Monthly Archives: September 2016

84. Schooling, religion & Imperialism, Part B: Secularism

Post 68. Schooling, religion & Imperialism, Part A: a natural trinity considered the extent to which the War sharpened the perception for Irish Catholics that the state school was both Protestant and Imperialist. This was particularly the case after Easter 1916.

This post looks chiefly at Catholic attempts from 1915 to establish a school in Yarram. It highlights the significant fault lines that existed in the community, and reveals how the religious division between Catholic and Protestant was exacerbated further by the desire to create a  Catholic school. Catholic opposition to the Protestant proposal to teach the Bible in state schools was another major controversy at the time. The post provides a case study of the bitter sectarianism that became a feature of Australian society and politics as the War progressed, and also in the period after the War.

The Catholic school, St. Mary’s, at Yarram  was not opened until the start of 1918. This meant that in the period leading to the War, and for most of the War, all Catholic children in the Shire of Alberton attended the local state schools. This common experience of schooling helped to reduce the level of religious difference in the local community, at least until Easter 1916. In fact, as noted in earlier posts, over the early period of the War there was little apparent conflict between Catholic and Protestant. Catholics enlisted at rates equivalent to their numbers in the local community. Importantly, the promise of Home Rule had neutralised the key political difference between Great Britain and Ireland.

Arguably, the clearest example of the unity between Catholic and Protestant in support for the War came in March 1916 with the St Patrick’s Sports Carnival. In February 1916, Fr Sterling suggested that the proceeds from the annual sports carnival should go to support wounded soldiers. St Patrick’s Sports was the biggest sports carnival held in the Shire of Alberton and it was normally used to raise funds for various Catholic charities and works. Fr Sterling’s offer was written up in both local papers: South Gippsland Chronicle (2/2/16) and Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (9/2/16). It was seen as a very generous and patriotic offer. There was a large working committee set up to manage the event and, significantly, its membership went well beyond the local Catholics and covered all sections of the community. For example, it included at least 2 members – B P Johnson and A E Paige – from the Church of England Board of Guardians. Alfred Paige was in fact the head teacher of the Yarram State School. As well, many of the committee members also served on the local recruiting committee or other groups such as the local Belgian Relief Committee. Overall, the working committee featured some of the most outspoken Imperialists in the local community.

The total profits raised by the 1916 St Patrick’s Sports Carnival was £720 and the detailed breakdown of the day’s takings were outlined in an article in the  Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 3/5/16. The profits were divided between the Red Cross and the Victorian Sick and Wounded Soldiers’ Fund. The whole day was acknowledged as a stunning success and it was easily the single, most successful fund-raising event for the War effort staged in the Shire of Alberton to that point. As the local paper put it (3/5/16) the effort … will stand for many a year as the district’s biggest effort.

However, by the time the profits were counted the Easter Uprising in Dublin had occurred and long-standing differences were building. Moreover, it is possible that the efforts of the local Catholics in supporting the War effort via the St Patrick’s Sports Carnival were at least partly driven by the sense that there was real pressure on them to prove their loyalty and demonstrate that they understood the need to make financial sacrifice for the war effort.

There was a significant local background issue. Just 2 weeks after the local Catholic community offered the St Patrick’s Sports Carnival as a fund raiser for the War effort, the newly built St Mary’s Catholic Church was blessed and opened in Yarram. The cost of the new church was £3,500 and by the time it was opened most of the funds for it had already been raised. It was a dramatic achievement by the local Catholic community to fund and build the church in only one year. So in early 1915 the Catholics had the newest and most impressive church in Yarram. However, there must have been misgivings, if not opposition, to this development, with the argument that the time was not right for such fundraising and building programs. All attention should have been focused on the War. In his history of Catholic education in the area, Synan (2003, p. 144) makes the claim directly:

In reality World War I was not a prime time for the Yarram Parish to proceed with a new church and school. Because of patriotic fervour, the wider community took a dim view of Catholics using scarce resources to build parish facilities when all the nation’s energies were being directed towards winning a war against Germany.

