Category Archives: July to December 1916

93. Conscription Referendum 1916: the (private) No vote

Previous posts (87, 88, 89 and 91) have covered the strength of the public campaign for the Yes vote in the Shire of Alberton. All relevant local institutions, from the local council itself through to the local press, actively and  wholeheartedly supported the Yes vote. Conscription had been widely supported by the district’s professional, business and managerial elite from early 1916. The local Protestant churches had even preached to their congregations the responsibility to vote Yes. The only potential limit to the Yes vote was the ambivalent position of the Catholic Church: the individual could certainly vote Yes, but, unlike the Protestant position, Yes was not mandated and, rather, had to be guided by an informed conscience. Other than this, the idea that a local could – let alone would – vote No was not publicly entertained.

Immediately prior to the referendum, Thomas Livingston, the local member for Gippsland South in the Victorian Parliament, was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (27/10/16)  as predicting, confidently, that the Yes vote would be 75%. In the event, the Yes vote – for the sub-division of Yarram – was 66%.

The response of the 2 local papers to the loss of the referendum is instructive. Both took the course of criticising the national result while at the same time lauding the high level of patriotism evident in the strength of the Yes vote in the Shire.

The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, in its first edition after the referendum (1/11/16) found the national result ‘deplorable’ but its real focus was the proven loyalty of country Victoria and, in particular, Gippsland:

The country vote in [Victoria] favoured “Yes” in every electorate but three, these being Ballarat, Bendigo, and Grampians. The seven other country electorates voted for conscription and Gippsland … gained the distinction of securing the greatest majority for conscription of all the Victorian electorates.

Similarly, the South Gippsland Chronicle, in its first edition (1/11/16) after the referendum also praised the loyalty of those in Gippsland:

It is gratifying to note the overwhelming vote in favor of Conscription given by the people of the Gippsland division, a “Yes” majority being shown in every portion of the electorate with the exception of a few small places. The totals for the division were – Yes 16,056, No 7,725. Majority for Yes 8,331.

The quoted figure gave the Yes vote for the whole of Gippsland as 67.5%.

The same article broke the vote down by electoral sub-divisions and for the Yarram sub-division – effectively the Shire of Alberton – the results were reported as 1,144 Yes, 573 No, with 24 informal votes. This gave the Yes vote for the Shire of Alberton as 66%.

As strong as the Yes vote was in the Shire of Alberton, and Gippsland generally, there was still the question of why one-third of the local community had voted No.  At least part of the answer came in the editorial in the South Gippsland Chronicle on 3/11/16. The paper claimed that it was the pre-emptive decision by the Hughes Government to apply existing provisions under the Defence Act to call up – for military service within the Commonwealth – all single men between the ages of 21 to 35.

On the assumption that there would be a successful Yes vote, Hughes wanted the military training of the first group of conscripts underway as soon as possible, and before the referendum had even been conducted. This strategy would mean that reinforcements could be sent to the Western Front as quickly as possible. While the initiative smacked of contempt for the democratic process, the real problem for Hughes was that the call up – and more significantly the exemption process that it involved –  forced the rural community to experience at first hand what conscription would mean for them; and they were left in no doubt that it posed a serious threat.

The editorial of 3/11/16 noted specifically that the call-up telegraphed the Government’s intentions once the referendum had succeeded.

The results following the referendum, should it be carried, were clearly defined by the Prime Minister, and men were even called into camp for home service in order to receive part of their training and be ready to go abroad should they be classed as fit after the people had conferred the necessary power on the Government. This was undoubtedly responsible for many who would otherwise have voted “Yes” going to the poll and helping to secure a majority for “No.” It cannot be denied that the calling up of men has inflicted a great hardship in many cases, and, as was instanced at the exemption court held at Yarram last week, made it almost impossible for those who remain behind to carry on their former vocation.

In fact, the Government had been telegraphing its intentions on conscription from the time of the War Census in late 1915. People surmised that the purpose of Schedule 1 of the census – to be completed by all males aged 18 and under 60 – was to provide the Government with data that could inform a system of conscription should the voluntary system not deliver sufficient reinforcements. Then in December 1916, Hughes issued his Call to Arms which involved a personal letter to every eligible man between 18 and 45. The men had to submit a formal response to the letter. Those who failed to return the form would be identified and pursued. The expectation was that the men targeted would enlist immediately or in the near future. If they refused to enlist they had to submit reasons and they could be challenged, in person, by the local recruiting sergeant. It was obviously a considerable shift away from a purely voluntary system.

As discussed earlier – Post 87 – there was obvious ‘push back’ in the Shire of Alberton to this drift to conscription. We know that some locals refused to return their Call to Arms forms. But, more strikingly, we know that of the 188 who had returned their forms by January 1916, 66% had selected the option to refuse to enlist. 8.5% of those who received the call from Hughes had already enlisted, 18% indicated they were prepared to enlist immediately and 7.5% said they were prepared to enlist at a later time. This left the 66% who refused the Call.

Clearly, as the drift to conscription – vigorously promoted by the Yarram-based local recruiting committee – continued to gain momentum there was growing opposition. However, this opposition took the form of a private response – failure to complete the form or failure to respond appropriately – rather than any public, organised demonstration of dissent.

The dynamic involved in the of growing (private) opposition to conscription was driven by the fundamental structure, and related ethos, of the local farming community, where the key social institution was the family farm.

As has been covered in the 2 posts – Post 60 and Post 85 – that looked at speeches given at farewells in 1915 and 1916, one of the most common themes was that of the pioneer as soldier. The young men enlisting were said to show the same spirit and character as the pioneers who had settled the district from the 1840s. The pioneers had opened up the land, battled the elements, overcome isolation and brought civilisation to the frontier of settlement. Within this general narrative, there was a particular focus on the selectors from the 1860s who had struggled to break the monopoly of the squatters and establish a new social and political landscape of family farms spreading out from small towns and settlements. The selectors had a particularly hard struggle as they attempted to establish themselves with meagre levels of capital. Often they had little background in farming itself and their access to relevant technology was limited. The parcels of land they secured were often too small, isolated or poor in quality. There was very weak infrastructure, particularly in the area of transport. Many of the selectors  lived in exceptionally challenging, if not primitive, conditions. They also felt they had little support from all levels of government. They were by themselves. But against this background, the narrative held that they had survived. They were tough, resourceful, independent and hard-working. They were the pioneers who had made the district what it was.

However, on the specific issue of labour, the pioneer as soldier theme featured a major internal contradiction which, inevitably, played out in the 1916 referendum.

Arguably, the most important resource for the selector trying to establish the family farm was the labour of the family itself. The absolute importance of family labour – the parents and the children – to the success and survival of the family farm had been a fundamental given from the very beginning of selection. The family worked as an economic unit. And the economic realities in  turn helped shape the social identity of the family, in areas such as inheritance, marriage, the generational expansion of the family enterprise and the care of the parents as they aged. This took place in a period that pre-dated modern social welfare provisions.

The actual pattern of labour on the family farm was complex. Individual landholdings could be so small, or the land so difficult, or the seasons so bad – and any number of other factors, and combinations thereof – that in many cases the ‘family farm’ was not viable without some family members working outside the farm as wage earners. Sons could work on other farms as labourers and daughters could work as domestics, either on other farms or for the middle-class families in rural towns.

Importantly, labour in these rural communities was generally not organised. The selections were too small, the nature of the farming – eg dairy farming, vegetable growing – required fewer workers per individual farm, the settlement was too dispersed and there was a long-standing, natural antipathy to the trade unions of the urban working class, as their industrial action often compromised the interests of the rural economy.

In the political and economic environment of the Shire, the assumption was that the family farm had to have the power to control its labour resources and employ them to meet its needs, in a difficult and complex environment. It was this fundamental belief that was directly challenged by conscription.

For the first 2 years of the War, individual families had decided by themselves how best to balance the need to manage the farm and ensure its survival with the concomitant need to ‘answer the call’ and discharge their ‘patriotic duty’.  However, the introduction of conscription would see the imposition of rigid and impersonal rules that would take away all the autonomy, flexibilty and individual judgement that farming families had previously exercised.

The two key events in the Shire of Alberton in the lead up to the 1916 conscription referendum that gave farming families the clearest understanding of how conscription would work, and how it would take away their autonomy, were the registration process held on 14/10/16 and the exemption court held in Yarram on 27/10/16.

Registration: Yarram, 14/10/16

The day set aside in Yarram for men to register under the Commonwealth’s call up arrangements was Saturday 14 October 1916. On the day, all single men, and widowers without dependents, aged between 21 and 35, had to register. Those who had previously been rejected for military service also had to register and undertake the medical.

The day was seen as a major event in the Shire. On 13/10/16, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative reported:

Yarram tomorrow will present quite a military air, with officials in kharki [sic], some half-dozen doctors, about a dozen clerks, and between three to four hundred single men, with divided minds as to the necessity of enlisting. It is wonderful, even when called for home service, how many “unsound” men there are! However, these matters will be decided by the doctors.

Rossiter, the editor – and also member of the Yarram Recruiting Committee and keen supporter of conscription – clearly saw the occasion as a chance to identify all those local men who were shirking their duty. His reference to the men being called up for ‘home service’ was highly disingenuous.

The next edition of the paper (18/10/16) gave a detailed report of what had happened on the day:

Yarram was thronged with young men of military age last Saturday, when they were required to report themselves, whether considered fit or unfit for military service. A busy day was spent by Capt. Macfarlane and four other military officers, three doctors and 14 clerks filling in attestation forms. The duties commenced at 9 a.m., and by 3 p.m. the main rush was over. In the time, 222 single men were examined, 102 of whom were fit, 10 unfit, and 110 doubtful. 116 of the number applied for exemption.

With few exceptions the demeanour of the men was excellent. Some rejoiced at the prospect of going to the front, having previously tried and been rejected.

Those who did not report on Saturday will have put themselves to serious inconvenience. Within seven days they must report at Warragul. Failure to report means salutary punishment of a kind that will reflect discreditably on the men.

One man refused to take the oath, but this makes no difference. To camp he will go if passed as fit.

The doubtful ones [110 of the 222 medically examined] were ordered to attend at Korumburra for final examination. This arrangement has since been varied. The medical board will shortly attend at Yarram, and save the men the inconvenience of travelling down the line.

An exemption court will sit at Yarram on 27th and 28th inst., when reasons for declining service will be fully gone into. This court is public, and the proceedings will be published in the local and daily papers. Those who have reasonable excuses need have no fear of advancing their claims for exemption.

Whereas between 300 and 400 men were expected at the registration, only 200 were there on the day. The low turn-out tallies with other accounts (Connor, J, Stanley, P, Yule, P 2015 p. 112) that claim that, nationally, only one-third of men bothered to register. As already noted, a similarly poor response had occurred earlier when local men had not returned their Call to Arms forms.

Only 50% of the men medically examined that day were passed as fit. Many of those who failed would have failed previously. Strikingly, half of all the men who registered on the day applied for exemption. The overall results were hardly encouraging. Rossiter attempted to put a positive gloss on the affair, writing about the positive ‘demeanour’ of the men. But his last paragraph reads as a thinly veiled threat to those pursuing exemption.

