208. Rev George Cox and his ‘Notes on Gippsland History’ (1)


Rev G Cox, courtesy of Yarram & District Historical Society

Several previous posts have covered the importance of the the Rev George Cox, the Church of England rector who was appointed to Yarram in 1911. Cox was one of the most important Imperial Loyalists in the local community.

Prior to his own enlistment in 1915, Cox had been actively involved with the local Rechabite Lodge and he spoke at local temperance meetings. He had supported the local Boy Scouts and had served on the committee for Yarram State School. When the War broke out he helped establish the Belgian Relief Fund Committee. Most significantly, he was very involved in the local Recruiting Committee.

Even when he was serving with the AIF, Cox maintained a connection with Yarram and his former congregation. For example, in November 1917 he returned to Yarram to preach. In his sermon, he pointed to the differences between the ‘shirker’ and the soldier in the trenches prepared to sacrifice everything. He reminded his congregation that he had always supported the ‘voluntary system of enlistments’ and he declared that he still believed this was the best method. But now, faced with such peril, Cox urged everyone to support the Hughes Government in ‘any measure brought forward which would compel the shirker to do his bit.’ That night he gave a public address in the Shire Hall to young men on the topic of ‘The National Peril’. The National Peril was the scourge of ‘venereal diseases’. There was a write up of Cox’s visit in the local paper on 21/11/17.

Cox enlisted in September 1915. In fact, Cox had tried to enlist one year earlier in late September 1914 but was rejected by the local doctors. Most probably his age would have been a factor. He was born at Edinburgh in Scotland in 1871 and was then 43 years old. Even after he enlisted, his health was still an issue and he was actually discharged (May 1916) – rheumatic fever – before he re-enlisted, but only for home service. He served with the Australian Army Medical Corps at both the Isolation Hospital, Langwarrin and the Clearing Hospital at Broadmeadows. He held the rank of a/sergeant and he was formally discharged in January 1919. Cox’s determination to enlist and, equally his determination to continue to serve in the face of poor health, would have served as a striking example to the local community.

Cox was one of the most important advocates of support for the Empire.  He used his pulpit to promote the righteous cause of the Allies, remind everyone of the greatness of the Empire and the dire challenges it faced and, in a very practical gesture, make a strong call for volunteers. For a reminder of how Cox effectively fused Christian teaching – for example, the ideal of Christian sacrifice – with support for the War refer to Post 26. Soldiers of Christ.

Another striking example of how Cox presented the Empire of Britain and the Empire of God as overlapping and mutually dependent came in the sermon he preached at Yarram on Sunday 23/5/15. It was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 26/5/15. It was just before Empire Day and it also coincided with the feast of Whitsunday (Pentecost). Cox saw the British Empire as the civil and temporal manifestation of the Heavenly (Christian) Empire:

Tonight we are met for a two-fold commemoration. We stand on the eve of Empire Day, that day on which we commemorate the birthday of Her Most Gracious Majesty, the late Queen Victoria, and we commemorate her memory because of her life and character. She has left us an ideal of what a Christian ruler ought to be. And it was during her life that the British Empire received its greatest development, and was consolidated and established. And today, Whitsunday, we commemorate the birthday of the Christian Empire.

As well as offering both Christian legitimacy and active support for the War effort, Cox provided the local community with another considerable asset. From 1911 when he arrived in Yarram to 1915 when he enlisted, Cox provided the locals of the Shire of Alberton – and the broader community of Gippsland – with a running presentation of the history of Gippsland.

Previous posts that looked at recruiting drives and formal farewells and welcomes home have examined the themes that were commonly employed in speeches on such occasions and the theme of the young soldier as a worthy descendant of the original pioneers was very common. Possibly, even without Cox’s efforts, this theme would have been paramount but there is no question that Cox had provided both the background detail and the renewed interest in the early history of the local area and that there was a natural synergy between his history articles and support for the War effort. In Cox’s world view the success of the European settlement of Gippsland mirrored, admittedly only on the small scale, the inevitable success and greatness of the British Empire. Cox and his readers also saw the very real threat of defeat in the War as the denial of the very British virtues and strengths that had enabled the successful colonisation of Australia. Defeat would represent the very reversal of Australia’s history.

