124. Yarram Recruiting Committee – first half of 1917. Part B

As indicated in the previous post, the major activity undertaken by the Yarram Recruiting Committee in the first half of 1917 was the memorial service held in Yarram on Sunday 20th May 1917. It was followed by a recruiting meeting or ‘demonstration’. The memorial service was staged at the showgrounds at 2.00 pm and the recruiting meeting was held that evening.

According to the reports in both the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative and the South Gippsland Chronicle on 23/5/17, the weather on that particular Sunday was not good. Light rain fell throughout the service and people took shelter in the grandstand. Yet despite the weather, both papers noted that approximately 1,000 people attended the memorial service and the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative noted that the crowd would have been double if the weather had been better. It emphasised the significance of the occasion:

Never has this district been called upon to take part in such a solemn service; never again, perhaps will a similar scene be witnessed.

As per the last post, the idea for the memorial service and the recruiting demonstration had come from Lieutenant Crowe. In his plan, the memorial service itself was intended, very deliberately, to promote recruiting. Lt Crowe had raised the plan directly with the Yarram Recruiting Committee and the committee agreed. He had also organised the speakers – both the religious ministers and the recruiting officers – for the occasion and, most importantly, he had also organised for the AIF Band to attend. His role was acknowledged in the local papers. The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative noted the plan thus:

We may add that it was at the instigation of Lieutenant Crowe that the service was held, the object, of course, being to help voluntary recruiting.

For its part, the Yarram Recruiting Committee undertook to advertise the event, prepare the promotional material, organise the venues and take care of the transport and accommodation for the visitors, including the band. The committee also organised a 60-voice choir of locals for the memorial service. The whole business was organised within a very short time.

The arrival of the AIF Band created much interest. The members were met at the Alberton Railway Station on the Saturday (19/5/17) and conveyed to Yarram in the cars of locals. That night they performed at a fund raiser for the Red Cross. On the Monday after their duties, they were taken to Port Albert. The plan was that they would be taken out sailing – to Sealers’ Cove – but the weather was too dangerous so they settled for a day of fishing closer in. That night they put on another concert at Port Albert. They were received enthusiastically wherever they went. Their presence certainly drew attention to the memorial service and the recruiting drive.

Memorial Service

The memorial service is worth close attention because as we have seen previously – see, for example, the efforts of local ministers such as Rev George Cox ( Post 26. Soldiers of Christ) – the extent to which Protestantism was employed to support the War effort was striking. Protestantism was the religion of the Empire. It had always offered unqualified support for recruiting and it had forcefully advocated the Yes vote in the 1916 conscription referendum. Moreover, by 1917 when the loss of life and suffering brought on by the War were overwhelming local communities, it was Protestantism that sought to justify the ‘sacrifice’ and soften the sense of loss and pain.

The memorial service commenced at 2.00 pm. The ‘congregation’ had first gathered at Thompson’s Hall and then the AIF Band had led it to the show grounds.

The leader of the service was Chaplain Ray, one of the outside team organised by Lt Crowe, and the first item was the opening hymn – ‘O God our Help in Ages past’ -performed by the band and the 60-voice choir. The spectacle would have been very impressive and stirring. Rev A Raymond, the local Church of England minister – his son had been killed in action in April 1917 – read the first prayer, which was followed by another hymn, ‘Lead Kindly Light’. Then it was the turn of the local Presbyterian minister, Rev A Tamagno, to read a lesson. This meant that 2 of the local Protestant ministers had been involved in the service at the very start, and this pattern was repeated at the end of the service when the benediction was given by Rev Walklate, the local Methodist minister. However, on the day, the local clergy played only supporting roles. But it was clear that they fully supported the service.

Chaplain Ray took as his text John 18-11: ‘The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it.’ The South Gippsland Chronicle reported at length on his sermon. Christ had prayed that the cup might pass him, but it had not and … Christ drained it to its dregs, therefore we should also do this. ‘Our’ sacrifice – the death of soldiers, the pain and anguish of those left behind – had to be borne the same way that Christ had carried his suffering. People were at one with Christ’s suffering. They were not alone. Cox in earlier sermons had laboured the theme of the Christian soldier as the embodiment of Christ. Now Christ’s suffering was being extended to cover the grieving families and the wider community.

To give the impression of personal connection, Chaplain Ray spoke as though he had known the local men. He spoke of them as …brave lads from this district who had offered to make the supreme sacrifice. He claimed, He had the pleasure of meeting many of them in camp, and they had proved themselves to be of the true stuff of which heroes are made. He reassured their families that these men had never been afraid of death because they died in Christ. The sentiments might sound strange to our ears, 100 years later, but Chaplain Ray reassured the families of the dead that … Death was not horror for them, as it meant life and higher greatness hereafter. He comforted the families:

To those who had lost dear lads he would say they were not dead, but in God’s own care.

Chaplain Ray even some saw good in the present War. He saw it turning people back to God. It was some sort of ‘purifying draught’. He even wanted to argue that just as the first settlers in the district had been true ‘pioneers’ because of the incredible sacrifices they had had to make to establish themselves, the sacrifices that the current community was now being called on to bear would make them worthy of their forefathers. God was testing everyone.

Chaplain Ray’s sermon was followed by ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ and ‘Nearer My God to Thee.’

It was then the turn of one of the recruiting officers. There was no hesitation here. The appeal for recruits had always been intended as an integral feature of the religious service. Indeed, as already indicated, that was the primary intention of the exercise. At the same time, the recruiters did add a religious tone to their appeals.

Lieutenant Maskell opened proceedings by telling those there that he wanted to take them back to Gallipoli … where many of our best are buried. Those who died at Gallipoli had never thought of themselves but were prepared to sacrifice everything:

They died in the interests of the Empire and the people of Australia. All those men had placed over their graves was a common wooden cross. They did not want any more, and if it were possible they would go again unflinchingly.

These were true men and … they died as they lived – as men.

And if they were true men, then what of those who refused to enlist and support them. Lt Maskell was keen to add some drama to his appeal:

The lads at present fighting were worthy of every assistance, as many of them were probably being blown to pieces while the people were assembled there that day. He asked the young men present to think of this question honestly, deeply and true, and then make up their minds. The ladies could also give valuable help in encouraging men who had not yet realised their responsibility to go and take the place of their dead and wounded brothers.

It was then the turn of Sergeant Fozard, another of Lt Crowe’s team. He also started with the Anzacs and, given the context of the occasion, added some Christian reference:

He saw many a man receive a fatal bullet wound, and when dying trusted that he would go to a better world.

He also offered a more secular consolation for the brave soldier’s death in battle:

What a terrible blow the war had meant to different homes and families, where the chair of the son, and often the husband, was vacant and the children were left without a father. Behind this cloud, however, there was a silver lining, as those who had fallen had proved themselves to be true Britishers, and died in the noblest of all causes.

Sgt. Fozard contrasted the nobility of the brave soldier, prepared to sacrifice everything, to the baseness of the ’stay-at-home’ interested only in his own safety and comfort:

What must the lads who were there think of those who were taking advantage of worldly pleasure day after day, and doing nothing to help in winning the war?

He appealed for fairness:

Equality of sacrifice was also badly needed in this struggle and it was not fair that some families should bear all the burden and the others none of it.

And he concluded, confident that in the end all the hardship and suffering would be worth it, for the good of the Empire. He spoke about the … great sacrifice made by Australia’s sons for the good old Union Jack.

As indicated, the final benediction was pronounced by Rev C J Walklate. The band played “The Dead March” from Saul. The flag was dipped for the “The Last Post”. Finally, there was the National Anthem and “God Save Our Splendid Men”.

Overall, the memorial service that Sunday afternoon saw both a religious perspective on the current suffering and sacrifice and an appeal for recruits. As a recruiting demonstration the one thing it did not do was specifically call for volunteers to step forward. That was reserved for the evening’s function.

Both local papers reported that everyone was very happy with the service. The South Gippsland Chronicle reported the visiting bandsmen as being very impressed:

The members of the band spoke in high terms as to the smoothness of the service, so different to similar services attended in other parts of the State.

However, not everyone was prepared to go along with the enthusiasm and praise. In the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on the Friday after the service (25/5/17), the following letter-to-the-editor from B P Johnson appeared:

I was surprised to notice on Sunday afternoon that during the solemn rendering of “The Dead March” many men, and women too, were talking and smiling as if the memory of the brave lads whose glorious deaths we were then commemorating was nothing. Later on, while the National Anthem was being sung, and while the flag that at first had been dipped was flying at half mast several men (7) failed to remove even their hats. And our boys are dying and suffering for such as these. Oh, the pity of it.

The letter did not attract any response. Possibly, no one was in the mood for any criticism of such an important and sombre occasion. Johnson was perhaps seen as being unnecessarily negative. He was setting himself up as the arbiter of social manners and devotional etiquette.

The South Gippsland Chronicle also noted:

The programmes used for the day contained special messages from Mr Donal McKinnon (sic) , director general of recruiting, Mr Geo. H Wise, chairman of the State Recruiting Committee, and Capt. A. L. Baird, organising secretary. A photo of the local recruiting committee and other information was also included.

Shire of Alberton archives

Shire of Alberton archives

Recruiting Meeting

The South Gippsland Chronicle (23/5/17) described what happened after the memorial service.

After the church services on Sunday night a recruiting meeting was held in the public hall. Prior to the meeting the band went along Commercial-road and played an enlivening march, a large crowd following to the hall.

B Couston, the chair of the Yarram Recruiting Committee, presided, but the speakers that night were the recruiting officers from Melbourne. Couston in his opening argued that the dire need justified calling a recruiting meeting on a Sunday night. He was also keen to claim that … Yarram had done more than its duty in supplying men for the army. But, at the same time he said that he knew there were still some who could be persuaded to go if they knew the real situation. Hence the need for the meeting.

Lt Maskell, who had spoken earlier at the memorial service, also praised Yarram for its efforts. He emphasised that the need for recruits was not to create new battalions but to secure reinforcements for the existing ones. He wanted to emphasise what the lack of reinforcements meant and point out how unfair the situation was. He claimed that without reinforcements … the soldiers should be in the trenches for 19 weeks without a spell, while there are eligible men here going in for all sorts of amusement.

He strongly condemned those who said Australia had done enough… this was generally made by those who had done nothing. Then he congratulated the people of Yarram for their conscription vote.