The Exemption Court, Yarram, 27/10/16

The exemption court sat in Yarram on the day before the referendum and the reports of what transpired at the court did not appear until the Wednesday (1/11/16) after the referendum. However, similar courts had already been held across Gippsland. Also, the reports in the local paper make it clear that there were many people there on the day watching the proceedings. In all, locals would have known, before the referendum, of the judgements made being handed down at the exemption courts.

Rossiter was true to his word and the proceedings were covered in great detail. The individual particulars, including full names and reasons presented to the court, were given for each request for exemption. Rossiter gave the number of applications for exemption on the day as 124. However, this number does not tally with the number of individual cases he reported.  For example, he stated that 41 exemptions were granted but in fact in his report only 33 exemptions are recorded as having been granted. Presumably, there were so many cases handled in one day that he had great difficulty in keeping up with proceedings. At the same time, putting to one side the problems with tallies, his report certainly does give a description of how the court worked. Regulations required that the applicant had to appear in person before the court and represent himself. Solicitors were not permitted.

According to Rossiter’s report, 31 of the 33 exemptions granted on the day were because either the applicant was the only son (11) or the required number of sons – at least one half – had already enlisted (20). These were provisions covered in the  regulations. The other 2 cases involved the situation where the applicant was the ‘sole support’ of ‘aged parents’ or a ‘widowed mother’. One of the cases involved John Henry James Price – labourer of Blackwarry – who was one of 3 sons. Only one brother was in the AIF – under the at least one half ruling, 2 brothers had to enlist – but the applicant claimed to be the sole support of his parents. The other case involved F J Pearson who was one of 3 sons in the family. No son was in service, but 2 of the siblings were not yet of military age and this son, the oldest, supported his widowed mother.

The 33 cases where exemption was approved were, in terms of the regulations, clear cut . What focused people’s attention was how the other 63 individual applications fared. According to Rossiter’s account, 32 of the 63 applications for exemption were rejected, 15 men were given temporary exemption and the remaining 16 cases were adjourned.

Employing Rossiter’s account it is possible to divide the exemption requests into 2 categories: those involving families where there had been no enlistments at all, and those where, according to the formula, not enough sons had enlisted.

Families with no enlistments

In terms of the first category, there were 26 families, involving 34 individual men, where no eligible son had enlisted. Apparently, the number of families across the Shire of Alberton where no eligible son had enlisted was low. However, the important qualification is that there could have been other families that completely ignored the registration process and did not seek exemption.

Of the 34 individual men applying for exemption, 19 were refused outright, 7 were given temporary exemption and 8 were adjourned. Rossiter’s brief notes on each case make it clear that the reasons for the exemption related to the family’s economic interests or welfare. There was only 1 case where a position of ‘conscientious objection’ was registered. It involved the 3 Kallady brothers – Ambrose, Allan and Leo – from Devon. There were 4 brothers in the family and therefore 2 had to enlist. There was some brief discussion of what their understanding of ‘conscientious objection’ involved – would they, for example, defend their mother, sister, or even themselves – and the army officer assisting the police magistrate presiding over the court suggested options such as ‘stretcher bearer’ and ‘putting barbed wire entanglements in front of trenches’. In the end, the magistrate found that the 2 fittest of the 3 brothers of military age would have to serve. The case was then adjourned to 7 December for objections to be heard.

Several examples from this first category highlight the way family dynamics – including the ages and marital status of the sons – affected the outcome. For example, George Lewis Brunlow was a fisherman from Port Albert. He was one of 3 male siblings but both his brothers were married and therefore not required to register. He claimed to be the sole support for his invalid sister. His application was refused, presumably on the basis that his married brothers could or should pick up the responsibility for the sister. On the face of it, conscription was redefining an existing family arrangement.

B Hanrahan was one of 2 sons. As his brother was married, he had had to register. He claimed an exemption on the basis that he owned the farm and he partly supported his widowed mother and her 6 children, presumably his younger siblings. The application was refused, again overturning an existing family arrangement.

The more common reason for claiming exemption was the economic hardship or threat to the viability of the family farm or business that the loss of labour would cause. For example, Eric Oliver Hobson was working on the family farm at Yarram. There were extensive landholdings at Yarram and Won Wron. There were 3 sons in the family, one of whom was married. Under the regulations this unmarried son (Eric) had to serve. The father claimed that as a dairy farmer with a large herd he depended on this son to look after the stock. The father claimed no one understood the stock like this son. The son also kept the books. The father claimed he had tried, unsuccessfully, to find someone to replace his son. He stated that if his son went he, the father, would have to give up dairying. The magistrate said he was bound by the regulations and refused the application. He did add that the son could seek a temporary exemption, but only after he had reported for duty at the camp at Warragul.

William Thomas Charles Stonehouse operated a blacksmith business at Yarram. He had 3 sons, all of them single. Under the formula, 2 of them (J E Stonehouse and W Stonehouse) were required to serve. The father explained that all 3 sons helped in his business and if the 2 of military age went the business would have to be closed as he, the father, could not work and he had not been able to secure other workers. The application was refused.

There were 6 sons in the Vardy family from Alberton West. 3 sons were married. The other 3 sons – Leslie James Vardy, F E Vardy and Percival John Vardy – were required to serve. There was a family farm of 100+ acres; although it appears only 1 son was helping the father on the farm. Presumably the other 2 sons were working as labourers on other farms.  The magistrate noted that the 3 sons were a significant source of revenue for the father. The application was refused.

William Macaulay, a farm labourer, was one of 3 sons, one other of whom was married. He was 32 yo. He claimed that if he went it would cause great hardship and loss to those at home. The family had a farm – 180 acres – at Stacey’s Bridge. The father claimed that the farm could not be worked without his son. A temporary exemption to 27/1/17 was granted.

Families with insufficient enlistments

This second category, covering 29 individuals from 28 families, featured the cases that would have caused the most disquiet in the district. These were families where men had already enlisted but now, under conscription, more would be taken. Once again, the impact, would affect both the welfare of the family and the financial viability of the farm. Of the 29 requests for exemption, 13 were rejected outright, there were 8 cases of a temporary exemption being granted and 8 cases were adjourned.

John Joseph Egan – labourer, Alberton West – worked on the small family farm at Alberton West. There were 5 sons but 3 were married. This meant that the remaining 2 had to serve. One was already in camp. Exemption was claimed on the basis that the father was too old to work the farm and this son – John – was the only son available to help. Exemption was refused.

Joel William Trigg was involved with a family farm of approximately 170 acres at Alberton West. There were 3 sons which meant 2 had to serve. One was already in the AIF and the other brother had been judged medically unfit, which meant Joel had to go. He claimed that he would be forced to sell out if he was forced to go. The application was refused.

There were 6 sons in the McPhail family. Only 2 were serving in the AIF which meant one more son was required. The father claimed that this son, Archibald McPhail, was not fit enough to go in the trenches but the medical officers had recently passed him. The application was refused.

There were 5 sons in the Wight family with 2 in the AIF, one of whom had been wounded. At least one of the other 3 sons was below military age. The son seeking the exemption – David Wight, had a 100 acre farm at Carrajung. He worked with his father. The application was refused.

There were 9 sons in the Lay family with 4 on service with the AIF. This left still one son required. Of the 5 remaining, 3 were married and one was only 18yo. This meant that Leslie Gordon Lay had to serve. The application for exemption was refused on the grounds that even though he and his younger brother were supporting the family farm, he – the applicant- was not the sole support of his parents.

There were 6 sons in the Cantwell family, with 2 in service. James Hennessy Cantwell – labourer, Stacey’s Bridge – claimed that he supported the family – there was a family farm of less than 100 acres – and that the father was ailing and the mother an invalid. He claimed that if he were called he would have to sell the cows. Rossiter’s notes stated that exemption was granted until the cows were sold.

Nigel Hugh McAlpine had 40 acres of land at Carrajung in his own name. There were 3 sons in the family but only one was in the AIF. Nigel applied for exemption on the grounds that the brother in the AIF had left him (Nigel) in sole charge of his farm and stock. The third brother was unfit because of a knee injury. Nigel was reported as declaring that if he was forced to go his farm would ‘go to the dogs’. He was given a temporary exemption until 27/1/17.

In summary, Rossiter’s notes on the individual cases covered by the exemption court were brief and perhaps not always accurate. Also, the claims made by those requesting exemption might  have been overdrawn or misleading. At the same time, the proceedings of this court held in Yarram, and others in Gippsland, would definitely have been closely followed in the local community; and it would have been clear that conscription was set to have a major negative impact on the traditional autonomy of the family farm and farming families. The proposed level of control over both the labour agenda and social dynamic of the family farm was of a form and degree never seen before.

Exemptions for the dairy industry

It is also important to note that there was a feeling in the community that the general labour demands of the dairy industry had been ignored. As has been shown in many previous posts, by far the largest group of men enlisting in the AIF in the Shire of Alberton came from the rural, itinerant, working class. By the end of 1916 the size of this group of enlistments had reached the order of 600 men. They simply described themselves as ‘farm labourers’ or just ‘labourers’. It was a very significant pool of labour to withdraw from the local economy. At the same time, the number of men coming from the family farm was in a definite minority; and the preceding cases help explain why it was so difficult to release sons from the family farm. Yet conscription promised that even more of this labour pool would be withdrawn. Locals formed the view that despite reassurances from the Commonwealth Government the dairy industry was not being protected.

In an article that he wrote on 25/10/16, just before the exemption court sat, Rossiter wrote how in the ‘interests of production’ many claims for exemption could and should be granted. Then after the court he wrote (1/11/16) critically on the lack of exemptions granted. He used highly qualified language but others would have seen the court proceedings as a deliberate attack on the local dairy industry:

There was much concern locally in regard to a great number of applications for full and temporary exemptions made at the exemption court held on Friday last. A number of claims were made by dairymen and others engaged in that industry in various ways. The applicants who were refused exemption were informed that they must report at Warragul camp on Friday next, it being understood by them that no exemption would be granted without reporting at camp. In view of the critical situation thus presented, and of the fact that the Prime Minister had stated that rural workers, engaged in producing industries, would be allowed exemption, the position created by the court authorities caused some uneasiness in the minds of dairy farmers and those engaged as milkers by them.

The reference to the Prime Minister’s promise of exemption for rural workers is very important. It appears that as the referendum drew near Hughes became concerned that the farmers’ vote could go against him. Perhaps he received intelligence of how the call up in rural districts and the operations of the exemption courts were being received. In the week before the referendum, he issued a detailed statement which was published in the metropolitan papers (for example The Age 25/10/16 p. 7). He reminded the farmers of all the Government had done for them – purchasing their crops, setting prices, securing shipping – and declared that,

It [His Government] has given them generous exemptions. It has released all the labor necessary for their industry; their lands will be tilled, their crops harvested; members of their families will be left to carry on the farms, and sufficient labor to carry on their industry will be exempted.

Hughes also acknowledged that there was concern over the labour shortage in rural industries. He put a positive spin on the cause:

The men from the country parts of Australia have responded magnificently to the appeal for recruits, much better than the great cities. The consequence is that labor for the rural industries is relatively scarce, while in the cities there is a surplusage [sic] of thousands of eligible men.

Hughes concluded by promising again that the rural industries would have the labour they needed and, at the same time, conscription would ensure that those in the cities also did their share:

The farmers and the men on the land will have the labor they require, and the eligible men in the cities will be compelled to do their duty.