However, the situation was more complex than this claim. In his account (1/3/16) of the opening of the new church in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, the editor, A J Rossiter, wrote in praise of the local Catholic community and the new church. In Rossiter’s view, other religions in the community needed to follow the Catholics’ example:

The Catholics have set an example worthy to be followed by at least two other denominations in the town. As with them, wooden structures had to suffice in the times when the people were struggling, but all that is changed. People are well off comparatively, many have grown rich, and were that zeal displayed in spiritual matters which was characteristic of our fathers, there would be no wooden churches to-day in Yarram. It is a disgrace that the very worst buildings in the town are certain churches. From Sunday dates a new era in the Catholic Church in this district. There stands on an admirably adapted site a church that is an ornament to the town, and in the minds of all devout Catholics there must abide a feeling of pride and thankfulness.

It is also worth noting that a new Anglican church was also built in Yarram in WW1. The foundation  stone was laid on 6/2/18 and the new church was dedicated on 24/7/18. So the establishment of the new Catholic church was not, in itself, a direct cause of division in the local community. However, the creation of a new church school was a different matter; and from early 1915 the Catholic community was committed to such a move.

There had been a Catholic primary school (St Mary’s) in Yarram from 1885 -1890. However without access to a Catholic teaching order it had not been able to compete against the local state school. The situation changed dramatically with the appointment of Bishop Phelan to the diocese of Sale (1913-26).

Patrick Phelan was born in Kilkenny, Ireland. He was ordained in 1888 and arrived in Melbourne the same year. He was consecrated bishop in 1913. He was a keen supporter of Home Rule. As the new Bishop of Sale, he made Catholic schooling a major focus for his work. He wanted more parish primary schools across Gippsland. In the report from his ad limina visit to Rome in 1914, Phelan noted that there were twice as many Catholic children in state schools across the diocese as there were in Catholic schools (Synan, 2003 p. 138).

Specifically in relation to the Shire of Alberton, Bishop Phelan set out his plans for a Catholic school in Yarram in a visit to the parish in May 1915. The grand scheme was described in detail in a report in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 5/5/15. Phelan made the initial focus that of the education of girls. He emphasised the importance of a Catholic education for girls … the future women who have the making or marring of the future. If they have the ladies – the real Catholic ladies – they sanctify the home. He spoke of a Catholic school in Yarram where families who lived out of town could send their daughters ‘as weekly boarders’.  Critical to the success of the plan was  his promise that he would attract an order of teaching nuns who would set up a convent and run the school. However, he also made it very clear that there was no chance of attracting a teaching order of nuns to the town until there was a new church. He was reported as stating:

He had spoken of a community of nuns, but for them they needed a decent church. So long as this disgraceful church stood to their credit – or discredit – there was no chance of a convent.

For Bishop Phelan the contract with the local Catholic community was that a new church had to be built before the convent and the school were established. As indicated, the church was funded and built in less than one year.

In early 1915 when Bishop Phelan set down this contract with the local Catholic community, relations between the various religions in the community were, apparently, unremarkable and, as already noted, there was certainly no difference in terms of support for the War. Yet, even then it did not take much to stir religious controversy. In his preaching that day, Phelan focused on what he saw as the evil of ‘secularism’ and he used France as his example. Secularism for Phelan equated to godlessness and religious persecution. In fact, secular schooling, as far as Bishop Phelan was concerned, was in large part the cause of France’s parlous situation. In the same sermon he was quoted as claiming:

The present state of France is due to the secular education imparted by a masonic and infidel government in the public schools to the last generation of children. … In his opinion the present awful war was in one aspect due to the iniquities in France, which are directly traceable to infidel education imparted in the schools. It was up to Almighty God to chastise that nation and bring her back to a right sense.

The risks involved with such sweeping condemnations of secularism and secular education became very quickly apparent. One week later (12/5/15)  in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative there was a very extensive letter from Francis Blanc – farmer from Alberton West – highly critical of both Bishop Phelan and his arguments. Not only did he attack Phelan for being hostile to the French, he actually made the claim that Phelan was a ‘friend’ of the Germans. He also aired the (conspiracy) theory that the Vatican was supporting the Germans. As well, based on his own experiences as a school boy in France in the 1860s in Catholic schools, he blasted the failings of the very education system that Bishop Phelan advocated.  Essentially, Blanc argued that in his personal experience the ‘learning’ in Catholic schools in France had covered not much more than religious dogma and indoctrination.  Further, he argued that the weakened state of the Catholic Church in France was the direct result of the Church’s involvement in politics and, in particular, its support for the restoration of the Bourbons. Finally, in praising the contemporary secular system of education in France, Blanc also noted that it was the same as the Victorian model of compulsory and secular schooling.

