to interpret motivation. For example, Reginald Henwood was actually reported in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative , 28 April 1916 – as attending a ceremony in Yarram on 26 April 1916 at which he was presented with the Shire Medallion. This was when, according to his service record, he was illegally absent and had been so for nearly 4 months. The newspaper report said that he had been wounded at ‘Lonesome Pine’ – Henwood had been wounded on 3/5/15, well before Lone Pine (6-9/8/15) – and had lost an eye, but the official record simply records ‘gsw upper extremities’ and it is not credible that such a serious injury would not be recorded. Henwood’s version of events, as reported in the local paper,  does not appear to line up with the official records.  Ironically, the very same article that praised the service of Private Henwood warned about bogus soldiers: A man came to Yarram recently, wearing some uniform, and was treated as a returned soldier, yet he had never so much as enlisted. At the same time, it seems remarkable that someone in Henwood’s circumstances would run the risk of appearing at a formal ceremony to receive awards and be feted as the returning hero. Then again, perhaps Henwood did see himself as the returned hero: he had volunteered, faced battle, been wounded and repatriated to Australia and so, as far as he was concerned, his war was over. Perhaps there was another R Henwood and identities have been confused. Incredibly, there was in fact another R (Rupert) Henwood – enlisted in Melbourne 25/8/14 – who was repatriated to Australia in 1915; but he returned to Australia on 15/4/15 and was discharged on 27/4/15. Consequently he could not have even been involved in the Gallipoli campaign.

The second case to do with someone who was illegally absent involved Edgar Charles Turnbull. Again, there are all the cautions about interpreting AIF records but the following appears to have been what transpired and, on face value, it is a rather distressing story. In Egypt in February 1915 he came down with pneumonia and was hospitalised in the UK. Other illnesses including sciatica and rheumatism were diagnosed and there was a recommendation that he be repatriated to Australia and discharged on medical grounds. On 30/8/15, his treating medical officer explicitly recommended: ‘Discharge to Australia as permanently unfit for active service’. At the same time, the medical board found that his capacity for ‘earning a full livelihood in the general labour market’ had been halved. However, the final recommendation of the medical board was that he not be discharged as permanently unfit but merely ‘changed to Australia’. Consequently, he was returned to Australia on 9/11/15, but he was not discharged. He subsequently took matters into his own hands and was illegally absent from 12/4/16. He was posted as a ‘deserter’ on 13/7/16. A warrant for his arrest was issued. Then much later, in 1933, he contacted the Army requesting a formal discharge. He was required to sign before a JP a ‘confession of desertion’ which he did on 22 July 1933. It was made clear to him that he had no right to wear medals and that he could not be issued with a Returned Soldier’s Badge. He then received his discharge papers which recorded that he had deserted. He tried to have the reference to desertion removed from his discharge papers and on at least 2 occasions argued that at the time he went AWL he was very sick. He claimed that he had been ‘sent back [to Australia] medically unfit’. He also claimed that he had been told he was ‘not wanted’. In a letter (24/7/37) he wrote: ‘I did not wrong intentionally (sic) and ever since have worked hard and been an honest and sober citizen’. He was having difficulty gaining work and his discharge papers with the reference to desertion were hardly of any use. A few years later his family saw the discharge papers and found out about his desertion. At that point he said he was cut off  from his wife and family. The last correspondence in the file covers desperate pleas for some kind of pardon.

The whole issue of desertion and the related practices of taking unauthorised leave – very common in the AIF – and challenging army authority – certainly not uncommon in the AIF – will be examined in later posts and set within the context of the AIF as a volunteer army.


These last few posts have looked at the group of men who enlisted in the AIF to the end of 1914. At the time there was unbridled enthusiasm for the War and the call to patriotic duty was overpowering.

The cohort from the Shire of Alberton was young – those between 18 and 25 made up nearly 75% of the entire group – single, and drawn predominately from the rural working class. The mobility of this group was a striking feature. There was a relatively small group of sons from local farming families.

Medical screening at the time was high and a large number of recruits were discharged as medically unfit in the first weeks of their enlistment. Most of those rejected at this point did subsequently re-enlist, presumably as medical standards were lowered.

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.

It will be instructive to compare the casualty rates of this first group of volunteers with subsequent ones, but it is strikingly clear that the odds of enlisting in 1914 and surviving – alive, unwounded and in good health – to the end of the War were particularly poor.