The problem was that this was not the experience of the local farmers in Gippsland. There was a critical shortage of labour and there was no real evidence that exemptions were available. The only exemptions being granted were temporary, and ‘temporary’ meant only until the end of the year (31/12/16). Further, men could, initially, only apply for exemptions after they had been admitted to the military camp (Warragul). When this very restrictive requirement was relaxed at the end of October, it was replaced with a general exemption … to all engaged in the dairying industry, including milkers to the end of the year. But, again, the exemption was only temporary and only to the end of the year; and now the men had to submit a statutory declaration from their employer – or the heads of households in the case of families – to support the claim. Once again, there was considerable tension between what was being promised and what was being experienced. The fact that men being given exemptions were finger-printed – purportedly to prevent fraud – added to the general level of antagonism.

The first 2 years of the War had demonstrated very high levels of loyal and patriotic support across the Shire of Alberton. The support was demonstrated in areas such as recruiting, fund raising and public demonstrations for the Empire. The local community was an inherently conservative one. There was a natural antipathy towards organised labour. It supported PM Hughes’ efforts to overcome the ‘industrialists’ in his own party. The middle class professionals, mangers and proprietors in the community – concentrated in Yarram – presented a narrative of the War that was aligned with the Government’s position. Publicly, the local community was pro-conscription and this was reflected in the final voting figures. In the lead up to the referendum there was no indication of any organised, public No campaign. However, events over October 1916 presented the local farming community with a clear picture of what the reality of conscription involved and there is little doubt that many would have seen it as direct threat to both their livelihood and the traditional autonomy of the farming family. Without any show of public opposition – they did not even need to draw any attention to themselves – they had the option to vote No; and, presumably, many did. Their votes help explain why, in such a conservative rural community, and with no evidence of organised public opposition, one-third of electors voted against conscription.


The Age

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

Connor, J, Stanley, P, Yule, P 2015, The War At Home, The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War Volume 4, Oxford University Press, Melbourne

See also

Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume XI – Australia During the War, ‘Chapter IX The First Conscription Referendum’. 7th Edition 1941



























92. Flers (1) – N W BOOTH, A LAING & A L NEWLAND

Flers November 1916

From mid October 1916, the Australian divisions were moved from the front near Ypres to the section of the Somme front near Bapaume. It was the closing stage of the Battle of the Somme. In November, the Australians took part in two unsuccessful attacks – 5 and 14 November – in the immediate area of the destroyed village of Flers. Bean covered the battles in Chapter XXV – ‘Flers. The Somme Battle Ends’ – of volume 3 of his Official History.

While Australian casualties – 2,000 for the 2 failed attacks – were far lower than at Pozieres, Bean concluded that Flers amounted to … a series of operations which, through the weather and the state of ground, were undoubtedly the most difficult in which the A.I. F. was ever engaged. (940)

In the preceding months there had been repeated unsuccessful attacks on the same section of the front, and now it was Winter. However, the Australian attacks went ahead because by this point in the Somme campaign the objectives were more political than military. For the Australians, there was no element of surprise because German intelligence knew in advance of both attacks. Once again, coordination broke down between the artillery barrage and the movement of troops across no-man’s-land. The Germans were able to either hold or counter attack and regain all their positions.

Bean identified additional problems faced at Flers. The weather was the critical consideration. It was not just the extremes of Winter; but also the impact of the weather on the terrain over which the battles were fought, and stretching back several miles from the front line. Specifically, it was the mud.

Even the movement of the troops from the staging camps and reserve lines to the front line was a nightmare. Comparatively short distances took hours to cover. Bean described how troops took six hours to cover distances of only two miles and whenever they had to move under such conditions they always arrived exhausted. (900 – 902)

His description of the dreadful conditions leaves little to the imagination.

On his journey into the trenches, each infantryman now carried his greatcoat, waterproof sheet, one blanket, 220 rounds of ammunition, and, when fighting was in prospect, two bombs, two sandbags, and two days’ reserve rations, besides the remnant of that day’s “issue”. Thus burdened, the troops dragged their way along the sledge-tracks [sledges were employed to pull both supplies and the wounded] besides the communication trenches, the latter – except in the actual front-system – being now never used. But the sledge-tracks also were by this time deep thick mud, which, especially when drying, tugged like glue at the boot-soles, so that the mere journey to the line left men and even pack-animals utterly exhausted. In the dark those who stepped away from the road fell again and again into shell-holes; many pack-animals became fast in the mud and had to be shot, and men were continually pulled out, often leaving their boots and sometimes their trousers. (918)

Bean also detailed how once the men finally made it to the front line trenches, the weather conspired to make matters even worse.

Coming into the trenches under such conditions, and starting their tour of duty in a state of exhaustion, the garrison at the front line usually had to stay there forty-eight hours before relief. At first the men tried to shelter themselves from rain by cutting niches in the trench-walls, but this practice was forbidden, several soldiers having been smothered through the slipping in of the sodden earth-roof, and the trenches broken down. If, to keep themselves warm, men stamped or moved about, the floor of the trench turned to thin mud. At night the officers sometimes walked up and down in the open and encouraged their men to do the same, chancing the snipers; but for the many there was no alternative but to stand almost still, freezing, night and day. (919)

These were the conditions in which the incidence of ‘trench foot’ multiplied. As Bean observed,

After a tour in the line during this continued wet-weather offensive, practically all the men in many Australian battalions were suffering from “trench feet,” at least in its incipient stages. Thus, when the 27th Battalion (7th Brigade) was relieved after the fight of November 5th, ninety per cent of its men were said to be affected. (920)

Importantly there was hardly any relief from the weather and the appalling conditions anywhere in the battle zone. Troops slept in the open even in the reserve lines. Men had to improvise what shelter they could, with their ‘blankest and water proof sheets’ (899).

Bean suggested that the Australian troops found the dreadful winter conditions even more difficult to manage because of what they remembered of the weather ‘back home’.

There can be no question that the Australian force, reared in a land of almost continual sunshine and genial warmth, was throughout this period being subjected to intense suffering: the reserve trenches were little better than the front line; the camps now springing up in the rear of the ridge, were ankle-deep or knee-deep in mud. In the nearer rest billets… the rain poured through the leaky barns, drenching the straw on which men were supposed to rest. Firewood, through difficulties of transport, was unobtainable, and the troops even in the billets could not dry their sodden clothes except by the heat of their bodies or by using for fuel the farmers’ gates and fences, or the matchboard lining of military huts. (941)

Hardly surprising, the appalling conditions had an impact on the men. Bean alludes to it in terms of ‘morale’.

It would be idle to suppose that any force could support without signs of bending the tremendous stresses which – for the Australians – began at Pozieres and reached their climax at Flers. The morale of the A.I.F. was never low; even in the worst conditions at Flers the response of the troops often amazed even those who knew them best; but this period represented the bottom of the curve. (940)

Apart from the obvious contradiction in the claim, it is clear from Bean’s writing that morale was in fact low. For example, in the very next section he went on to acknowledge one or two cases of desertion – ‘almost unknown in the Australian force’ – by … young soldiers who, finding themselves at the limit of their endurance, walked over to the enemy. (940) Then he follows up with the story of one soldier from 24 Battalion who had tragically reached the limit of his endurance.

At least one man of finer fibre [as opposed to those who tried to avoid ‘trench service’], when his battalion – the 24th – was ordered to undertake the nightmare journey through the crater-field back into the line, turned to his mates and, saying simply “I’m not going in – I’m finished,” shot himself. (941)

Flers took place just days after the first conscription referendum and it demonstrated, yet again, that as a direct consequence of the ruthless – and arguably, pointless – manner in which the fighting on the Western Front was being waged, the demand for reinforcements would be unrelenting. And the demand was always going to be greater than the numbers that could be raised through voluntary recruitment.


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.


Norman Waterhouse BOOTH 2 Lt
18 Battalion  KIA 7/11/16

Norman Booth enlisted at Liverpool, NSW on 26/7/15. He had tried to enlist earlier in the year but had been rejected. At the time of enlistment he was 39 yo and he gave his occupation as  accountant. As his next-of-kin he listed his mother – Mrs Emma Booth – and her address was “The Rectory”, Milton, NSW. His father was deceased. Norman had been born at Parramatta on 16/11/1875. He joined reinforcements for 18 Battalion and left from Sydney on 8/3/16.

Despite the obvious NSW connection, 2 Lt Booth had a direct association with the Shire of Alberton. In January 1915, the Anglican reader at Yarram, William Vernon Rymer, had enlisted and Norman Booth was appointed as his replacement. The appointment was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 24/3/15:

Mr Booth, the new Church of England reader, has arrived in Yarram, and conducted services on Sunday last. He is a genial sort.

It is also possible that Norman Booth’s father had been a Church of England minister in Yarram in the late 19C.

His work as reader – he was also described as the curate – in the local church did not last long. From late May 1915 there were reports in the local paper (26/5/15, 2/6/15) that he had passed his medical and that he was going to Melbourne to enlist. He was issued with a railway warrant by the Shire Secretary, dated 31/5/15, for the trip to Melbourne. However, he must have been rejected, presumably on his second medical, when he reached Melbourne. This is based on the evidence of a MT 1486/1 (1915-1915) for him, and the obvious fact that he did not enlist in Melbourne but at Liverpool, nearly 2 months later.

When he was in Yarram, he attended Empire Day celebrations at the Yarram State School. He accompanied Rev George Cox, who as noted in earlier posts, had a strong link to the school. At the school, he spoke to the students. What he said that day offers an insight to his own motivation. It was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative  (26/5/15) and it is quintessentially Imperial in tone:

The text of his [Mr. Booth] address was “courage.” The best boys were not always those with the biggest muscles and biggest physique (Laughter). The big Germans were given to bullying. He instanced Lord Nelson as a type of courageous man – a weakling as a boy, who was taken to sea by his father, and ordered aloft. Asked if he were afraid, Nelson replied, “Yes, I’m afraid, but I’m going to the top of the mast.” And he did so. That showed the difference between physical power and moral quality. They sang “Britons never never shall be slaves.” [the students had just finished the tune] There was no slavery under the Union Jack, which floated for freedom. Unfurling the flag, he said the cross represented the sacrifice for the whole world – and for the Redeemer. They used their powers but not for themselves. They were fighting for the Belgians, that those people might have that freedom which the British nation enjoyed. (Applause).

When he embarked from Sydney, Booth held the rank of 2 Lt. His service record indicates that, in terms of previous military experience, he had spent only 1 year in each of the junior and senior cadets – so his rise in the ranks was very rapid. He passed his exam and secured his commission in early December 1915, less that 6 months after enlisting.

He joined 18 Battalion in France in June 1916. He was wounded – GSW head and neck – at Pozieres on 3/8/16 and repatriated to England. In the telegram to his mother, the wounds were described as ‘severe’.

2 Lt Booth recovered and was discharged from hospital on 21/10/16. He rejoined his unit on 23/10/16. However, just 2 weeks later, he was killed in action (7/11/16). There is confusion over the exact date of death. The official date is given as 7/11/16 but there is strong evidence that it was 6/11/16. Certainly, the battalion war diary specifically records his death – 2/Lieut BOOTH N. W. KIA – on 6 November. He was killed by shell fire. The battalion was at Montauban, about 7 Km from Flers. The war diary also records the appalling conditions – Trenches in fearful condition. Mud everywhere & knee deep in the trenches. Men suffering badly from wet and cold.

