171. Enlistments in the first half of 1918

This post presents the table of those with an association with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in the first half of 1918. It builds on the work of 7 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
Post 144. Enlistments in the second half of 1917

The following summary shows enlistments from 1914. The total figure to the end of June 1918 was 756.

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
First half of 1918: 22

The table shows that there was a pick up in enlistments in the first half of 1918 – from 10 in the last 6 months of 1917 to 22 in the first 6 months of 1918. At the time, the call for recruits was desperate. The Allies were under great pressure on the Western Front. From the end of March to the end of April, major German attacks – and successes – on the Western Front posed the greatest threat since the fighting of 1914. In Australia, with conscription having been again rejected, the need for recruits was pressed in every conceivable way. The dire situation facing the Allies and the desperate news reports of the depleted state of the AIF did lead to a short-term boost in recruitment.

The number of enlistments also needs to be seen against the number of men who tried to enlist but failed. Roughly one-third of the potential recruits failed to meet the standard.  Typically, they stepped forward at a recruiting meeting but then failed the medical. There were at least 8 such cases: John Campbell (Yarram), Hugh Douglas (Won Wron), Frank Hutchinson (Yarram), Jack Masters (Yarram), Arthur William Murphy (Yarram), George Cameron (Won Wron) and William Hopkins (Tarra Valley). Arthur Cuffic Thomas of Jack River was 36 yo and he also failed the medical but was, at least, offered the option of joining the Home Service. There was also the case of John Henry Lewis. He must have passed the medical at Yarram because he was issued with a railway warrant but it does not appear that the enlistment was completed. Presumably, he failed the next (final) medical when he got to Melbourne.

There were also several instances where age was the issue. Alfred Joseph Baldwin of Gelliondale was too old at 47 yo. Frank Brown of Yarram was too young at 18 yo. There was also the strange case of William Henry Clemson of Tarra Valley. He claimed to be 19 yo and it appears that he even made it in to camp. Certainly he was farewelled on the basis that he had enlisted and was in camp. However, there is no service file for him and, in fact, it appears he was only 15 or 16yo. Presumably, when the military authorities found out his true age he was quietly discharged. To add to the confusion, there is a W Clemson on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Presumably, his name was included because he had been given a formal farewell and, subsequently, no one realised that he had not served or served for only a very short time.

One striking case involved Tony D’Astoli. The story, from the local paper of the time, was that Antonio D’Astoli had been born in Australia of Italian parents. In 1917 he came to Yarram and took over the confectionary-fruit shop previously run by a family called Liuxxi. It also appears that he married the same year. Then in early 1918 he was called up by the Italian authorities and he then joined the Italian army. His wife stayed behind in Yarram to run the business. He was farewelled from Yarram in May 1918 (7/5/18) and then in January 1920 (7/1/20) he was formally welcomed back to Yarram, as a returned soldier.

As before, there were men in this cohort of 22 enlistments who had previously been rejected because they had failed the medical: Thomas A Clark (1917) and William H Pattinson (1915). Similarly there were others who had enlisted previously but who had subsequently been discharged on medical grounds: Lawrence H W Beagley and Albert J Cummings. In fact, Cummings had been discharged after just 2 weeks service in March 1917, and on this second enlistment, he lasted about 3 months before he was discharged as medically unfit (22/8/18). After this his second enlistment, Beagley, the other volunteer who had previosuly been discharged, managed to serve through to November 1919. There was also the case of Benjamin R Davis. It appears that he first enlisted in June 1916 when he was 18 yo. But he then deserted and was struck off the list. Presumably because of his age – and possibly his parents had not given permission – the military authorities were not interested in pursuing him. Then in May 1918 he re-enlisted. He was formally farewelled from Yarram in October 1918.

When the War commenced in August 1914 there was a common belief that the fighting in Europe would be intense but short and that the newly formed AIF might not even reach Europe before the War was over. When this particular group enlisted in the first half of 1918 – and this was particularly the case for those enlisting from April – the assumption was that they would most definitely be joining the fighting on the Western Front, fighting that had by then raged for nearly 4 years and which showed no sign of ending. Indeed the military situation appeared to be worsening. The irony was that not one of these recruits ever saw fighting. Some were on troopships that were turned back to Australia and while most did embark they did not reach the UK until after the Armistice. Subsequently, one or two did make it to France but they worked with the War Graves Unit.

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