The Australian War Memorial

Embarkation Roll

Unit History: WW1

Australian Bureau of Statistics

Census of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1911

22. Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 1- movement, occupation, age and marital status

The last post identified 134 locals, with links to the Shire of Alberton, who enlisted to the end of 1914. This post begins to analyse the key characteristics of this group. The same methodology will be applied to future cohorts of men from the Shire who enlist from 1915 to 1918, to see if the basic characteristics changed over the course of the War.

As indicated, the list of those who enlisted prior to the end of 1914 is not necessarily complete. There is research going on in the background to establish if any of 20+ additional names should be added. Essentially these men fall into 2 categories: those for whom no AIF service record can be located, even though there were newspaper references at the time to their enlistment; and those for whom it is not yet possible to tie their name – e.g., W Rose – to the particular service record. Where additional records are uncovered, and it becomes possible to add names to the current list of 134, the relevant tables in these posts will be updated.

Qualifications like this are important because, as this post will show, trying to recreate the historical record of 100 years ago from individual pieces of information is difficult. Inconsistencies, variations and anomalies are common.

The table below builds on that from the last post by adding the following items of information: 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. Future posts will explore other characteristics, including an overview of the war service of each individual volunteer.

In general, the information 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, specifically in the case of ‘occupation’, several pieces of information – the Embarkation Roll, the individual AIF service file, the Shire of Alberton Rate Book and the Commonwealth Electoral Roll for the Subdivision of Yarram Yarram – have been used. The intention here is to identify those men who were coming from the ‘family farm’. In one or two cases, a young man described himself as a ‘farm labourer’ or even just ‘labourer’ when in fact his father was an established farmer in the Shire and the young man was working with his father on the family farm. Similarly, a young man would describe himself as ‘farmer’ when, by looking at other evidence, it was again the case that he was working with his father on the family farm. In the table below, the term ‘family farm’ covers all situations where the son was working on the family farm. The qualification here is that even though there was a family farm it was also possible that the son was undertaking other work in the district – for example, one of them listed ‘horse breaking’ as his occupation – or perhaps it was work in addition to the work on the family farm. The more important point is that the table identifies all those cases where the person enlisting was the son – or possibly one of several sons – of a farmer. On the other hand, where the evidence suggests that the person enlisting was a farmer in his own right – the land was recorded in the rate book in his name, not his father’s – or the evidence is not sufficient to rule out the possibility that the person was a farmer, the occupation of ‘farmer’, as recorded on the various forms, has been let stand.

With the 2 addresses taken from the Embarkation Roll it is apparent that in most cases the volunteer simply gave his next of kin’s address – most commonly this was a parent – as his own address. At the same time, there are some exceptions. For example, Walter Tibbs (122) was a farm worker at Tarraville who had immigrated as a 15 year-old from Leeds in England. Most other immigrant workers simply gave their parent’s address in the UK as their own address, but Tibbs actually recorded his as Tarraville. The significance of this is that this young man – 21 at the time – who was killed at Gallipoli on 25/4/15 was not included on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll. Nor was his name included on the Shire War Memorial. Yet, when his parents completed the Roll of Honor details for the National War Memorial they specified Tarraville as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. It appears that despite all his efforts, and his family’s efforts, his presence in the Shire was never acknowledged or, probably more correctly, too easily forgotten.

The table certainly highlights movement as a key characteristic of the rural working class. There appear to be four relevant groups involved. First, there are what can be termed long-term residents: those who were born in the Shire, enlisted in Yarram and gave some location in the Shire as their own address and that of their parents. The two Graham brothers (47 & 48) serve as an example of this group; although even here there is an anomaly because only one of the brothers – Leonard Simpson Graham – is recorded as having been to school in the Shire.

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. An example is George William Silver (109) who had been born in the Shire, went to a local school and had remained in the Shire probably up until his adolescence – judging by his 6 years in the Yarram Rifle Club – but who by the time of enlistment was obviously living in Melbourne. He was not included on the Shire Honor Roll. However, others in the same situation were included. The deciding factor in such cases appeared to be whether or not there was still a family connection to the Shire. For example, Gordon William Appleyard (3) was born in the Shire (Binginwarri) and went to a local school. Yet he was clearly not in the Shire when he enlisted (Rockhampton, Qld) and he gave his address as Barcaldine, Qld. However his next-of-kin’s address (Alberton) was in the Shire, and he was included on both the Shire Honor Roll and the Shire War Memorial (he died of wounds at Pozieres). Interestingly, John Henry Adams (1) – killed in action 8/8/1915 – also enlisted in Queensland and like Gordon Appleyeard, his family was very well known in the Shire (Calrossie). His address and that of his next-of-kin were both given as Yarram. Yet he is not on either the Shire Honor Roll or the Shire War memorial. The significant difference here appears to have been that the Adams family moved to Traralgon during the War (1916) and, presumably, as the result of the family connection being lost, the son was not seen as – or not remembered as – a local when it came to including the names on the Shire memorials.