Sergeant Fozard was the crowd favourite that night. He told the crowd that the men overseas kept looking at groups of reinforcement to see if they could see their mates. As the paper put it, He pleaded with the women not to hinder the men from going to war. The he turned his comments to the very topical question of the treatment of returned soldiers. He admitted there was a problem and that many young men questioned why they should enlist, given the way those who had returned were treated. But he then went on to claim that as an organiser of the Returned Soldiers’ Association he … could say that the men were not being treated as well as might be expected, but the time was coming when those who had fought for this country would demand and have their rights.

Then the appeal was made for men to come forward. The paper described what happened:

There was no response, and the band played “Keep the Home Fires Burning.” Then one man came up to the front. He was followed by others, some, although only boys, showing that they had the pluck of an Australian in them. The band continued to play, and Sergeant Fozard continued to appeal for “just one more,” and also invited those who had already been rejected to have another try, the result being that in all sixteen men stepped forward and lined the platform. Needless to say there was much excitement, and the recruiting officers were very pleased with the meeting.

The recruiting officers might have been pleased, but if past practice was a guide, very few of those who came forward that night would have been accepted. The boys and those already rejected were not really the intended targets of such recruiting demonstrations.

Sgt Fozard closed proceedings by urging returned men to join the Returned Soldiers’ association and … asked employers in this district to adopt a policy of giving preference to those who had fought for their country.

Overall, neither the memorial service nor the recruiting meeting that night would have produced many volunteers. At the same time, as public demonstrations of the local community’s support for the War and also of the way the same community stood together at a time of great crisis, the 2 events were highly significant. However, with regard to the claim of the local community coming together, there was one major exception – the Catholics.

The Catholic Position

Fr Sterling had made it clear from the start that neither he nor any of his parishioners would be able to attend the memorial service. It was clearly a Protestant service and, as such, church teaching precluded any Catholic participation. This position was well known in the local community. For example, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative reported (16/5/17) that at Sunday mass on 13/5/17 – the week before the memorial service – Fr Sterling told his congregation that … they could not attend the combined service. At the same time, he also reminded them of their … solemn duty to remember the brave dead, and to pay reverently for their loved and lost ones. He also arranged that on the Sunday of the memorial service, there would be a special mass at 11.00 o’clock which … would be offered for the repose of the souls of the Australian Catholic soldiers who have died during the war. The paper also reported that Fr Sterling drew his congregation’s attention to the recruiting meeting to be held after the memorial service.

Fr Sterling supported both the idea of some sort service to the memory of the dead soldiers and the staging of a recruiting meeting. Indeed, Fr Sterling had always been a supporter of the War effort. He had spoken in favour of men enlisting and he had served as a Captain Chaplain with the AIF himself. He had only been back in Australia for a few weeks. There were no grounds to claim that Fr Sterling’s non-appearnace at the memorial service represented some sort of political boycott of the event and that he was taking some sort of stand against both the War and recruiting. At the same time, the non-participation by the local Catholic priest and his congregation would have been dramatically obvious. It would have highlighted, yet again, fundamental tensions and differences between Catholic and Protestant, and some would have interpreted the Catholic position as yet further proof that their support for the War was not as unqualified as that of their Protestant brethren. Catholics, it appeared, were different, and there were always reasons – theological, cultural and political – why they could never come out and give their total and unqualified support for the War, or the State or the Empire.

There was another intriguing twist in this affair and it involved Fr Sterling and his uniform. In the archives of the Shire of Alberton there are 2 items of correspondence. One is a letter from the Yarrarm Recruiting Committee to Bishop Phelan of Sale, dated 14/5/17. In it the secretary – G W Black – wrote:

I am directed by my Committee to ask if your Lordship would kindly give your consent to the Rev. P. F Stirling (sic), of Yarram, wearing his military uniform on the occasion of any patriotic function being held in this town or district. The Committee would esteem it a great favor if you would grant your consent, and trust you will see your way to do so.

Bishop Phelan replied at once. The later was dated 16/5/17. He was most emphatic in his refusal to provide the consent.

I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 14th inst. re Father Stirling (sic) appearing in military uniform at patriotic functions in Yarram and the district. If you were aware of the military regulations on this point I am sure you would not have made such a request which, if granted, would involve the Rev. Father in serious difficulties.

I have been officially informed that a chaplain when discharged has only two days’ grace during which he may wear the uniform, unless he applies for ten or twelve days’ furlough. After that the wearing of the uniform renders him liable to prosecution.

When Father Stirling was relieved of duty he continued to wear the uniform for some days, and his case was reported to our Chaplain General, the late Archbishop of Melbourne. His Grace at once called my attention to the fact and pointed out the danger to which Fr Stirling was exposing himself; and I had to take immediate steps in the matter.

You see then, that I have no authority to grant your request; and from an ecclesiastical point of view I should object to any priest appearing in public as if he were a recruiting officer.

Any attempt to interpret exactly what lay behind this correspondence is risky. It is made that much harder when you appreciate that there is no archived material for Fr Sterling. He has been, as it were, removed from the historical period in which he was such a key figure. However, the following conjectured account could explain the background. Even though the letter from the Yarram Recruiting Committee did not state it, it appears that Lt Crowe had already won approval for returned soldiers to … wear the uniform of their rank to the functions at Yarram on Sunday 20 May. The committee therefore was not seeking any ruling from Bishop Phelan on the procedural correctness of the matter but, rather, they wanted his express consent for Fr Sterling. This in turn suggests that the committee had approached Fr Sterling and asked if he was prepared to attend the recruiting meeting in the evening and, if so, was he prepared to wear his army uniform. Presumably, Fr Sterling had in response directed them to seek permission from his Bishop. This assumes that Fr Sterling was prepared to attend the recruiting meeting, and this view does fit with his general support for recruiting right up to that point. Whatever the background, the response from Bishop Phelan left no one, including Fr Sterling, any room to move.

Another fascinating insight in the whole affair is the claim by Bishop Phelan that people reported Fr Sterling for wearing his military uniform beyond the prescribed time and that it was only timely intervention on his part that prevented a major embarrassment for Fr Sterling. It is possible that such people were in fact locals from the Shire. Later, – and this was particularly so in 1918 – we will see that Fr Sterling came in for criticism over his alleged ‘disloyalty’, and one of the claims made was that he therefore had no right to wear the uniform.

Arguably, the most significant point made by Bishop Phelan is his last one. It could also have been a point that he had already had to make, and now found that he had to make again, privately, but very directly, to Fr Sterling:

… and from an ecclesiastical point of view I should object to any priest appearing in public as if he were a recruiting officer.

Bishop Phelan’s position on this issue of recruiting was the exact opposite of that of the Protestant Churches who, as the memorial service so ably demonstrated, urged their clergy to call on men to volunteer, and applied religious teaching to insist on the responsibility of men to enlist. Further, their religious perspective was shaped in considerable part by their ‘God-given’ loyalty to the Empire. The local Protestant ministers had no qualm whatsoever employing their status and position to promote the agenda of the ‘trinity’ of Nation, Empire and Church. But for the Catholics, there was no such trinity.

 

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

Archives, Shire of Alberton
(viewed 2014)

The activities of the 1917 Yarram Recruiting Committee came from:

File Number 703K
War Files
“Minute Book Yarram Recruiting Committee”

Box 379
“Correspondence etc of Recruiting Committee Formed, April 26th 1917”

123. Yarram Recruiting Committee – first half of 1917. Part A

This is the first of 2 posts which explore the work of the local recruiting committee – commonly referred to as the Yarram Recruiting Committee – in the first half of 1917.

An earlier post – Post 104 – explained how, after the failure of the conscription referendum in October 1916, the local recruiting committee, based in Yarram, was disbanded. There was the belief that patriotic regions like Gippsland had been betrayed by the voters of Melbourne, and the local committee did not see that they should continue their efforts in the face of what they perceived as ingratitude and betrayal. Besides, the committee had long held the view that the voluntary system had failed and they were not committed to it.

However, Imperial Loyalists could not simply abandon the War effort and in time – by April 1917 – the same broad group of locals re-formed the local recruiting committee and tried once more with the voluntary system. But there was little doubt that they, like all those involved in recruiting, held no – or at least very little – hope that ‘voluntarism’ would work. And, in the background, there was still the belief that conscription would, ultimately, be introduced. All this tension was evident in Circular 85 which was sent to local recruiting committees in early June 1916 by the State Recruiting Committee. The circular stated the fundamental problem which, interestingly, was described solely in terms of Imperial duty.

The number of recruits volunteering has greatly decreased of late, notwithstanding the fact that the need for Reinforcements is more urgent than at any period of the war. It is quite realised by the new State Recruiting Committee that extreme difficulty is experienced in inducing the eligible men to attend Recruiting Meetings, and the consequent discouragement caused to some members of the Committees, nevertheless it will doubtless be agreed that continued efforts should be made to constantly and insistently bring before the minds of the public, the responsibility which is imposed on them as citizens of the British Empire to make every sacrifice to bring this titanic, tragic and ghastly war to a triumphant conclusion for our beloved Empire and gallant Allies.

The strategies the circular suggested covered the likes of enlisting the support of the local press, appealing to women, and winning the support of the relatives of serving soldiers. There was also the constant call for more public meetings or ‘demonstrations’ for the purpose of recruiting. In all this there was the claim that the voluntary system could work, if only local recruiting committees would get behind it:

It is quite wrong to think that the voluntary system has failed and if the enthusiasm and interest which characterised the previous Recruiting Campaigns were revived better results would be forthcoming. Public meetings would be greatly conducive to that end.

And, above all, there was one thing that local committees could not do:

It is recognised that great antagonism is displayed to the voluntary system by many people, but as voluntarism is the present method of obtaining recruits it is the National duty of very person to assist that system by shouldering the responsibility of reinforcing our brave and heroic men at the Front. It should be remembered that by (sic) passing resolutions that voluntarism has failed, greatly lessens public interest and enthusiasm and consequently has a detrimental effect upon Recruiting.

This was the essential background to the work of the local recruiting committee in the first half of of 1917: they were obliged to work with – and had to be seen to be supporting – a system of recruiting in which they did not believe. They saw the voluntary system as undermining the War effort to which they were so passionately committed, and they knew that it would never produce the number of recruits required. On this last point, as will be shown, there was abundant proof at the time that voluntarism did not work.

One quick pointer to the lack of recruits from the Shire of Alberton over the first half of 1917 is  the low number of railway warrants issued. These warrants were issued to men who had passed an initial medical at Yarram and who were heading to Melbourne to complete their enlistment process. Some men went to Melbourne to enlist without seeking a travel warrant and not all men who were issued with a travel warrant ended up enlisting. As will become clear, passing the medical in Yarram was no guarantee that the enlistment would go ahead. But for all the limitations, the number of warrants issued is at least a guide to the level of enlistment. In the first half of 1917 only 35 such warrants were issued by the Shire Secretary, whereas in the equivalent period in 1916 the number was 145.

