British immigrant farm workers prior to WW1

When WW1 broke out, there was a large group of single, young men working in the Shire of Alberton who had only recently immigrated from the UK. As a general rule, they were working as farm labourers and they were among the first to enlist. The story behind this group throws additional light on the way migration policy was employed at the time.

An earlier post – The Defence of the Nation: The White Australia Policy - looked at how migration policy was used to protect the purity of the English race in Australia. Indeed, it was commonly believed, across all political points of view, that Australia offered the last and best chance for the full flowering of English – or at least White – civilisation. In this post the focus is more on the industrial agenda driving the same policy.

As the labour movement began to take on more formal and institutional power, at first in the separate colonies and then, post Federation, at both the State and Commonwealth levels, its political wing used migration policy to protect the perceived interests of its constituents. The policy was used to ensure that local jobs were not lost to immigrants and that immigration could not be used to force down wages or compromise hard-won conditions. In this context, the gravest threat was seen as coming from any unregulated and large-scale immigration of cheap “Asiatic” labour. White Australia and white Australian workers had to be protected from cheap Asian – and other non-White – labour. While this line was generally accepted across the political spectrum, the ALP went somewhat further, in the sense that it saw potential threats coming from even White immigrants workers. The ALP’s position was thrown into sharp relief by the so called ’Six Hatters’ affair of 1903.

The background to this affair was that when the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 was drawn up, the ALP insisted on the inclusion of a clause (g), under prohibited immigrants S.3, which identified as a class of people to be prohibited – any persons under a contract or agreement to perform manual labour within the Commonwealth. At the time, the assumption was that this was just another provision, amongst many others, to prevent the immigration of cheap, non White labour. However what happened with the Six Hatters affair was that the provision was used to stop the immigration of six British workers.

The episode was highlighted in The Argus of 12 December 1903 (p.17) under the outraged headlines: The “Six Hatters” Scandal. Britishers Blocked At The Wharf. Socialism Run Mad. According to The Argus, the 6 British workers had come to Australia on the RMS Orontes under contract to work in Messrs. Charles and Anderson’s new hat factory in Sydney, at union rates. However, they first disembarked at Melbourne where they were in fact welcomed by members of the local union who showed them round the city and entertained them generously. At this point the British workers gave a copy of their agreement to the local unionists, and it was this contract that triggered the application of clause (g) of the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act. As The Argus told its readers:

The men returned to the steamer. When they reached Sydney they were refused a landing on the evidence of the document [the contract of work], because those whom they had trusted had induced the Ministry to set the Immigration Restriction Act in motion to accomplish something it was never intended to be used for. When Ministers were condemned on all hands for their unpardonable yielding to Labour political pressure, the Prime Minister suddenly discovered that Messrs. Charles and Anderson had to show cause why the men should be exempted from the act before they could be admitted. He began an inquiry, and found that he had no option to allow the men to land.

While the British workers did enter Australia and take up the work – much was made of the claim that it was outrageous to discriminate against British subjects in such a way, and that being ‘British’ carried the same rights across the entire Empire – the episode certainly demonstrated how the labour movement in Australia saw migration policy as a tool to serve the industrial interests of Australian workers. Moreover, when clause (g) of the 1901 act was in time replaced by the Contract Immigrants Act of 1905 the new legislation still placed heavy requirements on any employer seeking to recruit immigrant workers. For example, equivalent labour had to be unavailable in Australia; contracts had to be in writing; and award wages had to be paid. But this new legislation did at least make it clear that British workers could not be denied entry to Australia. Under the new law, the Minster would approve any such contract (to perform manual labour) only if, in his opinion: 5. (2) (b) there is difficulty in the employer’s obtaining within the Commonwealth a worker of at least equal skill and ability (but this paragraph does not apply where the contract immigrant is a British subject either born in the United Kingdom or descended from a British subject there born)

The Australian population did not reach 4 million until 1904; and against the labour movement’s determination to employ migration policy to protect workers’ interests, there was a growing push after Federation to promote the immigration of British people. In large part, this was to strengthen the White Australia Policy. It was commonly accepted, by all parties, that White Australia could not be guaranteed – nor even protected or defended – if the population did not increase. The fear of not being able to hold onto an underpopulated and unprotected White Australia against the ‘teeming masses’ of Asia was a political constant, particularly as one Asian nation – Japan – had emerged as a genuine major power with formidable military and naval assets. WW1 would only strengthen the paranoia surrounding the White Australia Policy. Fear of Asian immigration would surface in the ranks of the AIF during the conscription debates of 1916 and 1917. The claim would be that the white working class of Australia was being so decimated that Asian immigration would be required to make up the labour shortfall. After the War, PM Hughes, when he returned to Australia from the Treaty of Versailles, where he had been instrumental in striking out claims of racial equality, boasted openly of his success in maintaining the White Australia Policy in the face of international opposition, and was applauded widely by the Australian press. Overall, throughout at least the first half of the 20C, Australia, as a nation of untold potential but limited population, had to be defended as both a far-removed but integral part of the Empire and as a unique society where the White (British) race could aspire to some kind of higher order, characterised in large part by the industrial and political rewards made possible for the working man. Hence the push for the immigration of British stock.

In the years between 1906 and 1914, 150,000 British assisted immigrants reached Australia, with the key period being 1910-1913. Over this time the individual States established Agents-General in the UK and promoted various assisted-migration schemes. The primary targets for such schemes were agricultural settlers and farm workers. The Commonwealth was increasingly forced to subsidise such individual programs and, of course, it used its legislative powers to maintain the racial integrity of the overall immigration process and protect the pay and working conditions of Australians.

The focus on farm labourers was widely accepted. British lads and men were encouraged and supported to come as immigrants and take up work in rural districts. Rural Australia was seen as the natural and uncontested focus for immigration. For a start, there were not likely to be industrial obstacles. Small scale selections and the practice of family farming meant that the workforce was not heavily unionised; and there was little prospect of a unionised workforce developing, particularly outside regional centres. Moreover, even though the mechanisation of agricultural production was speeding up there was still high demand for casual rural labour. Also, it was hard to hold onto such labour – pay and conditions were weak and the nature of the work cycle and, even more importantly the work environment, meant that it was difficult to support family life – so the prospect of a regular injection of young, single immigrant rural workers was an essential reassurance. Sitting behind such practicalities were the more ideological beliefs of how the vast interior of Australia had to be ‘opened up’ to the economic benefits of primary industry and how the nation’s very future depended on attracting an ever increasing number of rural settlers. Canada was cited constantly as the most relevant example of what had to be done and the benefits – particularly vastly increased agricultural production and dramatic population growth – that would inevitably flow. Besides, country life was believed to be of a higher order. The vices, unemployment, poverty and temptations of the city, whether here in Australia or back in Britain, gave way to a more natural, wholesome, community-minded and more character-building life, one which was held to be particularly valuable for young, unaccompanied British lads.

Idealised views of the British immigrant and what migration could achieve were tempered by some realities. It was difficult to attract immigrants to Australia. Canada was a far more desirable destination. The States were in competition with each other for a limited resource. It could prove very difficult to keep the immigrant work force in the rural districts after they reached Australia. This was hardly surprising if the young lads came from large British cities – with no experience in farming – and found themselves working on a small family selection, miles from the nearest country town, which was itself only small and also hundreds of miles from a city like Melbourne or some other large regional centre. Not surprisingly, one of the constant criticisms of the migration system was that it did not attract the “right kind” of immigrant. Essentially, this was code for those who were not prepared to live and work out in the rural districts. There were many laments in the media of the day. For example, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative of 9 January 1914 (p.4) featured in its Melbourne Letter from a Special Correspondent, a rather negative assessment of the outcomes from migration:

What is wrong with the immigration work. It is certain that it is not what it should be. It does not seem to be possible to get adequate results from any of these State enterprises, and in this instance the fact the good results are not being obtained is more serious than in some others, because this is work that can be handled in no other way than by the State. Moreover, it is vitally important that it should be carried out. The need for population is generally acknowledged. There has been much money spent in the efforts to fill that requirement, and a fair number of people have been brought from the old country. But it is useless to delude ourselves by laying the flattering unction to our souls that the majority have been the right kind. They have not. And, in addition to that, there is the evidence of figures to show that during the past year
[1913] there has been a decline in the numbers as well as in the class of immigrants.

According to this article, the number of “new arrivals” for Victoria over 1911-1913 were as follows: 1911 – 6,770; 1912 – 14,106; 1913 – 12,112. The article also noted that to ship the total group of immigrants who arrived in Victoria in 1913 – just over 12,000 people – some 125 vessels had had to be chartered. The large number of vessels and the obvious logistics involved give some idea of the challenges at the time in managing a large-scale immigration policy. Organising migration to Canada was more straightforward.

This is the background to the large number of young, single, British-born agricultural labourers who enlisted in the AIF from the Shire of Alberton at the outbreak of WW1. The origins of this group can be traced through the pages of the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative over 1914, accepting that some of them would have arrived as early as 1911, and possibly even earlier.

In the edition of 10 April (p.2) the editorial referred in detail to the migration program, highlighting its value:

Two large parties of lads, numbering altogether about 400, are expected to reach Melbourne during this month from Great Britain. They are coming out specially to engage in farm work, and though many of them are without previous experience in work of this kind, they are very willing and anxious to improve their position and prospects. The lads vary in age from 16 to 20 years, and their services are available at from 10s per week and keep. The Immigration Bureau is desirous of placing them immediately upon arrival on farms where they will have opportunities of gaining good experience and receive fair treatment… A considerable number of similar lads have already arrived in the State, and they have on the whole given very satisfactory service, a great many excellent reports having been received from farmers who have engaged them.