The third group takes in those who came into the Shire and had established themselves as local by the time of enlistment. This includes the likes of Frederick Butler (17), John Crawford (29), Stanley Hawkins (56) and Ernest Singleton (111). It also takes in most of the 15 immigrant farm workers. Generally, this group had their names included on the Shire Honor Roll.

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. This group stands out because even though they had their medical in Yarram and enlisted in Yarram there is no indication of any long term involvement with the Shire – they were not born there, did not go to school there and their next-of-kin have no apparent link to the Shire – and, in most cases, their names are not included on either the Shire Honor Roll or the Shire War Memorial. Yet, clearly, they did enlist from the Shire.

The creation of these 4 groups is merely 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; and whatever scheme is devised, there still has to be accommodation for personal judgements made at the time, 100 years ago. However, it is clear that the movement of this group of early volunteers was a distinguishing feature, and it is reflected in the simple observations that, for example, 16 of the men enlisted interstate; approximately 80 – more than half – of them had been born outside the Shire and nearly half gave, as their address on enlistment, a location outside the Shire.

Obviously the high incidence of movement is tied inextricably to occupation. By far the largest single group (44) is that where the men had simply described themselves as either ‘ labourer’ or ‘farm labourer’. When you add those who described themselves as – stockman, station hand, horse driver, gardener, butter maker, sawyer, horse breaker, jackeroo …. – and those working on the railways, in retail as grocer’s assistant , and the fishermen, the group is solidly rural working class. Within this description of rural working class, there are some in semi and skilled trades – plumber, carpenter, fitter & turner, telegraph operator, engine driver, motor mechanic, coach builder, painter, blacksmith, brick layer etc. There are also some from clerical positions. However, with the exception of a group of teachers (5) and one mechanical engineer, the number of professionals and higher level administrative and managerial representatives is very limited.

The other distinctive occupational group takes in the sons from family farms. Doubtless these 18 cases would have been well known in the district. These were the sons of farming families that had established themselves in the local community over the preceding 40+ years. The loss of the son’s labour and support for the family farm would have been significant. It would not have been an easy decision for the family to support the enlistment; but presumably patriotic duty overrode the significant cost to the family. Even with this group there are anomalies. For example, the 2 Scott siblings (106-107) came from a family farm background, yet the details of their individual enlistments suggest that the link with the family farm had been severed by the time they enlisted.

The number of cases involving farmers per se – they owned and were working their own farm – was very small and in fact when you look at their ages it is likely that only about half of the 8 cases identified in the table were such farmers. There was very little possibility that a farmer would – or even could – simply leave the farm and enlist.

Overall, at this point of the War, it is apparent that the burden of enlistment fell squarely on the rural working class, whose employment was often itinerant and casual, and a small group of young men – typically they were late teens or early twenties – coming from family farms in the Shire.

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 this group is added to those to the age of 25 it is evident that this particular cohort was very youthful. The oldest volunteer at forty-one – twice the age of 53 of his fellow recruits – was William Henry Wheildon a miner from Yarram. He had already served in South Africa and in WW1 he served in the Naval and Military Forces in New Guinea.

Ages of volunteers to the end of 1914
ages                       %
18-20        33       24.6
21-25        65       48.5
26-30        22       16.5
31-35        11         8.2
36+             3          2.2
total        134      100

Marital status
At the time the expectation was that only single men would enlist and this is evident in this particular cohort, where only 6 of the 134 men were married.

In the first few months of the War to the end of 1914, it was the young, single rural workers who could best answer the call to enlist, not the farming families who were, literally, tied to the land. The exception was a group of about 20 young men from local farming families.