The following tables show the membership of the local recruiting committee for both 1916 and 1917.

1916

Cr W Bland (Chairman)
G W Black (Secretary)
B P Johnson
A J Rossiter
J W Fleming
W F Lakin
Rev F Tamagno
W A Newland (Rct Sgt)
C Barlow
N J Christensen
M J T Cox
E S Stocks
G E Ruby
P J Juniper

1917

B Couston (Chairman)
G W Black (Secretary)
W Bland
B P Johnson
A J Rossiter
J W Fleming
W F Lakin
Rev F Tamagno
W A Newland
F L Merritt (Rec Sgt)
J Bett
G Bland
Dr J Rutter
R H Spokes
E T Benson

Yarram Recruiting Committee, mid 1917. Archives of the Shire of Alberton

It is apparent that most members from 1916 continued in the re-formed 1917 committee. There was a new chairman of the committee, Benjamin Couston. He was the manager of the Bank of Victoria in Yarram and had only arrived in the town in late 1916. He quickly established himself as one of the town’s prominent citizens. He served as a JP in the Yarram Police Court. He was on the committee for the Mechanics’ Institute and, as for most of those on the recruiting committee, he had been one of the local organisers for the National Referendum Committee. He matched the typical profile of the local Imperial Loyalist.

In 1916, the recruiting sergeant had been a local returned service man, William Andrew Newland. Newland continued on the recruiting committee in 1917 but his actual recruiting role was taken on by another returned service man, Frank Leslie Merritt, who had been repatriated to Australia in June 1916. While Recruiting Sergeant Merritt was not from the Shire of Alberton, he was one of 4 brothers from Welshpool who had enlisted. The family was celebrated in Welshpool because every son had enlisted. One brother – Charles Cecil Merritt – was to die of wounds in November 1917.

One important difference in 1917 was that in addition to Newland and Merritt, 3 other returned men joined the committee: Dr John Rutter, Robert Henry (Tim) Spokes and Eric Thomas Benson. Rutter and Benson were to play key roles in setting up a branch of the Returned Soldiers’ and Sailors’ League. Rutter was definitely a local but Benson only moved to the area after his medical discharge in mid 1916. It appears he came to Yarram as the manager of the local State Savings Bank. Like Couston, he quickly established himself as a prominent citizen and, amongst other appointments, was on the board of guardians for the local Church of England. He would go on to play a key role in the second conscription referendum, for the Yes vote. Importantly, the degree of membership overlap between between the 3 most high profile patriotic groups in the local community – the Yarram Recruiting Committee, the Returned Soldiers’ and Sailors’ League and the Soldiers’ Farewell and Reception Committee – was very strong and as for 1916 the members would go on to become the key players in the 1917 referendum campaign.

The actual efforts of the recruiting committee in the first half of 1916 were very limited. The most significant function, a memorial service combined with a public recruiting meeting or ‘demonstration’ held in May 1916, will be the subject of the next post. But apart from this major event not much appeared to happen. The committee provided some promotion for war savings certificates. This Commonwealth scheme was advertised in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 2/5/17. The recruiting committee was meant to be the key backer of the program … to explain the advantages of small investments – that everyone should have a war certificate to help win the war. … while the war lasts it will be necessary to have a continual flow of money into the Commonwealth Treasury for the same purpose. To meet this, War savings certificates in denominations of £1, £5, £10, £100 and £1,000 are offered for sale at a discount, repayable in full in three years from date of issue.

There was also a recruiting film shown in Thompson’s Hall in Yarram on 26/4/17. The film was “A Soldier’s Life in the A.I.F.” and it traced the life of a volunteer from recruit to trained soldier. It also featured scenes taken onboard HMAS Sydney. The film was run as a fund-raiser and according to the local paper it raised about £5 for the local Red Cross. The chair of the Recruiting Committee, B Couston, introduced the film and, again according to the local paper, he …referred to the immensity of the struggle in which the Empire is engaged, and the urgent necessity of securing all the men possible at the front. The report continued that at interval a Lieutenant Crowe gave an address. In response to the appeals made that night, 6 men went up on to the stage as volunteers. Later that same night they were medically examined by Dr Rutter and of the 6, four were passed as fit. However, no names were given in the report and there is no way of knowing what happened to them after that night.

Lieutenant Crowe is interesting. He was attached to the central Sate Recruiting Committee and at that point he was active across Gippsland trying to gather volunteers for the “Sportsmen’s 1000” or the “Sportsmen’s Unit”. He had contact with the Yarram Recruiting Committee from late April 1917 and there is a newspaper report – 2/5/17 – which has him informing the committee that even though people had told him that he would have no luck in the Shire of Alberton he had proved them wrong. It was also Lt. Crowe who recommended the memorial service – next post – and he organised the speakers and the AIF band for the occasion. The local committee was impressed with Lt. Crowe’s approach and organised a car and driver for him to continue his recruiting efforts in the district. After his work in North Devon and Jack River, the local paper published a positive account of his efforts and featured a list of locals who had been recruited through his efforts. However a critical analysis of the list of names, which appeared in the paper (4/5/17), highlights the difficulties those promoting recruiting faced.

Lt. Crowe’s success was significantly exaggerated. The newspaper report covered 3 categories of men who had volunteered. First, there were the 7 volunteers who failed the local medical exam, several of whom had failed the exam previously. Then there were the 6 who were under-age and who had to get their parents’ permission. Of this second group it appears that only one – Leonard John Quirk – did go ahead and enlist. He enlisted on 23/5/18 as an 18 year-old. These first 2 categories gave only 1 recruit from 13 men/boys who were keen to enlist. The third category was that of men who passed the medical, presumably with Dr Rutter. There were 12 in this group but it appears that only 3 of them ever enlisted. It appears that the others failed the follow-up medical in Melbourne. Perhaps the rate at which Dr Rutter passed the men as medically fit was partly driven by his commitment to support recruiting. It is also worth noting that the minutes of the Yarram Recruiting Committee (20/4/17) recorded the attempt by Lt. Crowe … to have Dr Rutter appointed a captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps, so that the doctor’s examination would be final, and recruits could be put through without delay. The 3 men who were successful, in that Dr Rutter’s initial medical assessment was upheld, were all only 19 yo. They were: Harold Bergen Elliott, Selwyn Bruce Cunningham and Cecil George Holman. All 3 survived the War. Overall, of the potential group of 25 volunteers keen to enlist, only 4 – all minors – were taken as recruits by the AIF. Despite Lt. Crowe’s optimism and inflated claims, voluntarism was not working.

Lastly, there was the strange situation that blew up with Sgt, Merritt in late May 1917. Without any prior warning, the Yarram Recruiting Committee was advised by the State Recruiting Committee that Merritt was to be dismissed, forthwith, on the grounds of “lack of vigour and strange conduct at recent meetings”. To that point, the local committee had had no issues with Merritt’s behaviour and there had been no complaints directed to them. They wrote (31/5/17) to State Recruiting Committee with obvious indignation:

We regret that your Committee should take such drastic action without reference to this Committee. The most astounding feature of the case is that your Committee should take such drastic action without formulating definite charges against Sergeant Merritt and giving him a chance of defence. We respectfully urge that, in common fairness to the Sergeant, a full inquiry be made, and that he be given every opportunity of stating his defence.

There was an immediate reply (1/6/17) which apologised that …your Committee should feel in any way overlooked by the action taken, as it is the urgent desire of the Committee to do all that is in its power to assist the difficult work of the honorary Recruiting Committees. Again, it did not spell out the charges, other than to state that the complaints came from ‘his recruiting officer’ – possibly Lt. Crowe or Sgt. Merritt’s superior in Sale – … supported by several other persons who attended the Yarram Demonstration. This ‘demonstration’ would have been the combined memorial service and recruiting meeting held in Yarram on Sunday 20/5/17. With only this briefest of explanations the State Recruiting Committee held its line but did, at least, undertake to review the matter. Then on 5/6/17 the central body wrote and reversed the directive …Serge. Merritt may continue his engagement at your centre.

It was all a mystery – perhaps Merritt did not meet the ‘standards’ of the more specialist State-wide band of recruiters who were in Yarram for the occasion – but, arguably, the most important observation is that the State Recruiting Committee knew how difficult it was to maintain a system of local recruiting committees across the State, particularly when the voluntary system was not working, and it could not afford to be seen as an interfering and arbitrary outside power. Essentially, it took the line that if the locals were happy with their recruiting sergeant then there was little point in getting them off-side. At the end of November 1917, Sgt. Merritt was transferred to the Traralgon and Warragul districts.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Archives, Shire of Alberton
(viewed 2014)

The activities of the 1917 Yarram Recruiting Committee came from:

File Number 703K
War Files
“Minute Book Yarram Recruiting Committee”

Box 379
“Correspondence etc of Recruiting Committee Formed, April 26th 1917”

122. G E Goodson

George Ernest GOODSON (3297)
1 Tunnelling Coy. KiA 13/6/1917

At least 3 siblings from the Goodson family were farming in the Alberton West district of the Shire of Alberton from 1900. The brothers came from a large family of 13 children. The mother – Isabella Horner – died in 1901 and the father – James Charles Goodson – in early November 1915. Both the electoral roll and the rate book for the Shire indicate that in 1915, 3 Goodson brothers – George Ernest, Joseph and John Charles – were farming several properties, which totalled about 200 acres, in the district of Alberton West. There was another sibling – James Charles – but he did not appear to have land in his name. Of these 4 siblings, only George, the youngest, enlisted.

The Goodson brothers were known for their involvement with local sporting clubs. George was a noted cricketer and a foundation member of the Fairview (Hiawatha) Football Club when it was established in 1912. He was also a member of the Fairview School Hall Committee.

George Ernest Goodson was born in Beenak in 1879. It appears that he went to school at Rosstown. He would have been in his early twenties when he moved to the Shire of Alberton.

George was single and 37 yo when he enlisted. His religion was given as Church of England. He had his first medical at Yarram with Dr Crooks on 17/8/15 and was then re-examined in Melbourne on 28/7/15, the official date of his enlistment. He joined as a sapper in 4 Australian Tunnelling Company. He returned to the district on final leave and there was a formal farewell for him in November 1915. He was presented with the shire medallion. The farewell was reported in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 24/11/15:

Mr. B. P. Johnson presided, and referred to Private Goodson’s prowess as a cricketer. “If he hit the Turks as hard as he hit a cricket ball, God help them.” He felt sure Private Goodson was equal to any of the men sent from the district. … Private Goodson was a man who would live up to the reputation gained by our gallant soldiers.

