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.





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