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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pity for Belgium

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

References

South Gippsland Chronicle

Gippsland Strandard and Alberton Shire Representative

The Argus

24. Honor Roll of the Shire of Alberton

Framed Honor Roll: Alberton Shire

Framed Honor Roll: Alberton Shire

 

Detail: Alberton Shire Honor Roll

Detail: Alberton Shire Honor Roll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Religion

The relevant data from the Commonwealth Census of 1911, taken from Table 38. Male Population Of The Counties Of Victoria At the Census of 3rd April, 1911 Classified according to Religion (Exclusive of Full-blooded Aboriginals). for the county of Buln Buln, Victoria  has been matched against that of the cohort of the 134 enlisted men.

From the Commonwealth Census 1911:

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

From the individual enlistment papers of the 134 men:

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

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

Units

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

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

Service history

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

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

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

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

References

The Australian War Memorial

Embarkation Roll

Unit History: WW1

Australian Bureau of Statistics

Census of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1911

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

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

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

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

The table below builds on that from the last post by adding the following items of information: the place of birth, the place of enlistment, the address of the next-of-kin at the time of enlistment, the address of the individual volunteer at the time of enlistment, the occupation at the time of enlistment, and age and marital status at the time of enlistment. Future posts will explore other characteristics, including an overview of the war service of each individual volunteer.

In general, the information is taken from 2 key sources. Place of birth and place of enlistment are taken from the enlistment papers in each individual’s AIF service file. The other pieces of information are taken from the Embarkation Roll. However, specifically in the case of ‘occupation’, several pieces of information – the Embarkation Roll, the individual AIF service file, the Shire of Alberton Rate Book and the Commonwealth Electoral Roll for the Subdivision of Yarram Yarram – have been used. The intention here is to identify those men who were coming from the ‘family farm’. In one or two cases, a young man described himself as a ‘farm labourer’ or even just ‘labourer’ when in fact his father was an established farmer in the Shire and the young man was working with his father on the family farm. Similarly, a young man would describe himself as ‘farmer’ when, by looking at other evidence, it was again the case that he was working with his father on the family farm. In the table below, the term ‘family farm’ covers all situations where the son was working on the family farm. The qualification here is that even though there was a family farm it was also possible that the son was undertaking other work in the district – for example, one of them listed ‘horse breaking’ as his occupation – or perhaps it was work in addition to the work on the family farm. The more important point is that the table identifies all those cases where the person enlisting was the son – or possibly one of several sons – of a farmer. On the other hand, where the evidence suggests that the person enlisting was a farmer in his own right – the land was recorded in the rate book in his name, not his father’s – or the evidence is not sufficient to rule out the possibility that the person was a farmer, the occupation of ‘farmer’, as recorded on the various forms, has been let stand.

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

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

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

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

The last group was made up of those who had moved into the Shire, but only recently, and in some cases it might well have been that they enlisted in Yarram because that was where they found themselves just at that point in time. Had their work, or search for work, taken them to Foster or Sale they would have enlisted there. This group stands out because even though they had their medical in Yarram and enlisted in Yarram there is no indication of any long term involvement with the Shire – they were not born there, did not go to school there and their next-of-kin have no apparent link to the Shire – and, in most cases, their names are not included on either the Shire Honor Roll or the Shire War Memorial. Yet, clearly, they did enlist from the Shire.

The creation of these 4 groups is merely an attempt to impose some sort of order on what was a highly complex pattern of movement. Inconsistencies and anomalies across the table suggest that the boundaries between the groups were not as fixed as the model suggests; and whatever scheme is devised, there still has to be accommodation for personal judgements made at the time, 100 years ago. However, it is clear that the movement of this group of early volunteers was a distinguishing feature, and it is reflected in the simple observations that, for example, 16 of the men enlisted interstate; approximately 80 – more than half – of them had been born outside the Shire and nearly half gave, as their address on enlistment, a location outside the Shire.

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

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

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

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

Age
The following table gives a breakdown of ages. The number of ‘minors’ – those between 18 and 21 required written permission of their parents – is high. When this group is added to those to the age of 25 it is evident that this particular cohort was very youthful. The oldest volunteer at forty-one – twice the age of 53 of his fellow recruits – was William Henry Wheildon a miner from Yarram. He had already served in South Africa and in WW1 he served in the Naval and Military Forces in New Guinea.

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

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

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

References

Embarkation Roll

 

 

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

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

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

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

Local identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The list of railway warrants issued by the Shire Secretary

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

The list of men medically examined to the end of 1914

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newspaper accounts (Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative)

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

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

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

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

Some observations on the table

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

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

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

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

20. Map of the Shire of Alberton, 1914

The map below shows the key towns, settlements and parishes of the Shire of Alberton in 1914 layered on a current map of Gippsland. I have been trying for some time to locate relevant maps of the area but they are very difficult to find and many of the Shire’s maps from the time are covered in  working notes and other markings. This arrangement should at least provide an initial idea of where the Shire of Alberton was located, particularly for those readers not familiar with either Gippsland or Victoria.

I have included a few locations (yellow) that were then (1914) in neighbouring shires, but earlier on they had been in the Shire of Alberton.

The attached notes should give an idea of the various phases of land selection beginning in the 1860s. It should also be apparent that the idea of ‘settlement’ (conquering the bush and making productive use of the land), particularly in the Hill Country, still held great significance in the period leading to WW1.

References

The information in the map comes principally from:

Adams, J 1990, From these Beginnings: History of the Shire of Alberton (Victoria), Alberton Shire Council, Yarram, Victoria

19. 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