The cable advising of 2 Lt Booth’s death was dated 16/11/16. He was buried in a temporary grave and then, finally, at AIF Burial Ground, Grass Lane, Gueudecourt (AIF Burial Ground, Flers, Picardie).

As an example of the difference in status in the AIF between an officer and other ranks, the personal kit belonging to 2 Lt Booth, which was returned to his mother, was composed of no less than 5 lots: one valise, one black kit-bag, one black tin trunk, one suit case and one small tin trunk. There were at last 100 individual item listed. The greater part of the kit was clothing but there were also many books, maps, writing equipment and unique officer kit such as ‘walking canes’ and field glasses. The field glasses in themselves also interesting. The mother returned the ones she received in the kit because she was sure they were not her son’s. She wrote, giving a more detailed description of the pair of glasses her son owned, and requested that they be located because her son had specifically requested, if he were killed, that they be given to one of his brothers. After considerable investigation – and correspondence – the Commanding Officer 18 Battalion was able to locate and return to the mother a pair of field glasses that, most probably, was the pair that had belonged to her son. The provenance of the glasses returned was certainly not definite but, more importantly, the whole episode suggested the length that fellow officers had gone to, in order to accommodate the request.

The mother, who from the start had been identified as the next-of-kin, was highly indignant that she had to establish that her husband was dead before she could receive her son’s medals.

Unfortunately, the mother did not complete the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. 2 Lt Booth’s name is recorded on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor but his death is not indicated. His name is not included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. This omission is striking, given the direct link with the Shire. On 29/11/16 his death was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative:

We learn with regret that Lieutenant Norman W Booth, formerly a reader in connection with the Yarram Church of England, was killed in action in France about the 17th [sic] of the present month. The sad happening will be regretted by the large number of friends he made whilst engaged in spiritual work here.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for BOOTH Norman Waterhouse 2 Lt
Roll of Honour: Norman Waterhouse Booth
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Norman Waterhouse Booth



Alexander LAING 766
23 Battalion DOW 7/11/16

Alexander Laing was born at Drouin in Gippsland and was nearly 19 yo when he enlisted on 1/3/15. His connection with Yarram is not completely clear from his file. On the form to record background information for the (National) Roll of Honour, his father identified the Melbourne suburb of Kew as the town or district with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. The father, as next-of-kin, also lived in Kew. Further, Kew State School was given as the school attended. It appears that even though he was born in Gippsland, Alexander grew up in Kew; and then he returned as a young man to work in Gippsland. His occupation on enlistment was listed as farmer, by which he intended farm labourer.

There was a brother – Duncan McLaren Laing (2224) – who also enlisted. Duncan was also born in Gippsland, at Warragul. He was some two years older than Alexander but he enlisted nearly fourteen months after his younger brother, in April 1916. At the time of his enlistment, Duncan’s occupation was given as farm labourer. Duncan was injured in 1917 – gunshot wound to left leg and right hand – and had two fingers amputated. Subsequently he was returned to Australia in 1918 and discharged. There is correspondence to indicate that he was living in Yarram in the early 1920s.

It appears that, prior to enlistment, both brothers had returned to Gippsland and were working in the Yarram area as farm labourers. Certainly, Alexander was sufficiently ‘local’ to be included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. Both brothers also feature on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.

Private Laing was attached to 23 Battalion which was only formed in Melbourne in March 1915. His unit embarked for Egypt on 10/5/15. After the battalion completed training in Egypt it was despatched to Gallipoli at the very end of August 1915 and did not return to Alexandria until early January 1916. On Gallipoli, 23 Battalion was heavily involved in the fighting at Lone Pine.

23 Battalion left Alexandria for France in mid March 1916 and reached Marseilles on 26/3/16. The battalion moved to the Armentieres section in April 1916 for a relatively ‘quiet’ introduction to the Western Front. Then in late July and early August and then again in late August, 23 Battalion was involved in the savage fighting at Pozieres and Mouquet Farm. The casualty rate was so great that, effectively, by the end of the fighting, 90% of the original battalion, raised in Melbourne just 18 months earlier, had gone: killed, wounded, missing or taken prisoner.

Private Laing’s file shows that he was charged with and convicted of two charges at a Field General Court Martial, held on 26/6/16 ‘in the field’. The two charges were ‘disobeying a lawful command’ and ‘using threatening language’. The files from the court martial reveal that on 9 June 1916, Private Laing and another soldier from the same company – Private F J Staig (2793) – had clashed heatedly with Acting Company Sergeant Major Kirby over the order to join a fatigue party. Private Laing had sworn at the CSM, while Private Staig had actually attempted to strike him. Drink was a major factor. The most succinct account of what happened came from one witness, Corporal Osborn.

On the morning of the 9th Ptes Staig & Laing fell in on parade drunk. They abused Sgt Maj Kirby & called him a Bastard. Pte Staig attempted to strike Kirby.

Private Laing was found guilty and sentenced to 90 days field punishment 2. Private Staig, convicted of the more serious offence, was sentenced to one year imprisonment with hard labour.

On 11/8/16 the conviction from the court martial was quashed. The timing is probably significant because it was just a few days after 23 Battalion was brought out of the line at Pozieres. It was relieved on 7/8/16.

Three months later, Private Laing was seriously wounded in the fighting at Flers. On the day (7/11/16), 23 Battalion relieved 21Battalion in the front line. The battalion’s diary records that on that day 1 soldier was killed and 18 were wounded.

Private Laing was evacuated to 36 Casualty Clearing Station with either gunshot or shrapnel wounds to his legs. The file also records that there were compound fractures and at least one of his legs had to be amputated; but even this extreme action did not save him and he died from his wounds on the same day. He was buried at Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-L’Abbe, about 25 kilometres from Flers.

It appears that the cable advising of his death reached Australia on 16/11/16, just over a week after his death.

In contrast to the personal kit of 2 Lt Booth above, Private Laing’s kit was rather sparse: Disc, Pocket Knife, Song Book, Correspondence.


National Archives file for LAING Alexander 766
National Archives Court Martial records for LAING Alexander 766 [NAA Series Number A471, Control Symbol 5193, Barcode 3540193]
Roll of Honour: Alexander Laing
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Alexander Laing

For background information on Field Punishment see AWM reference 1 and reference 2.



Alfred Lindsay NEWLAND 2 Lt
6 Australian Machine Gun Company KIA 8/11/16

Alfred Newland was born at Pomborneit in 1895. When he enlisted in early 1915 (19/2/15) – 22 Battalion – he was still only 20 yo and required the consent of his parents. At the time he gave his address as that of his father: W A Newland, Laverton Victoria. He was single and his religion was Methodist. His occupation was recorded as labourer.

Alfred Lindsay Newland was the much younger brother of William Andrew Newland who was the recruiting sergeant appointed to assist the work of the Yarram Recruiting Committee in 1916. William had enlisted earlier, on 19/8/14. At the time he was 34 yo. He was also married and his wife resided in Yarram.

The 2 brothers were living and working in the Shire of Alberton in 1914. Their names feature in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative as players for the Yarram team in the local football competition (13/5/14, 3/6/14) and also local bike races (13/3/14, 27/3/14). Both worked for the local council. William was ‘engine driver to [the] shire’, a position from which he resigned (11/9/14) after he enlisted. Alfred was a labourer for the Shire. Alfred was also involved with the local fire brigade (18/11/14).

Both brothers’ names are recorded on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and Alfred’s name is featured on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. On both memorials, Alfred Lindsay Newland is recorded as L (indsay) Newland.

Private Alfred – more commonly known as Lindsay – Newland rose through the ranks. He was made corporal then sergeant in early 1916 and in mid October 1916 he was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant. Tragically, he was killed in action (8/11/16) less than a month after receiving his commission.

At the time he was killed, 2 Lt Newland was serving in 6  Australian Machine Gun Company. His death was recorded in the war dairy for this unit. He was one of 2 officers from the unit killed that day. The fighting was in the area of Bayonet Trench, near Gueudecourt on the Flers battlefield. He was buried at AIF Burial Ground, Flers.

The cable advising of his death was dated 20/11/16. Word reached the Shire of Alberton in late November. The following appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 24/11/16:

We are informed that a cable message has been received in Yarram announcing that Private L. Newland has been killed in action in France. The news was received with feelings of regret, as when a resident of Yarram he was a very popular young man, and a member of the Yarram Football Club.

In due course – July 1917 – 2 Lt Newland’s personal kit – (1) Military Books, 4 Handkerchiefs, Holdall, Pr Mittens, Pr Socks, Note Books, 2 Devotional Books, Arabic Book, Correspondence and (2) Photos, Gum Leaves, Railway Ticket – were returned to the family. The parents received his commission in November 1918. Unfortunately, the parents did not complete the information for the (National) Roll of Honour.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for NEWLAND Alfred Lindsay 2 Lt
Roll of Honour: Alfred Lindsay Newland
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Alfred Lindsay Newland

Note: While only 2 of them had a direct connection to the Shire of Alberton, there were 4 Newland brothers who served in the AIF. One of the other 2 brothers was Lieutenant Colonel James Ernest Newland VC. The Victoria Cross was awarded for conspicuous bravery in April 1917. For further information on the family contact Rob J Newland, Rye:


91. Conscription Referendum 1916: the (public) No vote

On the strength of the meeting held for the No vote at Yarram on 12/10/16, there was little evidence of any public support for the anti-conscription case in the Shire of Alberton. This was in sharp contrast to the high level of support for conscription evident in the very public, organised and ongoing campaign for the Yes vote, as detailed in earlier posts.

The meeting on 12/10/16 was written up, in great detail, in both the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (18/10/16) and the South Gippsland Chronicle (18/10/16). The sole speaker for the No case that night was Senator Blakey, one of the Victorian team of ALP senators. Blakey was on a tour of Gippsland and he knew that he was in for a tough time. He had tried to speak at a similar public meeting at Leongatha 2 days earlier (10/10/16) but, according to the report in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 13/10/16, he had not even managed to make himself heard:

The largest public meeting ever held at Leongatha took place last Tuesday night. Senator Blakey attempted to deliver an address against conscription, but he was hooted, and as soon as he rose to speak the audience stood up and sang the National Anthem. As Senator Blakey tried to make himself heard a cabbage thrown at his head inflicted a cut in his forehead. … He was on the platform for about an hour and a half, but he was not allowed to give expression to his views.

Two days later at Yarram things were only marginally better. While nothing was thrown at him and he did manage to deliver his speech – albeit with a barrage of interruptions – the reports make it clear that the very rowdy and antagonistic audience was not on his side. The meeting started on a negative note when Cr Buckley, introducing Senator Blakey, made the point that while he was prepared to introduce Senator Buckley as a guest speaker he wanted to  make it clear to everyone in the audience that he personally intended to vote Yes. The clear message was that the Shire council was decent enough to support Blakey’s right to speak but they certainly did not support his position.

Not surprisingly, Senator Blakey’s opening remarks were a plea for a fair hearing. He hoped that there would be no … repetition of of the drunken orgy at Leongatha …  because the … matter was too great to treat in a spirit of levity and hoodlumism. But the interruptions were constant. Blakey struggled to get his argument across in any coherent, planned way. Finally, at the end of the meeting, in an obvious attempt to hijack proceedings and make Blakey look foolish, the following resolution was put:

That, in view of the voluntary recruiting not being sufficient to meet the requirements of our army and reinforcement of men at the front, this meeting pledges itself to vote “Yes” at the coming referendum.