The short report concluded with ‘Private’ Goodson thanking all those there … for the kind reception and representation and [he] hoped to see his friends again at conclusion of the war. (Applause).

Sapper Goodson’s father had died just a few weeks prior to this farewell. He left for overseas service, from Sydney, on 22/5/16, nearly one year after enlistment. He reached England in July (18/7/16) and moved across to France one month later (29/8/16), now in 1 Australian Tunnelling Company. There was brief period of hospitalisation in December the same year for myalgia.

Sapper Goodson was killed on 13/6/17, one week after his unit had featured in the coordinated detonation of mines under the German lines at the very start of the Battle of Messines. He was killed by artillery fire. He was one of a party of about five men who were unloading stores near the Lille Gate in Ypres when a shell exploded nearby, killing him and at least two others. The relevant entry in the war diary of 1 Australian Tunnelling Company contains only a cryptic reference on 13 June: 3 men killed 1 man missing. However, there is more detail in several witness statements.

He was one of a party of 5 unloading a lorry when a shell burst among them killing the lot. I saw it happen at Ypres at a place we called Lille Gate. He was buried under shell fire the following day at a military cemetery near Ypres. A cross marks the spot which is in a bad place. He came from Victoria to Rosebury Camp Sydney with me and we left Sydney together in the Warilda on 22nd May 16. I knew him real well.
Sapper A.A. McDonald 1st Tunn. Coy. 22/10/17.

He was killed by enemy shell fire in Ypres on the 13.6.17. His body which was not disfigured was immediately recovered and was buried during the following night at the Railway Dugouts Soldiers’ cemetery near Zilebeke by a minister of the Church [Church of England] he belonged to.
Lieut. R.M. Justice 1st Aust. Tunn. Coy 3.11.17

Another witness statement throws some light on Sapper Goodson’s work in the tunnelling company. According to Sapper Mclean (19/11/17) Goodson was one of the unit’s cooks. The statement also explains why he was there that day near the Lille gate.

He was one of our cooks. He was killed about a week after our mine went up at Hill 60 on June 7th. While we were working at Hill 60 our cooks were stationed near Lille gate and were a sort of half-way house for us when we went out to rest. They remained a few days after we had moved and it was then that a shell came over, knocking out two or three of them and killing Goodson outright.

Sapper Goodson was buried in the Railway Dugout Cemetery and it appears that there was a funeral service and the grave was recorded and marked in some way. However the German shelling was so intense in that area that the cemetery itself was churned up. Correspondence to the family in 1925 indicates that, despite every effort, the exact location of the grave in the cemetery could not be pinpointed. As a consequence, his name was recorded on a ‘collective cross’ that was placed in the general area of the cemetery where it had been determined that the original grave had been.

The cable advising of the death was dated 18/6/17 and the formal report of death was completed on 27/6/17. The news reached home to West Alberton in early July. It was reported in the local paper on 4/7/17:

The sad news reached Mr. Chas Goodson West Alberton, on Monday, of the death of his brother, Private George Goodson, who in fighting for his country was killed in France. Private Goodson will be remembered as a keen follower of cricket, and whose performances with bat and ball will live long in district sporting annals. His many friends will regret to hear of his demise.

There was a further tribute published on 11/7/17. It related to his involvement with the local community of Hiawatha:

The sad news has reached us that Private G. E. Goodson has been killed in action in France. During his residence in this district he was always willing and ready to assist in every function, whether work or sports. As a cricketer he was almost perfect, and his scores and records always ranked with the leading and professional “sports.” With the rifle he was always there, and ready to encourage young shootists. As a member of the hall committee he always spoke up and gave his ideas on various subjects. His pleasing manner won for him a great many friends, who will greatly miss him in all walks of life.

Sapper Goodson’s identity disc was returned to his sister – as next-of-kin – in February 1918 and the few belongings – 1 pr Binoculars in a case, 4 certificates – finally reached the family, but not until August 1920. The siblings agreed that the war medals were to go to Joseph Goodson. They also noted that this brother had been ‘the one most inconvenienced through the enlistment of George’. Presumably, this was a reference to the work and responsibility that Joseph had had to pick up in relation to the farm.

The information for the (National) Roll of Honour was provided not by the immediate family but by a cousin – Joseph Henry Falkingham MM of Windsor – and another local farmer from Alberton West, Thomas James McGalliard. The actual information provided was sparse but it did identify Alberton as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. Sapper Goodson’s name is featured on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. Additionally, an article in the local paper (14/11/17) indicated that an enlarged photo of Private (sic) Goodson had been hung in the hall at Hiawatha.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Appleyard, D 1994, Hiawatha: From Pioneers to Pines, Dumbalk, South Gippsland

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 2, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for GOODSON George Ernest 3297
Roll of Honour: George Ernest Goodson
First World War Embarkation Rolls: George Ernest Goodson
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: George Ernest Goodson

 

121. Messines: G Martin & W E Babington

 

Two ‘locals’ – Gordon Martin and William Edward Babington – were killed in action on 8 June 1917 at Messines.

The fighting at Messines was heralded by the detonation of 19 mines under the opposing German lines. The German troops were demoralised and many surrendered. The allied troops were able to secure their objectives. Messines also saw the more accurate and effective use of artillery. The ‘creeping’ barrage was used to significant effect, although there were still casualties when the advancing troops went forward too quickly. A large number of British tanks were employed and there was more effective targeting of enemy positions, thanks in part to better maps and improved observation techniques. Overall, the military operation was judged ‘successful’.

However, if the battle was judged a ‘success’, the casualties were still very high. As Beaumont (pp.323-4) puts it:

Messiness has been heralded as a classic illustration of what could be achieved on the Western Front when an operation was well planned by competent leaders [The planning by Monash, in charge of 3 Division, was said to be exemplary] and the infantry were asked to advance no further than the distance covered by their own artillery. … It should also be remembered that Messiness [7-14 June] cost 26,000 British casualties, of whom almost 14,000 were from II Anzac Corps, many of them victims of gas.

One of the 2 local men – Martin – was from 39 Battalion and the war diary for this battalion described how the men were subjected to heavy gas shelling even before they reached the assembly trenches for the attack. They had to move through Ploegsteert Wood where the gas was incredibly thick. Using their box respirators they struggled though the heavy gas in the dark. According to the account in the Offical History (Vol 4, Chapt XV) many officers collapsed from the effort involved in keeping the men moving.

The total number of casualties for 39 Battalion, to the point when they were relieved early in the morning of 9/6/17, was approximately 470. There were comparatively few deaths, but 300 were wounded and another 145 were missing.

The other local man – Babington – was from 37 Battalion and the overall casualty level was similar. The casualties, to the point the battalion was relieved – 11 am on 9/6/17 – were 492. In this instance there were 67 deaths, 331 men were wounded and only a handful of men missing.

For the AIF, ‘victory’ at such a cost was unsustainable, particularly given the very low recruiting numbers back home.

 

Gordon MARTIN (179)
39 Battalion KiA 8/6/1917

Gordon Martin was a volunteer whose military service was not remembered in the local area. His name does not appear on any memorial in the Shire of Alberton. Yet he definitely enlisted from Yarram. He had his initial medical in Yarram with Dr Crooks on 28/1/16. A railway warrant (#260) for travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process was issued in his name by the Shire Secretary on the same date. The address that appeared on the embarkation roll was Barry’s Hotel, Alberton. The occupation given was ‘operating porter’, suggesting that he was employed at the Alberton Railway Station. Possibly he had not been living and working in the Shire very long but the reality is that he did enlist from there. There is no evidence that he was ever given a formal farewell from the Shire.

To make his life even more unknown and unrecorded, there is very little detail of his military service and the circumstances of his death. There is no Red Cross file for him and his family did not complete the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. Nor is there any correspondence in his service file to throw additional light on his life in the AIF.

Gordon Martin was born in Dunolly. His enlistment was completed on 21/2/16 – nearly one moth after the medical in Yarram – and at the the time he was 22 yo and single. His religion was Church of England. His father – John E Martin of Seymour – was given as his next-of-kin. He enlisted as reinforcements for 39 Battalion.

Private Martin embarked for overseas on 27/5/16 and reached the UK on 18/7/16. He joined 39 Battalion in France on 23/11/16 and was killed in action at Messiness on 8/6/17. His family was notified of the death at the start of July (2/7/17). He was buried at Strand Military Cemetery, Ploegsteert, Belgium. Personal kit – Identity Disc, 2 Note Books, Photos, Testament, Prayer Book, Fountain Pen, Scissors, Cigarette Case, Razor – was returned to the family in March 1918.

As already indicated, while the casualties for 39 Battalion at Messiness were very high, relatively few men (24) were killed. Private Martin was one of them.

 

William Edward BABINGTON (228)
37 Battalion KiA 8/6/17

Unlike Gordon Martin, William Babington was very well known in the local area and his name appears on many memorials: the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor, the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial, and the honor rolls for the Yarram State School, the Presbyterian Charge and Stacey’s Bridge.

William Babington was born on 22/9/1891 at Trentham. He grew up in the local area, attending Yarram State School. His father – William Dunn Babington – was a dairy farmer at Jack River where he had a 114 acre property. The son worked on the family farm and on his enlistment papers he gave his occupation as ‘dairyman’. The mother was Williamina (sic) Babington. There another brother – John Sutherland Babington – who had enlisted very early in the War (16/9/14). He was younger (20 yo) and at the time was also helping on the family farm. All his military service was in the Middle East and he returned to Australia with the rank of sergeant in July 1919.

When the father completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour he indicated that Stacey’s Bridge was the place with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. William Babington was also closely identified with Devon, where, prior to enlisting, he had been the captain of the local football club.

At the time William Babington enlisted he was 25 yo and single. His religion was Presbyterian and he appears to have been actively involved in the church as a young person.

Private Babington had his first medical on 21/1/16 in Yarram with Dr Crooks – this was exactly one week before Gordon Martin’s medical – and he was re-examined in Melbourne on 16/2/16. The official date for his enlistment was 8/2/16 and he joined as reinforcements for 37 Battalion. There was a formal farewell for him and 20 other local recruits – Gordon Martin was not there – held at Yarram on 24/4/16. It was reported in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 26/4/16. On the occasion, he and the others were told that, The charge of the Light Brigade faded into insignificance compared with the brave deeds of our Australian boys at Gallipoli. It was one of the many occasions when the farewell was used to appeal for more volunteers. The Shire medallion was handed to the men.

