Category Archives: July to December 1916

105. The soldiers’ vote denied

In early March 1917 (2/3/17), the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative published the mesage that Birdwood had sent to all members of the AIF immediately prior to the first referendum conscription, 4 months earlier. In the letter, included here in full, Birdwood is obviously calling for a Yes vote from the men.

To members of the A.I.F.- As General Officer Commanding the Australian Force, it is not for me to interfere in any political matters or to influence the voting of our men on the coming Referendum.

I know well that in any case all will vote as seems to them necessary in the best interests of Australia and the Great Empire to which we belong, whose freedom has been, and still is, in danger of being turned into slavery by Germany. I feel, however, that I can inform you all of how really essential it is that we should get all the men available to keep these magnificent Australian forces, which are now in the field, and whose name is renowned throughout the Empire, up to their strength.

Every single man would, I am sure, bitterly resent and regret it if we had to reduce a single battalion, battery or company, every one of which has now made history, and established a tradition which we all hope will last as long as the British flag flies over our world-wide Empire. But it is, I think, probable that all ranks do not know as well as I do the absolute necessity of keeping our reinforcements right up to strength, and the present system is not doing this. I feel sure all know the great feelings of regard and pride which I have for every man of this force who has up to now come forward of his own free-will and after great sacrifice.

Many brave men have given their lives for the sake of our Empire and the freedom of the world – lives which have been uselessly sacrificed if we relax our efforts in any way until we have the Germans right down on their knees. Remember, too, boys, that the word freedom does not only mean for ourselves, but what is far more important, freedom for our children and our children’s children. For them, I know no sacrifice can be too great.

In the magnificent manifesto, which our Prime Minister, Mr. Hughes, has sent us, he has fully shown what exemptions there will be when universal service is adopted. It will be seen from this that members of families, some of whom have already come forward, will be fully safeguarded, and no man need fear that there is danger of, we will say, the brother who has been left behind to look after the affairs of the family, being ordered to come out. The shirker, however, will be caught, and made to do his share, instead of staying at home as he has done up to now, not only evading his duties, but getting into soft jobs which we want to see kept for our boys here when they return, or for the representatives of their families who have been left in Australia.

I have nothing more to say, boys, except to point out to you as strongly as I can that the necessity does exist, and I hope that after these two years, during which we have been soldiers together, we know each other well enough to realise that I would not say this without good reason. Having said it, I leave it to you to act according to your conscience, for the good of our King and country, the honour of our people, and the safety of our wives and children.
W. R. Birdwood
Lieut. General G.O.C., A. I F.
October 16th. 1916

The copy of the letter, the paper explained, had been provided by B P Johnson who had obtained it from his brother. [Johnson’s brother was Sergeant Norman C Johnson who had enlisted  – 4 LHR – in August 1914 and who had been repatriated to Australia in April 1916 after having been wounded at Gallipoli.]

The publication of the letter suggests that while the referendum had been defeated, Imperial Loyalists in the local community – like Johnson and Rossiter, the editor – were still steadfastly commited to conscription. Voluntary enlistments had not picked up after the referendum, and, in the minds of people like Johnson and Rossiter, the arguments for conscription remained as valid as at the time of the referendum. The publication of Birdwood’s message to his ‘boys’ reminded everyone of the apparently indisputable logic for conscription. As Rossiter wrote in his introduction to the piece, it was … a powerful appeal for the “Yes” vote. Moreover, the case for conscription was reinforced by the claim that the AIF had in fact voted Yes in the referendum.

Specifically in terms of the soldiers’ vote, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire reported as early as 20/12/16 that the majority had supported conscription. On that occasion, Hughes was reported as stating in federal parliament that … a majority of soldiers of the A.I.F. abroad was substantially in favor of the referendum. When he was pressed for the exact numbers, Hughes declared that he could not divulge them because … the desire of the military authorities in England precluded that [possibility]. The pressure on Hughes to release the precise numbers continued and, finally, at a speech in Bendigo on 27/3/17, he claimed that the number “For” was 72,000 and the number “Against” was 58,000: a majority of 14,000. The numbers were reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire on 30/3/17. [The figures given in the Official History were 72,399 Yes and 58,894 No: a majority of 13,505.]

At the end of March 1917, as far as Hughes and his supporters were concerned, the arguments for conscription had always been – and still remained –  beyond dispute; and they had the support of the highest levels of the AIF command. Further, the soldiers themselves voted for conscription by a clear majority. Therefore, the logic ran, the men overseas had been betrayed by the No vote back in Australia.

However, there was a very different version of the story of soldiers’ vote which, at the time, was concealed. Hughes had his way with his version of the truth and the episode reveals just how comprehensively the Government was able to manipulate the narrative of the War.

The alternative version comes, ironically, from the personal diaries of CEW Bean, the Official War Historian. Bean was certainly an advocate of conscription and indeed he did his best to ensure that the soldiers’ vote was Yes. But at the same time, his personal diaries expose the deceit and manipulation that characterised Hughes’ desperate attempt first to win over the soldiers’ vote, and then, when it did not suit him, effectively bury it.

Hughes’ intention was to have the AIF vote held before the vote back in Australia so that the assumed strong Yes from the soldiers would influence the national vote. However, as the vote neared he was informed by his supporters in England, including Murdoch, that the soldiers’ vote was not guaranteed. At this point Bean became involved. He was given the task of contacting Birdwood and encouraging him to make a representation to the soldiers urging them to vote Yes. This is all set out in detail in the following extracts from Bean’s personal diaries. Bean’s role in all this is very apparent. He was most definitely a key participant in the history he came to write. Bean wrote in a form of shorthand but for present purposes, I have written the diary notes in full prose, without changing any of the content.

On Sunday 15 October 1916, Bean wrote in his diary:

Last night [Sa 14/10/16] White told Bazley not to let me go on any account without seeing him.
[CBB White, Brigadier General, General Staff, Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Working under Birdwood but generally regarded as the real power in the AIF in France at the time]
[AW Bazley, nominal ‘batman’ to Bean but really a colleague]

Hughes had sent a cable to Birdwood from Burnie in Tasmania. It said that the opposition to conscription in Australia was due to the formidable intrigues of the ultra-socialists and the Fenians; and that everything depended on the lead which the vote of our own force in France gave to Australia. He called on Birdwood, with all the earnestness he could put into the cable, to put aside precedent and to use his great influence with the troops to get them to carry conscription by a big majority and give a lead to the people.

White wanted me to see Birdwood and urge him to do a really big thing for the Empire, and take this step. At the moment we both took it that what Hughes wanted was a message to the Australian people.

I hesitated a moment. Perhaps I am weak. I knew that White’s decision, whichever way it was, would have settled me in mine. But I have a very great fear of anyone in Birdwood’s position – a military servant of the State using his influence in a big question at the polls. I should have taken a few minutes to think. I wasn’t sure which way White was. Then he told me he “wants the little man to play the man – and to take a big opportunity of doing a great thing for the Empire.” The loss of this measure would be a terrible smack in the face of the Empire. It would count enormously. It seemed to me that Birdwood might very well tell the Australian people what the military necessity was for reinforcements, as their chief military adviser. It would have enormous effect. White added: “Yes, and get him to point out that every effort that we have made up to the present would go for nothing- would be utterly wasted – if this were lost.” White means, I think, that it would lose us the good name which our energy and public spirit have so far won.

When I got to London I started to search for Birdwood. … After a fair hunt, I heard of Birdie at the Charles Buckleys, where his daughter often stays. Birdie was at Clifton and would not get back till 8.20. I decided to miss the train and stay and see him. Fortunately I found out that the train left at 11.15. [PM]

Birdie, who hated the idea of being made to give evidence at the Dardanelles Commission during the war, had got away quietly to Lincoln and only went to Clifton on his last day.

He came in to the Buckleys with his pretty daughter, the little Harefield nurse, at about 8.45. We had a long talk in Mrs Buckleys sitting room, by ourselves; Mrs Buckley had been exceedingly kind in telephoning all over London for me to find out if he had returned.

Birdie pointed out at once that what Hughes wanted was, clearly, for him [Birdwood] to give a lead to the soldiers. He never hesitated a moment. I too could see at once a reason for this. If the soldiers voted No – that would kill the question, the people at home would never vote Yes if their army here voted No. The Australian vote was to be later, after the result of the A.I.F.’s vote was known. I fancy Hughes had arranged this thinking that the A.I.F would be certain to vote Yes. Anyway, it was no use Birdie sending a message to Australia if the A.I.F. voted No. The thing to do was to get the army to vote Yes.

Birdie told me that he had seen Lloyd George. While he was there Murdoch asked if he might come in. Murdoch wanted Birdwood to send a message to Australia. Lloyd George agreed, too, that B. [Birdwood] should do this, until Birdwood pointed out that if he did, it might be said by opportunists that he was ordering the soldiers how to vote. L. George agreed, and it was decided not to do this; but Murdoch got letters of introduction to Haig and Joffre and started for France to get messages from each of them if possible.

This shows how Ll. George hangs on the Australian attitude – how important he thinks it. Birdwood didn’t hesitate. He got me to sit down and write, to his dictation, a message to the men saying that he wanted them to vote by their consciences and not to influence them in any way. But he added that he probably knew better than they did, the need for reinforcements. He was sure they would not like to see any of the units, with all their traditions and history, broken up. There was a need for men. If the effort of Australia were relaxed now, all the brave lives sacrificed before would have been sacrificed in vain. The Govt has told them what exemptions were to be – they need not fear that the brother left at home to mind the business would be called to enlist; the men it would especially get were the shirkers who were at present filling all the nice fat billets which we wanted to see our men in on their return, or their relations at home.

The poll was to be tomorrow [Mo 16/10/16]. I urged that if possible this [Birdwood’s statement] ought to and could be wired tonight. But the A.I.F Headquarters said it couldn’t. I think it still could. However, Col. Wright said not. So B. asked if the poll could be put off a day or two. Wright, who is under Anderson (who is managing the business of getting the vote taken) said it could. So B. asked them to wire postponing it.

I don’t know one bit the effect of these steps. They are very risky I am sure. I should have tried every way I could to have got the wire across without postponing the poll, but I didn’t put my reasons strongly enough though B. could see that I wanted it.

There it is. I hope it does the business. For I am sure conscription is right.

Bean’s diary entry is striking at many levels. The tone is anecdotal and free-flowing. He places himself at the very centre of the action. He claims close familiarity with the leading political and military figures. He is a confidant and trusted messenger.

The actors seem caught up in the moment of a ‘good idea’ or a ‘desperate plea’ from Hughes and no one is prepared to step back and apply any sort of critical thinking. Bean talks about the unprecedented act of having a military commander intervene in an obviously political situation but there is no evidence of any deep reflection from anyone on just how significant the matter was. The narrative appears to be on the lines of a select group of powerful individuals determining, on the run, that despite the risks something had to be done.

Essentially, all the key characters involved were attempting to influence the soldiers’ vote – despite all the transparently false qualifications Birdwood included in his message –  and Birdwood, acting on Hughes’ request, was using his military status and reputation to intervene directly in a critically important political matter. Moreover, the delay to the voting schedule, so that Birdwood’s message would have the chance to influence the outcome, was obviously intended to manipulate the voting process.

Subsequent entries in Bean’s diary reveal that the political intervention did not achieve the desired outcome. In fact, it probably had the opposite effect. The following entry was dated 21/10/16, immediately after the troops had voted, and it points to an additional strategy which Hughes was keen to employ. Separate from the actual soldiers’ vote on the referendum, Hughes wanted a series of resolutions in favour of conscription passed by public meetings of the soldiers in France.  He intended to use such resolutions to promote the Yes vote back in Australia.

Murdoch tells me that Young (S.A.) O.C. Beale and another have gone across (at his request, by Haig’s leave) to address meetings upon conscription, amongst the men and see if they cannot send some resolution calling on the Australian people to send more men. If the resolution is in favour of conscription, it will be telegraphed to Australia; if against, it will perhaps be telegraphed to Hughes, but he will not publish it. I shall send the results of all these resolutions or none at all, to my papers. Hughes says that Sinn Feiners have sent agents to Australia and that the Irish and I.W.W are against him. I believe the women will carry him through.

Murdoch undoubtedly is a fine strong helper. …

Everybody here exercised [?] about the Referendum. Birdwood’s circular to the troops did little good – rather the reverse. Col. Anderson thinks Hughes is getting as nervous as can be about it. Anything favourable from here will be telegraphed out to give Australia a lead. Anything unfavourable will be suppressed. Sir Newton Moore did not issue Hughes memorandum to his troops at all. Anderson, who is his enemy, hints that this was because Moore would like to see Hughes and Labour out of office as a result of the loss of Referendum, in order that he (Moore) might get some job or position from the Liberal Govt that would follow. But this is absurd.

Anderson is a clever man but a jealous and ambitious one. He has saved a lot of money for Australia, but sometimes his motives are not purely public spirited.

The 2 men that Murdoch had sent to visit the troops in France in an attempt to secure the resolutions in favour of conscription were (Sir) Frederick William Young and Octavius Charles Beale. Young was the South Australian Agent General at the time. He was only 40 yo. Beale was a successful Australian business man living in London at the time. He was much older at 66 yo. Both men were staunch Imperialists. Young was knighted in January 1918 and he was even elected to the UK House of Commons. He effectively lived in England until his death. Beale returned to Australia after the War but he did achieve English honours, including being admitted as ‘freeman of the City of London’ (1918).  Beale was obsessed with the fear of ‘racial decay’.