Embarkation Roll



21. Enlistments to the end of 1914: identifying the ‘locals’

Earlier posts (11, 12, 13, 14) initiated discussion on the issue of ‘local’ and identified men from the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in the period immediately after the start of WW1. In mid September 1914 there were a large number of men who enlisted in Yarram – most on the same day, 16 September – and who were then farewelled, as a group, from the Shire. Even before this, many individuals had made their own way to Melbourne – or some other recruiting centre – to enlist. However, these earlier posts have only covered enlistments to the end of September 1914. This particular post looks at all the enlistments (134) from August to the end of December 1914, employing the end of the year as a kind of historical marker. As the blog progresses over the next few years, the same methodology used in this post – probably employing intervals of six months – will reveal the complete picture of all the local men who enlisted over the course of the War.

The focus of the post is the methodology used to identify the men who are being described as the ‘locals’ from the Shire of Alberton who joined the AIF. The next post will look at the characteristics of the group of men identified.

From the start (June 2014) I have emphasised the ongoing nature of the historical research that underpins this blog and this post offers another opportunity to emphasise this key feature. It will become obvious that there are gaps and inconsistencies in the historical records that are being used. Work continues in the background to resolve these tensions, at least to the extent that it is possible when dealing with records that were created 100 years ago, within systems and for purposes which were specific to the time. There is also the possibility/likelihood that additional resources and pieces of information – for example, from family history research – will become available which can be considered in the research. At the same time, because the research is being presented via a blog there is the continuing opportunity to both extend and fine tune it. As additional evidence becomes available – including evidence that comes in response to the blog itself – the relevant information, including corrections, can be incorporated. This makes the blog, as a tool in historical research, a powerful option.

Local identity

In terms of this research, the two classic dimensions to the notion of local identity – place and time – interact in complex and dynamic ways. As stated in earlier posts, the Shire of Alberton was effectively the first local government area to be created in Gippsland; but over the years its initial expansive boundaries were progressively scaled back as other local government areas were created. These boundaries were still being redrawn within the timeframe of WW1. For example, the north-east boundary was redrawn as late as 1914 when the town of Willung passed to Rosedale Shire. Not much earlier (1902 and 1908), the boundary with the Shire of South Gippsland had been adjusted and the township of Hedley and the large area of Woorarra were excised from the Shire. One effect of these changing boundaries was that the physical description of the Shire’s boundaries did not always accurately reflect how people viewed either their own local identity or the local identity of others. The socially fluid nature of the Shire’s borders was very evident over WW1 in the reporting by the local press, where the details and experiences of soldiers in neighbouring shires were routinely presented. The research also shows that there was considerable movement between all the local Gippsland shires. Thus someone born in a town or settlement in the Shire of Alberton could, 20 years later, have been working and living in a neighbouring shire, while their parents and siblings continued to reside in the Shire of Alberton. Moreover, the movement from the Shire was sometimes much further than the immediate neighbourhood of Gippsland, and some young men who enlisted did so in Queensland, NSW and WA . Yet in many cases these interstate volunteers were still considered to be local. Then there were those who came into the Shire only a few years before the War started. Earlier posts have looked at the young, immigrant workers from the UK. These young men had not been born in the Shire and they had only been living and working there for a comparatively short time. Equally, there were many Australian-born itinerant rural workers who enlisted in Yarram but who had had only a short-term connection to the district. Both groups of workers were critical to the social and economic dynamics of the local community. There is also the issue of retrospectivity. As the War progressed – and as early as 1916 – there were men who had enlisted elsewhere, served overseas and then been discharged from the AIF, who settled in the Shire of Alberton. There were also some men who after their AIF service married a ‘local girl’ and moved into the district. More importantly, the Shire was a major locus for soldier settlement at the end of the War and this government initiative brought in many ex-service men who, prior to the War, had had no contact with the Shire. Many of these ‘post-service locals’ went on to play very significant roles in shaping the narrative of WW1 and local institutions such as the RSL; but they had had no association whatsoever with the Shire before they completed their service in the AIF.

As a general observation, to define ‘local’ it is necessary to work within two essential tensions: if the parameters to identify the men are set two wide, the focus on the Shire of Alberton as a separate and distinct community will be lost; and if the parameters are set too closely, the full and complex dynamic of the particular community will be lost.

Against this background, the key challenge for this research has been to come up with a methodology that can be applied now and at future defined points – as indicated, intervals of 6 months through to the end of 1918 – to identify all the men, clearly linked to the Shire of Alberton, who enlisted in the AIF over the course of WW1. There has also been a conscious intention to capture those men who, principally because of the nature of their work, tended to pass unnoticed in the community.