Private Babington embarked from Melbourne on 3/6/16 and reached England on 25/7/16. There was a period of further training before he proceeded to France and joined 37 Battalion in November (22/11/16). He was promoted to lance corporal in March 1917 (5/317).

On 1/11/16 the local paper published a letter written by Private Babington which covered, in detail, the voyage from Australia on the troopship Persic, and first impressions of the enormous military camp on Salisbury Plain near Amesbury. He noted of the camp, You will hardly believe that this camp is 12 miles by 13, nothing but huts as far as the eye can see. He also noted that … there are over 40,000 Australians camped here.

Lance Corporal Babington was killed at Messines on 8 June 1917. One witness statement in the Red Cross file had the date of death as 7 June, the first day of the battle. There are other inconsistencies in the several witness statements but, generally, it appears that he was shot, in the chest, and died within a few minutes. Several refer to him being shot by a German sniper and as he was a lewis gunner it is highly likely that he would have been targeted. Some witnesses reported him being buried but others were unsure, and one even reported that he saw the body still in the field three days after he had been killed. Most agreed that if he had been buried, the grave would have been in Ploegsteert Wood. There is also a record of the grave being SE of Messines. However, in the end, there was no formal identification of any grave and Lace-Corporal Babington’s name is recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres.

The cable to advise the family of the death was dated 22/6/17. However, it appears that the information did not reach the family until 26/6/17. Three days later, on 29/6/17, the death was reported in the local paper:

Mr. W Babington, Stacey’s Bridge, received the sad message on Tuesday night that his son, Lance Corporal W. E. Babington, had been killed in action on 9th (sic) June, 1917, and conveying the sympathy of King and Queen and Commonwealth. Lance Corporal Babington previous to enlisting was a popular young man, a good footballer and captain of the Devon team, and worked with his father as a dairy farmer. … Lance Corporal Babington paid the supreme sacrifice for his country. The sympathy of our readers will be extended to Mr. and Mrs. Babington and family at Stacey’s Bridge in the loss of their son.

The article also described how The night before the sad tidings reached his parents a letter came by mail, saying he was fighting only 200 yards from the enemy.

Then on 21/9/17 the following additional article on the death of Lance Corporal Babington appeared in the local paper under the heading A Gippsland Hero. The father obviously provided the paper with the correspondence he had received from the UK. It is worth quoting the letter in full because it illustrates how the all-pervasive, background narrative of the sacrifice of the Christian soldier was so commonly applied at the time and in such a highly personal way. No matter how dreadful the loss of the son, there was a strong and comforting religious ‘explanation’ of the tragedy.

Mr. Wm. Babbington (sic), Stacey’s Bridge, has received from the chaplain at the front particulars relating to his son’s death. He writes: – Dear Mr. Babington. – You have had the official word of your son’s death in action, Lance Corporal W. E. Babington, No. 228. on the 8/6/17. It was in the great battle of Messiness, that splendid victory, but won only by much sacrifice, and your fine lad was one. He was a hero. I have just been talking with O.M.S. Redd[?], of his Company, who was beside him when he fell. It was right up to the very forefront of the attack, and your boy was fearlessly brave – was one of those who by their indomitable courage made the attack so successful. A shot from the enemy, however, got him, and he died on the spot. His comrades thought the world of him, and the O.M.S tells me it nearly knocked the heart out of him to see your boy fall. They were fine fellows, these boys of ours, good souled and fine spirited. As their chaplain I thought very much of them, their earnest interest in the real things that count. How keen they were for religious ministrations, and at services and communions they gave splendid attendance. They went into the fight well prepared, and the God above them gave them strength and courage. As He will give to you for your great sorrow. God help you is our prayer. We always pray for you all in our services. Your boy with the rest was keen on these things, yours in much sympathy.
A. Irving Davidson, Presbyterian Chaplain to the Regiment.

Personal kit was returned to the family in March 1918: Calabash Pipe, Folding Scissors, 2 Notebooks, Cards, photos, Letters.

 

The contrast between the 2 men killed on the same day highlights just how significant the locals’ definition of ‘local’ could be.  It also throws light on the fate of the itinerant, working-class volunteers: if a person was not tied to a particular location, his effort and ‘sacrifice’ could easily dissipate, if not disappear.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Beaumont, J 2013, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW.

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume 4 – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1917 (11th Edition, 1941)

Gordon Martin

National Archives file for MARTIN Gordon 179
Roll of Honour: Gordon Martin
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Gordon Martin

William Edward Babington

National Archives file for BABINGTON William Edward 228
Roll of Honour: William Edward Babington
First World War Embarkation Rolls: William Edward Babington
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: William Edward Babington

120. Soldiers’ farewells and welcomes in the first half of 1917

As indicated in earlier posts, by early 1917 recruitment had fallen away dramatically. Moreover, after the defeat of the conscription referendum in late 1916, even enthusiasm for promoting recruiting had waned. Those who had been enthusiastic members of the local recruiting committee – who had also strongly supported the conscription campaign – felt betrayed by the referendum result and, temporarily at least, withdrew their efforts. This issue will be covered in a future post.

At the same time, there was still the occasional farewell for a new recruit and, increasingly, there were welcome homes for those returning to Australia wounded. This meant that the work of the local ‘send off and reception committee’ – Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee – continued. This post looks at the work of this committee in the first half of 1917. It is also worth recalling that the key members of this committee – the likes of B P Johnson, Councillor C Barlow, E A Paige, H G Bodman, G F Sauer and Rev F Tamagno – were also the key players in the local recruiting committee, and they had also been the key backers of the Yes vote in the recent referendum. They belonged to the group identified as Imperial Loyalists, in that they backed the Empire completely and supported the national government in its every attempt to support Australia’s efforts as part of the Empire.

Farewells

It appears that there were only 3 formal farewells in the first half of 1917.

Benjamin Sutton

The first was for Ben Sutton in April. It was written up in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 4/4/17. The farewell was immediately prior to his embarkation for overseas. At the time of his farewell he was married and 28 yo. The marriage must have taken place sometime after his enlistment because his enlistment forms have him as single. He came from a local farming family.

The report noted that not many people were there:

Several local residents and visitors met at the shire hall yesterday morning [Tuesday 3/4/17] to bid farewell to Private Ben Sutton, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Sutton, Yarram.

B P Johnson, on behalf of the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee presided. In his speech he specifically mention the lack of volunteers:

Mr. B. P. Johnson presided, and referred to the few farewells nowadays. It was evident that young men were content to let the boys fight and die for them, and not go and help. Ben Sutton realised that the boys wanted help, and although a married man he was going to do his part.

This theme about the effect that the lack of volunteers to replace those killed and wounded had on the troops in the front line was very common. Johnson, in his praise of Sutton for volunteering, was quoted as declaring:

A doctor, writing from the trenches, says if the Australians were not soon relieved they will die of sheer exhaustion. Wounded men were sent back to the fighting line. Ben Sutton realised this and goes.

As with all other farewells at the time, Ben Sutton was presented with the shire medallion and the accompanying (prayer) card. And as for all other farewells , those there sang the National Anthem and “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”.

Allan Corrie

The second farewell was for Allan Corrie. It was held at Port Albert and it was written up in the local paper on 9/5/17.

Allan Corrie was only 18 yo. In fact, his parents had made him wait until he was eighteen before giving their permission for him to enlist. He was the son of the local police constable in Port Albert, Robert Corrie. Allan was home for his final leave. There was a large crowd there and the farewell was held on a Saturday night.

As the farewell was held in Port Albert, the speakers that night were Port Albert locals. One of the locals – Peter Todd, Palmerston – when praising the loyalty of the young Corrie … made some scathing remarks about shirkers. He then called for volunteers, from the crowd of well-wishers there, to come forward … but none were forthcoming.

Corrie was presented with the shire medallion and also a ‘wristlet watch’. His father responded on his behalf. Private Corrie survived the War and returned to Australia in June 1919. He subsequently also served in WW2.

James Brown

The third farewell took place in June and was for James Edward Brown. It was written up in the local paper on 6/6/17. Brown had only enlisted recently (24/3/17) after he had been rejected earlier for poor teeth. He was 40 yo and married, and it appears his wife was living in Carlton. He was the older brother of Darcy Brown who had also enlisted. The parents were from Stony Creek. The mother died while both sons were on service.

At the farewell, Cr Barlow noted how hard it was for the father. He pointed out how 2 sons had enlisted and one of them had already been twice wounded:

It seemed hard, he said, that the father should have to give up the only eligible son left, but so many would not respond to the call.

James Brown, at age 40 yo, was probably another example of someone the AIF should not have accepted. As things transpired, he never made it to France. After extended illness in the UK he was repatriated and discharged as medically unfit – ‘premature senility’ – in July 1918.

At his farewell, Private Brown emphasised how he was only doing his duty. He told those there that … he thought it was the duty of every eligible man to go to fight. He promised his best, and hoped to return with the other boys after wiping out the Germans (Applause.)

Welcome Home

Over the same period – January to June 1917 – the local paper reported on 5 welcomes. Obviously, these receptions were for men who had been repatriated either wounded or seriously ill. Consequently, the stage was set, literally, for speeches that contrasted, vividly and directly, the differences between those who still refused to do their duty and enlist, and those who had paid a terrible price for their loyalty.

Robert Spokes

The first welcome home reported in the local paper (14/3/17) was for Robert (Tim) Spokes. He was picked up from the train station at Alberton and driven to the Shire Hall in Yarram where there was a large group of adults and school children. E A paige, the head teacher of Yarram SS declared that if their guest had arrived yesterday (Friday) – as planned – the whole school would have been there to welcome him.

Spokes had enlisted as one of a large group (25) in July 1915. He was only 18 yo at the time. He had been badly wounded – GSW rt arm and r thigh – at Pozieres and repatriated to Australia. He was discharged as medically unfit on 17/4/17, about one month after the welcome home at Yarram. His right arm had been amputated following the injury and by the time he reached Yarram, as the paper put it, he had been … provided with a substitute. It would have been a devastating handicap for someone who was probably only 20 yo.

As he was under 21 yo when he enlisted, both parents had to give written permission. The father had written – and both parents signed – the following note. On the face of it, it was an explicit description of Imperial loyalty:

I give my Consent to my son Robert Henry Spokes to enlist as a soldier to serve King George.

Councillor Barlow presided and after a verse of the National Anthem and “God Bless Our Splendid Men” he started by talking of the debt owed to Private Spokes:

When they saw the condition he was in, carrying marks of war to the grave, they felt they could not repay him for what he had done.