Two days later (14/5/15), Fr Sterling felt the need to defend Bishop Phelan with his own letter to the editor. Stirling did not engage in the argument on the claimed failures of secular education. Nor did he  tackle the issue of church-state relations in contemporary France. Rather, his primary intention was to defend Phelan against the charge of disloyalty;

I am in a position to know that the Bishop is thoroughly anti-German in the present war, and when in Ireland made several speeches to the Nationalist Volunteers urging them to go to the front.

Additionally, Sterling refuted the claims about the Pope supporting the German side, or, more correctly, the claim that the Vatican had not been prepared to support to the cause of Belgian relief. He also made a point of praising both France and the French, and he pointed to his own family’s close association with the country – at the time he had 3 siblings living and working in France. The letter stands as an urgent exercise in damage control.

Bishop Phelan’s views on the contemporary secular state and, more significantly, its State system of education represented one of the fundamental fault lines in early 20 C Australian society; and this particular episode showed just how much tension and division there was to draw on and how quickly the old enmity could flare up.

The Catholic position on education was that children’s religious growth and development were at least as important as their mastery of the conventional – ‘secular’ – curriculum. For Catholics, both components of education had to be delivered, preferably by a religious order, within a school that was distinctly Catholic in its culture and daily practices. Moreover, the local Catholic primary school was seen as a highly visible manifestation of the strength of the local Catholic parish. Bishop Phelan’s deeper message to the Catholics of Yarram in early 1915 was that they needed first to build a church that truly represented their standing in the wider community, and then establish a Catholic primary school that would develop the Catholic identity of the local children, strengthen Catholic families and serve as proof of the strength of the local Catholic community.

The Catholic position was commonly seen by many as divisive and exclusive. It effectively removed Catholic children from the mainstream, secular state school and denied that a common education could characterise Australian society. It also meant scarce resources were compromised. The push for the Catholic school occurred at the same time as the community was lobbying for a higher elementary school in Yarram.

But there was yet another tension in this overall picture from mid 1916. Under the Education legislation of the time, religious denominations had the option to conduct religious instruction classes in the state school. Even though the option was taken up by all denominations, including Catholics, it was certainly not the preferred option. For Catholics, it could only ever be a compromise solution until a Catholic school became available in the local area. But for Protestants it was also an unsatisfactory arrangements. Their preferred model was that the state school teachers themselves – and not the local clergy coming in to the school on an occasional basis – taught ‘bible lessons’ as part of the school curriculum. But Catholics saw this plan as an attempt to turn the state school into a Protestant institution.

The debate was a long-standing one but the War appeared to give it some additional momentum, in the same way that the temperance movement gained considerable traction. Indeed, the backers of bible instruction for (Victorian) state schools advocated a referendum on the issue at the same time as the referendum on early closing. An article in the The Argus on 28/6/16 reported that the (Victorian) Government wanted to make clear that it was not going to follow the advice of the Scripture Instruction Campaign Council on the timing of any such referendum. Indeed, Cabinet also made it clear that it understood how divisive the issue was in both parliament and the community, and that it believed that even those who favoured the idea of the referendum… did not favour it while the war was in progress, and in no circumstances would support at this time a proposal of that kind, which might cause great division among the people.

However, there clearly was lobbying at the time for the referendum for ‘scripture in schools’, and those in favour of the referendum had a very different take on the issue of the timing of the referendum during the War. Ironically, given Bishop Phelans’ earlier attack, the argument ran on the presumed evils of secular France. For example, J Nicholson, Superintendent, Scripture Council, wrote in a letter to the editor in The Argus on 29/6/16:

The plea for postponement of all efforts to honour God’s Word in our national education until after the war is singularly lacking in moral perspective. If ever there was a time for “acknowledging God” in our national “ways” it is surely now! France was the first to lead in “secular” education, and the banishment of God from national thought; but this war has done much to correct that blunder in France. May we do likewise.