The resolution was seconded and put, but the vote in the end was indecisive, with only a handful voting either way. The newspaper report suggested people were either confused or annoyed that the motion had been put. Even the avowedly pro-conscription Rev Walklate … protested against a speech advocating “Yes” being made at a meeting in a hall paid for by those advocating “No”. Such niceties aside, it was abundantly clear that the meeting would never have been able to pass any resolution in favour of the No vote. Further, the reports make it clear that Senator Blakey was by himself. There were no references to other individuals or groups supporting him, either on the stage or in the audience; and most of those who asked questions at the meeting – Rev Tamagno, Rev Walklate, R E H Newberry, J Bett, F C Grano – have already been identified in earlier posts as backing conscription. Blakey would have cut a lonely figure. As a formal attempt to galvanise the No vote in the local community the public meeting was a complete failure.

There are no references in either of the local papers to any other meetings for the No vote held in either Yarram or the shire as a whole. Similarly, there are no references over the period August to October 1916 to the formation of a committee to promote the No vote. Nor is there even reference to specific individuals in the local community advocating the No vote. In short, there is no evidence that there was an organised, public – or even visible – No vote campaign in the Shire of Alberton for the 1916 referendum.

It is also worth looking briefly at the arguments presented at the meeting, both by Blakey himself and his opponents. Blakey argued that conscription per se was morally indefensible. He claimed that Hughes himself had gone back on his word, given in 1915, to not introduce conscription. He held that Australia had done its ‘fair share’ and that the cost of introducing conscription and committing to an even greater sacrifice was beyond the nation’s capacity. He criticised the metropolitan papers – the The Age and The Argus – as shamelessly biased.  He raised the fear that even married men would be conscripted, and there was the usual aside on the fear of cheap ‘yellow’ labour. There were also claims that Hughes was using the censorship laws to stifle the No campaign. For those opposed to Blakey, the major issue was that the AIF had to be reinforced and supported – it was the clearest example of national duty – and conscription was the only way this end could be achieved.

Importantly, none of these arguments were tied specifically to the Shire of Alberton. Blakey could just as well have been addressing an audience In Melbourne. There was no local dimension to the debate.  Nor was the audience divided on any ‘partisan’ basis. Most significantly, there was no mention of any organised Catholic presence at the meeting. In fact, there is no reference to Catholics at all in the extensive reporting of the meeting.

Interestingly, in his history of the Shire, Adams (1990 p186) presumes that the Catholics in the community did represent a bloc opposed to conscription.

Conscription became an important issue late in 1916 and a committee was formed in Yarram with B.P. Johnson as President to forward the movement. When the conscription referendum was held in November [sic] 1916, Yarram voted 1144 to 573. There was a strong Catholic “no” vote reflected in this result.

[Adams’ figures give the Yes vote 67% and the No 33%.]

However this argument appears too simplistic. Certainly for the 1916 referendum, there is no evidence of a Catholic bloc opposed to conscription; and it is too easy to assume that Catholics were the ones who voted against conscription.

The Catholic question was complex. We have already seen that the Catholics enlisted in numbers that generally matched their place in the Shire’s demographics. The argument of the pro-conscriptionists that the men at the front could not be abandoned – this appeared to be the strongest argument in the community – would have been as appealing to the Catholic families of men who had enlisted as any other group. Moroever, the most recent high-profile Catholic enlistment at the time was Fr Sterling, the parish priest, who had enlisted as recently as 21/10/16 as a Captain Chaplain. His enlistment would have been seen as a very public demonstration of loyalty and duty.

There is no evidence that the local Catholic community campaigned against the 1916 conscription referendum. Moreover, previous posts have shown that the local Catholics had actively supported the War effort over the preceding 2 years. It is also relevant, closer to the 1916 referendum, that the assistant priest – Fr W H O’Connor – who arrived in June 1916 to support Fr Sterling, was keen to lend his voice to support for the War effort. In fact, unlike Fr Sterling, Fr O’Connor was even prepared to speak on the same platform as some of the most outspoken patriots – and also pro-conscriptionists – in the community. For example, as reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 9/8/16 Fr O’Connor was one of the key speakers at a public meeting to celebrate the second anniversary of the War. The others on the platform with him were the Shire President, Cr Bland, B P Johnson, Rev Tamagno and the Federal MHR, G Wise. Fr O’Connor spoke at length in favour of the Allied efforts and against German tyranny. He spoke about the local men who had … made the sacrifice and who died nobly and well and who … had offered up their lives for the cause. And he made it clear that in his previous parishes he had called on members of his faith to enlist:

In other parts it was my lot to encourage men to enlist, and [ I ] need only to tell them of their duty and they would go forth and do it. The young men from this district have done likewise and responded to the “Coo-ee” call for assistance.

At the same time, Catholic support for the War was not as unqualified as that of the local Protestants. Bishop Phelan’s position, for example, that the Catholic Church was ‘neutral’ on the matter of conscription, and his significant qualification that the individual citizen’s vote should be shaped by an informed conscience, was at great odds with the very public and uncritical support for conscription from the Protestant churches. Moreover, previous posts have pointed out how fundamental differences in areas such as schooling encouraged sectarianism in the community over the War years. Additionally, events in Ireland post Easter 1916 definitely saw many Irish Catholics question the Australian Government’s total support for the Empire. They also, inevitably, chose to see the AIF not as a component of the British (Empire) Army but as as a distinctive, independent and truly nationalist Australian force, which meant it was possible to support the AIF – and to a lesser extent continue to justify the War – and be anti-Imperialist. But none of these important shifts were on public view in the Shire of Alberton in the lead up to the 1916 referendum.

Overall, there is no hard evidence that for the 1916 referendum, in the Shire of Alberton, there was an organised, public campaign amongst the local Catholics for the No vote. It is possible that Catholics followed Bishop Phelan’s advice and voted according to their conscience. But if they did so it was a private choice made via secret ballot. In any case, given the appeal of the dominant political argument of the day, it makes more sense to believe that the Catholic families would vote Yes, to support the reinforcement of their men at the front.

While it is not possible to identify a Catholic bloc publicly supporting the No vote, there was even less chance that there was an organised and visible bloc of ‘industrialists’, radical unionists, IWW agitators or even just ALP supporters campaigning for the No vote. Most of the rural workers had enlisted and, in any case, there had never been an organised labour movement in the Shire. Individual ALP voters might have opposed conscription and voted No, but, again, it was via secret ballot. It was a politically conservative community. The local papers were full of anti-union stories. They reported how the ‘machine’ of the industrial wing of the ALP was undermining PM Hughes’ authority and destroying the party itself. There were regular stories of how unions generally were undermining the War effort. Unionists were described as ‘traitors’ and ‘shirkers’. But all this was happening in Melbourne and the other capital cities.

Overall, there is no evidence that there was a public, anti-conscription campaign in the Shire of Alberton in the lead up to the 1916 referendum. Instead, we need to look at the reality of the private No vote in the Shire. On Adams’ figures above, it was one-third of the voters. In a community where there was no public campaign for the No vote and, instead, apparently overwhelming support for the Yes side, it was a significant private vote.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

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




Philip Michael ORMSBY (2562)

Details of Philip Michael Ormsby’s life prior to his enlistment  on 12/8/15 come from comments his mother wrote for the (National) Roll of Honour and his personal entry in The Education Department’s [Victoria] record of war service 1914-1919. He was born at Ballangeich in rural Victoria in 1892. He was a very successful student at the local state school but when he left school he worked with his father on the family farm. Then at 18 yo he returned to his studies, supported by the local Presbyterian clergyman, and managed to win a place at Teachers’ College (short course) in 1914. His actual teaching career was short but in his one year of service he taught at Tyrendarra, Madalya and 2 schools near Apollo Bay (Skene’s Creek and Wongarra). All the schools were isolated and small.

It was the time he spent at Madalya school that ties Philip Ormsby to the Shire of Alberton. He is included – as a teacher – on the Madalya School & District Roll of Honor 1914-1919. His name is not included on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. The omission of his name is significant because he was certainly known in the district. For example, when he left to take up the appointment at Apollo Bay, he was given a formal farewell from the Devon Football Club. The report of the event in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (2/7/15) makes it clear that he was well known:

The Devon football team and supporters met at Smethurst’s Hotel on Saturday night to bid farewell to one of their players, Mr. P. M. Ormsby, school teacher at Madalya, who has received notice of transfer to the Western District, near Apollo Bay, and proposed a toast to the health of the departing guest. Pleasing reference was made to the good qualities of Mr. Ormsby as a sport and a man, and he was assured of their good wishes wherever he might go.

There are other newspaper reports which reveal that he served on the committee of the Devon Football Club (14/4/15) and that he played in the local competition.

The transfer to Apollo Bay could not have lasted long because he enlisted, in Melbourne, on 12/8/15, just a month after his farewell from Madalya. At the time he enlisted he was 23 yo and single. His religion was Presbyterian.

Private Ormsby enlisted as reinforcements for 29 Battalion. His group left Melbourne in March 1915, spent time in the Middle East and then trained in the UK. He did not join the battalion in France until 22/9/16, and he died of wounds, not much more than one month later, on 2/11/16.

29 Battalion had moved to the front lines at Flers on 22/10/16. The war diary of the battalion gives an indication of the appalling conditions that would come to characterise the Flers campaign when it began on 4/11/16. For example, the entry of 22/10/16 stated:

Rain continues and the trenches were in an awful condition. The communication trench (FISH ALLEY) will long be remembered, as it was knee deep in mud and it took the front line Coys. 5 hours to reach the front line.

The weather was not the only problem. The entry for the next day (23/10/16) described a wretched scene:

At dawn signs of recent heavy fighting were plainly to be seen as enemy dead, as well as English, were thickly scattered over the whole area.

On the day that Private Ormsby was wounded – GSW chest, penet. – the diary stated (29/10/16), Enemy artillery fire was almost continuous while we held this position and our casualties were numerous. Another reference to Private Ormsby’s wounds stated that he had been wounded in the chest and lungs, and given the artillery bombardment on the day it is likely that the wounds were caused by shrapnel rather than a bullet. In either case, he was taken to 36 Casualty Clearing Station where he died of his wound on 2/11/16. He had been in the AIF just short of 15 months and he lasted less than 2 weeks on the front line.

Private Ormsby was buried the day he died at Heilly-sur-Ancre cemetery (Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-L’Abbe). The family was advised of the death within a week.

Within a few weeks, the family was writing asking for any personal items. As the mother put it in correspondence (20/5/17), No doubt you will understand how we would value the few momentoes left by our dear son.

In due course (30/7/17), the personal kit was returned: 2 Identity discs, Metal wrist watch and strap, 8 Coins, 2 sets of Chevrons, Belt, Testament, 4 Military books, Diary, Letters, Fly net, 1 Mitten. However the mother was particularly keen to recover another wristlet watch which a friend had given to her son before he embarked for overseas. This second watch never appeared, despite assurances from the Commanding Officer of 29 Battalion itself that Full enquiries have been made regarding the watch and I regret no information is available as to its whereabouts. Realistically, at the time the chances of recovering or finding out what had happened to a small personal possession such as a watch were negligible. However, for the family, the loss would have been a cruel blow and they would have been left with doubt and suspicion. Presumably, the CO of the battalion became personally involved because he recognised the need to reassure the parents that proper process had been followed.