Reverend F Tamagno informed those there that Private Spokes’ condition reminded them of the true nature of war and challenged them that they … could not realise the the strains on muscle and mind of the men in battle. Tamagno praised the young soldier as the model of voluntarism. He praised him as one of those … who had not been sent for, but went of their own accord (applause) – men who volunteered from farms and industries, rich and poor, all of the same quality of heart – it was the spirit of voluntarism.

And, of course, there was the criticism of those who refused to volunteer. He wondered aloud whether … many of these brave fellows who come back will chastise, because of the wounds they bear, those citizens who failed to do their duty. (Applause.)

H G Bodman was far more direct and he turned the occasion into a recruiting drive. He declared to all those there:

It was their duty to send all the men available. (Applause.) If men could see a soldier come back, and sit down in their comfortable homes with no incentive to take a part, he would say they were cowards. The boys who went had done their duty, and there were no better soldiers than the Australians. (Applause.) Yet they had men all round the district not game to take this boy’s place. Though old he was willing to do his part. He had one son there, and if he did not come back it would be a sacrifice for his country he would be proud of. It is for all to think, that unless reinforcements are sent to fill the vacant places, they are failing in their duty. (Applause.)

B P Johnson also laboured the theme of reinforcements. It was a stark moral argument: those men who could volunteer but who chose not to – for what in terms of the logic were entirely selfish reasons – were not just not letting down those serving overseas in the AIF – in the sense that they refused to do their ‘share’ and help their ‘mates’ – but they were also effectively condemning them to death:

He [Johnson] wished he could impress on every body that unless reinforcements are sent few of our men will come back. How many eligible to go, and do not go; how they stand back, and let their brothers fall and not be relieved, was more than he could understand.

In light of the ambivalence of the AIF members towards both the War and the issue of conscription – see Post 105 – we can only speculate what Private Spokes made of the way his homecoming was used for recruiting. The newspaper report noted that he himself did not speak. Instead, he replied via the Chair that … he felt proud that he responded to the call when he did.

As per normal, the welcome closed with “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”.

Oliver Leemon

The welcome home to Corporal Oliver Leemon was reported in the local paper on 25/4/17. He had enlisted as a 22 yo in September 1915.

Corporal Leemon was another wounded soldier from Pozieres. He had been hit, most likely by shrapnel, in the head, knee and arm. The actual medical discharge was dated 27/4/17, just 2 days after his welcome home at Yarram.

The occasion was chaired by G F Sauer and the paper noted that the crowd was disappointing, conceding that both the weather and the timing of the event were poor. Sauer hoped that their guest … would soon be restored to health.

Sauer also felt the need to attack the ‘scum’ of Melbourne over the way returned soldiers were supposed to have been treated at the time. Without giving any source he related how:

One soldier who returned minus an arm, was told that he was a fool to go over there and come back like that, whereupon the single-armed hero punched him. It was the spirit of the Anzacs and it showed they were of pretty good stuff.

Sauer also felt the need to raise the exploits of the Australians at Bullecourt to epic levels:

He could not express in words all that the soldiers had done on the other side, and especially their achievements during the past few days. Where the Australians had attacked was stated to be an insurmountable barrier. It was marvelous how the Australians went through the German lines, held by the Prussian Guards, the flower of the German army, and supposed to be one of the best regiments in the world. Our boys went on to the fields of France and beat them bad.

By early 1917 it was common practice to describe, unashamedly, the Australians fighting on the Western Front as the best soldiers in the world.

David Muir

There were 2 welcomes for Sergeant David Muir. One, at Yarram, was reported in the local paper on 16/5/17 and the other, at Alberton, on 25/5/17.

David Muir had been a well known sportsman in the local area. Before the War, he had been secretary of both the football and cricket clubs at Alberton. He had enlisted in April 1915 as a 23 yo.

However he was certainly not fit when he returned home. The reports of the Yarram welcome referred to his ‘broken health’ and noted that he was no longer … the once active Dave of football fame. He was suffering from rheumatism, trench fever and heart problems. As well, the report noted, he had been on the troopship Southland when it was torpedoed in September 1915 in the Agean Sea. He was said to have spent 2 1/2 hours in the water.

The Yarram welcome was held on a Monday afternoon. The Shire Hall was packed and there were many school children present.

At this welcome, B P Johnson set out to use Sergeant Muir’s story as a recruiting narrative. Interestingly, even though it hard been rejected not much more 6 months earlier, conscription was again being openly spoken about:

… Sergeant Muir, cricketer and footballer, went in for a sterner game. It would be noticed that he bore the letter A on his shoulder, a proud letter which showed he was an Anzac a name known throughout the world (Applause.) Dave is not the robust man he was, and we must remember that he made himself what he is for us. The obligation is on each and everyone not to allow the boys to suffer on their return. Dave’s place is vacant at the front, and anyone who can should go and fill that place. A number of returned men have fought, returned wounded, and are going back again to help their mates. That was the proper spirit. It was said that conscription would be brought in. Those who do not want conscription should go and make the voluntary system a success, and all should work to win the war.

After the speeches, Geo Davis had to respond on behalf of Sergeant Muir because …. what he had been through was so nerve-racking that he could not speak at a home-coming welcome.

Like all the others welcomed home, Sergeant Muir was presented with the shire medallion.

As indicated, not long after, there was another welcome staged at Alberton for Sergeant Muir. It was a social evening held at the Alberton Hall. The paper noted people came from Yarram, Port Albert and Tarraville.

All the speakers that night referred to his health. They all hoped that he would son be ‘restored to health’, and many wanted to see him again on the football field.

The local police constable, Robert Corrie, said of Sergeant Muir:

He went away to do his bit for his country, and he is home again proud to think he has done his duty. It was lads like Serg. Muir and Private Spokes who were upholding the name of Australia, and they who are at home cannot do enough for them. He hoped Serg. Muir would regain his usual strength.

Similarly, another local, Mr Todd from Palmerston, was keen to employ the commonly expressed sporting – particularly football – analogy:

… Sergeant Muir [was] an honest player on the football field, like all Australian lads, and he was glad that they were also honest in going and fighting for their country.

This time, Sergeant Muir did speak on his own behalf. He stated that even though he had returned with broken health, he was better off than many of those still in France. He urged those there to not forget …the boys at the front, as they could not realise what they were going through. He reminded everyone of the need to write to the men and he even mentioned the importance of such basics as sending them cigarettes and newspapers.

John Robinson

John Robinson had enlisted very early in the War (24/11/14) as a 21 yo fisherman from Port Albert. He has already been mentioned in a previous post – Post 38 – where he was one of 3 volunteers from Port Albert, former students of the Port Albert SS, who, according to locals, were not given an appropriate farewell by the school. His welcome was written up in the local paper on 27/6/17.

He had been badly wounded – gsw rt thigh severe – in July 1916. At the time of his welcome in the Mechanics’ Hall at Port Albert he had already had 3 operations and the local paper noted that he was about to have yet another … to have more lead taken out. He was discharged as medically unfit on 4/10/17. He was yet another young man returning from the War with a serious disability and the rest of his life before him.

Robinson was well known in the local area. In fact, the paper made the claim:

It is safe to say that no local lad was better liked than Jack Robinson.

It also noted that many people were there and that,

Two car loads of his relatives, including his grandfather 80 years of age, came from Paynesville at a few hours notice.

Those who spoke at the welcome were locals, including Constable Corrie. As was common, the speakers turned the wounds the soldier bore into some sort of badge of honour. One of them noted that he (Robinson) had gone to the front at a time when he knew the dangers and that he had … returned a soldier and a man. Another referred to him as bearing … the honored scars of battle.

One prominent identity who spoke that day was Father Sterling, the local Roman Catholic priest. Sterling had finished his work as an army chaplain by this point and had again taken up his duties as parish priest. Robinson was Church of England and it appears that the only reason Sterling spoke was because he was asked to. The following report, as published in the local paper, makes clear what Sterling thought of the standard farewell and welcome functions held in the shire. The comments also begin to explain the overt hostility that was directed at him from this point on.

He just happened to be in Port Albert, and accidentally heard of the welcome home to the returned soldier, and dropped in to show his sympathy with the gathering. He thought that the Government ought to apply the War Precautions Act to stamp out a public nuisance which had become very accentuated since the war started. He referred to the dreary drivel poured out by every local orator on the occasion of a farewell or welcome-home social. The singing and dancing were held up while one person after another got up and gave interminable speeches, trying without success to spend a quarter of an hour or more in saying what the chairman could easily say in five minutes or less. How often had they been present at or read of such gatherings. The chairman generally opened proceedings by saying everything it was possible to say about the guest of the evening; the next person spoke of the guest as a citizen; the next as a neighbour; the next as a sport; the next as a member of some friendly society; the next as a white man and Nature’s gentleman, and so on ad nauseum. The only person who does not come forward nor say anything is just the one person who could tell the exact truth, and that person is his wife. If she was to speak of him as a husband. (Laughter.) He had no intention, therefore, of prolonging the agony for the young soldier, or desecrating the honoured name of Anzac by referring to what they all felt gloriously proud of – the immortal deeds of our soldier boys.

In one sense, Sterling’s criticism is simply that the proceedings are too drawn-out, repetitive and ponderous. However, some at least would have heard in his comments the belief that a particular group of locals had turned these occasions into very public – and highly reported – demonstrations of support for the War, including conscription, and thinly disguised recruiting meetings. The members of the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee would hardly have appreciated having their efforts trivialised and ridiculed in such a manner.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

 

119. E E Morley

Ernest Edward MORLEY (5882)
21 Battalion  DoW 14/5/17

The Morley family was from Gormandale and at the time of WW1 the family had been in the area for 40 years. Gormandale itself, whilst in the Shire of Alberton, was on the border with the Shire of Rosedale. It was much closer to Rosedale than Yarram. The boundary between the 2 shires had been changed as recently as 1914. So the question of local identity was problematic. In the case of the Morley family, it appears that the primary link was to Gormandale per se, rather than Gormandale as part of the Shire of Alberton.  The names of all the Morley brothers – there were at least 4 who enlisted and 3 of them were killed – are on the Gormandale War Memorial. This particular memorial was unveiled by the mother – Mrs Sarah Morley – in 1923.  The names are also on the honor roll for the Gormandale state school. However, the names of the brothers are not included on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

In addition to this particular branch of the Morley family, there were also cousins, with the same name, who enlisted. However, for all the members of the Morley family from Gormandale, there is only one Morley – Archie Cortnege Morley – who appears on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Also, references to the family appear more frequently in the Traralgon papers than in the Yarram papers. At the same time, the tragic story of the Morley brothers from Gormandale was certainly well-known in the Shire of Alberton. For example, on 4/12/18 the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative featured a detailed account of the unveiling of the honor roll at the state school at Gormandale. In the account it states that of the 45 former scholars who enlisted from the school – plus 2 teachers – 6 were killed and … three of these were members of the Morley family.