In the edition of 15 May (p.2) advice was given that another party of 500 lads was to arrive in Melbourne on the SS Indrapura on 27 May. Again local farmers were encouraged to contact the Immigration and Labor Bureau.

The edition of 5 June (p.2) reported on the next contingent of lads arriving from Great Britain for farm work. This time there was no indication of the number, but the conditions were the same.

The edition of 15 July (p.2) noted that another 380 British lads for farm work, station work, or other country employment were due to reach Melbourne on 25 July on the S S Hawkes Bay. The lack of any background in farming was still not seen as a problem: … although, generally speaking, they are without rural experience, they readily adapt themselves to country work and rapidly become good helpers, having come out specially to be employed in the country districts.

The edition of 22 July (p.2) advised of another group of potential farm workers, although this time they were described as two hundred men, some of whom were married.

Even after the War started, there were groups of immigrant workers from the UK on the high seas heading for Australia. In the edition of 20 September (p.2) it was reported that the steamer Themosticles would arrive in Melbourne in early October with a party of 70 lads whom it is desired to place in employment in country districts as soon as possible. The editorial also noted that whereas drought conditions in the north of the State had depressed the need for farm labour, the situation in Gippsland was far more buoyant:

With the dairying season in operation under propitious conditions in the western district and in Gippsland, it is expected that evidence of a considerable demand for labor of this description will be forthcoming.

The last advice of a group of potential farm workers came in the edition of 13 November (p.2). On this occasion it was a group of 60 men and 108 lads. The men were experienced in farm work and a few of them were immigrating with their wives as married couples. And in the edition of 18 November (p.3) there was a report of a special appeal by Rev. W Thompson, on behalf of the same group of immigrants. A Presbyterian minister, his title was given as Immigration Representative of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria. He was in Yarram when he made his special appeal:

Rev W Thompson put in a plea for the employment of of 108 lads and 60 men (some married couples) to arrive in Melbourne on 28 inst. He looked to the farmers in Gippsland to do what they could in the direction of finding work for those who booked and paid for their passage to Victoria before the war broke out. He appealed to Presbyterians in particular, but no matter what denomination, Protestant or Catholic, he was prepared to personally select those he considered most suitable for positions offering. He considered it a duty in these times of stress to help those less favorably situated. In other words, to stretch a point in order to find employment for those who have crossed the big waters in the hope of bettering themselves.

In addition to all the advice written in the editorial section of the local paper, there was also a series of related advertisements, prepared and lodged by the (Victorian) Immigration and Labor Bureau, which appeared in the classified ads section of the paper. Obviously, the scheme to bring out lads to work as farm labourers was not restricted to Gippsland but applied across all the rural districts of Victoria. The same advertisements and editorial attention were repeated in other rural locations.

The lads and young men from the UK who came to the Shire of Alberton in the period immediately prior to WW1 to work as farm labourers came as a cheap labour source for the non-unionised farming sector. They also came to strengthen the integrity of White Australia. When the War came, they enlisted in large numbers. There was no doubt a popular conception in the local community that they should be the first to enlist. It was, after all, their home land that was under direct threat. They had a duty to return to fight for Britain. Moreover, there were very few obstacles to prevent them from enlisting. The normal regulations covering parental approval for those under age did not apply. It is also worth repeating that many of these young people had grown up in the major cities of Britain. They had not come from a rural or farming background. As unaccompanied minors, they had travelled to the other end on the world and eventually found themselves working in isolated, both socially and geographically, rural settings. Lastly, the pay of 6/- per day in the AIF was considerably better than the 10/- per week they were supposed to receive as immigrant workers.

References

For a general overview of migration policy and practice in Australia in the early 20C see the National Archives of Australia research guide:
More People Imperative: Immigration to Australia, 1901-39

For a background the fear of Japan see National Library of Australia, Occasional Papers Series , Number 1:
Fears & Phobias: E. L. Piesse And The Problem Of Japan 1909-39

Immigration Restriction. An Act to place certain restrictions on Immigration and to provide for the removal from the Commonwealth of prohibited Immigrants. No. 17 of 1901. Commonwealth of Australia.

Contract Immigrants. An Act relating to Immigrants under Contract to perform Manual Labour in the Commonwealth. No. 19 of 1905. Commonwealth of Australia.

The Argus

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Was it possible, by the end of 1914, to comprehend the reality and scale of industrial war in Europe?

An earlier blog – The Belgian Narrative. Part 1 - gave some idea of military casualties in Europe by the end of 1914. The level, after just a few months of fighting, was on a scale never before experienced. Beaumont (2013 p. 28) gives the Austro-Hungarian casualties (dead, wounded, missing) in Galicia as 420,000. Strachan’s figure (2001 p. 278) for total French casualties through to just 10 September is 385,000. Hochschild (2011 p.117) gives total Russian casualties to the end of September as 310,000. Strachan (p. 278) gives combined German casualties for the first battle of Ypres as 80,000 and his equivalent figure for British losses in the same battle is 54,105. Hochschild (p.126) notes that by the end of 1914 the BEF had suffered 90,000 casualties. Strachan (p. 278) generally agrees with this level and notes that casualties to 30 November of 89,964 actually exceeded the size of the original establishment of the British Expeditionary Force. This is only a snap shot of just the first few months: it does not cover either all theatres of conflict or all battles.

At the time, it did not follow that the true level of casualties was either known or, if known, revealed. There was comprehensive censorship in place both in Britain and in Australia. Further, in the case of Australia there was the vast distance from the reality of Europe. In Britain, on the other hand, the constant flow of wounded men arriving back from France made it difficult to conceal the whole truth. Moreover, as British soldiers became casualties in France the letters back home began to dry up, and with this happening on such a scale it was increasingly clear that an unprecedented catastrophe was unfolding across the English Channel. Australia would not experience the equivalent situation until after the end of April 1915.

Casualty levels were quoted in Australian papers at the time, but the picture given was impressionistic, confused and understated. Reports in The Argus after the Battle of Mons (23/8/14) illustrate the point. On 3 September (p.7) under the headline How We Fought At Mons   Stories From The Front   Told By Returned Men  the British casualty figures appeared at the end of the article. In summary, an official list of British casualties showed that some 165 had been killed, 680 wounded and approx. 4,200 were missing. But, 5 days later, in The Argus on 8 September (p.7) another report gave total British casualties to 1 September as 42 killed, 147 wounded and approx 5,000 missing. Allowing for the discrepancy here in the casualty figures given just 5 days apart in the same publication, the more pertinent point is that a few days after Mons, at the Battle of Le Cateau on 26 August – a date well within the time frame of the 2 sets of casualty figures published in The Argus – British losses in a single day came to 8,500.

Whenever casualty figures were given they were always presented in a narrative intended to lionise the British or Allied troops and denigrate or demonise the opposing side. Copy was written so that casualty figures were filtered through the ideals of Imperial loyalty and national greatness. Heroic sacrifices and casualties could and had to be accepted by the grateful nation. For example, readers of the The Argus on 8 September (p.7) would have read in the same article that gave British casualty levels:

The British have established a personal ascendancy over the Germans, who are conscious that the result is never doubtful if the numbers are even. The British rifle fire has devastated every column in attack, while their superior training and intelligence enable the British to cope with vast numbers.

They would also have been buoyed by the following:

The British Press Bureau reports that 800 sick and wounded British troops are at Netley, in the Isle of Wight. Shrapnel had been responsible for the majority of the wounds. Cases of bullet wounds were few, which gave confirmation to the statement that the German infantry shoot badly. Cases of injury involving the loss of a limb are very uncommon, and the vast majority of the wounded were making good recoveries and would soon be able to rejoin their regiments.

Beyond the highly censored accounts of the fighting, understated casualty levels and the constant stories of bravery, duty and martial skill, newspapers of the time turned to other genres of reporting the War. For example in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 30 September (p.3) under the heading War Information. there appeared an unsourced and apparently random collection of war ‘trivia’. For those interested in the technical wonders of modern armaments there were items such as:

A 12-inch gun will send a projectile through three feet of wrought iron at 5000 yards.
12-inch guns fire a projectile weighing 850lb. whilst a 16.25-inch gun can throw a missile a ton weight 15 miles.
The guns of the H.M.A.S. Australia can pierce the heaviest armor used on any modern warship at a distance of 4 1/2 miles.
Machine guns fire over 1000 shots per minute. The best makers are the Maxim, Gatling, Gardner, Hotchkiss, Nordenfeldt and Krupp.

There were also items touching on military and naval strategy: The British dreadnoughts are of too great a draught to enter the Baltic, the sea being too shallow. This is therefore a safe hiding place for the German fleet.

Other trivia attempted to present some sort of comparison with earlier European wars: After the surrender of Paris in 1871 there were 534,000 French soldiers under arms and 835,000 Germans. The French lost during war 156,000 dead, and 143,000 were wounded or disabled. The Germans lost 28,000 dead, and 101,000 were wounded and disabled. French and German casualties had already exceeded these figures by the time the article appeared, just 2 months into a conflict that would run for another 4 years.