Even though the proposed referendum was formally put on hold, it continued to be pushed and  this prompted the Catholic hierarchy to respond. On 2/8/16 the South Gippsland Chronicle reported in detail on a sermon delivered by Bishop Phelan in Sale. In his sermon, Phelan told Catholics that they could not vote – in State elections – for anyone who supported the proposal to conduct the referendum. For Phelan, the backers of the referendum were determined to teach the Protestant religion in state schools and have all taxpayers, including Catholics, pay for the arrangement:

To put such a question to a popular vote would be to ask the people as a whole to say, first of all, whether the State – which has no religion – should in future teach the Protestant religion in the State schools; and whether Catholics should be called on to pay equally with Protestants for the teaching of the Protestant religion.

He added an argument which was to take on far greater meaning at the end of 1916:

No man has a right to record a vote [in a referendum] to coerce the conscience of another.

Not surprisingly, Bishop Phelan’s position attracted criticism. Specifically in relation to the Shire of Alberton, it set off a series of letters-to-the-editor that ran for all of August and into September 1916, with the 2 key letter writers being Rev F Tamagno (Methodist) and Fr. P F Sterling (Catholic). Once again, Sterling was required to step in and defend his Bishop’s comments.

Rev Tamagno’s first letter in the South Gippsland Chronicle was on 4/8/16, just 2 days after Bishop Phelan’s sermon. Tamagno certainly did not back away from the idea of having the Bible … inculcated in the State school curriculum.

The State Government lately decided against a referendum on Scripture lessons in the schools. … We Protestants do not accept the Government’s decision as final. We must organise (like our Roman Catholic friends) to send men into Parliament who will endeavor to have the Bible firmly established in this State’s schools.

Rev Tamagno argued that such scripture or Bible lessons would not equate to the teaching of Protestantism and would not promote sectarianism. He also took exception to the claim made by Bishop Phelan in his letter that the Catholic schools were saving the Victorian taxpayers £300,000 pa. In his view the amount claimed was overblown and yet another of the Catholics’ ‘fanciful grievances’. Further, he held that if the Roman Catholics faced financial hardship it was because of the ‘arrogant claims on education’ made by the ‘Romish Church’. The implication appeared to be the naive and gullible Roman Catholics in Gippsland – and all of Victoria and all of Australia – were being manipulated by the autocratic Roman Pope in the Vatican. On the issue of Church-State relations, Tamagno certainly saw the weakness of the modern, secular state but he argued that Church and State needed to work together – as in the case of the referendum on scripture – and that Protestants were far better placed to do this than Roman Catholics who were ultimately answerable to the (foreign) Pope. However, as indicated, he did admire the political organisation of the Catholics and urged his side to adopt the same tactics.

Fr Sterling replied to Rev Tamagno, in the same paper, on 9/8/16. Sterling argued that Tamagno’s letter was a typical attack on Catholics. He claimed Tamagno wanted to represent Catholics as … a terrible nuisance always growling about their grievances. Sterling’s tone was sarcastic and in his attempt to reveal what he saw as Tamagno’s condescending tone, he put words into Tamagno’s mouth, literally, and had him claim:

We [Protestants] even gave them [Catholics] permission to enlist in the army and fight and die for their country and still they keep on grumbling.

Sterling was making the point, directly, that Catholics were not second-class citizens. Nor could their beliefs be ignored or simply dismissed as the product of unthinking or blind obedience to Rome. In fact, Sterling was pointedly critical of Tamagno’s language:

The church to which I have the honor to belong is known to its members and to most outsiders by the designation of the Catholic church. Officially we are styled Roman Catholics. This term is ridiculous and self-contradictory, but we tolerate it because we must. No gentlemen and no man of education, except a piebald bigot, ever uses such terms as Rome or Romish.

