Monthly Archives: May 2016

66. Percy Allen WALLACE 273

Lance Corporal Wallace was the first of the men form the Shire of Alberton to die in France.

Percy Allen Wallace was born at Glengarry, Gippsland. The family must have moved into the Shire of Alberton when he was a child because both Percy and his younger brother – Leslie Roy Wallace – went to Yarram SS and both feature on the school’s honour roll. Percy Wallace also appears on both the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll and the Shire of Alberton War Memorial.

At the time he enlisted, Percy Wallace gave his occupation as ’mill hand’ and also ‘butter maker’. He appears on the Electoral Roll as ‘butter maker’, with the address given as Yarram. His father – William Wallace – is also listed as a ‘sawyer’ of Goodwood Mills, via Port Albert.

The 2 Wallace brothers enlisted in late September 1914. It appears that Percy enlisted first, as one of the initial group at Yarram, on 21/9/14 and then Leslie went directly to Broadmeadows and enlisted 2 days later (23/9/14). Leslie served in the AIF until he was returned to Australia on Anzac leave in December 1918.

Private Percy Wallace’s first term with the AIF did not last long. He was discharged as ‘medically unfit’ on 19/12/14, just 3 months after enlisting. There is no indication what the medical issue was but when he re-enlisted on 8/2/15, just a couple of months later, he did acknowledge the earlier discharge – ‘medically unfit’.

Interestingly, the brothers appear on the Methodist Circuit honour roll, yet Percy’s religion was given as both Presbyterian (enlistment papers) and Church of England (embarkation roll), and Leslie gave his religion as Church of England. The anomaly points to the tendency to employ ‘CoE’ as the default Protestant denomination.

On his re-enlistment, Pte Percy Wallace joined 22 Battalion. He served on Gallipoli from late August 1915. In mid March 1916, the 22 Battalion left Alexandria and on 26/3/16 it disembarked at Marseilles. Within 3 weeks of arriving in France he was dead. He died of wounds – G.S.Wound Right leg & Left forearm – on 15/4/16.

22 Battalion had only moved into the front line trenches at Fleurbaix – about 10 Kms from Fromelles – the day before Lance Corporal Wallace was wounded. The entry in the war diary of the battalion details his fate:

Trenches (Fleurbaix). Sniping & observations, very little movement noticed. Patrol moved out from Sec 42. 1 officer 1 O/R. When returning at 11.20 PM when noticed & caught by M.G. fire. Lt McCAUL slightly wounded. L/Cpl WALLACE seriously wounded.

L/Cpl Wallace was taken to No. 8 Casualty Clearing Station but he died just over 12 hours later. He was buried at Merville Cemetery, with Rev. Anthony Fenn officiating.

The family back at Goodwood was informed of the death within 2 weeks. It took 2 more years before all the personal items – (1) Identity Disc, Letter, Photo, Testament, Cigarette Cards, Cigarette Case; (2) Cards, 2 Pieces Fancy Work, 2 Brushes – were returned to the family in 2 shipments.

There was extensive coverage of L/Cpl Wallace’s death in the local paper (Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative) from the end of April to late July 1916. Essentially, the coverage was based on 4 pieces of correspondence that the parents received in the weeks after their son’s death. The family must have provided this correspondence to the editor ( A J Rossiter) of the paper who then used the letters with their approval. As already noted – see Post 65 – Rossiter was a member of the 1915 Yarram Recruiting Committee and a key supporter of the War effort. The cumulative effect of the 4 letters definitely pitched L/Cpl Wallace’s death as a classic and instructive example of heroic sacrifice in a just war.

Letters such as the 4 considered here were common and, obviously, they would have meant a great deal to grieving families, desperate for any personal accounts of their sons’ final moments. However, extensive publication of such letters in the local press was uncommon. Arguably, the editorial decision reflected the reality that L/Cpl Wallace’s death was the first death of a local from the Shire of Alberton on the Western Front. The War had moved from the Gallipoli Peninsula to France; and while there had been a hiatus after Gallipoli, this first death on the Western Front reinforced for everyone back in the Shire of Alberton that the local boys were back in the firing line. There would be so many more deaths to come that it would prove impossible to devote the same amount of copy to each of them. The reporting and grieving processes associated with the dead – and injured – had, inevitably, to become more abbreviated and succinct.

The first news of L/Cpl Wallace’s death came in the ‘editorial’ written by Rossiter for the edition of 28/4/16. At this point it appears that Rossiter did not even appreciate that the death had occurred in France. He was keen to remind readers that Percy had been a star local footballer. In fact, L/Cpl Wallace had answered the call to the sportsmen – particularly the footballers – of Australia, well before it had been made public in the mid 1915 recruiting campaign.