The basic methodology has been to employ the available range of relevant historical records that were created at the time. Each of these records is described in some detail below and, progressively, each record set will be added to the blog via individual posts. They will be added under the Resources tab and, at the time, there will be a detailed analysis of their creation, accuracy and significance.

There is one key qualifications to the methodology: the local connection must have been evident before, or at the time of, enlistment.

Also, as pointed out in an earlier post (12), there were several men who, according to newspaper reports of the time, had enlisted and were farewelled from Alberton on 21 September 1914 but who, given that there is no record of any AIF service for them, could not in fact have joined the AIF. All those who appear in the table below can be linked to their individual AIF service records, even if, as in some cases, their service was very short.

The Shire of Alberton Honor Roll
The Honor Roll was drawn up by the Shire Secretary (G W Black) after the War in 1920. It features the names of 447 men identified as local and additionally records the number (62) of those killed on active service. While this is the key record source it does not represent the complete picture of all the local men who enlisted. In the table below there are many examples of local men whose names do not appear on the Shire Honor Roll.

The list of railway warrants issued by the Shire Secretary

Over the entire course of WW1, the Shire Secretary maintained a list of all the railway warrants that he issued to men who had already enlisted in Yarram or who had formally commenced the enlistment process in Yarram. The passes were to provide free train travel to Melbourne to report for service, most commonly at Broadmeadows. The railway warrants were issued right through to late 1918. There were 474 warrants issued.

The list of men medically examined to the end of 1914

Early in 1915, the Shire Secretary was required to draw up a list of all those men (88 ) who had been medically examined, to the end of 1914, by the local doctors, in Yarram, as part of the enlistment process. This list provides another means of identifying men from the Shire who enlisted in this period. Most commonly, men who were given railway warrants also appear on this list. Post 1914, no equivalent lists exist, and from this point the actual significance of any local medical examination was significantly downgraded. In fact, in 1915 the local doctors refused to conduct such medical assessments because they considered their professionalism had been called into question by the AIF medical staff. Essentially, the AIF formed the view that country doctors were not rigorous enough – or were not competent – in assessing the medical condition of volunteers.

The Shire of Alberton War Memorial
The Shire of Alberton War Memorial itself was completed in 1921 but the names of those who ‘gave their lives for their country’ were not inscribed until 1930. The number of dead on the War Memorial (79) does not line up with the number of dead indicated on the Honor Roll (62). The inconsistency between two official record sets is surprising.

The table below also shows a difference between the number of the men (32) who died on active service from this first group of 136 locals and the number of them who were included on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial (17). This discrepancy relates primarily to the inclusion of those men featured on the honor rolls from the local schools and is discussed in the next section.

The honor rolls of various state schools in the Shire of Alberton
Within eighteen months of the War starting, the local state schools in the Shire of Alberton began to create honor rolls on which they inscribed the names of all their past students who had enlisted. They added to the honor rolls as the War progressed, marking in those who paid the ’supreme sacrifice’. By including their names on these honor rolls, the schools were obviously ascribing a sense of ‘local’ to all of their former scholars who had enlisted. The fact that an individual young person might have moved out of the Shire by the time he enlisted was not an issue. He was still celebrated as a former student of the school and the local area. Given the young ages of many who enlisted, the interval between finishing school and enlisting could be as short as only 5 or 6 years. In rural districts, the local state school was one of the most significant institutions – if not the most significant – in the community; and the significance attached to its honor roll was considerable. This was reflected in newspaper accounts of the various ‘unveiling’ ceremonies held at the schools. It was common for individual students to appear on more than one school honor roll. All the names that featured on these school honor rolls were considered by the community either to be locals or to have been locals, and the latter were still held in the collective memory and esteem of the community.  However, when the Shire Honor Roll was created the former students who had apparently moved out of the Shire were discounted. They were also discounted in terms of the War Memorial itself; and their missing names explain, in most part at least, the discrepancy in the number of dead referred to above. In this research, the former students have been included as locals, principally to recognise the intentions of those who created the school honor rolls in the first place. Their inclusion also enables additional historical analysis on critical issues such as family mobility and dispersal and the movement of labour in rural settings. The inclusion also helps keep a strong focus on the critical role played by the local state schools throughout the War.