Cox’s efforts as a local historian were considerable. His articles on Gippsland history – Notes on Gippsland History –  which were published regularly in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative were detailed and extensive. As indicated, they ran from 1911 to September 1915 when he enlisted. In that period there were approximately 65 articles published. The articles recommenced in 1921 and continued to 1930. In this instance I am only looking at the articles published prior to and during the War, although this also includes a handful (4) that he wrote after he enlisted.

Interestingly, the articles were written and published in the style of a contemporary blog. Cox often revised earlier texts in view of additional research on his part, or in response to comments or criticism from readers or other researchers. He actively encouraged comments on his work and appealed for additional resources. Also, the topics on which he wrote were ordered somewhat randomly and the various threads and themes in his work were not handled in a strictly sequential manner. The work was definitely in the style of a ‘work in progress’ rather than a finished history. At the same time, the overall scope and detail of his work was very impressive and he gave the community a significant picture of its history, albeit from a particular perspective: the triumph of British colonisation.

John Adams wrote a formal history of the Shire of Alberton in 1990 and in his preface he acknowledged the value of … the many articles published by the late Rev George Cox in the Gippsland Standard. The value of the articles as resource material was always recognised, and in 1997 the Port Albert Maritime Museum re-published all the articles in a 6 volume work. John Adams also wrote the introduction for the series and, again, he acknowledged the significance of Cox’s work – These articles have for many years proved to be important research material for students and historians of Gippsland history … – and also presented an overview of their scope:

From 1911 to 1930 there appeared in the Gippsland Standard, Yarram, a series of articles which went under the heading of ‘Notes on Gippsland History’. These articles, many of them up to 2000 words in length, were the result of detailed and painstaking research on the early history of Gippsland by the Anglican minister, Rev. George Cox. They covered the explorations of Gippsland, the settlement of Port Albert and the subsequent development of Alberton and Tarraville, the early squatters and the cattle trade, the first overlanders in Gippsland and the beginnings of churches and schools in the Alberton area, concentrating to a large extent on the first twenty years of Gippsland.

The other significant feature of Cox’s work was that it was undertaken under the auspices of the (Royal) Historical Society of Victoria. The society had been established only recently in 1909 and, in fact, Cox established the first branch outside Melbourne, at Yarram, in 1911.

Cox addressed the local Australian Natives’ Association (ANA) branch at Yarram in September 1911 – the paper he presented that day became the first of the published articles in the local paper – and revealed his motivation for setting up the first ‘sub-centre’ of the (Royal) Historical Society of Victoria. He was concerned that there was no definitive history of Gippsland and that the challenge was time critical because the essential material resources were fast disappearing. As well, the ‘pioneers’ were dying. He wrote often about ‘our few remaining pioneers’. Recording the past efforts of the pioneers and celebrating their successes were of paramount importance to Cox. In the same paper, he explicitly referred to the duty of honouring the pioneer generations:

Let it be clearly understood between reader and writer that this is a national work, a work of public interest, in which all may take a share, for the honouring of those – our pioneers – who have borne the heat and toil and burden of the day, and for the instruction and inspiration of those who shall come after.

This was history with a high moral purpose, a history that could teach future generations of the enterprise, values and success of the original European pioneers. It was hardly surprising that the theme of the young soldier following in the footsteps of the pioneers became so common in local recruitment appeals.

Cox’s comments ascribe a ‘national’ dimension to the work. While the history Cox pursued was definitely focused on Gippsland, he was at least conscious of the need for a sense of Australia’s national history. Also, it is reasonable to argue that in focusing on the local history of a particular area in Victoria, he was consciously offering a model for other districts and regions to employ. All such work would thus contribute to the overall national history. This idea that a national history was required and that it could be realised, at least in part, by the work of local history groups such as the one Cox had formed needs to be seen in the context that, at the time, both the idea and ideal of an Australian Nation or Commonwealth were in their infancy. Australia has just reached the end of only the first decade of Federation. Truly national history was in only its infant stages. Of course, as matters turned out, WW1 – and particularly the Anzac Legend – would come to claim an extraordinarily powerful place in the national history.

