In 1911 Australia introduced a universal military training scheme that covered all males from twelve to twenty-six years of age. The scheme was something of a first in the English-speaking world. The plan was that over a time frame of roughly 10 years the scheme would generate sufficient numbers to create a viable Australian Military Forces.
The universal training scheme was broadly supported by all key political parties, including the ALP. As well, Field Marshal Viscount Kitchener had undertaken a study on the Defence of Australia in 1910 and this report supported the introduction of the scheme.
Under the scheme, all male children from the age of twelve to fourteen were required to train as Junior Cadets, all male youth from fourteen to eighteen were to train as Senior Cadets and, from eighteen to twenty-six, all males were to train in the Citizen Forces. In short, from twelve to twenty-six years of age, all males in Australia were to be required by law to undertake an extended and cumulative military training program.
Kitchener’s thinking on the need to raise such a National Citizen Force for Australia’s defence went to the heart of how threatened Australia saw itself and how its defence policy was crafted round this fear of invasion:
1. It is an axiom held by the British Government that the Empire’s existence depends primarily upon the maintenance of adequate and efficient naval forces. As long as this condition is fulfilled, and as long as British superiority is assured, then it is an accepted principle that no British dominion can be successfully and permanently occupied by an organised invasion from overseas.
2. But in applying this principle to Australasia, considerations of time and space cannot be disregarded. The conduct of a great war depends upon the calculated and proper combination of naval, military, and diplomatic forces; and it is quite conceivable that in the future, as in the past, national considerations may require the concentration of British naval forces in one or other theatre of operations. It follows that in seas remote from such a concentration, the British Naval Force may find themselves for the moment inferior in force to an actual, or potential, enemy. In such a situation, although our ultimate superiority at sea might not be a matter of doubt, some time might elapse before our command of the sea was definitely secured in all waters. It, therefore, becomes the duty of all self-governing Dominions to provide a military force adequate, not only to deal promptly with any attempt at invasion, but also to ensure local safety and public confidence until our superiority at sea has been decisively and comprehensively asserted. (Kitchener 1910, p.5)
He then calculated that, in Australia’s case, such a force needed to be 80,000 fighting troops.
In short, the Australian Military Forces to be raised by this scheme of universal training were to be for the defence of Australia, in Australia.
Interestingly, at that time, most similar nations were not in favour of such citizen-soldier type armies and opted instead for the permanent, professional and volunteer standing or regular army. The other striking feature of the Australian scheme was the focus on youth, and even childhood. This was definitely unique. In fact, the Swiss model, the closest scheme to the one implemented in Australia in 1911, and the one with which Australia was most impressed, did not cover males until they reached eighteen years of age.
There were many other reasons why the Australian Military Forces were to be raised via a scheme which had such a focus on youth. For a start, the establishment of cadet forces had had a long history in Australia, as in Britain, and the idea of youth being inculcated with military discipline and the camaraderie of military life and service was popular. However, as popular as the cadets were in some schools – both private and state – Barrett (1979, p. 32) gives figures that make it clear that voluntarism was not going to produce the numbers that were required. In 1910, for Australia as a whole, voluntarism had involved 10,500 senior and mounted cadets, and 24,000 junior cadets. But in 1913, two years after the introduction of the compulsory scheme, the equivalent figures were 130,000 senior cadets and 50,000 junior cadets.
It was also certainly the case that many politicians, educationists and ‘child savers’ believed compulsory military training for youth would not only meet military ends but also help to combat some of the evils associated with the rapid process of urbanisation from the late nineteenth century, from poor health and lack of physical fitness through to weak moral development and larrikinism. Military style disciple and military training would toughen youth. There was also the view that youth had to be taught both the worth of citizenship and the responsibilities associated with it. Lessons like these learnt as a young person, would shape the adult’s commitment to the democratic idealism underpinning the new Commonwealth. There was also the lesson of egalitarianism, whereby the compulsion of all males meant that there were no exceptions on the grounds of such as class, wealth or religion. Just as secular, state schooling was forming the new citizen in an egalitarian society, and breaking down the rigid class hierarchy of the old world, so too would compulsory military training strengthen the principles of egalitarianism and meritocracy. Mirroring the idea that democracy and civic compulsion could co-exist was the complementary relationship between universal military training and compulsory schooling. Typically, at the time, schooling was compulsory through to fourteen and therefore by having all male students from the age of twelve involved in the scheme there was an overlap between compulsion to attend school and compulsion to undertake military training. The latter was but an extension of the former.
There was also the widely held perception that the Australian was a natural soldier. From the Boer War on, the skills and character of the Australian soldier – most typically the light horse trooper – had been extolled. British experts fostered the claim. For example, Kitchener, in the 1910 report cited earlier, referred to the …natural military aptitude of the Australian (p.6). He noted, The Australian citizen-soldier experiences much of military value in the every-day conditions of his civil life. He is generally a good rider, active, lithe and intelligent (p.15). The belief in the citizen-soldier and commitment to the universal training scheme flowed naturally from the perception that all Australians, by their very person and ordinary life experiences, were able to be transformed, easily, into first-rate soldiers.
