Category Archives: Divided Community

213. Sectarianism after WW1

This post provides an overview of the extent, nature and causes of the sectarianism that characterised life in the Shire of Alberton in the immediate years after the War. It is based largely on reports in the local media from the time.

Background

Sectarianism in the local community was hardly new, and it has been covered in numerous earlier posts. Essentially, in terms of causes, there was the centuries old clash between Roman Catholicism and British Protestantism. There were significant differences in terms of dogma, the role and responsibility of the related clergy and fundamentals such as the significance of the Bible in the quest for personal salvation. There was also a long, bitter history between the two religions that had featured persecution on both sides.

There was also the vexed issue of Ireland. In part, this represented a religious clash between Irish (Roman) Catholic and British Protestant. But it also covered Irish nationalism and the fight – both political and military – for an Ireland completely free of British control. There was also the determination by Protestants in the north (Ulster) to remain within the United Kingdom.

Prior to the War itself, there had been the threat of civil war in Ireland. It was largely averted by the British promise of Home Rule after the War. This background was covered in Post 67. Ireland, Empire and Irish-Australians. However after the War and, more particularly, the Easter Uprising of 1916, there was a different political dynamic in play. The 3 years immediately after the War featured armed conflict between Irish nationalists and the ‘occupying’ British troops and Auxiliaries. Then, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, and the realisation of a form of Irish independence, the conflict with the British was superseded by a bitter civil war between those who supported the treaty and those who opposed it and wanted a complete break with the UK. Overall, the political situation in Ireland in the years immediately after the War was dire and the obvious hostility towards the British In Ireland was inevitably reflected amongst the Irish Catholic community in Australia. Where in 1914, Australians, including those from the Irish-Catholic community had flocked to join the defence of the Empire, by the end of the War – after two divisive conscription referenda, the Easter Rebellion and the British campaign to crush the rebellion and execute the ring leaders – support for the Empire amongst the Irish Catholic population in Australia had softened considerably. The dynamic situation in Ireland in the years after the War compromised Irish-Catholic Australians’ support for the Empire even more, particularly when Protestant clergy in Australia declared, in effect, that Roman Catholicism itself and the Pope posed an existential threat to the Empire. In part, this argument was a reworking of the conscription debates of 1916 and 1917.

Beyond several centuries of religious differences, the ripple effects of the ever-present conflict in Ireland and the strident claims of Catholic disloyalty to the Empire, there were still further drivers to the increasingly bitter sectarianism that characterised post WW1 Australia. As noted in several previous posts, schooling was a constant flash point and, arguably, its effect was even more pronounced in rural communities. Catholic efforts to establish their own schools, operated by religious orders such as the Sisters of St. Joseph, were viewed negatively by others in the the local community. The negativity was not just because of religious differences or the view that the local Catholics were choosing to remove their children from the local state school and effectively set them apart from the other children, but also because of the challenge of providing schooling in rural communities where the issue of student numbers was always critical. Any new Catholic school made the challenge more difficult. The end of WW1 saw the push for increased secondary schooling in rural communities and, as the likes of Bishop Phelan pushed for Catholic secondary schooling in Gippsland, tensions increased over the impact of such schooling on equivalent state school initiatives.

The sectarian tension associated with schooling went beyond the issue of its provision, because there was also a very significant background issue round the question of Bible or Scripture study or lessons in the state school. For a long time there had been a push from the Protestant Churches for some form of ‘non sectarian’ religious instruction, based on Bible reading or study, in Victorian state schools, even to the extent that such instruction could be given by the teachers themselves rather than visiting clergymen. However, such a position was, in theory at least, at odds with the non-sectarian and ‘secular’ nature of the state school system which had been established in all the various colonies in the 1870s and 1880s. After WW1, in the midst of heightened sectarianism, Protestant groups accused the Romand Catholic Church of undermining their attempts to bring about such Bible instruction in the state school. From the Catholic perspective there was indeed an element of wariness about the motivation behind the push. Beyond issues of dogma and theology associated with Bible reading per se, the wariness stemmed from the degree to which during the War the local state school had been pressed to serve the British (Protestant) Empire. There was Catholic concern that Protestantism, as well as having been declared the ‘natural’ religion of the Empire, was also being proposed as the natural religion of the state school.

There were still more dimensions to the ugly sectarianism of post WW1. Interestingly, one emerging dimension concerned Australian nationalism. Throughout the War, such nationalism had been incorporated within the total commitment to the Empire. The true Australian was one, first and foremost, loyal to the Empire. However, in the sectarianism of post WW1 this simple equation began to unravel. Irish Catholics were increasingly concerned by what they saw as British repression in Ireland. For them, the Empire had become an oppressor. At the same time, on the other side, there were strident claims from some Protestants that Roman and Irish (Australian) Catholics, led by the anti-Christ Pope, were effectively ‘traitors’ to the Empire, and, in fact, had been throughout the War itself. Not surprisingly, the very idea of Australian nationalism came under great pressure and Catholics inevitably looked for an expression of such nationalism outside the (Protestant) Empire.

Another dimension involved national politics. Irish Catholics tended to support the ALP and, obviously, they had been largely identified with the anti-conscription cause – itself interpreted as an anti-Empire push – during the War. Politically, they were seen as left, even radical, and also definitely anti-Empire. On the other side, Protestant Churches were largely represented as politically conservative.

One final dimension worth noting concerned individual personalities. For both sides, the bitter sectarianism both threw up and was itself defined and driven by key personalities. As we will see, such personalities attracted intense interest and their individual appeal and actions definitely shaped what happened.

All these dimensions are evident in what follows.

Loyalty by numbers

One of the key background issues to the intense debates at the time covered the extent to which Irish Catholics had been ‘loyal’ during the War. For many, this question came down to numbers: the numbers of local Catholics who enlisted. Throughout this blog, I have attempted to plot enlistments relative to the religious affiliation described on the enlistment papers. I have also attempted to tie these figures to what we take to have been the levels of religious affiliation in the local community itself. None of this analysis is as simple or easy as it might appear. Take the case of the levels of religious affiliation in the local district. The 1911 Census gave a figure of 21,349 males who were identified as Catholic for the County of Buln Buln. This suggested a figure of 19% of the total male population for the county. We could extrapolate from this and assume the same level for the Shire of Alberton. However, there are some qualifications. First, while the Shire of Alberton is located within the county of Buln Buln, the county is considerably larger than the shire. There could well have been variations in terms of Catholic settlement density across the whole county that affected the precise figure for the number of Catholics within the Shire of Alberton. Second, the overall figures are not broken down by age-cohorts. Such information would help identify the numbers of men who were actually eligible to enlist at points throughout the War. There are also problems with the designation of religious affiliation on the men’s enlistment forms. True, virtually everyone identified with a religion, but there is no way of knowing the strength of the religious conviction or the commitment to the associated religious beliefs and practices. So, strictly speaking, the statistics refer only to ‘in-name’ affiliation. Also, sometimes with brothers you have different religions given and there appears to have been a tendency to use ‘Church of England’ as a sort of generic religion. With all these qualifications in mind, the following points can be made:

The complete list of men with a definite association to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted between 1914 and 1918 and who indicated a religious affiliation – there were only 13 cases where a religion was not given – was 807. Of this number, 109 men described their religion as ‘Roman Catholic’. This number represents 13.5% of the total Shire enlistments.

Previous analysis – in earlier posts – indicates that the percentage of Roman Catholic enlistments varied over time. For example it was at its highest in the first half of 1915 (17%) and it remained around 16% through 1916. It was lower from 1917, but it is difficult to be precise about the exact decline, principally because enlistments as a whole declined significantly from that point and the numbers are too small to be able to make definite observations. For example, whereas total enlistments in the Shire for 1915 were 302, there were only 31 enlistments in the first half of 1917, with 3 of these Catholic. With this significant qualification about the numbers involved, it appears that there was a drop-off in the rate of Catholic enlistments in the Shire from the start of 1917. This is hardly surprising given the background of the conscription referenda.

In a real sense, the issue here is not one of statistics but community perception. With more than 100 Catholic enlistments over the period of the War, the perception in the local community would definitely have been that the Catholic community had ‘answered the call’. It is also worth noting that the local Catholic priest, Fr Sterling, served as a chaplain with the rank of captain in the AIF over 1916-1917. In the local press at the time this service was noted and praised. It would have served as a very visible example for other potential Catholic enlistments.

Also in terms of perception, it is worth noting that of the 79 names on the cenotaph in the main street of Yarram – the memorial to the dead of the Shire of Alberton – 13 of the names are Catholic (16%). The fact might not mean much today, but 100 years ago locals would definitely have known the individual men and noted the significance of their religion.

Overall, in terms of enlistments and sacrifice, the Catholic community in the Shire of Alberton had proved its loyalty over the course of the War.

The following is an overview of episodes that illustrate the nature and extent of sectarianism in the local community in the first few years after WW1.

The test of loyalty and the increasing the number of Catholic schools in Gippsland

The first episode has already been covered in a previous post – 154. The start of the 1918 school year and yet more division – but it is included here because it touches on another aspect of the critical issue of loyalty. Throughout the War years, Bishop Phelan of Sale had pursued an ambitious church and school building program in Gippsland. He had enjoyed significant success with new churches at Bairnsdale, Maffra and Yarram and convent schools at Leongatha and Yarram (opened for the start of the 1918 school year). Further, his ambitious plan for a major Catholic boys’ secondary school – St. Patrick’s – at Sale was keenly promoted. It would open in 1921. Part of the motivation behind the ambitious program was clearly to lift the profile of the Catholic community in Gippsland and emphasise their right to exercise civic and political power. For example, Phelan was quoted – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, 26/4/18 – in relation to the proposed Catholic boys’ college at Sale:

My ambition is that the Catholic boys of Gippsland should have in their own province a college where they would receive such a secondary education as would equip them to take a leading part in civic and national affairs.

But in the same article, Phelan noted the challenges he had faced in his ambitious building program. He noted the inherent difficulties in the geography of the diocese where the Catholic community was spread thinly over such a vast area. He also noted the competition for funds and specifically mentioned … the innumerable demands made on the people on account of the most terrible war in history. He then stated:

But the greatest difficulty experienced was the wall of prejudice raised by narrow-minded people who endeavored to howl down every movement for raising funds except for Red Cross or Imperial purposes. But the stirling Catholics of Gippsland, like their fighting brothers at the front, did their duty towards all the demands of the Empire, and broke through every barrier that prejudice and bigotry would raise between them and their own field of labour.

The Catholic community in Gippsland was aware that fund-raising on their part during the War for their own parochial interests could be interpreted as an act of disloyalty to the Empire. An earlier post – 84. Schooling, religion & Imperialism, Part B: Secularism – considered the issue in more detail. It described how the proceeds from the St Patrick’s Sports Carnival, held in Yarram in March 1916, were passed in entirety to both the Red Cross and the Victorian Sick and Wounded Soldiers’ Fund. The amount was very significant – £720 – and it was to that point; and probably for the entire period of the War – the single most successful fund-raiser for the War effort. It was also significant that it came just 2 weeks after the official blessing of the new Catholic church in Yarram which itself had been funded by a far more parochial effort.

Clearly, throughout the War years, there was the perception on the part of the Catholic community that its loyalty to the War effort and the Empire was always under question. The loyalty itself was measured in a range of ways and the scrutiny was intense.

Fr Sterling’s ‘loyalty’ comes under question

The second episode involves a letter to the editor published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 1/5/18. Again, this was obviously before the end of the War but it is important for setting some background to the hostility directed at the local Catholic priest – Fr. Sterling – in the years immediately after the War. Fr Patrick Sterling had been born in Ireland in 1882. He served as parish priest if Yarram from 1914 to 1949. As already indicated, he also served as a chaplain with the AIF. At the time he volunteered, his service received widespread praise in the local community.

The letter in question, signed ‘Returned Soldier’ wanted to know why Sterling had not been invited to a recent function for returned men. There was a clear inference that his absence was a sleight to the returned Catholics in the district:

Kindly allow me to inquire through your valuable columns of those responsible for the Returned Soldiers’ Smoke Night, why the Rev Father Stirling’s name was omitted from the invitation list. He is as much a returned soldier as any of us and his non-inclusion was keenly felt by at least the Catholics present.

The event had been held in the Shire Hall on Thursday 25/4/18 and the report in the local paper on 1/5/18 indicated that … nearly 100 local and district residents’ received invitations.

There was a letter in response from the local branch of the Returned Soldiers’ League published in the paper on 3/5/18 which argued that there had been a direction from the State Executive of the organisation that … troopship chaplains are not eligible for membership of the Returned Soldiers’ League and are not classed as returned soldiers by the Defence Department. The letter continued that as there were limited places it was not possible to include Fr Sterling. There are at least two possible interpretations here. One is that the local committee, acting neutrally, was merely applying the letter of the law. The second is that it was exploiting a technicality to exclude Fr Sterling from attending and, at the same time, intimate that his service with the AIF had not been all that significant. It, effectively, did not rate. The significance of the second interpretation will become clearer later. Certainly, there were some in the local community keen to minimise and denigrate Sterling’s service as a chaplain with the AIF

Intensified attacks on Fr Sterling

The third episode also involves Fr Sterling. From the end of 1918 through to the first part of 1919 there was an extended series of ‘welcome homes’ to local men returning from the War. They were written up in the local paper. Typically, they were hosted by a local dignitary, often the local councillor and invariably a recognised Imperial Loyalist. The conventional patriotic sentiments were always evident.

However, the welcome home staged at Stacey’s Bridge on Friday 10 January 1919 was definitely not in the normal style. It was reported at length in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 17/1/19. This report itself prompted a series of animated letters to the editor over the next few weeks. There were several highly divisive issues on show and the degree of hostility evident is revealing. It points to major fault lines in the local community.

The actual welcome at Stacey’s Bridge was put on for two sergeants – John Cantwell and Aloysius Cotter – and a stoker from the RAN named McKenzie. The two sergeants had survived the full war. They were part of the original group of 4 men from Stacey’s Bridge that left from the Alberton Train Station in September 1914. The original four men were Cantwell, Cotter and also Patrick Sexton and John Babington. Cantwell and Cotter made it through the War and were at this reception. Sexton was killed in April 1918. Babington was not finally discharged until October 1919. Of the four from Stacey’s Bridge who enlisted in September 1914, three were Catholics – Babington was Presbyterian – and it appears that this Catholic background was the distinguishing characteristic of the welcome home.

It was a very large community gathering. The paper reported that some 300 people attended the reception and there were at least 3 local councillors present: McLeod, McGalliard and Barry. The focus of the report however was on the comments made by Fr Sterling.

Fr Patrick Francis Sterling was thirty-seven at the time. As already noted, he had been born in Ireland – Thurles – and his mother as next of kin was still living in Borrisokane, County Tipperary. He had been serving in the parish at Yarram for two years when, in October 1916, he applied for and was given a commission as a captain in the AIF and served as a chaplain until April 1917. In that time he served on ships transporting troops to and from the UK. It was not a long period of service; but he obviously did have experience in the AIF and he could claim to speak with some authority.

Father Sterling’s speech is all the more interesting for what was not said, very deliberately not said. In fact, as reported by the paper, he began by stating that he regretted that he … could not do justice to the occasion by speaking exactly what he felt … because … if he did he ran a big risk of getting six months in jail.

By this point, Catholics had had to develop a particular perspective on the War. They were reluctant to support the claim that the War had been fought to preserve the integrity and supremacy of the British Empire. After all, as they saw it, the Empire was the core problem in Ireland. Yet uncompromising and total dedication to the Empire had been one of the constant themes hammered home in Australia throughout the War and well before it. In the popular mind, the defence of the Empire was a given – even a God-given reality. Moreover, 300,000 thousand Australians had enlisted in the AIF – including many from an Irish Catholic background – to defend the Empire. So there was this fundamental dilemma for many Catholics: how to bypass or downplay the issue of Imperial loyalty – and avoid being seen as pro-British – while at the same time honouring the achievements, sacrifices and unique character of all the Australians who had enlisted.

On this occasion, it is clear that Sterling opted for a pro-Australian and anti-British position. Of course, his comments are being reported to us by the local paper and they may have been coloured by the editor; but they certainly do suggest that Sterling was not being as pro-British and pro-Empire as the times demanded.

He [Sterling] reminded the audience that the credit of winning the war was due in one essential matter solely to the Australians. The British authorities have now admitted that on the occasion of the last big German offensive, every preparation had been made to transport back to England every British soldier in France. As a last resort, and as a desperate gamble, four Australian divisions were hurried up at a critical time, and at Villers-Bretonneux stemmed the German advance once and for all. In plain, sober fact the Australians on that occasion won the war, and saved the world’s freedom. (Applause.)

This idea that Australian troops had in effect ‘won the war’ was reflected in other articles at the time. While the claim was greatly overblown, it did at least reflect the high praise accorded to the AIF by various heads of state, newspaper editors, foreign generals etc. The more important observation here is that Sterling’s comments champion the Australian cause while at the same time questioning British efforts and character. Sterling went on to make other highly complimentary remarks about … that gallant fighting force, the A.I.F. which had earned for itself in deeds of bloody glory a monument “more splendid than gold and more enduring than brass.”

The event itself was taking place just 2 months after the end of fighting. To this point, most other welcome-home events or Armistice celebrations had promoted a conventional narrative of God’s grace in bringing victory, the final triumph of good over evil, the resoluteness of the British fighting spirit, the unvanquished greatness of the Empire, the final defeat of German militarism, the outstanding achievements of the AIF etc. But Sterling started to raise the more awkward questions to do with what, in the end, had been achieved. He argued that for a war that had been waged for … freedom and democracy, and a lot of other high sounding things … the outcomes were decidedly uncertain. He even suggested that the ‘four years of hell’ that the Australian boys had been through ‘to make the world fit to live in’ were currently being compromised by the actions of some of the Allied powers themselves. He singled out France for its determination to maintain conscription and the USA for its declared intention to create a navy which, as Sterling put it, … will make her boss cocky of the seas. Sterling also included an attack on the ‘repatriation scheme’, which he referred to as a ‘huge farce’. The criticism was that the boys had volunteered for war on the solemn promise that they would be looked after when they came home. But now the promise appeared false:

The departing soldiers were told that nothing would be too good for them on their return, and the best would not be good enough for them. And so on ad nauseam. If they wait until these promises materialise they had better make Rip Van Winkle their patron saint. (Applause.)

He then gave an account of a returned soldier who, only recently, had had to cadge from him the ‘price of a bed and a feed’. Coincidentally, less than two weeks later there was a detailed story in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on the plight of a returned soldier who had well and truly fallen through any repatriation safety net. It is not clear if the subject of the article on 29/1/19 is the same person with whom Fr Sterling dealt. However, it is very evident that both the challenge of repatriation and the implicit fear that the returned men were not being sufficiently supported were very much in the public mind.

Fr Sterling also could not let the occasion pass without mentioning that he had been … blackballed from the Yarram Club … and … passed over at Armistice celebrations.

There was singing – ‘Coming Home’, Mother Macree’ etc – and dancing at the function. But there was no mention of standard Imperial tunes, nor any mention of the National Anthem.

Unsurprisingly, the article on Fr Sterling’s comments at the welcome home at Stacey’s Bridge prompted a response. A letter appeared in the very next edition of the local paper on 22/1/19 by an anonymous correspondent who signed himself as ‘Loyal Australian’, with the clear implication that Fr Sterling on the other hand was not loyal. In fact, the gist of the letter was that if he – Fr Sterling- risked six months gaol for speaking his mind then, clearly, his sentiments must have been disloyal. ‘Loyal Australian’ also challenged the priest’s remarks about the British preparedness to evacuate from France and he suggested that no one would believe such a claim. He appeared to confirm that Fr Sterling had been banned from the Yarram Club and passed over for Armistice celebrations. He also claimed that Sterling had also been … turned down by the Returned Soldiers’ Association.

Fr Sterling responded in the next edition of the paper (24/1/1919). By now the debate was indeed heated. Sterling began by attacking ‘Loyal Australian’ for hiding behind the mask of anonymity. He argued that without any idea of the writer’s identity there was no way of testing his own loyalty. Sterling implied that the claimed loyalty might be fake. In fact, he suggested that the cloak of anonymity certainly pointed to a lack of courage. Sterling talked about varieties of loyalty and it is clear what he had in mind:

Loyalty… has so many meanings and ramifications. Loyalty to pocket and flag-flapping loyalty are common specimens. There is also the loyalty of the man who sools others on to fight for him, and who tells his substitute what a fine fellow he is, and what a lot of things will be done for him on his return – if he ever returns.

Fr Sterling continued his claim that the Yarram Club was selective and discriminatory by alleging that a sergeant involved in recruiting [presumably, William Newland] had also been blackballed; and he used this claim as a justification for questioning the very integrity of members of the Club. The criticism was full-on:

Did “Loyal Australian” resign from the Club when a recruiting sergeant was subjected to the indignity of being blackballed? They must be a hard lot to please in that exclusive club of aristocrats. Possibly the sergeant with his honourable wounds was deficient in the Club brand of loyalty. How many shirkers are on the roll call of the Club? Is “Loyal Australian” himself one of them? Is he in good health and physically strong, and as well able to endure the hardships of campaigning, as many others on the too-young-side and the too-old-side have done? Has he enlisted, or tried to do so, even for home defence? Let us wait and see if the boasted loyalty is merely camouflage for humbug.

Fr Sterling also attacked the ‘War Precautions Act’ and Hughes whom he referred to as the ‘livery P.M.’ Sterling referred to national politicians – Hughes, Cook and Pearce – as the ‘tin gods’ of the likes of Loyal Australian. He also made another specific reference, in the context of the repatriation system not working, to a returned soldier living in a tent at the back of newspaper office waiting for a job. The reference in important because the same theme – possibly even the same case – was taken up the paper itself in a major article the next week (29/1/1919).

Not surprisingly, given what he had said about the Yarram Club, there was a response to Fr Sterling’s letter in the next edition, 29/1/1919. It was long, over-written and pompous in tone. Once again the writer was only given as ‘Loyal Australian’. But this letter included a piece of doggerel, penned by another anonymous scribe, ‘Spokeshear’.

The effort was clearly intended to damage the priest’s reputation and image in the community and make him look a fool. Amongst other insults, it questioned both his military service and his religious life. It mocked his Irish brethren. Aimed at a highly public figure in the local community and penned anonymously it was a nasty effort. It is surprising that the paper published such anonymously vindictive attacks. Perhaps the editor believed Sterling’s ‘disloyalty’ justified the attack. The complete effort – under the title of ‘Cinderella’s Voyage’ – is included below. It is worth reflecting that while the Great War was over, longer and deeper conflicts that touched on issues of class, nationality and religion were still very much alive. Those from the land of ‘bogs and hogs’ would have been less than amused.

Cinderella’s Voyage
I’ll tell you of a brave, bold Sterling chap
Who was spoiling for a scrap,
And was soon on board a transport
On a fairly decent job,
With clothes and boots and tucker free,
And a daily one and twenty bob.
And when he reached the land of bogs and hogs
His cobbers came to meet him by the score
But they couldn’t sight his togs,
They seemed to make ‘em sore,
But chappy didn’t care a dam-
For sure those togs were only sham.
And bad luck he didn’t stay,
But he wasn’t sorry that he went,
For he had a bonzer trip,
And it didn’t cost a cent,
And we know this Cinderella chappy
Didn’t mix up in a scrappy,
And wicked people say
He didn’t even – pray.
And soon he reached Australia fit and well,
And if he didn’t fight like hell or pray too well,
He surely wasn’t qualified to be supplied
With bread and beef and beer at a patriotic club,
So now perforce he lines up at the “pub”
And soaks his beer and damns the Club.
And now, alas, this poor Cinderella youth
Declines to mingle with these men uncouth,
Whom you’ll find among the “angels” at the Yarram Club.

Formation of local branch of the Protestant Federation

The fourth episode worth attention involved the formation of a local branch of the Protestant Federation in Yarram in August 1919. The motto of the Protestant Federation was ‘For God, King and Empire’. It had been established in Ballarat at the time of the second conscription referendum in 1917. By the time the local branch was set up in Yarram the Federation claimed a membership of 100,000. In part, it was influenced by the Protestant revivalist movement of the time. It spoke out against moral decline and population peril, and it actively supported causes like prohibition and social justice initiatives such as social housing. Imperial loyalty was its very DNA. Lastly, it was stridently anti-Roman Catholic. Archbishop Mannix was a particular target, as was John Wren.

The local branch was formed in Yarram on 1/8/19 at a meeting held in the Shire Hall with about 50 people present. The local meeting was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 6/8/19. The meeting was presided over by Rev W E Lancaster (Methodist). In his remarks Lancaster noted that the federation … had done a great deal to check different menaces to the country, and to prevent many things that did not tend to promote the welfare of the Protestant community. One particular ‘menace’ that Lancaster highlighted was the Roman Catholic Church. He quoted Gladstone to claim that … where the Church of Rome is weak it is crafty, and where it is strong it is tyrannical. He added:

The past of the Roman Church was dark with intrigue and red with the blond of martyrs.

Then he launched into claims that the Protestant Federation was promoting at the time. They were claims about Roman Catholic perfidy in the recent War. The Roman Church was an enemy of the Empire:

During the war evidence was available to show conclusively that the Roman Church had had a hand in the awfulness that had taken place. The speaker [Lancaster] advised those present to study the Rev. F. A. Hagenauer’s pamphlet describing the relationships of the Papacy to the Kaiser in the war. When Belgium was over-run and France was outraged no protest had gone out from the Vatican, nor was there any papal protest when the Lousitania (sic) was sunk. While Germany was busy submarining Allied and neutral vessels, ships flying the papal flag were immune from attack. While masquerading in the guise of a church the Romanish sect dishonoured the King and endeavoured to bring about the destruction of the Empire. Politically that Church was prepared to sell its influence to the highest bidder, and Protestants should be careful to combat its evil influence wherever and whenever possible. (Applause).