The sad tidings reached Yarram this week of the death of one of our soldier boys, Private Percy Wallace, son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Wallace, of Goodwood. But meagre particulars are to hand, stating that he died from wounds in the legs and arms on 15th inst., probably received in a skirmish with the Turks. … Like others who have enlisted, he was a foremost footballer in this district, men who make good soldiers, of that virile type Australia can ill afford to lose.

In the edition of 3/5/16, under ‘Personal’, Rossiter revealed the contents of the official telegram sent to the family via the postmistress at Port Albert. The cause of death was given – died from gunshot wounds arms and thigh, 15th April – and the customary expressions of sympathy from the King and Nation noted.

Then in the edition of 23/6/16, 2 letters were published relating to L/Cpl Wallace’s death: one from a British nurse working the casualty clearing station where he died; and the other from a mate in the same unit (22 Battalion).

The British nurse – Sister Jean Todd – gave a detailed account of L/Cpl Wallace’s death. Interestingly, in her letter there is no attempt to attach any of the usual expressions of duty done and sacrifice made. Nor are there religious platitudes. Rather, it is short and direct, with a pervading sense of resignation. At the same time, because the letter itself was an act of kindness, the parents would have read into the letter her sense of compassion for their son and taken comfort from the fact that she was there with him when he died.

I am deeply sorry to tell you of the death of your son, 273 Lance-Corporal Wallace, A. I. F., in this hospital [ 8 Casualty Clearing Station, BEF] at 1 p.m. on the 15th. He was admitted before mid-day suffering from gun shot wounds, right arm, right thigh, and the popliteal artery had been severed. From this he lost much blood. The artery was ligatured and restoratives of all kinds applied. He was conscious while the surgeon was dressing the wounds and while injections into the blood stream to try and replace wastage were given. Soon after he became delirious, very restless, finally unconscious, and passed away at 1 o’clock. It is an abrupt tale to send so far, but what more can I say. If possible we grieve more for our overseas men than our home men, but it does not save them.

The second letter was written by L/Cpl Percy Davidson, 22 B. This second Percy was a 20 yo from Tasmania. He described himself as a very close friend of Percy – I mourn his loss very much, as we have been like brothers to each other – and he therefore felt the need to write to the parents to express …  the heartfelt sorrow I have for you at this time. This time there was the conventional appeal to God’s mercy: … I pray that God will comfort and bless you. It was His Will, therefore we must bow to it. There was also the reassurance that he had ‘died like a man’: It may be some consolation to you to know that he died like a man and an Australian. There was also the flash of stoicism when Wallace assured Davidson, as the doctors were working on him – they were talking about amputating his right hand – “Oh, I’m not too bad, Dave [sic], and will write as soon as I am able.”

It is important to remind ourselves of what is happening here. The parents have given permission for the local paper to publish the most intimate letters of their son’s death. Not all parents would do this and there is no way of knowing parents’ true motivation in matter like this; but the more important point is that such accounts augmented the official narrative of the War by filling out the personal experiences of soldiers and their families. This was a level of reality that local readers could not ignore and it was a reality that had a powerful moral force behind it, built on notions of duty, sacrifice, national and Imperial identity, and divine sanction. It was an extraordinarily powerful human narrative; and it would have been very difficult either to challenge or stand outside it.

The last detailed report of the death of L/Cpl Wallace appeared on 28/7/16. Under the heading, Late Private [sic] Percy Wallace. Particulars Of His Death., Rossiter featured another 2 letters. The first was from the sister of Lt. McCaul – the officer who had been with L/Cpl Wallace on the patrol where they had both been wounded – and the second from the chaplain with 22 Battalion.

The letter from Miss Nora McCaul of Glenhuntley Road, Elsternwick to the Wallace parents explains itself.

In case my brother has not written or has not your address, I am sending you the following. Your son was wounded on or about April 13th, and I hear he died of his wounds. My brother was intelligence officer for the 22nd Battalion, and about the middle of April was told to choose a man and find out certain information from the German trenches. He chose your son, and at the same time said to him, “There will be no V.C.s to D.C.M.s hanging to this; probably all we will get will be bullets.” Your son was most anxious to go, and I believe the two set out about 11.30 p.m. They got the information and were returning when the Germans opened fire on them. As my brother said, “We both stopped bullets.” They then had to climb through barb wire entanglements and swim some icy water 6ft. deep. The next my brother remembers was in hospital in Boulogne. In a letter dated May 16th from there my brother says: – “I only heard today that the Lieutenant [sic]-Corporal, who was with me, has died of his wounds. I am awfully upset about him, not only because he was one of my best men, but also because I took him with me. Some one, of course, had to go with me, and I naturally chose a good man. He was an awfully good chap. I can’t say how sorry I am at his loss.” I hope this will all interest you. My brother after a month in hospital in Boulogne was moved to London. We had a cable last week, and although doing splendidly he is still unable to put his foot to the ground. Sincerest sympathy in your sad loss.