Over time, opposition to the scheme grew. There were definitely cases where youth rejected the scheme on the grounds of religious belief and/or conscientious objection; and those who did were charged under the Defence Act and ended up in military detention, with some even in solitary confinement. However, the more common opposition was expressed in the more mundane manner of non-compliance or passive resistance: youth did not register in the first place or failed to attend the compulsory training sessions. Many young men found the scheme very demanding and avoided participating whenever they could. There was not really an issue with the junior cadets because this first stage of the universal training (12-14 years of age) was carried out in school, and was generally treated as just another piece of curriculum and school work: essentially physical development and training. Also, if the boy stayed on at school past fourteen and continued to complete his senior cadet training within the school context then this was also manageable. However, if the youth had left school and had started work and, simultaneously, was trying to adjust to his new independence, as well as manage the usual range of sport, social and family commitments then the training regime could pose serious difficulties. For senior cadets (14-18) the annual requirements were very significant – four whole-day drills, twelve half-day drills, and twenty-four night drills – with always the possibility of extra sessions: to make sure standards were met, to make up for sessions missed or to undertake ‘voluntary’ sessions. Plus there was also the time to get to and from the training centre and the effort taken over the uniform. Effectively, the training requirements, particularly for those who were not enthusiastic, were onerous. They also stretched out for a very long period in a young person’s life.
From as early as 1912, registrations in the scheme were less than they should have been. Barrett (1979, p.131) refers to a claimed figure of non-registration as high as 34%. Prosecutions were initiated and numbers picked up, but it was clear that there was non-compliance and many youth and their parents were inclined to dodge their responsibilities.
Cases where youth failed in their duty – shirkers – were reported in the press, with the obvious intention to hammer home the consequences of non-compliance. It became more of an issue once the War commenced. For example in The Argus 22 December 1914 – four months after the outbreak – under the headline, Drill Shirkers Sent to Fort the following appeared:
Fifty youths attached to the senior cadet branch of the citizen forces squeezed their way into the Richmond Court out of the drizzling rain yesterday morning. They marched before the bench in relays to answer charges of not having given the personal service required of them by the Defence Act.
Mr. S. J. Goldsmith, P.M. (chairman) deprecated the lack of patriotic spirit, and urged the boys to obey the call to attend military training. If Australia were good enough to live in it was good enough to learn to defend it, and, for his part, he was determined that youths eligible as trainees should realise it. He would give those boys charged with offences against the Defence Act before the war broke out an opportunity to redeem themselves; but as for those who had failed to attend drills since he would listen to no appeal – straight to a fortress they would go.
The magistrate then ordered 12 of them … into the custody of the officers commanding the coast defences at Queenscliff for seven days. He adjourned the other cases but directed those involved to … perform their missing drills forthwith.
Remarkably, for all the compulsion that applied, and the significant penalties associated with non-compliance, the cadet scheme itself was not genuinely universal. The legislation certainly inferred universality and all the political rhetoric emphasised universal obligation and responsibility, but the reality was that universal military training was limited to the capital cities, regional centres and large country towns. Section 138 of the Defence Act of 1909 provided for an area to be proclaimed as exempt from the training. The costs and other practical difficulties of setting up the scheme across all country towns and settlements were too great. Barrett (1979, p.70) noted that in 1911 of some 155,000 boys who registered for the scheme only 59% were ultimately liable for training. He further observed that the population density required to warrant the application of the scheme in sparsely populated rural areas was 2,000 people within a radius of 5 miles. At the time, Yarram’s population was half this number and all the other towns and settlements in the Shire of Alberton were considerably smaller. Thus the Shire was an exempt area, whereas in the larger towns of Gippsland – for example Sale and Warragul – there were senior cadets and all the provisions of the legislation applied.
Exemption meant that, in the Shire, those youth who were keen to pursue military training tended to gravitate to the rifle clubs. Thus when the first wave of recruiting took place in September 1914, youth from the rifle clubs were well represented, particularly those from Stacey’s Bridge Rifle Club. It is also worth noting that as the War progressed, local youth and young men from the Shire would often record on their enlistment papers that they had been residing in an ‘exempt area’, whereas men who were working in the Shire at the time of enlistment but who had lived elsewhere prior to moving there would often give details of their cadet experience, if it had applied.
There was a distinction between the junior and senior cadets in terms of exemption. As indicated, the junior cadets (12-14) came under the control of the Education Department and therefore, wherever there was a school the prescribed training was delivered by the teacher. Essentially, because the training was part of the curriculum exemption was not an issue. At the same time, there were, potentially, variations in its application in terms of the size of the school. There was an expectation that the program would run in all schools but, strictly speaking, it was not compulsory in schools where there were only female teachers. Stockings (2008, p.29) points out that many female teachers, across the nation, actually undertook the training to become certified as junior cadet instructors, at least until they were prevented from doing so. In the smaller schools, particularly one-teacher schools, it was not uncommon for both boys and girls to receive the training. The training itself was a set number of hours of physical training and drill every week, but depending on the school’s size, location and resources it could also cover specialisations such as miniature rifle shooting, swimming, organised games and first aid. Stockings (p. 30) argues that the scheme was essentially a popular one: There is little doubt that for boys, educators and even many military figures, the Junior Cadet system was the most popular part of the overall scheme of universal military training. It appears that this popularity was ultimately its weakness because the Commonwealth tried repeatedly to have the States pick up full financial responsibility; and when this was not successful, support was phased out. By the early 1920s the compulsory nature of the junior cadets was dropped.
