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.

Movement

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.

Occupation

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.

Age

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.

Overall

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.

 

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