At another meeting, this time to the (Royal) Historical Society of Victoria in Melbourne in June 1914, Cox gave a rationale for the focus on Gippsland and highlighted some of the difficulties faced. The paper was covered in an article published in the local paper on 24/7/14. Cox made the case for what he referred to as ’Neglected Gippsland’. In his view, the history of Gippsland had been omitted from what national history there was at the time. Critical explorations in Gippsland had been ignored and … the opening up of the interior of this magnificent pastoral country half a century later does not seem to have been considered worth mentioning.

Cox gave several reasons to explain why the history of Gippsland had been ignored. The issue of geographic isolation was key. In fact, Cox detailed how isolated Gippsland still remained by describing how long it had taken him to reach Melbourne that very day for the meeting. In other articles Cox emphasised just how isolated the early settlements in Gippsland had been before there was an ‘overland’ route to Melbourne. This was one of the main preoccupations in his history of exploration. Another unique feature of Gippsland’s geography that had complicated the issue of identity related to the way that the focus of the settlement changed so significantly. The centre of settlement had proceeded from Port Albert to Tarraville to Alberton and finally to Yarram and Sale. As Cox put it:

The other feature which creates much difficulty lies in the fact that instead of one place forming a permanent pivot around which settlement has developed, place after place has become the centre of an ever widening and progressive area.

Cox also gave another reason why there were such significant gaps in the history of Gippsland or, from another perspective, why there was only limited enthusiasm for uncovering the past, particularly the very early European past. There were episodes and characteristics there to which people did not want to draw attention. At the same June 1914 meeting, Cox spoke about … the fact that for several years of its early existence as a pastoral settlement it [Gippsland] was a sort of no-man’s land, its inhabitants a law unto themselves, the government apparently having neither men nor money to spare on its administration.

Interestingly, Cox himself was not a local yet he took on himself responsibility for providing the local community with its history. At the time he undertook his series of articles there was effectively no readily available, written history of the area. As Cox himself noted, the history was an oral one and there were locals who knew this oral history and who, as it were, held it in trust on behalf of the community. Cox was keen to access the oral history, match with it primary sources, identify and resolve the inconsistencies and contradictions and come up with a more definitive and critically-tested, written version of the history.

Cox knew his work would stir controversies and upset vested interests but he incorporated this tension into his basic methodology, pointedly acknowledging the different perspectives. Cox would have been able to draw on his status as the local rector to add status and gravitas to his work. The fact that Cox’s version of the history of the local area presented such a glowing vindication of European settlement – set against a background of Imperial expansion, the spread of ‘civilisation’, the ‘opening-up’ of the land, and the innate superiority of White Australia – reinforced its appeal.

This is the background to the extensive series of articles that appeared in the local paper from 1911. A future post will consider the scope, emphasis and omissions of the history.


Adams, J 1990, From these Beginnings: History of the Shire of Alberton (Victoria), Alberton Shire Council, Yarram, Victoria

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

207. Complete list 6 (T-Z)

This is the final list of all those, with an association to the Shire of Alberton, who enlisted. It covers 86 individuals with surnames T to Z. This takes the overall total to 816. Strictly speaking, there were 813 men and 3 women, all nurses (Alice Cocking, Elsie Engbloom and Ethel Horton).

It is also important to acknowledge 3 additional names:

  1. John James Lord
  2. A B Nuttall
  3. Ernest George Mitchell

These men left the Shire of Alberton to work as munition workers in the United Kingdom. At least two of the three – Lord and Mitchell – had been previously rejected for the AIF on medical grounds.

The overall figure of 816 men is dramatically at odds with the total of 446 names for the Honor Roll of the Shire of Alberton (Post 24. Honor Roll of the Shire of Alberton).

Overall, there appear to be 3 critical reasons for the discrepancy. The first is that the current list includes all those identified on the many honor rolls of local state schools. Obviously, there were cases where former students had, by the time of the War, left the district and enlisted outside the Shire and even, in some cases, in another state. Notwithstanding the fact that such individuals were no longer ‘local’ in the strict sense of the term, they were clearly still sufficiently  ‘local’ to be included on the school honor roll, which sought to honour them as past students of the ‘local’ school. It is also relevant in this context that, given the young ages of enlistment for many of the cohort, even if they were no longer living in the Shire of Alberton, their association with the Shire was often very recent.

