Category Archives: January to June 1917

128. Enlistments in the first half of 1917: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

This post continues the analysis of

Post 23: Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

Post 57:  Enlistments in the first half of 1915: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

Post 63: Enlistments in the second half of 1915: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

Post 83: Enlistments in the first half of 1916: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

Post 103: Enlistments in the second half of 1916: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

It continues the ongoing work to describe and interpret the essential character of all those associated with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in WW1.


The table below gives the religious affiliation of all those enlisting from the Shire over the period August 1914 to the end of June 1917. It also shows the equivalent figures for males in the 1911 Census for the county of Buln Buln.

The numbers are small and variations of 1 or 2 can have a dramatic impact on the percentages.With only 3 of the cohort of 31 recorded as Roman Catholic it is arguable that the level of enlistments from this group was in decline. At the same time, with so few enlistments taking place, the local population would have noted, against an increasing level of anti-Catholic sentiment, that at least some Roman Catholics were still coming forward to enlist.


Most of this cohort of enlistments went to reinforce the infantry. There was a small group of enlistments who never made it out of camp:  2 men were discharged as medically unfit and another deserted. Of the men – and one woman –  who did embark, 55% went to reinforce the infantry battalions. As before, there was a small group of light horse reinforcements and the rest of the enlistments were spread across specialist units, including the Australian Army Nursing Service and the Australian Army Veterinary Hospital.  The largest single group of enlistments (22%) went to 7 Battalion. This figure reflected the efforts of Lt Crowe and other recruiting officers in the district in May 1917 when they organised specific recruiting demonstrations calling for volunteers to join the “Sportsmen’s 1000” or “Sportsmen’s Unit

It is worth recalling that while at the time the success of Lt Crowe was widely publicised and celebrated in the local area, the reality was that for every 3 men he managed to ‘recruit’, only 1 went on to become a successful enlistment. The other 2 failed the medical – either in Yarram itself with Dr Rutter or at the follow-up medical in Melbourne – or their parents would not give consent.

Service History

Again, the size of this cohort is far smaller than the previous ones and the percentages more problematic. This is strikingly obvious with the death rate. Only one of this cohort – Frank Harrison DoW 19/5/18 – died on active service. Yet the figure of 3% could hardly represent the death rate across the entire cohort of enlistments in the AIF in this specific period (the first half of 1917). As we will see, there was still a considerable loss of life to come, in the second half of 1917 and well into 1918.

Where the death rate for each of these successive cohorts of enlistments appears to be falling, the rate of medical discharge appears to have settled round 40%. Conceivably, after such horrific casualty levels in 1916, military commanders had become less reckless with the lives of their men and improved strategies, tactics and training were reducing the overall levels of casualties. Also, presumably, improved medical services and training were reducing the overall death-in-combat levels. However, while this line of argument could explain the declining death rate it hardly accounts for the observation that there does not appear to have been an equivalent decline in the rate of men being discharged as medically unfit.

It is obviously a complex area. However, it is worth re-visiting an observation raised in Post 103. There the point was made that, increasingly, men were accepted in the AIF even though their overall health and fitness were questionable. This, inevitably, led to more men being discharged on health grounds. As already indicated, some were discharged on medical grounds in camp in Australia, before they even left for overseas service. Others were discharged in the UK in training before they were sent to France. Overs saw service in France but their overall poor health was exacerbated by their service at the front and they had to be repatriated to the UK and thence to  Australia where they were discharged as medically unfit. Moreover, the general health of men who had enlisted, earlier in the War, was bound to deteriorate the more they were exposed to battle, even if they managed to escape being wounded. In other words, ‘medical discharge’ did not relate solely to those wounded in battle. So it is conceivable that even if battle field casualties – gunshot and shrapnel wounds, being gassed, trench fever, shell shock – declined, even if only slightly, the overall level of medical discharges stayed high because the general health of all those in the AIF, including especially those who would not previously been accepted, continued to deteriorate.