It is interesting to note just how important – and common – letter writing was at the time. There was a vast ocean of correspondence touching on soldiers’ deaths and their war experiences. However, as noted earlier, this particular case, where such extensive correspondence on one individual soldier’s fate was published in the local paper, was rare.

The second letter, the one from the chaplain – F H Dwinford, Church of England – ran to a very predictable script. He gave the briefest account of the actual death from wounds, reassured the family that the grave was …  in excellent order and has on it a wooden cross with a metal inscription … and focused on the manner of and purpose of the death. The death had not been in vain:

But one can only say, what one feels so much, that death for one’s country is a fine death, and a life laid down for Australia is a grand and noble sacrifice. And it is on the lives laid down in this war that a new generation will be built up.

The chaplain concluded with the customary reassurance that there was indeed a higher level of reality and purpose to the horror that then engulfed the world:

I can only hope with so many other chaplains that the great truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ brings consolation and comfort to you. Death is simply the passing away from one state of existence into another, and the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God.

The parents – and the readers of the local paper – were meant to draw all manner of lessons from the tragic death of L/Cpl Wallace. He had lived and died the life of the good soldier and the true Australian. Interestingly, in the correspondence the Imperial references are not as apparent as the National ones. He was stoic in the face of suffering. There was meaning to his death and God would take him unto Himself. The tone of the British nurse is more problematic, but the overall effect of the letters is to gloss human tragedy. Of course, we do not know what effect the letters had on the family – both then and subsequently – although we would have to assume that they provided some support because, at the very least, they would have certainly raised the status of their son in the eyes of the local community. But, as argued, the effect on the individual family was only part of the story. Such reporting was fundamentally important in maintaining the uncritical and uni-dimensional narrative of the War, which had not changed in any substantive way since August 1914. It would be the same narrative that would inevitably support the introduction of conscription.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for WALLACE Percy Allen

Roll of Honour: Percy Allen Wallace

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Percy Allen Wallace

War Diary 22 Battalion


65. Yarram Recruiting Committee, 1915

The last post looked at the key function organised by the 1915 Recruiting Committee. This post looks at the committee itself.

The committee was set up at a public meting in Yarram on 25  June 1915. The meeting was in response to the request from the Victorian Parliament to all local councils/shires to form a local committee to assist in the planned recruiting drive.

In the circular, headed State Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, Victoria which was sent to every local government area, there was the specific directive: It is desirable that these local committees should include representatives of all sections. Moreover, the list of suggested activities in the same circular made it clear that the committee was intended to represent and cover all social groupings or classes. For example:

5. Where there are large workshops, suitable men should interview the workers and speak to them during the mid-day meal. [emphasis added]
8. Football and race crowds should be appealed to by leading sportsmen.
10. The ladies of the various localities may be encouraged to form committees of their own.
11. Friendly societies, trade unions, and other gatherings should be attended to.

According to reports in the local paper, Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, on 30/6/15, the public meeting to set up the recruiting committee was poorly attended. In fact, there were often reports on the difficulty of encouraging people to join such committees and the corresponding need to rely on the usual civic stalwarts. However, it was also possible that others did not volunteer their services because they knew who typically would serve on such committees. Whatever the reason, the people who answered the newspaper call to join the recruiting committee did represent a particular and restricted group within the local community. The Yarram Recruiting Committee did not ‘include representatives of all sections.’

The committee at Yarram was exclusively male and there was no equivalent female committee set up. The committee was also Yarram-based or Yarram-centric. Admittedly, several members had rural properties outside Yarram but even these members of the committee – most were local councillors – were regularly in Yarram for their council work and other civic duties. Yarram by the early 20C had become the capital town – commercial, retail, business, local government – of the Shire of Alberton. However, there were residual misgivings over the shift of power and influence from Alberton, the former capital. Equally, many of the small townships and centres some distance from Yarram – over difficult roads and terrain – were convinced that Yarram received preferential treatment in terms of development and facilities, and that it functioned to meet its own interests and not the wider interests of the Shire as a whole. So there was an underlying degree of animosity directed at Yarram from other locations across the Shire. For its part, Yarram simply assumed power for itself. For example, all the various recruiting committees over the period 1915-1918 were labelled as iterations of the Yarram Recruiting Committee, not the Shire of Alberton Recruiting Committee.

If the Yarram Recruiting Committee was exclusive in terms of gender and the Shire’s geography and local politics, its class bias was even more pronounced.

