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.

One thought on “21. Enlistments to the end of 1914: identifying the ‘locals’

  1. Kath Fisher

    I have found this a very useful discussion. Our project has a focus on soldiers and nurses from pioneer families of the Fleurieu Peninsula. Initially, the definition focused on families which had settled in the area and contributed to the development of the local area in some way. Then we discovered that some soldiers had settled on return from the war and made significant contributions since, one category we needed to consider were founding members of the RSL or RSSILA as it was called then. Your discussion is very helpful as we have encountered similar issues in identifying those we wish to concentrate on. We started with enlistment records of where people were born and then realised that other sources such as those you identified suggested many more options to consider. Many thanks

    Reply

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