The second critical consideration is that this current list includes all those who initiated the enlistment in process in Yarram – most commonly with a medical and the signing of the attestation papers in the presence of the Shire Secretary – and who were then recorded as having been given a railway warrant to travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process. Often there were men in this group who were itinerant workers and who were not well known in the district. They might have only been there for a short period of time. It is often very difficult to uncover background information on such men. At the same time, they were definitely there in the Shire and must be included for an accurate overall picture.

The third main reason for the discrepancy relates to the accuracy of the original Honor Roll of the Shire of Alberton. There are many cases where this record failed to pick up someone who was ‘local’. For example, men who lived and worked on the boundaries of the Shire – for example, Gormandale – were sometimes omitted, even though the local paper featured a farewell or a welcome home for them. Equally, there were cases where a young English immigrant, who had been working for a local farmer for a year or less, enlisted and went overseas. Some, but definitely not all, slipped from the collective memory of the local community, particularly if they opted to be demobbed in the United Kingdom. It is also important to note that, at the time, across Australia as a whole, attempts to compile the local tally of all who enlisted were often ad hoc and not as rigorous as they needed to be. Also, after the War there was a degree of ‘war weariness’ that compromised such local record keeping.

The extensive data set that sits behind this list of 816 names is very significant. As far as I have been able to pursue the research, the data set represents the complete and comprehensive picture of the AIF involvement of the total male population of one regional area of Victoria in WW1.

This final list features the 5 Willis siblings from Alberton. Two of the brothers were killed – David and Henry – and another brother – Sydney – received a medical discharge (gsw 2/10/17).

206. Complete list 5 (P-S)

This is the continuation of the complete list of all those, with an association to the Shire of Alberton, who enlisted. It covers 165 men with surnames P to S. This takes the overall total to this point to 730.

While most of the links between the individual men and the Shire of Alberton were straightforward, in the sense that their names appeared on one of the many honor rolls or memorials, there were instances where the association is less apparent and more tenuous. For example, Harold McCheyne Raymond was born (1892) in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton. He attended Church of England Grammar School in Melbourne and Geelong College in Geelong. When he enlisted in Brisbane in 1915 he gave his occupation as bank clerk. On the face of it, there is no connection to the Shire of Alberton. However, his father was Rev. Arthur Rufus Raymond and in January 1917 this clergyman was appointed to Yarram as the Church of England rector. Rev Raymond stayed at Yarram until September 1918 and just a few months after his appointment, news reached him that his son had been killed in action (9/4/17). The details of the death and expressions of sympathy were published in the local paper. While Harold Raymond probably never  visited Yarram, his service in the AIF and his death were very well known to the people of the Shire of Alberton.

Another family – Steward – in the following list demonstrates just how involved patterns of family movement could be. Fred Steward was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1886. But then the family must have emigrated to Australia because a sister – Jane – was born in Victoria in 1889 and the younger brother – Mac –  who also enlisted, was born in Drouin in 1897. At the time both sons enlisted, the family was farming near Gormandale. This example of family immigration in the 1880s stands in marked contrast to all the other young, single immigrants from the UK who came to Australian as farm workers in the years prior to WW1. The 2 Steward brothers survived the War.

As always, if there are issues with any of the names or details I would appreciate hearing from you:


205. Complete list 4 (M-O)

This is the continuation of the complete list of all those, with an association to the Shire of Alberton, who enlisted. It covers 130 men with surnames M to O. This takes the overall total to this point to 565.

As for the previous post several characteristics stand out:

  • the number of siblings
  • the number of immigrant (UK) workers
  • the extent of mobility featured across the overall cohort

The case of John Ledger illustrates just how complex the issue of identifying individuals can be. Someone who identified himself as Francis George Moore was issued with a railway warrant in Yarram in late August 1915. At the time he said he was 19 yo and that his parents were deceased. He was a farm labourer in the district.

The enlistment was completed in Melbourne and Moore served overseas right through the War until he was discharged at the end of August 1919. One month before his discharge, Moore signed a statutory declaration stating that his real name was John Ledger and that he had enlisted under F G Moore because at the time he was under 18 yo.

