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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Embarkation Roll



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

  1. Pingback: 56. Enlistments in the first half of 1915: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status | Shire at War

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