Fr Sterling also covered the main argument that Catholics were right to fight against the teaching of scripture – as part of the curriculum – in state schools because, in his view, this practice would in effect make the schools Protestant. Sterling saw the proposal as an attempt by the Protestants to get their religion into the state schools ‘on the cheap’.

As indicated, this controversy continued in the local press for at least 6 weeks. It would have been impossible to ignore.

The events and positions described in this post show clearly that, leaving to one side both the complexities of the broader conflict between Irish Nationalism and British Imperialism, as played out in Australia, and the divisive issue of the first conscription referendum in late 1916, there was considerable potential for suspicion, mistrust and outright enmity between Catholic and Protestant in the local community, with much of this tied to very particular interpretations of ‘secularism’, particularly in the context of education. As much as people in the local community worked to promote a sense of unity in the face of the War, the fault lines between Catholic and Protestant were very substantial and undeniable. In this particular case, the commitment by local Catholics to reject ‘secular’ education and establish their own school, and at the same time deny Protestant influence in the state school, definitely compromised the ideal of a united local community.


Synan, T 2003, A Journey in Faith: A History of Catholic Education in Gippsland 1850-1981, David Lovell Publishing, Melbourne

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

The Argus



83. Enlistments in the first half of 1916: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

This post continues the analysis of Post 23: Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history, Post 57:  Enlistments in the first half of 1915: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history and Post 63: Enlistments in the second half of 1915: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history. It continues 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 gives the religious affiliation of all those enlisting from the Shire over the period August 1914 to the end of June 1916. It also shows the equivalent figures for males in the 1911 Census for the county of Buln Buln.

There is no major variation evident in the figures. The broad religious profile of the community continued to be matched with enlistments. However, as noted earlier, 75% of enlistments in the first six months of 1916 occurred between January and March. If the situation in Ireland did affect Roman Catholic enlistment levels then this will only be evident from the next six-monthly analysis (July – December 1916).


As for previous cohorts, the great majority of men (66%) were taken on in the infantry battalions of the AIF. The largest single group (36) were sent as reinforcements for 6 Brigade – Battalions 21-24 – which had been formed in Victoria in early 1915. The second largest group (31) went to the newly formed (February 1916) 10 Brigade which was made up of 3 battalions from Victoria (Battalions 37-39) and one from Tasmania (40 Battalion).

Service History

The comparative table shows an apparently significant drop in the death-in-service rate for this particular cohort. But at this point it would be risky to make too much of this. Admittedly there is a certain logic that holds that the later men enlisted in the AIF, the less – theoretically at least – was their exposure to battle and death. But length of service could only have been one factor. For example, the units the men served in and the particular battles they faced must have been other critical factors.

In this cohort – the first half of 1916 – the number of men who were wounded at least once over the course of their service was 89 or 49%. The equivalent percentage for the previous cohort – those who enlisted in the second half of 1915 – was only 39.5%. At the same time, this previous cohort was the one with the higher death rate. The difference raises the question of whether, apart from chance – one man was shot and wounded, while the one next to him was shot and killed –  there were, over time, other factors involved in determining the nature of casualties in battle. For example, did changes to tactics or technology or medical practice reduce the level of deaths?  And was there some sort of trade-off that saw a lower death rate but, correspondingly, an increase the number of wounded?

Arguably, the number of variables involved makes it virtually impossible to make sense of – and certainly quantify – such situations. However, the more important observation is that the level of casualties continued at shocking levels. Specifically, for this latest cohort, apart from the figure already given of 49% wounded, 66% were hospitalised at least once over their period of service. As well, 41.5% of the cohort were discharged as the result of being wounded or being assessed as medically unfit – from disease or injury – to serve in the AIF. In several cases they were discharged in Australia, not long after enlisting. In other cases it is clear that there were serious medical consequences associated with the increasing number of mature men – in their thirties and forties – being accepted in the AIF.

Further, if you look at just those who survived the War – exclude those died on active service – the percentage in this cohort who were discharged on medical grounds increases to 50%. In other words, for this particualr cohort of volunteers, 17 % died on active service and of the remainder who survived the War, 50% were discharged with serious medical problems.