With only these details, it is not possible to track John Ledger in Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria. However it is possible that the person was Harold John Ledger, born 1899. If it was this person then he would have been about 16 yo when he enlisted.

As always, if there are issues with any of the names or details I would appreciate hearing from you:


204. Complete list 3 (H-L)

This is the continuation of the complete list of all those, with an association to the Shire of Alberton, who enlisted. It covers 136 men with surnames H to L. This takes the overall total to this point to 435.

As for the previous post several characteristics stand out:

  • the number of siblings
  • the number of immigrant (UK) workers
  • the extent of mobility featured across the overall cohort

As always, if there are issues with any of the names or details I would appreciate hearing from you:


203. Complete list 2 (D-G)

This is the continuation of the complete list of all those, with an association to the Shire of Alberton, who enlisted. It covers 122 men with surnames D to G. This takes the overall total to this point to 299.

As for the previous post several characteristics stand out:

  • the number of siblings
  • the number of immigrant (UK) workers
  • the extent of mobility featured across the overall cohort

Note also the locals who served in other armies: Italy, Canada and New Zealand.

As always, if there are issues with any of the names or details I would appreciate hearing from you:


202. Complete list 1 (A-C)

Because of the numbers involved and the size of tables, I have decided to create a series of  the complete list of all those men with an association to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted. The first of the series – those with surnames A to C – is published below. It features 177 names.

it is important to understand that the list takes in a range of ‘associations’ to the Shire. Obviously, the list takes in those who were born in the Shire, grew up and attended school in the Shire, were living and working in the Shire at the time they enlisted and who, after the War, returned to the Shire. But even within this group there were variations. For example, men who were not born in the Shire but who had been living and working there for several years before they enlisted. Essentially, I have used the designation of L (local) to describe anyone who enlisted from the Shire – accepting that in addition to Yarram they might also have enlisted in Melbourne or some other regional centre – and who was living and working in the Shire at the time they enlisted.

At the same time, I have used the designation Le (left) to describe those who had a previous connection to the Shire – born there, went to school there, grew up there … – but who at the time they enlisted were no longer living in the Shire. Typically, the names of these men appear on the various local, state-school honor rolls. Some of these men had left the Shire years before. At the same time, because, typically, they had attended school in the Shire and because the age of enlistment was so young, there were many cases where the interval of time they had been out of the Shire was relatively short – short enough for people to still see them as ‘local’. As has been pointed out before, many of these (Left)  names appear on either or both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. One factor that came into play was the question of whether or not there were still family members residing in the Shire.

I have also identified as a separate category those who had come to Australia as immigrants (Imm) . Typically these were young – late teens or early twenties – and they were working as farm workers in the local district. Some had been in the Shire for a few years – in such cases I have also designated them as L (Local) – while others had only very recently arrived. They were mainly from the United Kingdom – most commonly England –  although there were several from Ireland.

The last group I have identified covers itinerant workers (IW).  This category describes the small number of men where the only piece of evidence to tie them to the Shire was the railway warrant issued by the Shire Secretary for travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process. They were obviously residing – and presumably working or looking for work – in the local area at the time they enlisted but, apart from the warrant itself, there is no other record to indicate how long they had been there.

The table covers all those for whom there is a record of war service. If the service was in the army of another (Allied) nation I have indicated this on the table. In this particular table, George Abraham Bland served with New Zealand. There is one woman in the list below: Alice Cocking who served as a nurse in both Egypt and Salonika.

The family data on the table comes from The Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria (BDM). Where the person was born interstate or overseas or where they were born in Victoria but there is no entry for them, the equivalent data, to the extent that it is available, comes from the enlistment and service records.  In these cases the data appears in italics.

Entries highlighted in red represent individuals who have not appeared on previous lists.

As always, if there are issues with any of the names or details I would appreciate hearing from you:



201. Railway warrants 1914-1918

The official designation of the list below, which I have referred to as the list of railway warrants, was:

Australian Imperial Force
List of Recruits who enlisted with the President of the Shire of Alberton
1914. 1915. 1916, 1917, 1918

The list was hand-written by the Shire Secretary (George C Black) who was delegated to issue the railway warrants for the men to travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process.