The mother gave Ballangeich – the location where Philip Ormsby was born and grew up – as the place with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’. However, as indicated, he was certainly living and working – and known – in the Shire of Alberton before he enlisted.

The mother also noted that her son … was one of eleven cousins who enlisted, five of whom made the supreme sacrifice. 1 on Gallipoli 4 in France.


Victoria. Education Department, 1921, The Education Department’s record of war service 1914-1919, Government Printer.

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for Ormsby Philip Michael 2562
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Philip Michael Ormsby
Roll of Honour: Philip Michael Ormsby
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Philip Michael Ormsby

89. Conscription Referendum 1916: key Yes backers

The table below represents approximately 30 local individuals who were closely identified with the Yes vote. The individuals came from 2 key groups. There were 17 who, in October 1916, effectively self-elected themselves to form the local (Yarram) branch of the National Referendum Committee to push for the Yes vote; and there were 14 who served on the 1916 Recruiting Committee, also referred to as the Yarram Recruiting Committee. The latter group was included because of its unanimous support for, and promotion of, conscription from early 1916. Several individuals belonged to both committees (C Barlow, B P Johnson, A J Rossiter and Rev F A Tamagno). There was one member – J Hawkins – of the local referendum committee who has not been included because there was insufficient evidence to build a background picture of him. The information about all the other individuals has been taken from the electoral roll and the local newspapers of the time: The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative and the South Gippsland Chronicle.

Obviously, there were other individuals in the community who publicly supported the Yes vote. For example, as was revealed in Post 85. Soldiers’ Farewells 1916  members of the committee responsible for organising farewells and welcomes regularly called for the introduction of conscription in their speeches. At the same time, the individuals in the 2 groups in the table below – Yarram Recruiting Committee and Yarram Referendum Committee – were directly involved in the most public and formal expressions of support for the Yes vote. Locals would have identified them as the key backers of the Yes vote. Moreover,  the key players in running the soldiers’ farewells and welcomes – Cr Barlow, Cr Bland, B P Johnson, W F Lakin, W G Pope, G E Ruby and Rev Tamagno – were also involved in either one or both of the Yarram committees featured in the table.

The point has been made many times that the narrative of the War – its immediate causes, the critical relationship between Australia and the Empire, the sacrifices involved, the heroism and distinctive fighting spirit of the AIF … – was controlled and disseminated by the ‘leading citizens’ of the local community. It was this group that organised and delivered the speeches – or sermons – and wrote the articles, editorials and letters. As a group it was made up of the leading professionals, managers and proprietors in the local community. The group also featured a small number of successful landowners. This group of ‘leading citizens’ was focused almost exclusively on Yarram. While this group controlled the narrative, including the part of the narrative that called on locals to enlist, the men who did enlist came overwhelmingly from the rural working class. Essentially, in this particular rural community – the Shire of Alberton – the middle class delivered the narrative and the working class offered the volunteers.

As the table illustrates, when conscription became the next chapter in the narrative, the group responsible for its promotion represented a simple extension of the earlier groups of leading citizens. In many cases the same individuals were involved. There were 3 managers ( B Couston, T Whitney and W F Lakin), 2 lawyers (B P Johnson, J H Hill), 2 clergymen (Rev F A Tamgano and Rev C J Walklate), 2 engineers (A W C Burston and W A Newland), 3 agents (P J Juniper, J J O’Connor and G E Ruby), 2 store keepers (J Bett and R E H Newberry), and 3 secretaries/clerks/civic officers (G W Black, M J T Cox, and W G Pope). The group also included the editor of one of the local papers (A J Rossiter) and a local builder (J S Graham). There was also a member of the local fire brigade (T Tempest) and a cream tester (E S Stocks). Lastly, there was a group of 6 farmers/graziers (C Barlow, W Bland, H G Bodman, N J Christensen, J W Fleming and W P Wilson). Most likely, three of this last group were involved more because they were local councillors than local landowners.

The table also shows that this particular group of citizens also featured a significant concentration of localised political power and influence; and people in the community would have certainly recognised that the backers of the Yes vote featured the Shire’s political elite. As well as the current Shire President (W Bland), the table also features the immediate past Shire President (N J Christensen), the long-serving Shire Secretary ( G W Black)  and 3 councillors: C Barlow, W Bland and J J O’Connor. Additionally, there was strong representation of the local court. C Barlow, H G Bodman, N J Christensen and B Couston were JPs in the Yarram Court of Petty Sessions, and B P Johnson and J H Hill acted as solicitors in the same court. The local court was a very significant institution in the community and all its matters were reported in detail.

Locals would also have known that the individuals in this group were heavily involved in other local committees and associations. Such involvement would have contributed to their status as ‘leading citizens’.  For example, as already indicated above, 7 of them were involved with soldiers’ farewells and welcomes. Similarly, 6 had been members of the Belgian Relief Committee: G  W Black, N J Christensen, M J T Cox, J W Fleming, P J Juniper, Rev F Tamagno.

There was also extensive involvement as committee or board members of other groups which did not have a specific focus on support for the War effort. For example, there was the Yarram Agricultural Society: C Barlow, G W Black, N J Christensen, B P Johnson, P J Juniper, W F Lakin and W G Pope. There were 6 on the Yarram and District Hospital Board: J Bett,  G W Black, A W C Burston, G E Ruby and Rev F A Tamagno. Another local committee with strong representation was the Yarram Mechanics’ Institute: M J T Cox, J H Hill, W F Lakin, R E Newberry, A J Rossiter, E S Stocks and T W Whitney. The Won Wron Railway Trust featured G W Black, W Bland and N J Christensen. There were also two of the group on the Yarram Waterworks Trust (C Barlow and B P Johnson). Similarly, two served on the local Historical Society ( J H Hill and B P Johnson) and another 2 on the local YMCA (N J Christensen and B P Johnson).

The number of the group who served on the management committees of, or held official positions in, the hierarchy of the local Protestant Churches and the Masonic Lodge (207) was striking. There was no equivalent representation for the local Catholic Church.  In fact, at this level, the Catholic Church was not represented at all. The details are displayed in the table. There were 4 members of the local Church of England Board of Guardians (H G Bodman, J H Hill, B P Johnson and A J Rossiter). Two of the group supported Rev F A Tamagno as members of the Board of Management for the local Presbyterian Church: J Bett and ES Stocks. G E Ruby was a steward who supported Rev C J Walklate of the local Methodist Church. Lastly, 8 of the group held official titles in the local Masonic Lodge (207): G W Black, A W C Burston, J W Fleming, B P Johnson, P J Juniper, W F Lakin, W A Newland and G E Ruby. J W Fleming held the position of Worshipful Master in 1916 and B P Johnson had held the same position in 1915.

The group as a whole was Yarram-centric. It claimed to represent the Shire as a whole but its members were almost exclusively residing and working in Yarram. Even most of the land holders whose properties obviously lay outside the town were tied to Yarram through their roles as councillors and/or JPs.

The last, very obvious, observation is that the table is exclusively male. Women were involved in a range of committees/associations within the local community and some of these were specifically connected to the War effort, for example the Red Cross and Belgian Relief. There was also a local branch of the Australian Women’s National League which, according to a report in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (13/10/16) … decided to join forces with the local branch of the Conscription Referendum committee.  However, there is no evidence of what ‘joining forces’ amounted to and, overall, the formal, public push for both recruiting and conscription was seen as the exclusive responsibility of the Shire’s leading men.

The table represents the attempt to identify the range of local individuals who were seen as leading the push for the Yes vote in the 1916 referendum. There could well have been other individuals in the local community who were as public and vocal in their support. As well, there could have been considerable variation in effort across the individuals identified; and some might have been members of the committees in name only. For example, there is very little that can be uncovered in relation to both T Tempest and P W Wilson, both of whom were on the local referendum committee. At the other end of the continuum, the 4 individuals who appeared to have been the most influential were C Barlow, B P Johnson, Rev F Tamagno and A J Rossiter – the first 3 because they served on both the recruiting and referendum committees and also spoke regularly at farewells and welcomes, and A J Rossiter because of his role as editor of the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative.

While there are limits to both the research and the analysis, the concluding point to make about this group publicly supporting the Yes vote is that it is at least possible to identify them. By contrast, the next post will look at the backers of the No vote and it will became immediately clear that it is simply not possible to identify an equivalent group of locals who led the campaign for the No vote. In fact, it is hard even to identify the backers of the No vote. Publicly at least, in the Shire of Alberton there was really only side of the debate that mattered.


Electoral Roll
Commonwealth of Australia, State of Victoria, Division of Gippsland, Subdivision of Yarram Yarram

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle


88. Conscription Referendum 1916: the Yes vote

The next few posts will look at the first referendum on conscription held on 28 October 1916. This first post looks at the key groups and institutions in the Shire of Alberton that backed the Yes vote in the referendum. It will be followed by an examination of the key individuals in the local community who backed conscription. There will also be a separate post to look at the far smaller and less organised group of public backers for the No vote. That post will also look at the significance of the private, if not secret, No vote in the local community.

Previous posts have made it clear that in the Shire of Alberton there was widespread support for the introduction of conscription well before Hughes announced the referendum at the end of August (30/8/16). Post 87 showed that in early 1916 the Local Recruiting Committee came to the unanimous position that conscription was necessary. This was evident in the forceful letter that B P Johnson wrote to the Sate Parliamentary Recruiting Committee in late April, 1916. This declaration of support for conscription was doubly significant because the Local Recruiting Committee had been set up as a responsibility of the local council – the chair was the Shire President, its secretary was the Shire Secretary and several local councillors served on it – which meant in effect that the Shire of Alberton itself was seen as pro conscription. As well, Post 85 showed that the local citizens speaking at farewells and welcomes in the district – again, this included local councillors – had been advocating conscription from very early 1916. As argued, the speakers believed that the voluntary system had served its time and that only conscription could deliver the number of recruits required. They were convinced that conscription was ‘fairer’ and more ‘scientific’. It was over the same period, that the Shire of Alberton, along with most other local councils and municipalities in Victoria, supported the resolution of the Warragul Council in favour of conscription (March 1916).

Another key local body which also offered early support for conscription was the Australian Natives’ Association. In May 1916, the local ANA branch at Yarram supported the petition organised – in haste – by the Universal Service League, the key national pro-conscription body which itself had been formed as early as the second half of 1915.

Overall, in the first half of 1916, when Hughes had been in England – and, in theory at least, the issue of conscription was off the political agenda – key groups in the local community were already calling for the introduction of conscription and at every opportunity presented conscription as inevitable. Even at that early point, there was discussion on how Hughes would be able to introduce conscription, given the level of opposition in the Senate.

Once Hughes returned to Australia and publicly committed to conscription at the end of August 1916, local citizens and groups in the Shire of Alberton began to organise to support the Yes vote. As a brief indication of the strength of forces that the Yes vote was able to enlist, the following groups, as a minimum, can be identified as backing the introduction of conscription: the 2 local papers – The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, the South Gippsland Chronicle – the Shire of Alberton council, the local recruiting committee, the local branch of the ANA, and the clergy of the local Methodist, Church of England and Presbyterian congregations.