As already highlighted, the labour pool in the Shire was being dramatically depleted by enlistments. These dramatic casualty figures show that after the War the same labour pool would continue to be seriously depleted, and its overall health would be severely compromised.  It was hardly surprising that in the conscription debate many workers , and also front-line soldiers, feared that a vote for conscription would undermine the future of working-class Australia.

Another feature of this particular cohort is the number of men (6) who are charged with desertion. There is often confusion in such cases, and it is possible that the individual concerned did in fact re-enlist at some point, under a different name. Most of these cases involved the men, often only 18 or 19, going AWL in Australia before embarkation. However there is the more serious case of John William Steward who went missing in France in March 1918 and did not hand himself in to the military authorities in the UK until  November 1920.

Albert John Godfrey was a past student of Alberton State School. At the time he enlisted he was working as a miner in WA. He was a sapper in 1 Australian Tunnelling Company. He died of wounds on 22/7/17 but the wounds were ‘self inflicted’. A court of enquiry convened in February 1917 found that shot himself ‘whilst in an unsound state of mind’. He shot himself in the face. Witnesses at the enquiry reported him as ‘melancholy’ and ‘not right in the head’.

Lastly, this cohort also featured the extraordinary case of Alexander McDonald Atlee. Private Atlee was hospitalised in England in November 1916 suffering from ‘trench feet’. It was at this point that he lost his identification disc. Or perhaps it was stolen. Incredibly, in 1921 the same disc was found on the body of an Australian soldier exhumed in France. It was assumed to be the body of someone killed at Passchendaele. There was no other identification on the body, just Atlee’s lost disc. When the Graves’ Registration Unit established that Atlee had survived the War they contacted him requesting information on the disc. He could only state that he had lost the disc in England in November 1916 before returning to France. Why someone would carry the disc of another soldier as their own disc – or at least have it as the only disc on their person- must remain a mystery; but there was obviously more than mere chance or coincidence involved.


Overall, the characteristics established for the earlier cohorts of enlistments continued into the first half of 1916. The most significant difference appears to have been the changing age profile of the volunteers and the medical compromises associated with this trend towards accepting older volunteers.

82. Enlistments in the first half of 1916: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

This post continues the analysis, in six-monthly intervals, of several key characteristics of all those with a link to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in WW1. The relevant previous posts in the sequence are: Post 22: Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status Post 56: Enlistments in the first half of 1915: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status and Post 62Enlistments in the second half of 1915: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status.

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. For a more detailed account of the methodology and sources refer to the earlier posts.


The same high levels of mobility of the rural working class are evident with this cohort of men who enlisted. Clearly there are many who were born in the Shire, went to school and grew up in the Shire and who were living and working in the Shire at the time they enlisted. But there were others who were born in the Shire and went to school there but who, by the time they enlisted had moved – or their family had moved – to another part of Gippsland, or Victoria, or another state. Then there were those who had moved into the Shire and were living and working there at the point they decided to enlist and who completed their medical examination in Yarram and were given their railway warrant by the Shire Secretary. Some of this group might only have been there for months or even weeks. Nonetheless,  there were definitely in the Shire when they enlisted.

Once again, there is a large group of men (25) who were born in the United Kingdom. However, the profile of this group appears to be changing. Where before they were predominantly young (18-21 yo), single immigrant farm workers who had only been in Australia for a short time, now there are many who are older – some are in their forties – and in some cases even married. Enlistment by the end of June 1916 was picking up men who had been born in the UK but living and working in Australia for many years. It appears that the more recent, young and single, immigrant workers who had come to Australia immediately before WW1 had, by this point, largely enlisted. The pressure that these young men were under to enlist has already been noted.


As for all previous cohorts, the largest single occupational group (61) is made up of those who describe themselves as either ‘labourer’ or ‘farm labourer’ or ‘farm worker’. There is a ‘bank manager’ (Richard Jeffrey Vicars Foote) but overall the professional/proprietorial/managerial class is hardly represented, apart from 4 school teachers. Overwhelmingly, as before, the cohort is rural working class.