The list was obviously completed over the full course of the War. The last warrant or ‘pass’ (474) was dated 11/11/18. The list also includes additional notes: ‘killed’, ‘killed in action’, ‘re-enlisted’, ‘prisoner’ etc.

The original list is held by Yarram & District Historical Society.

In compiling the list, Secretary Black allocated numbers 1 – 474. Another 21 men whose names appear on the list, normally with the note ‘re-enlisted’ were not assigned a number. This gives an overall figure of 495 names on the list.  Again, many on the list (approx. 60 ) failed the medical in Melbourne. Also, many men enlisted in other regional centres or directly in Melbourne and therefore did not apply for railway warrant, or at least  a railway warrant from the Shire of Alberton.

For all the qualifications, the list is yet another example of a record where the names of those men who ‘answered the call’ – or at least tried to do so – were entered in a routine manner over the course of the War.

On the face of it, the list would have been a very valuable resource when it came to determining a complete reckoning at the end of the War of all those served in the AIF. As noted, in itself it was not a complete record but, obviously, it could have proved a very useful resource for any master list. However, it appears that it was not used. Such an omission seems odd because the person with responsibility for drawing up the WW1 honor roll for the Shire was the Secretary (G C Black) who also drew up this particular list of warrants issued. Whatever the explanation, the list below includes the names of 79 men who were issued with a railway warrant in Yarram, who then completed the enlistment process in Melbourne and went on to serve in the AIF, who are not included on the Roll of Honor for the Shire of Alberton. The characteristics of this group of omissions will be examined in more detail later but, essentially, the group takes in unskilled workers, young immigrant workers from the UK and itinerant workers. This group of 79 omissions again raises the issue of who was considered ‘local’.


Page 1 (numbers 1 – 26)

Page 2 (numbers 27 – 58)

Page 3 (numbers 59 – 89)

Page 4 (numbers 90 – 120)

Page 5 (numbers 121 – 152)

Page 6 (numbers 153 – 185)

Page 7 (numbers 186 – 217)

Page 8 (numbers 218 – 246)

Page 9 (numbers 247 – 276)

Page 10 (numbers 277 – 309)

Page 11 (numbers 310 – 240)

Page 12 (numbers 341 – 369)

Page 13 (numbers 370 – 401)

Page 14 (numbers 402 – 432)

Page 15 (numbers 433 – 461)

Page 16 (numbers ? – 474)



200. ‘Recruits Rejected by Local Doctors’

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.
Box 379

File 703B:  Recruiting & Enlisted men
Box 398

Accessed on 8/5/2013


199. The rejected

This post is an attempt to give an indication of the number of men who were ‘rejected’ in their attempt(s) to enlist in the AIF. The focus is on the Shire of Alberton. The 181 men are listed in the table below.

The overall focus of the research for this blog has been on the identification of all those men who had an association with the Shire of Alberton who did enlist in WW1. As already indicated the total number comes to 815. With this group of 815 there has been a comprehensive effort to identify all relevant characteristics, both of their background and their service in the AIF.

In the research there have been many cases where an individual was at first rejected on medical grounds but was then successful at a subsequent attempt. These men are included in the cohort of 815 because, ultimately, they did enlist and serve in the AIF. At the same time, there were men who, irrespective of the number of attempts they made – and in many instances there were multiple attempts – were never accepted for the AIF. This particular post focuses on such men and represents an attempt to give some indication of the number involved.

However, there are some significant problems associated with trying to research this particular group of ‘rejected’ men. The basic problem of course is that 100 years ago all efforts were devoted to identifying and commemorating those who enlisted and served, rather than those who were rejected. Moreover, while there are some records which I have been able to uncover and use they tend to be both indirect and incomplete. The records employed come from the process of enlisting men at the local level, and it is important to understand this process.

The process of enlistment for volunteers in country and regional areas has been covered in earlier posts. Briefly, in the early months of the War the process could effectively be completed at the local level. In the case of the Shire of Alberton, the locus of ‘local’ was restricted precisely to the town of Yarram. The local doctor(s) in Yarram examined the volunteers and passed them as medically fit. The individual volunteer took the oath and signed the attestation papers in Yarram. The Shire Secretary then issued a railway warrant for travel from Alberton to Melbourne so that the person could report to the AIF.