Also present the meeting were Rev M G Opper (Church of England) and Rev S Williams (Presbyterian). Opper spoke briefly about the aims of the Federation: … to substitute liberty for bondage, truth instead of error, and purity instead of corruption. He also mentioned threats to the Empire – ‘social unrighteousness’ and ‘industrial unrest’ – and, again, one such threat was the Pope. He noted that the Federation … wanted to rule out the supremacy of the pope. The first principle of Protestantism was loyalty to God and loyalty to the King.

It was resolved that the president of the local branch was to be George Bland (Methodist) and the 3 vice-presidents would be the three local Protestant clergymen: Revs Melchior George Opper (Church of England, appointed to Yarram October 1918), Samuel Williams (Presbyterian, appointed to Yarram November 1917) and W E Lancaster (Methodist, appointed to Yarram early 1919).

There had been earlier connections to Yarram for some of the influential figures in the Protestant Federation. Rev F A Hagenauer, who at this point (1919) was at Castlemaine, had earlier ministered in Yarram and, in fact, he had recently been relieving in the district when Rev S Williams had been on holidays. Rev G A Judkins, another key figure, had also served for a term in Yarram. He had left in 1904. As we will see, Judkins returned to Yarram to speak on behalf of the Protestant Federation.

The decision to establish a local branch of the Protestant Federation prompted a letter to the editor (8/8/19) from Fr Sterling criticising what he saw as the group’s anti-Roman Catholic bias. Sterling’s letter attempted to make fun of the allegations about the Roman Catholic Church working in concert with Germany. Essentially, Sterling dismissed the claims as nonsense. He also gave his version of what the real motivation was:

Now that the big war is over, and there is no sensational subject for the Sunday sermon, it is not unexpected that a local sectarian war will be dragged in to do duty. Anything to fill the empty pews. However, it won’t worry us. There will be mass at St. Mary’s as usual next Sunday, and the local annual collection for the Pope will most certainly eclipse all records this year. That is the best reply to make to the snuffling slanderers.

Sterling’s letter set off a minor war of correspondence with Rev F A Hagenauer. Hagenauer (13/8/19) challenged Sterling to shown where the Protestant Federation had given ‘false or unreliable’ evidence. He also added the allegation that Stirling, personally, had spoken ‘disrespectfully’ of the Prince of Wales.

In turn, Sterling replied on 15/8/19. It was clear that he was not keen to pursue a debate that he considered nonsensical. He also claimed that the debate was designed to boost sales of Rev Hagenauer’s book(s). Then Stirling tuned his attention to the claim that he had shown disrespect to the Prince of Wales

The Prince of Wales has proven himself during the war to be above all things – a man among men. He is no namby-pamby drawing-room fop, nor yet a tin god on a swirling piano stool. From what we have learned of his character he is not the type that wants grovelling slobberers running after him labeled as spittoons.

But as well as praise, there was also the clear rejection by Sterling of any sense of mandated servility. He continued:

His [Prince of Wales] manly character and his exalted position demand the ultimate expression of respect, but it is not necessary for me to stand on my head every time his name is mentioned.

On 20/8/19 Hagenaeur followed up with another letter but the debate with Stirling had effectively petered out.

Then in the local paper on 24/9/19, there was advice of an address by Rev G A Judkins on ‘The Papal Army in Australia’. It was to be held on behalf of the local branch of the Protestant Federation. The paper also noted that Judkins had previously ministered in Yarram, that he was key figure in the Methodist Church and that he was … held in high esteem in Protestant circles.

The meeting took place on 26/9/19 and was written up in the local paper on 1/10/19. The paper’s report was extensive and noted that it was the first, formal function of the local branch. The address took place in the Mechanic’s Hall and ‘there was ‘a very satisfactory attendance.’ The meeting began with the National Anthem and prayers. Rev Opper, vice president, presided and set the tone. It was the Empire against Roman Catholicism.

The speaker deplored the apathy manifested by Protestants in the fight against the influences of Roman Catholicism which was a great menace to the Empire and to Australia.

For his part, Judkins claimed it was the Roman Catholics not the Protestants responsible for the conflict. Again, the Roman Catholic Church was trying to destroy the Empire:

The conflict would never have come into existence had it not been for the wicked aggression of the Roman Church. Rome had promised faithfully to lay aside her weapons during the progress of the great war, but she had not done so. While they were giving their sons in order that the Empire might be saved and liberty preserved for themselves and heir children, the great organisation of Rome was doing its utmost to spoil the Empire, and praying that it should be beaten down to the very dust.

According to Judkins, there was a universal conspiracy:

A papal army existed in Australia, and not only in Australia, but in every other land; and its definite object wherever it existed was to bring that country under the absolute control of the church of Rome.

Amongst other wild accusations, Judkins claimed that because France had ‘thrown off the papal yoke’, Rome had been keen to bring about the defeat of France and had allied with the Kaiser. Rome was behind the War itself:

France was to be punished because she had broken away. The intriguing hand of Rome was responsible for the great war, just as it was responsible for some of the other greatest tragedies in history.

With such a shocking history, Judkins warned that the threat of Rome could not be taken lightly. Rome was the Devil’s agent:

People did not realise it but an organised minority was infinitely more powerful than an unorganised majority. People talked foolishly when they argued that Romans compromised only a fifth of the Australian population, and they could not do anything. Rome was one of the mightiest forces that the devil employed; and it was working to bring the whole world to the feet of the Pope. He [Judkins] appealed to those present to organise and to keep organising, in order to combat the great menace which existed in their midst today.

Judkins continued on about papal espionage, the Church of Rome as the ‘anti-Christ’, a papal plot for world domination and, specifically, the conquest of all Protestant lands, with England the chief target.

Specifically in relation to the situation in Australia, Judkins claimed that Mannix had been reported to have said,

If I had my wish there would not be a Protestant in Australia.

There were additional attacks on the local Catholic clergy as being under the control of Rome and … working to injure our country. The Catholic Church was also said to be in alliance with the ALP … which she was using as a tool to be cast side when it had outgrown its usefulness. Similarly, Rome was in alliance with ‘Sinn Feinism and Bolshevism’.

Judkins also argued that Protestant attempts to bring scripture back into the State schools were being undermined by Catholics. The Catholics had even deliberately left some of their students in State schools so they could oppose the introduction of scripture. The Catholic Church was also ‘… cramming our [State] schools with Roman Catholic teachers.

The local paper noted the applause at the end of the address.

It was hardly surprising that local Catholics were upset by Judkins’ attack. On 3/10/19, there was a letter from John W Biggs a local Catholic who had had 3 sons serve in the AIF: Robert Biggs (2616), Charles Ignatius Biggs (1313) and John William Biggs (427). All survived the War.

Biggs recorded his ‘disgust’ at Judkin’s address which he described as … a tirade of abuse of the Catholic Church and all belonging to it. He identified Judkins and his supporters as ‘pro-conscriptionists’ from the War who had tried … to force our young Australian youth (boys merely) to fight for the defence of the Empire. He rejected the claims of disloyalty and claimed 60,000 of the AIF had been Catholic. He claimed this figure of 60,000 was … their full quota according to population. Biggs asked … did ever a body get such abuse as the Catholic parents of such soldiers?

Biggs briefly revisited the conscription debate:

No doubt a good many Catholic young men did not join the army but could you blame them when the majority of the Press and the wowser parsons were abusing their religion right and left.

Biggs also claimed that many young Protestants had not wanted to join AIF and had also opposed conscription; but they had not had to bear the same level of abuse as the young Catholics.

Biggs also disputed many of Judkins’ historical claims and was critical of the conditions of the British working class – housing, wages, living conditions – under Protestantism. He suggested that Judkins should focus on substantial issues, such as the housing problem in Melbourne and ‘profiteering’ and ‘race suicide’. Biggs finished his letter:

I will now conclude by informing you, that being the father of three soldiers, I was very much hurt on reading the insults and abuse showered on Catholics by Mr Judkins, to which denomination my boys belong. I may state that the Catholic percentage of population of Australia is 20.68, and the Methodist 16.3. The percentage of enlistments of Catholics is 18.9 and Methodists is 13.8.

St Patrick’s Day processions

The next episode to highlight the bitter sectarianism evident in the local community after the War involved St Patrick’s Day processions in 1919 and then 1920. The first covered events in Sale, Gippsland and the second in Melbourne.

Sectarianism was strong in Sale where Bishop Phelan was based. Against this background, the civic authorities insisted that for the 1919 St Patrick’s Day procession through the town the Union Jack had to be carried at the head of the procession. The flag also had to be larger than any other flag in the procession. Additionally, no ‘Sinn Fein colours’ were to be worn or displayed by members of the procession. Lastly, there was to be ‘no allusion’ in any display in the procession to the ‘unhappy incidents of Easter, 1916, in Dublin, or any sequel thereof’. The organisers of the march agreed to the obviously ‘political’ terms, but when Phelan heard of the demands made by the mayor he railed against them. He described the mayor as a ‘petty tyrant’ and a ‘fool’. The local press – Gippsland Times, 27/2/19 – reported that Phelan called off the procession because of the demands and the manner of the local authorities:

We will not march to the grounds [where the associated St Patrick’s sports carnival was to take place] under the humiliating conditions which our local ruler would impose on us this year. (Tremendous Applause).

Phelan then organised an alternative garden fete. He invited Mannix to attend the event and it was clear that this was a definite strategy to raise the profile of the occasion, underline the perceived attacks on the Catholics in Gippsland, and encourage a large attendance. Additional trains were put on to bring people from Bairnsdale and Traralgon. Mannix arrived at Sale by train on 5/4/19 and was met by very large crowd. Led by a car carrying Phelan and Mannix, the large crowd then processed thorough Sale to the cathedral. There was no Union Jack. The Gippsland Times (7/4/19) reported on comments by Mannix:

His Grace expressed his great pleasure at being present. In Melbourne they had been hearing a good deal of Sale lately – (laughter) – and some of the trouble arose in connection with St. Patrick’s Day. Here, as in other places, obstacles had been placed in the way of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. They wanted to prevent the people of Sale from marching in their own streets, but today a great part of Gippsland had marched in spite of them. (Great cheering).

After the ’procession’ or ‘march’, the mayor of Sale set out to prosecute the organisers, on the basis that clearly a march had occurred – a large one, led by Phelan and Mannix – but that the appropriate permission for the march had not been either requested or given. Some of the councillors saw the episode as an attempt to undermine local authority; and they were incensed by what they saw as Mannix’s gloating. The Gippsland Times, 10/419 reported one councillor:

Cr. Futcher said there was not the slightest doubt that there had been a breach of he regulations. What made matters worse was the fact that Archbishop Mannix went out of his way to gloat over the fact that they had marched in spite of the authorities. … Had it not been for the gloating that had been indulged in by church dignitaries, he would have been prepared to let the matter pass.

The council initially narrowly voted to institute a prosecution against the organisers and Mannix. The 5-4 vote was on sectarian lines. The vote saw all the Catholics on the council walk out and division in the local community reached new levels. In the end, the prosecution did not go ahead.

The following year -1920 – saw Mannix put on his own version of the St. Patrick’s Day procession in Melbourne. This time it was a far grander spectacle than the one staged in Sale the year before.

The St. Patrick’s Day Procession in Melbourne in 1920 was reported extensively in the press. The Argus, 22/3/20, detailed how the route started at St. Patrick’s and ended at the Exhibition Building (the interim Federal Parliament). The crowd watching was a record and the paper noted:

Long before the starting time people commenced to assemble on the streets. Soon after 1 o’clock there was a large crowd behind the barriers, and all available space on Federal Parliament House steps and the Post-office steps was occupied.

The route itself was lined with 400 police on foot and another 100 mounted police accompanied the procession. There were also plain clothes police in the crowd. On the day, there were no reports of any disturbances or problems.

It was a large procession. The paper estimated that 20,000 people participated in the actual procession and that it took an hour and 12 minutes for the procession to pass a given point.

The procession underlined how determined Mannix was to demonstrate not just the sacrifices that the Catholic community had made in terms of the War but how significant they were in terms of state and national politics. At its head, the procession featured the Australian flag, not the Union Jack. In fact, there was much press speculation about how the Union Jack would appear. The report in The Argus noted that it appeared about half an hour into the procession and … it came and went without many people realising it. At the same time, With the exception of one or two isolated individual cases, there was an absence of Sinn Fein colours or emblems. The dominant colours throughout the procession were green and gold.

First in the procession came 14 Victoria Cross winners on grey horses. Next was Archbishop Mannix in a motor car with several returned chaplains, with … a small body of mounted troops as an escort. Then there were 6,000 returned soldiers and sailors. More cars followed with nurses and returned men and other cars with clergy. There was also a long line of Catholic boys from Catholic schools and colleges. There were also Catholic societies and schools with banners and some floats. There were also various bands including the Melbourne Pipe Band. Finally, the paper noted that … the rear of the procession was brought up by a body of about 140 horsemen.

Archbishop Mannix and the VC winners, 1920. Courtesy State Library Victoria

Mannix clearly sought to emphasise the martial character of the procession. He personally ‘took the salute’ in front of Federal Parliament House (Exhibition Building). He stood with the VC winners and was cheered by each section of the procession as it passed.

Following the procession, there was a major sports carnival on Exhibition Oval, which included 4,000 school children giving a physical culture display. Rain in the late afternoon forced the cancellation of the planned concert that night.

By any standard, it was an impressive turn out and certainly demonstrated the ability of Mannix to draw a crowd. It was also very much an expression of Irish-Australian identity.

After the procession, Mannix was quoted in The Argus (22/3/20) as acknowledging the opposition that had been raised. He was keen to state that those who had opposed the procession … will never prevent Irishmen showing their sympathy with Ireland, while yielding in none in their loyalty to Australia and to the Empire. But, clearly, this particular trinity – Ireland, Australia and the Empire – was a hard one to juggle. For Irish Catholics the actions of the Empire in Ireland were a real problem. In fact, the very next day The Argus again covered more of Mannix’s response to the procession. This time it was in relation to the 14 VC winners who had accompanied him on the day. He was keen to use them to boost the cause of Irish independence, or at least ‘self-determination’.

In the course of a long speech, Dr Mannix said that St. Patrick’s Day demonstration last Saturday would remain a memorable one as long as Melbourne was Melbourne. He also stated that the V.C. winners who supported him in the procession had unanimously agreed to a motion which they intended to cable to the British authorities, demanding that England should give to Ireland the self-determination which they fought for on behalf of other nations.

Scripture lessons in State schools

The sixth episode of sectarianism sees a return to Yarram and the activities of the Protestant Federation in the middle of 1920. Ostensibly, the issue was the push for a referendum – at state level – to determine the question of whether scripture lessons were to be taught in state schools. At the end of the meeting, the following resolution was passed.

That this meeting records its conviction that the great majority of Victorian parents desire Non-sectarian and Non-compulsory Scripture lessons in the school course, with equal opportunity for direct religious teaching by representatives of the various churches, under conditions that work smoothly in four other Australian States; claims that this issue should be placed before the Electors by a simple referendum question at the forthcoming elections; protests against a selfish minority [Catholics], largely hostile to national education, being able to continue to deprive the majority of the Non-sectarian Scripture instruction it deems beneficial to the community; and calls upon the Scripture Campaign Council to organise a deputation, at an early date, to urge Government and parliament to provide Referendum machinery for testing the mind of electors at the next general elections.

However, while, as indicated, the meeting was ostensibly about Scripture lessons, it was more remarkable for another full-on attack on the Roman Catholic Church. Judkins’ focus was on the threat the church posed to the Empire. As Judkins saw it, the church was openly and actively plotting to destroy the Empire. He worked from the proposition that the Empire itself was ‘God’s handiwork’. The Empire was also the bulwark against Rome:

God has not only established it [the Empire], but preserved it. This barrier [the Empire] between Rome and the realisation of her principles has been divinely built. It is because the Empire constitutes that barrier, that leaders of Roman Catholicism burn with so intense hatred against all that is British.

The link between the Bible and the defence of the Empire – and therefore the necessary push for the proposed referendum – came from what Judkins saw as the Roman campaign to undermine the Bible as a means of destroying the Empire. He described … two directions in which the energies of the Church of Rome are being exerted in an attempt to establish herself in a position of temporal and spiritual supremacy. She aims at the destruction of the British Empire, and the prohibition of the use of the Bible by the people.

For Judkins, the Bible and the Empire were fundamentally linked. The Bible had a form of geo-political significance:

We shall lose the Empire if we lose the Bible.

Judkins then gave another history lesson going back to the Spanish Armada and Rome’s attempt to subdue England and ending with the supposed alliance between the Pope and Germany in WW1.

Specifically in relation to the then current conflict in Ireland he claimed to see the hand of Rome involved and saw it as yet another attempt by Rome to overcome the Empire. He stated:

The happenings in Ireland, the endeavour to create a state [Irish Free State] close to the heart of the Empire have as their object the realisation of the long-cherished desire of Rome.

He then went further and claimed that the same plot was being played out in Australia:

Attempts are being made to make Australia another Ireland, and with the same object in view.

Whether it was the strongest attack against Roman Catholics made to that point, it was certainly extreme. Interestingly, some allies thought that the likes of Judkins had finally gone too far. One was Rossiter, the editor of the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative. As noted before, Rossiter was a firm Imperial Loyalist but, this time, apparently, Judkins had crossed a line. As editor, he would certainly have been aware of the impact this type of address – published in his paper – was having on the community and in particular on the level of sectarian conflict. It did not appear to have been such an issue for him in the past, but this time he intervened. In an editorial (2/7/20), he noted that the issue of Scripture lessons had hardly been covered in Judkins’ address and that it was more just an unbridled attack on Roman Catholicism. He stated:

If Bible lessons are to be taught in our State schools a scheme acceptable to all denominations will not be hastened by violently attacking the Church of Rome for acts done by her devotees hundreds of years ago.

and

If every Protestant clergyman held and enunciated views as does Mr. Judkins, what strife there would be.

On that very point, he singled out Rev Opper who had also been at the meeting. He claimed that Opper had been more ‘temperate’ and ‘constructive’ in his comments than Judkins.

And the apparent backlash against Judkins continued. In the local paper on 2/7/20 Rev Opper had a letter announcing that he had resigned his position as vice-president of the local branch of the Protestant Federation:

With your permission, I wish, through the medium of your paper, to dissociate myself from the violent attack upon the Church of Rome, made by the Rev. G. A. Judkins on Sunday night last, and published in your columns this morning. The meeting was arranged for the purpose of urging support for a referendum on Scripture Lessons in State Schools – a movement which has my fullest sympathy – and not for the purpose for which it was used. In order to avoid being placed again in a false position, I am forwarding to the secretary of the local branch of the Protestant Federation my resignation as president. Still remaining a good Anglican, and, I hope, a good Protestant. – I am …

Previously, Opper too had been a strident critic of the ‘Roman Church’ but perhaps, as a local minister, he had grown concerned at the impact that such wild accusations were having on the community.

But for any local disquiet about the level of sectarian conflict in the community and the impact of extreme accusations being made against Roman Catholicism, the local branch of the Protestant Federation continued the fight. In February 1921, Rev R Ditterich – president of the Methodist Conference of Victoria and Tasmania – addressed about 50 people in the Yarram Mechanics’ Institute. It was written up in the edition of 9/2/21. Ditterich was President of the Australian Protestant Federation and had been previously very involved in the Victorian branch. The talk focused on the question of ‘Why are we Protestants?’ He lamented that few people had a sound understanding of the history of Protestantism. The version of history he gave that night started with the persecution of Protestants by the Roman Church and highlighted the despotic power that Rome had over its faithful:

The Church of Rome exercised a power over the will of their people, who knew no liberty of thought, and no freedom, and they also tried to exercise a power over their politics and education, in fact, the Church exercised a power when and wherever it chose.

In terms of the recent War, Ditterich claimed that … Catholic France was saved by Protestant England.

Overall, Ditterich had nothing positive to say about Rome:

As Protestants they had no thanks to pay the Roman Catholic church for any single liberty which the people enjoyed today.

Perhaps the vote of thanks that night was more circumspect than usual:

Rev. Lancaster said they were deeply indebted for the address, which should inspire them, not in a spirit of hatred, but thankfulness for their freedom.

As noted, Rev Opper by this point had severed contact with Protestant Federation.

Local celebrations at the time Ireland gained ‘Free State’ status

The last episode to cover involved the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921. The treaty was to provide for a measure of Irish independence and put an end to the three years of fighting between Irish nationalists and republicans and British troops and special units. The treaty had broad backing in Australia but, in fact, in Ireland itself it presaged the bitter civil war that was to follow very quickly. But certainly at the time, the news of the treaty – even with its qualifications – was received warmly in the Catholic community in the Shire of Alberton.

As an indication of just how close the political situation in Ireland was to Irish Catholics in Australia, the local community in the Shire of Alberton organised a special celebration for the announcement of the treaty. It was written up in the local paper on 23/12/21. There was a ‘large and enthusiastic audience’ at Thompson’s Hall in Yarram. The Yarram Band played before the concert started. Items at the concert included the songs: ‘Ireland I Love You’, ‘Come Back to Erin’ and ‘Irish Eyes Are Smiling’. There was no mention of the National Anthem. There was also dancing. It was a great success and … everything passed off without the slightest hitch.

Finally

The end of WW1 did not see the end of the sectarian conflict in Australian society which had been exacerbated by the conflict over the two conscription referenda. In fact, more extreme Protestant groups doubled down on the fundamental question of ‘loyalty’ (to the Empire) and routinely portrayed Roman Catholicism as inherently anti-British and anti-Empire. They even argued that the Church of Rome had sided with the Germans in the War. Additionally, Roman Catholicism was represented as a form of intellectual, political and spiritual tyranny. And, for good measure, the Pope was the anti-Christ. Similarly, the struggle for Irish independence was portrayed as an existential threat to the Empire itself.

In response to such criticisms, and constantly looking to the political situation in Ireland, the Australian Catholic community chose to become more assertive in their role in society and politics, and more determined to protect their religious and cultural identity. Most significantly, they moved to a sense of Australian nationalism that effectively sought to remove the previously core element of the Empire.

The sectarianism experienced in the local community was intense and often highly personal.

References

Synan. T 2003, A Journey in Faith: A History of Catholic Education in Gippsland 1850-1981, David Lovell Publishing, Ringwood Victoria


Various. 1992, Companions on the Journey 1892-1992, Centenary of St. Mary’s Parish Yarram 1892-1992, St. Mary’s Parish, Yarram


The Argus
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
Gippsland Times

Note 1: for more background on the 1920 St Patrick’s Day Procession in Melbourne see the following article by Paul Daley in The Guardian 22/4/16: Divided Melbourne: when the archbishop turned St, Patrick’s Day into propaganda.

Note 2: Father Sterling’s name often appears as Stirling. The signature on his enlistment forms is definitely Sterling.

212. The Shire of Alberton unveils a memorial to its soldiers

Post 96. Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial gave a brief history of the monument in Commercial Road, Yarram. This post examines in detail the local politics leading up to first the construction and then the dedication of the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. As for the previous post on the establishment of the Diggers’ Club in Yarram, it also highlights the nature and degree of the tension in the local community in the first few years after the War.

The decision to erect a memorial to the soldiers of Alberton Shire was taken at a council meeting on 13 May 1920:

A Soldiers monument (sic) be erected in Commercial Road,Yarram, cost to be referred to next year’s estimates, form and price to be decided at next meeting.

This was just after a presentation by the Melbourne firm of Corben & Sons. The actual cost indicated at the time was £550.

While the Shire’s decision appeared clear-cut, the way forward was to prove difficult.

To begin with, the editor – A J Rossiter – of the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – was keen to influence the debate over a suitable memorial. Indeed, initially at least, Rossiter had an entirely different proposal, which he promoted in the pages of the paper. In a sense, it was all a case of deja vu, as the previous post highlighted similar efforts by Rossiter to push his proposal for a grand, commemorative civic hall over the returned men’s wish for a more exclusive and lower-key Diggers’ Club. This time, Rossiter was keen on ’swimming baths’. Prior to the Shire’s resolution of 13/5/20 on the construction of the memorial on Commercial Road, outside the Post Office, Rossiter had been pushing his ‘public baths’ proposal. An editorial on 10/3/20 – two months before the council meeting – outlined his proposal. It began with an acknowledgement that his previous ambitious proposal had been rejected; but, as far as he was concerned, that was no reason to hold back from yet another bold, public venture:

Since the bold proposal of a public hall, embracing a soldiers’ club, did not find favor, why not a public memorial in the form of swimming baths? We have before advocated swimming baths for the rising generation, and have pointed out the necessity for every child to be taught the art of swimming. The old Mechanic’s Institute was at one time suggested as a suitable site, because of a natural watercourse that intersects that property. The public might well join issue with the Shire council in establishing public baths as a memorial to district soldiers, and the donor roll could be placed at the baths, instead of being hid in a comparatively obscure place in the shire hall which so few enter. Public baths as a memorial would be far before a granite monument in the main street or at the shire hall, because of their utilitarian character. Whatever is done by the shire council must cost a fair sum. No paltry donor board would suffice as a district memorial to the soldiers who fought for their country.

As matters progressed, the call for the memorial swimming baths appears to have slipped away. However, Rossiter had yet another proposal to replace the baths – the extension and refurbishment of the Shire Hall so that it could accommodate 1,500 people. In another editorial on 2/6/20, Rossiter raised the £550 figure for the proposed memorial in Commercial Road, and claimed that it would represent money ‘thrown away’. He wanted … something better done with the money. He had a far more beneficial and utilitarian proposal:

The town does not possess a hall worthy of the name, and none has the facilities which the public are justly entitled to. The proposal we have in mind as a fitting memorial to our soldiers is to re-model the shire hall, and build at the rear a balconied hall to seat about 1,500 people.