Despite the apparently overwhelming support for the Yes vote, it proved difficult to marshall people’s enthusiasm and support. This problem had been highlighted before. For example, there had been constant criticism in the local press at the small numbers of Yarram townsfolk who attended farewells and welcomes. The regular complaint was that for all their claimed declarations of patriotism, people were not prepared to put themselves out, and all the effort was left to just a handful of true patriots.

The first request to set up a local branch of the Universal Service League – the key, national pro conscription body – came in July 1916. B P Johnson was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (26/7/16) as having been requested by the organising secretary of the Universal Service League to set up a branch in Yarram.  There was also a brief rationale:

The league aims at conscription, because it is fairer to all, and because under the voluntary system we can neither support our men at the front, nor make the tremendous effort necessary in order to secure Australia from the menace of German domination.

However, nothing appeared to come from this early contact because 2 months later the paper reported (22/9/16) that at another public meeting Johnson had again raised the request that a branch of the Universal Service League be set up in Yarram. The matter was by then urgent so it was resolved to hold a public meeting on 25/9/16; but the report in the paper (27/9/16) of the meeting held highlighted, yet again, the lack of support from the townsfolk:

There was a disappointingly small attendance at the shire hall on Monday night

Johnson, who had … expected the hall to be packed and who feared that … some people’s patriotism was at a low ebb, pointed out that the plan was to launch the national campaign for conscription on October 1. Given the urgency, it was decided to adjourn the meeting and call yet another public meeting the very next night, but this time, in the hope of building numbers, it was to run after a scheduled ANA branch meeting.

At the meeting … there were a few more present than at the adjourned meeting. This time a committee was finally formed. However, the committee that was formed did not describe itself as a branch of the Universal Service League. Rather, from that point on, it was generally described as the local Referendum Campaign Committee.

In the month that was then left before the referendum, the committee managed to stage one large public meeting in Yarram and at least one meeting in one of the other towns (Goodwood) of the Shire. There were reports of meetings scheduled for Woodside (16/10/16) and Carrajung (24/10/16) but it is unclear if they went ahead. The meeting in Yarram was held on 10/10/16 and the guest speaker was Sir William Irvine, former premier of Victoria. The meeting was chaired by B P Johnson. It was written up, in detail, in both local papers:  Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (11/10/16) and the South Gippsland Chronicle ( 13/10/16). The meeting at Goodwood was held on 11/10/16 and the speakers that night were: Cr Barlow, Cr O’Connor, Rev Walklate and J S Graham. This meeting was also written up in the local papers.

The arguments for conscription presented at the meetings had certainly been well rehearsed. Irvine laboured what he saw as the direct threat Germany posed to Australia. He also claimed that those who had already enlisted had done so in the belief that they would be supported with reinforcements. He insisted that Australians had to honour the promise. Other speakers took up the theme of sacrifice and challenged those who claimed that Australia had already done enough to consider the sacrifices being made by people in the United Kingdom. Rev Walklate, talking about the true level of sacrifice required, sought to reassure the audience at Goodwood that even a high death rate amongst the AIF  could be absorbed. The sacrifice could be borne.

… according to statistics over 50 per cent of the males in this country were under 21, and even allowing for those who would be unfortunate enough to lose their lives, that would be sufficient to breed the proper race of people.

Another common argument was that Australia already had conscription – from 1911 – and the referendum was merely intended to extend the scope of where Australian soldiers could be deployed to protect the national interest. There were also all the accusations against the backers of the No vote. They were represented as German sympathisers or extreme, militant trade unionists who threatened not just the War effort but the state itself. And there were those who were just ‘cowards’ and ‘shirkers’. In the end after much applause, the following resolution was passed unanimously at the Yarram meeting:

“That this meeting of the citizens of Yarram and district pledges its support to the Government in this national crisis to secure an overwhelming majority for “Yes” in the coming referendum.” (Applause.)

Essentially there were no new arguments for conscription being presented. The same arguments had been made for a year at all local farewells and welcomes, and in countless newspaper reports, in both metropolitan and local newspapers. At the same time, the public meetings in October were important because they gave the local community the chance to identify with the cause. Local people in Yarram and across the Shire would definitely have known that, at least publicly, there was strong support for conscription. As will be shown, there was no equivalent level of public support for the No vote.

Support for conscription from the local Protestant churches was strong. The declarations of support were also written up extensively in the local papers. In its edition of 25/10/16, the South Gippsland Chronicle reported that At the Church of England and Methodist Church on Sunday last [22/10/16], strong appeals were made to the congregations to vote “Yes” in the coming referendum. It also reported that at Presbyterian services in the district a letter from the Public Questions Committee of the Church was read out. The letter clearly stated that the Government should be given the power to conscript:

To give the Government this power seems to the Public Questions Committee of our Assembly to be supremely just and necessary in this present life and death struggle, and to be a duty we are bound to face.

As will become apparent in the next post, the question of support from the the local Catholic Church was less clear cut. Bishop Phelan’s position was one of neutrality. Accordingly, he directed that public meetings, either for or against conscription, could not be advertised from the pulpit. In its edition of 20/10/16 the South Gippsland Chronicle reported Phelan’s position:

To my own flock, Catholics of Gippsland, I say the church holds no brief for any secular power, nor does she utter an authoritative voice on the question to be decided by the adults of Australia on the 28th. You are free, then, to vote as individuals, according to the dictates of your conscience. But in exercising that freedom, which the church in no way hampers, ask your conscience how far you are justified in despoiling another of that gift, the gift of human liberty, which you so highly prize.

The qualification in the last sentence introduced the difference between a free vote and one based on conscience. For Phelan, Yes was neither simple nor given; and to the local community of the time, it would have been clear that, unlike the Protestant Churches, the Catholic Church was not publicly declaring itself in favour of conscription.

Local Protestant clergy sought to counter this concern over conscience and human liberty. For example, a sermon by Rev Walklate (Methodist) had been reported at length in the South Gippsland Chronicle on 11/10/16.  Walklate tackled the question directly, … have we the moral right to compel men against their will to risk their lives in human slaughter? He concluded that conscription was morally just. However, his argument relied exclusively on religious – not moral – belief and, specifically, belief in the joy and reward of an after-life:

The sending of men to the front under such circumstances was desirable, even if it meant death, for such was the entrance into life under the principle laid down by our Lord, and to give up this life in the service of humanity was to enter into the widest service.

The role of the local press in supporting the Yes vote was critical. The most significant form of this support came from the extensive reporting of the activities of all those institutions, groups and individuals in the local community who were actively promoting conscription. Moreover, the readers would have seen the support for conscription as flowing seamlessly from the local papers’ earlier support for recruitment and the War effort in general. Conscription was presented as the next natural and inevitable step.

The local papers also made it clear that their editorial position was to support the Yes vote. For example, in the months leading to the referendum the South Gippsland Chronicle included extensive editorial commentary on the forces that were attempting to thwart PM Hughes. It wrote (8/9/16) of labor organisations that had been captured by shirkers, extremsists in the ALP who sympathised with the Hun and anti-conscriptionists who had captured Labor’s party machine.

Immediately prior to the referendum, both papers featured editorials and other material to support the Yes vote. On 27/10/16, the South Gippsland Chronicle under the heading Vote “Yes” for Australia featured a list of direct reasons why people had to vote yes, including the following:

Are you going to scab on the Anzacs?
How would the Kaiser vote on 28th October?
A win for “No” on 28th October would be very popular in Berlin.
Don’t forget that the men fighting in Europe are defending Australia.
A vote unrecorded is a vote given to Germany.
Australia is proud of its roll of honor. We want no roll of dishonor on referendum.

The same article also proudly proclaimed that 75% of the district would vote Yes.

For its part, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on the same day (27/10/16), in addition to all the vote Yes material from Hughes and other national bodies, featured the following poem by a local, Thomas Hurley of Woodside. The poem was entitled Awaiting An Answer and it appeared under the headline: Australia Will Be There.  Referendum Tomorrow: Vote “Yes”

Britannia asks her daughter dear
A question fair and square
The way is long, the task is hard,
Say, will you do your share?

Thy sons are brave, their arms are strong
With thoughts to do and dare.
Say, will you fill their tottering ranks,
Or leave them to despair?

And shall Australia’s answer be –
“I think I’ve done my share,
let black or yellow fight for me,
I really do not care.

“Of fighting I have had enough,
In fact I’ve had a scare;
So Mother, dear, fight on alone –
Australia won’t be there!

There is no doubt that there was widespread public support in October 1916 for the Yes vote in the Shire of Alberton. Such support completely eclipsed the level of public support for the No vote. Conscription was presented as the next necessary and natural step in the successful pursuit of the War effort. The referendum itself did not come as a surprise and the arguments in favour of the Yes vote had been rehearsed, extensively, for at least one year prior to the vote. The success of the Yes vote was never questioned. The only issue was how overwhelming the Yes vote victory would be.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle


87. Yarram Recruiting Committee, 1916: ‘dead to all sense of patriotism or shame’

This post continues the work of 2 earlier posts. The first, Post 64: Monster (recruiting) Meeting at Yarram, July 1915 covered the work of the Yarram Recruiting Committee in 1915 and the second, Post 65: Yarram Recruiting Committee, 1915 looked at the composition of the committee.

Both the work and direction of the Yarram Recruiting Committee in 1916 were set largely by 2 initiatives of the Commonwealth Government in 1915. In July 1915, the Commonwealth Government passed legislation for a War Census. Then in late December 1915, the Commonwealth, under the banner of  The Call to Arms, issued to every eligible male a direct request to enlist in the AIF.

The First Schedule of the War Census Act 1915, had to be completed by all Males aged 18 and under 60. The questions in the schedule tested the respondent’s eligibility to serve in the AIF:  his age, marital status, number of dependents, health, nationality, previous military training and, if born in a ‘foreign country’, the status of his ‘naturalization’ . The schedule even asked for the ... number and description of fire-arms and quantity of ammunition you possess.

Future posts will consider the 1915 War Census in more detail but, for present purposes, the significance of the census was that by the end of 1915 the Commonwealth Government had, in theory at least, a record of all eligible men. It could therefore set realistic targets for an expanded AIF.  The Government determined that it would increase the size of the AIF by 50,000 men and that, concurrently, the ongoing enlistment rate had to be lifted by 9,000 men per month.The next step was to use the information gained via the War Census and communicate directly with every eligible male between 18 and 45 to press them to enlist. This was the recruiting initiative described as The Call to Arms.

The form that men were required to complete was accompanied by a plea from the new PM, W M Hughes who had replaced Fisher when he resigned at the end of October 1915. The 2 major appeals Hughes played to in his Call to Arms were incipient mateship and nationalism:

Our soldiers have done great things in this war. They have carved for Australia a niche in the Temple of the Immortals. Those who have died fell gloriously, but had the number of our forces been doubled, many brave lives would have been spared, the Australian armies would long ago have been camping in Constantinople, and the world war would have been practically over.

We must put forth all our strength. The more men Australia sends to the front the less the danger will be to each man. Not only victory but safety belongs to the big battalions.


This Australia of ours, the freest and best country on God’s earth, calls to her sons for aid. Destiny has given to you a great opportunity. Now is the hour when you can strike a blow on her behalf. If you love your country, if you love freedom, then take your place alongside your fellow-Australians at the front and help them achieve a speedy and glorious victory.