As indicated, 3 of the 4 brothers who enlisted were killed on active service. In addition to Ernest Edward Morley (5882) DoW 15/5/17 there was George Thomas Morley (4479) KiA 5/8/16  – see Post 79 – and Robert Herbert Morley (1501) KiA 31/10/17. However, this was not the extent of family tragedy over the course of the War because another brother – Jesse Morley – died in Melbourne in August 1917 and there were 2 other family deaths; one was an infant grandson (July 1916) and the other was an older, married sister. Specifically in relation to the sister’s death, the obituary notice – Traralgon Record 15/6/17 – noted that the news from France of her brother’s death – Ernest Edward Morley – was a contributing factor.

Ernest Morley enlisted in Melbourne on 5/5/16. He was 28 yo and married with 3 children. There is an indication that he might have previously enlisted – his enlistment form states that he had served 42 days in the AIF ‘prior to re-attestation’ – but there is no corresponding service file. He gave his occupation as labourer and at the time he appears to have been working and living at Beeac, well outside the local area. However, he gave his wife – Mrs Doris Louisa Morley – as next -of-kin and her address was Gormandale via Rosedale. His religion was listed as Church of England.

Private Ernest Morley enlisted as reinforcements for 21 Battalion. He left Melbourne on 2/10/16 and reached the UK on 16/11/16. There was further training in the UK then he joined 21 Battalion in France on 4/3/17. He was dead just over 2 months later.

21 Battalion went into the front line at Bullecourt very early on 3/5/17 and was not withdrawn until very late on 4/5/17. In that relatively short period of time it suffered 340 casualties, with 31 dead, 260 wounded and 49 missing. Another indication of the savagery of the fighting is an estimate in the diary of 200 casualties between 3.15 am and 8.45 am on 3/5/17. The diary describes the fierceness of the fighting, the failure of the English attack – on the battalion’s immediate left – the inability of the troops to hold the ground they initially won and the hopeless state of the battle-field communications.

There is a Red Cross file for Private Ernest Morley.  It appears that it was initiated by his cousin – Archie Cortnege Morley (5883) – who in September 1917 wrote requesting information about his cousin’s death. Private Archie Morley was in the same battalion, and the 2 cousins had enlisted round the same time – they even had consecutive regimental numbers – and embarked from Melbourne together.

The Red Cross report does not provide a great deal of information. It appears that after he was wounded sometime on 4/5/17, Private Morley was evacuated by ambulance train the same day. However, he did not reach a hospital – 9th General Hospital BEF – until 6/5/17, by which time the wound was septic. He died just over a week later (12.30 pm on 14/5/17). The hospital report described how Private Morley,

… was admitted to this hospital on 6/5/17 suffering from severe gun shot wounds of the left thigh. The septic condition of his injuries on admission were very extensive and gradually increased. He died at 12.30. p.m. 14/5/17 and was buried at St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen, his grave number being 2599.

The family was advised by cable – dated 18/5/17 – of the death, just 4 days later. In time – February 1918 – a small amount of personal kit reached Gormandale: Disc, Metal Watch, Scissors, Letters, Photo, Cards, Pipe, Pr Goggles.

The wife and 3 children received pensions from 18/7/17. The combined amount was £4/5/- per fortnight.

The family did not complete the (National) Roll of Honour form for Ernest Morley. However they did complete the form for the 2 other brothers killed and in each case they noted that 2 (other) brothers had been killed, as well as one cousin and one nephew.

An in memoriam notice appeared in the Traralgon Record on 1/6/17:

Morley. – Died at 9th General Hospital, France, on 14th May, from gunshot wounds received in action, Pte. Ernest Edward, loved husband of Doris Louisa Morley, and loved son of Mrs S. Morley, Gormandale. Aged 28 years.
He died, the helpless to defend,
A noble soldier’s noble end.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Traralgon Record

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

National Archives file for MORLEY Ernest Edward 5882
Roll of Honour: Ernest Edward Morley
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Ernest Edward Morley
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Ernest Edward Morley

Note: the post was updated 18/5/17 with some corrections to the family history provided by Annette Power, a descendant of the Morley family.

118. G W Paterson

George William PATERSON (5422)
5 Battalion KiA 10/5/1917

George Paterson was born in Yarram and grew up in the area, attending Darriman State School. The family had lived in the area for many years. They were well-known. The mother gave Yarram as the place with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’. The father – John Paterson – had been a logging contractor in the Darriman area and he had also had land – approximately 300 acres – in the same area in the 1890s. The father still appeared on the 1915 electoral roll as a farmer of Darriman, but in the rate book from the same time there is no indication of land in his name. However, there was  small holding of 14 acres in the name of the wife, Mary Young. It was a large family with at least 8 children.

Besides George, another 3 Paterson brothers enlisted. One brother, Archibald Paterson, enlisted with George and they both served in the same battalion. The first brother to enlist, in December 1914,  was Colin Robert Patterson (sic). He enlisted in Queensland. The fourth brother to enlist (29/1/16) was Thomas Paterson. In the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 16/8/18 there was reference to yet another brother – Douglas Cameron Paterson – who was not yet 19 yo who had just enlisted. However, there is no service record for him and it appears that this late enlistment did not go through. Of the 4 brothers who enlisted, all but George survived the War.

When George Paterson enlisted he gave his address as Darriman and his occupation as labourer. When his mother gave information for the (National) Roll of Honour she gave his occupation as farmer. Most likely, he was helping on the family’s small holding and also working on other farms in the area.  The family was Presbyterian.

He was single and, officially, only 18 years and 6 months at the time he enlisted. He needed his parents’ signed permission and both of them signed the form stating that he was 18 and 6 months. However, when his mother gave the information for the (National) Roll of Honour she gave his age at the time he was killed as 18 and 9 months, which means that when he enlisted he was only 17 and 6 months. Also, in correspondence the mother refers to him as enlisting when he was only 17 and 6 months. At the time, the AIF disapproved strongly of such under-age enlistments.

George enlisted (10/3/16) in Yarram and his first medical was with Dr. Crooks. He was then re-examined in Melbourne. There was a brief reference in the local paper (28/4/16) to the farewell at Yarram for the 2 Paterson brothers.

Private Paterson was taken on as a reinforcement for 5 Battalion. He left for overseas service on 3/7/16 and reached Plymouth 2 months later on 2/9/16. There was further training in England (2 Training Brigade). There was also a spell in hospital – rubella/pleurisy – for one month in October 1916.

Private Paterson finally joined 5 Battalion in France on 2/1/17. He was killed four months later at Bullecourt 2 on 10/5/17.

5 Battalion’s war diary has the battalion relieving 4 and 9 Battalions in the fighting at Bullecourt on 7/5/17. On the 8th of May they managed to drive off a German counter-attack and another one the next day. The battalion was relieved – by 57 and 58 Battalions – on 9/5/17. It then moved back, first to Vault and then to Biefvillers. For the 3 days in the line the casualties were 19 dead and 60 wounded. The official record has Private Paterson being killed on the 10th of May but it is more likely that he was killed on the 9th, the day the battalion withdrew.

The following witness accounts from the Red Cross file give a graphic description of the fighting and his death, and it is easy to appreciate why there was no recorded grave. Private Paterson’s name is on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

We were in the line at Bullecourt and were about to be relieved. The Germans had been giving it to us thick and fast and Paterson was pretty well shell shocked. He was sitting in a bit of a dug-out in the side of the trench with Vipond. I was at my post only a few yards away, when a shell burst on the bit of dug-out where they were sitting. When we got them out Vipond was wounded and Paterson was dead…. We were then relieved and Paterson would be buried on the spot if another shell did not bury him first, for the shells were dropping fast. He was a tall, slim fellow of about 5ft 9. He was with the Battalion when I joined it eight months ago.
Pte Kearney. 6669 Sept 3rd. 1917

Private Kearney survived the War. The second witness statement, dated 4/9/17, is by Private T R Vipond (6599), the soldier who was with Private Paterson at the time of his death. Private Vipond was a bit older than Paterson. He too survived the War.

I saw him killed by a shell. He was suffering from shell-shock at time of casualty, and I was with him in a dugout looking after him, when the shell landed into the dugout, killing him instantaneously and wounding me. The ground was held, where casualty took place, but I do not know place of burial and cannot refer to anyone. I knew him well, he was the only man of that name in the coy.

The cable advising of the death was dated 24/5/17 and the formal report of death was completed on 15/6/17. The mother received a pension of 30/- per fortnight from 24/7/17. There was no kit returned. This was despite a specific search for the kit. As for 2 recent cases – Sweeney CJ, Post 113 and Slavin JL, Post 117 – the non-return of personal kit was most unusual. Perhaps the clustering of these instances round the fighting at Bullecourt is significant.

Even though Private Paterson had been killed and the family was advised promptly, the mother struggled to accept the news and held out the hope that there had been a mistake and that her boy was not dead. She clung to this hope in extended correspondence with Base Records that lasted for more than one year. Much of her hope turned round the confusion – at least in her mind – over his regimental number. Basically, his original number – 5737 – was changed to 5422 on 22/9/16, but it appears he never informed his parents of the change. Such changes were relatively common. When the fateful telegram arrived, the mother immediately picked up on the different regimental number and wrote, the very next day (25/5/17), to the ‘Defence Department’.

Dear Sir
I wish to let you know my son [is] G.W. Paterson No 5737 5 Battalion
The number I received about his death is not the number he gave me so I don’t believe it, till I hear further information I hope to God the news is not true as he is my full support.
Hoping to hear sooner about him
I remain yours truly
Mrs Mary Paterson

This was just the first letter and the mother’s grief is painfully raw in the extensive correspondence which followed. There was anxious correspondence even before the report of his death that pointed to the intense relationship with her son. She wrote on 31/4/17 – just before the time of his actual death – because she was worried that she had not heard from him. She wanted help from the AIF.