In terms of the Shire of Alberton and the junior cadets school size was a critical issue. At the time, there was only one school in the entire Shire – Yarram State School – with more than 100 students. As future posts will show, the junior cadets were indeed active in the school, under A E Paige, Head Master. In fact, as the War progressed there was a strong martial tone to the school. In the next category of state schools – over 50 students – there was again only one school, Alberton. Most of the schools in the Shire were in either the category with over 20 pupils – for example, Alberton West, Binginwarri, Carrajung, Devon North, Gormandale, Hiawatha, etc – or the one with under 20 pupils, for example: Blackwarry, Carrajung South, Darriman etc. In such small schools it was inevitable that the type of program and the zeal with which it was pursued relied on the ingenuity and commitment of the teacher. It is possible that for the children the activities looked more like fitness and games than training and drill. However, as small as the schools were, the junior cadets were visible and, when the War came, they were very much part of the local community’s effort. The following account from the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative is of a patriotic concert held in Yarram at the end of September 1914. In the concert, the junior cadets from the Devon North SS feature:
At seven o’clock the “assembly” was sounded on the bugle in the vicinity of the shire hall, where the Town Band, ladies of the Red Cross Society, the North Devon school boys as cadets, the Rifle Club, and the Fire Brigade with torches fell in. The procession proceeded along Commercial Street led by a small boy on a small chestnut pony, to the hall. Here a halt was called, and the order changed. The pony, almost obscured by a large Union Jack, was ridden by the boy as Light Horse up the centre of the hall – to the surprise and delight of the audience – followed by the Red Cross led by a drummer, the North Devon school boys, the Rifle Club, Fire Brigade, and the Town band in the rear. The crowd cheered. … As the last strains of band music died away the stage curtain rose, and there was displayed a very pretty and effective tableau, “Britannia.” Flags predominated. At the rear of the stage hung the mammoth Union Jack, supplied by the Agricultural Society, while flags of Australia, Belgium, France and Russia combined to make a pleasing spectacle. The centre figure was Britannia, faithfully represented by Miss M Bodman, supported by the rifle club and boy cadets. To the right stood “John Bull,” typically portrayed by Mr. Sutton Jones, who sang “Rule Britannia,” chorused by the audience.
The picture of the junior cadets of Devon North SS protecting Britannia in all her might and glory is a striking and noble metaphor for an Imperial war. But ironically, and keeping in mind the real limitations of the Yarram Rifle Club, it is also an apt metaphor for how unprepared Australia was for such an Imperial war. The brief four-year experiment with its cadet-based army had not been the answer. When war broke out in 1914 and Australia looked to defend not just itself but the Empire as a whole, it found it had just an under strength boy-adolescent-youth army, committed by the Defence Act to the defence of Australia only. As Bean (1921, p.34) put it … as Australia could not send away an army of boys, however willing, it was decided to raise a separate army specifically for this service. Hence the Australian Imperial Force.
At the same time, when war came, Australia, more than any other member of the Empire and more than any other English-speaking nation, had laboured hard to teach its male youth the responsibilities of military duty and the rudimentary skills and practices of military life.
It appears that Sutton Llewellyn Jones who played John Bull in the concert was a 24 year-old English immigrant. He had been born in Cheshire in 1899 and in 1914 was working in Yarram as a clerk. There is a record of him failing his enlistment medical on 16 September 1914, and it seems he failed again, this time in Melbourne, in November 1915. However, his brother, who was trying to find him after the War, was convinced that he did enlist. There is no AIF record, but he might have changed his name if, in fact, he did keep trying to enlist.
Kitchener, Field Marshal Viscount 1910, Defence of Australia: Memorandum, The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia
Barrett, J 1979, Falling In: Australians And ‘Boy Conscription’ 1911-1915, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney
Tanner, TW 1980, Compulsory Citizen Soldiers, Alternative Publishing Co-Operative Limited, Waterloo NSW
Stockings, C 2008, ‘Khaki in the classroom’, History of Education Review, vol. 37, no. 1 pp.16-33
Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume 1 – The Story of ANZAC from the outbreak of war to the end of the first phase of the Gallipoli Campaign, May 4, 1915, 11th Edition.
‘Drill Shirkers Sent to Fort’ 22 December 1914, p.7
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
‘Patriotic Concert… ‘ 2 October 1914, p.3
Note: details of school sizes in the Shire of Alberton in WW1 are taken from,
Victoria. Education Department 1921, The Education Department’s Record Of War Service 1914-1919