However, very early on, the AIF authorities came to doubt the ‘integrity’ of the medical examination at the local level and formed the opinion that local doctors, overly influenced by patriotic sentiment, were not as diligent as they needed to be. The AIF concern, not surprisingly, was that men with compromised health or below the set standards of the time, no matter how keen and patriotic, would inevitably end up being an unnecessary drain on resources and potentially undermine the War effort. This was particularly the case in the early months when there was no shortage of volunteers and the AIF could be selective. As already noted, when the local doctors in the Shire of Alberton found out that their medical judgement was being questioned by the AIF – along with all other country doctors – there was much outrage and even a refusal, for a time, to conduct the relevant medical examination. However, by 1915 the process effectively involved 2 medicals: the initial local one was followed by one in Melbourne itself; and the enlistment only proceeded if the second medical was satisfactory.

One of the pieces of evidence used to compile the table below is the list of railway warrants issued by the Shire Secretary. The list of railway warrants is a hand-written record entitled Australian Imperial Force. List of Recruits who enlisted with the President of the Shire of Alberton. 1914.1915.1916.1917.1918. It was created and completed by the Shire Secretary (G W Black) and it recorded the name of the recruit and the ‘date of pass’ (railway warrant). Additionally, the Shire Secretary recorded occasional comments against individual recruits such as ‘killed’ or ‘killed in action’ , ‘wounded’, ‘prisoner of war’, ‘died of illness’ , ‘rejected in Melbourne, and ‘re-enlisted’. An example of a railway warrant is included at the end of this post. A copy of the original list of railway warrants will shortly be included as a resource on the blog, under Resources.

It is essential to note that not every volunteer associated with the Shire requested a railway warrant or enlisted locally – that is, via Yarram. Many simply made their own way to Melbourne. Others enlisted via other regional centres. The discrepancy between the number of railway warrants (474) and the total number of enlistments that I have identified as having an association with the Shire of Alberton (815) points to the large number who enlisted ‘outside’ the Shire, or, more correctly, enlisted at a location other than Yarram.

The list of railway warrants issued by the Shire Secretary highlights the significance of the second medical in Melbourne. On the table below there are 64 men who did receive such railway warrants – and who therefore had passed an initial medical at Yarram and formally commenced the enlistment process – who do not have a service record and who therefore must have failed the second medical in Melbourne. Effectively, this suggests that roughly 13% of recruits who were assessed as medically fit by the local doctors were rejected, principally on medical grounds, in Melbourne. It suggests that AIF concerns about local doctors had some validity.

But this rejection figure of 13% needs to be seen in the context of the other key record that has been used to compile the table below. This second key piece of evidence is another hand-written list entitled Recruits Rejected by Local Doctors. Again, it appears to have been prepared by the Shire Secretary. It also will appear shortly on the blog under the category of Resources. It is not clear why the list was prepared or when but it appears to relate to the earlier years of the War. The list simply records the names of the 136 men who failed the medical administered by the local doctors. In about a dozen cases there is a very brief, added comment, most commonly: ‘afterwards enlisted’, ‘afterwards accepted’ and ’afterwards passed in Melbourne’. My additional research suggests that of the 136 men on the list, a significant number – 44 – did subsequently enlist. The fact that we do not know the specific period covered by this list means that we cannot give a definitive number for those who failed their initial medical in the Shire – at Yarram – over the course of the War. However, it does seem fair to argue that contrary to what the AIF authorities in Melbourne might have believed, the local doctors – at least in Yarram – did fail significant numbers of recruits on the basis of the prescribed health standards. Moreover, the situation did not change as the War progressed. Indeed, earlier posts have noted that throughout 1917 and 1918, when special, high-profile recruiting drives were held in the Shire, there was invariably a newspaper report that highlighted both the small number of volunteers who came forward and also the very high number who were rejected because they failed the medical. Even as the medical standards came down, the failure rate remained high. Overall, while Melbourne standards might have been higher, local doctors certainly did reject recruits on medical grounds.