I am writing to you to see if you can find my dear son George W. Paterson
address B Company
5th Battalion
France A.I.F
[I] last heard from him on Feb 20th(?) 17. I am very anxious I cannot sleep at night thinking of him my dear boy so brave as he was [.] I have 4 sons fighting for their country [I] hear from them all except George
Dear Gentlemen I want you to hunt him up for me
trusting you will & let me know as soon as possible
you will greatly oblige me

Despite the efforts of Base Records to convince the mother that her son had been killed, she continued to clutch at straws. For example, she wrote on July 5 that she had had a letter from one of her other boys – Thomas Paterson, serving in France in 21 Battalion – dated 11/5/17 in which he had reported that George was ‘quite well’, presumably when he had seen him some time prior to his death. She combined this with the confusion – at least for her – over the regimental number and the commonness of the name ‘Paterson’  – …there are many Patersons at the war; I read of them getting killed every day…. to convince herself that there was some hope. She declared that she was hoping to … get a letter from him shortly…

The letters to Base Records continued, fixated on the number change. The mother spoke to many other parents but none of them had had their son’s number changed. She wanted to know why the parents were not told when numbers were changed. The concerns were irrelevant, even irrational; but the raw grief behind them is so clear. The following was dated 21/7/17:

We are terrible all broken up over him & it is causing us such worry & and we are very annoyed of the wrong number and we reared [a] fine lot of sons [.] 5 enlisted & 4 passed & all were at the front & I wrote to have George kept back as we made a mistake in his age he was too young to [have] been sent to the front 17 ½ yrs when he went into camp & 18 ½ got news killed [.] so dear Gentlemen we are broken hearted over it.

The reference to the letter requesting George be kept from the front was repeated several times but there is no evidence of it in the file.

Base Records replying to all the letters, reiterated that the son had been killed and that the change to the regimental number was a common occurrence. But the mother was convinced that it was all a question of the wrong number. She wrote on 4/8/17 that she was

… waiting patiently for a letter from him [.] he never wrote very often he said he had no time [.] he was such a good boy [,] the pet of the house but he did want to go & fight for his Country & was so proud to be a Soldier [.] I would like to know how he was killed if it is true & what with [.] he was in a different Battalion to his other brothers [.] he was the only one [who] helped me and cared for home all the rest never cared. I put a claim in to get something but I suppose I will get nothing as I have a little income
Hoping to hear better news later on.

As indicated, the mother did receive a pension, from July, 1917.

In October 1917 it appeared that the mother had accepted her son’s death. In a letter (12/10/17) to Base Records she indicated that she had not had any letter from him since 25/4/17 . She was still upset that he had been sent to the front because he was so young and she had specifically asked that he be kept back, given that she had other sons there. But she did also write,

Dear Gentlemen it is quite true now about him [.] the dear boy is gone forever. We will never get over him [.] we are so broken up over him being so young, far too young.

There is also a reference to another, older, son – Thomas – having told her that George had been killed.

Yet, there is still the ongoing anxiety over the number change. In fact, it was almost the case that in her mind he had been killed because his number had been changed.

In November (28/11/17) she was again fixated on the number change. She wanted his belongings – as indicated no kit was ever returned – as proof that he was dead; and in any case there was also the possibility that he was a prisoner.

I hope you will try & find out about him & his belongings [.] if I receive them that will satisfy me that he is killed but he gave me his No 5737 [his original regimental number] so it seems strange about the wrong number
Hoping you will see into the matter [.] he might be a prisoner.

In 1918 the letters to Base Records continued. The family was distressed. The mother appeared to be convinced that her son had been, as she expressly put it, … killed by a wrong number. (21/3/1918). In April (14/4/1918) she wrote again, this time wanting to know the reason why the regimental number had been changed. Presumably, she believed some conspiracy had been at work and that the death itself was part of the same conspiracy. Certainly, the repeated advice from Base Records that the number – like so many others – had been changed as a matter of routine was not being accepted. In her mind, there had to be some other reason – a sinister one, presumably – and that was why he was dead, or at least the authorities claimed he was dead.

In June (13/6/1918) after Base Records explained that two soldiers had had the same number and that her son’s original number had been changed to avoid the confusion, she wrote back asking for the name and address of this soldier. She thought she might know him. She also asked again for her son’s belongings and explained that if she could get hold of these then she would be able to see all the letters she had written to him, and then she would know he was dead. The boy’s father, she wrote … is nearly mad talking about it. Base Records duly sent the name of the soldier: Private L Mullaly (5737) 5 Battalion. [Mullaly was a factory-hand from Richmond. He was in the same battalion but had gone overseas several months before George Paterson. He survived the War.]

At that point, the preoccupation with the regimental number appeared to stop and there was no further correspondence, until 1921. It was routine practice by this point to send photographs of the graves of soldiers killed in the War, accepting of course that there was a grave. The mother must have heard other families talking about such photographs and had obviously never appreciated that her son’s body had never been buried or, if it had been, the grave had been lost. Communication from Base Records had always indicated that there was no grave. However, on 21/4/1921, the mother wrote,

I am writing these few lines to you kindly asking you, could you send me the photo of my dear beloved son No 5422 George William Paterson which was killed at Bullecourt on May 10th 1917 [.] his mother is very anxious about him, thinking he was never found or buried, I would be very pleased if I was sure he was buried & to have a photo of his grave
Hoping to hear from you shortly
I remain yours truly
Mr John & Mary Paterson

Base Records had to write back (7/5/1921) explaining that …. no particulars of burial have yet been received here in respect of your son, the late No. 5422 Private G. W. Paterson, 5th Battalion …and reassuring the parents that …an intensive search is now being made over all old battlefields with a view to locating unregistered graves, and should these efforts prove successful in this instance you will be advised. Free photographs were to be sent to the next-of-kin in such cases.

Having taken so long to come to terms with her son’s death, the mother was now faced with the harsh reality that there was never to be any trace of him: no grave and not even any of his kit.

Her son had died crouched in a dug-out suffering shell shock, comforted by a twenty-year-old. It appears from one letter in the service file that she actually knew he was suffering from shell shock at the time of his death. It is reasonable to make the point that her wrenching and unhinging grief seemed to parallel his dreadful end.

The same supposed confusion and unfounded hope over the fate of Private Paterson played out in the local paper. On 15/6/17 it reported:

Mr. Thos. Paterson, Darriman has received word that his son, Private G. W. Paterson was killed in action on 10th May. As the No. given is 5422, and Private Paterson’s No. is 5737, there is hope that the report is incorrect. Private Paterson enlisted twelve months ago at the age of 17 1/2 years.

At the end of 1917 (21/12/17) the family placed an in memoriam:

Paterson – In France, at the battle of Boulecourt (sic) on 10th May, 1917. Private George William Paterson, 5th Bat. 6th Brigade, fifth son of John and Mary Patterson (sic), Darriman, aged 18 years and 9 months.
Foremost was he in the thickest strife,
For God, King and Country he laid down his life
Only a boy, he heard the call:
He did his duty – he gave his all.
One of earth’s brightest, one of the best
Like many others he is laid to rest.
Deeply regretted – Inserted by his loving father, mother, sisters and brothers.

The same edition featured a report – with some obvious errors – that apparently confirmed that Private Paterson had been killed, and even formally buried:

The sad news reached Mr. and Mrs. John Paterson, Darriman, about 8 months ago, that their fifth son Private George William Paterson had been killed in action at the Boulecourt (sic) battle. The news was not believed, owing to what was considered to be a different number being given. It has since become known to his relatives that he bore two numbers. Lately word has been received from Private Thomas Patterson (sic), his soldier brother, that just after the battle, when leaving the trenches for furlough, a shell burst over his head and killed him instantly. The remains of this brave soldier are buried in the Boulecourt cemetery.

In January 1918 (23/1/18) the paper published the last letter sent home by Private Paterson. In its preamble to the letter it gave another version of his death. It stated that he was killed on 10/5/17 at the battle of Boulecourt and that he … was killed in “no man’s land”, having with others gone too far owing to misadventure. A shell burst over the dug-out killing him instantly and wounding a mate, just as relief was at hand.

But in August 1918 (16/8/18) there was this commentary which continued the claim that he had not even been killed:

Private George Paterson is reported killed, but another number having been given to the Defence authorities, the parents still hope that he may be a prisoner “somewhere in Germany,” and that, after the war, he will turn up safe and sound, even if somewhat underfed by the enemy. His number was 5737, and 5422 is reported killed.

Overall, the case stands as the classic example of the inability of parents to face the death of their son and, instead, to grab at any piece of potential evidence to challenge the official position. Presumably, from the perspective of the local paper, it was only right that the local community supported the parents in their desperate hopes.

Private George Paterson’s name is recorded on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. The names of all the Paterson brothers who enlisted are on the honor roll for the state school at Darriman. Additionally, George Paterson’s name is also on the honor rolls for the local Presbyterian Charge and the state school at Woodside.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 3, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for PATERSON George William 5422
Roll of Honour: George William Paterson
First World War Embarkation Rolls: George William Paterson
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: George William Paterson

Additional information

The following photographs and commentary have been provided by Colin Coomber, grandson of Archibald Paterson.

John Paterson and Mary Young had 11 children – 6 of whom were boys. John
and his brother Archibald (married to Mary’s sister) selected adjoining
blocks at Darriman in 1884 (ref: Gippsland Mercury, Feb 7, 1884, Sale
Land Board report) Both lots fronted Warrigal Creek and were believed to
be roughly where the 1843 Warrigal Creek massacre occurred. John made
some poor decisions involving purchase of a large amount cattle during
the 1890s recession which left him virtually bankrupt and so he spent
the rest of his working life in the employ of major landholder Patrick
Brennan on his Woodside run. Brennan also owned Warrigal Creek run
between 1875 and 1879. His bother Archibald had returned to Learmonth
but retained the Darriman property for some years and it is possible
John ran some cattle there.

Older brother Colin Patterson spelt his name with a double T all his
life although in the family’s birth registrations there is a mix of
single and double Ts. John Paterson may have had limited literacy
because his wife Mary wrote most letters and in registering births the
spelling of the surname was whatever the registrar decided.
Interestingly John had a sister who signed her wedding certificate with
the double T even though it was filled out with a single T.

Another interesting fact is that of the four brothers who served in WW1,
Tom, Arch and George all sailed on the one troopship HMAS Ayreshire on
July 13, 1916. Tom enlisted two months before his younger brothers.

The extended Paterson family was hit hard by the war. John and Mary had
their son George killed at Bullecourt, and a nephew Albert Rands (son of
Janet Mary Paterson and John Alexander Rands) was killed at Bullecourt
seven days before George. To add more to this story, John Rands’ sister
Lydia Lyon died in childbirth and the baby Israel Edward Lyon survived
and was brought up as a child of John and Janet Rands) Israel (known as
Ned) was killed at Gallipoli on November 29, 1915. A second sister of
John Rands, Sarah (m William Grey of Dunolly) had a son Horace (sometimes
spelt Horris) killed at Gallipoli on August 1, 1915.

Regards Colin Coomber
(Grandson of Archibald Paterson, son of John).