There was also the genre of ‘expert’ comment. Arguably, the most bizarre example of this genre appeared in the Sunday Times (Sydney) on 23 August (p.7). Again, it was unsourced but it was probably taken from a British paper. Under the headline – Modern Battles   Not So Sanguinary As Of Old   Improvement In Weapons, Followed By Decreased Proportion of Losses – the article set to establish that:

With the increase in death-dealing arms – machine guns of frightful rapidity, and so on – one would expect to find modern warfare more deadly than when men fought with swords and battle-axes or with flintlock muskets and pikes.
That, however, is not the case. Modern battles have distinctly shown that while numbers engaged on either side are ever growing larger, the proportion of losses has grown less.

There was even a table showing that over time – beginning with the Battle of Borodino (1812) and running through to the Battle of Shaho (1904) in the Russo-Japanese War – the proportion of those killed, wounded, missing and prisoners to total force engaged was declining. Accordingly, no matter how many were engaged in the conflict then underway in Europe, the rate of casualties could be expected to continue to fall.

Whether the article was written as propaganda or it was just superficial commentary from some ‘military expert’, the claims made in its opening paragraph – claims it was seeking to refute – did describe, accurately and graphically, the scale of the blood-letting to follow:

With millions of combatants facing each other in the present struggle in Europe evidently intending to fight to a finish, the carnage that must ensue cannot fail to be appalling. If, indeed, the same proportion of men were to fall as they used to do in battles of bygone times, half Europe would be absolutely drenched in blood.

However, as naive as such expert analysis could be, historians argue that even military commanders had been conditioned to underestimate the dreadful carnage to come. Hochschild makes the point that prior to the outbreak of conflict in Europe, modern weaponry had been reserved for colonial conflicts. He describes the Battle of Omdurman (Sudan) in 1898, noting the deadly efficiency of the new machine guns. Present at the battle were Winston Churchill – then a 23 year-old correspondent – and Major Douglas Haig who would go on to become commander of the BEF from 1915. According to Hochschild (pp. 18-19), on the day of the battle, some 50,000 Sudanese, twice the number of the British troops opposed to them, attacked on a broad front and were cut down by the latest version of the Maxim machine gun. There were 6 of the new weapons deployed and the particular model fired 500 rounds per minute.

… thanks to the Maxims, in a few hours the British were able to fire an extraordinary 500,000 bullets at the hapless Sudanese.
It was a historic slaughter. When the Battle of Omdurman was over later in the day, some 10,800 Sudanese lay dead on the desert sand beneath a brilliantly clear sky. At least 16,000 more had been wounded, and were either bleeding to death or trying to drag themselves away. The British lost only 48 dead.

Hochschild notes that while the new weapons demonstrated their killing power against poorly armed ‘natives’, military authorities were not inclined to consider what would happen if the same weapon was used by both sides in a European conflict. Indeed, Hochschild notes that the European powers appeared to have reserved the new weapons for exclusive use in Asia and Africa. Both British and German forces had used the new weapon in colonial wars. According to Hochschild (p.19),

This, to Europeans, seemed the machine gun’s logical use: “It is a weapon,” declared the Army and Navy Journal, “which is specially adapted to terrify a barbarous or semi-civilised foe.” No one imagined that either British or German soldiers would ever find themselves in the role of Sudanese Arabs, experiencing their very own Omdurmans in the very heart of Europe.

Elsewhere, Hochschild (p.110) also notes that for the military commanders of WW1 – including Haig, referred to above – their formative experiences in colonial wars had failed to prepare them for the true horror to come:

No one on either side was prepared for the fighting’s deadliness. Like the British, recent German and French experience of war had been of minor colonial conflicts with badly armed Africans and Asians: Erich von Falkenhayn, soon to be chief of the German general staff, had helped to suppress the Boxer Rebellion in China, and Joseph Joffre, the French commander in chief, had led an expedition across the Sahara to conquer Timbuktu. Neither side had spent much time on the receiving end of fire by machine guns or other modern weaponry.

Given the censorship and the news reporting of the time it was hardly surprising that people generally did not see the beginnings of industrial war, where new technology – the machine gun, modern artillery and barbed wire in particular – was to enable mechanised killing on a scale never seen before. Moreover, the people of the Empire carried with them into WW1 the tradition of lightning campaigns, the power and glory of the cavalry charge, the élan of the corps, the experience of limited casualties and the certainty of victory from countless Imperial campaigns.

Remarkably, there was one newspaper article at the time that did accurately foretell what was to come. Even more remarkably, it appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (28 August, p.6). The article was headlined: The Million Unit.  Vastness Of Modern War.  Question Of Endurance.  Can Any Nation Stand It? The article also appeared in a range of regional papers round the same time, for example: The Bathurst Times (20 August p. 4); Gippsland Mercury, Sale (28 August, p.7); Preston Leader (29 August, p.4). Oddly, it does not appear that it ran in the large metro dailies at the time.

The article was written by Adam McCay who worked for the Sydney daily, the Sun. Adam Cairns McCay and his brother, Delamore William McCay, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, were well-known and successful journalists at the time. Both worked at the Sun after its establishment in 1910, and both in fact later served as editor of the paper. Adam McCay would become famous as the literary editor of Smith’s Weekly. However, what was most interesting in relation to the article written by Adam McCay in August 1914 was the fact that the oldest brother in the family was Sir James Whiteside McCay, who, amongst other positions, had been federal politician (1901-5), Minister for Defence (1905) and military censor at the outbreak of the War, and who had just been appointed as Commanding Officer of the 2nd Infantry Brigade of the AIF. At the time, the oldest McCay brother was regarded as one of the best military minds in Australia; although his actual military career through WW1 was dogged by controversy. It is reasonable to argue that the thesis expressed in the article reflected the thinking of, or was at least directly influenced by, the writer’s oldest brother.

The basic thesis presented in the article was that the current war in Europe was on a scale never seen before and the sheer scale of the conflict meant that it was unsustainable. The title – The Million Unit - emphasised that modern armies, where the basic unit of size was 1 million men, had never been seen before in history. Nor was it just the number of men in uniform because there were also the millions required to run the war industries to sustain the conflict; and all those either in uniform or in the war industries represented lost productive labour and lost economic wealth. Economically, war on this scale was unsustainable on anything but a very short-term basis and McCay gave a time frame of only two months, at a cost of £600,000,000 for Europe as a whole.

McCay argued that the notion of victory coming from overpowering the enemy in set piece battles was no longer tenable. Armies of this size could no longer be simply beaten in decisive battles. Supplying and managing the million-strong army was extraordinarily difficult: to then employ it strategically and dynamically within a complex and changing battle plan was almost impossible.

Great battles to-day cannot be won by swift tactics. Skilful moves in attack, clever out-flanking devices, brave charges and assaults will not suffice to drive out of position of advantage a vast force of a million men.

There was a natural tendency, in a conflict of this scale, for both sides to be forced to pull back and adopt defensive positions and strategies. McCay believed that, once this occurred, it would become obvious that there could be no military resolution. His was a prescient version of the 1950s doctrine of ‘mutually assured destruction’. It is interesting in the following how there is no reference to British strategy, interests or troops. Perhaps this was to avoid the censor’s attention. The conflict is being presented as essentially a European one:

The best hope for the world, if it is to be a world-condemning war, is that France and Germany may during the next few days or weeks fight a great battle which will be indecisive of the fate of the two nations in the war. If on the Russo-German frontier a similar deadlock should occur, there will be an obvious moral for the Continent which has for a generation devoted its vital energy to the task of preparing for this Titanic combat. It will then be shown that war is utterly futile. With two nations armed for mutual slaughter, the best result in the interests of future peace would be that they should realise that after all their huge preparations, they are both so well-prepared, and prepared on so vast a scale, that the exhaustion of their capacity for fighting must come before either can gain the decisive victory.

But McCay also hypothesised that even if the warring nations were forced into defensive warfare, exhaustion overtook them and each recognised that a military victory was not achievable, it was still possible that the war could be protracted. What he wrote in late August 1914 in a newspaper article, whose circulation appeared to be limited to regional centres, was stunningly accurate:

It is at the present moment hard to see how Germany and Austria can be defeated save by exhaustion. Placed by political boundaries in the dominant middle position between their two strong military opponents (France and Russia), and with other strategic advantages in their favor in the geography of the German frontiers, they present almost insuperable difficulties to conquest by invasion.

In the next paragraph he surmised that, equally, Germany could not overcome France and it would therefore eventually have to fail by ‘exhaustion’.

But there was no definite time frame for the ‘exhaustion’ to take effect. McCay argued it would be inevitable; but he conceded that his belief that it must be soon – principally because of the economic cost of war on such a scale – could be wrong:

When the first grandiose assault of arms has worn out the strength of the nations, supposing neither the Alliance nor the entente to have decisively won, what is to follow? A frightful possibility is that war may continue on a scale less in its devastation, with the impoverished nations struggling on for years in the midst of their misery. But surely human wisdom and mercy could not tolerate this iniquity; nor would the nations which bear the awful cost persist in the futile horror.

As the European conflict moved to its entrenched, defensive phase, McCay underestimated the power of industrial-scale war first to maintain and then surpass the level of casualties of the first phase. He also overplayed the powers of wisdom and mercy, and underestimated the resolution of nations to persist in the futile horror. Nor did economic drivers force the cessation of hostilities. However, for those who at least read it – and no doubt some in the Shire of Alberton, thousands of miles from Europe, did read it – McCay’s article demonstrated that amidst all the censorship and confused and uncritical reporting of the opening phase of the European war there was at least the beginning of an understanding of just how different the current war was to be. But Australia in late 1914, both in terms of distance and time, was still a very long way from the new reality of industrial war.

References

Beaumont, J 2013, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW.

