The list reproduced below was located in the archives of the (former) Shire of Alberton. The list is headed, ‘Recruits Rejected by Local Doctors’. There was no additional information to explain its genesis. However, the second page of the hand-written document suggests that it might have been prepared for the ‘Recruitment Unit’. We know that from 1916 recruiting parties involving AIF personnel converged on Yarram to run various recruiting drives. These outside initiatives were in addition to the efforts of the local Recruiting Committee.
As has been noted previously, there are indeed many names on this list who did succeed in enlisting, after one or more additional attempts, either in Yarram or in Melbourne. Moreover, the list only covers medical rejections in Yarram. Men were rejected in Melbourne and other regional towns where they tried to enlist. It is important to highlight such qualifications and note that it is not a comprehensive list of all those who had an association with the Shire of Alberton who were rejected on medical grounds.
There is also reason for believing that the list itself is not complete. In the archives there is a bundle of enlistment forms [File 703B] which includes men – approximately 8 – who failed the medical with the local doctors (Drs Horace Pern and John H Rutter) but whose names are not on the list.
Unfortunately, there is no date recorded to indicate when the list was compiled. However, it does appear to cover medical rejections to at least the start of 1918. Consider number 126 (of 136) on the list, Gilbert Jones. Next to his entry is a note, ‘deferred by Dr Pern for 6 mns. 7/1/18’. At the time – January 1918 – Gilbert Jones was an 18 yo ‘labourer’ living and working at Jack River. Just over 6 months later he did in fact enlist (30/8/18) but it was in Hobart. It appears that he returned there to live with an aunt. When he enlisted he acknowledged that he had been rejected: ‘chest measurement’. So it appears that the list does cover rejections through to at least January 1918.
A further qualification is that there are only 10 names after Gilbert Jones and yet we know from newspaper accounts that there were more than 10 men rejected at various recruiting functions in Yarram after January 1918. Moreover, the names of the men who were rejected on medical grounds at these various recruiting functions tend not to appear on this list. Presumably it was a peremptory medical, with the rejection just as speedy. It is also possible that the medicals at these special recruiting functions were conducted by medical staff attached to the visiting recruiting unit and the local doctors were not even involved.
Putting all these facts together it seems reasonable to suggest that the list below does cover the full course of the War. However, it does not cover every case of rejection for men who were examined by the local doctors in Yarram. It appears that at the various formal recruiting functions held in Yarram in 1918 – and earlier in 1917 and even 1916 – a number of volunteers would answer the call and step forward, and then be failed – virtually on the spot – but their names were not added to this list.
All the preceding discussion points to the significant qualifications that attach to historical evidence. At the same time, it is worth noting the historical significance of the list.
Its existence shows how completely the experience of the War affected all aspects of life in the local community. In this case, the local doctors were acting as de facto recruiting agents. They were performing key roles in ensuring the supply of suitable recruits. They were hardly neutral and their ongoing work demonstrated their support of the local recruiting committee, and their own patriotism. Their local standing as key professionals in the community reinforced the general level of support for the War. Moreover, they had first hand knowledge of those who had tried to enlist but failed. They even compiled – or assisted in the compilation of – lists of these men. Such lists could be used to assist recruiters to focus more precisely on the ‘eligibles’. It is yet another example of the extent to which communities in WW1 were preoccupied with drawing up lists: of those who volunteered and served; of those who tried to enlist but were rejected; of those who applied for exemption; of those who needed to be targeted by the recruiting agents. Every male in the local community was on one of the lists. Everyone was judged by their level of support for the War.
Archives, Shire of Alberton
File: Correspondence etc of Recruiting Committee Formed April 26th 1917.
File 703B: Recruiting & Enlisted men
Accessed on 8/5/2013