127. Enlistments in the first half of 1917: 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

Post 102: Enlistments in the second 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.

Movement

Once again, the cohort is characterised by a very high level of mobility.

The table below shows that only 5 of the cohort of 31 (16%) 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. Most had been born in other Victorian regional towns or centres. Three had been born interstate.

Six of the group had been born in the UK. This is more than the total of those born in the Shire itself. In the main, this group was in their late teens or early twenties and individuals would have only been in the Shire for between 3 to 5 years. The UK immigrant worker has been a striking feature of enlistments from the Shire from the very outbreak of the War. Their youth, status as single men and their British background would have made them prime targets for recruiting officers. Commonly, they enlisted at the recruiting demonstrations held in Yarram in early 1917. It would have been difficult for them to reject the appeals to their patriotism, bravery and youthfulness.

Obviously, with such a high level of mobility as a feature of the working class of the time, people also moved from the Shire. In this particular cohort, 10 (32%) are recorded on the honor rolls for local schools. Yet half of this number (5) had shifted out of the Shire before they enlisted. Either they had left with their family or they had left individually, presumably looking for work. We only know about them because the local schools went to such an effort to record the enlistments of all their previous students.

Occupation

The number of men linked to the ‘family farm’ in this cohort is only 2: Hitchcock and Jeffs, both at Carrajung. There are another 5 men who described themselves as ‘farmer’ but this was in districts outside the Shire and there is no simple way of establishing if in fact they held land in their own right or they were working as farm labourers, either on a family farm or for some other land owner. Judging solely by their ages, at least half of them were most likely working on the family farm.

The relatively low number of those ‘tied to the land’ in this cohort highlights the extent to which this particular cohort was made up of  workers – farm labourers, railway employees, blacksmith (workers), postal assistant  … – who typically followed itinerant employment. Even more high status clerical positions – for example, bank clerk – could see young men transferred from one regional centre to another.

One volunteer whose employment certainly stands out in this cohort was Evelyn Skinner, the solicitor from Foster. His link to the Shire of Alberton came through his wife, Irene Skinner, nee Devonshire. She was the daughter of Frederick Augustus Devonshire, a very substantial grazier and merchant from Yarram. When her husband went into the AIF, it appears that she returned to her parents at Yarram and hence the address of the next-of-kin appears as Yarram. At the same time, Evelyn Skinner himself must have been known locally because his enlistment and visits to Yarram, presumably to see his wife, were written up in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative. Moreover, his name appears on the honor roll for the Yarram Club. Skinner was 35 yo and he had hearing problems even before he enlisted. He was discharged as medically unfit because of his hearing in early October 1917. He was another example of someone who in the earlier stages of the War would not have been accepted as a recruit.

Age

The table below shows the ages for this cohort.

Ages of volunteers – first half of 1917
ages                      %
18-20        14       45
21-25          8       26
26-30          2         6
31-35          3       10
36+              4       13
total         31       100

The following table shows variations in the age profile from 1914 to the end of June 1917.

Admittedly, the cohort is much smaller than previous ones, but the distribution of ages does appear striking, with its concentration on the 2 extremes, in terms of enlistment, of the very young and the very old. Nearly half the group were ‘minors’ and there was a concentration of men over 30 yo. Moreover, of the 7 men over 30 yo, 5 were married. Arguably, this particular profile reflected the efforts of the likes of Lt Crowe and other recruiters. Those most likely to attend recruiting demonstrations held in the local area would have been the very young and those older, married men, who, previously, would not have been expected to enlist.

Marital Status

Seven of the men (22%) were married when they enlisted. This is a much higher percentage than for previous cohorts.

Overall

It is clear that enlistments had fallen off dramatically by the first half of 1917. Obviously, given that 700+ men had already enlisted, the pool of potential recruits was considerably diminished.  But those charged with recruiting at both the local and state level were convinced that there were still ‘eligible’ men to be recruited. However, their efforts seemed only able to draw in the very young and older – and now increasingly married – men; and in many cases the overall health of this latter group was problematic.

In some ways the experience of Leonard Moser sums up the story of recruiting at that time. He was a 33 yo engine driver. His wife was living at Bacchus Marsh. He was one of those who stepped forward at a recruiting function in Yarram in May 1917. He was passed as medically fit by Dr Rutter and was given his railway warrant and despatched to Melbourne where he passed his second medical. The problem was that he had already enlisted – at Wangaratta in March 1916 – and been discharged as medically unfit, in May 1916. He did not reveal this critical information on his second enlistment. He was again discharged as medically unfit on 3/8/17. For all the effort, the AIF was increasingly recruiting the wrong men.

References

Embarkation Roll

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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