Overall, we have evidence that for the enlistment process centred on Yarram a significant number of volunteers did not meet the medical standards, either initially in Yarram or subsequently in Melbourne. In fact, the table below, based principally on the 2 pieces of evidence described, suggests that the total figure for cases where the enrolment did not proceed is close to 200 men. But, as noted, this figure really only covers the Yarram process and many men enlisted – or tried to enlist – either directly in Melbourne or in some other regional centre (Traralgon, Sale, Toora, Warragul …. ) so, doubtless, there were others rejected on medical grounds elsewhere and the figure of 200 would have to be seen as a minimum number.

The table makes it clear that the majority of rejections involved medical concerns. At the same time, there were cases where age – too young or too old – was a related issue. With those under 21 yo there was also the issue of parental permission. With those in their forties there could be an issue with dependent children. There was also a handful of cases towards the end of 1918 where the enlistment was, effectively, no longer required. In this group there is even the case of James Wenworth Davis – the last entry on the list of railway warrants – whose pass was dated 11/11/18. Lastly, there were ‘one-off’ rejections. For example, Frederick O Gerstenberger – dated 19/7/15 – who was ‘rejected in Melbourne as father is German’.

There are 5 cases on the table below where there is a major discrepancy, in the sense that the name of the rejected person also appears on a memorial of some kind commemorating those who served. E B Couston appears on the honour roll of the Presbyterian Charge, but there is no equivalent record of military service. Similarly, S Wheildon – Won Wron – and David Ross – Blackwarry – appear on local honour rolls but there does not appear to be any evidence that either enlisted. Even more striking, there are 2 names on the table that also appear on the Honor Roll of the Shire of Alberton : Fred Toyne and S C H Emmerson. There does not appear to be any evidence that these men enlisted; although there is the outside chance that there was an enlistment under an alias.

One issue worth touching on was what it meant to be rejected. Any number of previous posts have shown that in the local community there was a strong expectation that men would enlist. Men therefore who wanted to enlist but who were rejected faced a double bind. There was the frustration that they could not enlist and ‘do their part’ and serve with their ‘mates’. They were not ‘good enough’. But there would also have been the self-awareness that they stood out in the local community as not having enlisted. Admittedly they had tried and failed, and this situation would have been known to family and friends but, equally, they would also have often been placed in the awkward situation of justifying to others the fact that they were not serving in the AIF. Moreover, how many times did they have to test their status – ‘rejected’ – by re-taking the medical. If they had been rejected in 1914 was there a community expectation they would try again in 1915, and then again in 1916…. We also know that in the early months of the War there was sympathy for those who tried to enlist but failed the medical. Names of such people were often published in local news reports. They were accorded some form of intermediate status and there was even talk of them being given some sort of ‘badge’ they could wear to show their patriotic commitment. It is also significant that in the table below there were even names included on a school honour roll – Carrajung South SS – with the designation ‘Rej’.

Even some rejected men, known in the community, were singled out for the ‘white feather’. Also, an earlier post (Post 153) has covered the story of Charles Allum an 18 year-old who was prosecuted for impersonating a soldier. In the trial it was claimed that he had tried to enlist many times but was always rejected because of a ‘weak chest’. He claimed that after he was constantly pestered to enlist he invented the fiction of being a returned soldier.

In the early days after the War when various peace celebrations were held – well before the troops returned home – rejected men were accorded special recognition. But, inevitably, as the RSL grew and matured, along with the heroic reputation of the returned men, the status and fate of the men rejected mattered less and less. What counted was war service, not rejection. It might not have been the rejected men’s fault that they had not been in the Middle East or on the Western Front; but the telling fact was that they had not been there. Besides, those in the AIF knew that many of those initially rejected had managed to get round the system and enlist. The rejected men hoped that people, in their local community and family, accepted that the rejection was genuine. The issue of family acceptance in this context is important. In the table there are 27 cases where at least one brother enlisted. Clearly, there were many families that had to come to terms with the fact that not every brother or son made the same sacrifice: some served and died on active service; some served and returned wounded or with some other major health issue(s); some served and, apparently, escaped unscathed; and others never even served because they had been rejected on medical grounds. All these variations could apply – even all in the one family – and they represented realities that could not be ignored in the years, and even generations, after the War. The fortunes of the rejected men were truly mixed.

Shire of Alberton Railway Warrant (Pass)