In the same editorial, Rossiter called for a public meeting to discuss the whole issue:

A memorial, in the form suggested, would for all time commemorate the deeds of not only the fallen, but those who have been spared to us. If remodelling the shire hall find favour amongst our readers, in place of the proposed monument, we would suggest that a public meeting be called as early as possible.

And there was yet another option. The third option focussed on the so-called (Soldiers’) ‘Memorial Park’.

When a new cemetery had been established at Yarram in 1902, the graves from the ‘Old Yarram Pioneer Cemetery’ had been relocated to the new site. In 1911, an act of the Victorian Parliament had provided for the old cemetery site to be converted to a park. Subsequently, from August 1914 several, local Friendly Societies – the local branch of the Australian Natives’ Association appears to have been the major player – undertook to turn the ‘old local burial ground’ into a ‘pleasure place for the populace’ . The details appeared in the local paper on 21/8/14. The Friendly Societies were to take advice from Shire personnel and organise working bees. The plan called for … the planting of palms, trees and shrubs in preference to flowers, and suggested a large grass plot in the centre where children could play, and where a bandstand could be erected. It was recognised that the amount of work involved was considerable and that a time frame of at least 2-3 years was required.

Over the period of the War, not a great deal of remediation work in the park was undertaken. Then, in mid 1918, a public meeting was held to consider … the question of beautifying the old burial ground, south of the town, and form a memorial park. By the end of October that year, there was a formal committee of the ‘Yarram Memorial Park’. There was also an agreed schedule of work to be undertaken by volunteer organisations, including the ANA, the Returned Soldiers’ Association, the Soldiers’ Fathers Association, the IOR and the local Traders’ association. It was all detailed in the local paper (25/10/18). Again, the scope of the remediation work was extensive. In fact, the scope was arguably too ambitious. In June 1921, in the South Gippsland Chronicle (1/6/21), the ’Soldiers’ Memorial Park’ was described as a ‘carefully fenced thistle patch’. The account described how, after an enthusiastic start, the effort slipped away:

The area was cleared and graded, the paths were laid out and gravelled, a fence was erected, and then – Yarram’s short-lived energy “petered out”

So, in mid 1920, the third option for the district soldiers’ memorial was to focus efforts on what was being described as the Soldiers’ Memorial Park and, potentially, include in the park a dedicated memorial of the kind proposed for Commercial Road. The Shire President at the time (J J O’Connor) was a strong backer of this proposal.

Given the range of proposals and what appeared to be strong community interest, the Shire council undertook in June 1920 to defer the decision on the soldiers’ memorial for two months, on the understanding that in the interim there would be a public meeting to canvas views in relation to, at least, the three proposals being put forward. The meeting was scheduled for 21/6/20. In the ads that appeared in the local press there were calls for a large attendance:

A large attendance is requested, and relatives of fallen soldiers are specifically invited to attend.

It is relevant here to point out that in the lead up to this public meeting on the soldiers’ memorial, the local paper was again targeting the politics associated with the Diggers’ Club. The point is that in the background to the local politicking over the soldiers’ memorial, there were ongoing charges being made against the local returned men. This situation could well have affected the locals’ interest and involvement in the whole business. As we will see, hardly anyone attended the public meeting on 21/6/20, despite all the publicity on how important it was.

In an editorial on 26/5/20, Rossiter had been almost gleeful in reporting trouble at the Diggers’ Club. He commenced with,

Has the Yarram Diggers’ Club so soon met trouble?

He then retold the story of how the returned men had held themselves ‘aloof’ from the local community by insisting on their own club rooms. He also argued that the resulting Diggers’ Club, as it was set up, was supported by local subscriptions; and those who had contributed financially understood they were contributing to a facility that would be available to all returned men, with the only restriction being a ‘small members’ fee’. The previous post revealed that, in time, the membership was also extended to include fathers’ of men who had served and also those men who had been ‘rejected’ on medical grounds.

Rossiter then claimed that there were significant divisions within the club over the very issue of membership. There was a ballot system to determine membership and Rossiter claimed that ‘certain rejects’ had been ‘black balled’ in the ballot process. This in turn had led to the resignation of the ‘chief officers’ of the club’s management committee. There were no further details on the men denied membership, nor on the fate of those said to have resigned from the committee. Obviously, the issue of which ‘rejects’ would be admitted to the Diggers’ Club was always going to be contentious. Rossiter was quick – and also keen – to point to the potential outcome for the club. He warned that … the public will be quite alienated, and the club too soon become a white elephant.

Overall, in the lead up to the public meeting on 21/6/20, the background politics associated with returned soldiers had become both public and contentious.

There was a detailed account of the public meeting in the local paper on 23/6/20. As indicated already, the attendance was very small. In fact, the number given was only twelve, ‘including one lady’. The paper claimed it was ‘farcical’ to suggest the meeting was either ‘public’ or ‘representative’. In any event, the meeting proceeded and the Shire President outlined the three proposals:

The three proposals that had been made were a monument in the public street, to cost about £500; the completion of the public park and the erection of a smaller monument in it; and the erection of a memorial hall.

The President declared that he favoured the second proposal – the Soldiers’ Memorial Park – but acknowledged that the Shire had already settled on the first, the monument in Commercial Road. He doubted that the memorial hall proposal would receive public support. Rossiter then spoke to his proposal of the hall, pointing out the benefits for the wider community. However, he also made the point that should his proposal not win support then he would finally quit his ‘effort to get a public hall for Yarram’. This was to be his last effort for the commemorative public hall for Yarram, which he had been pushing from the end of the war.

Councillor Barlow was obviously perturbed by the whole business. He argued that such a small meeting could hardly make any decision of import. Further, he maintained, the basic issue related to the whole of the Shire of Alberton and the narrow focus on Yarram – for the hall proposal – was inappropriate. Further, in relation to the same proposal, he had trouble reconciling what he saw as a business venture – the Shire would take out a loan and then seek to repay it by charging usage costs etc – with the commemoration of the soldiers’ sacrifice. He even went as far as accusing the backers of trying to … make money out of the lives of their fallen soldiers’ lives that had been given for their freedom. It was a strong claim. Barlow was obviously not about to change his support for the Shire’s initial vote to to establish the monument in the main street of Yarram, where the total cost would be covered by the Shire.

There followed further discussion over the merit of even considering alternative proposals if the councillors’ minds were already made up. In the end, the meeting closed without any motion being put. From that point, Rossiter’s proposal for the memorial hall in Yarram was dropped.

After the agreed two months for public discussion had passed, the matter was taken back to council. At the meeting on 12/8/20 the discussion focused on whether the monument was to in the park or in the main street. Incredibly, the vote was tied at four each way. The deciding vote of the President determined that the monument would be erected in the park. So notice was then given that there would be a vote to rescind the original council resolution of 13/5/20 – the one that had the monument in Commercial Road – at the next meeting. However, at the next meeting (9/9/20), the resolution to rescind the original vote was lost. At the same meeting, the following resolution was passed:

That the design for [the] soldiers’ memorial, submitted by H. B. Corben & sons, and numbered 5, to cost £550, be adopted; that it be surrounded by a bluestone and chain railing at an additional cost of £50; and that it be erected in Commercial Road, Yarram, opposite the post office.

Finally, there was a definite decision on the form and location of the soldiers’ memorial for Alberton Shire. It would be dedicated just under one year later. The back story to this decision highlights simmering divisions in the local community over the key question of ownership of the business of commemoration.

The unveiling of the memorial

The Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial was unveiled on Wednesday, 10 August 1921. The ad for the event specified that it would occur … immediately after arrival of train from Melbourne (about 3.30 p m). The train station at Yarram had been opened earlier the same year (February 1921). The event was written up in the local papers – both Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative and South Gippsland Chronicle – on 12/8/21. The number of locals who attended was put ‘between 400 and 500 people’.

The two dignitaries presiding at the unveiling were the local Federal member G H Wise and Major-General C F Cox. Cox had served on Gallipoli, and then throughout the Sinai-Palestine campaign, with distinction. After the War he was elected to the Senate as a Nationalist.

The account in the local paper noted that the Shire President – John Barry – opened the proceedings by referring to the 700 men who had left the district to fight and the 80 who had died. In his comments, Senator Cox described the memorial as … a credit to the district and a fitting tribute to the boys who saved the country.

For his part, Wise was more political with his remarks. He was keen to refute the claim – it was most commonly identified with Archbishop Mannix – that the War had been waged for merely economic reasons or, more specifically, over trade. Wise insisted that … Those people who thought the past war was a trade or financial was were making a great mistake. For Wise it had been a war to check German power and militarism. It had been a war … fought to end all inhumanities and guarantee freedom and liberty. Arguably, the most significant point here was that Wise felt the need to make the comments. Wise also referred to what he saw as the ‘levelling’ effect of the War:

One of the aftermaths of the war was that it brought all classes on a more equal footing.

At the actual unveiling of the memorial, the Last Post was played. And at the conclusion, B P Johnson gave a ‘hearty vote of thanks’ on behalf of the community.

That night, there was a formal dinner for Wise and Cox and other invited guests in the Yaram Club Hotel, put on by the Shire President, John Barry JP. Prior to the event, newspaper articles had made it clear who was to be invited:

Invitations are being issued to members of the soldier land settlement committee, the repatriation executive, and representatives of the Returned Soldiers’ League.

In the Archives for the Shire of Alberton there is a list of those who were invited. The actual list runs to approximately 55 guests but there is no corresponding list of those who did actually attend. It was an all-male affair. In the write up in the papers the number who were present was described thus:

Between 40 and 50 of the most representative citizens sat down to the dinner at the Club Hotel that would have done credit to a city caterer.

What is clear though is that the single largest group of invited guests consisted of members of the Soldier Land Settlement Committee. There were 18 of them. The second largest group – approximately 15 – would have covered all the Shire representatives: councillors, Shire Secretary, Shire Engineer, Clerk of Works, Treasurer … There was also a small number from the local repatriation Committee. Finally, in terms of distinct groupings of guests, there were approximately 10 returned men. Presumably, they were all associated with either the Diggers’ Club or the local branch of the RSSILA; although it does appear that one or two of them might also have been soldier settlers.

What this all means is that the returned soldiers themselves were a definite minority at the function. Precedence was given to what effectively was the previous generation, the very one that that committed the men to the War. It was something of a classic example how even the commemoration of the War was dominated by the earlier generation. Further, as we will see later, the local Soldier Land Settlement Committee exercised considerable authority over the returned men or, more specifically, those who tried to set themselves up as successful soldier settlers. Not surprisingly, many of the returned men would have felt that everything was skewed to the interests of the previous generation, the one that had not done the fighting.

At the formal dinner there were the usual toasts – ‘The king’, ‘health of the federal Parliament’, ‘the AIF’ … – and B P Johnson appears to have served as MC.

Wise spoke again at the dinner and it was evident that he was defensive over the range and intensity of disquiet in the community about the Government’s management of post-War expectations. For example, he referred to what he saw as the folly of the ‘public indignation meetings’ that were increasingly being called across the country. He defend the Government’s record on ‘soldier service homes’ and claimed the Government had ‘done their best’. And there was criticism of those – he referred to the ‘wealthy’ – who attacked the Government over the level of the War debt.

Another speaker that night was William G Pope. Pope had been a prominent Imperial Loyalist during the War and a backer of the returned men’s push for their own club rooms after the War. He was responsible for the toast to the AIF. His comments reflected those of Bean in that he saw the legacy of the AIF becoming a driving force in Australian history. He acknowledged that the AIF had officially ceased to exist, but then launched into the following, mutli-themed panegyric:

… it [The AIF] will live in Australian hearts and have a beneficial influence on our national life and character for all time, as in every true Australian heart the glorious deeds of the A. I. F. are enshrined for ever. There imperishable glory is the beaconllght on the hill, to which in future all who love and would serve Australia must turn for inspiration, and in the men who lighted it are the descendants of those men and women of British stock whose never-failing courage has laid the foundations of that Commonwealth or British nation, which is the hope of the world.

Returning to a more mundane level, Pope finished with a critique of those upset about the level of war indemnity or reparations that Australia was not going to receive from Germany. The background here was that there had recently been reports -for example, South Gippsland Chronicle, 20/7/21 – that Australia’s share of war indemnity had been reduced from £30M to £400,000, compromising overall repatriation efforts. Pope dismissed the concerns, arguing that the potential of reparations was hardly the reason Australian had gone to war.

It is interesting that even at such formal, commemorative events, the general disquiet in the community about the overall situation in Australia, just short of three years after the Armistice, kept intruding.

For his part, Senator Cox did not have much to say. He was full of praise for the 700 men from the Shire who had all left as volunteers. But even he finished with a call for a significant increase in immigration, as a matter of urgency.

There were several letters touching on both the unveiling ceremony, and the formal dinner, published in the local press immediately after. Predictably, there were complaints about the guest list for the dinner. A letter (12/8/21) from ‘A Dinkum Digger’ intimated that not only were the diggers generally under-represented but some of the diggers invited were not ‘genuine diggers’:

… I would like to ask who was responsible for the issuing of the invitations? Why was it that several Diggers were invited and partook of a hearty meal (and doubtless felt the effects of a bad head the following morning), and other real Diggers were quite overlooked? Why this state of things should be is puzzling. We hear of a dinner and on looking round the guests we see people with no claim to a seat as a Digger, and we also see many with no claim at all as a guest on such an occasion. What was the controlling influence in the choosing of the guests? Did it not count that a man who had really seen service for 4 1/2 years, from first to last, and who had ‘borne the burden and heat of the day,’ should not be asked. Why was it that so many of these real Diggers were not invited, while there were guests with no such record partaking of the good things and ‘eating the fatted calf.’ It seems evident that the same old trouble, class distinction, must have crept in. It is painful to think of such a thing after hearing the address of Mr Wise in the afternoon, when he commented on the fact of how the war had done away with this, and instanced a case of where he had seen hundreds of men on a transport all on an equal footing. Surely it must have pricked the consciences of some of the guests last night when they must have noticed the absence of some Diggers, men perhaps not holding ‘soft jobs’ or clerkships, but Diggers all the same, and justly entitled to a seat at the festal board.

The idea of the ‘genuine’ digger had history. For example, Johnson himself had fought off claims earlier in the War that his son had a secured a position away from the front lines. The AIF had regularly sought to ‘comb out’ men involved in clerical and support roles to reinforce those at the front. But, more generally, there was always the question of whose service in the AIF counted the most or, at least, for more than others’ service. Clearly, in this instance the claim was that some of he diggers at the dinner did not have the same entitlement as others who had served throughout the entire War. Perhaps it was a criticism on those who had taken on positions of responsibility in the local organisations to do with returned men. Clearly, there was politics associated with the operation of the Diggers’ Club. It was always going to be a vexed question. There were even shades of the same dilemma in the case of those ‘rejected’. For example, how many formal attempts and rejections did it take it take before someone became a genuine ‘reject’? Arguably, the more important point here is that the issues of entitlement and status were being raised publicly. The point was being made that not all diggers were ‘equal’.

It was not only the local returned men who were put out by events associated with the dedication of the memorial. One other criticism was that the local school children had not been sufficiently involved in the unveiling ceremony. In the South Gippsland Chronicle of 17/8/21 there was a letter from the head teacher (A M Parratt) of the Yarram State school. He was obviously upset that the children had not been asked to have a formal presence at the ceremony. There was some important history here. All through the War, the then head teacher, A E Paige, had ensured that the school children were always available, even at short notice, to attend formal and semi-formal functions. For example, Paige would quickly organise for a group of school children to attend a farewell organised for a departing recruit. The school children had become a feature of all such public occasions. But, on this occasion, they had been passed over. The new head teacher made the point that … the school was never asked to attend. Had there been an invitation, the school, most definitely, would have been there. In fact, it had a right to be there, and at the dinner as well:

The teachers and children were all willing to march down had we been asked. After all that the children did for the soldiers we were conceited enough to expect an invitation; we also thought that the schools of the district might have been represented at the dinner, either by a teacher or a member of the school committee, but those in authority thought otherwise.

There were even other letters with advice on how the whole ceremony could have been better staged.

The critical observation in all this was that even the acts of commemoration were capable of creating and stirring division. And while some of the tension and division was superficial, manufactured and even trivial, there were other issues that were deep and serious.

The last point to note is that when the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial was unveiled on 10/8/21, the actual names of the dead had not yet been added. Provision had been made for the names of 80 dead to be inscribed. But it was to be nearly another 10 years before the names were added. This detail will be the subject of a future post.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
South Gippsland Chronicle

Archives, Shire of Alberton

Minute Book October 1913 – April 1921

File: 285-292

Box: 377

 

 

211. Club rooms for the returned men or a memorial hall for the Shire?

The next few posts look at the men returning from the War and taking up life again in the Shire of Alberton.

The posts will make it clear that the ‘Peace’ at the end of WW1 continued to feature a significant degree of conflict and division in the Australian community. Sectarianism, which had become more pronounced during the War over the issue of conscription, continued to be very divisive in the community after the War. There were also the lingering questions over conscription itself and, most importantly, the standing of those who had chosen not to enlist, particularly now that the volunteers had returned, many of them wounded and broken. The fear of the ‘alien’ and the ‘outsider’ which had driven paranoia during the War certainly continued after it. The common perception was that the White Australia Policy remained just as threatened, notwithstanding the fact that Hughes on his return to Australia after Versailles, boasted that he had ensured its survival. There was also the pressing issue of ‘repatriation’ and the inevitable conflict between what the returning soldiers had been promised and what the Government could realistically deliver. On this score, the potential for failure and despair was effectively unlimited. There were also the ongoing effects of the fundamental political divisions which had been created by the War, most notably the schism within the ALP. And, to round off the bleak picture, in the immediate aftermath of the War there was the scourge of the Spanish Flu.

Against this broad background, the following posts focus specifically on events in the Shire of Alberton in the years immediately after the War. As the focus is at the ‘local’ level, it is easier to see other important themes that emerged at the time. Arguably, the most significant of these was the dynamic of how the returned men re-connected with their previous life and re-integrated into the community they had left. What emerges very quickly is that these were somewhat fraught processes and the source of significant tension in the local community. In a real sense, the ‘boys’ were not prepared simply to take up their old lives and accept their prior status. There was a significant generational divide between the returning ‘boys’ and their parents and ‘betters’. It was also very much about the tension between what they had been promised and what they in fact received.

Club rooms for the returned men or a memorial hall for the Shire?

This first post in the short series examines the conflict in the local community from the perspective of one fundamentally critical question: who was to decide what represented the best interests of the returned soldiers?

The building featured here is a drawing for a grand ‘Memorial Soldiers’ Club with Public Hall and Civic Club’ to be erected in Yarram. But it was never built. The background story of why it was never built is one of multiple levels of disagreement and division within the local community.

The essential backing for this grand proposal came from the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative. The editor – Augustus John Rossiter – had been a most vociferous Imperial Loyalist throughout the War. He would have assumed that he had established his right to talk on behalf of both the returning men and the community as a whole. He proposed a grand civic building which could incorporate a memorial for the fallen soldiers, a club room for the returned men, and a public hall for the community as a whole. Rossiter organised a shire-wide fund-raising appeal and he commissioned initial drawings of the proposed building which he then published in the paper on 25/4/19, Anzac Day. The initial plans or drawings were prepared by G de Lacy of Parkville, the architect responsible for the design of the very recent Holy Trinity Church (Anglican) in Yarram which had been finished in mid 1918.

The essential feature of Rossiter’s proposal was that the one, major new building would serve several interests. It would serve as a memorial to those who had served and those who had fallen. Further, it would incorporate amenities for returned soldiers living in the Shire of Alberton. But, as well, the proposal represented a significant, additional piece of civic infrastructure: a new and contemporary public hall. Obviously, the proposal would be expensive but Rossiter saw it as a fitting tribute to the returned soldiers and a major and justified exercise in civic commemoration. In fact, there were many such memorial halls built by local governments, both urban and rural, post WW1.

In the description of the proposed building, included with the initial drawings, Rossiter emphasised how the three building elements – ‘Soldiers’ Club’, ‘Civic Club’ and ‘Public Hall’ – were both separate and integral:

The proposed buildings have been designed so that the Soldiers’ Club, the Civic Club and the Public Hall can each be vested in separate bodies of control and managed and maintained as though they were three isolated structures. Although they are reached by a central common entrance, for purposes of convenience and effect, they are quite separate buildings in that fire-proof and sound-proof construction and parapet walls separate each from the other.

The overall building was a large, two-story structure. It included a comprehensive set of common-use facilities including library, reading and correspondence room, smoking room, billiard room and a shared, spacious entrance and foyer. The facade was Italianate in style and it incorporated space for ‘memorial tablets and inscriptions’.

However, in the same edition of the paper, Rossiter acknowledged that there was some opposition to his grand proposal. Strikingly, the main opposition was coming from the returned men themselves. Rossiter noted that there had been a recent public meeting in Yarram at which the returned soldiers – or at least a group of them – had dismissed the grand proposal and, instead, had called for a completely separate club rooms. Rossiter’s frustration was evident:

The demand by the men for a detached club created a barrier, and frustrated the good intentions of the public.

But now, with the detailed plans and drawings published in the paper, Rossiter attempted to increase the pressure on the men to give up the call for their own separate club rooms and get behind what he represented as the general community’s intention:

We this morning produce a facsimile [of the plans], and to clear the air, ask the soldiers, without delay, to state if a building erected on these plans will meet with their approval. The public want to know, for their intention is to build a memorial hall of service to the district wherein will be seen the photographs of all who enlisted, also those and records of the fallen. We parted with the boys as one family, worked for them while away, and longed for their return. What has made the difference that they should hold aloof now they have come back that their hours of pleasure must be spent amongst themselves, quite apart from former friends. A warm hearted public wants an answer. Will the soldiers consent to detached club rooms, with a clear title, under the roof of a memorial hall?

The emotional blackmail is evident: this particular group of soldiers is being ungrateful and, in effect, setting themselves against the very community that has supported them so faithfully through the long years of war.

The warnings to the soldiers were explicit:

The soldiers, unfortunately, lost much public sympathy by their defiant action at a public meeting in the shire hall; yet boiled down, the cleavage came from a very small section of the returned men. Prior to this the whole district was in the mood to go to any length towards a memorial hall for the fallen. Now, the hand is stayed, and until the soldiers say they will consent to a club under the roof of a memorial hall, there is little chance of getting either building such as would be an ornament and a credit to the town and district.

The public meeting where the soldiers had expressed their preference for their own club rooms appears to have taken place in early March 1919, just over one month earlier. At the time, there was a brief report in the local paper (12/3/19) of the meeting:

It was the returned men’s idea to build memorial rooms to be used as club rooms. They could invite anyone they wished to their club. At present they had no place whatever to meet in – unless they went to the Yarram Club, but returned soldiers were likely to be “black-balled” there. (Laughter.) If the public wanted to build a big hall there was no earthly reason why they shouldn’t.

It appears that this initial plan by the soldiers for their own private club room arrangement was not taken too seriously because by early April 1919 a fund – Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial Fund – had been set up … to build a memorial hall and soldiers’ club rooms in Yarram, in memory of the fallen. The editorial that described the basic arrangement (18/4/19) noted that 1,000 circulars associated with the fund-raising effort had already been distributed through the shire. Plans for a related gymkhana were also already under way. The same editorial effectively dismissed the concerns of the soldiers and expressed confidence that the combined proposal would be accepted by them. It also had a passing shot at their intransigence.

The decision of the returned men, in favor of detached club rooms, gave rise to comment, and was not favorably entertained by the public. The plan before us presents no obstacle in that respect. The soldiers’ quarters are embodied in a comprehensive plan, not absolutely detached, yet will, we feel sure, meet with the approval of previous objectors. there really seems to be no obstacle in the way of the public and the soldiers uniting in one great movement, and if the response is on all fours with what the people can afford we see no reason why a very fine hall should not be erected in memory of the fallen, and of the brave deeds of the returned men. We ask for liberal response.

But the backers of the grander proposal did not get the ‘liberal response’ they requested. The grand proposal was dropped within not much more than one month and all future effort went in to setting up a separate club rooms.

The formal commitment to a separate (Diggers’) club rooms came at a public meeting the end of May 1919, about one month after the local paper published the drawings for the combined proposal. A report of the meeting was written up in the paper on 30/5/19. The meeting was chaired by B P Johnson, another Imperial Loyalist who had been an outspoken champion of the War effort and who, arguably, had the highest profile as a supporter of returned men. Interestingly, it was in this role as a backer and supporter of the returned men that Johnson came out very strongly in favour of the separate Diggers’ club rooms. There was this strong sense that even if he did not believe that theirs was the best proposal, he would always back the men’s wishes.

This meeting at the end of May was called to accept or reject, once and for all, the local paper’s proposal ‘to erect a memorial hall and club rooms for the returned soldiers of Alberton Shire’. It was clear from the start that the soldiers wanted to go their own way. Speakers noted that the appeal for the combined proposal – memorial (public) hall and soldiers’ club rooms – had been running for nearly one month but that very little had been received. In fact, the response had been so poor that the local branch of the ‘Returned Soldiers’ Association’ had now decided to pull out of the proposal for the combined facility and opt instead for their own, separate club rooms. Johnson, as chair, immediately backed the men and declared that the matter had to be settled at the meeting. Johnson argued that one of the problems with the combined proposal was that many locals claimed that they did not see the merit in building another public hall in Yarram:

Many of the residents had used the dual appeal as an excuse for withholding donations. Some had said that they were prepared to assist an appeal for club rooms, but were opposed to building another hall in Yarram.