Strachan, H 2001, The First World War. Vol 1. To Arms, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Hochschild, A 2011, To End All Wars: A Story Of Protest And Patriotism In The First World War, Pan Books, London.

Australian Dictionary of Biography

McCay, Adam Cairns (1874-1947)
McCay, Sir James Whiteside (1864-1930)

Updates 1 & 2

1 December 2014
I am changing the way I include Updates on the blog. So as not to lose the first Update (27/9/14) in this new arrangement, I have copied it and included it below. This is why I have called this first of the new-style Updates, Update 1 & 2. From now on each Update will come out as a post. For those who want to go back over earlier Updates, they will also be accessible from the Home page.

I am also conscious that the blog does not have much visual and other media and I exploring ways of including more primary source materials in digital form on the blog – for example, maps and pictures of life in the Shire of Alberton round the time of WW1. Hopefully I will be able to incorporate some sort of gallery of such resources in the near future.

Thanks to those who are following.

27 September 2014
In terms of content, the intention to this point with the blog has been to set the background for the detailed study of the 600 – 800 men – depending on how you define ‘local’ – from the Shire of Alberton in Gippsland who served in the AIF in WW1. In fact, it was the most recent post that saw focus shift to the men.

Obviously, the Shire of Alberton was a particular rural community that had developed its own identity, one that was certainly different from that of metropolitan Melbourne. In fact, as already shown in previous posts, the Shire saw itself, and a great deal of history had been written about it, as the quintessential pioneering community. At the same time, as I have emphasised throughout, the commonality of world views between the Shire and the outside world. This commonality was based on forces such as the universal commitment to the Empire and the shared identity of being (White) British; the strength of common institutions, particularly state schooling; and the constant and widespread movement of people, particularly the working class, across the wider rural landscape and to and from Melbourne and other major centres. My basic argument has been that while the Shire of Alberton had its own particular history, it was tied inextricably to the broader Nation and Empire, to the extent that this particular study of how the Shire of Alberton responded to WW1 can be read generally as a case-study of the Nation’s response.

In terms of this commonality, certain key themes have emerged already: the pull of the Empire; the politics of White Australia and the fear of invasion; control of the narrative of the War; and class-based responses to the call to duty. Others will become more apparent in future posts: the culture of the AIF and attempts to mould this culture; the inherent conflict between the political and industrial wings of the ALP; the application of war-time controls and powers; the divisive impacts of the attempts to introduce conscription; and the solemn promise of repatriation.

It should definitely be clear by now that the blog is an exercise in social history. Social historians can accept at face value the motives people gave for their actions one hundred years ago. The motives commonly expressed at the time included the likes of loyalty to the Empire, the fight against German militarism and tyranny, and the bonds of camaraderie. We also have to acknowledge the incredible personal sacrifices made at the time and the heroism shown. However, social historians also search for the deeper ‘structural’ drivers that shaped society’s beliefs and actions, even if the people directly involved did not themselves acknowledge such drivers. It should be obvious by now that ‘class’ is one such driver that I am looking at. The social construct of ‘identity’ is another. The latter is particularly important in the context of a rural community with a high dependence on the rural working class. The transience of the rural working class often undermined its members’ ability to be recognised as ‘local’ and thus they could be written out of local history, even unintentionally. At the same time, the lack of connection to a particular location opened the possibility that their identity could be more strongly tied to a particular institution, in this case the AIF.

In terms of the technical features of the blog itself, it was good to be able to incorporate the first table, admittedly a fairly simple one, in the last post. The technique is not perfect but at least it shows the feasibility of incorporating the full array of data which is required for the quantitative analysis I need to present in relation to the large group of men.

Lastly, I would like to include photographs of the men who enlisted and served in the AIF and would definitely appreciate it if family members were prepared to forward them. Contact me at: philipcashen@gmail.com

Comments on the posts, including insights based on family history and local knowledge – and even anecdotes – would also be appreciated. It is also a good idea to become a ‘follower’ – via the Home page – because as a follower, the system will automatically email you a complete copy of each post.

Righteous war and religious renewal, September-October 1914

The last post examined how the narrative covering the invasion and occupation of Belgium dominated newspapers from August 1914 and was used to prove to readers that the Empire’s declaration of war with Germany had been justified. This post pursues the theme of the righteousness of the Empire’s position by looking at the unqualified support offered by the Church. While there was broad support from all faiths, including (Roman) Catholicism, it was the Protestant Churches that took on, and were expected to take on, the formal role of justifying the Empire’s involvement. It was Protestantism that presented itself as the religion of the Empire.This arrangement was reflected at the local level in Alberton Shire where the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, during August and September 1914, devoted considerable copy to pronouncements made by clergy from both the Church of England and the Presbyterian Church.

On 4 September (p.2) the local paper published the pastoral letter from the Church of England Bishops of Victoria that outlined the Christian response to the War. This was followed immediately by the sermon delivered by Rev. George Cox of Yarram on the same theme. Neither the pastoral letter nor the sermon expressed any doubt about the righteousness of the Empire’s position. There were numerous references to ‘imperial duty’ and the ‘justice of the Empire’s cause’. The basic line was that the Empire, because of what it was, had to be supported: The Empire, which is the home of freeborn citizens and fosters throughout the world the spirit of righteousness, calls for our help. The enemy, by contrast, was driven by …the spirit of aggressive military despotism.

While there was absolute conviction in the righteousness of the cause and total determination to support the Empire there was also a sombre tone. In the pastoral letter, the bishops called for a Christian response to the fighting:

The time of war is a challenge to the Christian Church to use her faith and influence to the uttermost extent, so as to minimise the evils of war and render assistance to its victims. … We trust that the clergy will, in their sermons, never forget how unfitting is all boastfulness of power or pride. … we cannot forget the untold misery which, from the very first, must accompany this great conflict of nations.

For his part, the prescient Rev. Cox was clearly challenged by the apparent incomprehensibility of the situation:

When we consider that the nations now engaged in this awful strife are the foremost in civilisation, enlightenment and religion; when we realise that both sides claim that their forces are engaged as the instruments of God for the overthrow of the other; when we think of all the fiendish inventions of mankind that are being used in the slaughter of his fellow-man in the cause of righteousness; when we ponder upon the untold and unthinkable suffering and misery and wretchedness and waste which the whole civilised world will be called upon to face for many a year, we may well stand appalled.

For Cox, the fundamental dilemma of two Christian nations going to war against each other was resolved by the conviction that one of them – Germany – while still claiming to be Christian, had in fact betrayed the very principles of Christianity:

Christianity stands for three things, amongst others – righteousness, justice and truth. But a great and powerful nation, professedly Christian, has substituted in place of righteousness military despotism, for justice arrogance, and for truth hypocrisy and blasphemy.

Importantly, both the pastoral letter and Cox’s sermon called for religious renewal. The view was that at such a time of crisis people had to turn again to God in prayer, and renew their religious life. For the Empire to prevail everyone had to take their religious obligations more seriously. As the bishops put it, penitence was the moral order of the day:

To all, in every Parish of the Province, we make our solemn appeal for repentance from past sins and for a whole-hearted surrender of our lives to the care and providence of the Eternal Father, through our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Cox gave a practical illustration of just how skewed people’s current priorities had become, and how far they had strayed from God’s true path and were testing His goodness. Cox noted:

How little we, as a nation, recognise this duty [our duty to God] so far may be judged by a comparison of the attendances at our football matches and the interests taken in them, and the attendance to our churches, and the recognition of our duty of praying for our troops.

Football was being set up to become the whipping boy of WW1.

This call for religious renewal was to take two very important directions over the course of WW1. One was the conviction that the War called for a moral as much as a military response, and that long-term social causes such as temperance had to be pursued with renewed vigour. Australian society had to become more religious, more morally pure and less vulgar. Hopefully, the defence of the Empire and the attendant turning to God could be employed to force people to confront the spiritual poverty of their lives. The other direction, even more extreme, was the attempt to portray those who answered the call of the Empire as, literally, soldiers of Christ. This latter direction was always going to be a big ask with the AIF but, as we will see in future posts, clergymen like Cox certainly did pursue it. Cox certainly saw his own enlistment as an extension of his Christian life.

Like the Rev. Cox, the Rev. F Tamagno of the local Presbyterian church was another Protestant preacher who had sermons published in the local paper at this time. His first sermon was reproduced on 4 September 1914 (p.2). As was common at the time, he employed the text, Render unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.The conventional treatment of this text highlighted the difference between duty owed to the divine as opposed to any temporal power. However, in Tamagno’s sermon there could be no conflict and therefore patriotism and religion were fused in the interests of the Empire. For Tamagno, it was inconceivable that the British King could ever be an unbelieving, despotic Caesar. Nor could the glorious history  and achievements of the Empire ever be challenged. There was therefore no conflict of duty and the Empire was in the right:

Patriotism is upon our lips. Once more in the history of our Empire, and its King, we are being called upon to manifest that spirit of patriotism, so characteristic of our race. We all realise how momentous shall be issues of this war of the nations. It will not do for us to lean upon our forces only, but upon God. I believe that at heart our Empire and King are depending upon God for an honorable and triumphant victory. The nation that tries to conquer Britain, has before it a Herculean task – so great and so bloody, that one would think that Germany, even now would pause, and honorably decide to go no further. Tennyson has well said – “This England never did, and never shall, lie at the proud foot of a conqueror.” The stirring memories of our past are sufficient to awaken throughout our Empire that spirit of indomitable courage so characteristics of Britishers. The path by which we have come has been stained with the blood of heroes and heroines. We hoped that the nations had learnt to settle international disputes no longer by trained brute force, but by the calm and light of reason. Our Empire’s duty is plain; our conscience is clear; out hands are clear of the blood of thousands.