In all there were 18 men who were identified as being members of the Yarram Recruiting Committee in 1915. Eleven men attended the first public meeting (25/6/15) called to form the committee and subsequently, over the course of the year from July to December 1915, another 7 men either joined or were co-opted.

The first table gives the essential details for the members of the 1915 committee. Previous posts that have looked at soldiers’ farewells and other public meetings to do with support for the War have shown the extent to which the speakers came from the ranks of the local professionals, managers, proprietors and leading land holders. This group of men matches the same profile.

Four of those on the 1915 committee actually enlisted in the AIF. Henry Crawford Bodman (Henry Bodman jnr) – had even enlisted before the committee was formed. One of the men – Rev George Cox – was comparatively old (43yo) and married, with 3 children. Cox was one of the most vocal supporters of the War in the Shire. He had great difficulty in enlisting and served for less than one year. He was discharged on medical grounds. He completed all his service in the AMC in Australia in military hospitals. The youngest (20 yo) of the 4 to enlist, Cyril Johnson was student studying in Melbourne. Presumably, he attended the first meeting of the committee with his father because he was in Yarram at that time. He was killed in action on 14/5/18. Edward Gabbett was married and 34 yo. He was badly wounded and had a leg amputated. He returned to Australia for a medical discharge in February 1918. Henry Bodman jnr, 21 yo, was wounded, ‘dangerously’, but survived the War and was discharged as medically unfit in November 1919. Overall, it is a grim picture of 4 men who went beyond calling for enlistments and enlisted themselves.

The second table details the extent of the committee members’ wider membership of committees, boards and other executive bodies across the community. Clearly, the members of the 1915 Yarram Recruiting Committee were well involved in key institutions and associations –  Yarram and District Hospital (the hospital was opened in 1915), Yarram Mechanics’ Institute, Yarram Waterworks Trust, ANA Yarram branch, Yarram Agricultural Society, Y.M.C.A., even the Yarram Town Band – and this level of involvement would have identified the committee members as leading and influential citizens in the community. Additionally, many of them held significant positions of political power: several local councillors (including the 2 Shire presidents over 1914-1915), the editor of a local paper, and 2 justices of the peace who presided in the Police Court/Court of Petty Sessions in Yarram.  There were also several members of the Yarram Recruiting Committee who held executive positions in friendly societies and who would have been well-known in the local community for advocating positions of moral and social improvement, e.g. the Independent Order of Rechabites and its temperance platform.  Members of the committee were also involved in the local churches – with the apparent exception of the (Roman) Catholic church – and 2 members were very involved with the local Masonic Lodge (207).

The involvement of the local Roman Catholic church in committees and activities to do with the promotion of patriotism and support for the War will be examined in detail shortly. It was a complex issue.

Overall, the Yarram Recruiting Committee was made up of ‘leading citizens’ from the local professional and managerial elite of Yarram, supported by several large and successful land holders who also played significant political and social roles in the Yarram community. In fact, rather than representing all sections of the diverse community (communities) that made up the Shire of Alberton, the Yarram Recruiting Committee of 1915 was narrow and sectional in its membership. No doubt those on the committee would have responded that the committee was made up of all those who were prepared to become involved and commit to the effort required; and that such committees were always only ever made up of like-minded citizens prepared to take on the necessary responsibility.Moreover they could have also argued that it made little sense to duplicate committees across the entire shire and Yarram was the natural location to establish the committee.

The composition of the Recruiting Committee also supports previous claims that the narrative of the War – including the sub-narrative of recruitment for the War – was formally controlled by a particular elite within the wider community.

However it does not follow that because one particular group controlled the narrative of the War all other groups listened to and followed the narrative. As the last post showed, the Recruiting Committee’s monster recruiting drive staged in Yarram was, at least in terms of having people enlist on the spot, a failure. Also, as argued, it is highly likely that the intended target group for the recruiting meeting stayed away precisely because they knew the specific detail of the narrative that was going to be presented and/or they simply refused to identify with the types – leading citizens – who were presenting the narrative.

Again, the apparent failure of the Recruiting Committee to attract recruits through its specific activities cannot be taken as proof that enlistments at the time – July and August  1915 – were falling. Indeed the opposite was true. Consider the following 2 communications from the 3rd Military District, Melbourne to all local government areas. The first was dated 3 August 1915:

Owing to the unusually heavy enlistments for the A.I.F. at present tents cannot be supplied as rapidly as the recruits are coming into camp, therefore please do not send any more recruits forward until the the 12th instant except such as are out of employment and very anxious to go into camp at once.

The second was dated 10 August 1915:

Please continue enlisting for the Australian Imperial Force, but do not send any more recruits forward until after the 31st instant, except such as are out of employment and very anxious to go into camp at once, others may be granted leave until September 1st.