There appears to be an increase in the number of those enlisting who came from the family farm. In this cohort of 183 there were 40 cases where there was evidence – the most common evidence comes from the Shire of Alberton Rate Book – to link the individual to the family farm, whereas in the previous cohort of 200 there were 29 such cases. Again, this linkage is somewhat arbitrary and the table shows that many of those that I have linked to a family farm described themselves as ‘labourer’. Equally, there are others who described themselves as ‘farmer’ whom I have qualified to ‘family farm’.  Clearly there were cases where even though the family held and worked a small acreage, the sons also worked for other farmers in the district.

There are approximately 12 cases where the occupation was given as ‘farmer’ but there is insufficient evidence to determine if the individual was a farmer in his own right – owned the land and farmed as the sole proprietor – or employed the term to describe working for someone as a farm labourer. However, the more important point is that the number of independent, sole farmers was minimal and it was really only those associated with family farming who enlisted.


The table shows the ages for this cohort.

Ages of volunteers – first half of 1916
ages                       %
18-20        37       20.2
21-25        67       36.6
26-30        41       22.4
31-35        18         9.8
36+            20        11.0
total        183      100

The following table shows that the age profile of those enlisting had changed by June 1916. Whereas in 1914, 73.1% of local enlistments came from those aged 25 yo or under, by June 1916 the figure had dropped to 56.8%. Within this shift, there was a marked increase in the number of enlistments from those over 36 yo. In fact, in this particular cohort of the 20 men aged 36 yo or older, 10 were 40 yo or older. Further, some in this sub-group misrepresented their age. For example, George Charles Hall gave his age as 42 yo but the records indicate his true age was 47 yo.

Henry John Gooding was another who lied about his age. When he enlisted in March 1916 he claimed to be just 34 yo but when he was discharged on medical grounds in November 1917 his ‘true age’ was given as 48 yo. Inevitably, there were significant medical risks associated with the enlistment of ‘older’ men. This will be highlighted in the next post which looks more closely at the men’s service history.

Marital Status

The table also shows another increase in the number of married men enlisting. In the cohort for the second half of 1915 the figure was 23 or 11.5% but for the first half of 1916 the equivalent figures are 30 and 16%. These figures do not include the small number of men who married some time between enlistment and embarkation, and those who married in the UK.

In terms of those who were married with family, the case of Wlliam Hickey is rather tragic. He was a farm labourer from Alberton West. When he enlisted at age 41 yo he was a widower with 3 children. He was killed in action 9/10/17. At the time he enlisted it appears that the children were still young. Certainly, one of them, Lawrence, was no more than 9 yo.

Private Hickey gave his sister – Mrs Johanna Harrop –  also living at Alberton West, as his next-of-kin. His parents were deceased so there were no grandparents on his side of the family to help with the children. It is not clear if the 3 children went to live with their aunt when the father enlisted. She did describe herself as their guardian in 1922 when she had to deal with the AIF over the question of the father’s medals.  However, the children do not appear to have been living with her at that point because she gave Lawrence’s address as St. Augustus Orphanage, Geelong. Lawrence was then 15 yo. Perhaps the children were with her until the death of the father. Whatever the situation, there is no doubt that the father’s enlistment and subsequent death would have had led to considerable hardship for the children.


The surge in enlistments post Gallipoli certainly continued into 1916. However, a closer look at the dates of enlistment in the table shows that 135 of the 183 enlistments (75%) took place in the first 3 months of 1916. From April 1916, the rate of volunteers was slowing. The table also shows a shift in the overall age profile of the men, with those over 25 yo increasing in number; and some considerably older volunteers coming forward. Equally, the number of married men was increasing. The number of young, immigrant rural workers who could enlist was also declining. These trends suggest that in the Shire of Alberton the pool of ‘ideal’ volunteers – young, single and healthy – had contracted significantly.

What remained constant was the fact that the overwhelming majority of volunteers came from the rural working class. The second largest group of volunteers was made up of the sons who came from family farms; and in many instances there was overlap between these 2 groups, with some family farming so limited that the sons also worked as agricultural labourers on other farms.

By the end of June 1916, the amount of labour that had been withdrawn from the local economy was so great that the prospect of conscription would, inevitably, be seen as a direct threat to the farming community.


