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

This post continues the analysis of Post 22: Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status, in that it examines the same characteristics,  and employs the same approach, for the group of 104 men who enlisted in the first half of 1915.

The specific characteristics covered in the attached table are: 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.

As for Post 22, most information in the table 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, for ‘occupation’, the evidence covers not just the Embarkation Roll and the individual AIF service file but also the Shire of Alberton Rate Book and the Commonwealth Electoral Roll for the Subdivision of Yarram Yarram.

This extended range of evidence is needed to identify those men who were from the ‘family farm’. As is shown in the table, in one or two cases, a young man described himself as a  ‘labourer’ when in fact his father was a farmer in the Shire and the young man was, presumably, working on the family farm. Also, there were cases where the young man described himself as ‘farmer’ when the evidence – principally from the rate book – indicates that he was working for his father on the family farm. Consequently, in the table below, the description of  ‘family farm’ – highlighted – covers all situations (12) where the son was, most likely, working on the family farm.

There was also the situation where a young man described himself as a ‘farmer’ when all the evidence points to him being a ‘farm labourer’. In the table, this is most evident with immigrant farm workers: they were relatively young; had been in the district only a short period of time; there is no record in the local rate book of land in their name; and where they do appear on the electoral roll they are not described as ‘farmer’.


As for Post 22, the table covering the first half of 1915 highlights movement as a key characteristic of this group.  Again continuing the analysis from Post 22, it is possible to identify 4 broad groups.

First, there are what can be termed long-term residents: those who were born in the Shire, enlisted in Yarram – and were working in the local area at the time of enlistment – and gave a location in the Shire as their own address and that of their parents. This was the largest single group and, not surprisingly, individuals from this group were most likely to be included on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll and, in the case of those who died on active service, the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. One minor qualification to make with this group of volunteers is that increasingly the men were formally being enlisted in Melbourne. This was the case even where they had their (first) medical, completed the enlistment paper work, took the oath and were issued with their railway warrant in Yarram. In part, this arrangement reflected the concern that country doctors were too inclined to pass volunteers as fit. It appears that by the end of June 1915, all men were medically ‘re-examined’ in Melbourne.

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. As before, whether or not they were included on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll – and, if relevant, the Shire of Alberton War Memorial – appeared to be tied to the presence of some ongoing family link to the Shire. There needed to be immediate family members or relatives working to keep the individual soldier’s memory alive in the local community.

Generally, those in this second group only featured on local school honor rolls. However, the individuals concerned were often well known – or more correctly ‘well-remembered’ –  in the local community. For example, Bertram Atkinson only appears in the table because he attended Yarram State School as a child. His name appears on the school’s honor roll. He was 26yo and married when he enlisted, and his wife was living in Hawthorn. He had even attended Malvern East Grammar some time after leaving the state school at Yarram. Clearly, his link with the local area had finished many years before he enlisted. Yet because he was the son of the Church of England minister based at Yarram at the turn of the 20C – the Rev. James C Atkinson – locals definitely remembered him. In fact, there were several articles in the local paper reporting his death (21/9/15) and describing his family’s association with the district.

The third group takes in those who came into the Shire and had established themselves as local by the time of enlistment. The largest group here were the immigrant workers from the United Kingdom. There were 19 in this group. Added to the 15 from the group who had already enlisted by the end of 1914, the total number of UK immigrant workers to enlist to the end of June 1915 becomes 34. Doubtless there would have been a high expectation in the local community that these young men from the ‘Mother Country’ should enlist.

Another example from this group of people who had come into the Shire and established themselves as local, was the local medical practitioner Dr John Hemphill Rutter. There was extensive reporting in the local paper of his farewell and then his service overseas. He returned to Australia at the end of 1916.

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. But as transient as their work was, the fact is that they enlisted in Yarram.

As pointed out in Post 22, the creation of these 4 groups is arbitrary:  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. However, it is clear that the movement of this group, over what was typically not much more than 20 years of life, was a distinguishing feature. Such movement is also evident in the number of the group who were born interstate – 8 – and the number who enlisted interstate: 7. Moreover, there is only one person common to these 2 sub-groups. It even appears that one of the 104 men – Roy Liddelow – enlisted in New Zealand. All of this data questions the local historian’s natural tendency to try to tie people’s lives to a specific geographic location. ‘Local’ in the context of early 20C Australian History is a highly problematic concept.


Obviously the high incidence of movement is tied inextricably to occupation. By far the largest single group (50) was made up of ‘ labourer’ or ‘farm labourer’. As well, there was the typical range of rural working-class occupations. Within this solid rural working-class cohort, there were some men in semi and skilled trades, and there was a small group of young men in clerical positions. However, as with the previous group – the one to the end of 1914 –  the number of professionals and higher level administrative and managerial positions is very limited. Overwhelmingly, in the Shire of Alberton, in the period we have looked at so far – from the start of the War to the end of June 1915 – the typical volunteer was a member of the rural working-class and, most commonly, he simply gave his occupation as ‘labourer’.

In this particular group, it appears that there were 11 cases where a son who was working on the family farm enlisted. The cases are highlighted in the table.  As noted, this included some young men who described themselves as ‘farmer’ – but there was no evidence of them holding any property in their own right – as well as some who had described themselves as ‘farm labourer’, when in fact the evidence suggested they were working on the family farm and their labour contributed to the overall success of the farm.  However, it is possible with this latter group that the son was actually working as a ‘farm labourer’ on a neighbouring farm. Such work provided additional family income. So, conceivably, the number of family farms might be overstated in the table.