There were to be iterations of the 1915 Yarram Recruiting Committee over the next few years. As will become clear, when the enlistment surge finished in the second half of 1915, and recruitment targets could no longer be met, the members of the committee moved effortlessly to back conscription.


Background details of those on the 1915 Yarram Recruiting Committee have been taken from the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, the relevant Electoral Roll and Rate Book, as well as from:

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

Correspondence and communication between the 3rd Military District  and the Shire of Alberton (Shire Secretary) are from the Archives of the Shire of Alberton:

Shire of Alberton
File Number 703-0
War Files
“Recruiting Campaign 1915” (cover sheet)

64. Monster (recruiting) Meeting at Yarram, July 1915

In late June 1915, the Victorian Parliament, on a bi-partisan basis, launched a recruiting drive. The plan was that the week 5 -12 July would be a special recruiting week. Over the week, State Parliament would be adjourned and all members would support their constituencies in the recruiting campaign. While the central aim of the program was to boost the level of recruits, there was also the intention to involve the whole community in support for the war effort.

In Yarram the special meeting was set down for Monday 5 July and Thos. Livingston MLA (South Gippsland) was to be the guest speaker from the Parliament.

The dominant theme expressed in this first, state-wide recruiting campaign was “Come over and help us”,  represented as the plea being made by the men at Gallipoli.  A special poster – Will they never come? – was commissioned for the campaign. It measured 7 feet 6 inches high x 6 feet 8 inches wide. In Yarram it was pasted to a wooden frame and displayed on the Bank of Victoria fence.

The most striking feature of the 3 speeches given at the Yarram so-called ‘monster meeting’ to launch the week of recruiting was the speakers’ conviction that the reasons for enlistment were so obvious and so powerful that appeals should hardly have been necessary. The detailed report in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 7/7/15 featured an undercurrent of frustration, if not anger, on the part of the speakers and the clear warning that conscription would most likely be required to force people to see and perform their duty.

The usual theme of the barbarity of German soldiers featured strongly. Livingston was reported thus:

Mr Livingston impressed his hearers with the [German soldiers’] slaughter of the aged and infirm, the killing of children and marching away with their bodies on the bayonets….

And Rev. Tamagno had … heard of a little Belgian child in Victoria, whose arms had been cut off by the Germans. She saw the [Australian] soldiers in uniform, and asked were they going to fight the Germans. Informed they were, she said, “Kill them, trample them to death; they killed my father and mother, and cut off these arms of mine. “

Tamagno set all this in the context of the divine retribution that God would exact on the ‘horrible blood-thirsty nation’ that was Germany:

As sure as there is a Creator that rules, that nation [Germany] will not go unpunished. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay saith the Lord.”

There were also the usual references to the integrity and greatness of the Empire, and Australia’s loyalty to and self-interest in the defending it. And now, integral to the call of the Empire, there was the direct ‘cooee’ from the ‘gallant boys’ on Gallipoli.

However, as indicated, there was also the sense of outrage that people refused to do their duty. When the Rev. Cox stood to talk … He said it was the first time in his life he had to appeal to men to do their duty.  Cox then, as reported, appealed for married men to enlist. Such a call was, for the time, out of order; but Cox was merely using it as a rhetorical device:

And why should the married men go?

His answer was that while the young men might pretend to be patriotic, they were more interested in playing football. Therefore,

That’s why the married men have to go. The unmarried slackers won’t go.

Rev Tamagno also had the young, unmarried men clearly in his sights:

He hoped it would not come to conscription [this is July 1915], but if he had his way he would call up all the young unmarried men in smashing numbers, and bring the war to a conclusion.

And like Cox, Tamagno also focused in on the local football competition. He claimed he had no problem with football per se but there was a more important game to play. He wanted the young footballers to face the question of their duty to the Empire:

There are still many “best” in this shire who have not considered the question, but who follow the swollen leather, and have their names on the lips of spectators.

The attack on football was hardly new and it was by then Victoria-wide. It was very evident in the official poster – Will they never come? – for the recruiting campaign. In the Shire of Alberton, the local football competition closed down at the end of July 1915. Too many players from the teams in the local competition had enlisted. Additionally, it was too hard to stand against the community view that football had to stop.  There was however the occasional, one-off game played to raise money for the Red Cross or some other War-related charity.

As the most popular and high profile sport in the community, football was an obvious target for those pushing for higher levels of recruitment. The logic was presented starkly: why should young men – particularly the fittest young men – be wasting their time on football while their peers were fighting and dying for the Empire? At the same time, there was another agenda. Certainly in the Shire of Alberton there was a view that football promoted anti-social behaviour – drunkenness, gambling, violence and obscene or ‘filthy’ language – and at a time when the War effort required a form of ‘moral re-awakening’ from everyone on the ‘home front’, football was an obvious target.