Some of the men in this group of enlistments illustrate the general argument. E B Skinner, the solicitor from Foster, enlisted in January 1917. He had had hearing problems before he enlisted but he managed to pass the medical. He never left Australia. After a series of ear infections he was eventually discharged as ‘medically unfit’ in October 1917. George Trusler, the 20 year-old motor driver, managed to pass the medical at Yarram with Dr Rutter. However, he had already been rejected – ‘varicocele – a year earlier. He too never left Australia. He had hernia problems in camp but refused to give his permission for an operation and in the end was discharged as medically unfit in April 1918. Frederick Godfrey enlisted as a 39 yo in April 1917. He passed the medical, even though it was noted that he required ‘extensive dental treatment’. He made it to the UK but then, after hospitalisation there,  had to be repatriated to Australia in September 1918 and discharged with ‘chronic bronchitis’. Lastly, the case of Arthur Forder, the married 25 yo from Blackwarry, is rather remarkable. Initially he was rejected because of his teeth. Then in September 1915 he managed to pass the medical and enlisted. He served overseas but then had to repatriated to Australia in May 1916 with ‘pulmonry TB’ and was discharged as medically unfit. Incredibly, he was able to re-enlist in February 1917. Again he went overseas. He embarked on 11/5/16 but was hospitalised with influenza from 17/6/17, at the very end of the voyage. He managed to come through the influenza and must have made it to the front at some point because his record shows him wounded: gsw rt knee. He was returned to Australia (3/3/18) and then discharged for the second time on 25/4/18 as medically unfit.

All the cases point to the complexities associated with men’s health in the AIF. Health issues went beyond wounds received in battle.

It is also worth pointing out again that the measure of men discharged as medically unfit – in this cohort is was 42 % – does not accurately reflect the true level of all those whose health was compromised by their service. In this cohort, irrespective of whether they were or were not discharged as ‘medically unfit’, 15 (54%) of the 28 who went overseas on active service were wounded and 22 (71%) of the full cohort were hospitalised, at least once, in Australia or overseas. The implications of these levels were to be played out after the War.

It is difficult to explain but another distinctive feature of this particular cohort appears to be the number of men who were ‘gassed’. In all 9 (32%) of the 28 who saw active service were reported to have been ‘gassed’. At some point, it will be necessary to consider this figure in relation to those for previous cohorts. Presumably it has something to do with the fact that those who enlisted later in the War had more chance of experiencing battle in the corresponding later stages of the War, when gas became a more common weapon.


As with the previous cohort – the 6 months to the end of 1916 – the most distinctive features of this group are the ever-reducing number and the continuing decline in overall levels of fitness and health


126. Enlistments in the first half of 1917

This post presents the table of all those with an association with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in the first half of 1917. It builds on the work of 5 earlier posts that have analysed enlistments, in six-monthly intervals, from 1914:

Post 21: Enlistments to the end of 1914: identifying the ‘locals’ ,

Post 55: Enlistments in the first half of 1915 ,

Post 61: Enlistments in the second half of 1915 

Post 81. Enlistments in the first half of 1916.

Post 101. Enlistments in the second half of 1916.

The number of those who enlisted in the first half of 1917, with a clear link to the Shire of Alberton, was only 31. Included in the group was Nurse Elsie Engblom. This takes the total number of such enlistments from the start of the War to 724.

The following summary shows enlistments from 1914. It shows how dramatically enlistments fell off in the second half of 1916. It also shows that by early 1917, the actual rate of enlistments was effectively in some kind of ‘free fall’. The most obvious interpretation of the figures is that by early 1917 the pool of available recruits from the Shire of Alberton had been largely depleted. However, as future posts will continue to show, there was always the conviction that there were still some local families who were ‘holding back’.

To the end of 1914: 138 enlistments
First half of 1915: 102
Second half of 1915: 200
First half of 1916: 183
Second half of 1916: 70
First half of 1917: 31

As has already been pointed out, the ‘quality’ of recruits was also down. Post 123 showed that when men came forward at various recruiting demonstrations 2 groups dominated: those who could not meet the medical standard – and most of these had already been rejected at least once – and the ‘minors’ who needed their parents’ permission to enlist. Moreover, many of those who passed the medical with Dr Rutter in Yarram were subsequently rejected in Melbourne.

On the issue of parents’ permission for under-age recruits, it seems that some recruiting officers were very, if not over, zealous. For example, in this particular group Cecil Holman was an 18 yo from Yarram. His parents had previously refused to give their permission for him to enlist. He was one of those Lt Crowe – see Post 123 – recruited for the ‘Sportsmen’s Thousand’ in Yarram in early May 1917. His enlistment date was 5/5/17 but the parents’ permission was dated 26/5/17. Presumably, he and his recruiter put the parents in a position were they had little choice but to agree.

Another example, from this group, of the lengths recruiting officers were prepared to go to secure under-age recruits involved Harold Berreen Elliott. He was a 19 yo working for a coach builder/blacksmith in Yarram. His father’s whereabouts was said to be ‘unknown’ and it appears that the mother was in some kind of institutional care. There was an older sister living in Melbourne at Fitzroy. The papers for this young man’s enlistment state: Lieut. Crowe who enlisted this man originally took this [the Application to Enlist form, dated 5/5/17] personally and had it signed by the lad’s sister whose signature is hereon written.

Once again, it is often hard to see the logic in the way men were, and were not, included on various honour rolls and other commemorations.  For example, Frank Lionel Harrison enlisted as a 19 yo in May 1917. He was another young immigrant from the UK and was working as a farm labourer for H P Rendell at Devon North. He had his medical in Yarram and was issued with a railway warrant by the Shire Secretary for the travel to Melbourne. He died of wounds on 19/5/18. At least one in memoriam was published for him in the local paper  and when his father, back in England, supplied the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he gave Devon North as the location with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. His name is included on the Roll of Honor for the Shire of Alberton. It is also included on the honor roll for the local Methodist Circuit. However, his name is not included on the Soldiers’ Memorial in the main street of Yarram.

The Table below shows that in most cases there were several items of evidence to link the individual to the local area. At the same time, in a few cases it was only the individual’s inclusion on the honour roll of a local school that linked him to the district. For example, the only link for the single female – Nurse Elsie Engblom – was her enrolment at 2 local state schools, Yarram and Alberton. However, she would certainly have been well known in the district. There was a brother – Charles William Engblom – who had also attended Yarram SS. He enlisted in September 1914, served at Gallipoli, was wounded and then discharged as medically unfit in early 1916. Even though the family was no longer living in the district, he was certainly regarded as a local and according to the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (24/6/16) he attended at Yarram and handed out the Shire Medallion to a group of volunteers who were leaving for overseas service. The father had been a tailor in the town.

As before, the following records are the ones used in the table to establish the connection to the Shire:

The Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor

The list of railway warrants issued by the Shire Secretary

The Shire of Alberton Medallion

The Shire of Alberton (Yarram) War Memorial (Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial)

The honor rolls of state schools in the Shire of Alberton

Community honor rolls in the Shire of Alberton

Newspaper accounts (Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative)

127. Enlistments in the first half of 1917: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

This post continues the analysis, in six-monthly intervals, of several key characteristics of all those with a link to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in WW1. The relevant previous posts in the sequence are:

Post 22: Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

Post 56: Enlistments in the first half of 1915: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

Post 62Enlistments in the second half of 1915: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status.

Post 82: Enlistments in the first half of 1916: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

Post 102: Enlistments in the second half of 1916: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

The specific characteristics covered in the attached table are: the place of birth, the place of enlistment, the address of the next-of-kin at the time of enlistment, the address of the individual volunteer at the time of enlistment, the occupation at the time of enlistment, and age and marital status at the time of enlistment. For a more detailed account of the methodology and sources refer to the earlier posts.


Once again, the cohort is characterised by a very high level of mobility.

The table below shows that only 5 of the cohort of 31 (16%) had been born in the Shire of Alberton. The majority of the group had been born outside the Shire but moved to it at some point before they enlisted. Most had been born in other Victorian regional towns or centres. Three had been born interstate.

Six of the group had been born in the UK. This is more than the total of those born in the Shire itself. In the main, this group was in their late teens or early twenties and individuals would have only been in the Shire for between 3 to 5 years. The UK immigrant worker has been a striking feature of enlistments from the Shire from the very outbreak of the War. Their youth, status as single men and their British background would have made them prime targets for recruiting officers. Commonly, they enlisted at the recruiting demonstrations held in Yarram in early 1917. It would have been difficult for them to reject the appeals to their patriotism, bravery and youthfulness.

Obviously, with such a high level of mobility as a feature of the working class of the time, people also moved from the Shire. In this particular cohort, 10 (32%) are recorded on the honor rolls for local schools. Yet half of this number (5) had shifted out of the Shire before they enlisted. Either they had left with their family or they had left individually, presumably looking for work. We only know about them because the local schools went to such an effort to record the enlistments of all their previous students.


The number of men linked to the ‘family farm’ in this cohort is only 2: Hitchcock and Jeffs, both at Carrajung. There are another 5 men who described themselves as ‘farmer’ but this was in districts outside the Shire and there is no simple way of establishing if in fact they held land in their own right or they were working as farm labourers, either on a family farm or for some other land owner. Judging solely by their ages, at least half of them were most likely working on the family farm.

The relatively low number of those ‘tied to the land’ in this cohort highlights the extent to which this particular cohort was made up of  workers – farm labourers, railway employees, blacksmith (workers), postal assistant  … – who typically followed itinerant employment. Even more high status clerical positions – for example, bank clerk – could see young men transferred from one regional centre to another.

One volunteer whose employment certainly stands out in this cohort was Evelyn Skinner, the solicitor from Foster. His link to the Shire of Alberton came through his wife, Irene Skinner, nee Devonshire. She was the daughter of Frederick Augustus Devonshire, a very substantial grazier and merchant from Yarram. When her husband went into the AIF, it appears that she returned to her parents at Yarram and hence the address of the next-of-kin appears as Yarram. At the same time, Evelyn Skinner himself must have been known locally because his enlistment and visits to Yarram, presumably to see his wife, were written up in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative. Moreover, his name appears on the honor roll for the Yarram Club. Skinner was 35 yo and he had hearing problems even before he enlisted. He was discharged as medically unfit because of his hearing in early October 1917. He was another example of someone who in the earlier stages of the War would not have been accepted as a recruit.


The table below shows the ages for this cohort.

Ages of volunteers – first half of 1917
ages                      %
18-20        14       45
21-25          8       26
26-30          2         6
31-35          3       10
36+              4       13
total         31       100

The following table shows variations in the age profile from 1914 to the end of June 1917.

Admittedly, the cohort is much smaller than previous ones, but the distribution of ages does appear striking, with its concentration on the 2 extremes, in terms of enlistment, of the very young and the very old. Nearly half the group were ‘minors’ and there was a concentration of men over 30 yo. Moreover, of the 7 men over 30 yo, 5 were married. Arguably, this particular profile reflected the efforts of the likes of Lt Crowe and other recruiters. Those most likely to attend recruiting demonstrations held in the local area would have been the very young and those older, married men, who, previously, would not have been expected to enlist.

Marital Status

Seven of the men (22%) were married when they enlisted. This is a much higher percentage than for previous cohorts.


It is clear that enlistments had fallen off dramatically by the first half of 1917. Obviously, given that 700+ men had already enlisted, the pool of potential recruits was considerably diminished.  But those charged with recruiting at both the local and state level were convinced that there were still ‘eligible’ men to be recruited. However, their efforts seemed only able to draw in the very young and older – and now increasingly married – men; and in many cases the overall health of this latter group was problematic.

In some ways the experience of Leonard Moser sums up the story of recruiting at that time. He was a 33 yo engine driver. His wife was living at Bacchus Marsh. He was one of those who stepped forward at a recruiting function in Yarram in May 1917. He was passed as medically fit by Dr Rutter and was given his railway warrant and despatched to Melbourne where he passed his second medical. The problem was that he had already enlisted – at Wangaratta in March 1916 – and been discharged as medically unfit, in May 1916. He did not reveal this critical information on his second enlistment. He was again discharged as medically unfit on 3/8/17. For all the effort, the AIF was increasingly recruiting the wrong men.


Embarkation Roll

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

125. L R Berryman

Lewis Richard BERRYMAN (1081)
4 Light Horse Regiment  KiA 25/6/1917

Lewis Berryman has his name recorded on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial but not on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. The contradiction is probably explained by the fact that when he enlisted the family was living at Callignee – near Traralgon – and indeed he enlisted in Traralgon. Also, when the father completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he gave Callignee as the location with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. However, before the family moved to Callignee, the father had been farming at Blackwarry. The name of the property was “Chilwell Valley”. The names of the 2 Berryman brothers — there was a brother Alfred Samuel Berryman who also enlisted – are included on the Blackwarry/Kjergaard Roll of Honor.

Lewis Berryman was obviously well known in the local area (Blackwarry). When his death was written up in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 11/7/17, the report noted that he was … familiarly known to a large circle of friends as “Lew” that he … was a lad of very high character and sterling worth and that … in the social life of the district he took an active part. He was equally well-known in Callignee and the local paper at Traralgon – Traralgon Record – when reporting his death, wrote (3/7/17) that he was … the first of our boys who have fallen in the Holy Land [He was killed in Palestine].

Lewis Berryman was born in Ballarat. As indicated, he enlisted at Traralgon on 13/1/15. He joined as reinforcements for 4 Light Horse Regiment. He was 30 yo and single. He gave his occupation on enlistment as laborer but, presumably, he was working on the family farm, at least in part. He gave his father – Samuel Berryman – as next-of-kin. His religion was listed as Methodist.

Trooper Berryman’s group of reinforcements for 4 LHR embarked from Melbourne for Egypt on 10/8/15 and in late October they joined the regiment on the Gallipoli Peninsula for the closing weeks of the fighting.

Following the Gallipoli campaign, he remained in Egypt with 4 LHR. In early October 1916 he was reported as ‘dangerously ill’ – ‘pyrexia’ – and his father was advised by telegram (5/10/16). He was designated ‘out of danger’ on 9/10/16. But he was then (14/10/16) diagnosed with orchitis and remained in hospital for a month.

Trooper Berryman was promoted to lance corporal in March 1917. Three months later was killed in action (25/6/17).

The war diary of 4 LHR indicates that on the day the regiment was conducting extensive patrols out from Tel-El-Fara to probe the Turkish strength and gain intelligence on fortifications and water supplies. Late in the afternoon there was artillery fire from the Turkish side and the diary specifically records 2 casualties in the vicinity of Hill 510: ‘one killed and one dangerously wounded’. L/Cpl Berryman was the one killed. His body was recovered and taken back to Tel-El-Fara and buried in a clearly marked grave in the cemetery at Sheikh-Nuran. Chaplain W J Dunbar conducted the funeral service. His final resting place was Beersheba War Cemetery (Israel).

There is a Red Cross file which suggests that both Berryman and Moore -the trooper ‘dangerously wounded’ – were forward of their squad undertaking observation duties when they were targeted by the Turkish artillery.

The family was advised of the death by cable dated 27/6/17 – just two days later – and the formal report of death was dated 20/7/17. As indicated, news of the death was reported in the local papers in early July .

The package of personal effects was despatched in late August 1917. The list of personal items was extensive: Wallet cont. photos, wristwatch & strap, money belt, Regt’l colours, Diary, Notebook, mirror, 2 knives, Holdall cont. strop, shaving soap, brush & 4 coins, Soap box, 2 mufflers, Housewife, Suit pyjamas, Cigarette lighter, 2 hrs. gloves, sovereign purse & pencil, Key chain, Sun goggles, Lanoline, Testament, 6 Hdk’fs, pr. socks, 2 spoons, Badges, buttons, coins & pieces of stone, 2 Arabic Books, Correspondence, 1 brass bowl, 1 towel, Postcards, photos, etc. diary.

L/Cpl Berryman’s file is one of the very few that contains no family correspondence. However there are papers in the official file that throw light on a significant family issue that came to light a couple of years after the war. It emerged because of the detailed arrangements that covered the distribution of deceased soldiers’ medals.

Basically, Lance Corporal Berryman’s father would have expected, as next of kin, to receive his son’s war medals. However, official correspondence in August 1920 between Base Records and the Department of Defence reveals that in the process of ensuring that the medals were distributed in accordance with the legislation it had emerged that there was an ‘ex-nuptial’ son. The son was already receiving a pension – 20/- per fortnight – against his father, L/Cpl Berryman.

The son was born in Western Australia on 11/4/1916, exactly eight months after Trooper Berryman embarked for Egypt. He was just over one year old when his father was killed. The baby was described as the ex nuptial child of the late Lewis Richard Berryman. It is not clear from the file if the son was being cared for by his natural mother or a step mother. However, what was clear was that L/Cpl Berryman’s father did not know of the child’s existence:

The mother desires that knowledge of these facts be kept from the father of the deceased, who is shown as n.o.k. & who is ignorant of his grandson’s existence.

The decision of the Defence Department was to divide the various decorations – medals, memorial scroll and memorial plaque – between L/Cpl Berryman’s father as next-of-kin and the ‘ex-nuptial’ son. The medals for the boy were handed over to the (step) mother who was required to sign a declaration … to preserve with due care in trust for (master) … Berryman, any War medals or other items given into my custody on account of the service rendered by the late No. 1081 Lance Corporal L. R. Berryman, 4th Light Horse Regiment, Australian Imperial Force…

The decision was conveyed to L/Cpl Berryman’s father in January 1921. Obviously, there was no way of conveying the decision without drawing attention to the existence of the child. The actual letter the father received is worth quoting in full. If this was in fact the first time that the father learned of his grandson’s existence then the letter stands as a classic of bureaucratic understatement. However it is hard to believe that knowledge of what was proposed in terms of the medal distribution had not prompted family members, or others, to advise the father before he received official advice. At the same time, the letter reveals no details whatsoever about the ‘ex-nuptial son’, other than his existence.

It is proposed to hand over a proportion of the war medals, etc., of your son, the late No. 1081 Lance Corporal L.R. Berryman, 4th Light Horse Regiment, in trust for his ex-nuptial son to whom a pension has been granted by the Department. The distribution is proposed on the following lines:-
(a) The 1914/1915 Star, Victory medal and Memorial Scroll to go to the deceased’s son,
(b) The British War Medal with Clasps, Memorial Plaque and brochure “Where the Australians Rest” to yourself.
Presumably you have no objections to the above procedure.
I shall be glad to hear from you at your earliest convenience.

There is no record of any reply from the father. However the file does indicate that this proposal is how the medals etc were finally distributed



Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Traralgon Record

National Archives file for BERRYMAN Lewis Richard 1081
Roll of Honour: Lewis Richard Berryman
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Lewis Richard Berryman
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Lewis Richard Berryman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memorial Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He appealed for fairness:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The South Gippsland Chronicle also noted:

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

Shire of Alberton archives

Shire of Alberton archives

Recruiting Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Catholic Position

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

Archives, Shire of Alberton
(viewed 2014)

The activities of the 1917 Yarram Recruiting Committee came from:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Archives, Shire of Alberton
(viewed 2014)

The activities of the 1917 Yarram Recruiting Committee came from:

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

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

122. G E Goodson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

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

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


121. Messines: G Martin & W E Babington


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

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

Gordon Martin

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

William Edward Babington

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

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

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

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


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

Benjamin Sutton

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

The report noted that not many people were there:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allan Corrie

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

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

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

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

James Brown

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome Home

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

Robert Spokes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oliver Leemon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Muir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Robinson

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

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

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

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

It also noted that many people were there and that,

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

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

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

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

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


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative


119. E E Morley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Traralgon Record

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

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

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