102. Enlistments in the second 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

Post 62Enlistments in the second half of 1915: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status.

Post 82: Enlistments in the first half of 1916: 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.


As was pointed out in the last post – 101. Enlistments in the second half of 1916 – this latest cohort is significant in that the number of men is markedly lower than earlier and, also, the general health of those enlisting is poorer.

At the same time, some characteristics continue. Importantly, the same high level of mobility is evident.

The table below shows, again, that many of the men commemorated as ‘locals’ who had been born in the Shire of Alberton and/or attended school in the district had in fact left the area before they enlisted. Only 18 or 26% of this cohort of ‘local’ men who enlisted had been born in the Shire of Alberton.The majority of the group had been born outside the Shire but moved to it at some point before they enlisted. The length of time they had been in the Shire before they enlisted was variable and could have been very short.

Seven of the group had been born in the UK. The immigrant worker has been a feature of the earlier groups. However, of the 7 cases here, only 5 can be described as immigrant, English farm workers, indicating that this specific sub-group had, by the end of 1916, significantly declined in number.

Interestingly, in this cohort there is a local variation on the immigrant farm worker. Clarence Sargood Meilke was issued with railway warrant number 393 on 13/10/16 by the Shire Secretary and he used it to travel to Melbourne where he formally enlisted on 22/10/16. He was 18 yo and single. He gave his occupation as labourer. His parents were dead and he gave his guardian as Miss Cecilia Black of Russell Street, Melbourne. This lady was in fact the manager of the ‘Presbyterian and Scot’s Church Neglected Children’s Aid Society’, based in Russell Street. Presumably, young Clarence had been sent to the country for farm work and it was there working in the Shire that, like so many of the other young lads working on farms, he decided to enlist. The permission for him to enlist was given by the same Miss Black.

The individual cases that this, and the earlier tables, reveal are inevitably complex and often difficult to interpret. However, overall, the most striking feature of the ‘big picture’ remains the distinctive mobility of the rural working class. What was significant about WW1 was that the tumultuous events of the time encouraged rural communities to identify and commemorate all the ‘locals’ involved. The efforts that people went to at the time to identify all such ‘locals’ have given us a very rich picture of the dynamic mobility, 100 years ago, of the rural working class. The table below again shows just how common it was for individuals and families to move: within the district, to other rural districts within the same state, to other states; and from country to city and city to country.


The number of men linked to the ‘family farm’ is high. For the last cohort the figure was 22% whereas for this cohort it is 37%. Possibly this reflected increased pressure throughout the community, with all the debate over conscription, for everyone to do their ‘share’, even where this was going to take labour from the family farm. Possibly by this stage in the War there was effectively a second wave of enlistments from family farms: after the initial sacrifice at the start of the War, farming families accepted by late 1916 that even further sacrifice was required from them.

At the same time, the figure for enlistments from family farms could be inflated. The basic approach has been to identify the family farm whenever there is evidence in the shire rate book that the father – or some other member of the immediate family: mother or sibling – held land, no matter how small the acreage. This covers cases from those where the father held several hundred acres, was recognised locally as a farmer or grazier, and the son was working with the father and described himself as a ‘farmer’, to those cases where the father held as few as 15 acres, was not easily recognisable as a local farmer, and the son described himself as a ‘farm labourer’, and was possibly working, at least in part, on another farm for wages. Or perhaps the son was doing labouring work in the town. Between these extremes there were many possible permutations. While some of the arrangements could be very complex, the overall intention with the research has been to identify all those cases where there is at least some evidence that the family was operating as an economic unit based on a land holding, no matter how small.

The case of William Smith highlights just how difficult it can be to establish family farming operations. He was definitely local and enlisted from Yarram. He gave his occupation as carpenter/labourer. Because he died on active service his will appears in his service file. This will states that he, together with 2 brothers and his father, held shares in farm land and property at Binginwarri. In the local rate book there is a Wm. Smith who might have been his father. He had a very small holding of  8 acres at Alberton West. But this person’s occupation was recorded as both ‘carter’ and ‘labourer’. Overall, in this particular case, the evidence for William Smith being involved with a family farm is not compelling but it does suggest how complex the relationships between labour and land could be.