At the very time that the local football competition was shut down another more suitable pursuit for the youth of the Shire was introduced.  When the 1911 universal training scheme was introduced, the Shire of Alberton was declared an ‘exempt area’. However, in early 1915 the local branch of the ANA formally requested that the district’s exempt status be reversed. Accordingly, in late June, senior cadets were established in Yarram. All male youth between 14 and 21 yo who lived within a 5 mile radius of Yarram had to register. Within this 14-21yo cohort, the largest group, at least 50, were enrolled in the senior cadets (14-17yo) and their training commitment was 60 hours per year. From the beginning there were strict warnings to those who failed to register. They could be prosecuted and even sent to Queenscliffe for detention and training if they failed to meet their responsibilities. On 23/6/15 the local paper reported how 20 youth from Essendon had been prosecuted and sent to Queenscliffe  and it quoted the police magistrate’s comments:

It is hard to understand in these times, when your brothers are fighting at Gallipoli, for you and your country, that you can be guilty of standing about and refusing to put in your drill of an hour and a quarter a week. I would prefer to be shot rather than be guilty of such conduct. I cannot imagine anything more despicable on God’s earth …

As an accommodation for those lads involved in dairying, parade times were made at 2.00 PM instead of 3.00 PM. Traveling up to 5 miles to Yarram – and back again – to attend a drill session on a Saturday afternoon, on top of your work on the family farm, would have been a major imposition.

As an extension of the antipathy directed at football and its spectators – and football was essentially a working-class code –  the newspaper report (30/6/15) of the planning meeting for the monster recruiting meeting provided another insight on how those involved in recruiting viewed their target audience. At the planning session, there was debate over where the meeting was to be held. The final decision was to hold it in Thompson’s Hall. In part, this location was the most central. Equally, the discussion on the choice of venue highlighted that this was the area where a large number of the very type they were looking to recruit could be found most nights, presumably drinking. As one of those at the planning meeting (Cr. Bland) put it:

… Thompson’s Hall was more central. Every night about sundown there was a class of men about the streets.

Another of those present (Cr. Barlow), noted that if the venue was too far away, this group … having so far to walk they would not go.

There was also some in-house banter about the type of men in this group. One joked that it was all very well to target this group but most of them would fail the medical because of their teeth (1). This prompted laughter.

It is hard not to read into all this a degree of animosity directed at the very men – their background, physical appearance, social mores and even their sport – the community’s leading citizens were targeting for recruitment.

For all the effort that went into the recruiting meeting on July 5 the results were poor. The local paper (7/7/15) reported that Only two young men of the large audience came forward as recruits … The 2 volunteers that night were reported to be Thos. H Stephens and Reg. Whitford. Tom Harley Stephens was a labourer from Mullundung. His attempt to enlist was subsequently unsuccessful. Reg Whitford had already been rejected and he was again rejected on this occasion. However it appears that his persistence paid off because he was finally accepted in February 1916.

Importantly, the dismal result of the Yarram meeting was hardly a true measure of the recruiting levels from the Shire of Alberton. In fact, July 1915 saw what was probably the highest monthly level of enlistments from the Shire. This was apparent in the last post (Post 63). Further, in terms of total enlistments to the end of July 1915, the files of the 1915 Recruiting Committee indicate that from the start of the War to that point, the Shire Secretary had recorded 198 men who had enlisted directly from the Shire. He also noted that another 40 had tried to enlist but failed the medical. As well, many men had enlisted by themselves in Melbourne. While the July meeting itself was a complete failure in terms of enlisting men directly from its audience, it was certainly not the case that men were not volunteering.

Moreover, those who planned the recruiting meeting knew that enlistment levels were high. They also knew that the pool of available recruits in the large regional centres like Yarram was, by then, very limited. In fact, as reported in the local paper (30/6/15), Rev. Cox made the point in the planning stages that unless the recruiting meeting could attract men from the townships and settlements outside Yarram the exercise would be futile:

Rev. Mr. Cox said the town had been fairly well exploited. Men were wanted from the country. If the country men were not coming in the meeting would be a frost and a failure. It did not matter what hall the meeting was held in.

There are significant tensions here. Why, for example, did the local recruiting committee hold a recruiting drive based on Yarram if the pool of available men was so limited? Also, if the local men were volunteering in such numbers at that time, why did so few – effectively none of them – volunteer that night at the special recruiting meeting?

Part of the answer to the first question is that the meeting was never just about recruiting. The content of the speeches shows that such meetings were highly orchestrated celebrations of public affirmation: of the Empire and Imperial Duty, of the moral imperative to take up arms against the inherent evil of German Militarism, of the need to seek God’s blessing and always stand in His way, of the need for the entire nation to come together and support the War effort… The closest equivalent activity was a church service, and on this particular occasion 2 of the 3 speakers were religious ministers. Some of the clergy and community elders even saw the War as the chance for men to lead better lives: to lead them away from the failings and vices of the lower orders, via the discipline of army life in the cause of Imperial duty.