It is also interesting to note Tamagno’s Empire-centric view of the War. World events were only seen through the filter of the British Empire and so for him the War was fundamentally a conflict between the British Empire and Germany. The reality, particularly at that point, in the first few months of the War, was that the conflict was decidedly a European one, and British involvement in this unprecedented European upheaval, at this stage at least, was only an expeditionary force.

Tamagno also saw the potential of the War to turn people back to God. In a sermon reported in the local paper on 7 October 1914 (p. 4) he made much of the recent reports of how the French – infamous for their hardline separation of Church and State, secularist tendencies and socially radical intellectual tradition – were turning back to God: They are becoming devout once again, filling the church, and valuing the ordinances of the religious life.

For all the sermons – set within the particular theological boundaries imposed by the British Empire – on the righteousness of the Allies’ cause in WW1, there was much additional evidence published in the press that pointed to German guilt and perfidy. As indicated in the last post, the brutal invasion of Belgium, and the subsequent repression and exploitation, certainly made it easier to promote the righteousness of the Empire’s stance and convince people that this was a conflict between forces of good and evil. This was a dominant narrative in the local press. At the same time, there was also a wealth of contemporary German political writing that could easily be employed to cast that nation as the aggressor. In the sermons of both Cox and Tamagno referred to above, references to the spirit of aggressive military despotism and trained brute force were code for what was seen as incontrovertible proof of German militarism. The commonly held view was that by the early twentieth century  Germany had created a new form of political state and civil society, committed to the ruthless and scientific application of military power to achieve political ends. It had become a military state. Proof for views such as these was there in abundance. For example, in the local paper on 28 August 1914 (p.6) under the headline, Modern German Ethics. Bernhardi’s Famous Chapter. A Cry For Bloodshed readers were treated to an extensive extract from General Friedrich von Bernhardi’s book Germany and the Next War (1911). The text had been published widely and well publicised. People reading the material published in the local paper would have learned that Germany, far from being reluctant to go to war actually saw war as a scientific necessity and moral duty:

War is a biological necessity of the first importance, a regulative element in the life of mankind which cannot be dispensed with, since without it an unhealthy development will follow, which excludes every advancement of the race, and therefore all real civilisation. “War is the father of all things.” The sages of antiquity long before Darwin recognised this.

Without war, inferior or decaying races would easily choke the growth of healthy budding elements, and a universal decadence would follow.

They would also have read of Germany’s determination, and assumed right, to acquire new territories. Ironically, there was nothing here that British Imperialists could have faulted:

Strong, healthy and flourishing nations increase in numbers. From a given moment they require a continual expansion of their frontiers, they require new territory for the accommodation of their surplus population. Since almost every part of the globe is inhabited, new territory must, as a rule, be obtained at the cost of its possessors, which thus becomes a law of necessity.

War, they were also informed, served to replenish and renew:

All petty and personal interests force their way to the front during long periods of peace. Selfishness and intrigue run riot, and luxury obliterates idealism. … Wars are terrible, but necessary, for they save the State from social petrification and stagnation.

They would have also picked up that Germany had no commitment to international bodies set up to promote world peace, and was inherently suspicious of nations, such as the United States, that promoted this approach.

The German position even presented Christianity itself as a religion that promoted war: Christ himself said: “I am not come to send peace on earth but a sword.” His teaching can never be adduced as an argument against the universal law of struggle.

‘National character’ and ‘military tradition’ had to come together to create the optimum society, one geared for war.

Overall, readers would have been confronted with the inescapable reality that Germany was committed to war:

Reflection thus shows not only that war is an unqualified necessity, but that it is justifiable from every point of view.

Taken at face value, all such claims – made within the formal context of German military and strategic planning, and reflective of Germany’s determination to assert its rightful position in Europe and the World – could not but cast Germany as a ruthless, aggressive and almost super-human foe.

For those reading newspapers and going to church over the first few months of the War there would have been little doubt that the very existence of the British Empire was threatened. Fortunately, God was most definitely on the side of the Empire; even if He was calling for significant religious renewal.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

The Belgian Narrative. Part 1: to the end of September 1914

This is the first in a series of posts that looks at the development and dissemination of the narrative of events in Belgium through August and September 1914. Later posts will look closely at the impact of the narrative on the local community of Alberton Shire, in Gippsland.

When war commenced there was a desperate need for news. Some sense of the desperation is evident in this account taken from The Argus of 7 August 1914 (p.6). It describes the scene in Collins Street, Melbourne on the night of Thursday 6 August. The previous night – the day on which news of the British declaration of war had reached Australia – there had been ‘rowdyism’ and riots in the streets of Melbourne as people’s emotions had run out of control. As a consequence, on this night – 6 August – the police were out in force.

For a long time it looked as if they [the police] were going to have the street [Collins Street] to themselves. Suddenly a board appeared on the front of The Argus office bearing the news of the German repulse in Belgium. As if by magic a seething crowd sprang from nowhere, and in five minutes’ time Collins street was packed from kerb to kerb with a surging throng thirsting for news.

As desperate as people were for news of what was happening in Britain and Europe, the actual flow of news from that part of the world was drying up. Censorship had been introduced even before the formal declaration of war. Printed in The Argus on Wednesday 5 August (p.10), the official notice from E D Millen, Minister of State for Defence, declared that 2 days earlier, on 3 August … censorship of all cable and wireless telegraph communications throughout the Commonwealth had come into effect. In the same edition, the editor of The Argus (p.9) noted:

The strictest censorship of all cable messages, both press and private, received in and sent from the Commonwealth was exercised by the Military Authorities throughout yesterday.
This fact, taken in conjunction with others, indicates that Great Britain has become so seriously involved in the great European conflict that war with Germany, if it has not already broken out, certainly appears to be inevitable.
The establishment of censorship explains the comparative brevity of our cable messages in this edition. A considerable number of our telegrams from England have been detained by the Censor.

In addition to the limits imposed by censorship, the reality was that the military situation in Europe over the period August – September 1914, was hard to track and comprehend. Even if there had been no censorship it would have been difficult for news agencies to report accurately on what was happening. The period from early August to the aftermath of the Battle of the Marne saw massive troop movements as the armies of Germany and France, supported by the BEF and Belgian forces, attempted a rolling series of flanking and envelopment manoeuvres across vast areas. Even today, with all the history written on this period, there is still ongoing debate over interpretations of what happened. The sheer scale – and horror – of the military conflict that convulsed western Europe in the first 2-3 months of WW1, is evident in figures taken from Strachan (Chapt 3). He gives French casualties (dead, wounded, missing) to 10 September, after one month of war, as 385,00 and notes that by the end of 1914 France had lost 265,000 dead. The twenty-second of August 1914 saw the highest level of French casualties in a single day for the whole of WW1 – 27,000 dead. The equivalent figure for total German casualties to 9 September was 265,000. Casualties for the British Expeditionary Force to the end of November were 89,964 and by the same point the Belgian armed forces had been reduced by half. Casualties at these levels were unsustainable, for any army.

Strachan’s account demonstrates the size and complexity of the military operations in the first few months of the fighting. It highlights that even those directly involved – including the field and overall commanders – were often unsure of what was unfolding. Occasional news despatches, from one or other battlefield, were therefore always going to be of doubtful value, assuming in the first place that they were even passed by the censors. Impartial, accurate, meaningful and timely news was a seriously limited commodity.

It was against this background of confusion and censorship that the narrative of events that unfolded in Belgium became so powerful over the first few months of WW1. It dominated news services in the Empire and came to define the purpose and nature of the War. It was an unfolding news story with simple characterisation and plot, and it was set within the context of high principles and moral absolutes.

The narrative commenced with the declaration of war. Britain’s obligation to guarantee Belgian neutrality was presented as the pre-eminent reason for the declaration. In the edition of The Argus of 5 August (p.9) Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Minister, was reported thus:

It has been said that we might stand aside and husband our resources, and intervene in the end to put things right, but if we ran away from our obligations of honour and interest regarding the Belgian treaty, I doubt whether any material forces would be of much value, in face of the respect that we should have lost.

Against this principled position, Germany was the blatant aggressor, prepared to invade Belgium if its ultimatum for free movement of its troops through the country was not immediately met. The developing themes in the basic narrative were simple: Germany was the aggressor; Belgium was the victim facing overwhelming Germany forces; and Britain was the reluctant but principled major power that was forced to intervene.

Once the German assault on Belgium began, another key theme was added to the narrative: Belgian heroism. Belgium’s refusal to accede to German demands and its willingness to mount uncompromising and deadly resistance to the vastly superior invading forces cast it immediately as the heroic small nation. Headlines in The Argus on 6 August (p.7) declared: Germans in Belgium. Neutrality Violated and “We Will Not Submit.” Belgians’ Cry “To Arms.” The next day, 7 August (p.7) the paper was full of stories of how the heroic Belgians had stopped the German advance. The headlines proclaimed: German Reverse. Enormous Losses Sustained. Victory for Belgians and the report claimed: The Belgian War Office announces that the German invading army has been repulsed near Liege with enormous losses. … The heroism of the Belgians is described as “superb.”

There were other reports quoted in the same edition that claimed, “The general situation in Belgium is excellent.”