Once again there is a large number of men who simply described themselves as ‘labourer’. There is also the occasional ‘teacher’ and ‘clerk’.  The 2 professional recruits in the cohort were Father Sterling, the local Catholic priest, and the Dr Vernon Brown. Dr Brown had attended Devon North SS. He was a grandson of Mr and Mrs D T McKenzie, one of the original pioneering families of the district. His father had worked at the Bank of Victoria in Yarram. The Brown family was very well known in the district.

There are 7 cases where the occupation was given as ‘farmer’ or ‘dairy farmer’ or ‘grazier’ but there is insufficient evidence to determine if the individual was a farmer etc in his own right. In most cases it is likely that it was a family farm arrangement. However there are at least 2 cases where it appears that the individual was a ‘farmer’ and that he actually gave up his farm to enlist.

The first case involved Charles Frederick Wilkinson. He was 25 yo, single and from Madalya. The local paper (22/9/16) covered his farewell from there. He gave his occupation on enlistment (26/9/16) as ‘labourer’ and he was also listed as ‘labourer’ on the electoral register. However, according to the rate book he held 5 acres of land at Madalya/Jumbuk and there is no indication of any other family member involved. Admittedly, the land holding was very small and he might not have been even working it, but it is clear that he was more than a ‘labourer’.

The second case is more definite. Clarence Stuart McLeod was a dairy farmer from Calrossie. At the time he enlisted (20/9/16) he was 39 yo and single. His parents were dead and his next-of-kin was a sister. He had been rejected earlier and was one of those who undertook surgery (hernia) so that he could pass the medical. His efforts to enlist were acknowledged in the community and, at his farewell, he emphasised everyone’s responsibility to enlist.  According to the rate book he had 98 acres at Stacey’s Bridge. On the electoral register he was listed as a farmer of Calrossie. Local newspaper reports of the time (18/8/16 and 25/8/16) detail how, after enlistment, he had given up the lease of the land and was selling off all his stock and plant. He was wounded overseas and repatriated to Australia – to Yarram – and discharged as medically unfit (27/7/18). Cases like this (McLeod) where the individual farmer gave up everything to enlist were rare, but the first case (Wilkinson) suggests that those ‘farmers’ with less to hold them to the ‘farm’ would have found it far easier to walk off the land.

There was one woman included in the cohort. Vera Norton was a trained nurse. She had been working in the Base Hospital at St Kilda but she was known in the district.


The table below shows the ages for this cohort.

Ages of volunteers – second half of 1916
ages                      %
18-20          8       12
21-25        32       46
26-30        19       27
31-35          9       12
36+              2         3
total         70       100

The following table shows variations in the age profile from 1914 to the end of 1916. Overall, it is apparent that the age of enlistment continues to increase. The decline in very young enlistments (18-20 yo) for this particular cohort is striking.

Marital Status

Nine of the men (13%) were married when they enlisted and 3 of these married men were killed or died on active service. Another man married immediately after his enlistment and there were another 3 men who married in the United Kingdom.


The surge in enlistments post Gallipoli had definitely finished by the second half of 1916. This was the period of the conscription debate and desperate calls for enlistments to reinforce the AIF overseas. In the Shire of Alberton, neither the threat of conscription nor the appeals to patriotism had much impact on enlistment numbers. At the time, some argued that the imminent introduction of conscription discouraged enlistments because men held back on the basis that they would shortly be compelled to join. Equally, others argued that men were keener to enlist as volunteers than be forced by a system of conscription. The reality appeared to be that the potential pool of enlistments had contracted significantly. Moreover, the quality of the pool – in terms of health and general fitness – had also diminished considerably. Of this cohort, at least 21 men (30%) had been medically rejected, at least once, before their individual enlistments were successful.



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