Another part of the answer lay in the significant change to the concept of voluntaryism. At the start of the War the term involved a genuine choice, in that it was accepted that some men would choose to enlist – for a range of reasons – while others – for a different range of reasons – would choose not to enlist. Moreover, at the time when the AIF was being created there was no suggestion that everyone who volunteered or wanted to volunteer would be accepted. The AIF could afford to be highly selective. In this setting, those who chose to enlist were feted but those who chose not to enlist were not condemned. However, by mid 1915 the fundamental notion of choice had been removed by patriots like Rev. Cox and Rev. Tamagno. For them, voluntaryism had now become a universal obligation, in the sense that every eligible man was expected to choose to volunteer.  Effectively, it did not matter if the rate of voluntary enlistment was high because the call was that every eligible young man should enlist.

The answer to the second question as to why so few men chose to enlist at the actual recruiting meeting was also tied to the issue of voluntaryism or individual choice. In the early days of the War no doubt some men enlisted impulsively, even recklessly. But in the post Gallipoli period men volunteered with a much clearer understanding of what was involved. The decision to enlist was generally neither simple nor without complications. The impact that enlistment could have on the operation and success of the family farm has already been noted. The decision to enlist was also a deeply personal one and the individual had to balance a range of competing demands. Despite all the pressure, real and perceived, the decision was ultimately a personal choice.

Against this background, it was highly unlikely that men were going to be swayed by the orchestrated carry-on of a recruiting meeting. It was also unlikely that eligible men would even attend in the first place. They would have been very reluctant to be singled out, and lectured at and hectored by those who had appointed themselves as patriots, claimed a higher sense of morality and even professed to know the duties and responsibilities of the men in the audience better than the men themselves. Many of the men would have interpreted what was said at these meetings through a class lens that inevitably had them in the inferior position: they had to be deficient in some way – morally, socially or intellectually – because they had not yet enlisted. They were ‘shirkers’ because the ‘patriots’ on stage had called them such.  For other men, the showmanship and theatricality of the whole recruiting performance would have been too much, particularly for the types who, when it came time to enlist, deliberately slipped away and made no fuss or drew any attention.

These recruiting meetings staged as public spectacles were repeated over the War but the results, in terms of genuine, successful enlistments, never improved on the first effort. Basically, the people on the stage failed to understand their intended audience and their efforts were met with passive resistance.



(1) The poor state of men’s teeth was a common reason for failing the medical. Even with close screening men with compromised dental health did make it into the AIF, and on Gallipoli the extent of dental problems became a major medical concern.

Local doctors carrying out the initial medical examination were certainly aware of the issue of poor dental health. In fact, Dr. Pern requested that the Shire Secretary write to the AIF seeking a more definite standard:

31st May, 1915
Dr Pern, of Yarram, who is examining recruits, has requested me to ask if it would be possible for the Department to give more definite instructions with regard to the teeth of recruits. The instructions state that a recruit must have sufficient sound teeth of his own to efficiently masticate his food. Dr Pern says this is rather indefinite, and he wishes to know if the Department could state how many unsound teeth on each jaw will disqualify a recruit. Dr Pern states that when he was examining for the Navy in England this was stated in the instructions, and he believes it would be an advantage to the local doctors and the recruits if such instructions could be issued in connection with the A.I.F.

The response (7th June, 1915) would have disappointed Dr Pern:

The regulations regarding teeth are : — A volunteer must have sufficient teeth (permanent) to masticate his food properly. By this it will be seen that the teeth must be in opposition and the whole question is left in the hands of the examining Medical Officer. A certain number of teeth cannot be laid down, as by this system the teeth need not be opposite, and as long as volunteers had the number laid down he would have to be passed.

Presumably, everyone in Yarram knew that men could fail, and were failing, the medical on the condition of their teeth. In a time well before any sort of universal health service access to dental care and treatment, there would have been a strong correlation between social class and dental hygiene and this, essentially, was the basis for the shared mirth of those planning the recruiting meeting.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Material relating to the activities of the Yarram Recruiting Committee was located in several sections of the Shire of Alberton Archives.
The correspondence regarding the issue of dental standards came from:
Shire of Alberton
Archive one
File Number 703B
Recruiting & Enlisted men (Box 398)

The activities of the 1915 Yarram Recruiting Committee, including minutes of meetings, came from:
Shire of Alberton
File Number 703-0
War Files
“Recruiting Campaign 1915” (cover sheet)

63. Enlistments in the second half of 1915: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

This post continues the analysis of Post 23 and Post 57. It is part of the ongoing work to describe and interpret the essential character of all those associated with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in WW1.