Anderson, was Brigadier-General Robert Anderson who was Commandant, AIF Administrative Headquarters, London. He was credited with improving efficiencies in the AIF. He was also spoken of as a nationalist, in the sense that he stood up for the AIF’s interests vis a vis the British Army. (Sir) N J Moore was at the time Brigadier-General in charge of all the AIF depots and training centres in Britain. He had been Premier of Western Australia. He was also a very successful business man. Moore was yet another significant Imperialist. He was also elected to the UK House of Commons (1918-23).

Bean’s tone is again anecdotal and once again he places himself in the centre of the politics and intrigue. Once again, people’s motivations are represented as fairly pedestrian. Hughes clearly had no intention of allowing any negative news from the soldiers in France to make it back to Australia. If there was no support for conscription from the troops – either via the vote itself or the passing of various ‘resolutions’ in favour of conscription – then all the related news was to be withheld.

Obviously word was coming in by this point as to how the troops had voted and the intelligence was not encouraging. Bean believed that Birdwood’s message had backfired. A last minute attempt was required to get some sort of resolution in favour of conscription, from at least some of the troops. Hughes was desperate.

There is another diary entry for Sunday 22/10/16. In it, Bean talked about the last minute efforts to get support from key military leaders and the then urgent mission of Beale, Young and one additional, unnamed, agent.  Bean also revealed the apparent failure of the vote amongs the front-line troops.

In London. Lunched with Murdoch at The Times office. He has seen Joffre, Haig and Pollard and each of them has given him an interview. Haig would only make it a message, stating how much France and the allies needed the troops. Birdwood has promised to send a message on the military need for reinforcements. The vote in France has been taken and (up to the present count) the result is a ten per cent majority against conscription. They are accordingly sending to France O. C Beale, Young, and one other, to address public meetings in favour of  [conscription?].

The last diary entry was dated 25/10/16. In it Bean discloses the dismal failure of the efforts of Young to secure a resolution in support of conscription from the troops. Bean also defends his actions in pressing Birdwood to issue his message in support of conscription, but he clealry has reservations about the whole episode.

I can see (though he doesn’t say so) that White thinks I made a mess of my errand to Birdwood. He thinks I ought to have got a message to the people of Australia and not to the troops, and that the message to the troops may be interpreted as an attempt at exercising a dangerous influence and that the putting off of the voting for two days was a dangerous matter. Anderson told White he would not have let him [Birdwood] do it and perhaps I ought to have told him [Birdwood] plainly the dangers I saw in it. But there we are. As White says, I don’t know that Anderson would have found it so easy to stop him [Birdwood].

However, he really did nothing which was not perfectly defensible. He had a perfect right to tell the men his opinion on a point so important – and he had no control whatsoever over the voting. As a fact, I suspect he lost votes rather than gained them.

Bazley tells me that Young, Agent General for South Australia and a very able man, came over as arranged and asked the troops at a public meeting to send a resolution to Australia in favour of conscription. Haig had permitted the meeting provided there were no speeches, except Young’s, and no officers were present. Young put it to them that at present Australia stood first among the Dominions in the eyes of the British nation and that they would lose that regard if the country did not vote for compulsory service. The attitude of the men was quite clear. They said that they did not care whether Australia came first or last in the opinion of the British people. They wanted enough Australians left to maintain Australia’s present character after the war. They did not want so many Australians killed off that the population of immigrants flowing in, should alter the characteristics of the country. They could repopulate it by immigrants but they wanted it populated by Australians. They thought Australia had given enough to the war without forcing those who did not wish to come. They knew what it was like, now, and they were not going to ask others to come into it against their will. Young was going to wait till Sunday, but he went away on Saturday. The 23 and 21 Bns, which he saw, were almost unanimously against him.

They are funny beggars, but they have a lot of sense. It can’t be called a selfish attitude, anyway.

The 2 battalions that Young addressed – 21 and 23 Battalion – appear to have then been in their billets at Steenvorde. Both had recently been in the front lines. It is difficult to identify when Young spoke to the men but the most likely date was Friday 20/10/16. This was also the date that 21 Battalion voted in the referendum. The date for 23 Battalion’s vote is not given in the unit’s war diary but it must have been round the same time. The point is that Young was speaking to the men at the time that they were also voting – or had already voted – in the referendum. Consequently, the arguments they gave for not supporting any resolution that Young proposed were the same ones that shaped their vote. The arguments they gave, as represented by Bean, went to the core of Australia’s national, not imperial, identity. Australia had done enough. Young realised he had failed and went back early to Britain..

Historians generally argue that the overall success of the Yes vote in the AIF came not from those on the Western Front – their vote represented the clear rejection of conscription – but from those on the troopships, in the training camps in the UK  and serving in the Light Horse in Egypt.

The attitude and votes of the soldiers on the Western Front were effectively hidden. Back in Australia, as was evident in its publication in the local paper, Birdwood’s message to the troops continued to be used as a justification for conscription and, after the defeat of the referendum, Hughes was able to represent the vote of the AIF as being in favour of conscription. However, he was not able to use their vote, as he had intended, to influence the vote back in Australia.

Bean’s diary entries reveal Hughes’ determination to control, absolutely, the politics of the conscription vote. They also point to the human frailty, weakness and ordinariness of many of the key actors of the time who, coincidentally, exercised the power of life and death over their fellow countrymen. In Bean’s account, no one emerges with much integrity – or even intelligence – except for the troops themselves: the funny beggars in Bean’s words.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume XI – Australia During the War, 7th Edition 1941

Australian Dictionary of Biography

Bean’s diaries

There are digital versions of Bean’s diaries available from the Australian War Memorial website:

AWM 38: Official History, 1914-18 War: Records of CEW Bean, Official History

Item number 3DRL 606/61/1 – October 1916

Item number 3DRL 606/62/1 – October 1916

Item number 3 DRL 606/63/1 – October-November 1916

General histories

Beaumont, J 2013, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW. (see PP 243-244)

Connor, J, Stanley, P, Yule, p, 2015, The War At Home, Vol 4 The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne. (see p 113)





104. Hughes and Mannix, late 1916 – early 1917: the national and local scenes

Even though he had lost the support of his own party and his referendum on conscription was defeated, PM Hughes continued to drive the political landscape in the 6 months from the end of October 1916 through to the overwhelming success of the Nationalists at the federal election in May 1917. By the end of this period, Hughes had re-established himself as, apparently, the only one who could provide the necessary war-time leadership. He had triumphed, while the ALP itself had been broken and defeated.

Over the same period, Archbishop Mannix emerged as the most high-profile, outspoken critic of the War. He became the focus of Hughes’ anger and frustration. Hughes and his supporters saw Mannix as undermining the War effort. And Mannix’s politics and status raised the fundamental issue of where the Catholic Church stood.

As well as playing out at the national level, the same tension and conflict began to emerge at the local level in the Shire of Alberton.

The national scene

The formal end to the ongoing division within the ALP over the conscription referendum and Hughes’ leadership came on 14/11/16 when Hughes broke away, dramatically, with 23 of the 64 members of the federal caucus. The breakaway group took for itself the name ‘National Labor Party’.

Hughes managed to retain his position as PM when, with support from the Liberals, he survived a no confidence motion in the House of Representatives on 29/11/16. Over the next 2 months he was able to establish the new National Party, as an alliance between his National Labor Party and the Liberals, under Cook. Even though his numbers were smaller, Hughes remained as PM in the new party and he even managed, against much opposition, to retain Pearce as his Defence Minister.

In March 1917, Hughes was forced to a federal election. His National Party won the election (5/5/17) with majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Clearly, Hughes was the driving force in Australian politics. His success at the time was in large part due to the image he had established of himself as the ‘natural’ war-time leader. In 1916 in the UK he had been feted in the press – both in the UK and back in Australia – as a no-nonsense, tireless, inspirational and decisive leader. He was closely identified with the AIF. He was an Imperialist of the highest order. He was also a survivor of consummate political skill and he promised a safe pair of political hands. His political messages were simple and consistent.

Hughes also retained the powerful support and backing of the media, business and the Protestant churches which he had enjoyed in the conscription referendum. Hughes and his backers found it relatively easy to portray the old ALP – the ‘Official’ ALP – as confused and contradictory in both its commitment and policies to pursue the War. It was also portrayed as ‘unrepresentative’ and driven by the industrial rather than than the parliamentary wing. It was claimed to be more interested in pursuing and destroying Hughes and settling factional disputes than it was in forming a national unity government. It was said to have become more ‘radical’ and ‘socialist’ than the original ALP and it was unduly influenced by ‘outsiders’, even Americans. Against the apparently enormous political risk the Official ALP presented, Hughes and the Nationalists promised a unity government that had risen above party politics and was committed to the single-minded  pursuit of victory. Hughes also pledged to honour the results of the referendum; but he also made it clear that he had not given up on the idea of conscription. The deal he made with the electorate was that it would never be introduced without a (successful) referendum.

In the reductionist politics of the time, with Hughes presented as the single person who best represented Australia’ s commitment to the Empire and the War, the arch-villain of the popular press had firmed as Archbishop Mannix.

With Mannix, the critical episode appeared to be the report of his speech at the opening of a Catholic school at Brunswick on 28 January 1917. The speech was reported the next day in The Age (29/1/17 p 7) under headline: Cause Of The War. Archbishop’s Remarkable Utterance. ‘An Ordinary, Sordid Trade War’. As reported, Mannix’s assessment of the War’s cause was bound to stir outrage:

They had heard much during the progress of the war of how the war came about and how they were fighting for the rights of little nations. They could believe as much of this as they liked, but as a matter of fact this was a trade war – simply an ordinary, sordid trade war.

The response was both predictable and immediate. The papers were full of denunciations and demands for Mannix’s prosecution under the War Precautions Act. And it was not just Imperialists and Protestants. Many of the letters to the editor attacking his claim was signed by the likes of  ‘Loyal Catholic’ or ‘Irish Catholic’ or ‘Australian Native’ or ‘Catholic Loyalty’. Similarly, individual members of Catholic associations denounced his views as unrepresentative of Catholic views and sentiment.

Not surprisingly, Mannix was damned even more when his position was supported by the Socialists. The Argus (1/2/17 p 9) reported, under the headline Archbishop Mannix. Socialists Approve:

At a meeting of the Socialist party held last night, the following resolution was moved by Miss Adele Pankhurst (organiser), seconded by Mr. R. S. Ross (secretary), and carried unanimously: –
“That this meeting of the Socialist party of Victoria expresses its warm admiration of Archbishop Mannix for his recent bold and clarifying utterances on the nature of the terrible European war, and deems it its duty to put on record its appreciation of Dr. Mannix’s splendid courage especially on account of the malicious abuse and misrepresentation to which he has been subjected…. “

At the time Mannix’s claim was clearly incendiary. It stripped bare the dominant narrative of the War. His simple phrase of ‘sordid trade war’ denied the official narrative of the War as the monumental and defining conflict between democracy and civilised society on one hand and German militarism and barbarity on the other. The comment undercut the high ideals of ‘supreme sacrifice’, ‘Christian love and duty’, ‘liberty and justice’ and ‘Imperial loyalty and patriotism’. Mannix had definitely crossed a line; and his opponents demanded that the Government prosecute him. Mannix at this point was still only the Co-adjutor Bishop of Melbourne – he did not become Archbishop of Melbourne till Carr’s death in May 1917 – and he had only been in Australia for 4 years. However, as far as Hughes was concerned, Mannix’s role in the referendum had been the deciding factor that led to the success of the No vote. Now, not only was Mannix anti-conscription, he was also challenging the very nature of the Empire’s struggle against Germany.

Hughes himself addressed Mannix’s claim a few days later in an address at Ballarat East. It was reported in The Age (31/1/17 p7). Remarkably, as reported, Hughes’ claims actually appear to support Mannix’s observation on trade as the root cause of the War.

People had been told the other day that the war was a trade war, a mere sordid struggle for self, but the causes of this war were not to be sought in the effort to obtain trade. Germany had already secured trade during times of peace to an extent that her claws were in our very vitals. Had Germany’s competition continued in peace for another ten years Germany would have got the kernel of the world’s trade, leaving us and others the shrivelled husk. Germany had fought the American millionaire in trade on his own dunghill and beaten him. Australian trade and commerce before the war was finding its way by devious channels into the maw of Germany. This was not a trade war. It was a war that sprang out of Germany’s lust of world empire.

In the same speech, Hughes also decried the news reports from Germany that represented the defeat of conscription as proof that Australians were ‘against the war’ or at the least ‘war weary’. He urged the people there to show that, even though the referendum had been lost, they still supported ‘the continuation of the war’ and they were prepared to ‘lay aside party feeling, and fight as a united nation’.

As far as Hughes was concerned, the War was now to be waged not just against Germany but also, at home, against public indifference, political infighting and the deliberate sabotage of the likes of Mannix.

