This post presents the table of those with an association with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in the second half of 1917. It builds on the work of 6 earlier posts that have analysed enlistments, in six-monthly intervals, from August 1914:
Post 21: Enlistments to the end of 1914: identifying the ‘locals’ ,
Post 55: Enlistments in the first half of 1915 ,
Post 61: Enlistments in the second half of 1915
Post 81. Enlistments in the first half of 1916.
Post 101. Enlistments in the second half of 1916.
Post 126. Enlistments in the first half of 1917.
The most striking feature of the table below is the very low number of enlistments. Admittedly, there could be one or two men who have been missed. For example, there was a George Davis who was reported in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 1/7/17 as having enlisted, but it has not been possible to trace him. As well, there were 3 men – John Henley, Arthur Lindseay and Thomas Race Pryke – who were given railway warrants by the Shire Secretary to travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process but for some reason – most likely they failed the second medical – the enlistment did not go ahead. The last of these men – Thomas Race Pryke – was a labourer of Alberton, in his forties. His wife had recently died and there were 6 children with the youngest an infant. It is not hard to see why his enlistment did not proceed.
The following summary shows enlistments from 1914. The total figure to the end of 1917 was 734.
To the end of 1914: 138 enlistments
First half of 1915: 102
Second half of 1915: 200
First half of 1916: 183
Second half of 1916: 70
First half of 1917: 31
Second half of 1917: 10
The table shows how enlistments declined dramatically from mid 1916. The most obvious interpretation for the decline is that the pool of available recruits from the Shire of Alberton gradually disappeared. Indeed, a constant claim was that the Shire of Alberton – as for the rest of Gippsland, and country Victoria generally – had proudly and enthusiastically done its share and there was effectively no one – or hardly anyone – left to enlist. The problem was Melbourne with all its ‘shirkers’.
Importantly, there was always the next generation to appeal to: the boys who were only 15 or 16 years old when the War started. Of the 10 ‘men’ in this group, six were 21 years or younger and 2 were 19 yo and one was 18 yo.
The cohort of 10 is very small, but it is interesting that half of them had at least one brother who was already serving in the AIF. ‘Sibling’, as opposed to ‘imperial’ or ‘national’, loyalty would have been a factor in enlistments.
Again, the ‘quality’ of recruits was also down. The 3 oldest men in the group – R C Godfrey (34), W H Mason (31) and E H Gay (22) – had all been previously rejected on medical grounds. Even one of those not yet twenty-one – K A Neilson (19) – had been rejected (‘chest measurement’).
The numbers show that by the end of 1917, the system of voluntary enlistment had effectively finished in the Shire of Alberton. While it had not been formally abandoned or closed down, it was no longer capable of attracting recruits, principally because the available pool had dried up. This was the background to the second referendum on conscription.