Not all the school honor rolls from the Shire have been located and a small number may have been lost for good. If additional school honor rolls become available their information will be incorporated in the blog.

Community honor rolls in the Shire of Alberton
Many community associations and services in the Shire also created and maintained honor rolls throughout the War. As a general observation, these rolls featured men whose involvement in the association or service was current right up to the time they enlisted. The community honor rolls that have been used to this point are: the local community honor rolls from Blackwarry, Carrajung, Stacey’s Bridge and Madalya; the honor rolls of the Methodist Circuit and the Presbyterian Charge; and the honor rolls of the local ANA, the Yarram Club and Lodge 207. Hopefully, more such honor rolls will be located.

Newspaper accounts (Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative)

Where a person, not identified by other historical records, had been written up in the local press as a local of the Shire of Alberton he has also been included in the research group. The qualification here is that the person had to be described as someone linked directly to the Shire of Alberton. Those servicemen who featured in the local paper but who were identified with a neighbouring shire have not been included. At the same time, where men were living just outside current Shire boundaries, and the article(s) clearly represented them as local, they have been included. Importantly, in the table below a newspaper reference has only been made where there is very little – if any – other evidence available. As stated, throughout the War the local newspaper was in fact full of references to locals – and others – in the AIF. However in this exercise the paper has only been used where there is no other, or only limited, evidence at hand.

There was another local paper, in addition to the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, available in the Shire throughout WW1. The paper was the South Gippsland chronicle and Yarram and Alberton advertiser. Unfortunately, the editions of the paper for 1914-1918 are not readily available.

Other documentary evidence
There are instances where some other form of documentary evidence points to a person who enlisted as being local to the Shire of Alberton even though none of the other historical records have identified him. The archives of the Shire of Alberton are one such source of additional documentary evidence. Similarly, people’s family history sources can be helpful in determining a person’s status as a local; and the same material can help clear up cases where there is confusion over the identity of a local. The electoral roll and rate book can be employed in the background as a means of establishing or confirming identity. They are limited in dealing with ‘minors’ but very helpful in building the picture of the local family. For example, they can be used to identify young men enlisting from farming families.

One other potential source of documentary evidence relates to the Shire Medallion. To this point, the only information on the presentation of these medallions comes from the local press. It was routine to feature stories about a special presentation of these medallions to groups of men, either departing or returning to the Shire. In some cases there was a reference to an individual soldier receiving one, or a relative being given it on their behalf. There were also articles on the number of medallions that had been handed out up to a certain point. However, unlike the case with travel warrants, there is as yet no sign of any formal list of the recipients of the medallions. If one is uncovered it will prove a valuable resource and it will be incorporated in the research.

Some observations on the table

The table below has been designed to show, at a glance, the pieces of evidence that link an individual to the Shire. For example, it is easy to see the cases where it is only a report in the local press that ties the individual to the Shire.

Closer inspection will begin to tease out some of the contradictions and inconsistencies. For example, 3 men – Charles William Engbloom, Samuel Edward Gay and Reginald Henwood – were each included, individually, on the honor roll of at least one local school, and for each there is an individual newspaper report that he received the Shire Medallion, yet none of these men was included on the Shire Honor Roll. How was it possible that someone who was presented with the Shire Medallion was not included on the Shire Honor Roll? There is a related but potentially more poignant inconsistency. James Burnett Pickett was killed at Lone Pine (7/8/15). He had been a student at 2 local schools (Yarram and Darriman). His name is on neither the Shire Honor Roll nor the Shire War Memorial, yet newspaper reports make it clear that his death was commemorated at at least two special services held in Yarram and that at one of these the Shire Medallion was presented to one of his relatives.

There are significant inconsistencies between the Shire War Memorial and the Shire Honor Roll. For example, Nathan Wellbourne Hepburn was killed in action on 28/6/1915 and his name appears on the Shire War Memorial but his name is not included on the Shire Honor Roll.

To some extent inconsistencies such as these can be explained in terms of the authorship of the particular record source. This will be considered in more detail when each resource is added to the blog. Briefly, for present purposes, the Shire Secretary was responsible for drawing up the list of names for the Shire Honor Roll; the names for the Shire War Memorial were supplied by the local branch of the RSL (Digger’s Club); and the Shire Medallions were the responsibility of the local recruiting/’farewell and welcome home’ committee. All this points to the need to have as many individual sources of evidence as possible.