The more important point is that the number of volunteers who were independent farmers – the farm was in their name, and they were working and managing the farm in their own right – was very low. In fact, from this group of 102 volunteers, if you discount the 2 men from outside the Shire who claimed to be farmers (Ferres, H D G and Kiellerup, G R) there does not appear to have been a single case where an independent farmer or grazier from the Shire enlisted.  The case has already been made  in Post 22 that there was very little possibility that a farmer would – or even could – simply leave the farm and enlist.

Overall, to the end of June 1915, the burden of enlistment continued to fall on the rural working class –  whose employment was typically itinerant and casual – and a small group of young men –  they were in their late teens or early twenties – coming from family farms. There was also a significant number of immigrant rural workers from the UK who enlisted.

The complex questions surrounding this pattern of enlistment – was enlistment driven fundamentally by economic forces ; why did patriotic duty fall so heavily on the working class; were rural workers searching for an identity and status in the AIF that they could never attain in the life style of the itinerant, rural worker? – will continue to be explored in the blog.


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 the minors are added to those to the age of 25 it is evident that this group – as with the first one – was very youthful.  Overall, the age profile is very similar to that for the first group of volunteers – to the end of 1914 – from the Shire

Ages of volunteers – first half of 1915
ages                       %
18-20        25       25
21-25        46       44
26-30        18       17
31-35          8         8
36+              5         6
total        102      100

Marital status

As before, the expectation continued to be that only single men would enlist. This is evident in this particular cohort, where only 8 of the 102 men were married.

Those rejected

The table below has been developed from 2 sources of evidence from the archives of the Shire of Alberton. The first is a list of 128 ‘Recruits Rejected by the Local Doctors’ and the second a bundled collection of enlistment papers (38) of men who had failed the medical. The latter set of files runs from September 1914 to July 1915. There are gaps and inconsistencies with these 2 sources, but they provide some critical insights on the men who failed the medical examination in Yarram, particularly in the period to the end of 1915. In the table, the specific period covered is the first half of 1915.

The table shows that at least 18 men who presented themselves for enlistment at Yarram in the first half of 1915 were rejected by the local doctors. In most instances, the local doctors simply recorded that the men failed the medical but in other cases there was some basic reason given. As for all other enlistments, the socio-economic profile of the men was typically rural working class.  There was also the typically high number of immigrant farm workers in the group: nearly half the group had been born in the UK. .

The table shows the high number of men who made subsequent attempts to enlist, and also the number who, in fact, did enlist (9), in many cases without revealing that they had been previously rejected. Samuel Henry Young failed his first medical (Yarram) but then passed his second one (Nagambie) within the first half of 1915. He was definitely a local as his name appeared on the electoral roll as a ‘sleeper hewer’ of Mullundung. He appears to be the classic case of someone who left the district to enlist elsewhere. Many local men were determined to enlist and an initial rejection was not taken as final.


As for the first group of volunteers to the end of 1914, the preceding analysis of the second group – to the end of June 1915 – reveals that it was overwhelmingly the young, single, rural workers – most commonly described as ‘labourer’ or ‘farm labourer’ – who answered the call to enlist. Of the the total number of some 240 volunteers from August 1914 to the end of June 1915, there was a group of young men –  about 30 – who came from the ‘family farm’. This group was roughly the same size as the group of immigrant rural workers ( 34) from the UK who ‘answered the call’.



Embarkation Roll

Shire of Alberton Archives

Archive One, File Number 703B, Recruiting & Enlisted Men, Box 398.
Included in this collection was a tied bundle of enlistment papers that covered men medically rejected.

Box 379, “Correspondence etc of Recruiting Committee, Formed April 26th 1917”.
Contains an undated and unsigned list headed, “Recruits Rejected by Local Doctors”.

2 thoughts on “56. Enlistments in the first half of 1915: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

  1. Linda

    Fascinating post. It would be interesting to look at the height of the men who were rejected and then re-enlisted. I can’t remember exactly when the height restriction was lowered/then dropped. but I have found one (and I haven’t kept tabs), who was rejected on account of height, and then had something on his dossier like “rejected as unfit – height” in the section asking if previously rejected. The other one was chest expansion measurement – they were pretty strong on that early on, and a weedy chest made you unfit. Then they changed that as well, when they were short of recruits.

    There is some data on the changes under the heading “Table 2” in this article:
    “As the number of recruits dwindled, the eligibility criteria expanded. In the first year of the war the upper age limit of recruits was increased from 35 to 45 years; the minimum chest measurement was reduced from 34 inches to 33 inches; and the minimum height of 5 feet 6 inches was reduced to 5 feet 2 inches. In April 1917, the height standard was reduced again to 5 feet”

    1. pcashen Post author

      The height standard started at 5′-6″ the dropped to 5′-2″ in June 1915 and 5′- 0″ in April 1917. The medical issue that really stands out for me was the condition of men’s teeth. From the very start the medical authorities realised that the poor condition of men’s teeth – and they were only in their late teens and twenties – was a real threat to their overall health. The other relevant point was the fury that country doctors directed at the AIF over the ongoing claims that they were not up to the task when it came to assessing the health of the volunteers.


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