The local scene

The sense of disappointment in the Shire of Alberton following the referendum defeat has been covered in Post 93. The common belief was that patriotic and loyal regions such as Gippsland had been betrayed by the voters in Melbourne. There was also a sense of disillusion which translated to a withdrawal of support. For example, by  the end of December 1916 the local recruiting committee had disbanded. Correspondence from the Shire Secretary ( G W Black) dated 5/12/16 noted that while he was still prepared to assist with recruiting on a personal basis, the local recruiting committee itself ‘has ceased to exist’. On 18/12/16, the Shire President (Charles Nightingale) called a public meeting to set up a replacement recruiting committee but, as reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative ( 20/12/16), There were not half-a-dozen present, and the meeting had to be abandoned.  The paper also reported (15/12/16) the views of Cr Barlow – a prominent member of the previous recruiting committee – expressed at the December council meeting. Barlow believed that … the men whom the country could ill-afford to lose would join the colors now, while the shirkers and cold-footers would still remain behind, as nothing had been done to make them go.  He stated that while he was still prepared to help, he … would not take the same interest in recruiting as before. The local recruiting committee would eventually be re-established in late April 1917; but in the immediate aftermath of the referendum defeat there was considerable anger, and support for conscription remained as strong as ever in the Shire.

As indicated in earlier posts – see for example Post 91 –  there was not even any organised support for the No vote in the Shire of Alberton in the first conscription referendum. Also, while there were significant differences over religious belief and, importantly, schooling, and also obvious tension over Ireland, Catholic loyalty and support for the War had not been questioned.  Fr Sterling, the local parish priest had only recently (October 1916) joined the AIF as Captain Chaplain.

The St Patrick’s Sports offered further proof of Catholic loyalty. As has been mentioned previously, local sports competitions were very important in the local community. Such sports competitions – involving athletics, wood chopping, bike races, horse competitions, novelty events  …. – were held annually at locations including Yarram, Carrajung, Won Wron, Madalya, Fairview (Hiawatha), West Alberton and Goodwood. Of all of them, the most important was the St Patrick’s Sports at Yarram, held round the time of the feast day. It was a major Shire event and while it was run by the Catholic parish it was so large that its organizing committee and the judges and officials were drawn from a much wider circle than just the local Catholic community.

The sports carnivals were also important local fund raisers. Typically, the smaller ones at places like Madalya would return approximately £20, while the St Patrick’s carnival at Yarram would bring in £100. In 1914, St Patrick’s raised £94 for the Catholic parish and in 1915 the amount was £100. Then, as explained in Post 84 , in 1916 the Catholic parish donated the funds raised to 2 charities – the Victorian Sick and Wounded Soldiers’ Fund and the Red Cross – related to the War. The amount raised and donated (approximately £700) was very significant and, in fact, would have represented the largest donation raised at a single event in the Shire over the course of the War. It was yet further evidence that the local Catholic community was behind the War effort.

At the same time, the 1916 arrangement was intended as a one-off, and in 1917 the profits from the St Patrick’s Sports were directed once again back to the Catholic parish. Approximately £200 was raised, and the money went to pay off the debt associated with the construction of the new St Mary’s church.

Against this background, the following letter which appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 19/1/17 is not as innocent as its author implies. It came immediately prior to the first meeting of the organising committee for the 1917 St Patrick’s Sports. It was written by Rev Francis Tamagno, the local Presbyterian minister.

Through the co-operation of many agencies last St. Patrick’s day a handsome sum was raised for the Red Cross and the Australian Soldiers’ Fund. I hope that somebody at the meeting next Monday night  will suggest that the money raised this year by St. Patrick’s sports be given to the Belgian Fund. Belgium has given many lives for Australians and her sacrifice demands and requires our sincerest sympathy. Belgium is pronouncedly a Catholic country.

While local Catholics would have found the letter patronising and the accusations thinly-veiled, others in the community would have agreed with its sentiment: now was not the time for Catholics, of all people, to be raising money from the local community for their own sectional interests.

The claim that local Catholics had a particular responsibility to Catholic Belgium was a common theme. An editorial in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 30/3/17 focused on a pastoral letter to the Belgians written by Cardinal Mercier. Mercier was an outspoken critic of the Germans, many of his priests had been killed and he himself had been imprisoned. The theme of the pastoral letter covered the need to speak the truth about the evil of the German occupation. It began:

The truth must be above all, for sincerity is the most essential of all duties. We cannot without cowardice allow untruth to run unencountered. We have protested against violence….

and it ended:

We have made our voice heard for the safeguarding of the liberty of home and labor, demanded the respect due to the dignity of man; and you have stood faithful by our side. We bless God for having made you understand your duty so well. It is nothing less than the fulfilling of the fundamental law of Christianity.

At this point, Rossiter, as editor, added:

Australian Catholics with others of military age will fulfill that law by enlisting.

Again, the local Catholic community was being singled out and, effectively, preached at. Also, the focus on German ruthlessness and atrocities undercut Mannix’s apparently simplistic assertions about a ‘sordid trade war’.

While the 2 examples raised here appear low level, it is the very deliberate way that they have been fed into community discourse that is telling.

By the end of the period under review (May 1917), the antagonism towards and suspicion of Catholics had become far more apparent for the local community.

Reporting on Anzac Day commemorations at Port Albert, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (27/4/17) stated that Rev Tamagno praised Hughes and the ‘Nationalists’ for their non-partisan approach to the urgent challenges facing the nation, and publicly denounced Mannix as a ‘missioner of mischieviousness since he has come to our land.’ Rev Walklate attacked the backers of the No vote for not supporting the soldiers and praised the Anzacs as ‘descended form British stock.’ Both clergymen attacked those who refused to enlist. They wanted them shamed and punished. It was as if the conscription campaign was still running.

A week earlier, GH Wise, local member of the federal parliament, had addressed a packed meeting at Yarram. There was a very detailed report in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 20/4/17. Wise was an outspoken supporter of Hughes. According to Wise, Hughes had proved himself in the UK in 1916 when he had been … ‘admitted to the secret counsels of the Empire’. Hughes had returned aware that conscription was required to maintain the AIF in France but he had been blocked by the ALP platform. After the defeat of the referendum Hughes had risen above the party politics of the day and created a genuine National Government. And it was only the National Government led by Hughes that could win the War.

Mannix is not mentioned in Wise’s panegyric of Hughes but it is very evident that Wise promotes the War as a moral struggle of the highest order. It was certainly not some ‘sordid trade war’. He gave a striking – even bizarre – anecdote to establish German evil:

They had read recently of the trial of an outraged French girl for the murder of her child. She did not speak till the trial, when she said she strangled her child because its father was a German, and she was acquitted. Could anyone who had any thought for the women and children and for the aged, not realise the horrors of a German invasion without resolving to do all in his power to keep the war 12,000 miles from Australia? Did they not realise that it was time to throw party politics aside, and make a united effort to win the war in the name of civilization. (Applause.)

Mannix had been mentioned in another report that appeared 2 days earlier in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (18/4/17). It was headed Dr. Mannix and the War. and it detailed a Presbyterian meeting at Bendigo on 10/4/17 by Rev F A Hagenauer. The meeting passed, unanimously, a motion … the effect of which was that the Presbytery of Bendigo, believing that the whole energy of the nation ought to be directed towards winning the war, was of the opinion that Dr. Mannix should be prosecuted for his recent statements. [sordid trade war].

However, the focus was broadening beyond Mannix, for the same meeting explicitly called into question the loyalty of Catholics generally. Hagenauer noted that it had become … necessary to discuss the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church. He presented 2 scenarios: the Catholic Church agreed with Mannix … or might disagree, but be impotent to silence him. Even though he acknowledged that many individual Catholics had criticised Mannix, Hagenauer was inclined to believe that Mannix’s views were supported by the Church:

What evidence was there that the church as a whole agreed? There was the silence which representative Catholic bodies and societies had maintained and the approving receptions given to Dr. Mannix.

He added that Mannix … claimed that he spoke expressing the views of the Catholic Church, and was applauded.

For good measure, he also refererenced the ‘official’ view that … the Irish vote killed conscription in Australia.

The threat that the Catholic Church now posed to the successful pursuit of the War was being made very public in the local press:

If the Catholic Church did agree with Dr. Mannix, it was a menace to our liberties, second only to the menace of German militarism. If it disagreed with him but was impotent to silence him, the position was almost as serious, for the influence of the Roman Catholic clergy upon the laity was admittedly great.

By the end of April 1917, local Catholics in the Shire of Alberton were reading in their local press that their Church was being charged with disloyalty. Increasingly, they were being forced to choose between the 2 extremely polarising figures of Mannix and Hughes. The ambiguity and respected – and respectful – differences that had characterised past community relations were under extreme pressure. This was the local community that Fr Sterling returned to on 17/4/17 when his appointment as Captain Chaplain in the AIF finished.


The Age

The Argus

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Archives, Shire of Alberton
(viewed 2014)

The activities of the 1916 Yarram Recruiting Committee came from:
Shire of Alberton
Archive One
File Number 703B
“Recruiting & Enlisted men”
Bundle headed “Defence Department, Enlisting Recruits 1914-15-16”

For a detailed account and assessment of Mannix’s speech at Brunswick see: Brunswick Coburg Anti-Conscription Centenary.







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

This post continues the analysis of

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

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

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

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

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


The table below gives the religious affiliation of all those enlisting from the Shire over the period August 1914 to the end of 1916. It also shows the equivalent figures for males in the 1911 Census for the county of Buln Buln.

Once again, there is no dramatic variation evident in the figures. The broad religious profile of the community continued to be reflected in the enlistments.

Importantly, the Roman Catholic enlistments held up. Admittedly the size of the cohort is small, but on the face of it, to the end of 1916, there was no indication that events in Ireland had had any impact on enlistments from Roman Catholics in the area. Moreover, one of the enlistments was that of the local Roman Catholic priest (Fr. Sterling). He enlisted nearly 6 months after the Easter Rebellion and one month before the Conscription Referendum. His enlistment would have been seen in the local community as a demonstration of support for the War effort. It would have been seen as proof that, to that point, there was no religious division over such support for the War.


64% of of this cohort of enlistments went to reinforce the infantry battalions, with the greatest single number (20) signed as reinforcements for 2 Brigade (Battalions 5-8). There was a small number of enlistments for the Light Horse – and Camel Corps – destined for the Middle East. There was also a small number enlistments in the artillery and other specialist units. One more atypical enlistment was that of Vern Everard Wilson from Carrajung. He enlisted on 17/11/16 and by the time he embarked for overseas on 6/12/16 he had transferred to the Australian Flying Corps. Jeffrey Graham Jeffreys also transferred to the AFC, but not until late 1918.

Vernon Carlisle Brown, the young doctor from Malvern, held the rank of captain on appointment and Fr. Sterling also held the rank of ‘captain chaplain’. The rest of the men enlisted as privates. Vera Norton’s rank was ‘nurse’.

Service History

Once again, the comparative table of casualty levels for each six-monthly cohort (below) shows that the rate of death declined over the latest 6 month period under review. Additionally, the rate of medical discharge increased. As has been argued before, it is difficult to draw definite conclusions from the data, beyond the superficial observation that the later in the War a person enlisted, the less chance they had of being killed. Equally, any relationship between a falling death rate and an increasing rate in the number of men discharged as ‘medically unfit’ is as difficult to establish. Conceivably, as the War dragged on, improved tactics, training and strategic planning etc did lead to lower death rates in battle. But how, if at all, this reduction affected the increase in the number of men being discharged as medically unfit – for example did fewer deaths translate to more wounded – is a highly problematic question.

At the same time, the case histories of the men in this cohort do suggest at least one reason why the rate of medical discharge was increasing. Basically, men who should never have been passed as fit – and in most cases these men never saw action – were taken on, only to be repatriated, a short time later, to Australia for medical discharge.

The case of George Sidebotham is a good example. He was born in Manchester, UK and was working in the area as a labourer. He was in his early twenties and he gave his permanent address as c/o Mrs Newell, Yarram. Mrs Newelll ran a boarding house.

George’s name appears twice on the list of those rejected by the local doctors. The reason given was ‘hernia’. But then he passed the medical and enlisted in Warragul (14/11/16). At that time he acknowledged that he had been previously rejected. His enlistment did not last long and he was discharged as ‘medically unfit’ on 5/12/16. The medical notes talk about him having been bitten by a dog 9 years earlier and not having been able to walk properly since that time. There is also a reference to ‘polio’. Incredibly, George was able to enlist again – acknowledging previous rejections and service – in late 1917 (5/12/17 at Footscray). This time he left for overseas service (2/2/18). He reached the UK on 20/4/18 but then, just 2 months later, he was repatriated to Australia. He did not see service outside the UK. He arrived back in Australia on 7/6/18 and was then discharged as medically unfit on 20/6/18. This time the reason given was ‘anterior poliomyelitis’.

Another example of the same problem involved William Heyes. He was another young immigrant worker who had been born in the UK (London). He was only 19 yo and single when he first enlisted. His name also appeared on the list of those rejected by the local doctors. The problem was his eyesight. After several rejections he managed to enlist in Melbourne on 16/9/16. He did acknowledge his previous rejections (eyesight). Unlike Private Sidebotham, Heyes did manage to join his unit (39 Battalion) in France. He joined in early April 1917 but immediately he was hospitalised with ‘defective vision’ and after further eye tests he was repatriated to the UK in September 1917 and then sent back to Australia. He arrived home on 10/12/17 and was discharged as ‘medically unfit’ on 24/1/18.

One last example of men who, arguably, should never have been accepted as recruits involved Oliver Matthews. He was older – 35 yo – than the other 2 men. He was also single and gave his occupation as ‘saw mill hand’, but it appears he was also involved, to some extent at least, in the family farm. He was from Won Wron. He was also on the list of those rejected by the local doctors. Prior to being accepted, he had tried at least twice to enlist but was rejected on the basis of ‘teeth’. Then in October 1916 he was successful. He had his initial medical at Yarram and the final one in Melbourne. He acknowledged previous rejections. His service lasted only a few months because he was discharged as medically unfit on 7/2/17. Unlike the other 2 men, he never embarked for overseas service. The medical condition cited for his discharge was ’emphysema’.

The examples highlight how medical standards had declined significantly by late 1916. The risks in accepting men with pre-existing medical conditions or poor general health and fitness were obvious. Yet, remarkably, in this cohort of 70 men, 21 (30%) had been rejected previously, at least once.

The table also highlights how the same high casualty levels continued to characterise the experience of all those who enlisted: 14% of the cohort died on active service and 43% were discharged as ‘medically unfit’. Irrespective of whether they were medically discharged, 41% of the cohort were wounded at least once (gunshot wound, shrapnel wound, gassed, trench feet …) and 73% were hospitalised, at least once, most commonly with influenza, and other diseases including mumps, measles, pneumonia, bronchitis, various skin diseases and VD. For those who survived the War, the legacy was to be ongoing. On these figures for the Shire of Alberton, potentially, at least 40% of those returning from the War were to require ongoing medical support of some kind.


The most distinctive feature of this latest cohort of men to enlist from the Shire of Alberton is its size relative to the preceding cohorts. Clearly, the second half of 1916 saw a dramatic decline in enlistments. Also very apparent is the continuing decline in overall levels of fitness and health.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


As was pointed out in the last post – 101. Enlistments in the second half of 1916 – this latest cohort is significant in that the number of men is markedly lower than earlier and, also, the general health of those enlisting is poorer.

At the same time, some characteristics continue. Importantly, the same high level of mobility is evident.

The table below shows, again, that many of the men commemorated as ‘locals’ who had been born in the Shire of Alberton and/or attended school in the district had in fact left the area before they enlisted. Only 18 or 26% of this cohort of ‘local’ men who enlisted had been born in the Shire of Alberton.The majority of the group had been born outside the Shire but moved to it at some point before they enlisted. The length of time they had been in the Shire before they enlisted was variable and could have been very short.

Seven of the group had been born in the UK. The immigrant worker has been a feature of the earlier groups. However, of the 7 cases here, only 5 can be described as immigrant, English farm workers, indicating that this specific sub-group had, by the end of 1916, significantly declined in number.

Interestingly, in this cohort there is a local variation on the immigrant farm worker. Clarence Sargood Meilke was issued with railway warrant number 393 on 13/10/16 by the Shire Secretary and he used it to travel to Melbourne where he formally enlisted on 22/10/16. He was 18 yo and single. He gave his occupation as labourer. His parents were dead and he gave his guardian as Miss Cecilia Black of Russell Street, Melbourne. This lady was in fact the manager of the ‘Presbyterian and Scot’s Church Neglected Children’s Aid Society’, based in Russell Street. Presumably, young Clarence had been sent to the country for farm work and it was there working in the Shire that, like so many of the other young lads working on farms, he decided to enlist. The permission for him to enlist was given by the same Miss Black.

The individual cases that this, and the earlier tables, reveal are inevitably complex and often difficult to interpret. However, overall, the most striking feature of the ‘big picture’ remains the distinctive mobility of the rural working class. What was significant about WW1 was that the tumultuous events of the time encouraged rural communities to identify and commemorate all the ‘locals’ involved. The efforts that people went to at the time to identify all such ‘locals’ have given us a very rich picture of the dynamic mobility, 100 years ago, of the rural working class. The table below again shows just how common it was for individuals and families to move: within the district, to other rural districts within the same state, to other states; and from country to city and city to country.


The number of men linked to the ‘family farm’ is high. For the last cohort the figure was 22% whereas for this cohort it is 37%. Possibly this reflected increased pressure throughout the community, with all the debate over conscription, for everyone to do their ‘share’, even where this was going to take labour from the family farm. Possibly by this stage in the War there was effectively a second wave of enlistments from family farms: after the initial sacrifice at the start of the War, farming families accepted by late 1916 that even further sacrifice was required from them.

At the same time, the figure for enlistments from family farms could be inflated. The basic approach has been to identify the family farm whenever there is evidence in the shire rate book that the father – or some other member of the immediate family: mother or sibling – held land, no matter how small the acreage. This covers cases from those where the father held several hundred acres, was recognised locally as a farmer or grazier, and the son was working with the father and described himself as a ‘farmer’, to those cases where the father held as few as 15 acres, was not easily recognisable as a local farmer, and the son described himself as a ‘farm labourer’, and was possibly working, at least in part, on another farm for wages. Or perhaps the son was doing labouring work in the town. Between these extremes there were many possible permutations. While some of the arrangements could be very complex, the overall intention with the research has been to identify all those cases where there is at least some evidence that the family was operating as an economic unit based on a land holding, no matter how small.

The case of William Smith highlights just how difficult it can be to establish family farming operations. He was definitely local and enlisted from Yarram. He gave his occupation as carpenter/labourer. Because he died on active service his will appears in his service file. This will states that he, together with 2 brothers and his father, held shares in farm land and property at Binginwarri. In the local rate book there is a Wm. Smith who might have been his father. He had a very small holding of  8 acres at Alberton West. But this person’s occupation was recorded as both ‘carter’ and ‘labourer’. Overall, in this particular case, the evidence for William Smith being involved with a family farm is not compelling but it does suggest how complex the relationships between labour and land could be.

Once again there is a large number of men who simply described themselves as ‘labourer’. There is also the occasional ‘teacher’ and ‘clerk’.  The 2 professional recruits in the cohort were Father Sterling, the local Catholic priest, and the Dr Vernon Brown. Dr Brown had attended Devon North SS. He was a grandson of Mr and Mrs D T McKenzie, one of the original pioneering families of the district. His father had worked at the Bank of Victoria in Yarram. The Brown family was very well known in the district.

There are 7 cases where the occupation was given as ‘farmer’ or ‘dairy farmer’ or ‘grazier’ but there is insufficient evidence to determine if the individual was a farmer etc in his own right. In most cases it is likely that it was a family farm arrangement. However there are at least 2 cases where it appears that the individual was a ‘farmer’ and that he actually gave up his farm to enlist.

The first case involved Charles Frederick Wilkinson. He was 25 yo, single and from Madalya. The local paper (22/9/16) covered his farewell from there. He gave his occupation on enlistment (26/9/16) as ‘labourer’ and he was also listed as ‘labourer’ on the electoral register. However, according to the rate book he held 5 acres of land at Madalya/Jumbuk and there is no indication of any other family member involved. Admittedly, the land holding was very small and he might not have been even working it, but it is clear that he was more than a ‘labourer’.

The second case is more definite. Clarence Stuart McLeod was a dairy farmer from Calrossie. At the time he enlisted (20/9/16) he was 39 yo and single. His parents were dead and his next-of-kin was a sister. He had been rejected earlier and was one of those who undertook surgery (hernia) so that he could pass the medical. His efforts to enlist were acknowledged in the community and, at his farewell, he emphasised everyone’s responsibility to enlist.  According to the rate book he had 98 acres at Stacey’s Bridge. On the electoral register he was listed as a farmer of Calrossie. Local newspaper reports of the time (18/8/16 and 25/8/16) detail how, after enlistment, he had given up the lease of the land and was selling off all his stock and plant. He was wounded overseas and repatriated to Australia – to Yarram – and discharged as medically unfit (27/7/18). Cases like this (McLeod) where the individual farmer gave up everything to enlist were rare, but the first case (Wilkinson) suggests that those ‘farmers’ with less to hold them to the ‘farm’ would have found it far easier to walk off the land.

There was one woman included in the cohort. Vera Norton was a trained nurse. She had been working in the Base Hospital at St Kilda but she was known in the district.


The table below shows the ages for this cohort.

Ages of volunteers – second half of 1916
ages                      %
18-20          8       12
21-25        32       46
26-30        19       27
31-35          9       12
36+              2         3
total         70       100

The following table shows variations in the age profile from 1914 to the end of 1916. Overall, it is apparent that the age of enlistment continues to increase. The decline in very young enlistments (18-20 yo) for this particular cohort is striking.

Marital Status

Nine of the men (13%) were married when they enlisted and 3 of these married men were killed or died on active service. Another man married immediately after his enlistment and there were another 3 men who married in the United Kingdom.


The surge in enlistments post Gallipoli had definitely finished by the second half of 1916. This was the period of the conscription debate and desperate calls for enlistments to reinforce the AIF overseas. In the Shire of Alberton, neither the threat of conscription nor the appeals to patriotism had much impact on enlistment numbers. At the time, some argued that the imminent introduction of conscription discouraged enlistments because men held back on the basis that they would shortly be compelled to join. Equally, others argued that men were keener to enlist as volunteers than be forced by a system of conscription. The reality appeared to be that the potential pool of enlistments had contracted significantly. Moreover, the quality of the pool – in terms of health and general fitness – had also diminished considerably. Of this cohort, at least 21 men (30%) had been medically rejected, at least once, before their individual enlistments were successful.



101. Enlistments in the second half of 1916

This post presents the table of all those with an association with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in the second half of 1916. It builds on the work of 4 earlier posts that have analysed enlistments, in six-monthly intervals, from 1914:

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

Post 55: Enlistments in the first half of 1915 ,

Post 61: Enlistments in the second half of 1915 

Post 81. Enlistments in the first half of 1916.

The enlistment in the second half of 1916 of 70 men with a link to the Shire of Alberton takes the overall number of such enlistments from August 1914 to 693. The following summary shows enlistments from 1914. It also shows how dramatically enlistments fell off in the second half of 1916:

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

Moreover, it was not just the case that enlistment numbers fell because in this cohort of 70 men, 16 of them – 23% of the total – had been rejected, medically, at least once before their enlistment was accepted. Additionally, 8 of the cohort were discharged from the AIF, on medical grounds, before they saw active service overseas. Overall, at least in the Shire of Alberton, by the end of 1916 there were far fewer men enlisting; and the general health and fitness of the recruits had also declined.

As an example of the efforts that some men went to enlist, this cohort featured 2 men – Charles Field and Clarence Stuart McLeod  – both of whom had been rejected on the basis of ‘hernia’ who had then undertaken operations, and as the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (20/10/16) put it, had made a ‘great sacrifice’ to become a ‘fit soldier’. The medical notes for McLeod refer to operation scars both groins.

As for the previous cohorts, there are several men whose names appeared on various honour rolls or memorials but who, as yet, have not been identified. In such cases, the most common problem is that the only piece of evidence is the name, which, by itself, is not sufficient to identify the individual. Research on identifying such men continues.

Once again, it is often hard to see the logic in the way men were included on various honor rolls and other commemorations.  For example, the local Roman Catholic priest, Fr Patrick Sterling, enlisted in September 1916. At the time, his enlistment was written up in the local paper and there were several formal farewells. He was certainly well known in the local district and, after the War, he remained in the district for many years. At the time he enlisted, he was presented with the Shire of Alberton medallion. Yet, his name does not appear on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.

Similarly, William Smith who died of disease – ‘malignant malaria’ – at Damascus on 17/10/18 did not have his name included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial; but it was included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.

Lastly, George Edgar Withinshaw who, before he enlisted was working as a butcher in Yarram, was killed in action on 19/9/17. He was a young English immigrant. On his enlistment form he gave Yarram as his permanent address in Australia. And when his family completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour they gave Yarram as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. Yet despite the obvious links to the district, his name is not included on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

The Table below shows that in most cases there were several items of evidence to link the individual to the local area. At the same time, in a few cases it was only the individual’s inclusion on the honour roll of a local school that linked him to the district. As well, there were several cases where the name of an individual appeared on a list prepared by local doctors of men whom they had medically failed. In many of these cases the men had subsequently passed the medical elsewhere and enlisted. They had moved to locations such as Warragul or Sale or Melbourne. However they have been included here because, in the interests of the full picture, it is important to identify and track the itinerant, rural working class who, overwhelmingly, made up the majority of all those who enlisted. The men had been working and living in the district at the time they failed their first medical.


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 (Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial)

The honor rolls of state schools in the Shire of Alberton

Community honor rolls in the Shire of Alberton

Newspaper accounts (Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative)

99. Flers (4) – G A Cowley

George Albion COWLEY (1331)
22 FAB KiA 31/12/16

George Albion Cowley was nearly 39 yo when he enlisted in August 1915 (5/8/1915). Also atypically, he was married (Marguerite) with 4 children (Albion, Myra, Lindsay and Francis). He had attempted to enlist earlier but had been rejected on medical grounds (knee).

George was born at Cowley’s Creek near Cobden in the Camperdown area. On his enlistment papers, George indicated that he had been a member of the Pomborneit Rifle Club – near Camperdown – for nine years.

The family must have moved to Yarram some time before 1914. From March 1914, he was employed by the Shire of Alberton as the driver of the council’s steam traction engine. The local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – carried a story on 23/7/15 of his intention to enlist. In it, he was referred to as a ‘local’. He was one of 6 local men given a formal farewell at the shire hall in late October 1915. This event was also written up in the local paper (27/101/15). After his death, there was a brief report in the paper (26/1/17) –  Gunner G. A . Cowley, well known in Yarram, where some time ago he was employed by the Alberton Shire Council, as driver of the traction engine, has been killed in action in France.

When Private Cowley enlisted in Melbourne on 5/8/15 he gave his permanent address as Camperdown. This was also the address of his wife and family when he served overseas. It appears that he must have moved back to Camperdown at the point he enlisted. However it is also possible that in the few years he worked in Yarram, for the Shire of Alberton, the family had remained in Camperdown. On the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour, his wife gave Camperdown as the place with which he was chiefly connected. At the same time, his name appears on both the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial and also the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.

On enlistment, Private Cowley joined 13 Light Horse and left Melbourne on 23/11/15. He reached France, via Alexandria, in late March 1916 and transferred to 2 Australian Artillery Division. He was then posted to 22 Field Artillery Brigade (19 Battery) in August the same year and was serving in this unit when he was killed by shell fire on the very last day of 1916. Various unit diaries suggest that while front line troop operations had effectively ceased at this point because of the dreadful weather, there were still ongoing artillery exchanges between the two sides. Although there is no specific reference in any unit diary to the incident in which Gunner Cowley was killed, eye witness accounts taken from Red Cross reports give a clear picture of what happened.

I knew Cowley personally, he was known to us as “George”. He was an elderly man, short and with a dark moustache. I saw him killed by the bursting of a shell, at a place we called “Turks Lane” at Flers. I saw him buried, myself being in charge of the burying party. Cowley transferred from the 13th Light Horse. Cowley was a married man with two or three children, I think a Victorian. He and Reginald Lindsay were killed by the same shell, and buried together at Flers.
Cpl J. Gartrella A.M.C. London. 15.6.17.

I saw them just after they were killed between Guedecourt and Ginchy at 5.30 on December 31st last. I was in a dugout five yards from the one used as Q.M. store. I heard the shell coming and heard it explode right on top of the Q. M. store. I went out at once. All the men in the dugout were dead. I helped to get them out and saw Lindsey’s body taken out. There were 3 others in the dugout and all were dead. Lindsey’s body was badly smashed. He must have been killed instantly. Cowley was just outside the dugout and had got a splinter through the head. He was quite dead. Next morning the other three men were got out …. I helped to bury the 5 together on the spot where they got killed. We put up a cross made of used cartridge cases (brass). It has the 5 names on it. Lindsey’s name is Reginald and he is a brother of Norman Lindsey (sic), artist of the Bulletin. Cowley’s name is George. He used to belong to 13th L. Horse. He talked as if he was a farmer. Came from Victoria. Age about 37. Married, and I think 1 or 2 children.
Gnr J. A. Dunn. 6937 Etaples. 8.6.17

[Reginald Graham Lindsay (11867), of the same unit as George Cowley, was Norman Lindsay’s brother. Lindsay was, at the time, political cartoonist for the Bulletin. He was very pro-Conscription.]

The family was advised of the death by cable in mid January 1917 (16/1/17). The body was subsequently interred at the Guards’ Cemetery, Lesboeufs, France.

The impact that the death of the husband and father had on the family is evident from the following letter written by Gunner Cowley’s mother on 19/2/17. She was writing on behalf of her daughter-in-law and the children. The letter was sent to Andrew Poynton MHR, a key supporter of Hughes and avid Conscriptionist. At the time he was a member of the Federal parliamentary recruiting committee. The script is hard to read:

I am writing to you to know if you could advise me how I may learn the full particulars of my poor sons death [.] We received a cable in January 16th.1.17 stating he was killed in action on December 31st .12.16[.] What the nature of the cause was not stated nor what part of France it happened [.] He was a married man with four little children & a dedicated wife [.] With no home of their own how they are going to manage I do not know as his wife never had to battle before [.] I his mother is also a widow & has to provide for myself that it is impossible to help her [.] So if you would kindly let me know I will forward your answer on to her [.] She is at present paying 8/- per week for the house she now is living in [.] She also has not been getting her full army allowance. I also sent my son a wristlet watch from Merino Post Office on December in the first week and registered it [.] It has his name engraved in the inside [.] It is G. A. Cowley from his mother [?] 4th.12.16 [.] I would like to get it back safe for his sake [.] Since the cable saying he had been killed we have heard nothing else[.]

[?] it is hard to bother you but it is harder still not to know the last of your boy though I am proud he did his duty for King and Country[.]

There was a reply (3/3/17) from Base Records to Poynton’s office indicating that that there was no further information regarding the death but that, hopefully, the next-of-kin – in this case, the wife – … should receive, if the stress of operations permit, a letter from deceased’s Commanding Officer or Chaplain, giving such details as are available.

The soldier’s kit was eventually returned – August 1917 – to the wife in Camperdown and it did contain two wristlet watches, one damaged. The full kit returned was:  Photos, Cards, Letters, Bible, Money Belt, 3 Note books, 3 Razors, Knife, 2 Coins, Button, 2 Badges, Metal Wristlet watch, Pipe, Metal watch (Damaged), Watch Strap.

In terms of tackling the hardship faced by the widow and her 4 children, the following fortnightly pensions were paid from March 1917: widow (Marguerite Cowley) £2; oldest son (Albion Cowley) 20/- ; oldest daughter (Myra Cowley) 15/- ; son (Lindsay Cowley) 10/- ; and daughter (Francis Cowley) 10/-.


National Archives file for COWLEY George Albion 1331
Roll of Honour: George Albion Cowley
First World War Embarkation Rolls: George Albion Cowley
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: George Albion Cowley

98. Flers (3) – G E JEFFS

George Edward JEFFS (3362A)
6 Battalion KiA 12/12/16

George Edward Jeffs was born in Boodyarn, near Won Wron. He grew up in the area and attended Won Wron State School. His father – George Edward senior – owned a dairy farm of nearly 200 acres at Won Wron and George worked on the family farm. He gave his occupation as  ‘dairy farmer’ when he enlisted. He was well known in the local area and his name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It is also recorded on the honor roll for Won Wron State School.

George Jeffs had his first medical in Yarram  and the enlistment was completed in Melbourne. His railway warrant (#146) was dated 12/7/15, which is also the formal date of his enlistment. At the time he enlisted he was 22 yo and single. His religion was listed as Church of England.

Private Jeffs joined as reinforcements for 6 Battalion and left for overseas service on 11/10/15, 3 months after enlistment. After further training in Egypt, his group of reinforcements finally disembarked in France on 30/3/16.

In late May (29/5/16), in fighting at Fleurbaix, Private Jeffs was wounded and repatriated to England. The wound appears to have been a shrapnel wound – ankle, leg & head – and there was 3 month recovery period. He rejoined 6 Battalion at the start of September 1916. He survived only another 3 months.

Private Jeffs was killed in action at Flers on 12/12/16. His body was not recovered and his name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

The War Diary of 6 Battalion records that it moved in to the front line at Flers to relieve 16 Battalion on 6/12/16. The troops found the trenches in poor condition and worked round the clock to repair them. However, the diary notes that the shocking weather conditions constantly undid their work and the trenches continued to collapse. The battalion also took over and consolidated some posts only recently given up by the Germans. On 12 December one such consolidation exercise was carried out and the diary records that while the operation was successful, the ‘consolidating party’ was shelled and one soldier killed. While the name of the soldier is not recorded, the reference must have been to Private Jeffs.

Other evidence relating to the death of Private Jeffs comes from the extensive Red Cross report. There are 9 witness statements in the report. While there are the usual inconsistencies in the statements, it is clear that Private Jeffs was killed, by shell fire, when involved in a consolidation operation and that his body was buried near where he fell. It was too dangerous to try to get the body back behind the lines. The most accurate description of the death is that of 2 Lt. N. McLachlan. McLachlan was in the consolidating party on 12 December and his name is recorded in the battalion’s war diary as having done ‘good work’ in the operation. At the time he was a corporal but not long after, he completed officer training in England and received a commission.

We occupied trenches on the right of Gueudecourt Wood and on the night of the 12.12.16. A. Coy. 6th Battn. Took some German Bombing Posts. We were heavily shelled, during which Pte. Jeffs was killed. He was buried on the field, where he was killed. Description, Height about 5’10” [height on enlistment was given as 5’6”], dark with moustache. He was previously wounded at Fleurbaix in May 1916. There is no doubt as to his identity for I had known him personally before leaving Egypt.

Bean covered the operation to consolidate the trench in his Official History (Vol 3, Chapter 26 p 953).

On the 12th [December] Captain Taylor of the 6th Battalion, taking Lieutenant Bill, walked down the gun-pits road into the enemy strong-point and found it abandoned. He was joined there by Lieutenant Rogers, the battalion intelligence officer. The 6th Battalion bombers were next brought up, and the trenches and dugouts searched and before nightfall occupied. The enemy, who through the misty drizzle had seen some movement, now heavily shelled the sunken road, but inflicted only slight damage. [notwithstanding the death of Private G E Jeffs]

Bean then went on and pointed out that this operation was virtually the only fighting on that part of the front between mid November and the close of the year. Private Jeffs, it appears, was extremely unlucky.

Advice on the death of their son to the family back in Australia must have been prompt because the formal report of death was dated 9/1/17 suggesting that the cable preceding this would have reached Australia in late December 1916.

Like so many other parents of soldiers killed in the War, Private Jeffs’ father was keen to recover the personal belongings of his son. On 15/6/17 he wrote to Base Records, Melbourne:

I now take the liberty of writing to you inquiring if my son’s private belongings have come to hand yet or not, and, if so, when I may expect to receive them. My son, No. 3362 Pte. George Edward Jeffs, 6th Inf Batt. A.I.F. was killed in action 12th Dec. 1916, and I have received information from his mate that his private belongings were given in charge of his officer to be despatched to the Kit Depot, London.
Anxiously awaiting the desired information.

The personal effects arrived back in Australia some two months later and on 27/7/17 were despatched to the father at Won Wron. There is no further correspondence on the matter but the father must have been distressed that the only effects returned from the Kit Store in London were a metal watch (damaged) and a brush.

The information for the (National) Roll of Honour was provided by Bernard Raymond Jeffs who gave Won Wron/Yarram as the location with which his brother was ‘chiefly connected’. Also included, were the names of 5 cousins who served in the AIF, 4 of whom were killed in action.

Trooper Patrick Joseph Sweeney 451, 8 LHR: KIA 7/8/15 (see Post 45)
Private Cornelius James Sweeney 1449, 21 B: KIA 11/4/17
Private Albert Henry Whitford 5103, 21 B: KIA 30/3/17
Private Roy Victor Whitford 3449, 10 B: KIA 16/10/17
2 Lieutenant Lewis Edmund Whitford MC, 11 B.


National Archives file for JEFFS George Edward 3362A
Roll of Honour: George Edward Jeffs
First World War Embarkation Rolls: George Edward Jeffs
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: George Edward Jeffs

Bean, CEW Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume 3 – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916 (12th edition, 1941)

97. The war against drink

While the war against drink was waged well before 1914, World War One definitely gave the already strong temperance movement added credibility and influence. The introduction of 6 o’clock closing was held up as the singular achievement of the period.

Prior to the War, the Licenses (Licensing) Reduction Board  had overseen a significant reduction in the number of hotels in Victoria. Figures cited by Public Record Office Victoria show that between 1907 and 1916, 1,054 hotels had been closed.  Additionally, the same legislation, with its provision for future local option polls, held out the promise that, from 1917, localities could vote to reduce the number of licences. It even offered localities the possibility that they could vote to have no hotels. Many temperance advocates believed that, even before the War, the movement was on the verge of ridding the nation of drink. Driven by women’s movements determined to reduce poverty, child neglect, family hardship and domestic violence, and intimately tied to the issue of female suffrage, the temperance movement had achieved a great deal.

The impact that the War had on the existing push for temperance was both significant and complex. The claim that the war against Germany and the war against drink were intimately connected – to the extent that the former required the latter – was a constant message reflected in the newspapers, particularly in the first few years of the War. Further, the success of state-level referenda over 1915-16 on the introduction of earlier closing hours did indicate that there was popular support for the view that drink did constitute a threat – however defined or quantified – to the war effort.

Specifically in terms of the Shire of Alberton, there was a strong history of temperance being actively promoted by the local Protestant churches. There was also a local ‘tent’ of the Independent Order of Rechabites (IOR) which was actively supported by the same churches.  The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 23/12/14, under heading War Against Alcohol, presented a detailed account of a meeting organised by the local IOR. The other local paper, the South Gippsland Chronicle reported the meeting under the headline No-Licence Campaign, on the same day. The meeting was addressed by Rev Archer Harris, representing the Victorian Alliance. He spoke about the worldwide fight against alcohol and focused on the experience in New Zealand,  where prohibition (no licenses) in the area of Port Chalmers (near Dunedin) had reduced drunkenness and crime. He also cited the success of the prohibition movement in the USA. As well as delivering his public address in the evening, he had also spoken at Presbyterian and Methodist services earlier that day. The vote of thanks was given by Rev W T Johns (Methodist) and Rev Geo Cox (Church of England). At the time, Reverends Johns and Cox were, respectively, the Chief Ruler and Secretary of the local IOR. The meeting declared that drink was ‘the great national foe’ and, at the urging of Rev Tamagno (Presbyterian), decided to form a Yarram branch of the No-License League.

Drink had typically been described in terms of a national threat for many years but the War itself was employed to give this claim additional credibility. The perceived – or constructed – threat that drink posed to the national war effort was highlighted at a public meeting on temperance held in Yarram on 20/4/15. This meeting was again organised by the local IOR tent. It was written up in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 23/4/15. The audience was estimated to be about 70.

The meeting called for people to take inspiration from, and follow the example set by, the pledge – to not drink – taken by the British Royal Family. Accordingly, the first resolution passed by the Yarram meeting was,

That this meeting expresses its profound admiration of His Majesty the King in banishing intoxicating liquors from the Royal household, and we strongly recommend all loyal subjects to follow His Majesty’s example by individually abstaining from the use of alcohol during the currency of the war.

The person who put the resolution was Ben Percival Johnson. Johnson was the most outspoken supporter of the war effort in the community. He was also the driving force behind both recruiting and the Yes vote in the conscription referendum. Importantly, Johnson acknowledged that he had never belonged to any temperance group. At the same time, he was prepared to move and support the resolution because of the leadership the King had shown. Moreover, as Johnson pointed out, it was not just the King who was opposed to drink. He cited the claims made by Lord Kitchener, the Czar of Russia and British politicians like Asquith and Lloyd George. The latter, he reminded the audience, had told the British people that …  they were fighting Germany, Austria and drink and that the greatest of the three was drink.

Johnson spoke of the thousands of hours lost in the munitions industry because of the drinking problems of the workers. He also spoke of the harm drink did to the soldiers. However, principally, for Johnson at least, the most pressing reason for supporting the pledge was that it was a test of moral strength. If loyal subjects across the Empire could follow the King’s example then this universal act would represent the moral greatness and superiority of the Empire.  As he saw it, only the weak and selfish would not commit to the cause. As has already been pointed out – see Post 26. Soldiers of Christ – for Imperial patriots, the War offered the chance for people to re-commit to their religious beliefs and strengthen and prove their moral character. Moreover, for such people, the War was as much a test of moral fibre as it was a battle of military might.

The second resolution passed at the meeting – also unanimously – was more focused in its intention. It called for 6 o’clock closing, in line with other eastern states:

That in view of the appalling physical and mental deterioration, the grave moral depravity, and serious economic wastage, directly and indirectly traceable to the use of alcohol, this meeting respectfully urges the Government to come into line with the State of South Australia by providing for a referendum concerning the earlier closing of hotel bars and wine saloons.

Again, speakers for the resolution laboured the evils of drink. Drink was spoken of as the curse of the working class – It was pitiable to think the working classes could not do without drink – and again there was the extraordinary claim … that the effect of strong drink upon a country is more disastrous and more far-reaching than a German invasion.

The meeting was, of course, one for the converted and committed, but there was a noticeable confidence to the views of those there that prohibition was within reach. The War itself would finally open people’s eyes to the full horror of drink. Moreover, the legislation was already in place to enable far greater checks to drinking.  At the meeting, Rev Johns declared that, Prohibition was coming in 1917, and the public had had 10 years notice to quit. He was referring to the vote – under the Licensing Act 1906 – which promised localities the opportunity to reduce licences even further or, in fact, vote for no licences. In terms of the legislation, 1917 was the year this vote was to occur. However, it was delayed until after the War, in 1920. When the votes did eventually occur, 2 metropolitan districts in Melbourne – Nunawading and Boroondara – did indeed vote for no hotels.

The war against drink was, unsurprisingly, a favourite subject for sermons. As an example, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (26/7/16) featured a sermon on temperance delivered by Rev Tamagno (Presbyterian). It was headed, Temperance Question.  Tamagno spoke about his own experience, over many years, in tackling the consequences of drink and had no hesitation in declaring that it was … the  cause of more wrong in our Empire than any other. … I have no hesitation in saying that the traffic in strong drink is hellish in its results. It is to my mind a traffic in the blood, brain, body and soul of thousands in our fair land. There’s no wrong like it.

Tamagno praised the efforts of the Licensing Reduction Board and he was also looking forward to 1917 and the promised chance to vote out drink. He praised South Australia and the success of its referendum on 6 o’clock closing. He urged moderate drinkers to give up drink entirely as a sacrifice, on behalf of their ‘weaker brother’ who ‘feels in his blood and bones and brain, he must have it’. There were the customary claims about how drink was weakening the war effort across the Empire. Significantly, Tamagno was not just for curbing excessive drink but rather, as he kept putting it, he wanted to ‘drive drink from the land’. He imagined a future Australia freed from the grip of drink, one of a higher moral and spiritual order –

Think of the boundless moral and spiritual benefit that would come to our fair land by gradually weakening the liquor traffic, and ultimately leaving it no legs to stand on.

and he believed that with God’s help the backers of temperance would eventually triumph:

I know that vast problems are wrapped up in the iniquitous thing; but in the evolution of time God help us to drive it out of our land.

A pastoral letter from the Church of England was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 2/6/16. The church also acknowledged the world-wide efforts to curb drinking and praised the work done by the Licensing Reduction Board.  It threw its support behind 6 o’clock closing, not as just a temporary ban for the duration of the War but as a permanent check on the evil of drink.

For the local Protestant churches, the War brought an increased commitment to temperance, with a specific focus on the introduction of 6 o’clock closing. There was also a general understanding that very soon local communities were to have the power to reduce the number of licensed premises and even to vote drink entirely from their midst.

While the temperance cause was driven by heightened religious fervour, and stirring examples of Imperial sacrifice and duty, the actual behaviour of the members of the AIF was another powerful driver behind efforts to curb drink. The metropolitan and local papers were full of stories of drunken and disorderly soldiers. At a number of levels, the picture of the drunken, aggressive and dangerous digger was a very troubling image.

The Argus, under the headline Soldiers and Drink, reported (15/3/16) on a Rechabite conference held at Bendigo where the Chief Ruler claimed,

… there had never been a time in the history of Australia when alcohol had been used to worse effect than during the past 18 months, since the troops had been in training for active service.

and on the face of it, there was plenty of evidence to support this view.

The dangers of life in the large training camps had been identified right from the start, and religious bodies had been quick to try to establish a presence in the camps to counter the evils that young men would face. For example, Rev Tamagno had a letter-to-the-editor in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 26/3/15, appealing for donations to help establish a (Presbyterian)  “Soldiers’ Institute” at Broadmeadows. He claimed the facility was needed urgently … in the interests of the spiritual and social welfare of our church’s young troops . He saw the young men at risk far from home and amid the perils of camp life near to the great city. The ‘great city’ was even more of a temptation because there were no wet canteens in the camps.

The most infamous drink-related episode occurred in the training camps at Liverpool and Casula on Monday 14 February 1916. Events that day, particularly in Liverpool and then Sydney, amounted to a major breakdown of military order and discipline. One soldier was shot and killed and there were many injuries. In the aftermath 1,000 men were discharged from the AIF and over 100 prosecuted on a range of charges.

The newspaper accounts of the day were incandescent in their fury and outrage. The riotous behaviour was presented as nothing less than a national disgrace. And drink was said to behind the excesses of what happened. The Age (16/2/16), in unrestrained commentary, declared the men involved to be traitors to the nation and despoilers of the Anzac spirit:

On Monday night, through a trifling grievance about hours of drill, several hundreds of New South Wales troops rebelled against discipline, broke camp, looted hotels, destroyed private property, and entered upon an orgy of violence. For a few hours they attacked the country, the people and the laws they are sworn to defend. These are not the men of Anzac; yet they wear the same uniform and have the same legal right to call themselves Australian soldiers. The honor of the grand young Australian army is as much in their keeping as it was in the charge of the men who fell, while advancing on the Peninsula. It is idle to discuss the merits or demerits of the complaint which led to the riot. There can be no excuses for a citizen who turns traitor to his country, and there can be none for the soldier who revolts against its authority, and temporarily takes up the cause of the foreign enemy…  Assuredly men of British blood seldom covered themselves with so much ignominy.

And the paper highlighted the evil power of drink:

Throughout the riots bottles, liquor, beer and hotels were consistent features. Whenever intoxicants were introduced to the scene the riotous soldiers became more unrestrained and the mischief the greater. Had all the hotels in the neighbourhood been closed before the riot, as they were closed shortly afterwards, the story would have been stripped of most of its sensationalism. Wherever the seeds of disorder may lie, strong liquors stimulate them into a foul and deadly growth. And not only does excessive drinking arouse latent lawlessness, it may debase soldiers of the finest manhood, and lead them in their madness to join the worst elements at the head of the mob. Discipline, therefore, depends to a fair extent upon restricting the opportunities for drinking.

While the Liverpool strike/mutiny/riot was the worst incident, there were many others at the time. For example, just 10 days earlier there had been trouble involving several hundred soldiers near Central Railway Station in Sydney. The Age (4/2/16) reported that the trouble had started over claims that a returned, wounded soldier had been manhandled by staff at a nearby ‘oyster bar’. The Age also reported on riots involving soldiers at St Kilda Beach in January 1916. At the end of February (28/2/16) it featured a story of a drunken riot at Warrnambool involving soldiers from the local camp. The police magistrate who dealt with the aftermath was quoted as declaring that … it appeared that when some men got liquor they went mad, and it was a great pity they got supplies at all. The same edition of the paper featured an account of how a 45 yo soldier – John Heath – had been killed in Melbourne, at the corner of King and Little Collins Street. Apparently, he had been involved in argument with a much younger soldier. In what for us is a depressingly contemporary story, Heath had been trying to talk his mate down when the younger soldier lashed out, unprovoked, and hit him. Heath fell to the pavement, fractured his skull and died instantly. The young assailant managed to disappear.

Post 26. Soldiers of Christ,  looked at the earlier riots involving soldiers in Melbourne in 1914. Drink was a common feature of such riots, both in Australia and Egypt at the time.

Faced with ongoing accounts of soldiers behaving badly it is not surprising that there there was popular support for the introduction of 6 o’clock closing. In jurisdictions where the issue did go to a referendum – South Australia and New South wales – there was strong support. Clearly, the threat of soldiers on leave, descending on the city for heavy drinking sessions and causing havoc did play on the minds of civilians. Many saw it as outrageous behaviour and wanted the culprits made an example of. For example, after the Liverpool trouble the local Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (23/2/16) fulminated in its editorial,

Over 1000 men have been discharged from Liverpool and Casula camps for misconduct, drunkenness and absence without leave, and 116 men are held in custody for trial by court-martial. Rather should the men be made to fight, and placed in the front trenches, as the Germans do with this class of soldier.

At the same time, there were some who saw the problem as one caused, ironically, by temperance advocates. They argued that Senator Pearce had bowed to the pressure of temperance advocates and not allowed wet canteens in the camps. This ensured that when men went on leave, they were were bound to make the most of their limited chance to drink. As the writer of the Melbourne Letter – published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (22/10/15) – had put it back at the end of 1915:

The soldier, who is a civilian, has been accustomed to drinking at any odd time that he feels so disposed, will not drink any less when in town because he is made to imbibe only “soft stuff” in the camp. Rather is he prone to make certain that he uses the opportunity, while it offers, to get a fill of his favourite beverage, before he returns to another week or a fortnight of “raspberry and lemonade”.

Similarly, after Liverpool, many called for wet canteens in camps where soldiers’ drinking could be better controlled. Some also wanted tighter curfews and regulations that prohibited the sale of drink in licensed premises to any man in military uniform. Even temperance advocates could see the need for wet canteens. For example, Archdeacon Martin who worked in the Sydney camps with the Home Mission Society was quoted – The Age 22/2/16 – as advocating a wet canteen ‘under strict military discipline’,

These men become irritated when they are deprived of what they have been accustomed to, and when they get the chance they overdo it, and take more than they would if a wet canteen existed in the camp.

Six o’clock closing was first introduced in South Australia in March 1916. This followed a referendum held in 1915 (27/3/15). In the referendum only one-third of voters favoured keeping the present arrangement (11.00 o’clock) and 56% opted specifically for 6 o’clock. In New South Wales a referendum was held a few months after the Liverpool riot and the press campaign in particular drove the result. There was virtually no support for retaining the current hours, and 60% voted specifically for 6 o’clock. Accordingly, 6 o’clock closing was formally introduced in July 1916. In Victoria, 6 o’clock closing was finally introduced in October 1916. Initially it had been proposed to hold a referendum but in the end the decision was taken by the parliament. The Government judged that there was clear popular support for the action.

Some people acknowledged that drink could harm the War effort in a number of ways and they were prepared to support early closing on the basis of war-time necessity. Similarly, others recognised that drink and the AIF represented a dangerous mix, particularly if the effects played out in the streets of the cities, and they were prepared to limit drinking hours. At the same time, the fact that what many saw as an appropriate, temporary, war-time restriction was to remain in place well after 1918 – in some instances for up to 50 years – highlights the way temperance advocates at the time viewed 6 o’clock closing. For them, it was another major, non-reversible step on the way to a truly drink-free Australia.

Specifically in terms of the Protestant churches, the temperance push in WW1 was another example of the way the War itself was seen as a call by God for people to recommit to their religious beliefs and lead a more moral, socially responsible and  decent life. Protestantism was committed to both a moral and military war; and it was seen as perfectly natural that, as was evident in the case of the Shire of Alberton, the local Protestant clergy called for recruits and support for the Yes vote in the conscription referendum at the very same time they were calling for temperance and 6 o’clock closing.

The issues surrounding the push for temperance in the local community will be taken up again in a future post, where the focus will be the attempt by temperance advocates to remove the liquor licence from the local Co-Operative Store in Yarram.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

The Age

For 1916 NSW referendum results see NSW Electoral Commmission.

For 1915 SA referendum results see SA Electoral Commission.








George Matson NICHOLAS Major DSO
24 Battalion KIA 14/11/16

George Matson Nicholas was born in 1887 at Coleraine. He was educated at St. Patrick’s College Ballarat (Catholic) – his religion was given as Church of England – and then at Melbourne University where he completed the BA. At the time of joining the AIF, he was a teacher (master) at the Melbourne Junior Technical School. He applied for and received his a commission in early 1915. He was 28 yo and single at the time. His parents lived at Trafalgar in Gippsland.

There was a younger brother – Bryon Nicholas – who also worked as a teacher in the Victorian Education Department and who also joined the AIF, on 10/3/15.  Both brothers received awards for bravery and both were killed in action. There were another 3 brothers from the family who served in, and survived, WW1.

The 2 Nicholas brothers – George and Bryon – who were killed had been teachers in the Shire of Alberton. Both had taught at Gormandale East State School and the younger brother – Lt Bryon Nicholas – prior to joining the AIF, had been in charge of part-time schools at Carrajung South and Willung South.  It appears that whereas the younger brother remained teaching in the local area, George Nicholas moved to Melbourne to pursue his teaching career.

On the strength of their teaching in local schools prior to the War, both brothers were included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. Their names also appear on the relevant state school honor rolls.  However, neither brother appears on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.

Prior to receiving his commission as a second lieutenant in 24 Battalion, George Matson Nicholas held the rank of lieutenant in the senior cadets and he had completed qualifications in military training. He embarked for overseas service on 10/5/15, just two weeks after securing his commission.

2 Lt Nicholas was promoted to full lieutenant on 26/6/15, a few days before he proceeded to Gallipoli (30/8/15). He was recommended for the French military award, the Croix de Guerre, for his conduct at Lone Pine on 4/10/1915. The citation read:

For his conduct at Lone Pine on 4th October 1915, when he directed the work of the battalion grenadiers during an attempted reconnaissance by the enemy, though to do so it was necessary for him to expose himself to the enemy’s rifle and machine gun fire. 

However the award was not given, even though it appears the recommendation was re-submitted in December 1916. By that point Major Nicholas was dead.

Lt Nicholas was wounded – ‘Shell wound, right arm. Severe.’ – on 12/12/15 in the closing days of the Gallipoli campaign. He spent the next six weeks in hospital in Egypt convalescing and rejoined 24 Battalion on 26/1/16. In March the battalion proceeded overseas to France and reached Marseilles on 26/3/16.

Lt Nicholas was promoted to the rank of captain on a temporary basis on 1/4/16 and this appointment was made permanent on 1/5/16.

For his bravery on 5/8/16 in the fighting at Pozieres, Captain Nicholas was recommended for, and this time awarded, the Distinguished Service Order. The citation read:

After the capture of the German trenches OG1&2 on the 5th August a patrol commanded by Captain George Nicholas found on returning from a reconnaissance in front that an enemy machine gun in a shell hole had been seriously menacing our men in the front lines. Captain Nicholas as soon as he located this gun gallantly went out again alone and by great dash and initiative succeeded in capturing the gun.

This citation appeared under the signature of Birdwood, ‘Lieut-General, Commanding 1st Australia and New Zealand Army Corps’, with the date of 6/8/16, one day after the fighting. Interestingly, the military honour first entered against the citation was the Military Cross, but this was crossed out and the D.S.O. had been added in its place. Also of interest is the fact that there is a second citation for the same award for the same incident. The second citation is undated but it appears against the recommendation of Brigadier General Gellibrand of 6 Infantry Brigade. A note next to the citation appears to read ‘already awarded’ which tends to suggest that the actions of Captain Nicholas had been drawn to at least two separate sources. Whereas the first citation had a focus on bravery or gallantry, the second citation focuses more on leadership.

For ability and skill in leading his company in the attack on the 4/5th Aug. For excellent work in consolidating the captured trenches on the following days and for his gallant reconnaissance already reported. A most capable officer who possesses the absolute confidence of his men.

Captain Nicholas was promoted to the rank of major soon after, on 12/8/16. There followed a short period attached to 2 Division Headquarters Staff and during this time, on 7/10/16, he married Hilda Rix in London.

Hilda Rix (Nicholas) was a significant Australian artist who studied under Frederick McCubbin. She left Australia in 1907 and studied in both London and Paris. Prior to the outbreak of the War, she regularly spent time in northern France in an artists’ colony at Etaples. She returned to Australia after the War and remarried (Edgar Wright, 1928). Her post-War art played a role in the development of the emerging ANZAC legend. As an example, her 1921 work, A man, in part based on her husband, is a striking study of the resoluteness of man, as soldier, faced with the certainty of his inescapable frailty and vulnerability in war.

Tragically, the marriage was very short. He returned to the front 3 days after the marriage. One month later on 10/11/16 he rejoined 24 Battalion and took over command. Just 4 days later (14/11/16), he was killed. According to the war diary of 24 Battalion, he was hit by a shell in Cobham Trench as he was leading 2 companies from 24 Battalion to relieve 5 Brigade. C E W Bean referred to the death of Major Nicholas in his diary – AWM38, 3DRL 606/66/1 – for November 1916,

Another who was lost … was Maj Nicholas of the 24th Btn – the youngster who for a time commanded his battalion & who made his name by going out himself scouting into no-mans-land in Pozieres.

In a footnote in his Official History, Bean (1941, p. 937) records Nicholas’ name together with those of at least another 30 officers who were killed at Flers over the short period of 13 -16 November 1916.

The cable of Major Nicholas’ death was dated 22/11/16, just 8 days after the actual death. The official ‘Report of Death of an Officer’ was completed on 20/12/16.

Prophetically, in Major Nicholas’ service file there is a letter dated 20/10/16 written by a Vernon Williams of Newport (Victoria) to Base Records in Melbourne asking for confirmation of a report that Major Nicholas has been killed in France. This was some 3 weeks before he was killed.

I have received a letter from France dated last August stating that my friend Captain George Matson Nicholas of 24th Battalion, 6th Infantry Brigade, A.I.F, has been killed. I should be obliged if you will be so kind as to let me know if this is, so far as known, correct.

Base Records replied on 23/10/16 that they had no such record; but the full reply points to the highly problematic nature of the information flow for the AIF between Australia and the Western Front,

In acknowledging receipt of your letter dated 20th instant, I have to state since the report he had been discharged to local Camp 8/5/16, from 24th General Hospital, Etaples, France no further reports have been received concerning Captain G. M. Nicholas, 24th Battalion, but if you will forward to this Office authentic evidence to the effect that he has been “killed”, upon receipt of same, and if such action is warranted, enquiries will be instituted and the result communicated to you, as well as to next-of-kin.

The reference to a period of hospitalisation in Etaples in May corresponds with an entry in his service record which has Major Nicholas in hospital in Etaples for about two weeks. However there is no indication of the injury or sickness at the time. It is likely that at this time in Etaples Major Nicholson came across some artwork of his future wife. There is a family story that he saw some of her work in Etaples and then sought her out when he was in London.

The personal kit of Major Nicholas reached his wife in January 1917. It came in one valise (sealed) and one box (sealed). In all, there were approximately 50 listed items, mainly articles of clothing. There were some more personal items such as 1 novel, Book of Poems and French Grammar.

There was some confusion over the location where Major Nicholas was buried. His wife must have received two different locations. When she queried the obvious contradiction, she was assured that a simple recording error was the problem and that,

There does not appear to be the slightest doubt that Grave 29, Row H, Flat 4, Grass Lane Cemetery, Gueudecourt is the last resting place of your late husband…

Unfortunately, and surprisingly, information for the (National) Roll of Honour was not supplied for either of the Nicholas brothers.


National Archives file for NICHOLAS George Matson Major
Roll of Honour: George Matson Nicholas
First World War Embarkation Rolls: George Matson Nicholas

Honours and Awards
Mention in despatches – Award
French Croix de Guerre – Recommendation
Distinguished Service Order – Award
Distinguished Service Order – Recommendation
Military Cross – Recommendation
French Croix de Guerre – Recommendation (2)

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume III – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916, 12th edition 1941

For more on Hilda Rix Nicholas see the entry on Nicholas, Emily Hilda (1884-1961) in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.



Charles Courtney APPLEYARD 3751 MM
23 Battalion DOW 15/11/16
Charles Appleyard was one of 6 Appleyard brothers from Alberton who enlisted. One of these brothers, Gordon William Appleyard of 9 Battalion, had been killed at Pozieres, at the end of August 1916 (see Post 80).

On his enlistment papers, Charles gave Carlton as his place of birth. However, his mother gave it as Alberton when she completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. Even if he was born in Carlton, it appears he grew up in the Shire of Alberton. For example, his name is the honor roll for Binginwarri SS.

At the time of the outbreak of the War, the father was still farming in the area but Charles had moved to Melbourne. He was living at Carlton and working as a builder/carpenter. He had married (Rose Appleyard) and had three children (Clement, Merle, Lorna). Even though he was living in Melbourne, he was still regarded as local. His name is featured on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Soldiers’ Memorial. The notice of his death which appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 1/12/16 described him as … a well known identity in this district. It also noted that he was … a fine, athletic young man. The consolation for his parents was that … he had died a hero’s death.

At the time of enlistment, he gave his age as 28 yo but information from his wife indicated that he was at least 5 years older. His religion was listed as Church of England.

He enlisted in Melbourne on 15/7/15 joining 23 Battalion. His group of reinforcements left Melbourne in early February 1916 (8/2/16) and reached France, via Egypt, in March 1916.

23 Battalion was involved in the fighting at Pozieres where, as mentioned, Charles’ brother was killed (DoW 24/8/16). Charles survived and in fact was awarded the Military Medal. The citation read,

At Pozieres on 4/5th August 1916, for gallant reconnaissance in daylight of the enemy’s trench, returning with valuable information.

By the time the medal was awarded – 2/9/16 – L/Corporal Appleyard had been promoted to the rank of sergeant (23/8/16) against a Sergeant Grantham who had been killed in action.

Sergeant Appleyard was wounded at the end of the first major attack at Flers. On 6/11/16, 23 Battalion’s war diary records how it took over part of the front line from 21 Battalion. The casualties that day were ‘1 killed 10 wounded’. Sergeant Appleyard had a shrapnel wound to the right shoulder. He was evacuated to 36 Casualty Clearing Station the next day but he died there 8 days later, on 15/11/16. He was not evacuated further back through the lines to a field hospital. Possibly, this was because of the difficulties of movement in the appalling conditions at Flers. C E W Bean (1941 ) raised this issue in his account of the fighting at Flers. He noted that it could take hours to get wounded men to any sort of medical post.

Sergeant Appleyard was buried near the town of Albert (Heilly Station Cemetery) and the cable advising of his death was sent on 22/11/16, with the final, formal notification of the death dated 27/12/16. Six months later (18/6/17) the Military Medal was forwarded to Sergeant Appleyard’s widow. In the letter, the Officer in Charge, Base Records, writing on behalf of the Minister, noted … the gallantry of a brave Australian soldier who nobly laid down his life in the service of King and Country. He added,

I am also to ask that you accept his [The Minister’s] deep personal sympathy in the loss which, not only you, but the Australian Army has sustained by the death of Sergeant Appleyard, whose magnificent conduct on the field of battle helped to earn for our Australian soldiers a fate which will endure as long as memory lasts.

A few days later, a family friend replied on behalf of an appreciative Mrs Appleyard,

Mrs Appleyard wishes me to return her heartfelt thanks to you and all concerned in your prompt attention dealing in all matters relating to her late husband.

The personal kit – Disc, Metal cigarette case, Comb, Pr nail scissors, Razor, Whistle, Brooch (metal), Metal wrist watch, 3 Note books, 3 Badges, 4 Coins, Letters. – reached his wife in August 1917.


National Archives file for APPLEYARD Charles Courtney 3751
Roll of Honour: Charles Courtney Appleyard
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Charles Courtney Appleyard

Honours and Awards

Military Medal – Recommendation
Military Medal – Recommendation (2)
Military Medal – Award

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume III – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916, 12th edition 1941


Alexander ROBINSON 2095
23 Battalion DOW 20/11/16

Alexander Robinson was born in Melbourne (Carlton) but by the time he enlisted he was living and working in the Shire of Alberton. According to the electoral roll, in 1915 he was a labourer at Blackwarry.

He had his first medical at Yarram on 27/3/15 but did not complete the enlistment until 14/6/15 in Melbourne.  There is no record of any medical issue involved with the delay. At the time he enlisted, he was 23 yo and single. He gave his religion as Presbyterian.

Private Robinson embarked for overseas on 26/8/15 as reinforcements for 23 Battalion. He was taken on strength of the battalion at Anzac on 12/10/15.

Following evacuation from Gallipoli, he was charged in early January 1916 in Egypt with being AWL for 39 hours. The punishment was 3 days detention and 3 days pay. Shortly after, he was hospitalised with mumps for 1 month. 23 Battalion reached France – Marseilles – on 26/3/16.

The war dairy for 23 Battalion for 18/11/16 records only that it was snowing and 2 men were wounded. One of the them must have been Private Robinson. His wounds were described as SW Loin & Buttock. He was taken to the casualty clearing station the next day (19/11/16) and then died of wounds there on 20/11/16. Presumably, he was another of the wounded at Flers who succumbed to their wounds because of the great difficulties in transporting the wounded to medical help. He was buried at Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-L’Abbe, Picardie.

His mother – Mrs Agnes Robinson, Fitzroy – received his personal kit in August 1917: Wallet, Letters, Photos, Note Book, Cigarette Holder.

Unfortunately, there is very little information available for Private Robinson. However the mother did complete the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour and on that form she recorded that in fact 3 brothers enlisted in the AIF, and all 3 were killed. As well as Alexander Robinson 2095 (DoW 20/11/16) there was Albert Douglas Robinson 2889 (KIA 19/7/16) and Edward Robinson 986 (DoW 11/9/18).

The brother – Edward Robinson – who was not killed until September 1918, was also on the electoral roll as a labourer of Blackwarry. He will be covered in a future post. There is no indication that the other brother killed in July 1916 (Albert Douglas Robinson) had any connection to the Shire.

The 2 brothers who were living and working at Blackwarry are both recorded on the Blackwarry Roll of Honor. They also have their names on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor, but they are not marked as ‘Killed’ on this record.  Neither brother is included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. Overall, there is little to show for such an extraordinary family sacrifice.


National Archives file for ROBINSON Alexander 2095
Roll of Honour: Alexander Robinson
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Alexander Robinson



Francis Henry SEBIRE 5441
60 Battalion KIA 20/11/16

Francis Sebire was born at Port Melbourne and grew up in Melbourne and attended Melbourne High School. As a student and young man he was heavily involved in the cadets and held a commission.

Francis Sebire’s connection to the Shire of Alberton was chiefly as a local teacher. He taught at Binginwarri and Wonyip state schools between 1911 and 1914. Binginwarri was his first appointment. In the time he was a teacher in the district, he was also a member of the Stacey’s Bridge Rifle Club. Further, he married a local girl. His wife, nee McInnes, came from one of the original pioneering families in the district.

The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative gave a detailed report (22/4/14) when Francis Sebire was transferred from Binginwarri to Taggerty, near Marysville.  He was obviously well known in the local area and there is even a report (13/1/15) of when he returned to the district for New Year’s celebrations in January 1915. But for all the obvious links, his name is not included on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or Soldiers’ Memorial. His name does appear on the honour rolls for both Binginwarri and Wonyip state schools. When his father completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he gave Taggerty as the place with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. As indicated, this was where he was appointed after Binginwarri but he could have only been there for a maximun of one year before he enlisted.

There is confusion over the date of his enlistment. The embarkation roll shows 6/11/15 but the attestation papers show it as 29/6/16. On the papers there is a reference to an earlier failed medical:  ‘defective teeth’.  Possibly, the 29/6/16 date involved a ‘re-attestation’. Either way, he joined as reinforcements for 5 Battalion and embarked for overseas, almost immediately, on 3/7/16. The embarkation roll also indicates that he left as acting sergeant. Presumably this was because of his extensive involvement in junior and senior cadets.

On his enlistment papers he indicated that he was married – Flora Margaret Sebire – and there was a son. His wife was then living at Middle Brighton. He was 25 yo and his occupation was given as state school teacher. His religion was Church of England. His parents were John and Christina Sebire.

When the father completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour he noted that his son … was acting Sergeant till arrival in England. Gave up his stripes to get into action without delay. In support of this claim, the records indicate that Sergeant Sebire reached Perham Downs for training on 15/9/16 and then reverted to private on 23/10/16. Soon after, he was taken on strength of 60 Battalion in France (12/11/16).

Private Sebire was reported missing on 20/11/16 but it was not until 21/3/18 – 16 months later – that a court of enquiry determined that he had been killed in action on the same day. There is no clue in the war diary of 60 Battalion as to his fate. At the time, 60 Battalion was at Needle Trench and the pressing issue was ensuring rations – including water – reached the men. There is a brief reference to casualties – 1 killed 6 wounded – on 20/11/16 but no mention of any men missing.

There is extensive correspondence in the file covering the attempts by both his wife and parents to uncover what happened. The Red Cross was contacted and the father also sought the support of John H Lister, M.P. However they had little success. The transfer to 60 Battalion in mid November 1916 did not appear to have been known to the family in Australia and this added to the confusion. The following letter- formal and respectful in tone – was sent to Base Records in Melbourne by the wife, Mrs Flora M Sebire, in late April 1917, nearly 6 months after her husband went missing.

Having received no communication since one dated Nov. 10th 1916 from my husband who is serving with the A.I.F. in France I am writing to ask you to be so good as to let me know whether you have any information to give me respecting his condition and whereabouts. He was then (Nov.1916) going into the trenches in France.
His No and Name are
5441 Pr. Francis Henry Sebire
He left here as Sergt. in the 18th Reft. of V Batt last July but returned to the ranks voluntarily after being in Eng. a few weeks in order to go to the front.
Some 6 weeks ago a cablegram was sent through the Red Cross Information Bureau by Mr Chormley, but no reply has reached me.
This absence of news extending over 6 months is causing his family and me intense anxiety and I respectfully request that the Defence Dept. be so good as to make further effort to obtain tidings of him.
I am
Your obedient servant

The most likely account of Private Sebire’s fate was given to the Red Cross, nearly one year after his disappearance, by Private Fred Marr (5404). The statement was dated 23/10/17. The reference to the men he was supporting probably not knowing him – presumably because he had so recently joined 60 Battalion – appears very pertinent.

He [Sebire] was a hard worker. I last saw him at Needle Trench beyond Flers on Nov 20th. It was then dusk and I spoke to him and asked him what he was doing, and he told me that he was guiding ration parties to the front line; he had one or two more journeys to make. Two of our companies were in the front line and our other two companies took rations to them from Needle Trench which was in the support line. The Germans put up rather a heavy barrage fire that night. I often asked about him afterwards but could learn nothing definite. Some of the men he was guiding very likely did not know know him.

As late as July 1921, the AIF was still keen to know if the family had received, over the period since the war had ended, any further information about Private Sebire’s fate. The father’s reply – It is practically certain that my son was killed at or near Needle Trench near Flers between 20-22 Nov. 1916. – was based largely on his own investigations. He had personally contacted Private Marr after he returned to Australia in 1920. He had also followed up the report of another soldier (Smith).  Smith had put the date of Private Sebire’s disappearance at 22 November and this was reflected in the extended time frame in the father’s reply.

The personal kit of Private Sebire – 1 Brief Bag (containing: – 3 Handkerchiefs, Field Glasses in Case, 1 Scarf, Cap comforter, 3 Khaki Collars, 2 Ties, 1 Mitten, 1 Shirt. – was not returned to the wife until October 1918.

It is obviously difficult to uncover family dynamics, employing only correspondence, from so long ago; but there is one letter in the file that suggests that over time – and distance – relations between the wife and her parents-in-law became strained. It appears that she and her son shifted quite a bit and eventually settled in Queensland. It also appears, based on the letter, that the parents effectively ‘reclaimed’ their son. The letter was dated February 1936, nearly 20 years after her husband’s death. It was in response to advice she had received on the inscription that appeared in the register for the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial: Son of John and Christina Sebire, of 94, Marine Parade, St. Kilda, Victoria. Born at Port Melbourne, Victoria

In reference to your notification regarding the inscription on the Memorial for members of the AIF who have known graves, I was leaving Victoria and my husband’s father, who is now dead, offered to attend to the matter for me, and promised that my name and that of my son would be inscribed but [he] has substituted his own and his wife’s. Under the circumstances there is nothing to be done.

If true, it is a striking example of how the impact of the War continued to work its way through people’s lives long after the death of the soldier and loved one.


National Archives file for SEBIRE Francis Henry 5441
Roll of Honour: Francis Henry Sebire
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Francis Henry Sebire
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Francis Henry Sebire


Arthur Vincent FARTHING (5685)
13 Battalion DoD 9/11/16

A V Farthing remains a mystery. His name does appear – as Farthing, A. V. – on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor; but he is not marked as ‘Killed’ on this list. He is not included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. Nor are there any references to him on any other memorial in the Shire, and there is no mention of him in the Gippsland Standard and Albeton Shire Representative. The family name Farthing was not common in the Shire at the time, and it did not appear on the 1915 electoral roll for the sub-division of Yarram. There are limited references to the name Farthing in local genealogical references – Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901 – but the references are to the 1860s.

In terms of AIF records, there is only one A V Farthing on the Nominal Roll. The full name is given as Albert Vincent Farthing (5685) but this is a mistake and it should be Arthur Vincent Farthing (5685). The correct name appears on the Embarkation Roll. Importantly, there were only 11 men with the family name Farthing who served in the AIF in WW1, and of the eleven, there was only one with the initials of A V Farthing. So there is no question that reference to a member of the AIF with the name A V Farthing is to Arthur Vincent Farthing (5685).

While there is nothing to tie Arthur Vincent Farthing to the Shire of Alberton – apart from his name on the Shire’s roll of honor – there is abundant evidence to tie him to Bective (near Tamworth) in NSW.

Arthur Vincent Farthing was born at Tamworth, NSW. He grew up at Bective and attended the public school there. When he enlisted on 12/1/16, at Liverpool, he was 19 yo and single. He gave his occupation as ‘farm hand’. His religion was Church of England.

Arthur gave his father – Henry Farthing – as next-of-kin. The father was well known in the local district of Bective. He was involved in the Bective Farmers and Settlers’ Association and in fact the monthly meetings were held in his home.

The Tamworth Daily Observer (3/5/16) recorded the farewell organised for Private Arthur Farthing at Bective. It was held just before he embarked for overseas. He was presented with a luminous wristlet watch. In response, Private Farthing expressed his gratitude and stated that he … would do his best to uphold the name of Australia.

Private Farthing’s service was very short. He enlisted on 12/1/16 and embarked as reinforcements for 13 Battalion on 3/5/16. He reached England from Alexandria in early August and started further training with 4 Training Battalion at Perham Downs. He was admitted to hospital – King George Hospital – on 26/8/16 with pneumonia. It appears he stayed in this hospital until 6/11/16 when he was transferred to 1st Auxillary Hospital, Harefield. He ‘died of disease’: cerebral abscess on 9/11/16.

Cables sent to the parents in Australia, over the period the son was in hospital with pneumonia, reveal a rather grim story. On 2/10/16 they were advised that their son was ‘seriously ill pneumonia’. On 13/10/16 his status was described as ‘condition stationary’. On 26/10/16 they were informed he was ‘progressing favorably’. Again, on 1/11/16, the news was positive: ‘now progressing favorably’. Just over one week later he was dead. The parents also did not even know the name or address of the hospital where he was a patient. On 30/10/16 they had written seeking these details.

There is strong evidence that Private Farthing should never have even been in England with the AIF. In his service file are the records of the medical board, dated 14/1/16, which recommended he be discharged from the AIF. This was just 2 days after he had enlisted. The suggestion is that in fact he had enlisted before (8/6/15) but then came down with ‘double pneumonia’ and was discharged. Perhaps he was not formally discharged – there is no record of an earlier enlistment- and it was more the case that the initial enlistment did not go ahead when he became ill with pneumonia. Then he (re) enlisted (12/1/16) and either the same problem flared again or the ongoing medical debility from the earlier sickness became more obvious. At the medical board it was stated his disability would continue for ‘at least 12 months’. Moreover, the board … recommends his discharge as unfit for military service. It is not clear why the recommendation was not carried out but it is possible that the necessary paper work was held up and he embarked for overseas service before it could be actioned. What is clear is that he was affected by a significant, ongoing medical condition long before he was hospitalised in England in August 1916. The  medical advice was that he should have been discharged immediately after he enlisted.

Private Farthing was buried in the Australian Section, Harefield Churchyard, Harefield.

After the death, his parents placed a personal notice in The Tamworth Daily Observer (18/11/16, p.7):

Roll of Honor
Farthing – At 1st Australian Auxillary Hospital, London. Private Arthur V Farthing, youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. H. Farthing, Bective. Aged 20 years. At rest.

In May 1917, the parents received the following personal items:

Scarf, Belt, 9 Foreign Coins, Devotional Book, Hairbrush, Piece Crewel Work, Wallet, Photos, Razor, Shaving Brush, Identity Disc, 2 Badges, Handkerchief, Pipe, Fountain Pen, Letters.

When they completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, the parents gave Tamworth as the location with which their son was ‘chiefly connected’. On the face of it, there is nothing to suggest a link to the Shire of Alberton. However, the name definitely appears on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor; and there was only one Farthing A V. The only plausible explanation appears to be that he worked in the local area as a farm labourer for some time before mid 1915.


National Archives file for Farthing Arthur Vincent 5685
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Arthur Vincent Farthing
Roll of Honour: Arthur Vincent Farthing

The Tamworth Daily Observer

O’Callaghan, G 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901