Johnson’s logic was that an appeal specifically for club rooms for the returned men would attract a higher level of financial support from the locals. As events turned out he was proved wrong. The same argument was taken up George F Sauer another key Imperial Loyalist and backer of the returned men. He also claimed that people felt Yarram already had too many public halls. Implicit in this argument was the view that residents of the shire who did not live in Yarram could hardly be expected to contribute to a facility which they would not use. Benjamin Couston, local bank manger and yet another key Imperial Loyalist, declared that whereas he had initially supported the double proposal, he now supported the soldiers’ club rooms’ proposal. He also noted that the appeal over the past month had ‘failed dismally’. It was Couston who formally moved:

That this public meeting now assembled agrees to relinquish the double appeal for a memorial hall and soldiers’ club rooms, and now pledges itself to support the Returned Soldiers’ Association in building club rooms for the returned soldiers of the shire.

The motion was passed unanimously and the meeting also determined to write to those who had already donated to the initial appeal and ask… whether they were prepared to allow their donations to be handed over, to the direct appeal for soldiers’ club rooms. The new appeal was to be The Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial Fund. The appeal would be supported by a gymkhana which would be held later in the year, in early November.

The last business of the meeting was to set up a committee to mange the appeal. Johnson became the president, Sauer the secretary, and Benson the treasurer. There was an executive committee which was made up of several returned men (E T Benson, W A Newland, Dr J H Rutter) and a number of local business men who had all identified as Imperial Loyalists during the War (W C Growse, E L Grano, W G Pope). The local Church of England rector – Rev S Williams – was also on the committee. This committee would work closely with the local branch of the RSSILA.

Johnson closed the meeting with a warning – rather prescient as it turned out – that if the new appeal proved a failure, then Alberton Shire … would be eternally disgraced.

Not surprisingly, Rossiter was annoyed that his far grander proposal was rejected in favour of the separate soldiers’ club rooms. His annoyance was evident in an editorial that appeared a few weeks later (20/6/19). Despite what he wrote, the public meeting had indeed formally decided to drop the memorial hall proposal and go with the club rooms:

If what we hear be true, the members of the Yarram branch of the Returned Soldiers’ Association have determined to disassociate themselves with the memorial hall movement, towards which some subscriptions have been received. The intention is to appeal for a soldiers’ club solely.

Rossiter was also prepared to challenge the real level of support for this decision and suggest that a soldiers’ club rooms would hardly constitute a suitable public memorial for the fallen and returned men:

It would be interesting to know the total number of returned men in the district and the number on the roll of the Association [RSSILA], in view of ascertaining if it be the will of the majority to stand apart from the public proposal.

But if Rossiter and others were annoyed that the returned men had scotched their grand proposal, the returned men themselves were concerned by what they saw as the lack of support from the local council for their proposal. There was another public meeting held in mid July – reported 18/7/19 – to drum up support for the soldiers’ club rooms. This time there was an organiser from the Victorian branch of the RSSILA who came to speak on behalf of the proposal. This person noted that there were no local councillors present at the meeting and claimed that … It is a general rule for them to attend meetings of this description. He continued:

Many of the councillors made promises of what they intended doing for the men who went to the war, but, unfortunately, the same men have turned out to be nothing more than lip-loyalist. (Laughter).

Johnson was again chair of the meeting and he made some attempt to cover for the absent councillors, but it was evident that there were clear divisions in the community on the specific issue of the club rooms, and the broader question of how the returned men were being treated in the Australia for which they had fought and sacrificed so much.

In mid September 1919, the executive responsible for fundraising for the soldiers’ club rooms purchased a two-story building in Yarram. It was on the corner of Bland Street and Commercial Road. It was purchased from C J Allin for £1,000. Allin had purchased it a few years earlier from Councillor Barlow. Later there would be suggestions that the soldiers paid too much for the property. The executive then set about making necessary changes to the building and intensifying the fund raising effort. The date for the gymkhana was officially set for November 12, 1919.

In early October there was a formal welcome for the returned soldiers of the shire in Thompson’s Hall. The report of the function was in the local paper on 10/10/19. It was a full house and the chair for the evening was the Shire President, J J O’Connor. O’Connor touched on all the then current themes: the debt of gratitude owed to the returned soldiers; the need for the soldiers to ‘stick together’ and become organised through their association (RSSILA); the enormous challenge of repatriation and the need for the returned men to be patient; the glory of the dead; the greatness of the Australian soldiers and their acknowledged status as ‘among the best soldiers in the world’; the decency of those who had tried to enlist – many times – only to have been rejected and, equally, the disdain for … ‘disloyalists’ in our midst; and, of course, the greatness and power of the Empire. Amongst all this, the chairman … made a stirring appeal for contributions towards the establishment of soldiers’ club rooms in Yarram. He declared:

The club rooms were required, and the appeal provided an opportunity for residents to show their gratitude for what the soldiers had done for them.

But the money was not forthcoming. Residents did not contribute to the appeal; and this, of course, created more division and rancour in the community.

Johnson had a letter in the local paper on 22/10/19. He pointed out the cost of the clubrooms (£1,000) and noted that to that point the total raised was under £200. He insisted that people across the shire knew about the appeal. He concluded that there was … no excuse save selfishness and base ingratitude for neglect to subscribe [to the appeal]. He declared that:

It is no wonder that the boys feel that the lavish promises which were made to them when they went away are not going to be honored, and that most of the people have forgotten the war and all that was done for them.

In a real sense this was vintage Johnson as the classic, high-profile, Imperial Loyalist, in that the appeal to moral righteousness and, critically, the attempted shaming of all who fell short, was so characteristic of all the previous appeals – from 1914 on – to support the War, smash Germany, defend the Empire, encourage enlistment, and, of course, support the introduction of conscription. There were no shades of grey, and no ambiguities, inconsistencies or opposing views in this world view. So Johnson held nothing back:

The soldiers have now purchased a building, and are now fitting it up for occupation, and after all they have done and suffered, it will be an everlasting shame and disgrace to the whole of the district if they have to find one penny of the cost. I venture to say that there are very few men in this Shire who cannot pay £1 at least to in some way show their appreciation of the soldiers’ wonderful deeds. It is all very well to turn up at welcomes, where the admission is free, and cheer and wave flags, etc., but the proper course is to sacrifice something. Don’t calculate how little you can give – the boys offered all, and nearly 60,000 of them paid in full – but see how big you can make your contribution, for, after all, the man who gives as little as he can, or who fails to subscribe, really puts a price on his womenfolk and himself. Let every man realise that everything he owns he owes to the soldiers, and, then this disgrace will soon be removed.

But now, one full year after the War, the local community was clearly sick of being told what to do by the likes of Johnson. Nor did they appreciate his attempts at moral blackmail and his superior tone. But he was not about to give up. There was another letter on 5/11/19. Johnson this time published the full list of individuals and groups that had contributed to the appeal. The total came to less that 70, with about 65 individual contributions. Clearly, there was not widespread support for the appeal. What was equally clear was that while previous attempts to shame people into contributing had not worked, Johnson had no other strategy:

It will be seen that a few pounds have come in since I last wrote, but the response is still an absolute disgrace to this magnificent district. Have the people as a whole no sense of gratitude? Some, I hear, will not subscribe because they cannot agree with the soldiers that club rooms are required. Such people surely forget what they owe these men. They want the rooms and it is little enough to do for the people to give them. It is anything but pleasant to be ashamed of the place one lives in.

In the end, the gymkhana generated a significant profit – over £500 – and the funds required for the club rooms were realised. Perhaps people had intended all along to support the gymkhana and had rationalised that that support would represent their contribution to the soldiers’ club rooms. At the same time, the number of individuals, across the whole of the Shire of Alberton, who did subscribe to the formal fund set up for the club rooms was very small.

Doubtless, there were many reasons for this lack of support. As already argued, many would have taken exception to Johnson’s tirades. Locals had tired of being told what they must do. There was also the question about whether the soldiers’ proposal was actually inferior to the one put forward by Rossiter and his paper. And sitting behind this question was the suggestion that the soldiers should not be ‘selfish’ and want just their own club rooms. There was also the view that the returned men should not be deliberately withdrawing themselves from the wider community and setting themselves up in their own exclusive facility. Surely, the thinking ran, now that the ‘boys’ were ‘home’ again, they should be fitting back into the community and they should be grateful that the locals were keen to give them a facility, within a much grander public memorial to both them and their fallen comrades. And if the returned men could not see that, then why should anyone support their proposal. Moreover, the soldiers’ club rooms were hardly a memorial so would it not be better to wait and contribute to a proper memorial when the shire finally decided on one. As already noted there were also questions on who was actually representing the returned men’s interests and were the returned men speaking with one voice. So there were any number of reasons why locals could have convinced themselves that contributing to the fund for the soldiers’ club rooms was not essential.

The rooms were opened on the first anniversary of the Armistice (11/11/19). However, the division and recrimination did not end with the opening of the soldiers’ club rooms. The editorial in the local paper at the time made it clear that there was still considerable disquiet over what had happened.

Quite frankly, we say that the building is not what the public desired the returned men should have. It is not good enough nor is it in the true sense a memorial. A memorial is something of a more stable character, and worthy of the great and gallant deeds done by our boys in the recent war. It should be something in memory of the dear departed. Instead, the League has purchased a building that is like a reed shaken by the wind. It sways in a moderate gale, and the time cannot be far distant when radical and costly alterations must be made if stability is to be any desideratum.

The paper continued its list of concerns, claiming to speak on behalf of the community:

We are voicing the opinion of the great majority of the people when we say that disappointment is expressed at the purchase [of the building for the soldiers’ club rooms]. It may serve its purpose in a way, but with large hearts and determination to do something grand, the public had in view a building which would be a credit to town and district, and a much more fitting memorial of services rendered – a building that would provide much more than the men themselves asked for – a building in which the public would be perennially interested, and upon which would have been lavished care and attention by a warm-hearted public in memory of those they loved. The present building cannot command the same attention because the deep sentiment that was assured does not invest it. There exists a sort of feeling “Well, boys, you have so decided; we will do what we can for you.

There is no way of knowing if in fact the local paper was representing the view of the majority of locals. However, what is true is that people at the time would not have seen the soldiers’ club rooms as any sort of formal, public memorial to all those men from the Shire of Alberton who enlisted and served and, more critically, the dead. The soldiers’ club rooms, or the ‘Diggers’ Club’ as it was also known, was a facility set up exclusively for the use of the returned men and as a head quarters of the local branch of the RSSILA. This meant that the question of the Shire of Alberton’s formal, public memorial remained unresolved. We will see later that the Shire decided on the cenotaph – featuring the list of the dead – which stands in the main street of Yarram. But, again, this decision was also marked by more division. For example, the local paper again called for something more utilitarian, even a public memorial swimming pool.

Another concern of locals, sitting just below the surface of public debate, was the question of what the soldiers would do in their club rooms. As we have seen in previous posts, there was a very strong temperance sentiment in the Shire. Local clergy had been active in trying to restrict wet canteens in the Melbourne army camps, and the dangers of drink in the AIF were constant preoccupations, as was the push for prohibition and ‘early closing’. Another social evil very much on the community’s mind was gambling, and previous posts have shown that this fear extended even to chocolate wheels at fetes. The possibility that the soldiers might drink and gamble to excess in the privacy of their ‘club’ was a concern and, in fact, the backers of the proposal gave public assurance that the club would not seek a licence and that gambling in all forms would be strictly prohibited.

Even after the club rooms were opened, the high level of criticism continued. For example, in an editorial published on 3/12/19, not even one month after the official opening, Rossiter questioned whose interests were being served by the facility:

A soldiers’ club having been established in Yarram, for ‘members only’, it is important that all returned men should join. The public liberally responded at the gymkhana, presumably for something of benefit to all Alberton Shire soldiers, not to a small proportion. It is felt that the Yarram branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers’ Association is not the ‘live wire’ it ought to be!

The paper suggested that too often key decisions were being taken by just a few of the returned soldiers. It called for all returned men to become involved. Also, there was another issue at play here, because the reality was that club rooms in Yarram were not going to be as accessible to returned men who lived in the outlying townships and settlements of the district. A soldiers’ club rooms in Yarram was always going to serve, principally, those returned men who lived in Yarram.

The formal meeting that saw the transfer of management from the committee that raised the funds for the club rooms to the Yarram sub branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League (Australia) took place in early December 1919. It was written up in the local paper on 12/12/19. The business of the meeting was the report from the ‘Building Committee’ (Johnson’s committee) and the approval of the constitution for the club rooms.

According to the constitution adopted, the name of the club rooms was fixed as the ‘Diggers’ Club’ and the facility was for the use of all returned soldiers in Alberton Shire. Importantly, the returned men did not have to be members of the RSSILA:

All district soldiers, whether belonging to the League or not, are eligible to join the club. The procedure is by ballot. All soldiers who fought with the Allies in the great war, or any previous wars, are eligible to join.

The Yarram sub branch of the RSSILA had been set up mid 1917. See Post 148. Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League (of Australia) for more background, including local tensions over its creation.

At the end of the War, local membership of the sub branch was approximately one hundred. At the end of 1919, Dr Rutter was serving as president of the sub branch. E T Benson, a local bank manger, was treasurer and W A Newland, who had earlier served as the local recruiting sergeant, was secretary. All committee members were obviously returned men.

The relationship between the Yarram sub branch of the RSSILA and the Diggers’ Club was not perfectly clear. The public’s perception at the time would have been that, effectively, the two agencies were the same; and, certainly, it appears that the sub-branch ran the Diggers’ Club as its property. However, the constitution of the Diggers’ Club clearly stated that membership of the RSSILA was not a prerequisite for membership of the club. Moreover, the same constitution stated that the ‘property’ of the club was vested in ‘three soldier trustees’ – members of the club – and that, if membership was ever to decline to the extent that the club was no longer viable, the trustees had the power to hand over the property of the club to the president and councillors of the Alberton Shire. Presumably, this arrangement reflected the fact that the money for the Diggers’ Club had come not from the RSSILA but from the local community, in fund raising overseen by civic leaders and formally supported by the Shire.

At the end of 1919, the auditors appointed to the local RSSILA sub branch were B P Johnson and B Couston. Presumably, this was to maintain a link with the committee that had been responsible for the fundraising for the Diggers’ Club. This link with the civic leaders who had supported the push for a separate soldiers’ club rooms was strengthened when there was an amendment to the Diggers’ Club membership rules in mid December 1919 which provided for ’soldiers’ fathers’ – both Johnson and Couston, for example – to join the club. There was also broad provision for ‘honorary members’. These membership changes effectively highlighted the distinction between the Diggers’ Club and the local branch of the RSSILA.

The Diggers’ Club – the building, at least – was destroyed in a major fire in March 1923.

Overall, it is clear that the establishment of the Diggers’ Club in Yarram at the end of 1919 represented many levels of the community division and social disquiet that sprang up when the ‘boys’ came home. In fact, the common use of the very term ‘boys’ goes to the heart of so much of the division and disquiet. For many locals, the simple story was that the ‘brave lads’ or ‘boys’ had enlisted from a sense of duty, fought with courage and earned the praise of the nation and the rest of the world as amongst the ‘greatest soldiers in the world’ and now, still ‘boys’, they were home again to take up the life they had briefly given up. Everything and everyone would go back to normal. In the world to which the soldiers returned, their parents’ generation and ‘betters’ were still there to tell them what to do; and they were expected to simply fit back into the previous social order. They were to be feted as heroes but it would all be done on the terms of the ‘old order’. They could have a dedicated clubroom but it would be within a much grander, memorial public hall which would benefit the whole community.

But many, if not most, of the returned men did not see it like that. Their years in the AIF had changed them profoundly. Many had had their heath compromised, if not completely ruined. They were all mentally and emotionally scarred. Many were profoundly disillusioned and desperate. They were anything but ‘boys’. True they were glad to be home and they looked forward to their future but they wanted it to be on their terms. They also expected that the countless promises made to them would be honored. They did not want to be ‘mucked around’. They desperately wanted to hang on to the sense of camaraderie or ‘mateship’ that had characterised their time in the AIF and they saw this soldierly mateship as exclusive in nature and reserved for those who had been there. They needed to be together by themselves or, at the very least, those they chose to be with. They were not about to be told by their parents’ generation how they should fit in and what the social boundaries were to be. If they wanted a separate club rooms for their exclusive use and that annoyed the rest of the community and left them open to claims that they were selfish, stand-offish and ungrateful then so be it.

It is worth finishing on yet another editorial from the local paper that once again found fault with the attitude of the returned men. It was a plea from the editor for the men to live up to the high ideals in which the local community held them. For people like Rossiter, there was this picture of the returning heroes of which the heroes themselves needed to be reminded. As mentioned, the gymkhana in early November 1919 was the key fund raiser for the Diggers’ Club. It was a large event with over 1,200 people in attendance. On the day, there was a procession led by the Yarram Town Band to the showgrounds. The returned men were invited to march. But not too many did. This lack of enthusiasm was not lost on the editor who, in his editorial immediately after the gymkhana, could not resist some criticism:

What few soldiers “processed” looked warriors every one but if the number of returned men be 400 in the district, 40 was not a good proportion. Even if the League members’ roll number is 120, then there were two-thirds elsewhere. We would like to have seen the full strength of the returned men in uniform on Wednesday. Those who turned out were so soldierlike in appearance but it made the others conspicuous by their absence.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative


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

193. Armistice: the returned soldiers celebrate

This is the third post in a short series that has looked at various celebrations held in the Shire of Alberton in the week after the signing of the Armistice. The focus of this post is a victory celebration held in the Mechanics Hall on Monday evening,18 November 1918. It was a ‘men-only’ show and it was organised by the local branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ League [Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia] (see Post 148). It was put on ‘to celebrate the glorious victory over the Huns’. The report of the evening appeared in detail in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on Wednesday 20/11/18.

The report does not indicate exactly how many of the returned men were there that night. I estimate that by November 1918, about 150 men from the Shire of Alberton had returned to Australia for medical discharge. This was from the approximately 800 men with a link to the Shire who had enlisted. However, not all those who enlisted from the Shire – for example, itinerant farm workers – returned to the Shire. Further, the event was held in Yarram on a week night and returned men from outlying towns and settlements would have faced difficulty in attending. Also there would have been returned men who for variety of reasons chose not to attend, or were not able to attend. At the same time, there was a functioning local branch of the RSSILA operating in Yarram and, allowing for all the qualifications, it is reasonable to suggest that there would have been up to 50 returned men there that night.

Also present were the fathers and (younger) brothers of those who enlisted and who were still overseas. Various ‘fathers’ associations’ had operated over the period of the War. The other major group of men there that night was made up of those who had been ‘rejected’ when they had tried to enlist. They belonged to an association identified in the newspaper report as the ‘Rejected Volunteers Association’. The paper made it clear that while the ‘rejected’ were glad to be present they certainly did not see themselves as the equal of the Anzac and their celebrations were therefore more restrained.

Noticeable in the gathering was the number of rejected men – we might almost say dejected men, by the thought that they were unable owing to some physical defect to join the boys at the front. But they were triers, at all events. With the fathers they enjoyed the fun more soberly, glad to see the returned boys as happy as juveniles.

Obviously the event was focused on the returned men and their ‘victory’. It was their opportunity to celebrate this victory and be recognised by the local community. The first item that night set the tone. It was a performance by some of the returned men:

A number of boys from “over there,” in merry mood, favored the company with a round of trench songs, quaint and original, which served to prove that in the midst of battle, and housed in trenches, there was that exuberance of spirit characteristic of the Australians, a spirit that was never dormant, even at the door of death.

The accompanist on the piano was described as the ‘dinkum oil’.

The Union Jack was pinned to the stage curtain and below it was a large banner declaring ‘God Save Our King’ [George V] and all the tables were adorned with the colours red, white and blue.

The program for the night involved a series of toasts, each accompanied by a speech. The first toast was to the Empire, given by Mr B Couston. Couston was the manager of the Yarram branch of the Bank of Victoria. He had been active in recruiting and also the push for the Yes vote in the 1917 referendum. He was an outspoken Imperial Loyalist.

While there were several references to a distinctly Nationalist (uniquely Australian) sentiment that night, such displays were very much set within the pervading sense of imperial loyalty and destiny. Couston, for example, outdid himself with praise for the Empire. He took the final victory as unshakeable proof of Britain and the Empire’s greatness. Extracts from his speech suggest how little had changed since the same ‘boys’ were farewelled in 1914:

The British Empire was one of the best and greatest empires that had ever existed, and during the past four and a half years the traditions of this great empire had been nobly upheld.

Britain was essentially a peaceful nation, and always strove to maintain peace throughout the world. She only went to war to see that justice was meted out; the rights of small nations should be protected.

Wherever the British flag was flying the people got justice, and they had faith in her. She had come out of this great struggle with more glory than in any other conflict she had been engaged in. She was opposed to the nation who respected neither life nor anything else, and the lads who had responded to the call of the mother land had nobly stood for and upheld the tradition of the great British Empire. Now they could glory in the victory, and could develop the resources of their country at the expense of those who had been subdued.

There was nothing that could make them [the ‘hearts of Britishers’] forget the violation of justice by Germany, the trampling down and outraging of Belgium and Servia. The Germans stopped at nothing, outraging women and children, and even went into the monasteries and defiled them.

For Couston, the War had established that Australia had proved itself worthy of membership of the Empire and that Australians were worthy of the title ‘British’:

…the people of the dependencies of Britain were just as loyal as the old countrymen. Colonials knew they came from the noblest and purest of blood, and had flocked round the grand old flag showing how proud they were to belong to the greatest nation the world had even seen. (Applause.)

Perhaps Couston allowed himself to be carried away in the last burst of patriotic praise but the claim about the ‘colonials’ belonging to the ‘greatest nation the world had ever seen’  set definite limits to any notion of a unique variety of Australian nationalism. For Couston, Australia’s national identity, national interest and even national destiny did not exist outside the Empire.

There followed a toast to ‘The Allies’, because while it had essentially been a British triumph, the allies had also played a part, at least in reducing the length of the War. The allied powers specifically mentioned were Italy, Servia, Roumania, Portugal, Japan, America, France and Belgium.

In proposing the toast of “The Allies”, the speaker proclaimed,

… all recognised that the British Empire was one of the greatest and best, but at the same time they would all recognise in such a gigantic war as had just been gone through, that without the aid of the Allies hostilities may have gone on for many years.

Clearly, the millions of Russian dead had slipped off the political balance sheet, presumably because, in the end, Tsarist Russia had failed the Allies; and now the world faced the Bolshevik menace.

The toast to the Allies finished with a parting shot at Germany. Germany … deserved not one particle of sympathy, and nothing was too bad for her, and he [the speaker] trusted the Allies would never forgive her for the atrocities committed.

Next, a toast to ‘The Boys at the Front’ was given by E. N. G. Gabbett, one of the returned men. Edward (Goldie) Gabbett enlisted in 4 Light Horse Regiment as a 34 yo in July 1915. He had tried to enlist earlier but had been rejected on the basis of ‘insufficient teeth’. He was married and he came from Sale. His medical was taken at Yarram but the enlistment was finalised at Melbourne. He reached France in March 1916. He was wounded by a high explosive shell in November 1916 and his left leg had to be amputated. He was returned to Australia and discharged on medical grounds in February 1918. He was one of three brothers who enlisted. A younger brother, Norcliffe Gabbett, only nineteen, had been killed at Gallipoli.

Gabbett steered a deft path in praising the various units in the AIF and noting their respective strengths. He singled out the ‘battalion stretcher bearer’ for praise. Gabbett also continued the anti-German theme and pushed it to extreme lengths. He was reported thus,

He did not like speaking about the Germans as it made his blood boil. He had seen their work in Belgium, and he hated them like poison; they were the worst of the worst. He would never trust a German, no matter where he came from. There was only one good German – and that was a dead one. (Applause.)

Lt. Einsiedel, a visitor – and a visitor with a German name – then proposed the toast to the ‘Fathers and Mothers of the Boys’. He spoke about the sacrifice of parents who had lost sons, particularly those who had given permission for their under-age sons to enlist.

Although some parents had lost their sons, those boys were not lost to them and their memory would live forever and be honoured throughout the land. Parents would, in bearing their burdens, know that the sacrifice they had made had not been in vain. (Applause.)

Mr George Bland responded to Lt Einsiedel. Bland was a well-known local farmer and civic leader. He had a played a key role in the soldiers’ farewells and welcomes home. He was also a temperance supporter. He continued with the customary platitude about the dead not really being dead. According to him,

Those lads who had been killed were not lost to the parents. They had only gone before, gone before to join that deathless army which would always live.

The next speaker was Mr. John Biggs. The Biggs family was Catholic and 5 sons had tried to enlist but only 3 were accepted. At the time, one of the sons – Corporal John William Biggs – was a prisoner of war. He had enlisted as a nineteen-year-old in May 1916. He had been captured in the major German push in April (1918).

Biggs managed to combine the two themes of the dead not being lost and Germany’s guilt,

Those lives that were lost were not lost in vain, as it was through those boys victory had been won. He [Biggs] was afraid the Allies were going to be too lenient with Germany. The present was no time to talk of justice to Germany. Let justice be given to France and Belgium first.

Biggs then moved on to more local concerns. Specifically, he started talking about repatriation and his comments took on a decidedly militant, if not agrarian socialist, tone. For Biggs, the past 4 years had seen many promises made and now it was time to deliver. Probably, Biggs was being critical of all those local civic leaders who had called on all the local men to enlist in the name of duty and patriotism. There was an obvious suggestion of class conflict in what he said:

When all the boys come back they should be provided for, and the Government should see they were properly looked after. The Government should compel the wealthy members of the community, those who had made money out of the war, to disgorge. There were men who were living idle lives holding big properties and producing next to nothing. The land should be acquired compulsorily. Let the Government pay a reasonable price for it and give it to the boys. No one had a better right to it than those who fought for it.

Finally, it was the turn of the ‘The Triers’. This toast was proposed by Mr David Muir, another returned local soldier. Prior to enlistment he had been a popular and well-known footballer and cricketer but he had been discharged in mid 1917 with ‘broken health’. Muir referred to those rejected as men …who through no fault of their own, were not soldiers. He spoke of them as …

– the disappointed triers. They had in fact formed an Association and were affiliated with the Returned Soldiers’ Association, being recognised as men who were prepared to do their share. Those who had the glorious privilege of donning the khaki, and enjoying all that the soldiers enjoyed, realised how disappointed these men still felt.

In responding to the toast, the Rev C. J. Walklate touched on a subject which was obviously still very raw. Unlike the ‘triers’ there had been other locals who had been fit and healthy and who could have enlisted but chose not to do so. And there was the related issue of people who continued to deal with these ‘shirkers’ and who therefore condoned their lack of duty and gave them respect to which they were not entitled. Moreover, according to Walklate, the shirker sometimes received even more attention than the genuine soldier:

They had men in their midst who could have left their properties and fought, while their work could have been quite easily carried on without them. These people should have been asked why they did not go. Even now they should be waited on and asked their reasons for failing to enlist. The matter should be taken up at once and settled for all time. If those men had no good reason then they should be relegated to social and political oblivion. Still there were people who hob-nobbed with those who neglected their duty. They had an example of it during the peace celebrations the other evening when in the hall at a dance. It was impossible to pick out the returned man. The favors and smiles were showered on the shirkers. There should be sufficient sense of shame left in those men who had not volunteered to be missing from such gatherings. However, those who had gone and those who had tried should move themselves in the matter, so that the line of distinction could be shown between those who had fought and tried and those who had not; then the public could see how the wind blew. (Applause.)

The fact that those rejected on health grounds had gone to the length of creating their own association indicates how concerned they were by the fear of being labelled a ‘shirker’. On some local memorials the names of those who had been rejected were even included. However, what was arguably more poignant was the naïve belief that there could ever be any sort of ‘comradely’ link between those who had served overseas in the AIF and the ‘triers’. It might have seemed a hopeful premise before the men returned, but once they did return there was obviously no shared experience whatsoever to hold the two groups together.

At the end of the toasts that night, on a more practical note, there was talk of the three associations – Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ League, the Fathers’ Association and the Rejected Volunteers’ Association – coming together behind a proposal to establish some sort of amenity – an ‘institute’ – where, once they had all returned, the local former soldiers could meet and socialise. On the night it seemed the most ordinary of suggestions but, in fact, this proposal was going to prove very divisive in the local community, particularly when the returned men showed signs of wanting the right to do things their way. The ‘mateship’ of the returned men was to prove more exclusive than the locals imagined.

The night ended with a toast to ‘Our Fallen Comrades’ – ‘honoured in silence’ – and, finally … The National Anthem, Rule Britannia and ringing cheers wound up a most pleasant evening.

One final observation is that there is some doubt over the person of Lt. Einseidel who was there as a guest that night. As indicated, he proposed one of the toasts and he was certainly introduced as a special guest:

Amongst the number was a soldier who had gained distinction by gaining at Bapaume a military cross, Lieutenant R. Einsiedel, who saw 2 years 10 months service.

There was no Einseidel who enlisted as a local and no record of the name on the local electoral roll or in the Shire of Alberton rate book. Possibly, he moved to the local area after he was discharged, but it is hard to find evidence of this. Possibly he was passing through Yarram at the time of the celebration. In terms of war service, I have not been able to find anyone of the name Einseidel receiving – or being recommended for – any honour or award. The name itself is very uncommon and the closest match I can find is 2 Lieutenant Rupert Einsiedel. He was born in Victoria but enlisted in Queensland. He served overseas for only a short time – approximately 4 months – before being returned to Australia and discharged, in August 1917, on medical ground – recurrent rheumatism. He did not serve in France but spent all his time in England undertaking officer training. The two versions of Lt Einsiedel obviously do not line up. Perhaps the local paper got the name wrong. Perhaps someone knew of the ‘real’ Lt Einsiedel and assumed – and also embellished – his identity so he could win favour in ‘out-of-the-way’ rural towns. At the same time, we have already seen how returned servicemen themselves were quick to identify ‘fakes’ and ‘imposters’. Lt Einseidel remains a puzzle.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

192. Thanksgiving Sunday, 17/11/18

The first Sunday after the Armistice was Sunday, 17 November 1918. On the day, religious services focused on the War’s end and the promise of peace.

Protestant services on the day

The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 20/11/18 published a detailed account of the services under the headline: Thanksgiving Sunday. Crowded Churches. It led with,

In the district churches on Sunday the voice of the people was raised in thanksgiving to Almighty God for deliverance from our enemies … .

The paper’s account first covered the Church of England service taken by Rev M G Opper. Rev Melchior George Opper had only taken over the ministry from Rev Raymond in October 1918. Opper described how he intended to … give thanks to God for the mighty victories recently granted to the Allies in Palestine, Turkey, Austria, France, and for the ending of hostilities after four years of war. His second task was to … commemorate those who had made the supreme sacrifice, and to remember the bereaved.

For Opper and his congregation, there was no doubt that God had intervened on the side of the Allies. God had done so because the Allies had been … confronted by an explosion of evil. Evil was ‘rampant’. But God, as the … moral Governor of the universe… had intervened and the Allies had become … instruments in the hands of our God to save the world from the rule of a cruel, despotic foe. At the start of the War, people’s faith had been tested. As Opper said on the day, God seemed silent or powerless. But, in the end, people’s faith was ‘quickened’. Also, in the end, people saw that the War, as a time of hardship and challenge … had meaning in the world’s history. The hand of God was there.

There were also all the common references to Belgium, the Lusitania and ‘all the barbarisms’ committed by Germany.

As well as arguing that God had played a benevolent and guiding hand in the outcome, Opper also cited 3 specific occasions when he considered that God had intervened directly to change the course of the War. Without further explanation or justification, the three he gave were: ‘the retreat from Mons’, ‘the first stoppage at the gates of Paris’ and ‘the evacuation of Gallipoli’.

Opper’s religious allusions to the sacrifice of the dead were by then commonplace: the sacrifice of the men was in the spirit of Christ’s own sacrifice; theirs was the ‘noble’ and ’supreme’ sacrifice; they sacrificed themselves for others – ‘us’ – willingly; and their parents were resigned to the sacrifice. To our ears, 100 years on, it might sound like religious saccharine but for many the following would have been intensely reassuring:

Their memory is fragrant because counting the cost they offered themselves willingly, though it meant hardship, suffering, death for them. We praise God for their noble lives. We thank God for the women who gave them up, who though they rejoice with us today do so with tears in their eyes… .

Rev Walklate’s sermon to his Methodist congregation that Sunday was more nuanced. Certainly, he too was keen to offer the mandatory … expression of trust and thankfulness to God for triumph over our enemies. But he wanted his congregation to consider the tragedy of Germany in more detail, as opposed to focusing on merely the triumph of Britain and the Allies. Rhetorically, he asked his congregation to consider Germany’s predicament:

We must not forget that today millions of German people are gathering in their respective churches questioning their hearts for the reason why their prayers have been unanswered.

He noted that the Germans were very religious. In fact, he was quick to add that, as a nation, they appeared to be far more religious than Australians. As previously stated, one of Walklate’s most common wartime themes covered the religious indifference or negligence of Australians. On this occasion he noted, again, that in Australia … the spirit of public recognition of God and individual prayer has been sadly lacking. Walklate had seen the War as the nation’s chance to turn back to God. He was constantly disappointed.

Yet for all their prayers, Walklate noted that God had not listened to the Germans. Instead he had favoured the Allies, including the doubtful Australians. Walklate continued with the answer to his rhetorical ‘why?’.

Nevertheless, God has not heard their [the Germans] large cry, but has responded to the plea of our faithful few. We must ask ourselves why this is. Briefly it lies in the distinction between German and British righteousness.

In terms of what he described as ‘righteousness’, Walklate then proceeded to give an outline of German greatness, in fields such as in science, industry, education and the economy. The Germans had been able to solve ‘great social questions’. They were a ‘largely clean-living people’. ‘Physically and morally the Germans held their place… .’ The British way, on the other hand, was described as ‘muddling through’.

Walklate then resolved his rhetorical wonder with the claim that the British political system was inherently more powerful and its underpinning values more closely matched the Christian ideal:

Germany sacrificed the principle of individuality to that of national greatness. The individual only counted in so far as he helped to national efficiency. In Britain we count (the) individual and each personality as supreme. The value of each individual for his or her own sake makes for greater possibilities in our British righteousness than the German system. Christ died for the individual, and the redemption of the world lies in and through the individual.

The argument was more sophisticated than usual: the British (liberal) political tradition with its focus on the minimisation of government control over the individual, closely matched the Christian preoccupation of the fundamental relationship between God and the individual, and particularly the Protestant commitment to keep this relationship ‘pure’ and free from the corrupting influence of a formal (Roman) church. The same tradition served as a natural defence against the rise of the autocratic state – or the form of military despotism – that Germany had become. It was as if Walklate was talking up the value of a Christian (Protestant) theocracy.

Walklate also argued that Germany had been deceived by the sham prosperity that their political system – ‘military autocracy’ – had won for them before the War. However, he was quick to add that this idea of prosperity threatened all nations, including Australia:

The menace of the world to-day, and Australia in particular, is the confusion of prosperity with righteousness.

In fact, it was obvious that Walklate wanted to use the fate of Germany to drive home his message on the peril of pursuing the form of righteousness that equated to mere prosperity or a comfortable life:

You people who foregather in churches are not disturbed by the menaces of social evil, the liquor traffic, impure literature, Bolshevism and political crises so long as you enjoy three meals and a bed secure day by day. But our peril is that of Germany. Decent living Germans by the million are paying the penalty of a handful. The people always pay the price of their rulers’ iniquities. The individual must make himself responsible for his nation’s righteousness.

He even appeared to suggest that God had deliberately unleashed the War on the world to show man what truly mattered:

To me God has used this war to destroy the world’s surplus wealth, which was a barrier ever growing between man and God. In the levelled circumstances (of the) reduced wealth of the people, with clearer eyes we shall be able to see our national faults [drink, ‘impurity’, gambling etc], and remove them.

As argued, Walklate’s sermon was more nuanced than that delivered by Opper but both certainly had God intervening on the side of the Allies against the greater evil of Germany. The Allies had won because their moral cause was superior. God had made Good triumph over Evil.

The Allied victory also reinforced the correctness of the local Protestant clergy’s support of the War effort over the past 4 + years. Numerous previous posts have shown how the local Protestant clergy over the period of the War – particularly Rev George Cox and Rev Arthur Rufus Raymond (Church of England), Rev Cyril Walklate (Methodist) and Rev Francis A Tamagno (Presbyterian) – provided the local community with an ongoing narrative of the War which called for uncompromised loyalty to the Empire and presented the conflict as a clash of cultures and civilisation. They preached the lessons of patriotic duty, Christian sacrifice and Imperial destiny. They actively promoted recruiting and served on local recruiting committees. They supported Belgium Relief. They backed conscription and publicly campaigned for the Yes vote, again serving on local committees. They supported PM Hughes and the Nationalists. They spoke frequently at the local state schools on Empire and duty. They also spoke at formal farewells and welcomes home for soldiers. They all called for greater religious piety, purity and sacrifice in the cause of the War. They could now share in the victory.

Catholic services on the day

While the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – gave significant coverage to the Protestant celebration of the the end of hostilities, the (Roman) Catholic service(s) went unrecorded. Certainly, the local paper always gave greater coverage to Protestant services, particularly when the various Protestant congregations combined for joint services, but it is significant that there was no report at all of any Catholic (thanksgiving) service to mark the end of the War. Certainly, the occasion would have been marked by the local Catholic community with, at the very least, a requiem mass for those killed.

At the same time, it is possible to gain some impression of how Catholics viewed the end of the War by looking at the equivalent services held in Melbourne on the same weekend. Moreover, the significant sermon on that Sunday was preached by Bishop Phelan, Bishop of Gippsland (Sale). The weekend’s events were reported, in detail, in the Advocate on 23/11/18. They were also reported in The Tribune on 21/11/18. In terms of more mainstream papers, there was the briefest of reports on the Catholic services at St. Patricks in The Herald on Monday 18/11/18 and a longer account in The Age on the same day. The account in The Age was neutral in tone and did not touch on the more contentious aspects of Phelan’s sermon.

On the Sunday (17/11/18), ‘solemn high mass’ was sung at St Patrick’s Cathedral at 11.00am. Archbishop Mannix presided. The congregation was described as ‘an immense assemblage’. That evening there was another service ‘in connection with the cessation of hostilities’ and, again, Mannix presided. The cathedral was described as ‘densely crowded’. This was the service where the sermon was delivered by ‘His Lordship the Bishop of Sale (Most Rev. Dr. Phelan).’ On the next day (Monday 18/11/18) there was further … Solemn Requiem Mass … for the Australian soldiers who have fallen in the war.

Mannix’s sermon was covered in the article in The Age (18/11/18). It was definitely not triumphant in tone. He despaired at the folly of ‘man’ and the destruction he had brought to the world. He declared that … God had to build up again from out the wrecks that man had made. He blasted nations and kings and their … lust for power, for domination and for trade. He certainly did not see the point in glorifying the War. He was not preaching to comfort the victors:

Australia had given 55,000 of its manhood in the awful slaughter, and it was cruel to talk to the mothers and fathers of the dead of the glories of war. They hear too much of the victories and the glories that war could give; of the slaughter of which mankind should be ashamed, and which was a disgrace to civilisation.

Mannix called for prayers so that … God would never again allow man to plunge the human race into such misery. The consolation he saw was that the coming peace conference might produce … a lasting peace and a consequent happiness that men had hitherto scarcely dreamt of. But even here he called for the ‘victors’ – not mentioned by name – to be ‘unselfish’ in their negotiations with ‘the defeated nations’.

Bishop Phelan’s sermon was even more remarkable than Mannix’s for its distance from the Protestant notion of ‘thanksgiving’. Apart from anything else, not once in his long sermon was there any reference, even a passing reference, to the existence of the British Empire or its triumph over the Hun. Nor was there any reference to the Nationalist Government or PM Hughes.

Phelan even had a different take on the cause of the War. Whereas the Protestant version most commonly focused on the ‘barbarity’ of the Germans – the outrages in Belgium, the sinking of the Lusitania etc – and the indisputable ‘duty’ of Britain and her Empire to challenge such ‘tyranny’, Phelan shifted the underlying cause back to the formation of the Triple Alliance (Italy, Germany and Austria) and then its counter, the Entente Cordiale (Russia, France and England). He spoke of how at the time, Pope Leo XIII had protested and warned against such treaties. Phelan noted that because of such treaties … When the Archduke of Austria was murdered the world was like a great magazine, which was ready to explode. Two mighty combinations had gathered powder, and occasion was taken of the death of the Archduke to declare war.

Phelan also felt the need to defend the actions of Pope Pius X and Benedict XV over the War years.

He then addressed what he saw as the claim that throughout the War the (Roman) Catholic Church had been ‘on the side of the enemy’. While the War had ended, there was obviously still a powerful sense of anger on the part of Catholics over the perceived way the Church had been attacked:

A crusade of calumny was raised against the Church during the time of war by lip-loyalists and sham patriots, who tried by every means to humiliate, malign and calumniate the Catholic Church. By a servile Press and from a hostile platform and pulpit, they were told that the Catholics in the world were on the side of the enemy and that they were not doing their duty.

Phelan did not offer a detailed rebuttal of the claim of Catholic perfidy but simply made the point that Marshal Foch, Supreme Allied Commander, who … represented the Allied forces in submitting the armistice terms to the enemy … was, in fact, … a loyal and devoted son of the Catholic Church. He also insisted that … Catholics had done their duty nobly and well in the war.

When Phelan turned his attention to Australia’s part in the War now concluded, at the same time as confirming the mythical status of the Anzac, he revisited arguments that had been used against conscription:

Considering our distance from the scene of action, and the difficulties of training and transhipping troops, Australia has supplied her full share, both in quality and quantity, of the forces that have won the world’s freedom. The heroism of the Australian soldiers in forcing the heights of Gallipoli, in the face of a withering storm of shot and shell, has shrouded their names in imperishable glory.

And let us ever remember that their gift of sacrifice or life was a free gift; no cruel law dragged them from their parents and friends. They realised that, dreadful as war is, other things are more dreadful – namely the triumph of despotism, the slavery of conscience, the ruin of country, the loss of national honour. And when such evils are impending war becomes lawful, and sometimes a duty.

The argument is finely balanced: one the one hand Australia (as Australia) was right in fighting the despotism of the (unnamed) enemy but it also correctly rejected conscription, as yet another form of tyranny. Australia’s involvement in the War was of a higher quality because its soldiers made the commitment voluntarily.

When he eulogised the … the fine body of young men who answered the nation’s call to arms, and left their country to face death … Phelan referred to either their love of or sense of duty towards their ‘nation’ or ‘country’ or ‘commonwealth’ or ‘native land’ – and he even referred to their sense of ‘national pride’ – but not once was there any reference to ‘Empire’ or ‘Mother Country’. In his view, the Australians had fought as Australians. They were Nationalists not Imperialists. And when he turned to literary allusions to describe the ‘fallen’, he cited a work that covered the American Civil War. There were to be no conventional Imperial allusions. For Phelan, the Empire was some false god of the Imperialists.

Arguably, the most striking feature of the sermon came when Phelan turned to the issue of the Australian dead.

In terms of Catholic Church doctrine, not all the (Catholic) Australians would have died in the ’state of grace’. Rather, they most likely died in the state of sin. As Phelan was reported as declaring in his sermon:

But to expect that the soul of every sin-stained child of Adam is fit for the immediate possession of God at the moment of death is to expect the unattainable in a world where sin prevails to such an alarming extent.

For the liberation (‘repose’) of such souls, the Church offered the power of prayer and the ‘sacrifice of the mass’ (Solemn Requiem Mass), through the agency of the priest. And Phelan called on the faithful to follow such ritual … for our gallant fellow-countrymen, without distinction, who fought and fell for us. And it was the role of the priest that Phelan was most keen to highlight. He wanted to draw attention to this role as the defining difference between Catholicism and Protestantism.

It might appear strange that Phelan used his sermon on the end of hostilities to focus on doctrinal disputes between Catholic and Protestant but, at the time, it was probably seen, at least by the Catholic congregation, as a justified counter to the the attacks on the Church. The particular dispute is worth additional scrutiny because it highlights the extraordinary animosity between Protestant and Catholic at the end of the War.

To prove his case, Phelan proceeded to relate a rather convoluted story, set in the ‘Middle Ages’, in which he, as a devout Catholic in desperate need of the absolution of his sins, via confession, faces for the choice of confessor either St Francis of Assisi – ‘the angelic St Francis’, ‘the seraph of Assisi’ – or Martin Luther. Unsurprisingly, in Phelan’s story Luther came across as an example of the ’dreaded Hun’ of the War

His heavy Teutonic features and repulsive looks reveal his character. He is a fallen priest, a rebel against God and the Church. He has dragged millions with him on the way to destruction.

However, the doctrinal twist in this case was that whereas St Francis was never ordained as a priest, Luther had been and he still retained the power, thorough confession, to absolve sin. So, in Phelan’s story, Luther is the only one who can help:

Hence in my distress, and having no choice, I pour out the sins of my life into the ear of that wicked man; and from him I beg absolution, and he says over me: “I absolve you from all your sins.” Within an hour my soul frees itself from its house of clay, and wings its flight to the gate of heaven.

The story itself is so contrived, at several levels, that it is easy to dismiss. However, the doctrinal implications that Phelan drew from his little lesson certainly could not be dismissed. They highlight for the modern reader the intensity of the divide between Protestant and Catholic. Phelan stated:

This war, which has revealed many truths, has manifested no truth so striking as the immense difference between the religion established on earth by Jesus Christ and that form of faith propounded by the reformers of the 16th century.

When a man in a dying condition is carried from the battle field, what little use is the Bible-reading clergyman, who has no power to absolve from sins. The utter bankruptcy of Protestantism to meet the wants of the dying and the dead has been exposed in all its nakedness during this war.

Bishop Phelan’s sermon that Thanksgiving Sunday was focused and highly crafted. It reflected profound doctrinal differences between Protestantism and (Roman) Catholicism. The sermon also reflected ongoing anger on the part of Catholics at the way they perceived they had been attacked over the years of the War. Lastly, and arguably most importantly, the sermon reflected careful political positioning on the part of the Catholic hierarchy – whereas Protestantism, as the religion of the Empire, continued to locate Australia’s experience of the War within the fundamental commitment to the British Empire, Catholicism was making a bid that the experience needed to be located solely within the context of the (Australian) Nation. One of the key conflicts associated with the history, legacy and ownership of the War was underway.

References

The Age

The Herald

Advocate

The Tribune

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

190. Strength of Empire Movement

The Strength of Empire Movement appears to have started in Melbourne in mid 1918. The founder was the Victorian member of parliament, Edmund Wilson Greenwood MLA. In his time, Greenwood held executive positions in the Anti-Liquor League of Victoria and the Australian Prohibition Council. He was a lay preacher (Methodist), a member of the Australian Natives Association and a strong pro-conscriptionist.

Branches of the movement were established in metropolitan and country centres and the movement spread to other states. It also appears to have had some links to the British National Council for Combating Venereal Disease. The charter of the movement had 3 key demands: the introduction of war-time prohibition, using the model introduced in Canada; the use of a ‘bare’ or simple majority in votes to determine the introduction of local prohibition districts; and the application of ’strong measures’ to ‘ensure purity’ (eliminate or limit venereal disease). The movement proclaimed itself intensely loyal to the Empire and represented all its work as underpinning and reinforcing Australia’s commitment to the Empire and the war effort.

The AIF’s perceived problem with ‘drink’ – particularly in the case of returning soldiers – and attempts to combat VD were very much in the public mind at the time.

In early 1918 a Senate inquiry had been set up to investigate the harmful effects of drink on soldiers, particularly in relation to those returning home. The Age (11/1/18) described the function of this enquiry:

… to inquire as to the extent to which intoxicating liquor was adversely affecting outgoing and returned soldiers, and the best method of dealing with the sale of intoxicating liquor during the period of the war and afterwards.

The select committee was adjourned mid year (1918) and its final report did not even appear before the Armistice. Its key recommendation was ‘anti-shouting legislation’ to reduce the level of drinking of returned soldiers.

There was much evidence presented by military authorities, the police and the medical and welfare institutions caring for returned soldiers. It was claimed that drink reduced the soldier’s efficiency, that it had restricted the level of enlistments, that it was overwhelmingly responsible for instances of poor discipline in the field and that returning soldiers in particular were at acute risk.

At the time, some argued that restrictions such as closing local pubs when troopships arrived in port did not go far enough and nothing less that total prohibition would protect the returning soldiers. They argued that the whole of society had a moral duty to protect the returning soldiers and agree to prohibition. The counter view was that society did not have the right to protect the men from themselves, particularly given that the same men had, as volunteers, served the country so commendably. The situation represented the inherent tension between the way society had lionised the men for more than 4 years but now, on their return, was imposing major restrictions on their liberty.

The issue of VD was also very topical. In late 1916, the Victorian Parliament had passed legislation intended to curb the spread of venereal disease. The legislation attempted to stop the work of ’quacks’ peddling bogus treatments. It also attempted to force those with VD to seek out professional medical support. All cases had to be reported to the ‘medical inspector’ so that accurate records could be maintained. The patient was required to accept treatment until a formal statement of ‘cure’ could be issued by the medical practitioner. There was also provision for apprehending and then enforcing treatment for those with VD who refused to comply with the new provisions. At the very end of 1918 there were further legislative attempts. For example, there was a push to give the ‘medical inspector’ the authority to inform either the other party or the parents of the other party that the person he or she or their child was about to marry was infected with the disease. The equivalent law in NSW carried a five year jail term. Many critics voiced the concern that while the legislation focused on the identification and treatment of disease, the larger problem lay outside the law and was driven by the low moral character of those affected. In theory, their solution lay with the elimination of prostitution and the promotion of a more ‘pure’ citizenry.

Importantly, drink and VD were seen, and always represented by reformers, as intimately linked. In this view, drink or inebriation was the root cause of VD and if drink could be curtailed then the incidence of VD would fall. Prohibition would address both major social problems.

One of the cruel realities that drove the debate about VD was the incidence of children born with the disease, and also the number of ante-natal deaths caused by it. In an opinion piece in The Age ( 22/9/17) under the heading The Scourge of Venereal Disease, medical experts outlined the extent to which the diseases affected children:

At the eighth session of the Australasian Medical Congress in Melbourne a special meeting was held concerning syphilis. Dr. P. B. Bennie, reporting on behalf of the section for disease of children, said he inferred that “fully 25 per cent. of the sick children in Melbourne are tainted with syphilis, and that about 10 per cent. of the total number of children in Melbourne are syphilised. .. nearly half the children who die are infected with syphilis. Speaking generally the chances of dying before puberty are for the syphilitic seven times greater than for the non-syphilitic.

The same article referred to the large number of stillborn because of the disease and the equally large number of infants who died because they were born with it. It gave an overall figure of 6,000 deaths, nationwide. At the other end of life, the impact of syphilis was also documented. The same article noted that,

In our lunatic asylums 60 per cent. of the most loathsome, miserable, heartrending cases are victims of this dreadful disease.

The notoriety of Langwarrin as a special AIF hospital for VD cases also served to highlight the prevalence of the disease. Moreover, the statistics gathered at Langwarrin over the War years had revealed another worrying reality: the reformers’ call for ‘purity’ had to extend beyond the common prostitute. Even the notion of the ‘respectable woman’ needed qualification. The article noted that

… statistics that the establishment of the Langwarrin camp has enabled the military authorities to collect – and they are the first reliable statistics it has been possible to obtain on the subject – reveal the startling and disturbing fact that in only 18 per cent. of cases has the disease been caught from common women of the street. The remaining 82 per cent. of the cases were due to association with semi-respectable girls or women, whom the police could not arrest as vagrants.

Obviously, the 2 key areas targeted by the Strength of Empire Movement – drink and VD – had a very high profile over the War years and this profile picked up as the return of the AIF neared. The movement pushed both causes within the context of supporting the War effort and defending the Empire. However, social reformers of many kinds had pushed strongly for prohibition and action against VD before the War and they were to continue their efforts in the post-War period.

It appears that the War years were significant because they provided reformers with what was portrayed as a more urgent and desperate social, political and moral background. They were able to represent the time – not just the War itself but also the period of demobilisation – as one that called for radical solutions. Certainly, (Protestant) religious reformers saw the War as an opportunity for the Christian community to turn back to God, shed their sinful ways and strive to become better people and more loyal and dutiful members of the Empire. It is arguable that their efforts intensified after the loss of the 2 conscription referenda. Moreover, even those who were not religious in their motivation saw the dangers that that the twin evils of drink and VD posed to society and the Empire.

This was the general background to the attempt to establish a local branch of the Strength of Empire Movement in Yarram in the second half of 1918. Given local support, if not zeal, for temperance and the incessant call for religious revival from the local Protestant clergy, the Strength of Empire Movement and the Shire of Alberton appeared to be the perfect fit.

In an editorial on 9/8/18 the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative actively promoted the coming meeting:

The Strength of Empire Movement will be launched on Monday night in Thompson’s Hall by Mr. Gifford Gordon, one of Melbourne’s most notable platform speakers. He is directly acquainted with the facts and effects of drink and disease in hindering Australia’s part in the war. The leading citizens of the State have already identified themselves with this movement to secure wartime prohibition and eliminate venereal disease.

The local paper subsequently provided (14/8/18) a very detailed account of the public meeting. It led with a note of disappointment that so few attended what it described as … a forceful and able address on the evils of drink and immorality. The editor (A J Rossiter) stated that he could not understand why so few locals had attended … as the movement has been inaugurated for the purpose of assisting in winning the war. He could not understand why people did not want to be enlightened on … the evils in our midst which go to sap the virility of the nation. Nor could he understand how while … hundreds turn out to picture shows, only tens attended an address which was for the enlightenment of the people.

The meeting was chaired by two local Protestant ministers: Rev C J Walklate (Methodist) and Rev A R Raymond (Church of England). Walklate’s brother had been killed in the War (22/10/17) and Raymond’s son had also been killed (9/4/17). Both clergymen were recognised as staunch Imperial Loyalists in the community and Walklate, in particular, was very active in the local temperance movement. He was also one of the most outspoken pro-conscriptionists in the local community.

The guest speaker from Melbourne was Gifford Gordon, a prohibitionist. He was very involved with the Victorian Anti-Liquor league. He told the audience that he had been … released form his church for six months in order that he might do what he considered his duty to his country and his fellow creatures. He expressed disappointment at the low number of locals there and stated that he had been … assured that he would have an audience of about 400 people. Indications are that there were less than 50 present. At the end of the night there was a collection taken to cover the costs of the meeting but the results were very disappointing.

Mr. Gordon said he was rather disappointed at the amount given, and unless more was received he would be sent out of town in debt.

Gordon described how the Strength of Empire Movement had been started earlier that year (1918) by E W Greenfield MLA who … believed he had been raised up by God to help and strengthen the people in their efforts to do their utmost for the Empire in this most critical period. Then Gordon outlined what the movement stood for:

Firstly, it was for war prohibition and prohibition during the period of demobilisation. Secondly, for the democratic principle of of a bare majority in regard to [the] local option instead of a three-fifths majority. Thirdly, it stood for purity, and to urge the Government to cope with the terrible evils that were attacking home life.

Gordon declared that he personally supported the movement because … it was in the best interests of the community, and because he was a Britisher. To be loyal a person had to live a life worthy of the great Empire. He believed that the … ideals of the movement were in the best interests of the country, and most of all for the soldier.

Gordon then proceeded to give an extraordinary account of the effect of alcohol on the War effort. Earlier posts have touched on the push for prohibition over the War years and the threat that drink posed to the AIF but Gordon’s remarks that night were striking. At the outset, he claimed that the single factor that had most harmed the War effort over the past 4 years had been ‘intoxicating drink’. Drink lay behind every problem:

It has robbed the firing line of thousands and thousands of men, has caused strikes and all sorts of impediments towards the successful issue of the war. Millions of pounds have been expended in the manufacture of intoxicating drink that should have been used for food for people who were almost on the verge of starvation.

Gordon did not see this as a uniquely Australian problem. Drink had compromised effort across the Empire. He gave the example of Canada where, in the early stages of the War, the temptation of drink had undone all the fine efforts of those promoting and enforcing prohibition and even the desperate wishes of the mothers of the young men:

When Canada sent over her troops they carried with them the requests from thousands of mothers to keep the boys away from drink. These lads had come from prohibition camps and had gone across in prohibition ships. The request was honoured for a while, but the ranks were eventually broken through, and the cry of those mothers disregarded, and tens of thousands of those boys who had never known the taste of drink before were returned home disgraced and degraded, and never saw the firing line; and this through drink.

But Gordon also praised both Canada and the USA for their much tougher stance on prohibition. He presented a stark difference between Canada and Australia. Canada, with prohibition, had been able to make a far more significant contribution to the Empire:

The success of the prohibition movement in Canada should be an example. Canada and prohibition has presented 150 aeroplanes to England and 600 to the United States. Australia has sent none. Canada has built 89 ships and sent them laden with provisions: Australia had built none. Canada loaned £ 81,000,000 to Great Britain; Australia had borrowed £ 139,000,000. The expenditure in Canada on drink would soon be nil; in Australia it was about £ 18,000,000. That was the difference between prohibition and a licensed evil.

Gordon’s address also featured a full-on expose of what he saw as the extent to which drink had undermined the AIF and limited the size of the army Australia could raise. People in his audience would have known of the harmful effects of drink – and the actions taken to try to limit its effects – in the training camps in Australia and on overseas service, but Gifford was presenting a far worse picture. It was a picture of how Australia had failed the Empire:

It might be news to the people to know that 60,000 Australian boys who were in camp never left these shores because of drink. They enlisted because duty called them, and their aims and ambitions were to fight for their country. But the cursed drink defeated them. If we tolerate this sort of thing then we should not claim to be loyal subjects of the British Empire. This awful barrier that came between the boy and his duty should be swept away. Think of the hundreds of thousands of lads who were defeated this way when the mother country was calling for more men; and yet we sanctioned it. It was all very well for the Government to send out recruiting sergeants to get men to enlist, but they allowed these boys to be surrounded with the two great evils – drink and bad women.

[Commonwealth figures from the time – The Senate, 5/12/18 – referred to 68,937 men who had enlisted (upto the end of 1917) who did not go to war. The reasons given were: ‘some had died, some had deserted, and some were discharged.]

Later in his speech Gordon claimed that, Ninety per cent. of the boys who proved unsatisfactory as soldiers were defeated through drink.

Gordon also specifically targeted the drink problems associated with the returned men. He referred to the … thousands of broken hearts and broken homes amongst the returned soldiers caused by the cursed drink alone… and in a striking image he described how … it made his heart bleed to see some of the boys who had returned, some with one limb or one eye, staggering down the street defeated by these curses [drink and bad women].

Commonly, the Strength of Empire Movement held separate meetings for men and women, presumably because of sensitivities over any discussion of venereal disease. But on this occasion Gordon spoke on the topic to a combined audience. The comments were general and focused on the extent of the problem. He referred to it as ‘the purity question’. He also claimed that the authorities had tried to keep the extent of the problem concealed and that in a real sense it was just another manifestation of the problem of drink:

There had been a conspiracy to screen the awful vice of impurity, but it was time now that the veil was lifted. Eighty per cent. of those people affected with that awful venereal disease was the direct result of drink.

He gave statistics on the problem from the UK and Australia, emphasising the number of babies born with the disease, the number of ante-natal deaths and extent of childless marriages. He also claimed that, Eight thousand Australian boys had been treated in Langwarrin camp during the war. He even claimed that ’high medical authorities’ had determined that VD had … killed more British people in one year than all the victims of this great war.

He also touched on the fear of ‘race suicide’, another preoccupation of the time. Australia, or more specifically White Australia, was threatened by a low birth rate, war deaths and casualties and, of course, drink and venereal disease. White Australia was destroying itself through its own reckless and wanton ways. Gordon claimed,

The Health Department had stated that unless the disease [VD] was checked that in 50 years the population would be devastated and we as a people would cease to exist, and that drink was in the main the cause.

Earlier he had despaired that, Australia could not work out the destiny that was intended for it if it allowed this damnable curse [drink] to continue.

Obviously, Gordon was talking that night to the converted. Presumably, the people there were the same locals who had always been strong in local Temperance circles and who had called, for example, for the cancellation of the liquor licence of the local co-op store (See 2 earlier posts: 97. The war against drink and 151. The war against drink 2: the grocer’s licence at the Yarram Co-op Store.) But the comments were at odds with the conventional view of Australia’s support for the War – to the last man and the last shilling – and also the image of the Anzac, as the epitome of the Australian male. With regard to the latter, Gordon had the Anzac as someone lacking in character and moral strength, addled by drink and cursed by VD. He had to be protected from himself. His image of the returned, wounded Anzac staggering down the street in the thrall of drink was decidedly at odds with the common talk of returning heroes who could never truly be repaid the debt their country owed them.

Arguably, the activity of the Strength of Empire Movement represented the early manoeuvring of religious zealots, social reformers and conservative politicians as they prepared for the return of the AIF. For this broad alliance, the men of the AIF would be welcomed as heroes but, equally, their natural failings, augmented by 4 years of war, needed to be contained. They could not be allowed to set the social and moral agenda.

The tension between the Anzac as hero and the Anzac as menace and the related debate as to what represented reasonable limits on their behaviour were both very topical. One specific example illustrates the situation. From mid 1918 there was controversy over returned AIF men having to wear blue arm bands. Army regulations required that returned men, still receiving treatment in hospital, had to wear blue arm bands when they went on leave. Publicans were prohibited from selling alcohol to any AIF member wearing one of the arm bands. The returned soldiers themselves could easily circumvent the requirement but the broader issue over the appropriateness of the measure certainly touched the public conscience.

John Vale, a leading prohibitionist, supported the blue arm bands as a responsible, interim measure on the path to full prohibition. He clearly recognised their limitations but he urged that people saw them as a sign of courage. His views appeared in the Spectator and Methodist Chronicle on 14/8/18:

There are two quite different ways of regarding the blue bands on the arms of our disabled soldiers. ‘To some they appear to be insulting and futile. They are certainly a poor substitute for the measure of Prohibition, which would apply to soldiers and civilians alike; but no right-minded person will regard them as insulting. In Britain a complete suit of blue is the hospital uniform, and usually secures for the wearer special respect and consideration. The blue band on the soldier should be taken as the outward and visible sign of courage in the wearer. It may point to cowardice on the part of politicians.

The following letter – from a Mr W Seamer of Yarraville – appeared in The Herald a few days later (17/8/18). While it also advocated prohibition as the only solution it also highlighted the extent of the heavy-handedness of the authorities and the perverse way the ‘heroes’ were punished while the ‘slackers’ were rewarded.

Why should we call one gambler a patriot and another “a rogue and a vagabond?” Why should we legalise the open temptation and encouragement to drink and then punish the drunkard? Why, indeed, should not the blue arm band principle be applied all round? It is cruel and selfish to have taught some of these noble fellows to love drink and now make them stand by and see the beer they love swallowed by selfish stay-at-homes. They have lost their health for our sakes and must abstain to regain that health. If we were to all adopt the blue arm band principle we should not only help them, but would be everyone of us morally and physically better for the self-denial. That is scientifically and experimentally indisputable. Then, if we are humans or patriots, why not do it?

The last comment on these bands comes from a local from the Shire of Alberton. It was made by H J Alford at the unveiling of the school honor roll at Wonwron and it appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 7/8/18. Alford, as the father of heroes, was very clear about what he thought of the arrangement. He even employed then unchallenged racial slurs to castigate those who refused to accept the worth of the returning men – men returning to their ‘native ‘ land – and who were unwilling to repay the debt owed.

Mr. H. J. Alford stated he was pleased to be present. He had three sons at the war, and one had paid the supreme sacrifice, but as a father he would sooner any of them die a hero than a shirker. They had done their bit for us, but had we done anything for them? He stated that before long he thought the Returned Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Association, the Fathers’ Association, and the Sisters’ Association would unite and make things better for the heroes and worse for the shirkers. He was of the same opinion as Cr. O ‘Connor that land should be given to those who wanted it, and they shouldn’t pay for it. He disagreed with the Department’s decision to put bands around returned men’s arms thus preventing them from being served with liquor. This he thought the blackfellows’ brand. He trusted that the remaining 27 men on the roll would be spared to return to their native land. (Applause.)

Rev Walklate was still trying to establish a local branch of the Strength of Empire Movement in Yarram in October 1918 but he was not having much success. However, with or without a local branch of this particular movement, it was clear that, everywhere, the return of the AIF – both those men already back in Australia and the vast number still to return – was generating a complex and volatile mix of unrealistic expectations and deeply-considered anxieties.

References

The Age
The Herald
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
Spectator and Methodist Chronicle

Stanley, P 2015, ’Enduring: Sacrifice, Aborigines and Sex’, in Connor, J, Stanley, P, Yule, P, 2015, The War at Home, Volume 4 The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War, Oxford, South Melbourne.

Cochrane, P, 2018, Best We Forget: The War for White Australia 1914 – 18, The Text Publishing Company, Melbourne.

Stanley, P, 2010, Bad Characters: Sex, Crime, Mutiny, Murder and the Australian Imperial Force, Pier 9, Millers Point NSW.

 

180. Farewells in 1918

According to reporting in the local paper, the number of men who received formal farewells in 1918 was 22. Over the same period of time – the whole of 1918 – the number of local men who enlisted was approximately 40. In other words, about one half of those who enlisted in 1918 were given formal farewells from the Shire of Alberton. It is possible that in one or two cases a more private farewell occurred but it was not reported. It was also the case that another small group of men specifically rejected the offer of a formal farewell. More commonly, as noted in previous posts, men enlisted in Yarram, went off to camp but then never returned to the Shire of Alberton before embarking for overseas service. Hence there was no opportunity for a formal farewell.

Previous posts have shown the background complexities associated with enlistment over 1918. There was considerable ongoing pressure for enlistments, particularly after the major German offensive – and spectacular successes – in April-May 1918.

While public recruiting drives continued to be held locally – see Post 167. The search for ‘eligibles’, May 1918 – many of those who came forward at such public demonstrations failed the medical. There was a further drop-out rate amongst even those who did pass the (local) medical. Either they could not obtain parental permission or they failed subsequent medicals or perhaps they were discharged as unsuitable.

There was also the local recognition that, whatever the official recruiters might claim, the number of eligible men left in the district was small. Estimates suggest that by the end of 1918 approximately 800 men with a link to the Shire of Alberton had enlisted. Consequently, however desperate the need for reinforcements, the reality was that the available pool was, by the end of 1918, very limited. At the same time, this reality was often discounted – particularly by those who spoke at farewells – and the calls for enlistments remained right to the end of the War. The denunciation of ‘cold footers’ and ‘shirkers’ also continued to the end.

An indication of how the pressure was maintained to the end comes from the observation that men continued to enlist right through to early November 1918. Indeed, 3 men – James Wentworth Davis, Albert McEvoy and Christian Gregory Olsen – received their railway warrants for travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process on the very day of the Armistice, 11/11/18. Equally, as will become apparent, formal farewells were held through to the end of October 1918.

As previously noted, the farewells staged in the small settlements or townships of the Shire – places such as Womerah, Stacey’s Bridge, Lower Bulga, Wonyip – tended to be more community-focused and elaborate than those conducted in Yarram. Invariably in these places, the farewell was incorporated in a social of some kind, there was a very large attendance and the men being farewelled received not just the conventional Shire Medallion and (religious) Card but also some additional remembrance, for example a ‘wristlet watch’ or a ‘gold locket’ or inscribed ’gold medal’. In Yarram, attendance always seemed to be an issue and, as previously noted, A E Paige, the head teacher of the primary school and one of the common speakers, would often bring a party of students from the school to help make up the numbers. The problem with farewells at Yarram was that they were invariably used for recruiting purposes. The farewells were organised by the same group of Imperial Loyalists who were involved in the various iterations of the local recruiting committee and they also backed the Yes vote in the 2 referenda on conscription. Eligibles would hardly attend farewell – or welcome home – events at Yarram and, over time, ordinary locals would, inevitably, become reluctant to attend to be harangued on the need for enlistments. Then, when the numbers attending dropped, the speakers attacked the townsfolk for being indifferent to the War situation and the sacrifice of those being farewelled.

The themes employed by speakers at the farewells, both in Yarram and the outlying centres, remained constant to the end of the War. Loyalty to England and the Empire was ever present. As was the praise of those in the AIF and the conviction that as a fighting force it ranked with the very best. Indeed, for many it had proved itself to be the best fighting unit in the world. Speakers referred to commentary in the newspapers that constantly pushed this claim. Often there were also references to the young man enlisting as representing the very best character and spirit of the original ‘pioneers’ of the district. The pioneers had battled to settle the land and now their descendants were battling to protect what had been created. But by far the most constant theme was the one that had enlistment as a test of character; and this was after 4 years of constant appeals for enlistments, endless recruiting drives and 2 failed referenda on conscription. The essential dichotomy was there throughout the entire period of the War: that while most Australian men proved themselves loyal and brave and enlisted, there was a solid core who refused to acknowledge their responsibility and, no matter what pressure was applied, did not enlist. The sub themes here were that such men were cowardly, they forced mere boys and married men to take their place and do their duty, and they took the jobs of those who had enlisted voluntarily. These men were to be despised. They would forever be outcast because they had never been part of the AIF. Moreover, they must never be able to take either the jobs or the promotions of those who had enlisted.

Often, the various themes and sub themes ran together. For example, Leo Furlong was farewelled from the school at Lower Whitelaw on 21/1/18 and then again at the Womerah Hall on 22/1/18. The farewells were reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 30/1/18 and 6/2/18. Furlong enlisted as a 21 yo . His family ran a dairy farm. One of the speakers at Womerah was Henry John Alford another local dairy farmer who had take a strong, public pro-conscription position. At the time, his son – Edward J Alford – was serving in the AIF. He would be killed on 14/4/18 (Post 158). Alford started by declaring that at Womerah … practically all the eligible men had enlistedand now married men and boys were going. Accepting that this was the case, in such a small community the locals would have known which ‘eligibles’ had not enlisted. Alford went on to dismiss one of the arguments – it was not Australia’s fight – put up by those who refused to enlist. In the process, Alford not only questioned their reasoning but attacked their base character. These were not real men:

Unfortunately there were men (so called) who refused to take any part in the defence of Australia. They said, “This is England’s quarrel, not ours. If an enemy should land in Australia we would fight.” He would say to those men, “If England goes down Australia is doomed. Only the British navy protects us”. Should an enemy land in Australia there would be no scrub on the hills thick enough to hide those heroes.

Another local farmer who spoke that day – Matthew Thomas – managed to tie together a range of themes:

Mr. Mat Thomas said there were two classes of men who were not taking their part in the war. Those who would like to go, but were afraid, who he felt sorry for, the other class were those who would like to see the enemy win who were traitors, and should be turned out of any position they held. No returned soldier should be looking for work while one of these men held a position.

In May 1918, not long after his son had been killed, H J Alford spoke at another farewell from Womerah. It was reported on 7/6/18. Of the 2 men farewelled that night, William H Clemson was very young. He gave his age as 19 yo but in fact he might have been as young as 16 yo. It was a complicated enlistment and, indeed, he might not have lasted in the AIF, presumably because he was so young. In any case, it must have been Trooper Clemson’s very young age that prompted H J Alford to declare:

It was a shame that young men of more mature years [those not as young as Clemson] should stand back and allow a boy to go to fight for them. If there were any eligible men there that night who could go he appealed to them in God’s name to go at once while yet there was time; if not, how could they face these boys when they came back? They would stand branded all their days as shirker, who in their country’s danger refused to defend her.

Clearly, the stage was set for some form of orchestrated reckoning when the War ended and the men of the AIF returned home. The heroes of the AIF, backed by the general community, would confront and settle the score with the ‘traitors’, ‘cold footers’ and ‘shirkers’.

There was another theme that touched on family sacrifice, or, more pointedly, the father’s sacrifice. As indicated, H J Alford’s son had been killed in April 1918. Another very public Imperial Loyalist, B P Johnson, lost his son in mid May 1918 (Post 164). Men in the public eye, who were in favour of conscription and who advocated ceaselessly for enlistments, promoted the enlistment of their own sons as praiseworthy and proof of their own loyalty. They even loosely cast themselves as modern-day Abrahams, where they, as well as their sons, were making great personal sacrifice. Benjamin Couston was the manager of the Yarram branch of the Bank of Victoria. He had been in Yarram since late 1916. He was pro-conscription and had served on the local Yes committee. He was constantly attacking ‘eligibles’ and claimed he saw them playing football locally. At public farewells, he praised his own sons for enlisting while attacking those … who had no encumbrances but were hanging back and would not enlist. (28/6/18). At the farewell for Private H Brand held in Yarram on 26/6/18, and reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 28/6/18, Couston once again attacked the eligibles but did so in the context of the personal sacrifice that he, as the patriarch, was called upon to make:

He [Couston] knew of no reason and would acknowledge no reason why eligible men should stay at home. They had no right to do so when their country was calling. The Empire was tottering to its foundations and during no time in history had it been in such deadly peril. … He could not understand eligibles remaining at home. His second son who was only 20 years of age, had just written asking for consent to enlist. One was in camp, and this as his only remaining boy, and he considered whether he ought to sacrifice the manhood of his family for those cold-footers who were remaining in security. There were other people with six or seven eligible sons who had done nothing.

A few weeks later on 10/7/18 it was the turn of Couston’s son – Kenneth Couston, who had enlisted on 1/6/18 as an eighteen-year-old – to be farewelled from Yarram. The farewell was reported in the local paper on 12/7/18. Again the young age of the recruit was noted. In fact, the comments on the day by George Bland – one of the key figures responsible for organising farewells and welcomes – smacked of desperation:

Mr. Geo. Bland said it was another instance of a youth taking a man’s place. So much had been said on that question that it seemed useless to endeavour to persuade men of more mature years to enlist.

When his turn came to speak, Couston declared that – like Abraham – he was prepared to sacrifice everything, in this case for the Empire and the Allies:

Mr. B. Couston said that on behalf of his son he thanked them for their kindly wishes. The present time was not a time when a father could put his feelings into words. He had given all he had – his two sons – for the cause of the Empire; and no father could do more. He would sacrifice everything to advance the cause of the Allies (Applause).

The same sentiment was being expressed as late as October 1918. There was a farewell held at Womerah on 1/10/18 – reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 9/10/18 – for James Summerfield who had enlisted at the end of May 1918. The father was prepared to commit his son to the ‘fiery furnace of war’. He was reported thus:

Since he was 18 the boy had wanted to go, but he held him back, considering him too young. He was now 20, and going with his full consent. Though he was as anxious as anyone to see early peace declared, but (sic) rather than have an inconclusive peace he would wish to see the war continue and his boy pass into the fiery furnace of war till the beast of Berlin was securely chained. (Applause.)

Wilfred Owen’s poem, The Parable of the Young Man and the Old [below] explored the fateful consequence of the patriotic fervour of such patriarchs.

The penultimate farewell from the Shire of Alberton took place at Won Wron on 28/10/18 and was reported in the local paper on 6/11/18, five days before the Armistice. The event was a social-dance for George ‘Jim’ Clark and the hall was packed. Clark was a 20 yo ‘saw mill hand’ who had enlisted on 2/8/18. As well as being presented with the usual Shire Medallion and Card, Private Clark was also given a certificate in a blackwood frame. The theme referred to that day was the common one of ‘playing the game (of football) as part of a team’.

When attending the school, he had always upheld its traditions and he felt sure that by the stand he had taken, he would uphold the standard already attained by the Australian soldiers. (Applause) … When the opposition [football] team needed a bump “Jim” could give one, and he felt sure now that he is a “member of the team” out for justice and liberty, he will endeavour to give the enemy a good solid bump. He possessed the many fine and sterling qualities of his parents and was certain he would uphold Australia’s good name.

The very last farewells from the Shire of Alberton occurred on the night of 29/10/18 and the morning of 30/10/18. Both events were reported in the local paper on 1/11/18. On the night of 29/10/18 Ernest George Griffiths was farewelled from Stacey’s Bridge. The next morning there was another farewell for him in Yarram. At this second farewell, one other local – Roy William Turnbull was also farewelled, and Sapper A J Martin was welcomed home. Ernest Griffiths was a 21 yo clerk whose family was from Stacey’s Bridge. He had enlisted in August 1918 but, as was pointed out in speeches on the night, he had been trying to enlist since 1916. Roy William Turnbull was only 19 yo. He was a bank clerk from Yarram and he had enlisted in July 1918.

By this point – early November 1918 – there was a growing sense that the fighting had just about finished. Speakers remarked that the news from the front was ‘much brighter’ and it was possible that neither of the men being farewelled would face battle. They were quick to add:

Privates Griffiths and Turnbull had enlisted some time ago, and the fact that they were just about to sail did not detract in any way from the spirit in which they had enlisted.

Specifically in relation to Private Griffiths, the chair of the farewell at Stacey’s Bridge declared that … Private Griffiths was not going to the war because he thought it was nearly over. To his credit he enlisted three years ago, and has tried several times since. This time [18/8/18] he was successful.

The key theme for this last set of farewells saw the return to the legacy of the pioneers. The chair at the Yarram farewell – George Bland – effectively summed up both the Shire’s overall contribution and the ongoing link with the pioneers and their spirit. He declared that the 2 men being farewelled were … grandsons of pioneers of the district, and it was pleasing to see that the grand old spirit which was in the blood of their grandfathers had been inherited by these boys. Almost every district family was represented at the front, and he was proud to say the boys had proved their worth.

The same theme was picked up by B P Johnson. Johnson had returned to his role as key speaker at such events after a period of several months following the death of his son. The sub-theme of racial superiority comes through in all the references to the superior (White and British) ’blood’ of the pioneers.

Mr. B. P. Johnson said in regard to the two boys that were going to the war, they were descendants of old pioneers of the district, and blood tells every time. Their forefathers were men who came out to this country and showed they had true British blood in their veins by the work they had done, and their boys were now going forward to lend their assistance to a cause that was keeping from these shores a fate worse than death.

Johnson of course had been present at the very first farewell of men from the Shire of Alberton at the Alberton Railway Station on 21 September 1914. On the day, there had been much enthusiasm, but that very first farewell had been poorly organised – see Post 11 – and the men nearly did not make it to the station. Johnson, conscious of the second-rate and very amateurish send-off the men were being given, promised to make it up to them with a ’tip-top reception’ when they came back. At that first farewell, all the newly enlisted men were enthusiastic and confident. There was an overabundance of volunteers. The community was totally behind the men. There was no real challenge for any speaker on that occasion. Johnson simply declared:

You are a decent lot, and we are proud of you fellows. You are going to the biggest battle the world has ever seen. It will not be a picnic. You will have a hard time, but we know you will do your duty. I only wish I were a few years younger and I would be amongst you, (Cheers). The Empire is proud of men like you. We know you will come back victorious. We’ll win the fight, even if it takes every man and every shilling we’ve got. We’re fighting for right.

Just over 4 years later, at the end of 1918, farewells had become very different affairs. In the past 4 years, 800 men had enlisted from the Shire and more than 100 had been killed. For at least 3 of the 4 years, recruiting drives had been a constant, draining feature of life for everyone. Two conscription referenda had been defeated. Enlistment targets could not be met and the Government claimed constantly that the nation was failing its soldiers on the front line. In the conservative, rural community of the Shire of Alberton, Imperial Loyalists had not been able to comprehend, or accept, the defeat of the conscription referenda. Principally, they saw the treachery in the City but they also saw evidence of it in their own community, with some not prepared to share the sacrifice. Overall, while formal farewells still acknowledged individual sacrifice, loyalty and selflessness – particularly amongst the very young – they had also become very public demonstrations of division, bitterness, frustration and disillusionment. This was particularly the case for those farewells held in Yarram.

The Parable of the Young Man and the Old

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

166. Smoke Social April 25, 1918

The local RSSILA branch held a ‘smoke social’ to coincide with Anzac Day celebrations in April 1918. It was reported in detail in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 1 May 1918. It was an all-male affair.

The function was significant for 2 reasons. The first was the singular focus on the issue of repatriation and the second was the apparently eclectic mix of guests, featuring as it did a Victoria Cross recipient who was a pilot in the Royal Australian Flying Corps – F H McNamara – together with a small party of Royal Australian Navy personnel. On the face of it, none of these guests had any association with the Shire of Alberton.

Repatriation

By early 1918, the quest for repatriation had become a national holy grail. Generally, there were 2 broad target groups. There was the increasing number of men being repatriated to Australia for medical discharge, because of wounds, injury or illness. These were men returning to civilian life who were going to face all manner of difficulties. They might face further periods of hospitalisation and treatment. There was the challenge – or impossibility – of securing employment. They would have to live with ongoing disabilities – amputated limbs, blindness, chronic disease – and in general they were still relatively very young. They were to be forced to become reliant on others – on either a temporary or more permanent basis – and in many cases this burden would fall on the parents. If this first group was not ‘looked after’ their position would be dire. The second group of those for whom repatriation had become the national ideal was the much larger core of the AIF itself. These were the men who had ‘answered the call’ and proved themselves heroes. They were to return ‘soon’ and the Nation had to repay the debt owed them. As a minimum, it was totally unacceptable that such men would return to unemployment and hardship. Moreover, they had to be rewarded over those who had refused to enlist.

It is impossible to downplay the strength of the sense that there had to be some sort of national reckoning or settlement for those who had volunteered for the AIF. From April 1915, the Anzacs had been feted as super-humans. Their deeds and character had been celebrated constantly. Their reputation had been used as an integral element in the Government’s narrative of the War. It had been employed in every recruiting campaign and it had served as the essential backdrop in 2 conscription referenda where the basic message was that the heroes of the AIF had to be reinforced. Politically and morally, it was impossible for any government not to commit to repatriation.

But for all the commitment, by early 1918 there was considerable disquiet. It was clear that whatever form repatriation was to take, there was considerable confusion and little evidence that anything was being done. This disquiet was very evident at the Smoke Social held in Yarram in April 1918. As one speaker (G F Sauer) observed:

[Returned] Men had come to him and complained that they had to wait about for weeks before anything was done for them. Their pay was fizzling away and many of them were in want.

Not surprisingly, for many in the Shire of Alberton, the idea of repatriation involved putting the returned soldiers on the land. It was an appealing vision: the hero soldier could be rewarded by being assisted to set himself up as an independent farmer on a modest landholding. The qualities that had made the AIF such a formidable fighting force – toughness, resourcefulness, independence, mateship … – would be the same ones that would ensure success as the soldier transitioned, easily and even naturally, to the life of the farmer. The existing local farming community would welcome them eagerly and support them. It would be their chance to repay the debt. The increased economic activity would create a more prosperous and ever-growing community. Of course, the reality was that there were to be significant problems at every step of the way. The scheme would in time prove to be ruinous for many. Behind the idealism, the scheme was open to exploitation and even victimisation. But that night in Yarram, the dream of land for the returning men was paramount. Thomas Livingston MLA spoke for many:

Gippsland had done splendidly in regard to recruiting, and had perhaps sent more men than any other part of the State. The men were coming back and must have help. He wanted to know the number of men present who wanted land, and would use his best endeavours in Parliament to see they got it.

Later he declared, dramatically:

There was plenty of land about Yarram where the soldier could do well on. They were entitled to it and should get it if they wanted it.

But there were others who were keen to question the commitment of the State Government to the idea of soldier settlement. Councillor Barlow, talking immediately after Livingston, argued that, from his personal experience, the efforts of local councillors to facilitate land acquisitions were routinely blocked by the State Government. On the specific issue of land, he claimed that the very next morning he was going to ride … twenty or thirty miles to inspect land that had been offered the committee for repatriation purposes. But then he aded:

However, his past experience with the [State] Government was that it was bound up so tightly with red tape that many of the labors of local bodies went for nothing. The Government was making a farce of the repatriation problem. Let everyone be up and doing to assist those men who were sent away with so many promises of what was going to be done for them when they came back. There had been a succession of broken promises.

Clearly, the view of local government was that it was all the fault of the State Government. But then the very next speaker – B P Johnson – poured scorn on the commitment of the local council. Firstly, he complained that not enough councillors were present at the function and their absence was typical of people’s indifference to the plight of the returning men. Then he complained about the Shire’s indifference to creating the commemorative record of the men who had enlisted. Admittedly, this issue was not directly concerned with repatriation, but it was, in his mind, indicative of the Shire’s overall indifference to the status and plight of the men. It would certainly have hit raw nerves. It was yet another example of the gulf between what the men had been promised and what they were now experiencing:

As has been said before, there had been a lot of talk, but very little done. He [Johnson] had noticed that in nearly every other place honor rolls were in existence. They should have one to commemorate the men who had gone from the Shire of Alberton. The council had passed a resolution in 1915 to have this done, but so far it had not materialised. … The council should tackle the matter at once, and not only an honor roll, but a book with full particulars of each man who enlisted.

Other speakers that night identified those they saw as the ‘natural’ enemy of the men returning: those who had not ‘answered the call’. Speakers declared that these men – variously described that night as ‘rotters’ and ‘cold footers’ – posed a threat to the ideal of repatriation because they had taken the jobs of the men who enlisted and they would not easily give them up.

Other speakers sensed the indifference and opposition the returning men faced and urged them to ’stick together as a solid body and demand justice’. They needed to become political. Livingston’s advice was reported:

His advice to the Returned Soldiers’ Association was to hang together and vote together. They had the whole political situation in their own hands. They had sacrificed themselves for their country and should force Parliament to redeem its promises. This they could do if they combined together. He hoped to see the majority of seats held in Parliament by returned soldiers. They had fought and bled for their country, so should have the biggest say in the policy of the government.

There were other speakers keen to push an argument about class. Power and privilege could compromise the men’s access to a decent system of repatriation. J W Biggs, a local Catholic with 3 sons in the AIF, spoke on behalf of the Fathers’ League and his sentiments were very clear:

He [Biggs] had three sons at the front and trusted to see them back. As a British subject he appreciated the liberty of living under the flag. There were a lot who talked loyalty in Yarram and then subscribed half-a-crown to a patriotic fund. He endorsed the remarks of sticking together. Let the boys stick together and they would have the fathers solidly behind them. He did not know what might happen to his boys, but he had seen some examples of the injuries sustained and it was appalling. What had the men of wealth done? They went on to platforms and urged the boys to go and fight, while they stayed home and made money, and kept it. This class of man thought very little of other men’s lives as long as it saved their own money. He felt warm on this matter, and had he known as much when his last boy enlisted (he was only eighteen) he would have refused consent until he was twenty-one. He was disgusted the way the returned boys were treated. He hoped those who had promised that evening to do so much for the boys would keep their words and do their duty to the lads. (Applause.)

Finally, there was an immediate insight that night which demonstrated, at least for those there, just how poorly the returning men were being treated. It came in the speech by G F Sauer, late in proceedings. Sauer expressed disappointment that the function, which was obviously for the returned men, had in fact been put on by the men themselves. He believed that this arrangement was the reverse of what should have happened.

In regard to the entertainment that evening, he thought things were topsy-turvy. Instead of the boys giving the social it should have been the people. He trusted next year that the public would give the lads a rousing demonstration, and in the meantime assist in every way to make the lot of the returned men a happy one. (Applause.)

When Livingston, one of the invited guests, heard this, he expressed shock and stated he had been under the ‘misapprehension’ that the community had put on the event for the men. He even offered to pay out of his own pocket.

It is clear that the picture to emerge that night was not an overly positive one. Repatriation – and in particular the call to settle returned men on the land – was certainly both an ideal and an urgent priority – in the community and at every level of government – and there was, apparently, universal commitment to it. However, the lines of division, the political infighting, the threats of recrimination were all coming into focus. Repatriation, as a moral ideal, was about to be hammered into shape as a political compromise. The true worth of the heroes of Anzac had to be tested in the real world. As future posts will show, the situation was going to become ugly and in one of the greatest ironies, where all the advice that night was for the men to stick together and become their own political masters, in the end when the soldier settlement scheme finally became established in the Shire, it would be the ‘old guard’ – the local councillors, existing landholders and other established vested interests – who would have the real power. The heroes would have their repatriation, but only on the terms set by their betters: the generation of Imperial Loyalists who had waved them off.

McNamara, Frank Hubert VC

As indicated, one of the guests that night was Captain Frank Hubert McNamara VC, Australian Flying Corps. He was then 23 yo and while he had seen service in the Middle East he had not been at Gallipoli. In fact, he drew attention to this fact in remarks which he made in praise of those men there that night who had been original Anzacs:

In looking round the hall he [McNamara] felt proud to see so many in khaki, and what thrilled him more was the number of boys with the letter A on their shoulder. That spoke volumes, and he would consider himself an honored man had he that letter on his uniform.

McNamara had been awarded the Victoria Cross in June 1917 for his action in rescuing another downed Australian pilot in March 1917. The downed Australian pilot was in danger of being shot or captured by the Turks when McNamara, himself already seriously wounded, landed and effected a very difficult and dangerous rescue. Subsequently, because of his serious wounds, McNamara had been repatriated to Australia in early 1918 and discharged on medical grounds. However in April 1918, he was appointed ‘Officer Commanding, Air Reconnaissance, South Gippsland’ and it was in that capacity that he attended the smoke social.

The background to McNamara’s appointment involved the German raider, Wolf. In March 1918 the Wolf returned to Germany with the revelation that it had sailed along the east coast of Australia. The captain even claimed to have have used the ship’s own aircraft – it carried a small plane – to fly over Sydney. Moreover, several months earlier, in July 1917, a ship – SS Cumberland – had sunk near the Victoria-NSW border in July 1917 after it hit a mine that had been laid by the German raider. Not surprisingly, the press in Australia whipped up considerable hysteria. To calm matters, Defence decided to mount a series of reconnaissance flights over the south-eastern sea lanes. There were 2 areas of operation: one covering the area round Eden and the other Wilson’s Promontory. For the aerial reconnaissance covering Wilson’s Promontory, Yarram was selected because it had the best location for an airfield. McNamara was appointed the Officer Commanding, and he was supported by radio operators from the RAN and a guard provided by the army. McNamara’s unit operated from 21/4/18 – just a few days before the smoke social on Anzac Day – to 10/5/18. The aircraft in use at Yarram – an FE2b – was damaged on one landing and was out of action for about one week. On the days that flights were not conducted McNamara’s detachment assisted civilian police in following up various reports of enemy activity in the area, e.g. sensational reports of local Germans using wireless to communicate with raiders off the coast. After his time in South Gippsland, McNamara took up duties as a flying instructor at Point Cook.

There must have been some embargo on the reporting of McNamara’s work in Yarram at the time because there is no report in the local paper of his mission. He was identified, but only as a guest, at the smoke social. Moreover, there was only one other reference in the local paper (8/5/18) and this occurred in a speech to students at the local school – Yarram State School – given by a school inspector. McNamara himself had been a state school teacher before enlistment and the inspector (Mr Greenwood) was keen to remind students of the fact:

The Education Department had supplied a big number of soldiers from within its ranks. Captain McNamara, the winner of the Victoria Cross, who was at present in Yarram, was an old school teacher.

Captain Frank Hubert McNamara VC, courtesy of Australian War Memorial

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Australian Dictionary of Biography, McNamara Frank Hubert (Francis) 1894-1961

Coulthard-Clark, C 1997, McNamara VC: A Hero’s Dilemma, Air Power Studies Centre, RAAF Base Fairbairn ACT

Aviation Heritage Vol 25 No 4, Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of Australia.

Watson, D 2000, ‘In the Shadow of the ‘Wolf’: Enemy Activity and the Internment of a Gippsland Fisheman’, Gippsland Heritage Journal, No. 24 pp. 2-9

For film of the type of plane (FE2b) flown by McNamara see here and here.

154. The start of the 1918 school year and yet more division

This post continues to explore themes raised in earlier posts, particularly Post 84 and Post 68.

At the start of 1918 there were 2 very significant developments in the provision of schooling in the local community. At the Yarram State School, higher primary grades commenced and, nearby, the new Catholic primary school – St Mary’s – was opened.

The local community had been calling for a higher primary top to the local state primary school – even a separate high school – for several years. Just days after the outbreak of War, the Director of Education (F Tate) visited Yarram (10/8/14) at the invitation of the local school board to consider the provision of higher primary/higher elementary schooling. The basic agreement reached was that continuing classes – to Intermediate level – could be set up in (new) buildings on the existing primary school site, with the local community agreeing to contribute an amount of £350. In theory, the money was to be raised by the local council setting a special levy. But then the reality of the War intervened.

By late 1917, the push for the higher elementary school picked up again after the Victorian Government set aside funds (£2,000) for a higher elementary school in Yarram. Again, the local community was expected to contribute financially. The amount was now £400, over 4 years. This time the money was to be raised by subscriptions, not a special levy via the council. Tate visited Yarram again in January 1918 and by the end of February, 60 students were enrolled. Initially they were accommodated in existing buildings on the site but new buildings, specifically for the higher primary years, were planned in mid 1918 and officially opened in April 1919.

The provision of higher primary or higher elementary schooling was very significant. Students could now pursue formal education beyond the primary level, without having to leave the district. Other neighbouring towns – Sale, Warragul and Leongatha – had already established equivalent, and in some case even more impressive, post primary schooling. The establishment of the higher primary school – on the grounds of the Yarram Primary School – was proof of civic worth and status. When Tate had first visited in August 1914, he was reported – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, 12/8/14 – as stating that he believed that Yarram warranted the higher primary school and that the community could well afford it. He had observed the … substantial appearance of Yarram with its fine hotels and other buildings.

The overall success of the initiative was qualified in one critical way. At the speech night at the end of 1918 – reported in the local paper on 24/12/18 – there was an urgent appeal for a ‘hostel’ to be set up in Yarram to accommodate students from ‘outside parts’ over the school week – Monday to Friday. Such a facility had been established at Leongatha and it was recognised that an equivalent boarding facility was required in Yarram if students from other townships and settlements in the Shire were to be able to take advantage of the improved schooling. In the same speech, it was noted that while there were 42 students from Yarram attending the new higher primary school, there was only an individual student – or in a few cases 2 or 3 students – coming from Balook (3), Wonyip (2), West Alberton (3), Jack River (1), North Devon (1), Womerah (1), Tarraville (1), Lower Bulga (2) and Welshpool (2). Clearly, the benefits of higher primary schooling were largely restricted to those living in Yarram. Families with sufficient finances who were keen for their children to have a complete secondary education – generally with a view to pursuing a degree at Melbourne University – had traditionally sent their children to a boarding school (college) in one of the larger rural towns – e.g., Geelong (Geelong Grammar School), Ballarat (St. Patrick’s College) – or Melbourne. This pattern continued after the extension of primary schooling at Yarram.

The opening of the Catholic primary school – St. Mary’s – for the start of the 1918 school year was a very pressured business. The building had only just been completed and the accommodation for the Sisters of St Joseph – the teaching order to run the school – was only finalised in the week leading up to the opening. The frantic pace was captured in an editorial in the local paper – 1/2/18 – which also praised the determination of Bishop Phelan:

The Catholic community in this district has accomplished a great deal. They built and opened a large brick church – an ornament to the town – built a school, and have now purchased Mr. Brennan’s property for the comfortable housing of the teaching nuns. When Bishop Phelan gets to work things move apace.

Phelan had made it clear to the Catholic community that he expected a Catholic primary school to be established and that it was to serve not just Yarram but the surrounding district, with students, initially at least, boarding at the convent. But Phelan had also made it clear that the school had to come after the new church had been built and after suitable accommodation had been arranged for the nuns. The church, the convent and the school were all to stand as proof of the strength and social status of the local Catholic community in the district.

Interestingly, much was made of the new teaching order of nuns, the Sisters of St. Joseph. From the late 19 C, a French order of nuns – Sisters of Our lady of Sion – at the invitation of Bishop Corbett, had been operating schools in Gippsland – at Sale, Bairnsdale and Warragul. But for the new school at Yarram, Bishop Phelan had been successful in securing ‘local’ nuns. The following appeared in the local paper on 6/2/18. The claim of Scottish ancestry was, presumably, for the benefit of the large Scottish demographic:

With regard to this particular order of teaching sisters, the branch now established at Yarram is purely Australian. The Mother Foundress of this Order, Mother Mary McKillop, is of Scotch descent, and was born in Brunswick St., Fitzroy. So that the sisters of the Oder which she established are for the most part Australians. They have houses, schools, orphanages from West Australia to New Zealand.

Both these significant developments in the provision of local education took place at the start of the fifth year of the War and, as been argued in previous posts, at a time when, in theory, all fundraising was focused on the War effort. The issue is whether either or both of these initiatives attracted any criticism.

In the case of the local state school there was certainly no criticism. The commitment to establish a higher primary top to the primary school at Yarram had been there well before the War. The community had always been strongly behind the proposal. The Victorian Government had placed the proposal on hold because of the War and the local community had, patriotically, accepted this decision. But now, at the start of 1918, the Government had found funds for the proposal to proceed, accepting that the local community also contributed. Further, the local committee appointed to secure the £400 of local contribution was heavily representative of local Imperial Loyalists. Three members of the small committee stood out: A J Rossiter, the editor of the local paper; Rev C J Walklate, the local Methodist clergyman; and A E Paige, the head teacher of the Yarram SS. These 3 high profile figures would have provided an effective ‘guarantee’ of the appropriateness of the fundraising. Additionally, many of the most generous contributors to the public subscription – names were published in the local paper – were also high profile Imperial Loyalists. The lists included people like B P Johnson (£5), T G McKenzie (£10) and Dr Rutter (£10). Importantly, the change from a Shire-imposed rate increase to a voluntary subscription must have also reduced the potential for conflict. Additionally, the change avoided conflict with the Catholic community who could have argued that they were being forced to contribute, through increased rates, to a school system that they would not use, or even – from the perspective of Catholic faith – could not use. The Catholic Church already argued, on the broader scale, that this was the case with State taxation to support state schools. It appears that subscriptions to raise the £400 came overwhelmingly from Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians. The records, published in the local paper, are incomplete but it appears that Catholics were under-represented, notwithstanding a large contribution (£5) from Michael O’Callaghan, a Catholic grazier from Jack River.

Overall, there was very strong support for the higher primary schooling at Yarram SS and there was no evidence of any opposition to the fundraising associated with it. The situation in relation to the new Catholic primary school at Yarram was a more complex affair.

Ironically, there was an immediate and very significant positive associated with the opening of the Catholic primary school. The forty or so enrolments in the new school reduced the numbers at the state primary school and this meant that the new higher primary students could be accommodated in the existing facilities at the school. The need to build new classrooms was not immediately pressing.

However, such an immediate benefit hardly compensated for the major fault line which was revealed by the opening of the Catholic primary school.

On the surface at least, there did not appear to be any overt hostility directed at the fundraising associated with the new Catholic school. No one appears to have used the local paper to attack these particular fundraising efforts. Indeed, as noted, editorials at the time were complimentary of the Catholics’ efforts. However, there must have been un-reported opposition to the Catholics’ church and school building projects over the course of the War. Bishop Phelan himself made this point, explicitly, in a talk he gave on the visit of the Apostolic Delegate to Sale in April 1918. His address was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 26/4/18. Talking about all the difficulties he had faced in his ambitious building program post March 1915, Phelan noted:

But the greatest difficulty experienced was the wall of prejudice raised by narrow-minded people who endeavored to howl down every movement for raising funds except for Red Cross or Imperial purposes. But the stirling Catholics of Gippsland, like their fighting brothers at the front, did their duty towards all the demands of the Empire, and broke through every barrier that prejudice and bigotry would raise between them and their own field of labour.

He specifically cited the school at Yarram in the same speech; and he used the same emotion-charged language:

Already two convents and two schools, Leongatha and Yarram, have been added to our brave army fighting the battle of Catholic education.

But if fundraising for the Catholic primary school was not a major public concern at the time, there was still considerable controversy associated with its opening.

The new school – with the exception of a brief interlude for an earlier version of St Mary’s primary school, Yarram (1885-1890) – marked the first time that the Catholic community of the Shire of Alberton had withdrawn their children from the local state school(s). Effectively, all the young, local Catholic men who enlisted from 1914 had been educated at the local state school(s). Even though their family background, for the most part, was Irish-Australian, they had been schooled, via the state system, in absolute loyalty to Britain and the Empire. Now, in the fifth year of the War, and with 2 failed referenda on conscription – with much of the ‘blame’ for the failure sheeted home to Catholics – the local Catholics were withdrawing from the state school.

The significance of the opening of the school at that point – the start of 1918 – also needs to be seen in the context of the continuing conflict between Catholic and Protestant over the issue of scripture lessons in state schools. The conflict over scripture ‘readings’ or ‘lessons’ was a constant and while it might seem by our standards, 100 years on, as minor and even trivial, it went to the core of the Protestant – Catholic divide. It was a passionate debate, for while the Protestants argued that any form of state aid to support the independent Catholic sector would be in complete breach of the principles of the ’Free’, ‘Compulsory’ and ‘Secular’ education acts of the 1870s – and only further entrench the Catholic tendency to separation and exclusivity – the Catholic Church argued that any ‘non-dogmatic’ scripture lessons, taught by ‘non-sectarian’ mainstream teachers was nothing but a brazen attempt to incorporate Protestantism in the state school systems and would therefore also be in breach of the same principles. The politics of the day meant that neither side could prevail; but each could antagonise and frustrate the other.

The conflict over scripture lessons was hardly new. For example, for an insight on the complexity and centrality of the issue, consider this account of the 1913 debate – Catholic Educational Claims – held in Melbourne where the proposition was – That the Roman Catholic claims for financial aid from the State treasury toward their denominational schools are not just, and would be destructive of our State system. Speaking for the proposition was Rev J Nicholson, spokesperson for the Scripture Campaign Council, the body representing the Protestant Churches pushing for scripture lessons in state schools. Speaking for the negative was Thomas C Brennan of the recently formed Australian Catholic Federation. The debate was in front of an audience of approximately 1,000 people and while the proceedings were civil it certainly exposed the stark differences between Catholic and Protestant at the time.

The division over the push for scripture lessons in state schools – there were attempts to have referenda on the issue put to the Victorian people – was certainly evident in the Shire of Alberton. In fact, the issue was raised, very publicly, in the lead-up to the opening of the Catholic primary school. In mid September 1917, Bishop Phelan gave a sermon in Yarram. It was reported, in detail, in the local paper on 12/9/17. In brief, Phelan instructed his congregation that in the upcoming state elections they could not vote for any candidate who supported the call for a referendum on the introduction of the scripture lessons in state schools. He saw this referendum as an attempt by the Protestant majority to … crush the Catholic minority.

Phelan must have provided a copy of his sermon to the editor of the local paper because the reporting of the sermon is so detailed. There is an entire section on the Virgin Mary. Citing Luke’s Gospel, Phelan went into great detail outlining the centrality of Mary to Catholic faith, teaching and veneration. The intention behind this specific focus on Mary was to highlight the chasm, between Catholic and Protestant, on the issue of ‘Bible reading’. Phelan pointed out that, irrespective of what the Bible said, Catholic teaching on the role of Mary, and devotion to her, were both anathema to Protestants. He reminded his congregation that up to the very recent past, British monarchs had had to … declare before receiving the crown that “the adoration of the Virgin Mary and the sacrifice of the Mass, as they were used in the Church of Rome are superstitious and idolatrous” . Prior to the Accession Declaration Act of 1910 – in time for the coronation of George V – the wording of the new monarch’s ’declaration’ had been, in part:

… I do believe that in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper there is not any Transubstantiation of the elements of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever: and that the invocation or adoration of the Virgin Mary or any other Saint, and the Sacrifice of the Mass, as they are now used in the Church of Rome, are superstitious and idolatrous.

The declaration also denied the authority of the Pope.

In the face of such diametrically opposed positions – based in large part on Bible reading – Phelan argued that the idea of a ‘non-sectarian’ lesson of Bible reading – conducted by mainstream teachers in state schools – was a myth. For him, the idea of a ’non-dogmatic’ Christian faith was a nonsense. For him, there could never be, as it were, a ‘generic’ Christianity. For the Catholic, the Bible was to be read and interpreted through a person’s faith, which itself had been formed by the teaching of the Church. But from the time of the Reformation, Protestantism had had a very different take on the relationship between the Bible and the individual. The Catholic Church saw the bible lessons in state schools, within the promise of ‘non-dogmatic’ and ‘non-sectarian’ scripture readings, as a thinly disguised attempt to proselytise in the name of Protestantism. It would never accept it.

It would be a mistake to see this particular dispute merely in terms of differences in religious dogma between Catholic and Protestant. Other references in Phelan’s sermon that day show how the tension of the difficult history between England and Ireland was ever present. It coloured everything. Speaking of the efforts of the Irish in England from mid 19C to fight for their faith and the provision of Catholic schooling, Phelan made this extended reference:

The men and women who fought for Christian education in the land of the Saxon were the sons and daughters of Ireland driven from the home of their fathers in the middle of last century by a trinity of evils, the awful visitation of Providence, the famine of ’47, the worst landlord system that ever cursed a nation, and a Government whose policy at that crisis can only be described as diabolical. When Lord John Russell was asked for ships to bring food across the Irish Channel to a starving nation he peremptorily refused, declaring that “such a use of Her Majesty’s navy would interfere with the legitimate freights of the shipping industry of Great Britain.” And the London “Times” spoke enthusiastically of the good time coming when “a Catholic would be as rare on the banks of the Shannon as a red Indian on the banks of the Manhattan.”

The not very subtle sub-text was that the persecution of Irish Catholics at the hands of English Protestants was both historical and ongoing.

Not surprisingly, Phelan’s sermon prompted a vigorous response. The first letter appeared one week later (19/9/17). It was from Joseph Nicholson, Superintendent of the Scripture Campaign, the body driving the push for a referendum on the issue of bible reading in state schools. Nicholson was arguably the most high profile advocate for the cause. He had appeared in the 1913 public debate referred to above. Nicholson argued that it was possible to have (scriptural) lessons of ‘absolutely unsectarian character’. He emphasised what he saw as the Catholic Church’s reluctance to have its followers read the Bible:

It is no doubt difficult for a non-Romanist to understand the fears of the Roman Catholic clergy concerning the effect of Bible reading by their people.

Further, he insisted, even if the Catholic clergy were that terrified about their members reading the Bible – by themselves – the lessons in the state school were not to be compulsory:

While we do not share the fears of the Roman Catholic clergy concerning the disasters that are likely to follow from Scripture reading, yet, in our scrupulous desire to protect Roman Catholic children from what they disapprove, we insist on their absolute freedom from Scripture lessons, and make provision for secular studies instead.

This letter was followed by one from Father Stirling which was published on 21/9/17. Stirling made claims about the misrepresentation of the Catholic position but overall his letter read more like an attempt to defuse the situation. This letter was responded to, again by Rev Nichoslosn, who dismissed Fr Sterling’s ‘feeble comments’. The letter was published on 26/9/17. There were more claims of misrepresentation amid pointed claims that … this infallible church is not uniform in its teachings. Nicholson argued that the arrangements for ‘non-sectarian’ bible reading lessons in Victorian state schools for which the Scripture Campaign was advocating, were in place in other education jurisdictions, both in Australia (NSW) and overseas. Nicholson chose to represent the dispute in terms of the rights and responsibilities of the 2 parties, one the minority and the other the majority. As he saw it, the Catholic minority was at fault:

The Roman Catholic opposition to “unsectarian” Scripture lessons is … intensely selfish in seeking to interfere with the Protestant majority that is tenderly considerate of the Romanist minority. We give them safeguarded liberty, but refuse Romanist domination of Protestant liberties.

This particular iteration of the struggle over the teaching of ‘non-sectarian’ or ‘unsectarian’ or ‘non-dogmatic’ scripture lessons disappeared from the local paper by the start of October 1918. However, as we will see, the issue itself certainly did not disappear. Throughout 1918, Catholics continued to block this Protestant proposal. For their part, the Protestants maintained their absolute rejection of any ‘state-aid’ for Catholic schools.

Leaving aside the symbolism of the local Catholic community establishing its own primary school and withdrawing its children from the local state school, at the very time Imperial Loyalists were calling for a single, united and focused War effort – and also at the very time that the community as a whole was trying to extend the range of post-primary state schooling throughout the district – it is clear that Bishop Phelan’s unrelenting focus on Catholic education during WW1 served to heighten division within the broader community. Effectively, he forced the Catholic community in Gippsland as a whole, and not just in the Shire of Alberton, to assert their separate identity and status through education. The problem was that this identity was overlaid with so many religious, cultural, social and political associations that the loyalty of this minority, at that particular time of National crisis, would inevitably be called into question by the Protestant majority. As much as locals wanted to downplay or ignore the division, it was always there. Equally, while their opposition to conscription is routinely presented as the distinctive behaviour of the Catholic minority in WW1, it is clear that considerably more than this single issue was at play. Indeed, as an immediate example of just how complex the issues were, Thomas Brennan – referred to above as the key Catholic spokesperson in the 1913 education debate and also the first president of the Australian Catholic Federation – supported conscription and was an outspoken critic of Mannix on the issue. Bishop Phelan was said to be neutral on the same issue. In short, the Catholic question went well beyond the issue of conscription.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Synan, T 2003, A Journey in Faith: A History of Catholic Education in Gippsland 1850-1981, David Lovell Publishing, Melbourne

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

152. The Queen Carnival of November 1917 and more division

Yarram and District Hospital, courtesy Public Records Office Victoria: VPRS 12800 P1, H5533

The last post (151. The war against drink 2) looked at division in the local community over the the issue of temperance or, more specifically, the liquor licence held by the Yarram Co-operative Store. It was argued that as bitter as the debate was at the time, the fall-out was effectively contained. This post continues the general theme of division in the community, in the context of WW1, by examining controversies associated with fundraising for the Yarram and District Hospital in late 1917.

The Yarram and District Hospital had opened in October 1914, not long after the start of the War. Its development had been hurried, in part because a bequest of £500 from John Moore, a local grazier who had died in 1911, stipulated that the money could only be given if the hospital was completed in 5 five years from his death. Moore was a local Catholic and he left another £500, this time unconditionally, for the construction of the church (St. Mary’s) at Yarram. The church was opened in February 1916.

There had been a major fundraising event – ‘carnival’ – for the hospital in 1913, but with the advent of the War, state government funding was restricted because of different priorities and local fundraising was similarly affected. However, in late 1917, it was decided to have a major, community-wide, fundraising effort.

The event was described as a ’Queen Carnival’. Essentially, the community was divided into 4 fundraising teams. Each was associated with a ‘queen’. The 4 queens were designated Red Cross, Agriculture, Sports and Charity. Behind each queen there was an organising committee which was backed by particular local stores, businesses, institutions and community groups. The individual committees organised a range of fundraising activities to compete against all other queens. Progressive amounts raised by the separate queens were published regularly and flags flown to show the leading queen and the positions of the other three. The eventual winner – the queen who raised the greatest amount of money – was crowned as the ‘Carnival Queen’ at a special coronation event which was held on 5/12/17. Prior to the formal coronation, as an integral component of the fundraising, a major sports carnival was staged at the Yarram Show Ground on Wednesday 21/11/17. It was a typical sports carnival with competitions in wood chopping, horse/pony events, and foot and bicycle races. There was also a special sports program for school children. The sports carnival itself was preceded by a major procession through Yarram led by the Victorian Police Band which had been secured for the event. Also, on the night of the sports carnival, there was a major concert in Thompson’s Hall in Yarram. Again the Police Band performed and there were acts from Melbourne as well as many local amateur performers. All the details on the procession, sports carnival and concert were written up in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 23/11/17. Similarly, the write-up of the coronation ceremony appeared on 7/12/17.

Overall, the Queen Carnival was an outstanding success and over £2,000 was raised – an incredible amount for the period – which effectively covered the entire existing debt of the hospital. The degree of planning and organisation, at multiple levels and in many committees, and the strength of the local support were very impressive, and noted as such at the time. However, there were also some significant disputes which arose as the carnival unfolded over November 1917.

One major dispute involved, of all things, a ‘chocolate wheel’, also known at the time as a ’spinning jenny’ or just a ’spinning wheel’. The chocolate wheel had become a favourite at fund raisers. In fact, the Nestle (and Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk) Company – the chocolate wheels of the day were often referred to as ‘Nestle’s Chocolate Wheels’ – had developed a package which provided the organisers with the wheel itself, the wooden bats, and the chocolates for prizes. At a time when there was ongoing pressure for patriotic fundraising, the chocolate wheel was in great demand. However, there was significant opposition to the use of chocolate wheels.

There was some concern that the commercial providers of chocolate wheels were taking too much of the profits – by inflating the costs of the chocolates used for prizes, boosting overheads etc – but the larger concern was that all such ‘wheels’ promoted gambling. The wheels presented a real dilemma for the churches and the anti-gambling lobby: there was a desperate need for patriotic fundraising; the wheel was a highly profitable and very popular form of fundraising; but the wheel was also a soft introduction to the evil of gambling. Over 1917-1918, there were increasing efforts to limit the use of wheels. Certainly, the authorities tried to keep them well away from school fundraising efforts – schools were a vital focus for patriotic fundraising – and ensure that children had no association whatsoever with them. At the same time, the efforts to restrict the wheels were inconsistent and the regulations commonly ignored. Those opposed to them were commonly dismissed as ‘wowsers’.

In Yarram, the Red Cross Queen featured a Nestle’s chocolate wheel at a jumble sale in early November 1917. It was a great success. Not surprisingly, Red Cross Queen decided to run the same wheel in its booth at the upcoming sports carnival. It was at this point that the trouble started. As some essential background, the sports carnival was organised by a special committee. This committee was separate from the overall committee managing the Queen Carnival and, in fact, maintained that it was in complete control of the sports carnival. Therefore, it claimed that it alone had the say over what activities were to run on the day, and it made it clear that it was not inclined to allow Red Cross Queen to run a chocolate wheel in its booth. Faced with this, Henry George Bodman, threatened that if the chocolate wheel was blocked he would have the Red Cross Queen (Miss Bodman) resign. If that happened then, in effect, one quarter of the fundraising would stop; and to that point Red Cross Queen had been the most successful fund-raiser. Bodman was a very successful grazier who had had a long history of local government service, including a period as Shire President.

The matter came to a head, one week later, at the next meeting of the main planning committee for the Queen Carnival. The meeting was reported in the local paper on 14/11/17. At this meeting it was immediately apparent that there was a further complication because someone had contacted the Attorney-General’s office in Melbourne seeking direction on the legality of the chocolate wheel; and the advice received was that the wheel could not be operated at the sports carnival. Bodman wanted to know who had contacted the Attorney-General, but there was no clear answer to the question. Certainly there were some of this main committee – John Bett, storekeeper and elder of the local Presbyterian Church was clearly one – who were opposed to all wheels and had tried to stop the first chocolate wheel at the jumble sale. A J Rossiter, the editor of the local paper, could have been another suspect. Rossiter claimed to have seen the explicit direction sent by the Chief Commissioner of Police to the local police instructing them to prosecute if the wheel was operated. The meeting became very heated. Bodman claimed that his opponents had acted out of jealousy. Others claimed that the advice from the Attorney-General was only advice and could be ignored. They cited the extensive use of chocolate wheels in Melbourne, even at the MCG. The upshot of the tense meeting was that Bodman announced that, as a matter of principle, he was going to carry through with his threat and the Queen of Red Cross would resign. There were appeals to him not to go ahead with the resignation and some there accused him of being ’unsportsmanlike’. Bodman agreed to a crisis meeting the next night but, in the end, the Red Cross Queen did resign.

The resignation significantly affected the whole carnival. Effectively, from that point, one quarter of the fundraising effort ceased. As Rossiter put it in the local paper on 16/11/17:

Withdrawal of the Queen of Red Cross will mean a loss of several hundred pounds to the hospital, unless generous donors are disposed to apply their efforts to one or other of the queens. The main object should be kept in view.

The resignation also threatened the organisation of the final, all-important coronation spectacle as the final event of the Queen Carnival. In the end, another local lady agreed to step in as the (nominal) Red Cross Queen on the night so that the event could proceed as planned. Another effect of the resignation was that there was no Red Cross Queen presence at the local sports carnival, where all the queens had been allocated a dedicated booth for fundraising.

As well as the resignation of the Red Cross Queen, there was another matter, also linked to the sports carnival, which created still more division in the group running the Queen Carnival. It was, unsurprisingly, over the issue of drink.

The committee in charge of the running the sports carnival agreed to 2 liquor booths – commonly, at other similar sports meetings only one was used – and there was heated debate over this decision. Nor was it just the number of booths because there was as much debate over the siting of the second booth. The sports committee had decided that it would be placed near the entrance and next to one of the queen booths (Red Cross Queen). The debate over the issues was set out in the local paper on 14/11/17. Some moved a motion to overturn the decision to allow the second booth. They argued that one booth was more than enough and there should be no encouragement for additional drinking at the sports carnival. The motion was defeated. At the same time, there was more support for efforts to move the second booth, well away from the entrance and far away from the general public. Speakers at the meeting did not want to see … drunks mixed up with the women and children. A J Rossiter, the editor of the local paper and a member of the general planning committee for the overall Queen Carnival, spoke strongly against the siting of the booth near the entrance … where the language of men would offend the ears of the women and children. In fact, Rossiter used the paper to mount a spirited attack on the decision. He wrote a forceful editorial on the matter on 14/11/17:

If the carnival sports committee remains obdurate in their decision to allow a second publican’s booth to be placed near the main show ground entrance, and alongside a queen’s stall, there will arise a public protest on carnival day. The big hospital effort is only a week away, and those who see the mistake about to be made sincerely hope the sports committee will review their decision. … The environment of a publican’s booth is out of place for women and children, yet to patronise the stalls they will be brought within earshot of at least partly intoxicated men, whose language is never of the choicest, and their personal attire is indecent. Nor will there be any convenience handy. It is easy to foresee the trouble that will arise, and mar the pleasure of people out for the day, if the decision to place the booth allowed is persevered in.

Rossiter maintained the campaign. His next editorial (16/11/17) denied that the protest was driven by teetotallers:

Public feeling is very strong against the second publican’s booth being placed near the entrance to the show ground on carnival day, and yesterday a petition was mentioned. This is not an outcry from teetotallers; men who see no harm in a social glass most emphatically protest against a liquor booth being placed where it will be a nuisance and likely be a medium for bringing disgrace on some sports patrons.

In the end, the sports committee held firm in the face of all the opposition and, on the day, there was no problem. Ironically, by the time of the sports carnival, the Red Cross Queen had resigned and so the Red Cross Queen’s booth, located next to the second liquor booth, was vacant on the day. Additionally, the weather was cool and patronage at both liquor booths was well down. There was only one person arrested for being drunk and disorderly; although there was another report that a man dressed as a woman, and using abusive language, should have been arrested. As members of the sports committee had argued from the start the threat posed by the second liquor booth was exaggerated.

In terms of these examples of disputes and division over the staging of the Queen Carnival in November 1917, it is important to recognise that the individuals and opposing factions all belonged to the core group of Imperial Loyalists who were responsible not just for managing the narrative of the War – in the local paper, from the pulpit, at farewells and welcomes for members of the AIF, in local government sessions, at the local school … – but also for organising recruiting drives, patriotic fundraising, support for Hughes and his ‘Win the War’ party and votes for conscription. Clearly, beyond this common front of support for the War, there were any number of personal rivalries and personality clashes and, of course, significant divisions over attitudes to temperance and gambling and other behaviour.

On the surface, there is nothing to suggest that the 2 controversies covered here – those associated with the 1917 Queen Carnival – were driven by the War itself. They were disputes that could have arisen at any time. Versions of them were evident both before and after the War. However, it is also important to note the War was a constant background feature to all that happened; and it must have exacerbated existing differences and tensions within the local community. There was simply no escape or let up. The constant presence and impact of the War is evident in the following 4 anecdotes taken from the period of the Queen Carnival

The first anecdote concerns Mr George Frederick Sauer. Sauer was a local draper. He was a key member of the sports committee responsible for the sports carnival, and he, personally, attracted a lot of criticism over his support for the second liquor booth. He was a member of the local ANA and was also involved in the staging of farewells and welcomes for local soldiers. At the height of preparations for the Queen Carnival, he learned that Albert Rust, the young man to whom his daughter was engaged, had been killed in France. The matter was reported on 23/11/17:

Deep sympathy was felt for Mr. G. F. Sauer and family when it became known on Wednesday evening [21/11/17] that word had been received of the death at the front of Regimental Sergeant Major A. E. Rust. Mr. Sauer was actively engaged at the carnival when the sad news was conveyed by telegram, and in the being the family was made aware of the sad occurrence. Sergeant-Major Rust was engaged to Miss Sauer, with whom her friends feel keenly the loss that has befallen her. Sergeant-Major was in Mr. Sauer’s employ at the store, and proved a worthy young man, one who, after enlisting, made rapid advancement in his regiment. He is stated to have paid the supreme sacrifice last week.

The second anecdote covers a brief reference to the procession that made its way to the Yarram show ground immediately prior to the start of the sports carnival. The newspaper account (23/11/17) highlighted the number of floats in the procession – one humorously featured a chocolate wheel, with prizes of blocks of wood wrapped as chocolate – and then simply noted that at the very end came … A number of young ladies mounted, leading horses with empty saddles. It was, of course, an attempt at yet another local recruiting drive but, like all others at the time, it proved largely fruitless:

A number of young ladies rode in the arena [of the show ground], leading horses with empty saddles, while Lieutenant Smith, recruiting officer for Gippsland, appealed to the crowd to mount. Only a few saddles were filled, one passing the medical examination. The appeal was almost in vain.

The third anecdote covers one of the actual fundraising activities. Over the course of the Queen Carnival, the various queens ran all manner of fundraising activities: dances, concerts, jumble sales, euchre parties … This particular activity was billed as ‘a social evening in aid of Queen of Agriculture’ and it was held in Thompson’s Hall on 30/11/17. As described in the local paper (28/11/17), the range of interests and tastes to be catered for was somewhat bizarre, particularly given the likely audience, but the speel certainly highlighted the all-pervasive presence of the War:

admission will be by silver coin. Competitions for all will be indulged in. Fruit salad, strawberries and cream, and lolly stalls will be in evidence. Pictures, showing some of the horrors of war, will be screened during the evening. A monster Xmas tree will be held during afternoon and evening , on which prizes will be exhibited.

The last anecdote concerns the staging of the coronation ball. The grand event was reported, in minute detail, in the local paper on 7/12/17. The event itself was closely scripted and the staging was incredibly elaborate. This was the event for which a stand-in for the Red Cross Queen was required. Interestingly, in this locally-crafted very elaborate piece of drama, the characters, setting, plot and themes were all quintessentially English. The first paragraph from the paper’s report of the event gives some impression:

Shortly after 8.30 the curtain rose, and there was presented to public gaze a scene that has no parallel in this district. Thompson’s large hall was crowded, many having been refused admission. In the centre of the stage was a throne, and pillars and appointments were made on an elaborate scale to represent the interior of a royal hall. … The pageant of courtiers, attired in beautiful costumes, have assembled to do honor to the four fair queens, and while waiting their arrival join in harmony. The Lord Chancellor (Mr. B. Couston) [local bank manager, JP, 1916 National referendum Committee, Chair of local Recruiting Committee 1917], in good voice, tenders them advice to receive each queen with honor due. …

In this re-creation of some scene from Tennyson, many references to the current War had been scripted. For example, for the Red Cross Queen (stand-in) the Lord Chancellor’s speech made much of Nurse Cavell … whose heroic self-sacrifice has inspired half the civilised world to nobler thought and action. Similarly he forged a relationship between the Queen of Agriculture and … the glorious immortal heroes of Anzac and Poizieres. The Queen of Sports was obviously linked to all those currently playing … the greater game that men are called to now … serving our glorious Empire so well in the hour of her trial. And so on. By our standards it can appear clumsy – a highly contrived attempt to make links between the War and the glory of English history – but for the audience of the day it would have appeared perfectly appropriate.

Again, the anecdotes simply demonstrate that the War was always there in the background. However, there was one final aspect of the Queen Carnival that definitely did relate, albeit negatively, to the War effort. It was the core issue of patriotic fundraising.

The Queen Carnival was devoted entirely to raising money for the local hospital. It was supported across the entire community and it was very successful; but there was a lingering doubt over the appropriateness of diverting funds away from patriotic fundraising. To that point in the War, fundraising had always served patriotic causes – Belgian relief, the Red Cross, the YMCA, various wounded soldiers’ funds, repatriation funds, the Education Department’s School Patriotic Fund … – but the hospital was a very local cause. On the face of it, the hospital fundraising had nothing to do with the War effort or patriotism. It was local self-interest. All the queens, including Red Cross Queen, were raising money for the hospital.

The War – and fundraising specifically for the War- had been running for more than 3 years. The needs of the new hospital, particularly in a climate of reduced government support, were urgent. It seems that the community, led by its civic leaders, made the conscious decision effectively to place fundraising for the War on hold and focus for a short but intense period on fundraising for a specific local priority. There was no significant public opposition or outcry. At the time, at least 6 of the 10 men on the Board of Management for the hospital – G F Sauer, Rev F Tamagno, J Bett, G E Ruby, Geo Bland and M Cox – were heavily involved in a range of groups and committees dedicated to support for the War effort. They were leading Imperial Loyalists. Doubtless their leadership made it easier for the whole community to accept the legitimacy of the hospital fundraising. At the same time, people were aware that patriotic fundraising would be affected. For example, very early on in the Queen Carnival, the editor – Rossiter – raised the issues in an editorial (9/11/17). The references are somewhat oblique but people would have known the intent. Rossiter was not talking about the fundraising efforts for the Red Cross Queen but rather the various, long-standing Red Cross branches in each of the townships.

Regrettably, but too true, the funds of the district Red Cross branches are languishing for funds, and work on behalf of our brave boys at the front is well nigh suspended. Indeed, some of the branches are in debt, and with the present insistent calls on the purse [the Queen Carnival] there seems to be no prospect of doing anything but hang on till early in the New Year. Patriotic appeals are almost entirely overlooked, yet they should be foremost in every mind.

As soon as the fundraising for the Queen Carnival was over – in the early New Year – letters appeared requesting a re-focus on funds for patriotic causes. The following was written by B P Johnson and appeared on 28/11/17, at the very end of the fundraising period for the Queen Carnival. Johnson was, arguably, the pre-eminent Imperial Loyalist in the community. His son was serving in France – he would be killed in a few months time – and both father and son were keen to spread the word about the efforts of the YMCA. Johnson was also reminding the readers, explicitly, that now that the Queen Carnival was over they had to turn their efforts to (proper) patriotic causes:

The Carnival is over, but we have still to consider the boys at the front. I would remind your readers that the Y.M.C.A. is continuing its good work, and therefore still in want of assistance. In this connection I should like with your permission to quote from a letter I received from my son last week. He says, “I am glad that you are appreciative of the Y.M.C.A.; they are doing grand work over here. In many villages we get into near the line the Y.M.C.A. is the only place where you can procure tobacco. They follow us wherever we go, and set up a counter in some shell-smashed house and give us free tea, cocoa, etc. The boys here know what they have done, and when the war is over they will not be forgotten.”

Finally, there were those who had reluctantly accepted, or chose to ignore, the fundraising for the hospital at the expense of the traditional patriotic causes. Perhaps they agreed, with reservations, that it was necessary to support the hospital. Perhaps they realised that overall community support meant that there was no point taking any sort of public stance against the Queen Carnival. Whatever the motivation, it appears that this group was determined that no further exceptions or lapses would take place. In early 1918, there were moves to organise fundraising to upgrade the community hall at Lower Whitelaw. The proposal was that proceeds from a local sports carnival would go to ‘hall funds’. Immediately, letters appeared in the local press, signed by the likes of ‘Patriot’ and ‘Loyal’, attacking the proposal. For example, ‘Patriot’ (18/1/18) lectured the proponents about their selfish, local focus. Patriot claimed that … We in Australia seem to forget that a war is raging. They reminded the general readers about the real needs of the time, when ‘our boys wounded and maimed are returning’ and when … the people of England are suffering – meatless days, the supply of beef reduced by half, people forced to compulsory rationing, milk supplies shortened to even invalids and children. The call was to put of such ventures until … after we have done with Germany. ‘Loyalty’ (25/1/18) stated,

The Yarram Red Cross, I am sure, could make much better use of the money, in buying comforts to send to the boys who are fighting our battles at the front.

Not surprisingly, the locals of Lower Whitelaw rejected and resented the gratuitous advice, particularly as it came from anonymous corespondents. There was more fierce correspondence. However, the bigger issue seems to have been that while everyone agreed to the Queen Carnival as a one-off interruption to patriotic fundraising, there were those in the local community determined to make sure that it had not set any precedent.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vols 1-3, The Alberton Project