81. Enlistments in the first half of 1916

This post presents the table of all those with an association with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in the first half of 1916. It builds on the work of 3 earlier posts, Post 21: Enlistments to the end of 1914: identifying the ‘locals’ , Post 55: Enlistments in the first half of 1915 and Post 61: Enlistments in the second half of 1915.

It is the fourth six-monthly profile of enlistments and the 183 men in this particular profile take the total number of those with a link to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted – from August 1914 to the end of June 1916 – to 619.

As for the previous cohorts, there are at least another 10 men whose names appeared on various honor rolls or memorials but who, as yet, cannot be identified. In such cases, the most common problem is that the only piece of evidence is the name, which, by itself – eg. Williams or Robertson –  is not sufficient to identify the individual. Research on identifying such men continues.

There are also cases of men who can be identified but whose service history is hard to uncover or interpret. Samuel Charles Hammond Emmerson is an example. He was on the electoral roll as a farmer of Binginwarri and he also appeared in the 1915 Shire of Alberton Rate Book. He was issued with railway warrant number 324 on 22/3/16 for travel to Melbourne to complete his enlistment. The local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – reported his enlistment in a short piece on 7/4/16. It also reported, on 14/4/16, the farewell he was given at Fairview (Hiawatha). However it then reported (19/5/16) that he had been turned down in Melbourne at the final medical assessment. There is an MT 1486/1 (1916-1916) for SCH Emerson which records only that he was 40 yo and had been born at Foostcray. This certainly suggests that his enlistment did not go ahead. Moreover, he does not appear on the Embarkation Roll and nor is his name on the Nominal Roll. Overall, there is no evidence that he served in the AIF. Yet, strangely, his name – Emmerson S C H – appears on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. It also appears that he was involved in the Soldier Settlement scheme in the local area at the end of the War. For present purposes, he has not been included in the table.

Another person not on the table is Frederick Toyne. He was given railway warrant 294 on 1/3/16. The local paper subsequently covered his farewell (26/4/16) from the district and noted that he had been awarded the Shire of Alberton Medallion. This farewell would have been after he had been in camp for some weeks. But for some reason he must have been discharged because his name is on neither the embarkation nor nominal roll. There is no record of any service. It appears he tried again, unsuccessfully, to enlist in 1917. Moreover, in October 1916 the local paper carried a story (6/10/16) about him being convicted of being on licensed premises ‘during prohibited hours’ so he was clearly back in the Shire and not serving in the AIF. Yet, for all the evidence that he did not serve in the AIF, his name is included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.

There is also the case of John James Lord. He was a carpenter in Yarram and he was given his railway warrant for travel on 25/2/16. His enlistment did not go ahead but there is no indication as to why. Most likely, he failed his medical in Melbourne, but there is no formal record that this is what happened. However, he was  still very keen to serve because there was a report in the  Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 9/5/17, more than one year later, that he was in fact leaving for overseas – to the UK –  as a volunteer munition worker. While he is not included on the table below, on the grounds that he did not serve in the AIF, there was another munition worker in the UK who is included. Leslie Henry James Hole, who had been born in Bristol, England, enlisted in January 1916 and served overseas but he was discharged in July 1918, as medically unfit, in the UK. On discharge he took up work as a munition worker in the UK . After the War he returned to Australia and applied, unsuccessfully it appears, for the Soldier Settlement scheme.

These brief examples highlight some of the difficulties in creating the definitive table of all those with a link to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted and served in the AIF.

For most men, as the table shows, the links are obvious and plentiful, but for others the evidence is very limited – perhaps nothing more than a railway warrant issued by the Shire Secretary – and it can be hard to interpret. Yet it is this latter group – most commonly, itinerant rural workers – who are so important in establishing the complete picture of how the War played out in this particular rural community. Paradoxically, the group easiest to miss or ignore is the most important one when it comes to uncovering the social history of the complete community.





As before, the following records are the ones used in the table to establish the connection to the Shire:

The Shire of Alberton Honor Roll

The list of railway warrants issued by the Shire Secretary

The Shire of Alberton Medallion

The Shire of Alberton War Memorial

The honor rolls of state schools in the Shire of Alberton

Community honor rolls in the Shire of Alberton

Newspaper accounts (Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative)