Category Archives: July to December 1915

65. Yarram Recruiting Committee, 1915

The last post looked at the key function organised by the 1915 Recruiting Committee. This post looks at the committee itself.

The committee was set up at a public meting in Yarram on 25  June 1915. The meeting was in response to the request from the Victorian Parliament to all local councils/shires to form a local committee to assist in the planned recruiting drive.

In the circular, headed State Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, Victoria which was sent to every local government area, there was the specific directive: It is desirable that these local committees should include representatives of all sections. Moreover, the list of suggested activities in the same circular made it clear that the committee was intended to represent and cover all social groupings or classes. For example:

5. Where there are large workshops, suitable men should interview the workers and speak to them during the mid-day meal. [emphasis added]
8. Football and race crowds should be appealed to by leading sportsmen.
10. The ladies of the various localities may be encouraged to form committees of their own.
11. Friendly societies, trade unions, and other gatherings should be attended to.

According to reports in the local paper, Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, on 30/6/15, the public meeting to set up the recruiting committee was poorly attended. In fact, there were often reports on the difficulty of encouraging people to join such committees and the corresponding need to rely on the usual civic stalwarts. However, it was also possible that others did not volunteer their services because they knew who typically would serve on such committees. Whatever the reason, the people who answered the newspaper call to join the recruiting committee did represent a particular and restricted group within the local community. The Yarram Recruiting Committee did not ‘include representatives of all sections.’

The committee at Yarram was exclusively male and there was no equivalent female committee set up. The committee was also Yarram-based or Yarram-centric. Admittedly, several members had rural properties outside Yarram but even these members of the committee – most were local councillors – were regularly in Yarram for their council work and other civic duties. Yarram by the early 20C had become the capital town – commercial, retail, business, local government – of the Shire of Alberton. However, there were residual misgivings over the shift of power and influence from Alberton, the former capital. Equally, many of the small townships and centres some distance from Yarram – over difficult roads and terrain – were convinced that Yarram received preferential treatment in terms of development and facilities, and that it functioned to meet its own interests and not the wider interests of the Shire as a whole. So there was an underlying degree of animosity directed at Yarram from other locations across the Shire. For its part, Yarram simply assumed power for itself. For example, all the various recruiting committees over the period 1915-1918 were labelled as iterations of the Yarram Recruiting Committee, not the Shire of Alberton Recruiting Committee.

If the Yarram Recruiting Committee was exclusive in terms of gender and the Shire’s geography and local politics, its class bias was even more pronounced.

In all there were 18 men who were identified as being members of the Yarram Recruiting Committee in 1915. Eleven men attended the first public meeting (25/6/15) called to form the committee and subsequently, over the course of the year from July to December 1915, another 7 men either joined or were co-opted.

The first table gives the essential details for the members of the 1915 committee. Previous posts that have looked at soldiers’ farewells and other public meetings to do with support for the War have shown the extent to which the speakers came from the ranks of the local professionals, managers, proprietors and leading land holders. This group of men matches the same profile.

Four of those on the 1915 committee actually enlisted in the AIF. Henry Crawford Bodman (Henry Bodman jnr) – had even enlisted before the committee was formed. One of the men – Rev George Cox – was comparatively old (43yo) and married, with 3 children. Cox was one of the most vocal supporters of the War in the Shire. He had great difficulty in enlisting and served for less than one year. He was discharged on medical grounds. He completed all his service in the AMC in Australia in military hospitals. The youngest (20 yo) of the 4 to enlist, Cyril Johnson was student studying in Melbourne. Presumably, he attended the first meeting of the committee with his father because he was in Yarram at that time. He was killed in action on 14/5/18. Edward Gabbett was married and 34 yo. He was badly wounded and had a leg amputated. He returned to Australia for a medical discharge in February 1918. Henry Bodman jnr, 21 yo, was wounded, ‘dangerously’, but survived the War and was discharged as medically unfit in November 1919. Overall, it is a grim picture of 4 men who went beyond calling for enlistments and enlisted themselves.

The second table details the extent of the committee members’ wider membership of committees, boards and other executive bodies across the community. Clearly, the members of the 1915 Yarram Recruiting Committee were well involved in key institutions and associations –  Yarram and District Hospital (the hospital was opened in 1915), Yarram Mechanics’ Institute, Yarram Waterworks Trust, ANA Yarram branch, Yarram Agricultural Society, Y.M.C.A., even the Yarram Town Band – and this level of involvement would have identified the committee members as leading and influential citizens in the community. Additionally, many of them held significant positions of political power: several local councillors (including the 2 Shire presidents over 1914-1915), the editor of a local paper, and 2 justices of the peace who presided in the Police Court/Court of Petty Sessions in Yarram.  There were also several members of the Yarram Recruiting Committee who held executive positions in friendly societies and who would have been well-known in the local community for advocating positions of moral and social improvement, e.g. the Independent Order of Rechabites and its temperance platform.  Members of the committee were also involved in the local churches – with the apparent exception of the (Roman) Catholic church – and 2 members were very involved with the local Masonic Lodge (207).

The involvement of the local Roman Catholic church in committees and activities to do with the promotion of patriotism and support for the War will be examined in detail shortly. It was a complex issue.

Overall, the Yarram Recruiting Committee was made up of ‘leading citizens’ from the local professional and managerial elite of Yarram, supported by several large and successful land holders who also played significant political and social roles in the Yarram community. In fact, rather than representing all sections of the diverse community (communities) that made up the Shire of Alberton, the Yarram Recruiting Committee of 1915 was narrow and sectional in its membership. No doubt those on the committee would have responded that the committee was made up of all those who were prepared to become involved and commit to the effort required; and that such committees were always only ever made up of like-minded citizens prepared to take on the necessary responsibility.Moreover they could have also argued that it made little sense to duplicate committees across the entire shire and Yarram was the natural location to establish the committee.

The composition of the Recruiting Committee also supports previous claims that the narrative of the War – including the sub-narrative of recruitment for the War – was formally controlled by a particular elite within the wider community.

However it does not follow that because one particular group controlled the narrative of the War all other groups listened to and followed the narrative. As the last post showed, the Recruiting Committee’s monster recruiting drive staged in Yarram was, at least in terms of having people enlist on the spot, a failure. Also, as argued, it is highly likely that the intended target group for the recruiting meeting stayed away precisely because they knew the specific detail of the narrative that was going to be presented and/or they simply refused to identify with the types – leading citizens – who were presenting the narrative.

Again, the apparent failure of the Recruiting Committee to attract recruits through its specific activities cannot be taken as proof that enlistments at the time – July and August  1915 – were falling. Indeed the opposite was true. Consider the following 2 communications from the 3rd Military District, Melbourne to all local government areas. The first was dated 3 August 1915:

Owing to the unusually heavy enlistments for the A.I.F. at present tents cannot be supplied as rapidly as the recruits are coming into camp, therefore please do not send any more recruits forward until the the 12th instant except such as are out of employment and very anxious to go into camp at once.

The second was dated 10 August 1915:

Please continue enlisting for the Australian Imperial Force, but do not send any more recruits forward until after the 31st instant, except such as are out of employment and very anxious to go into camp at once, others may be granted leave until September 1st.

There were to be iterations of the 1915 Yarram Recruiting Committee over the next few years. As will become clear, when the enlistment surge finished in the second half of 1915, and recruitment targets could no longer be met, the members of the committee moved effortlessly to back conscription.

References

Background details of those on the 1915 Yarram Recruiting Committee have been taken from the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, the relevant Electoral Roll and Rate Book, as well as from:

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

Correspondence and communication between the 3rd Military District  and the Shire of Alberton (Shire Secretary) are from the Archives of the Shire of Alberton:

Shire of Alberton
File Number 703-0
War Files
“Recruiting Campaign 1915” (cover sheet)

64. Monster (recruiting) Meeting at Yarram, July 1915

In late June 1915, the Victorian Parliament, on a bi-partisan basis, launched a recruiting drive. The plan was that the week 5 -12 July would be a special recruiting week. Over the week, State Parliament would be adjourned and all members would support their constituencies in the recruiting campaign. While the central aim of the program was to boost the level of recruits, there was also the intention to involve the whole community in support for the war effort.

In Yarram the special meeting was set down for Monday 5 July and Thos. Livingston MLA (South Gippsland) was to be the guest speaker from the Parliament.

The dominant theme expressed in this first, state-wide recruiting campaign was “Come over and help us”,  represented as the plea being made by the men at Gallipoli.  A special poster – Will they never come? – was commissioned for the campaign. It measured 7 feet 6 inches high x 6 feet 8 inches wide. In Yarram it was pasted to a wooden frame and displayed on the Bank of Victoria fence.

The most striking feature of the 3 speeches given at the Yarram so-called ‘monster meeting’ to launch the week of recruiting was the speakers’ conviction that the reasons for enlistment were so obvious and so powerful that appeals should hardly have been necessary. The detailed report in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 7/7/15 featured an undercurrent of frustration, if not anger, on the part of the speakers and the clear warning that conscription would most likely be required to force people to see and perform their duty.

The usual theme of the barbarity of German soldiers featured strongly. Livingston was reported thus:

Mr Livingston impressed his hearers with the [German soldiers’] slaughter of the aged and infirm, the killing of children and marching away with their bodies on the bayonets….

And Rev. Tamagno had … heard of a little Belgian child in Victoria, whose arms had been cut off by the Germans. She saw the [Australian] soldiers in uniform, and asked were they going to fight the Germans. Informed they were, she said, “Kill them, trample them to death; they killed my father and mother, and cut off these arms of mine. “

Tamagno set all this in the context of the divine retribution that God would exact on the ‘horrible blood-thirsty nation’ that was Germany:

As sure as there is a Creator that rules, that nation [Germany] will not go unpunished. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay saith the Lord.”

There were also the usual references to the integrity and greatness of the Empire, and Australia’s loyalty to and self-interest in the defending it. And now, integral to the call of the Empire, there was the direct ‘cooee’ from the ‘gallant boys’ on Gallipoli.

However, as indicated, there was also the sense of outrage that people refused to do their duty. When the Rev. Cox stood to talk … He said it was the first time in his life he had to appeal to men to do their duty.  Cox then, as reported, appealed for married men to enlist. Such a call was, for the time, out of order; but Cox was merely using it as a rhetorical device:

And why should the married men go?

His answer was that while the young men might pretend to be patriotic, they were more interested in playing football. Therefore,

That’s why the married men have to go. The unmarried slackers won’t go.

Rev Tamagno also had the young, unmarried men clearly in his sights:

He hoped it would not come to conscription [this is July 1915], but if he had his way he would call up all the young unmarried men in smashing numbers, and bring the war to a conclusion.

And like Cox, Tamagno also focused in on the local football competition. He claimed he had no problem with football per se but there was a more important game to play. He wanted the young footballers to face the question of their duty to the Empire:

There are still many “best” in this shire who have not considered the question, but who follow the swollen leather, and have their names on the lips of spectators.

The attack on football was hardly new and it was by then Victoria-wide. It was very evident in the official poster – Will they never come? – for the recruiting campaign. In the Shire of Alberton, the local football competition closed down at the end of July 1915. Too many players from the teams in the local competition had enlisted. Additionally, it was too hard to stand against the community view that football had to stop.  There was however the occasional, one-off game played to raise money for the Red Cross or some other War-related charity.

As the most popular and high profile sport in the community, football was an obvious target for those pushing for higher levels of recruitment. The logic was presented starkly: why should young men – particularly the fittest young men – be wasting their time on football while their peers were fighting and dying for the Empire? At the same time, there was another agenda. Certainly in the Shire of Alberton there was a view that football promoted anti-social behaviour – drunkenness, gambling, violence and obscene or ‘filthy’ language – and at a time when the War effort required a form of ‘moral re-awakening’ from everyone on the ‘home front’, football was an obvious target.

At the very time that the local football competition was shut down another more suitable pursuit for the youth of the Shire was introduced.  When the 1911 universal training scheme was introduced, the Shire of Alberton was declared an ‘exempt area’. However, in early 1915 the local branch of the ANA formally requested that the district’s exempt status be reversed. Accordingly, in late June, senior cadets were established in Yarram. All male youth between 14 and 21 yo who lived within a 5 mile radius of Yarram had to register. Within this 14-21yo cohort, the largest group, at least 50, were enrolled in the senior cadets (14-17yo) and their training commitment was 60 hours per year. From the beginning there were strict warnings to those who failed to register. They could be prosecuted and even sent to Queenscliffe for detention and training if they failed to meet their responsibilities. On 23/6/15 the local paper reported how 20 youth from Essendon had been prosecuted and sent to Queenscliffe  and it quoted the police magistrate’s comments:

It is hard to understand in these times, when your brothers are fighting at Gallipoli, for you and your country, that you can be guilty of standing about and refusing to put in your drill of an hour and a quarter a week. I would prefer to be shot rather than be guilty of such conduct. I cannot imagine anything more despicable on God’s earth …

As an accommodation for those lads involved in dairying, parade times were made at 2.00 PM instead of 3.00 PM. Traveling up to 5 miles to Yarram – and back again – to attend a drill session on a Saturday afternoon, on top of your work on the family farm, would have been a major imposition.

As an extension of the antipathy directed at football and its spectators – and football was essentially a working-class code –  the newspaper report (30/6/15) of the planning meeting for the monster recruiting meeting provided another insight on how those involved in recruiting viewed their target audience. At the planning session, there was debate over where the meeting was to be held. The final decision was to hold it in Thompson’s Hall. In part, this location was the most central. Equally, the discussion on the choice of venue highlighted that this was the area where a large number of the very type they were looking to recruit could be found most nights, presumably drinking. As one of those at the planning meeting (Cr. Bland) put it:

… Thompson’s Hall was more central. Every night about sundown there was a class of men about the streets.

Another of those present (Cr. Barlow), noted that if the venue was too far away, this group … having so far to walk they would not go.

There was also some in-house banter about the type of men in this group. One joked that it was all very well to target this group but most of them would fail the medical because of their teeth (1). This prompted laughter.

It is hard not to read into all this a degree of animosity directed at the very men – their background, physical appearance, social mores and even their sport – the community’s leading citizens were targeting for recruitment.

For all the effort that went into the recruiting meeting on July 5 the results were poor. The local paper (7/7/15) reported that Only two young men of the large audience came forward as recruits … The 2 volunteers that night were reported to be Thos. H Stephens and Reg. Whitford. Tom Harley Stephens was a labourer from Mullundung. His attempt to enlist was subsequently unsuccessful. Reg Whitford had already been rejected and he was again rejected on this occasion. However it appears that his persistence paid off because he was finally accepted in February 1916.

Importantly, the dismal result of the Yarram meeting was hardly a true measure of the recruiting levels from the Shire of Alberton. In fact, July 1915 saw what was probably the highest monthly level of enlistments from the Shire. This was apparent in the last post (Post 63). Further, in terms of total enlistments to the end of July 1915, the files of the 1915 Recruiting Committee indicate that from the start of the War to that point, the Shire Secretary had recorded 198 men who had enlisted directly from the Shire. He also noted that another 40 had tried to enlist but failed the medical. As well, many men had enlisted by themselves in Melbourne. While the July meeting itself was a complete failure in terms of enlisting men directly from its audience, it was certainly not the case that men were not volunteering.

Moreover, those who planned the recruiting meeting knew that enlistment levels were high. They also knew that the pool of available recruits in the large regional centres like Yarram was, by then, very limited. In fact, as reported in the local paper (30/6/15), Rev. Cox made the point in the planning stages that unless the recruiting meeting could attract men from the townships and settlements outside Yarram the exercise would be futile:

Rev. Mr. Cox said the town had been fairly well exploited. Men were wanted from the country. If the country men were not coming in the meeting would be a frost and a failure. It did not matter what hall the meeting was held in.

There are significant tensions here. Why, for example, did the local recruiting committee hold a recruiting drive based on Yarram if the pool of available men was so limited? Also, if the local men were volunteering in such numbers at that time, why did so few – effectively none of them – volunteer that night at the special recruiting meeting?

Part of the answer to the first question is that the meeting was never just about recruiting. The content of the speeches shows that such meetings were highly orchestrated celebrations of public affirmation: of the Empire and Imperial Duty, of the moral imperative to take up arms against the inherent evil of German Militarism, of the need to seek God’s blessing and always stand in His way, of the need for the entire nation to come together and support the War effort… The closest equivalent activity was a church service, and on this particular occasion 2 of the 3 speakers were religious ministers. Some of the clergy and community elders even saw the War as the chance for men to lead better lives: to lead them away from the failings and vices of the lower orders, via the discipline of army life in the cause of Imperial duty.

Another part of the answer lay in the significant change to the concept of voluntaryism. At the start of the War the term involved a genuine choice, in that it was accepted that some men would choose to enlist – for a range of reasons – while others – for a different range of reasons – would choose not to enlist. Moreover, at the time when the AIF was being created there was no suggestion that everyone who volunteered or wanted to volunteer would be accepted. The AIF could afford to be highly selective. In this setting, those who chose to enlist were feted but those who chose not to enlist were not condemned. However, by mid 1915 the fundamental notion of choice had been removed by patriots like Rev. Cox and Rev. Tamagno. For them, voluntaryism had now become a universal obligation, in the sense that every eligible man was expected to choose to volunteer.  Effectively, it did not matter if the rate of voluntary enlistment was high because the call was that every eligible young man should enlist.

The answer to the second question as to why so few men chose to enlist at the actual recruiting meeting was also tied to the issue of voluntaryism or individual choice. In the early days of the War no doubt some men enlisted impulsively, even recklessly. But in the post Gallipoli period men volunteered with a much clearer understanding of what was involved. The decision to enlist was generally neither simple nor without complications. The impact that enlistment could have on the operation and success of the family farm has already been noted. The decision to enlist was also a deeply personal one and the individual had to balance a range of competing demands. Despite all the pressure, real and perceived, the decision was ultimately a personal choice.

Against this background, it was highly unlikely that men were going to be swayed by the orchestrated carry-on of a recruiting meeting. It was also unlikely that eligible men would even attend in the first place. They would have been very reluctant to be singled out, and lectured at and hectored by those who had appointed themselves as patriots, claimed a higher sense of morality and even professed to know the duties and responsibilities of the men in the audience better than the men themselves. Many of the men would have interpreted what was said at these meetings through a class lens that inevitably had them in the inferior position: they had to be deficient in some way – morally, socially or intellectually – because they had not yet enlisted. They were ‘shirkers’ because the ‘patriots’ on stage had called them such.  For other men, the showmanship and theatricality of the whole recruiting performance would have been too much, particularly for the types who, when it came time to enlist, deliberately slipped away and made no fuss or drew any attention.

These recruiting meetings staged as public spectacles were repeated over the War but the results, in terms of genuine, successful enlistments, never improved on the first effort. Basically, the people on the stage failed to understand their intended audience and their efforts were met with passive resistance.

 

Notes

(1) The poor state of men’s teeth was a common reason for failing the medical. Even with close screening men with compromised dental health did make it into the AIF, and on Gallipoli the extent of dental problems became a major medical concern.

Local doctors carrying out the initial medical examination were certainly aware of the issue of poor dental health. In fact, Dr. Pern requested that the Shire Secretary write to the AIF seeking a more definite standard:

31st May, 1915
Dr Pern, of Yarram, who is examining recruits, has requested me to ask if it would be possible for the Department to give more definite instructions with regard to the teeth of recruits. The instructions state that a recruit must have sufficient sound teeth of his own to efficiently masticate his food. Dr Pern says this is rather indefinite, and he wishes to know if the Department could state how many unsound teeth on each jaw will disqualify a recruit. Dr Pern states that when he was examining for the Navy in England this was stated in the instructions, and he believes it would be an advantage to the local doctors and the recruits if such instructions could be issued in connection with the A.I.F.

The response (7th June, 1915) would have disappointed Dr Pern:

The regulations regarding teeth are : — A volunteer must have sufficient teeth (permanent) to masticate his food properly. By this it will be seen that the teeth must be in opposition and the whole question is left in the hands of the examining Medical Officer. A certain number of teeth cannot be laid down, as by this system the teeth need not be opposite, and as long as volunteers had the number laid down he would have to be passed.

Presumably, everyone in Yarram knew that men could fail, and were failing, the medical on the condition of their teeth. In a time well before any sort of universal health service access to dental care and treatment, there would have been a strong correlation between social class and dental hygiene and this, essentially, was the basis for the shared mirth of those planning the recruiting meeting.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Material relating to the activities of the Yarram Recruiting Committee was located in several sections of the Shire of Alberton Archives.
The correspondence regarding the issue of dental standards came from:
Shire of Alberton
Archive one
File Number 703B
Recruiting & Enlisted men (Box 398)

The activities of the 1915 Yarram Recruiting Committee, including minutes of meetings, came from:
Shire of Alberton
File Number 703-0
War Files
“Recruiting Campaign 1915” (cover sheet)

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

This post continues the analysis of Post 23 and Post 57. It is part of the ongoing work to describe and interpret the essential character of all those associated with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in WW1.

Religion

The table below shows, in six-monthly intervals, the religious affiliation of enlistments over the period July 1914 to December 1915. The data is set against the religious profile – for males – for the county of Buln Buln in the Commonwealth Census of 1911.

By the end of 1915, the striking predominance of the Church of England had been well established and the rate, from 1914, had been noticeably consistent. Equally, the rate for Presbyterians – the second largest group in the 1911 census – was also consistent; and it closely matched their ranking in the 1911 census.

The picture for the other 2 major religious groupings – Methodists and Roman Catholics – is less clear. However, in this particular analysis, the level of Roman Catholics enlisting in the second half of 1915 – and this was a time of an enlistment ‘surge’ – appeared to be decreasing. This was before the trouble in Ireland and well before the conscription debate. For the Methodists on the other hand, the second half of 1915 appeared to represent a revival in enlistments.

It was virtually unknown for a man enlisting to not give a religion on his enlistment papers. Equally, it was as uncommon for someone to stray from the conventional faiths (Church of England, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Roman Catholic … ). Albert McKenzie Boswell who described himself as a ‘free thinker’ was definitely atypical.

Units

As for the previous cohort – first half of 1915 – the majority of enlistments were to serve as reinforcements for existing or newly-created infantry battalions. The greatest single number (43) joined 6 Brigade (Battalions 21, 22, 23, 24) which had been formed at Broadmeadows between February and May 1915. The next largest group (41) were taken as reinforcements for 2 Brigade (Battalions 5, 6, 7, 8), another Victorian unit formed in 1914. And 16 men joined the newly formed 8 Brigade (Battalions 29, 30, 31, 32) which  was created in August 1915, with the battalions coming from 4 different states.

Service History

The table below shows that for this cohort of enlistments the rates for death and medical discharge remained very high. As for the previous cohorts, 25 % were either killed or died in service. Several died of meningitis even before they reached the front. 41% of the complete cohort (200) were given a medical discharge; but this figure rises to 55% when the calculation is restricted to the number of men who survived the War (149).

The complete picture of the casualty rate for this cohort was not apparent until the very end of the War – in fact, the table shows that a large number of deaths (10) occurred in 1918 – but certainly by the end of 1915 the extent of the casualty rates appearing in the media must have removed any simple notions of a short, contained war with limited casualties. The high casualty rates meant that the AIF struggled to maintain itself as a viable fighting unit. There was always the need for reinforcements.

As with the earlier cohorts, the rates of death and medical discharge are only part of the story because the table shows that they were many men who were wounded and/or hospitalised with disease or injury who were not discharged as ‘medically unfit’. Virtually no one survived the full period of the fighting without, at the very least, being hospitalised with disease or injury.

Overall

The point has been made that by the end of 1915 there was an increasing awareness of the impact of enlistment on the size of the available local labour pool. Equally, the death and disability rates highlight the fact that the impact on the labour pool was not a temporary phenomenon. War service was reducing, both significantly and on a permanent basis, the size – and quality – of the labour force. This grim fact was not lost on the workers themselves. For example, as will be shown in future posts on conscription, one of the strongest claims against conscription, made by the enlisted men serving on the Western Front, was that the level of casualties was so high that after the War there would need to be a massive migration program to cover the loss of Australian workers. The men sacrificed on the front line would be replaced by immigrant workers. Within the cynicism and anger there were flash backs to past struggles between labour and capital and even conspiracies to compromise the White Australia Policy by the exploitation of Asian labour.

By the end of 1915, the casualty rates also pointed to the extraordinarily high costs that would be involved in repatriation. The War had proved to be long-term and the number of men who were going to require on-going, specific medical – and financial –  support and general rehabilitation threatened to overwhelm the resources of the Commonwealth. In the mind of PM Hughes, this great cost would have to be covered by German reparations.

Note

2 men in the table above – the brothers Alexander and George McLennan – both have the enlistment date of 28/5/15 which is just outside the dates for this cohort. They should have been included in the previous cohort (first half of 1915). However, as a simple accommodation, I have included them with this cohort. When all the enlistment data is combined in a single data base to cover the full period 1914-18, ‘errors’ such as this will be automatically corrected.

Similarly, the ongoing research continues to uncover men associated with the Shire but who belong to cohorts that have already been covered. Rather than go back and incorporate them in the (statistical) analysis for that particular cohort, I have simply added them at the end of the relevant tables. Realistically, this form of adjustment – as for the 2 McLennan brothers above – does not have any significant impact on the overall analysis. At the same time, it highlights the ongoing nature of the research underpinning the blog. As indicated, there will in time be a single, comprehensive data base that will bring all the data on the men together.

 

 

 

 

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

This post continues the analysis, in six-monthly intervals, of the essential 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, and Post 56: Enlistments in the first half of 1915: 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.

Arguably, the most significant feature of the cohort of men who enlisted between July and December 1915 was its size: 199 men and 1 woman (Alice Cocking, a bush nurse from Madalya). In the first half of 1915, the size of the equivalent cohort was 102. The dramatic increase was tied to the Anzac campaign – and the reporting of the campaign –  which ran through to the end of 1915. Also, as will be covered in coming posts, the second half of 1915 saw the first, planned, large-scale recruiting drive.

Movement

The  nature of the enlisted men’s association with the Shire of Alberton has been covered in the earlier posts. The same features apply for this particular cohort. The mobility of the rural working class – to other locations in the same district or the wider region (Gippsland as a whole), to and from Melbourne and other regional centres, and interstate, particularly Queensland and Western Australia – is striking. Notions of ‘local’ were far more dynamic than the inherently static definition that we commonly employ in studies of ‘local history’.

The table shows that 29 of the 200 men were born in the United Kingdom. When this figure is added to the equivalent numbers for the 2 earlier cohorts, the total number of UK immigrant rural workers to enlist, to the end of 1915, from the Shire of Alberton comes to 63 or 15% of the total number (436). Clearly, the local community would have been aware of this obvious trend and, presumably, given the numbers involved, it would have been very difficult for any such immigrant worker not to enlist. The expectation was that the British immigrant had an even higher responsibility to answer the Empire’s call to arms.

The point was made in Post 56 that by the middle of 1915 the enlistment process required that while men could be enlisted in country areas – following an initial medical by the local doctor – and given a railway warrant to travel to Melbourne, the enlistment process would only be completed after another medical examination in Melbourne. This is apparent in the table where ‘Yarram/Melbourne’ is listed as the most common place of enlistment. Incidentally, the local doctors – Drs Pern and Rutter – were incensed by the directive and took it as an attack on their professional credibility. For a brief time they even refused to carry out the (initial) medical. The boycott, limited as it was, will be covered in a future post.

Occupation

Once again the cohort is made up predominantly of the rural working class. By far the 2 most common occupations given were ‘labourer’ (50) or ‘farm labourer’ (31). Others gave a more descriptive title – drover, stockman, boundary rider, shearer, sleeper hewer, saw mill hand, timber hewer, gardener, railway shunter, railway employee, railway porter, fisherman, bar man, shop assistant … – and there were some from more skilled backgrounds – lino type operator, blacksmith, carpenter, baker, butcher, cordial maker…  There was also a group of teachers (7), a larger group of clerical staff (13 ) and a very small number of professionals including Rev George Cox, the local Church of England minister and Dr Horace Pern, one of the 2 local medical practitioners. Overwhelmingly, as before, the cohort was fundamentally a rural working class one.

As a separate group, there were 29 men who came from what I have described as the ‘family farm’. These are highlighted in the table. As has been pointed out, the description is somewhat arbitrary. However it is important to identify all those cases where a son who was working on the family farm enlisted. Amongst other considerations, this category will prove very important in terms of the conscription issue. Farmers typically wanted to manage the issue of enlistment on a case by case basis, reflecting the unique nature, responsibilities and needs of their individual family unit. Conscription on the other hand threatened to impose inflexible demands and posed a direct threat to the economic viability of the family farm.

Typically the son linked to the family farm was in their late teens or early twenties. Also typically they did not hold any land in their own right. The land was recorded in the relevant rate book in the father’s name. However, there were some cases where the land was recorded in the name of both the father and son.

In most cases of family farms, the young men recorded themselves as ‘farmers’. But, again, as the table shows, some described themselves as ‘farm labourers’. Possibly, this reflected the fact that while they assisted on the family farm they also worked for a wage on other properties, presumably to bring in more income for the family.There were many possible arrangements.

In the table, the case of the 3 Cook siblings demonstrates Just how complex the arrangements associated with the ‘family farm’ could be. In fact, there were 4 siblings who enlisted: James Cook would enlist in the second half of 1916.

According to the rate book, the father – Thomas Anderton Cook – had a small holding at Balook. The oldest 2 of the 4 sons – David Alexander Cook and Henry Cook – were also listed as joint owners of the same property. These 2 siblings were married. The 2 younger siblings were not married.

Of the 4 Cook brothers, two described themselves as ‘farmer’, one as  ‘farm labourer’ and the fourth as just ‘labourer’. The exact pattern of land holding across the family is unclear because while it appears that there was more than one holding, the rate book only lists one. However what is clear was the fact that when the sons enlisted, responsibility for managing the Cook family farm (or farms) fell to the father and the wives. We know this because in June 1918, Henry Cook was returned from Europe and discharged from the AIF for ‘family reasons’. The family reasons involved the management of the farm(s). Initially, the AIF refused the request, noting that the particular case was not as serious as other ones brought to its attention. It appears that the intervention of local politicians at both state and federal level won the discharge from the AIF.

Correspondence in Henry Cook’s file reveals that his wife was sick (‘neurasthenia’), and with 3 children – ‘8, 6 and 2 years respectively’ – she was struggling to manage. Moreover, the father was as hard-pressed. He noted,

I myself am a farmer at the above address [Balook], my four sons have enlisted, and I am unable to obtain necessary labour to carry on, not only my own farm, but also the farm of the above son mentioned, and his other brothers at the front.

In corroborating evidence, the local police noted:

I have made careful enquiries re this matter and so far as I am able to ascertain this man’s [Henry Cook] financial position is very poor. He has a small selection of about 100 acres which he has been in possession of for about 12 years, there is little or no stock on the place, and his wife who is in delicate health cannot afford to pay for the necessary labour on the place to keep it in order and the Father is not in a position to help, consequently the place is going back, hence the Father’s reason for applying for his return.

Another case worth mentioning involved Robert John Trigg of Alberton West. According to the rate book, he and his brother – Joel William Trigg – had approximately 200 acres at Alberton West. Only Robert enlisted – he died of wounds in December 1917 – and presumably this was a mutually agreed arrangement that left one brother to manage the farm(s). Again, this particular case will be looked at in more detail in the context of the conscription debate because it was another instance where this internal family arrangement between the brothers was potentially threatened by the blanket application of the demands of conscription. What was also interesting about this case was the fact that when he enlisted, the local paper (4/8/15) carried a report that Robert Trigg had … engaged a man to take his place while he is absent in the fighting line. Obviously, lost labour needed to be covered; but there would have been few cases like this where there was funding available to engage someone else.

The cases highlight 2 critical issues: the complexity of ‘family farm’ arrangements; and the increasing social and economic impact that the loss of so much labour from the district was having on individual families and the wider community.

In the table there are only 2 instances where the description of ‘farmer’ (in his own right) has been used. Both of these relate to cases where it has not been not possible – to this point – to establish the validity or otherwise of the claim.

There are also instances where the description ‘farmer/farm labourer’ has been used. There are 13 such cases where even though the enlisted man gave his occupation as ‘farmer’ there is no corroborating evidence to support the claim: there is no link to any family farm, the men are too young or there is nothing in the relevant rate book or electoral roll to prove they were farmers. The more likely situation was that they worked as farm labourers.

As with the previous cohorts, to the end of June 1915, the burden of enlistment continued to fall on the rural working class –  whose employment was typically itinerant and casual – and a small group of young men coming from family farms. There was also a significant number of immigrant rural workers from the UK who enlisted.

Age

The following table gives a breakdown of ages.

Ages of volunteers – second half of 1915
ages                       %
18-20        38       19
21-25        91       44.5
26-30        39       19.5
31-35        21       10.5
36+            11        5.5
total        200      100

The next table presents equivalent data for the full period from 1914. It shows a slight shift away from the group of ‘minors’ and the related gradual move to an older cohort of men enlisting. The percentage of those in the 18-25 age band shifts from 73.1% (1914) to 69% (1915-1) to 64.5% (1915-2).

Marital status

The number of men in this cohort who were married prior to enlistment was 23. This represented some 11.5% f the cohort. The equivalent percentage figures for the 2 earlier cohorts were 7.8% (1915-1) and 4.5% (1914). Again, as with age, there is an incremental increase in the number of married men enlisting.

The figure of 23 does not include the 7 men who married at some time after enlistment and before embarkation. Nor does it include the 9 cases where men married in the UK.

Overall

Through to the end of 1915, the volunteers associated with the Shire of Alberton continued to be  young and single. Predominantly, they were rural workers and most simply described themselves as ‘labourers’ or ‘farm labourers’. There was also a group of young men –  about 30 in this particular cohort – who came from the ‘family farm’. This group was roughly the same size as the group of immigrant rural workers (29) from the UK who ‘answered the call’.

By the end of 1915 there had a very significant reduction – approximately 300 men –  in the size of the labour pool across the district. The significance of the enlistment in the AIF of this large number of rural workers would be highlighted in the conscription debates over 1916-17. Conscription threatened to be a blunt instrument that would further compromise the viability of the family farm, and ignore the considerable sacrifices that the local farming community had already made in the interests of the Empire.

The reasons why the rural working class were keen to join the AIF and the consequences of this association will continue to be explored in the blog.

References

Embarkation Roll

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

 

61. Enlistments in the second half of 1915

This post presents the table of all those with an association with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in the second half of 1915. It builds on the work of 2 earlier posts, Post 21: Enlistments to the end of 1914: identifying the ‘locals’ and Post 55: Enlistments in the first half of 1915.

One of the overall intentions of the blog is to build the complete profile of all those associated with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted over WW1. This work is being done in intervals of 6 months. To the end of 1915, the total number of enlisted men with a link to the Shire of Alberton is 436.

As pointed out in the earlier posts, the actual ‘link’ to the Shire of Alberton could take several forms. There were some who had been born, grew up and went to school in the district and who were still living and working in it at the point they enlisted. Doubtless, this description fits with common perceptions of what being ‘local’ involved. However the complete picture was far more complicated.

For a start, there were very many itinerant farm workers – a sub-set of this group involved underage, English immigrant workers – who were living and working in the Shire of Alberton at the time they enlisted.  Most of this group never returned to the district to receive a farewell and, allowing for some significant exceptions, most never returned to the district after their service in the AIF. Effectively, they only ever had a short-term, work relationship with the Shire, and they quickly disappeared from its history. However, it is precisely the transient existence of this group of itinerant workers that makes their story so critically important from the perspective of social history.

Another important group included in the research covers those men the community chose to acknowledge as ‘their own’, even though they were no longer living in the district. There were many variations involved, but the most common group was made up of those who had been to local (state) schools. 100 years ago, without the aid of Trove or the Internet, these small local communities and townships went to considerable effort to work through school registers and identify all past students who enlisted in the AIF. They also sought to identify specifically those who made the ‘supreme sacrifice’. The names were recorded on honor rolls displayed in the schools and the unveiling of the honor roll was a very solemn and defining moment in the community’s history. All these past scholars were claimed as ‘local’. In many cases it had only been a short period of time after finishing school before the eighteen or nineteen year-old enlisted, but in other cases a good number of years had passed and the ‘school boy’ was by then living well outside the Shire of Alberton, in another regional centre, in Melbourne or even interstate. Importantly, in this situation the passage of time was not the defining issue. The community was identifying and honouring all its past (school) ‘boys’. It was claiming them as part of its history.

It is also important to acknowledge that no amount of classification and grouping can ever cope with the many ‘hidden’ associations between place and person that such historical research uncovers.  WW1 did not respect any conventional notion of ‘local identity’. Two examples from the table below will illustrate. The first involves Thomas Calvert Lawson. On the face of it, there is nothing to link him to Yarram and district. His name is not included on any local honor roll. He is not on the Electoral Roll and nothing in his enlistment papers ties him to any local address. He enlisted in Melbourne and his mother was living at Moonee Ponds. But Thomas Calvert Lawson was the son of John William Lawson, on the Electoral Roll as builder, Yarram.  He was in fact the brother of Wilfred Lawson, the footballer who was badly injured – he subsequently died from the injury –  at the violent football match played at Port Albert in May 1914.  See Post 1: Death of a Footballer. Similarly, there is nothing apparent to tie Harold McCheyne Raymond to the local district. He had been born in Brighton, (Melbourne), went to private colleges in Melbourne and Geelong, worked as a bank clerk and enlisted in Brisbane. But he was also the son of Rev. Arthur Raymond who was appointed as Church of England minister to Yarram in early 1917. The son was killed in action in April 1917 and the news of his death was conveyed to Rev Raymond and his wife by Rev. Tamagno, the Methodist minister in Yarram.

The table below needs to be seen as incomplete.  There could also be inaccuracies. In some cases, many of the names being researched are too common (Wilson, Smith, Johnson etc) and, for example, if all you have is a railway warrant in the name of H Campbell,  it is virtually impossible to track the individual. There are about 10 cases for the second half of 1915 like this. At the same time, as the research progresses it is always possible that some additional piece of evidence will identify someone who, as yet, remains only a ‘possibility’.

On the important issue of process, when additional men are identified I add them at the end of the relevant table. As the numbers are not great, I am not making any changes to the  analysis that goes with each table. At some point in the blog’s development, I will combine the six-monthly tables of enlistments into a single, comprehensive database. To this point, the complete database looks like it will cover some 800 + men. This large number of men, associated with just one local government area in Gippsland, Victoria should provide a solid basis for the critical analysis of WW1’s impact on a rural community, acknowledging that the rural community itself featured a large and very significant component of itinerant labour. One of the themes of the blog’s ongoing historical research is the inherent contradiction and tension that underpin any notion of ‘local history’. More specifically, this particular variation covers the ‘local history of commemoration’.

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

The Shire of Alberton Honor Roll

The list of railway warrants issued by the Shire Secretary

The Shire of Alberton Medallion

The Shire of Alberton War 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)

As noted in Post 55 , after the Gallipoli campaign  there was a surge in volunteers. This higher rate of enlistment is clearly reflected in the table: the second half of 1915 saw a doubling in the number of enlistments over the first 6 months of 1915. Recruiting in the second half of 1915 will be covered in an upcoming post.

60. Soldiers’ farewells 1915

This post looks at the soldiers’ farewells staged in 1915. Over 1915, the local newspaper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – reported on 30 farewells that covered approximately 60 men.  Clearly, there were far more men who enlisted in 1915 than the number who were given farewells. Some men had already left the district and enlisted elsewhere, including interstate. Other men slipped away deliberately, without any sort of farewell. It also seems that there were not many farewells for men who had been working in the district for only a short time.  Many of the men who were not given farewells did at least receive the Shire Medallion when it finally became available from October 1915. In such cases it was handed to a relative or friend of the local who had enlisted.

Essentially, the data and details in the post come from reports in the local paper.  There was a general expectation in the local community that soldiers’ farewells would be reported in the local paper and identifying the individual locals who had volunteered was a community preoccupation. Equally, as will become apparent, the reports of the farewells also served as ongoing chapters in the narrative of the War. Farewells – and later the ‘welcome homes’ – represented the opportunity for local spokespersons to push the essential themes that maintained the local community’s focus on and support for the War. Even if people did not attend the farewell itself – and falling attendance did become a concern – they could read the substance of the speeches in the local paper.

As well as looking at what was said at the farewells, the post also considers the question of who the speakers were. While there were sometimes gaps in the information from reports of farewells in small townships, the newspaper reports were generally thorough in identifying both who spoke and what was said. The significance of the particular focus on the speakers is that, as already argued, it was the professional, propertied and managerial class of the local community that controlled the narrative of the War. On the other side of this broad equation, it was typically the rural working class that enlisted.

The 1915 farewells at Yarram

Most farewells (22) were held in Yarram as the principal town of the Shire of Alberton.

Included in the 1915 farewells in Yarram, there were farewells to 3 high profile members of the local community. In May, Dr Rutter was farewelled when he joined the Australian Medical Corps. In July, Dr Pern, another local doctor, was farewelled when he too joined the AMC. Then in late September the popular local Church of England minister, Rev Geo Cox, was farewelled. Ironically, Drs Pern and Rutter had failed Cox when he had made earlier attempts to enlist. All 3 farewells were conducted as major events in the community: the venues were full to capacity; there was an extensive line-up of speakers; much was made of the history of selfless community service, as either clergyman or doctor, before enlistment; and because all 3 men were married with children, and Cox and Pern were in their forties while Rutter was thirty-five, their individual enlistments were held up as outstanding examples of sacrifice and sense of duty.

However, farewells of this scale were not possible for everyone who enlisted. By mid 1915 it was recognised that some sort of committee would have to be formed so that a common, but manageable, format could be put in place.  Any farewell, no matter how low-key, involved considerable effort and there needed to be a process that could be sustained.

The first committee meeting to tackle the issue of setting up a process for soldiers’ farewells was held on 6 August 1915 and reported in the local paper on 8 August 1915. As reported, there was general agreement at the meeting that the whole business of farewells needed to be better organised. Everyone agreed that it was essential that those locals leaving the district be given a farewell. There was also general agreement that a wristlet watch be given. Later this would be replaced by the Shire of Alberton Medallion. For efficiency those at the meeting wanted the farewells to be organised for groups of men rather than run on an individual basis. But others pointed out how difficult it was to get accurate and timely advice from the AIF on the men’s movement and that it was never going to be possible to achieve the level of planning and organisation that people wanted.

The first meeting also tackled the issue of who should receive a farewell. Some wanted to draw a distinction between ‘bona fide’ residents of the district and others who had only been there ’two or three months’ and who ‘did not intend returning’. Overwhelmingly, these would have been the rural workers who found themselves in the district when they decided to enlist. Others thought a six month residency in the district should be the standard. At the meeting, the issue was left unresolved. In a real sense, the rural workers themselves resolved the issue for the committee. Most of the farewells that were organised tended to be for men who had already enlisted and who were home on their final leave before embarkation. On the other hand, the pattern for men who had been working in the district as itinerant rural workers was to complete the medical in Yarram, sign their attestation forms, be issued with a railway warrant from the Shire Secretary, and in the next day or so, travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process.  Once in Melbourne, these men did not return to the Shire and so the issue of any farewell did not even arise. Interestingly, those at the meeting on 6 August, were quoting the figure of 200 men from the Shire who had already left, but formal farewells would have covered less than half this number. Most commonly, the discrepancy involved the rural workers.

The major point of dispute at the first meeting involved the financing of the operation. Majority opinion favoured setting up a subscription list, with names published in the local paper, with an initial subscription of 5/- and 2/- per month thereafter. However the minority view was that this amount would not generate sufficient funds and people should be encouraged to donate more. To make their point, several of those there that night immediately handed over donations of £5. Upset by the gesture, Henry George Bodman – grazier of Trenton Valley – predicted, accurately, that faced with the 2 levels of donation, 5/- and £5, the community would be confused, and this would undermine the whole idea of a subscription. Just 2 weeks later, on 18/8/15, the editorial in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative described the ensuing confusion and loss of enthusiasm:

The meeting held on Friday 6th inst., in the shire hall, having passed a resolution which would not provide adequate funds for farewells and welcomes to soldiers, a further meeting was called for Friday last [13/8/15]. Curious to state, but half-a-dozen attended, too few for business, and the movement which promised well at the outset has fizzled out. Surely our boys are worth some little attention! Those gentlemen who came forward with “fivers” seem to have blown out the five shillings project.

It was another example of the petty politics that could so easily undermine local projects. From that point, the compromise was that any level of donation was accepted, and the paper regularly published the amounts which ranged from 2/6 to £5.

The actual farewell ceremony that developed over 1915 was simple. It was held in the shire hall. The timing varied and had to fit in with train times from Alberton. There would be one or two speeches, a toast to the soldier’s health, the soldier would generally reply and there would be a verse of the National Anthem or some other patriotic song. “For he’s a jolly good fellow” was also usually sung. Once the Shire Medallion and Card became available, their presentation added a sense of formality to the occasion.

After the brief ceremony, someone would volunteer to drive the soldier to the train station at Alberton.  The name of the person offering the car would often be published in the paper.

Not much changed over 1915. The committee did request advance notice about soldiers’ leave from the military authorities but, not surprisingly, such a concern was not a priority for the AIF. Late in the year, the committee erected a flag pole outside the shire hall and when a farewell ceremony was to be held the flag would be flown to alert townspeople. This action was in response to poor attendance at the farewells. Initially people put the low numbers down to the lack of notice being given for farewells but, over time, the claim that people were not prepared to put themselves out was raised repeatedly in the local paper. The suggestion made by Wliiam Geo. Pope at a farewell reported on 29/10/15 – he served on the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee – that the local clergy should set up a roster so that there was always one of their number at every farewell was another not very subtle claim that the soldiers’ farewells were not receiving the attention they warranted.

By the end of 1915 the lack of recruits was another disappointment being raised at the farewells. Speakers were insisting that too many men were not doing their duty and the level of enlistments was dangerously low. By October 1915, they were claiming that conscription had to come. The old thinking about the strength of voluntary enlistments no longer applied. As W G Pope declared at a farewell on 27 November 1915 (reported 1/12/15):

The old idea that one volunteer was worth two pressed men did not count these times.

Farewells outside Yarram.

It was obviously easier to cover the farewells held in Yarram than those held in outlying locations. Such farewells usually required a local ‘correspondent’ to write about the occasion. In a couple of cases – Wonyip and Blackwarry – the report was short on details.

Over 1915, there were 8 farewells conducted in smaller townships or settlements:  Blackwarry (1), Kjergaard (2), Womerah (1), Gunyah (1), Alberton (1), Woodside (1), Wonyip (1). Obviously these lay outside the influence of the committee in Yarram, although there was the odd occasion when a committee member from Yarram would attend. As noted before, farewells in the townships and settlements of the Shire of Alberton tended to be on a grander scale than those held in Yarram. Generally, they were held at night and they involved a social and dance in the local hall. They were attended by most if not all the local residents. They were far more of a community celebration. The themes covered by the speakers were the same as those in Yarram, but there were more speeches and more patriotic songs. Also, there was always a special gift – silver mounted wallet, inscribed gold medal, silver mounted pipe, pocket wallet, purse of sovereigns – and this was given in addition to the Shire Medallion.

Themes covered by the speakers

It is possible to analyse the speeches, as reported in the local press, and identify several common themes. Inevitably, the team of speakers at these events would hear each other’s speeches – or read them in the press – and over time a common approach to the themes, the imagery, the stories and even the slogans developed.

For the committee managing the farewells, the men being farewelled had to leave with a strong sense of community support and the conviction that their decision to volunteer was absolutely correct. They had the right to be proud of what they done. As well, the audience at the farewells wanted to be there. They wanted to show their respect, and they believed in and supported what they heard.  Overall, the scene was set for forceful speech making, with plenty of flourish and hyperbole.

The following breakdown represents the themes most commonly covered at the 1915 farewells:

The moral strength of the volunteer
The unique character and success of the AIF
The greatness of the Empire and Australia’s duty to support it
The evil of Germany and the dire threat it posed to the Empire and Australia
The mother’s sacrifice
The pioneer as soldier

Note: In the following description, the dates quoted refer to the date the report of the farewell appeared in the local paper. The date of the actual farewell would have been within one week or less of the date of publication.

The moral strength of the volunteer

This was by far the most common theme. Every farewell praised the moral quality or character of the person volunteering. The act of volunteering was proof of character.

This decision to enlist was inevitably described as a duty.  The men answered the call of duty. They were prepared to make a sacrifice. They judged the pursuit of a greater good above personal interest. They were men who refused to let others do the fighting for them. All of them could be described as heroes. They were also true patriots, as W G Pope, speaking at the farewell to Dr Pern (9/7/15) noted:

Dr Pern had placed the price of patriotism on one the side of the scale, and personal considerations on the other, and patriotism had gone down flop and won. (Applause).

The speakers inevitably drew attention to the fine character of the volunteers as young men or boys before they enlisted. Dr Pern was referred to as having … a gentlemanly character and genial nature (9/7/15). G F Sauer was reported (15/10/15) as saying Pte O J Parrott was … a clean living man, and he felt sure he would be a clean fighter. G F Sauer (20/10/15) also farewelled 2 other young men noting that they … had led clean lives, and were a credit to the district. E L Grano referred to the same young men as having been good citizens and he was sure they would … do their duty faithfully. Some of the speakers had known the men since they were boys. At a farewell from Woodside for Pte Richard Starling (17/11/15), one of the speakers, J W Condon, said of Starling, Even when little more than a boy he had been a leader. He had led men older than himself, and had always led them in the right way.  At the farewell for Pte Gordon S Jeffs (13/10/15), Cr Barlow spoke of how he had known the young man from birth and Mr V S Lalor added that Gordon was … the worthy son of a worthy father.  At a farewell at Womerah (4/8/15) one speaker went so far as to relate that, as a youth, one of the men being farewelled, …  never sat down to a meal without saying grace. At his farewell in June 1915 (16/6/15), Pte R O’Dea  was referred to as a ‘manly man’. On the sub-theme of the ‘manly man’, Appendix 1 features the poem, Then You’re a Man by Lyde [sic] Howard. It was read in full by F C Grano at a farewell in late October 1915 (29/10/15). The verse – overdone, even by the standards of the time – is strong on Christian imagery, including the eternal reward in heaven, which featured commonly at the time.

Fellow clergyman, Rev Tamagno (Methodist), at the farewell for Rev Cox (29/9/15), was at pains to express his admiration for Cox’s sense of duty. He described Cox as a true ‘white man’. He went so far as to claim, … there is no whiter man in this town and outside it, and these words are not flattery. Cox, for his patriotic effort, had been raised to some exalted level of manliness in the British Empire.

The unique character and success of the AIF

From the beginning, speakers reminded the volunteers of the need to uphold the ‘tradition’ of Australians generally and the Australian as a soldier. The ‘tradition’ itself was often vague, with occasional references to bravery and duty in the Boer War. However, after Gallipoli and the newspaper reporting of the time, the stakes were raised considerably, with volunteers both praised for their membership of the AIF and pressed with the need to defend its newly-won reputation. Cr Barlow, speaking at the farewell for Pte Bodman (8/9/15) … wished to impress on Private Bodman that he  was an Australian. From what they had read and heard they knew all who had gone to the front were heroes without exception. He hoped all who went to the front would uphold that tradition. When W S Filmer, the school teacher at Womerah, spoke at the farewell to 3 local men (4/8/15), He advised them to try and emulate the example set by the brave Australians on Gallipoli, of whom the naval men said, “Fiercest fighters God never made.”

The then president of the Shire of Alberton, Cr Bland (29/10/15) had no doubt on the quality of Australian soldiers. Even before the AIF had even reached the Western Front, they were the best in the world:

These men were going to join other Australians who had earned the name of being the best soldiers in the war. (Applause.)

W G Pope expressed similar sentiments at the farewell to Dr Pern (9/7/15) declaring,

The daring deeds of our men by scaling the heights of Gallipoli in the face of tremendous fire had opened the eyes of the world. They had covered themselves with glory, and sent a blaze of fame from one end of Australia to the other.

The greatness of the Empire and Australia’s duty to support it

This particular theme tended to be represented in an indirect and understated form. It was always there as an assumed reality. ‘Duty’ for example was often described as ‘duty to the Empire’.  Men were said (14/5/15) to volunteer for ‘service on behalf of the Empire’. Dr Pern ( 9/7/15) was said to be leaving to serve ‘King and Country’.

However, on occasion speakers would present the full version of the theme. For example, in the report of the farewell for Rev Cox (29/9/15), W G Pope expanded on the bonds of Empire, claiming that The same blood flowed in the veins of the people here, as was in the veins of the people of the Homeland; and we had been true to the best traditions of the British race… Later, he noted … we Australians would rather go down and die under the Union Jack, than come to affluence under the flag of Germany. He felt that was the true sentiment of Australians. (Applause.)

In a similar turn of phrase, at the farewell for Privates Bird and Biggs (20/10/15) Cr Barlow declared that they … had been living so long in a free British atmosphere, and under the Union Jack, that they would rather go down in honor of their country than live under any other flag. (Applause.)

The evil of Germany and the dire threat it posed to the Empire and Australia

Again, this theme was always there in the background and only rarely did it receive full attention. Cr Barlow, at a farewell at Kjergaard (31/12/15) presented the hard line of ‘no quarter’, even abandoning the British ideal of ‘fair play’:

Look at the murderers of mothers and children, and at the case of an English nurse who had been attending her wounded. When there was such a cold-blooded enemy to deal with he would give them no quarter; they were out to win by fair or foul means, and he would be out to do the same. Britain had been too lenient with the Germans for many years, and now their brave boys had to pay for it.

In the report (9/7/15) of the farewell to Dr Pern, W G Pope also laboured the theme and looked to divine retribution:

The Germans were human monsters, and even taught the hymn of hate to the school children. Such crimes were committed which could not be referred to here. Crimes which in the course of human life could not be expatiated. There was no hope of redress in this life, but in the next life there might be some chance given the Germans to work out their salvation. If that hope did not exist he could only see one haven of refuge  open to them, where on their arrival, they would be installed on the hobs, and frizzle throughout eternity. (Applause.)

At his own farewell (6/10/15) Rev Cox spoke about the need to prevent the Germans ever landing in Australia to commit the atrocities carried out in Belgium.

The mother’s sacrifice

Reference was often made to the mother’s support of her son’s decision to enlist. This was particularly so when the mother was in the audience. Cr Barlow at the farewell for Pte Jeffs (13/10/15) praised the mother’s sacrifice:

He admired the young man for making the personal sacrifice in going to fight for the Empire, but perhaps more to be admired was the worthy mother, who placed no objection in her son’s path of duty. Only mothers knew what it was to lose their sons.

If the man was married, the same praise was bestowed on the wife left at home. W G Pope at the farewell for Dr Pern (9/7/15) described the wife’s anguish:

A doctor’s wife knew full well the dangers of war, and Mrs. Pern would spend many an anxious hour while her husband was away.

The pioneer as soldier

When it was used, this was a strong theme but it only applied to men whose families had been farming in the district for at least 2 generations. In the theme, the current generation had both to reflect and protect the legacy of the original settlers in the district. H G Bodman – grazier, Trenton Valley –  farewelled his only son at a ceremony in the shire hall in September 1915. The report (8/9/15)stated:

Mr. H. G. Bodman remarked that it was not a time for a speech. He would say that he was quite satisfied that his son was going, and felt sure that he would be a credit to his country. (Applause.) His (the speaker’s) father – his son’s grandfather – had helped as one of the old pioneers to develop the country, and he felt proud because his son was going to defend it. (Applause.)

The men making the speeches

The table below gives a brief breakdown of the men who made speeches at farewells in 1915. It gives the names of the men, the number of speeches made and their occupation, taken from the 1915 Electoral Register. Additional information on the individual’s background, from the local newspaper or some other source, such as the Rate Book, has been included. As indicated, most of the farewells took place in Yarram but the table also shows those cases where the speech was made at a farewell in some other location in the Shire.

The group is exclusively male. War was essentially men’s business. The mother or wife sacrificed the son or spouse to the fighting and, as indicated, this was a common theme at farewells, but women played no role in, as it were, the management of the War. Women’s efforts in the local community were restricted to ‘relief’ work in organisations such as the Red Cross. In a sense, their involvement matched that of their place in the local churches where their role was to support the clergyman. The limited role was part of the wider reality of gender-based politics – women, for example, were not local councillors nor justices of the peace.

In terms of the speeches at Yarram it is clear that a relatively small group of local professionals, proprietors and managers dominated.There were some local farmers but these men were tied closely to the politics of the town and district. They occupied civic positions, and exercised power, as local councillors and/or justices of the peace. Moreover, they were successful and established land holders – for example, Arthur H Moore was arguably the largest and most successful grazier in the entire Shire of Alberton.

Outside Yarram when farewells were organised, the range of speakers tended to reflect local conditions. Obviously, farmers tended to dominate but the dynamics of the local community could also play a part. For example, at Woodside when 2 men were farewelled in November 1915 the focus was on their membership of the ANA and on that occasion the speakers were drawn from locals – labourer, barman and blacksmith – who worked in the township.

Looking at the profile of those making the speeches at soldiers’ farewells is only part of the story of how the narrative of the War was represented and controlled in the local community. There were other key groups involved – for example, the various iterations of the local recruiting committee. Moreover, the process itself was inherently dynamic and, in fact, characterised by many tensions. For example, the last post pointed to the criticism levelled at the local council for not according Empire Day in 1915 the recognition it deserved. As we will continue to see, the local politics round support for the War could be fractious, divisive and even bitter. However, it was clear that in 1915 control over the ‘official’ narrative of the War in the Shire of Alberton lay in the hands of the professional, managerial, proprietorial and propertied class centred on Yarram. This group presented the narrative from the pulpits of the Protestant churches, at public celebrations (Empire Day) and other functions (recruiting meetings), in the local state schools, in the pages of the local press, and at the farewells for soldiers staged at regular intervals.

The response from the soldiers

Typically, the soldiers being farewelled had little to say. Often they would claim to be nervous and not accustomed to making speeches. Occasionally, there was some attempt at lightheartedness. For example, at his farewell (16/6/15), Pte R O’Dea managed to get in a line about how … he hoped to pot a few “Turkeys.” (Prolonged applause). However, the soldier would usually just offer a few words of thanks and make some self-effacing claim about duty or responsibility. The farewell for Sgt Johnson (29/9/15), son on B P Johnson, was typical:

Sergeant Johnson thanked them for the kind words uttered, and remarked that he felt he had the best wishes of all in Yarram and district. He was confident that all who were going away to fight would keep up the honour of Gippsland.

At this particular farewell, Sgt Cyril Johnson’s father – Ben Percival Johnson, local solicitor and over the course of the entire War an outspoken advocate of recruitment and, in time, conscription – added the customary lines about the mother’s role:

Mr. Johnson … said Cyril expressed a wish to go, and his mother felt she was doing her duty not to stop him. (Applause.)

Sgt Cyril Johnson was killed in action on 14 May 1918.

Appendix 1

Then You’re a Man

Can you desert the niche that you were bred in –
The path of comfort, and the friends who cheer?
And can you leave the business you have worked at –
Laboured and sweated at from year to year?
And will you bid farewell to wife and kindred?
Keeping up steadfastly as best you can?
Then you fulfil the calling of a Briton.
And you are what you’re made to be sir;
You’re a MAN

And do you deem there is no higher calling
Than that which calls you to your country’s need?
And do you reckon ion you should not answer,
That there are deadlier wounds than those which bleed?
Do you feel proud and happy in the doing;
The sacrifice of every other plan?
The you fulfil the calling of a Briton.
And you are what you’re made to be sir;
You’re a MAN

Since you are made and fashioned in God’s image –
Go forth to fight; stamp out crime and sin.
Wash out, with your heroic blood, it may be,
All foulness and all perfidy within;
Help, free the earth of fearfulness and plunder;
Give her a peacefulness of Endless Span,
The heaven, and all Eternity shall bless you.
And you are what you’re made to be sir;
You’re a MAN

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

58. The case of Rudolph Schmidt, postal worker at Traralgon

Rudolph Schmidt was a postal worker at Traralgon who in September 1915 was convicted of being ‘disaffected and disloyal’ and interned at Langwarrin. He was to be interned for the duration of the War. However, in November 1915, after only one month, Schmidt was released from military custody on the direction of the Minister of State for Defence ( Senator G F Pearce). Schmidt’s release prompted public outrage in Traralgon and the wider Gippsland community, and it fostered a long-running  protest that attracted the attention of the Melbourne press. The Minister was portrayed as weak and indecisive and his harshest critics claimed his actions undermined recruiting efforts.

Throughout the case, the Shire of Alberton backed its neighbour, the Shire of Traralgon, in its condemnation of Schmidt and criticism of the Minister. The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative reported on 11/2/16:

At the meeting of the Alberton shire council yesterday a circular was read from the Traralgon Protest Committee, bearing on the treatment of the disloyal citizen Schmidt by Senator Pearce.

The President remarked that it was people of that class who were responsible for the tremendous amount of damage throughout the world. Ships were sunk and factories blown up. In nine cases out of ten it was due to the people of the Schmidt class. …

Cr. Barlow moved, and Cr. Barry seconded – That this council, having heard the facts of the case of Rudolph Schmidt, interned for disloyalty, and released by the Minister of Defence, expresses its strong dissent from the actions of the Minister in releasing Schmidt.

An earlier editorial in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 24 November 1915 made it clear how unpopular the Minister’s action in releasing Schmidt had been:

Rudolph Schmidt, an employee in the Traralgon post office, was interned, witnesses having stated in evidence that the accused said he would “rather be under the rule of the Kaiser than a week-kneed drunkard like the King of England” and that it was “all tommy rot for the Australian boys to fight for England.” Naturally the residents of Traralgon are incensed at the release of Schmidt, who it seems entered into a bond for his good behaviour. The president of the Traralgon shire is being requisitioned to convene a public meeting to protest against Schmidt’s release. Men of this class, having proved themselves disloyal, should not only be interned, but made to work for their tucker.

The Schmidt case reveals the complex interaction during the War between community politics and legislation covering national security. It also appears that the Minister (Pearce) ran the prosecution of Schmidt as a test-case.

There was extensive newspaper coverage of the Schmidt case at the time. Additionally, a comprehensive personal file on Schmidt was compiled by the Intelligence Section of the 3rd Military District.

Papers in the Schmidt file reveal that the Criminal Investigation Branch of Victoria Police and the ‘military authorities’ first started investigating Schmidt in May 1915. The first formal report (17/5/15) referred to him as being ‘anti-British’. Attention was drawn to his obviously German name and background. However, from the very beginning, there were questions over the veracity of the stories that were circulating about Schmidt. For example, the first report noted that a certain T A Pettit from Traralgon would be able to provide ‘valuable information’ on Schmidt, subject to his identity and information being kept ’strictly confidential’. However when this person was interviewed, he stated that all he knew about Schmidt was ‘hearsay’ and that he, personally, had not heard any ‘disloyal’ comments from him. But he added that from what he had heard from people, he was ‘certain’ that Schmidt was making disloyal comments. There was also a vague story – again hearsay – about Schmidt taking small flags from some children and jumping on them.

From the beginning, there was confusion over Schmidt’s background. Some of those investigating him believed that while he had been born in Australia, his father had been born in Germany. In fact, it was the grandfather who had been born in Germany.

The investigation of Schmidt began in May 1915. But not much more than 3 months later, on 8 September 1915, he was found to be ‘disloyal and disaffected’ under the Suspected Persons Inquiry Order 1915. This particular order under the War Precautions Act 1914 had been introduced on 25 June 1915, and there is a note in the Schmidt file, dated 22/6/15, from the Secretary, Department of Defence to the Commandant 3rd Military District, which specifically links Schmidt’s fate to the creation of this particular order:

RUDOLPH SCHMIDT
An order called the “Suspected Persons Inquiry Order”, will be submitted to the Executive Council to-morrow. An inquiry can be held under this Order if you think the circumstances so warrant.

Obviously, by late June, Schmidt had been identified as one of the first to be pursued under this new order. The recommendation from the 3rd Military District for the inquiry to go ahead was made on 9/7/15. The authorities were also keen to select the magistrate who would conduct the inquiry. The 3rd Military District recommended on 2/8/15 that ‘Mr Walter William Harris, Police Magistrate at Sale, be asked to conduct this enquiry.’ The Defence Department agreed to the recommendation re Harris, and Crown Law was asked to set the matter in train on 18/8/15:

The Minister of State for Defence believes that one RUDOLPH SCHMIDT, Postal Assistant at Traralgon is disaffected and disloyal and it is desired that Schmidt be given an opportunity under the Suspected Persons Inquiry Order, 1915, of proving that he is not disaffected or disloyal.

It would be most convenient for this Department if you could arrange for Mr. W. W. Harris, Police magistrate, to conduct the enquiry (sic)….

By the time Schmidt was compelled to attend court on 8 September 1915 there was not much chance for him. The desired legal instrument was in place, the chosen magistrate had been appointed and, under the Order, Schmidt had to prove that the Minister’s claim that he, Schmidt, was disaffected or disloyal was false. Quite apart from the onus of proof being on Schmidt, there were, by that stage, 13 current or former residents of Traralgon who were prepared to state that they had heard Schmidt utter disloyal comments.

Many of the court witnesses were fellow postal workers. One repeated claim was that Schmidt had referred to the King in terms like ‘weak-kneed drunkard’ and declared the Kaiser a better person. Schmidt was also alleged to have praised Germany as a place where working conditions were better, and products were made in Germany were also said to be better. One witness claimed Schmidt went so far as to claim that things would be no different under German rule. While he said he would fight for Australia he declared he would not fight for England. He criticised Llyod George and Churchill. Several witnesses claimed he justified the sinking of the Lusitania, on the grounds that the vessel was carrying contraband and warnings had been given by the Germans. One claimed that Schmidt had refused to wear a patriotic badge. Schmidt also, apparently, justified Germany’s use of gas as a weapon of war. Witnesses made it clear that they regarded Schmidt as disloyal, and that, as one claimed to have told him, he should ‘take the first boat back to Germany.’

The cumulative impact of such witness statements, formally presented in court, and in the context that the Minister and the authorities had already claimed that Schmidt was disloyal, was overwhelming. However, the conduct of the inquiry was just as prejudiced. Schmidt’s legal representative – A F Rice – had only met with Schmidt the morning of the court proceedings. He challenged the jurisdiction of the police magistrate and the legality of the entire proceedings. He claimed that Schmidt, in the meaning of the Order (Suspected Persons Inquiry Order 1915) was not a ’suspected person’ and, again within the wording of the Order, he pointed out that Schmidt had definitely not called for such an inquiry. He stated that Schmidt was neither disaffected nor disloyal. Police Magistrate Harris was unmoved. However he did acknowledge that he had difficulty in stating that Schmidt was a ’suspected person’ in terms of the Order. Faced with such a fundamental problem Harris concluded that he could not challenge his commission, which he presumed was ‘regular’. The inquiry went ahead.

The actual court dynamics were also very revealing. There was no cross examination of the witnesses. After the first witness had made his statement, Rice attempted to cross examine and go to the question of motivation but he was cut short by Harris. The exchange was written up in a local paper – Gippsland Farmers Journal, 10/9/15  (p3) – :

[After Rice had challenged the witness to be more precise with his recollection of the timing of an event and explain why he had let the matter lie so long before he finally reported it]
Mr. Harris here interposed, and said that he had no intention of allowing the witnesses to be subjected to endless cross-examination as to motives etc. The main thing was the impression left on their mind by what Schmidt had said.

No further witnesses were cross examined. The Police Magistrate had signalled that witnesses could, in effect, say what they wished and even play to the public theatre of the court room. Indeed, at the end of the proceedings Harris thanked all the witnesses for coming forward and he pointedly and publicly acknowledged their patriotic spirit.

Rice had asked for an adjournment which was denied. In the end, Rice effectively gave up and refused to advise his client. Schmidt did not take the stand.

Police Magistrate Harris found that Schmidt was disaffected and disloyal, to the applause of those in the packed court house. He left the sentence up to the Minister. But he did add that in his view 6 months in prison would be appropriate.

On 17/9/15, the Minister (Pearce) signed the warrant for Schmidt’s arrest and imprisonment, as a prisoner-of-war. He was taken into custody at Traralgon on 23/9/15 and transferred to Langwarrin the next day. Later there was a public service hearing which also found Schmidt guilty of disloyalty – it could hardly do otherwise – and he was also expelled from the local ANA.

On the face to it, the whole affair had been a great success and the local community, assisted by legal instruments and scheming that facilitated what amounted to little more than a kangaroo court, had been able to demonstrate its patriotism by removing a proven German sympathiser and someone disloyal to the Empire. Everyone, and not just the townspeople of Traralgon, was on notice that disloyalty would not be tolerated. But from the day that PM Harris found Schmidt to be a disaffected and disloyal person there were 2 serious problems for Minister Pearce. The first was the growing body of evidence that Schmidt was most likely the victim of paranoia and vindictiveness. The second problem was Schmidt’s citizenship, because legally there was nothing to tie him to Germany: he was as British a subject as all his accusers.

As indicated, the possibility that the claims against Schmidt had been spread as rumours intended to harm him had been there from the very start. Prior to his court appearance, Schmidt had written to the Deputy Postmaster General stating that the stories being spread about him were false, he was not disloyal and he had said nothing seditious. He also stated that people opposed his political views and had threatened to ‘get him’ for sedition. Perversely, this letter was actually employed to justify the inquiry into Schmidt’s claimed disloyalty. The authorities claimed in court that Schmidt’s written protestations about his innocence were a plea to the Minister to conduct the inquiry so he, Schmidt, could prove that he was not disloyal.

It was not long before other citizens of Tralralgon took up Schmidt’s cause. The part played by Schmidt’s father in visiting the town and talking to people is unclear. He might have been the critical catalyst but it could also have been that people were genuinely shocked at what had happened and exercised initiative themselves. In any case, the Minister soon had a number of statutory declarations from leading townspeople stating that while Schmidt had a temper and was prone to making extreme statements, he had been victimised and pressured relentlessly over his German name and supposed German background, and that he had been goaded or tricked into making foolish and extreme statements. Moreover, this group of townspeople individually found him to be a decent, law-abiding citizen whose loyalty could not be questioned. It was a totally different perspective.  It was also hard to dismiss the declarations when they came from, amongst others, the Shire of Traralgon Secretary (Walter G West), the local Church of England Minister (Rev. William James Thomas Pay) and an Inspector of Public Works (William Philip O’Mara). The identities of these townsfolk were not released at the time. The Minister for Defence was now presented with the possibility that his special legislation and hand-picked legal officer had been employed to effect an injustice.

The other major problem the case now posed for the Minister probably came more from blind prejudice than anything else. It has already been noted – and at the time some officials certainly knew – that, other than the name, there was little to tie Schmidt to Germany. His wife’s family were Australian. He had been born in Australia, as had his father. His grandfather had been born in Germany but he had come to Australia decades earlier as a 15 year old. In terms of all the legislation, Schmidt was not an ‘alien’ in any form. However, the Minister had incarcerated Schmidt at Langwarrin under Regulation 56.A (sic) of the War Precautions Regulations 1915. This regulation was very explicit:

56.(1) Where the Minister has reason to believe that any natural-born British subject, one at least of whose parents was or is a subject of a State which is at war with the King, is disaffected or disloyal, he may, by warrant under his hand, order him to be detained in military custody, in such place as he thinks fit, during the continuance of the present state of war.

Even if Schmidt had been disaffected or disloyal his incarceration under this section was not lawful. He did not meet the criteria: both parents had been born in Australia. Possibly, the Minister could have imprisoned Schmidt under a different regulation. For example, Regulation 43. – If any person attempts to cause mutiny, sedition, or disaffection among His Majesty’s forces, or among the civilian population, he shall be guilty of an offence against the Act ( War Precautions Act 1914). However, the Minister had clearly exceeded his power in incarcerating Schmidt under 56(1).

The solution Minister Pearce decided on was to release Schmidt, but only under a bond that he would cause no further problem. There is a minute paper, signed by Pearce, included in the Schmidt file and dated 25/10/15. It begins by outlining the correct details of Schmidt’s citizenship and recommends that In view of the whole circumstances of this case Schmidt may be released on his entering into a bond of £50 to observe the War Precautions Act & to abstain from the further use of disloyal language.

However the matter was not to be dismissed so easily. Once news of Schmidt’s release from Langwarrin on 29/10/15 became known there was uproar. Pearce’s action was seen as high-handed and totally at odds with the findings of the formal proceedings conducted at Traralgon. It was claimed that he had been fooled by people, including the father of Schmidt, who had personally approached him and requested that he reconsider the finding. The Minister had been manipulated. Pearce was in a difficult position. He could not criticise his own Department or his own decisions. At the same time, people demanded some better explanation of why such a clear-cut case of disloyalty was now set aside. Both the local and Melbourne press reported the community’s outrage.

Protest or ‘indignation’ meetings were held at Traralgon where the chief spokesperson was the Rev William H Scurr, the local Methodist minister. This particular member of the local clergy was absolutely certain about Schmidt’s disloyalty, unlike the Church of England minister referred to above who was one of those who came to Schmidt’s defence, and who wrote in his letter of support, I can only say that as far as I am concerned personally I have never heard him make one single statement indicating disloyalty… However, notwithstanding the division in the local clergy over Schmidt, it was very clear that overwhelming opinion in the town, local community and right across Victoria was against him.

In an attempt to limit the political damage, Minister Pearce released statements to the press. The following report in The Age 19/11/15 is interesting because while it assessed Schmidt’s comments as rash and intemperate, rather than disloyal, it still misrepresented Schmidt’s background:

RELEASED ON PAROLE
Minister of Defence Explains
The Minister of defence yesterday referred to a report that had appeared in the press stating that the inhabitants of Traralgon were incensed at the release of Rudolph Schmidt, a former letter carrier, on parole. In August certain alleged disloyal utterances of Schmidt were the subject of a magisterial inquiry, as a result of which it was recommended that Schmidt should be interned. Senator Pearce stated yesterday that the evidence in the inquiry had been sent down to the Defence department, and the authorities had gone very carefully through it. The whole matter appeared to have arisen out of a quarrel, and as Schmidt expressed regret at having used certain expressions in the heat of the moment, and had given satisfactory assurances for the future, it had been decided to release him on parole. Schmidt had been born in Australia, and was really a British subject, one of his parents being an Australian, the other a German.

The next week, 27/11/15, Philip Schmidt, Rudolph’s father, wrote to The Age (p 20) trying to correct the false statement about him (the father, Philip Schmidt) being born in Germany. It was the grandfather who was born in Germany, and this – in terms of 56(1) – was the critical difference:

… I would like to state, Schmidt’s mother is Australian born of English people; his father [Philip Schmidt] is also Australian born. Rudolph Schmidt’s grandmother was born in Western Australia of English parents, and his grandfather, German, came to Victoria at the age of 14, and resided within fifteen miles of Melbourne for 50 odd years, and never at any time did he try to teach or show us any German ideas, but quite the reverse.

He closed his letter, I remain loyal to the end.

A few days earlier – 23/11/15 – Rev Scurr had a letter published in The Argus (p 7).  He had clearly identified the basic weaknesses in the Minister’s decision:

Was the Minister right in interning him, and is he wrong in releasing him now, or was he wrong in interning him and is he right in releasing him now? Which? If one convicted and interned man can be released on his “bond to be of good behaviour,” can any of the men at present interned be released on the same recognissance? If not, why not?

On 25/11/15 The Argus  (p8) reported on the public meeting held at Traralgon to protest against Schmidt’s release. In reporting the hostility directed at Minister Pearce, it noted:

The Minister, it was declared, had released Schmidt on the flimsiest of reasons, and his action was high-handed and a direct insult to the people of Traralgon.

A more complete account of the story behind Schmidt’s release was revealed at the end of November. By this point, G H Wise the local MHR had been pressed to pursue the matter with Minister Pearce. Wise passed on the reply he received from the Secretary of the Department, and it appeared in the Traralgon Record  (p 2) on 30/11/15:

… I am to inform you that subsequently (sic) to the enquiry held as to Schmidt’s loyalty, representations were made to the Minister on Schmidt’s behalf by several residents of good standing in the Traralgon district. From their statements it appeared that so far as they knew Schmidt he had confirmed himself as a loyal subject. It was further represented to the Minister that many of the statements as to which evidence was given at the enquiry (sic) had been made during arguments in which Schmidt’s temper had been affected by provocation.

The Minister was also informed that both Schmidt’s father and mother had been born here, and that his mother was of British descent; and also that his grandfather had spent nearly all his life in Australia.

Schmidt’s internment had been ordered in the belief that he was a naturalised subject. It is not the practice of the Department to intern a natural born subject except in circumstances of undoubted danger to the public safety, and in view of the doubts which the information furnished to the Minister raised as to the necessity for keeping him interned, the Minister authorised his release on his entering into a bond to be of good behaviour.

Interestingly, the letter argues that the Department interned Schmidt in the mistaken belief that he was a naturalised subject. However, nowhere in Schmidt’s file is there any indication that the authorities ever believed he was a naturalised subject. Rather, the mistake made was that officers thought Schmidt’s father was naturalised. Throughout the whole affair there appeared to be constant indifference, and confusion – if not dissemblance –  over the question of Schmidt’s citizenship. Incredibly, even the bond under which he was eventually released referred to ‘the date of his arrival in the Commonwealth of Australia’! The basic problem was that while Schmidt was not, legally, in any way German, politically he was always regarded as such.

The opposition to Schmidt’s release eventually faded away in the first half of 1916, but not before virtually every shire and local council in Victoria had formally expressed its condemnation of both Schmidt’s disloyalty and his release by the Minister.  Rev Scurr was still protesting as late as April 1916 when, according to The Argus of 12/4/16 (p 10), he attended a meeting of the Anti-German League in Melbourne in his capacity as the Chairman of the Rudolph Schmidt Committee, Traralgon. Pearce’s status as one of the most powerful men in the Hughes Government – he was Minister for Defence through the War, and in fact to 1921 – meant that he could survive the protests over his actions.

The lesser figure of Rudolph Schmidt suffered most. Apart from the period he spent as a prisoner of war, he had to live under the highly prescriptive conditions of his bond. He lost his employment with the Post office, after 9 years of service. He also had to leave Traralgon.  He was only twenty-four, married with one child, and his name and reputation had been badly damaged, if not destroyed. His last known address appears to have been Woorarra via Welshpool, in early 1918. We know this because his mail was still being intercepted at that point. Woorarra was a remote settlement on the boundary of the Shire of Alberton.

It seems that Schmidt’s fate was driven by his quick temper, his surname and the unchecked hysteria of patriotism in the local community. The political mandarins of the day sought to exploit this obsession with patriotic loyalty to shore up support for the War. They showed they could be ruthless in their actions; and when they made mistakes they instinctively dissembled. The supreme irony was that the War was being fought against tyranny, to preserve the British Empire and all its institutions, including, most importantly, its system of justice.

References

Intelligence file for Rudolph Schmidt

Newspapers

The Argus

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Traralgon Record

Gippsland Farmers Journal, Traralgon

The Age

See also:

Stanley, P 2011, Digger Smith And Australia’s Great War : Ordinary Name – Extraordinary Stories, Pier 9, Miller’s Point NSW. (pp114-117)