The reality was that the situation in Belgium was anything but excellent and by 11 August, readers in Australia should have picked up that the plight of Belgium was dire. The headlines in The Argus that day, Germans Outside Liege and Forts Held By Belgium, were supported by claims from Brussels that the Belgians continued to hold the forts. However, the same article also reported the German version: “We hold Liege fast in our hands. The losses of the enemy are considerable.” The German forces first broke the Belgian line at Liege on 7 August but it was not until 16 August that the siege of Liege was over. It had taken the German Army far longer than the scheduled 2 days; and the siege had highlighted the heroic – but doomed – struggle of the Belgian resistance.

The next theme in the Belgian Narrative – German atrocities – also seems to have first appeared in Australian papers at this point round 11 August. The same edition of The Argus featured accounts of the punishment handed out to the civilian population when it resisted the German forces. At this point, the German reprisals were set within some sort of context. It was not random violence. For example, under the headline Prisoners in Firing Line (p.7) there was an account of how

the Germans were fired at from windows by numbers of the inhabitants of Liege. They were all caught instantly and shot. The Germans hold the Governor of the province of Liege (Lieut-General Heimburger) and the Bishop of Liege as a hostage, and threaten them with death if the forts continue to fire. A number of railway men and 25 others were accused of firing at Germans and driven at the point of the bayonet into the firing line before the forts. Three of them were killed, and the rest, pretending that they were dead, fell and lay on the ground.

There are other reports in the same edition of how the Germans threatened severe reprisals if their troops were fired on.

Reporting that continued to acknowledge the context for German reprisals in Belgium lasted for another couple of weeks. For example, in The Argus on 24 August (p.9), under the headline Germans Fire on Civilians, readers were informed:

The position of civilians in Liege is critical. The “Daily News” correspondent at Rotterdam states that shots were fired by the troops from a house. On Thursday the Germans bombarded 20 houses, killing many inhabitants. … The “Daily Chronicle’s” Amsterdam correspondent says that the situation of the citizens of Liege is very unfavourable. A shot was fired from a house on Friday. The Germans immediately opened fire with their machine guns, destroying 20 houses, and killing the inmates, and setting fire to 10 other houses.

However, just a few days later, on 27 August, the emphasis shifted dramatically to the reporting of German ‘atrocities’. The context was no longer that important. Rather, the focus was the appalling nature and ferocity of the reprisals. Under the headline Atrocities in Belgium (p.7) the following appeared:

The Belgian Minister has published a startling statement, giving a long list of outrages committed by German troops. These are vouched for by a committee of inquiry. While Belgian troops were resisting an attack by German cavalry they killed a German officer. No civilian took part, yet the village of Linsmeau was invaded by German artillery, cavalry and machine guns, notwithstanding assurances by the burgomaster that no recently fired guns had been found. Houses were burned, and the peasants were divided into groups. Afterwards were found in ditches skulls apparently fractured by rifle butts.

By 31 August (p.10), after the destruction of Louvain, the German forces in Belgium were being described as ‘barbarous’. The headlines that day proclaimed: Barbarous Germans. Beautiful City Burnt. “An Unpardonable Act”. In the commentary was the following statement, which had been released by the British Government Press Bureau. It ran under the headline, Residents Shot:

The destruction of Louvain was an unpardonable act of barbarity and vandalism. … Louvain is miles from the real fighting. International law recognises that the only legitimate aim of war is the weakening of the enemy’s army, and the rules forbid the destruction and seizure of property not imperatively called for by military necessities. By destroying Louvain, the Germans committed a crime for which there can be no atonement. Humanity has suffered a loss which can never be repaired.

Similarly, the edition of The Argus on 2 September (p.9) featured the headlines Ruthless Germans. The Tragedy of Louvain. Dead Litter Streets. It related the eye-witness account of an Oxford undergraduate who was present at the sacking of the beautiful Belgian town of Louvain by the Germans. The eye witness described how Gutted houses were tumbling into the streets, and German soldiers were looting the ruins. … Bodies of the murdered townspeople littered the streets.

Finally, the string of headlines in The Argus of 17 September (p.9) illustrate just how dominant the theme of German barbarity in the Belgian narrative had become by this point: Germany’s Shame. The Belgian Atrocities. Fiendish Outrages Related. An Orgy of Blood. German Abomination. Civilians Slaughtered. German Atrocities. Ten Priests Murdered. Drunken Men’s Orgy. Women Stabbed. Beyond the shocking headlines, the examples of brutality highlighted in the reports left little to the imagination:

The body of a man was found with arms and legs cut off, and that of another with the legs amputated. The hands of a child, 15 years of age, were tied behind its back and then the body was torn open.
A woman was stabbed with a bayonet, petroleum was next poured over her, and she was thrown alive into her burning home. The corpse of another woman was burnt in a similar manner.
An old man was suspended by his arms from a rafter and burnt alive.

The Belgian narrative – with its themes of British integrity, Belgian heroism, and German arrogance and barbarity – dominated the metropolitan press in the large cities by the end of September. The same narrative was presented in the local paper in the Shire of Alberton, albeit in a scaled down manner.

At the start of the German invasion of Belgium the local paper presented the same confusion and false hope. On 12 August (p.2) the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative was reporting that German morale at Liege was low because of the withering Belgian fire … which mowed them down like corn. The German supply train was said to be in chaos, the troops starving and and men surrendering just to get food. In one report the Germans had been repulsed: A telegram from Brussels states that 40,000 Belgians have repulsed 43,000 Germans near Liege. But even in the same edition there were other more alarming reports: The Belgians displayed heroic courage in the defence of Liege, but they declared that they were too fatigued to repel the perpetual onsets of an overpowering number of Germans. Reporting by the end of August is far more sombre and it is clear that the German onslaught cannot be stopped. On 28 August the headline reports Heavy Belgian Losses, which a Belgian officer gives as 10,000 men.

By September the locals in the Shire of Alberton were also reading the claims about German atrocities. For example, the edition of 18 September (p.3) reported that various committees had been set up to investigate German outrages in Belgium. In terms of the atrocities themselves there were many accounts. In the same edition, locals read of how the German troops even set about the desecration of churches. The headline was Horrors in Aerschott Cathedral. Deeds by Drunken Soldiers:

The Antwerp correspondent of the “Evening News” describes horrors in the Aerschott Cathedral on the high altar, on which there were many empty wine and beer bottles. In the confessional were champagne and brandy bottles. The offertory box was stolen and replaced by beer bottles. Bottles were stuck in the pews, and everywhere were bottles and filth. The Madonnas Head and a large crucifix were burnt on the altar, brocades were slashed, pictures chopped from the frames, and a dead pig was found on one side of the chapel. This is the work of drunken German soldiery.

There was an even more sordid report in the same edition: Awful Outrage. Death of a Nurse:

On Wednesday, a daring German attack was made on Vilvorde. The Germans cut off the breast of Grace Hume, of Dumfries, a Red Cross nurse engaged in the Vilvorde hospital. The nurse died in great agony.

The reports of German brutality continued to multiply. On 23 September (p.2) there were more accounts of German perfidy and Belgian suffering under the headline, More Plundering By The Germans:

A large number of places situated at the triangle of Vilvorde, Malines and Louvain, are given over to plunder by the Germans, and partially destroyed.
The inhabitants were shot without trial, and women unable to escape were exposed to the brutal instincts of the Germans.
The Germans allege that the Belgian Government has distributed arms amongst the inhabitants; that the Catholic clergy has preached a sort of holy war; and that the women are as ferocious as the men. These are a tissue of lies.

The true extent and nature of German atrocities in Belgium from August 1914 have been the focus of historical debate for the past 100 years. There is no doubt that Belgium’s neutrality was violated, the German invasion was ruthless and the subsequent occupation of Belgium was harsh and exploitative. There were atrocities against the civilian population. Against this, many of the sensational, lurid and macabre stories – written in part to fashion public opinion in the then neutral United States – that filled newspapers at the time were fabrications. For example, the report above about the British Red Cross nurse murdered by the German soldiers was a complete fabrication. While nurse Hume was a real person, she was not in Belgium – she was living in Huddersfield – and the story had been concocted by her sister. The sister, Kate Hume, was subsequently prosecuted. The story itself had been disproved by late September 1914. Yet for the entire duration of the War similar stories about the mutilation of Belgian civilians remained common.

The Belgian narrative, in all its themes, was very powerfully presented and it was very effective in shaping people’s attitudes and beliefs. It reinforced for people the righteousness of the Imperial cause. The war had been forced on Britain and the Empire. They had been compelled to act to protect Belgian’s neutrality. Germany was the aggressor. The narrative also underscored the ideal of sacrifice: Belgium was doomed. It could never withstand the onslaught of the German forces; yet it resisted – stubbornly, forcefully and heroically. And, undeniably, Germany was a ruthless and determined enemy. Within just weeks Germany had shifted from being one of Australia’s major trading partners, and a nation recognised for its advanced technology, industrial output, training and education, arts and culture, as well as the original homeplace of so many highly successful and well-regarded immigrants – and whole communities – to a pariah state, given over to the most extreme form of militarism, that threatened the very basis of Western Civilisation.

The locals, like people all across Australia, were deeply affected by the Belgian narrative and enthusiastically supported major relief programs for Belgium. By the end of September advertisements were appearing for all kinds of activities. As an example, the local paper of 30 September (p.3) advertised a Handkerchief Afternoon Tea to be held at Aylesbury, Yarram on 7 October, with proceeds to the Belgium Fund. Everyone was cordially invited and admission was handkerchiefs for wounded soldiers. All such sympathy, support and fund raising became an extension to the Belgian narrative. A later post will show the practical effects in the local community of the outpouring of sympathy for the poor, oppressed people of Belgium.

References

Strachan, H 2001, The First World War. Vol1. To Arms, Oxford University Press

The Argus

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

For those interested in following up pictorial depictions employed at the time, the cartoons by Louis Raemaekers on the invasion and occupation of Belgium are available on Project Gutenberg. See:

Cammaerts, E 1917, Through the Iron Bars: Two years of German occupation in Belgium

Raemaekers’ Cartoon History of the War. Volume 1: The First Twelve Months of War

Those who failed the medical: Yarram, Sept. 1914

The last 3 posts have covered recruiting in the Shire up to 21 September 1914. There was a large group of men who enlisted in Yarram on 16 September, and then left for Melbourne on 21 September, and there was a smaller number of men who enlisted outside the Shire, most commonly in Melbourne, by the same date (21/9/14). To conclude this section on the initial recruiting phase, this post looks at the 7 men who failed the AIF medical examination in Yarram at this time.

Reports from the local paper (18/9/14 & 23/9/14) which were covered in an earlier post made it clear that on 16 September when the men were medically examined, 5 were not passed as fit: 45 men presented themselves for examination by the local doctors at the shire hall last Wednesday, of whom 40 passed as physically fit. Fortunately, the names of the 5 men who failed appeared in the archives of the Shire of Alberton. It appears that the doctors on the day collected all the enlistment forms for the men they did not pass as medically fit and bundled them together. Further, they kept not just the forms for the first 5 men they failed but all such forms up to May 1915. This collection of forms indicates that 2 more men failed the medical on 21 September. Presumably they were late recruits who had hoped to leave for Melbourne with the large group. The names of the 7 men, and other information taken from their enlistment forms, are included in the table below. The last 2 men are the ones examined on 21 September. Future posts will look at the men who failed the medical from 21 September through to the end of 1914 and into the first half of 1915.

Unfortunately, the doctors (Drs Pern and Rutter) did not record the reason(s) why the men failed the test. The doctors merely changed the word ‘fit’ to ‘unfit’ on the section of the enlistment form that required them to state they found the applicant ‘fit for active service’. The only specific medical condition referred to in relation to this group was ‘bad teeth’, for James Lindsay.

The two local doctors were paid 2/6 per medical examination and they donated this amount to the local Red Cross. They obviously saw the work as part of their support for the War. However there was trouble coming, and future posts will show that the medical assessments of recruits by country doctors became a highly contentious issue, so much so that in April 1915 both Drs Pern and Rutter threatened to withdraw their service over what they saw as attacks by the AIF hierarchy on their professional credibility. For its part, the AIF was convinced that country doctors were too accommodating in their assessments of the mens’ medical suitability and, overtime, the process was tightened up: medical examinations by rural doctors were followed up with another medical in Melbourne; and the formal enlistment process was not finalised until the applicant had passed the second medical.

What is obvious from the table is the effort men made to enlist. They were not prepared to accept the result of the initial medical assessment. Only 2 of the 7 men did not try to enlist again, and one of the two was 44 years old and definitely at the extreme end of the age profile for recruits (the range was 18-45). Two tried again but were rejected for a second time. One of the two – Llewellyn Sutton Jones – featured in an earlier post: The Defence of the Nation: Junior and Senior Cadets. He was the character, John Bull who appeared in the patriotic concert held at Yarram at the end of September. He appeared in a Imperial tableau with Miss M Bodman as Britannia, and he sang Rule Britannia. At that point he would have already have failed his medical. He tried again (9/11/15) but was unsuccessful. The medical problem appeared to be ‘cardiac trouble’. Of the 3 who were successful in their second attempt at re-enlistment, one – James Carmichael Lindsay – managed to re-enlist at Yarram as early as late November 1914. The second to re-enlist was Frederick Arthur Newberry who enlisted in Melbourne on 17/7/15. The third was Leonard Ambrose Kenney who re-enlisted on 27/9/15 also in Melbourne.

A future set of posts will look in detail at the background and service history of the complete group men who enlisted up to the end of 1914. It will cover those who enlisted in the Shire and those who enlisted outside it, most commonly in Melbourne. However, the following brief analysis looks at just the 3 men who failed their medical in Yarram in September 1914 but then managed to re-enlist. Because each of them generated more than the usual number of enlistment forms it is possible to go a little deeper into their backgrounds, particularly in relation to the all-important issue of their work history.

James Carmichael Lindsay featured on the electoral roll as a farmer of Port Albert. His father was dead and his mother was Mary Elizabeth Lindsay. The mother also appeared on the electoral roll, as ‘home duties’ of Port Albert. Both mother and son also appeared in the Shire rate book: he with 61 acres and she with 73 acres of Crown land at Alberton East. The rates were very low ( £1/10/- combined) so whatever they were doing – his occupation was variously described as grazier and farmer – would have been modest in scale. There is no evidence of any older siblings but there was at least one younger sibling – Ronald Miles Lindsay – who enlisted at 18 on 8/2/16. The younger brother’s occupation was given as ‘grocer’s assistant’ which suggests that his wages were being used to supplement family income and again suggests that the family farming was only a modest venture. When James Lindsay returned from the war he took up soldier settlement land in the district (200+ acres), including a few acres with a house from his mother. It appears though that the younger brother, who also survived the War, pursued work in Melbourne when he returned. While the 2 brothers survived the War, both were wounded – James three times – and both were discharged as ‘medically unfit’. Both appear on the Alberton Shire Honor Roll.

Frederick Arthur Newberry had been born at Yarram and attended North Devon SS. He was obviously was living and working in the district when he tried, unsuccessfully, to enlist in September 1914. However by the time he re-enlisted in July 1915 he was living in Daylesford. He noted on his second lot of enlistment forms that he had undertaken a painting apprenticeship at Yarram, but his occupation at this time of re-enlistment was given as grocer. Neither he nor his mother – Mary Ann Newberry – appear on the electoral roll. However there is a Robert Edward Harding Newberry who does appear as a painter of Yarram. Presumably this person was related in some way and, again presumably, provided the painting apprenticeship to Frederick. Frederick married overseas after the War – Sarah Ann Carrington, in Birmingham (10/4/19) – and was eventually repatriated to Australia and discharged as ‘medically unfit’ on 4/1/20. It appears he was living in Melbourne after the War. Interestingly, even though he was born and grew up in the district, worked in the district and even tried to enlist in the district, he is not included on the Alberton Shire Honor Roll. He is however on the honor roll for the Methodist Circuit and also the one for Devon North SS.

Leonard Ambrose Kenney (Kenny) was also born at Yarram and attended the state school there. His attempt to enlist was a real struggle. He was rejected on 16/9/14 at Yarram. Then he tried again in Melbourne on 27/9/15 and was successful. At this point he gave his occupation as jockey and his address as Bruthen. However he did not last long. He was discharged as ‘medically unfit’ on 23/10/15, less than one month later. Then 4 months later, now nearly 19 yo, he tried again and was again successful. This time he enlisted at Sale, on 22/2/16, and his address was now Traralgon. On both occasions when he re-enlisted, he did note that he had been rejected, both times, for ‘under specification’. As he gave his occupation as jockey it might appear that he had failed the height requirement but, according to him, the specification not met was ‘chest measure’. Paradoxically, despite his apparently desperate determination to join the AIF, his behaviour, once enlisted, was decidedly oppositional and non-compliant. Within 2 months of enlisting for the second time he was being charged with AWL offences and also ‘insubordination’ for the likes of talking and smoking on parade. He was obviously not suited to military life. Or perhaps, as desperate as he was to join, he wanted to serve on his own conditions. He was, after all, just 19 years old, a volunteer and someone who had made a real effort to enlist. In any case, in less than 3 months of enlisting he disappeared and was charged with desertion, from 17/5/17. There is nothing in the AIF files to indicate what happened after that. He is also not on the Alberton Shire Honor Roll, but he is on the equivalent roll for Yarram State School.

Admittedly, there are only 3 cases here but, yet again, it is clear that a person’s identity in the local area was shaped significantly by the nature – and transience – of their work. It is also apparent that at this point of the War men appeared very keen to join the AIF.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
‘Recruits For The War. Forty-Five Examined At The Shire Hall. Forty Pass. First Squad Leaves On Monday’ 18 September 1914, p.2
‘Recruits for the War. Farwelled At The Alberton Railway Station’ 23 September 1914, p.2

The original correspondence and forms are from the Archives of the Shire of Alberton, examined in Yarram in May 2013:
Shire of Alberton
Archive One
File Number 703B
Recruiting & Enlisted Men (Box 398)
Bundle of papers headed: Defence Department. Enlisting Recruits 1914-15-16.
Tied bundle of attestation forms.

 

 

 

 

Individual ‘locals’ who enlisted prior to 21 Sept. 1914

The last post examined the characteristics of the large group of men who enlisted together on 16 September 1914 at Yarram, and then left for Melbourne by train on 21 September 1914. While this group was certainly the first such group from the Shire to enlist – and it remained the largest single group of recruits throughout the War – there were other men who had enlisted, as individuals, prior to this. This post looks at 22 men who enlisted outside the Shire, as individuals, sometime between the declaration of war on 5 August and the departure of the train from Alberton on 21 September. Once again, the research surrounding the lives of these men reveals the complex dynamic between the nature of work for the rural working class and the idea that personal identity can be tied to a particular location.

The first table here identifies the 22 men who enlisted, individually and outside the Shire, prior to 21 September 1914. The men have been identified via 2 main sources of evidence, which for present purposes I have termed ‘hard’ and ‘soft’.

The hard evidence relates to formal record sets. The most commonly referenced piece of hard evidence is the Alberton Shire Honor Roll (Shire Honor Roll) [HR]. This official record was drawn up at the end of the War and records the names of 447 men. The second piece of hard evidence in the Shire of Alberton Medallion (Shire Medallion) [Med]. This was presented to each man from the Shire who enlisted. The actual medallion is featured on the blog. The third piece of hard evidence is the relevant electoral roll [ER] from the time, which recorded the full name, occupation and place of residence for each registered voter. Lastly, for relevant cases, I have included reference to the Shire of Alberton War Memorial (Shire War Memorial) [WM]. The memorial is located in the main street of Yarram and records the names of 79 men from the Shire. Future posts will look in detail at each of these record sets, highlight any problems associated with their use and explore inconsistencies and gaps between them.

The soft evidence is anecdotal and relates principally to references in articles from the local paper, Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative.

On the table there are 15 men whose association with the Shire is tied to hard evidence and 7 where the link depends on soft evidence. The 7 cases are highlighted.

For 10 of the 15 locals linked to hard evidence, the key piece of evidence is their inclusion on the Shire Honor Roll. For another 2 it is their receipt of the Shire Medallion. For another 2 it is an entry in the electoral roll. And for the last man it is the inclusion of his name on the Shire War Memorial. Some men are linked to more than one piece of evidence, but only 1 man – William Newland – is linked to all relevant pieces.

A brief review of these 15 cases highlights a range of apparent gaps and inconsistencies. For example, it is odd that men who definitely did receive the Shire Medallion are not included on the equivalent Honor Roll. This applies to both Samuel Gay and George Silver. There is an even more striking omission involving Nathan Hepburn. He was born in the district but had obviously moved to Queensland. He enlisted in Bundaberg in August 1914 and was killed in action (28/6/15) just 10 months after enlistment. His name does not appear on the Shire Honor Roll and there is no record of him – or his family or relatives, on his behalf – being given the Shire Medallion. Yet, remarkably, he was regarded as sufficiently ‘local’ to be included on the Shire War Memorial. Then there were the 2 men who were definitely in the district when they enlisted but not recognised: Lancelot Matthews and Norman Davis do not appear on the Shire Honor Roll and there is no record of them receiving the Shire Medallion, yet both men, prior to enlistment, were recorded in the electoral roll as living and working in the district. It seems that one man outside the district could be considered local while two others in the district were not. On the face of it, the contradiction here seems to suggest that being born in the district was more significant, in determining the status of ‘local’, than moving into the district to pursue work. It is clear that subjective assessments were made; and some men were more ‘visible’ than others.

The following brief accounts cover the 7 men for whom there is anecdotal or ‘soft’ evidence to establish that they were local, even though they do not appear in the formal record sets. As indicated, most of the evidence comes from reports in the local paper.

James Gunn was the first to enlist from the district. On his enlistment papers his occupation was given as driver. There is no hard evidence to tie him to the Shire.  Yet, there were reports in the local paper (2 May & 13 June 1919) of his welcome home at Blackwarry where he was feted as one of the 13 men from the Blackwarry community to have served in the AIF. As part of the celebration all the men received a gold medallion, specially designed for the occasion, and donated by the members of the Blackwarry community. There is a picture below of the medallion presented. The particular medallion shown is the one presented to David Daniel, another of the 13 men from Blackwarry, who enlisted in 1916. James Gunn had undertaken military training in Traralgon prior to the War (1910-12) and it is possible that he was working in Melbourne when war started. After the War he become a soldier settler at Carrajung.

Herbert George was killed in action 25/7/16. Despite the fact that there is no hard evidence to link him to the district and his name is not on the Shire War Memorial, there are references in the local paper (12/5/15, 23/8/16) which note how well known he was in the Yarram and Port Albert townships. His occupation on the enlistment papers was given as grocer but the same newspaper reports suggested that he worked in a store in Yarram as an assistant.  Additionally, his name and death were recorded on the Port Albert State School Honor Roll.

The case of Walter Tibbs is similar to that of Herbert George. Even if others did not see the connection to the district, his family in England certainly did because when they completed the information for the National Roll of Honor (Australian War Memorial)  they gave Tarraville, Gippsland as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. His parents also reported on the same form that he was an ‘excellent violinist’  and that he was only 18 when he was killed at the Gallipoli landing. He had obviously put his age up (21) when he enlisted. His occupation on the enlistment papers was given as farm worker.

There was nothing to tie Milton Littlewood, another immigrant from the UK, to the district. Yet on the Embarkation Roll his address on enlistment is given explicitly as ‘Yarram, South Gippsland’. His occupation was listed as fireman.

Similarly, Thomas Hart, an immigrant from Ireland, gave his address at enlistment as the Yarram Club. However there is some doubt in this case because his sister as next-of-kin gave the same address, and it is possible that he did not have a permanent address and simply gave his sister’s address as his own when he enlisted. He could, for example, have been living and working in Melbourne while his sister was living in Yarram. He was a labourer.

Joseph Carlile was yet another immigrant from the UK. His occupation was gardener. He was wounded, repatriated and then discharged in late February 1916. In July 1917 he married a local girl (Margaret Marie Hopkins) in Yarram. However there is no evidence of any connection to the district before this; although there is one intriguing twist because in March 1916, just a couple of weeks after being discharged, he provided a witness statement to the Red Cross in relation to the death of a soldier from his unit – Keam (481) – and, at that time, he gave his address as Yarram. This was well before his marriage, and it suggests that there could have been a prior connection to the district.

Albert Widdon does not feature in any of the hard evidence, including the Shire War Memorial yet he went to school (Devon North SS and Yarram SS) and grew up in the district. His family was still living in the district. His death was reported in the local paper (2/6/15) and the article even described Rev Cox delivering the telegram to his mother. The same article noted he had enlisted in Queensland. Another article (17/5/18) noted his name in connection with a memorial service held to honour the dead from the district. He had many cousins from the district who also enlisted. In many ways his case is similar to that of Nathan Hepburn, except that his (Widdon) name was not included on the Shire War Memorial. His occupation was listed as farm labourer.

Clearly, it can be difficult establishing precisely what happened in relation to such individual cases; and contradictions and inconsistencies abound. However the more important observation from such research is that young men from a rural working-class background could easily disappear from the collective memory of the district. They were more ‘transient’ than ‘local’.

This second table provides more background information on the 22 men who enlisted as individuals and outside the Shire, and in some cases well outside the Shire. The first of these men – James Gunn – enlisted on 17 August in Albert Park, Melbourne, just 12 days after the declaration of war; and the last – Albert Edward Widdon – enlisted in Dalby, Queensland, on the same day the group of recruits from Yarram left Alberton on the train.

There appear to have been two distinct groups: there were men living and working in the Shire who went down to Melbourne to enlist – presumably they were not prepared to wait for any local recruitment drive to get underway – and there were men who were living and working well away from the Shire, who enlisted where they were then located. Thus Stanley Henry Hawkins, who was living at Yarram and working as a coach builder, went down to Melbourne and enlisted at Albert Park on 20 August 1914. An example from the second group is Nathan Walbourne Hepburn. He had been born in the district and went to school and grew up in the district. His parents were still living there. However, he had moved to Queensland by the outbreak of war and was working as a labourer. He enlisted in Bundaberg.

The table also points to the fact that overwhelmingly the first group of individual recruits from the Shire were from the rural working class. ‘Labourers’ and ‘farm labourers’ dominate. There is only one reference to a ‘farmer’ (Samuel Gay) – and given his age, the fact that he had just moved to Queensland and the fact that on discharge from the AIF he returned to the Shire of Alberton, he was more likely to have been a farm labourer than a farmer. Only William Newland, as a ‘mechanical engineer’ stands out as someone in a semi-professional occupation. In fact, Newland is an important person as will become obvious in future posts. At the time of enlistment, he was already in his mid-thirties and he was also the only one of all the men on the table who was married. He had served in the South African War from 1899-1902 and even before leaving for overseas service held the rank of corporal. He was wounded, severely, at Gallipoli and repatriated. Most significantly, he became the recruiting sergeant for the Shire in 1915 and 1916, and was later involved with the setting up of the local association of returned soldiers.

Another feature is the extent of mobility between birth and the time of enlistment. Less than half the men on the table were born in the district. Presumably they had moved in to the Shire for work. Equally, some who had been born in the district had clearly moved out of it looking for work, although possibly not on a permanent basis, by the time they came to enlist. Nearly one-third of the men had been born either overseas (5) or interstate (2).

The age profile of the men is only slightly different from that for the larger group of recruits from Yarram considered in the last post. There were very few men aged 30 and above, with the concentration in the 25 or younger age group. In this instance there were fewer in the very young – under 20 – age group. As far as the religion profile is concerned, the Church of England obviously dominates. There is only 1 Catholic in the group but it is hard to draw any significant conclusions from such a small sample.

Overall, the most striking feature of the group is the extent to which it is made up of single, young men from the rural working class. In this respect, it matches the profile of the large group of recruits – the ones who left for Melbourne on 21 September – analysed in the last post. Both groups show that for the Shire of Alberton the call to arms was met, initially at least, predominantly by the rural working class. The extent to which this trend continued or changed over time will be considered in future posts.

Blackwarry Medallion. Courtesy of Mrs. Margery Missen, Yarram.

Blackwarry Medallion. Courtesy of Mrs. Margery Missen, Yarram.