The table below shows, in six-monthly intervals, the religious affiliation of enlistments over the period July 1914 to December 1915. The data is set against the religious profile – for males – for the county of Buln Buln in the Commonwealth Census of 1911.

By the end of 1915, the striking predominance of the Church of England had been well established and the rate, from 1914, had been noticeably consistent. Equally, the rate for Presbyterians – the second largest group in the 1911 census – was also consistent; and it closely matched their ranking in the 1911 census.

The picture for the other 2 major religious groupings – Methodists and Roman Catholics – is less clear. However, in this particular analysis, the level of Roman Catholics enlisting in the second half of 1915 – and this was a time of an enlistment ‘surge’ – appeared to be decreasing. This was before the trouble in Ireland and well before the conscription debate. For the Methodists on the other hand, the second half of 1915 appeared to represent a revival in enlistments.

It was virtually unknown for a man enlisting to not give a religion on his enlistment papers. Equally, it was as uncommon for someone to stray from the conventional faiths (Church of England, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Roman Catholic … ). Albert McKenzie Boswell who described himself as a ‘free thinker’ was definitely atypical.


As for the previous cohort – first half of 1915 – the majority of enlistments were to serve as reinforcements for existing or newly-created infantry battalions. The greatest single number (43) joined 6 Brigade (Battalions 21, 22, 23, 24) which had been formed at Broadmeadows between February and May 1915. The next largest group (41) were taken as reinforcements for 2 Brigade (Battalions 5, 6, 7, 8), another Victorian unit formed in 1914. And 16 men joined the newly formed 8 Brigade (Battalions 29, 30, 31, 32) which  was created in August 1915, with the battalions coming from 4 different states.

Service History

The table below shows that for this cohort of enlistments the rates for death and medical discharge remained very high. As for the previous cohorts, 25 % were either killed or died in service. Several died of meningitis even before they reached the front. 41% of the complete cohort (200) were given a medical discharge; but this figure rises to 55% when the calculation is restricted to the number of men who survived the War (149).

The complete picture of the casualty rate for this cohort was not apparent until the very end of the War – in fact, the table shows that a large number of deaths (10) occurred in 1918 – but certainly by the end of 1915 the extent of the casualty rates appearing in the media must have removed any simple notions of a short, contained war with limited casualties. The high casualty rates meant that the AIF struggled to maintain itself as a viable fighting unit. There was always the need for reinforcements.

As with the earlier cohorts, the rates of death and medical discharge are only part of the story because the table shows that they were many men who were wounded and/or hospitalised with disease or injury who were not discharged as ‘medically unfit’. Virtually no one survived the full period of the fighting without, at the very least, being hospitalised with disease or injury.


The point has been made that by the end of 1915 there was an increasing awareness of the impact of enlistment on the size of the available local labour pool. Equally, the death and disability rates highlight the fact that the impact on the labour pool was not a temporary phenomenon. War service was reducing, both significantly and on a permanent basis, the size – and quality – of the labour force. This grim fact was not lost on the workers themselves. For example, as will be shown in future posts on conscription, one of the strongest claims against conscription, made by the enlisted men serving on the Western Front, was that the level of casualties was so high that after the War there would need to be a massive migration program to cover the loss of Australian workers. The men sacrificed on the front line would be replaced by immigrant workers. Within the cynicism and anger there were flash backs to past struggles between labour and capital and even conspiracies to compromise the White Australia Policy by the exploitation of Asian labour.

By the end of 1915, the casualty rates also pointed to the extraordinarily high costs that would be involved in repatriation. The War had proved to be long-term and the number of men who were going to require on-going, specific medical – and financial –  support and general rehabilitation threatened to overwhelm the resources of the Commonwealth. In the mind of PM Hughes, this great cost would have to be covered by German reparations.


2 men in the table above – the brothers Alexander and George McLennan – both have the enlistment date of 28/5/15 which is just outside the dates for this cohort. They should have been included in the previous cohort (first half of 1915). However, as a simple accommodation, I have included them with this cohort. When all the enlistment data is combined in a single data base to cover the full period 1914-18, ‘errors’ such as this will be automatically corrected.

Similarly, the ongoing research continues to uncover men associated with the Shire but who belong to cohorts that have already been covered. Rather than go back and incorporate them in the (statistical) analysis for that particular cohort, I have simply added them at the end of the relevant tables. Realistically, this form of adjustment – as for the 2 McLennan brothers above – does not have any significant impact on the overall analysis. At the same time, it highlights the ongoing nature of the research underpinning the blog. As indicated, there will in time be a single, comprehensive data base that will bring all the data on the men together.