On behalf of the Commonwealth Government and in the name of the people of Australia, I ask you to answer “Yes” to this appeal, and to your part in this greatest war of all time.

In short, at the very end of 1915, all eligible men in Australia were asked, under the voluntary enlistment scheme then in place, to enlist in the AIF. If they were not willing to enlist immediately, they had to indicate when they were prepared to enlist, and if they refused to enlist at all, they had to submit written reasons why. Clearly, the Government was determined to push the ‘voluntary’ system to its limit.

At the same time as the form to all eligible men was sent out, PM Hughes wrote to all municipality and shire heads asking for their support. Specifically, he requested that the existing local recruiting committees – established in 1915 – be prepared to accept and manage the completed forms. In his letter to all local government heads – published in The Argus on 2/12/15, p.7 – Hughes acknowledged that the support of the local recruiting committee was critical:

… the success of the scheme scheme depends almost entirely upon the efforts of the local committees, and I appeal to you to put everything aside in order that this great national duty may be effectively and quickly performed.

This particular recruiting drive involved all 3 levels of government. The initiative rested with the Commonwealth, and its working was effectively designed by the Commonwealth Statistician. The scheme itself was run at the local government level, where the Mayor or Shire President – backed by the Town Clerk or Shire Secretary – was responsible for the work of the local recruiting committee. And the administration of the national scheme was delivered at the state level via the relevant Central Recruiting Committee or State War Council.

In 1915, local recruiting committees across Victoria had organised high profile, public recruiting meetings. This new set of responsibilities at the start of 1916 with the focus on the individual was very different. First, the committee had to impress on the locals that the forms had to be completed and returned to them, as quickly as possible. There was limited provision for a respondent to bypass the local committee by sending the form direct to the state recruiting body, but in the case of Yarram only a handful of local men took up this option. Once the local committee received the forms, it had to submit a return which would enable the Commonwealth Statistician to track down those who had failed to return their form. The local committee then had to go through the returns it had received and establish the relevant numbers of (1) those prepared to enlist immediately, (2) those prepared to enlist later and (3) those who refused to enlist.  Finally, and most significantly, the local committee was expected to establish a ‘local inquiry committee’ … to personally canvas those refusing to enlist. While the definition of ‘canvas’ was left somewhat vague it was clear that the overall intention was to first identify and then apply ‘pressure’ – even if the local recruiting committee did not have any legal authority – to those in the local community who refused to enlist.

In theory, this new scheme would have appealed to the Yarram Recruiting Committee. Throughout 1915, the committee had complained that it could not get access to the men it needed. They simply refused to attend public recruiting meetings. Similarly, they avoided the farewells and welcome homes which doubled as recruiting appeals. But this new Commonwealth scheme focused specifically on the group of eligibles and, potentially, brought them into direct contact with the recruiting committee.

However, in practice there was an obvious reluctance on the part of the local recruiting committee to become personally involved in challenging locals who refused to enlist. This was hardly surprising. It was one thing to believe passionately in the cause of the War and promote the duty of all to enlist either in print or at public meetings, but quite another to directly confront individual locals, whom you personally knew and interacted with in many and complex ways, and pressure them to enlist.

At Yarram, the sub-committee of 5 set up … to consider the replies of those who refuse to enlist was made up of Rev F Tamagno, Cr Bland, B P Johnson, D P Fahey and G F Sauer. However, virtually as soon as the committee was set up, 3 members – Tamagno, Sauer and Fahey – indicated they would not serve.

Correspondence in the Shire of Alberton archives indicates Rev Tamagno quit because he was himself of military age. In his letter (17/1/16) he stated,

I feel that I ought to retire from the Recruiting sub-committee. I am of military age, & I think that it will be better on that account to resign.

Presumably, he recognised the problem in pressing others to enlist when he himself had not.

For Daniel Peter Fahey, a farmer from Devon, there is only a brief note, dated 8/1/16, from the Shire Secretary ( G W Black) that Mr Fahey informed me by phone that he could not see his way to act. Intriguingly, when Fahey was asked to join the committee, there was a specific reference to the fact that he was to represent the ‘Labor interest of the sub-committee’:

At a meeting of the local Recruiting Committee to-day [5/1/16], you were appointed the member in the Labor [sic] interest of the sub-committee to consider the replies of those who refuse to enlist.

It is not clear what was intended. Perhaps Fahey was viewed as a local farmer who knew what the labour situation was in the district: someone who could assess the validity of claims men made about not being able to enlist because of labour demands on the farm. But whatever his exact role, Fahey made it clear he did not want to be involved.

George Frederick Sauer was a draper – Draper, Gents’ Mercer, & Shoeman –  in Yarram. He was very active in local politics and was president of the local ANA. He had been involved in recruiting. But on this occasion he wrote back (6/1/16) and stated, I have considered this matter and find I cannot accept the appointment. Possibly, he considered that such a position was not in his commercial best interest.

With 3 of the 5 selected for the committee refusing to serve, Cr Barlow was appointed as a replacement and the committee’s size reduced to just 3: Cr Bland, Cr Barlow and B P Johnson. At the same time, the sub committee did have the support of the local recruiting sergeant. This position was created at the start of 1916 and the person appointed – he had been specifically requested by the Yarram Recruiting Committee – was William Andrew Newland.

Recruiting Sergeant Newland had worked for the local council before the War – he was a mechanical engineer – before enlisting in 1914. He had been badly wounded at Gallipoli (26/5/15) and was returned to Australia (6/8/15) for medical discharge (22/12/15). He had married locally before he went overseas and his wife was living at Yarram. Newland had risen to staff-sergeant in the AIF and he began his work as recruiting sergeant at the start of January 1916.

The Prime Minister’s recruiting campaign was not well received in the local community and the results were underwhelming. At a committee meeting held 19/1/16 and reported in the local paper on 21/1/16, Recruiting Sergeant Newland gave a breakdown of the returns for the Commonwealth’s Call to Arms.  184 replies had been returned, as directed, to the local recruiting committee. Another 4 locals had taken advantage of the option to return their form to the State authority. Of the total of 188, 16 men had already enlisted (8.5%), 34 indicated they were prepared to enlist immediately (18%) and another 14 (7.5%) were prepared to enlist later. The total figure for enlistments was 64 (34%). This left 124 (66%) who had refused to enlist. The clear majority of local men targeted in the Commonwealth’s recruiting campaign at the very start of 1916 rejected the call to enlist.

There is little evidence to indicate that those on the local recruiting committee, or more specifically the sub-committee set up to ‘canvass those refusing to enlist’, did actively pursue local men who effectively ignored the Commonwealth’s Call to Arms. Indeed, there was little they could do. For all the posturing, threats and warnings, the system was still a voluntary one and locals could simply ignore the local recruiting committee.

At the same time, there is evidence that Recruiting Sergeant Newland certainly took his work seriously. As soon as he started in January 1916, there were reports in the local press (12/1/16) of him … impressing upon the minds of eligibles the necessity of enlisting. He was also said to have … startled not a few ignorant folks … with the warning that they needed to complete their Call to Arms returns. Importantly, within a week or two, because of the new scheme, Newland had a list of all those in the district who had refused to enlist. In March 1916, he was at the Binginwarri sports and was reported (24/3/16) … to be seen giving the why and wherefore to young men whom he had his eye on. In fact, Newland developed a reputation for aggressive challenges to eligibles.  The following was reported in the local paper on 14/4/16. It reveals both the forceful way Newland went about his job but also the push-back that this approach could create:

It would be interesting were phonograph records produced of Sergeant Newland’s interviews with certain young fellows who would do well in the fighting line. Onlookers can plainly see that arguments wax warm at times, and we warn those approached that the sergeant should be treated with respect, otherwise trouble may ensue. Recruiting is a matter that cannot be treated lightly. Sergeant Newland has the law on his side, and his province is to inquire into the reason men for for service do not enlist.

The local recruiting committee put out an appeal in the local press (28/1/16) for volunteers to drive Recruiting Sergeant Newland to the more isolated townships and settlements in the district. Again, this allowed him to tackle, on a face-to-face basis, those who had refused to enlist. There was a pool of volunteers, and this practice explains how Newland appeared at a farewell at Madalya (19/5/16) – covered in Post 85 – where again he aggressively challenged eligibles who were there.

While the Commonwealth Government had made it clear that The Call to Arms campaign was to be the priority, the local recruiting committee did persevere to a limited degree with the more conventional practice of the public appeal by an invited speakers. In February, Thomas Livingston, the member for South Gippsland, and minister in the State Government, was visiting the area. He was persuaded by Cr Bland as Shire President to address a large crowd at a Red Cross fundraiser at Yarram.  The speech was written up in the local paper on 18/2/16. As always, the possibility – or threat – of conscription was raised. Livingston appealed to all eligible men there that day:

We must have 50,000 on 50,000 [sic] men, and that is not enough. Go now, at the right time, and help the men already at the front. Yarram and district had done well recruiting, but other parts had not done as well. If the voluntary system does not prove effective, conscription will be brought in, for they were not going to lose the British Empire.

Cr Bland, as Shire President, concluded the recruiting appeal with a fairly base warning:

If they did not get the soldiers required conscription must come in, and those who were pressed men would not get the pay of the voluntary soldier.

Other initiatives of the State (Victoria) Parliamentary Recruiting Committee were employed in 1916. One of them, after Easter, involved a series of recruiting trains that stopped at major stations in country districts. The train featured speakers from both the Commonwealth and State Governments, returned soldiers, bands, local recruiting sergeants etc. The train for Gippsland was scheduled for May and the designated stations were: Warragul, Trafalgar, Moe, Morwell, Traralgon, Sale, Bairnsdale, Stratford, Maffra, Leongatha, Korumburra and Wonthaggi. Apart from the fact that the train did not reach the Shire of Alberton, there was not much confidence in the basic plan. For many, such activities were little more than a distraction and people had to accept that conscription was inevitable. For example, in his editorial on 24/5/16 A J Rossiter – a member of the Yarram Recruiting Committee – wrote:

With much truth, Mr. G. H. Wise M.H.R. remarked at the A.N.A. meeting in Melbourne that “no longer should time be wasted in holding recruiting meetings, nor in stalking through the country in ‘special trains’. ” Last week Gippsland was visited by a train crew, and towns were enlivened by Royal Park Band music and electrified by talk on the part of the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee. One or two records will suffice for the whole. At Stratford two volunteers came forward, both unfit for service. Three stepped out at Traralgon and eleven at Sale. Of the dozen recruits at Leongatha two were returned soldiers, and others had been previously rejected. Both at Leongatha and Korumburra a number who gave in their names would have enlisted in any case, so after all there is little the special train jaunt can take credit for – beyond good intentions. We agree with Mr. Wise in regard to conscription.

Clearly, by mid 1916 the Yarram Recruiting Committee had lost confidence in the voluntary system. Public appeals no longer had much effect, and even the direct approach employed in the Commonwealth’s Call to Arms had been convincingly rejected by the majority of eligible men in the district. The direct, face-to-face encounters between the recruiting sergeant, acting on the committee’s behalf, and local eligibles were tense, time consuming, difficult to organise and generally unproductive. Moreover, as either representatives of local government or just private citizens, and all of them acting on a voluntary and patriotic basis, the individuals on the committee would have felt considerably frustrated, and possibly even threatened, by what they saw as high levels of opposition to, and anger directed at, their work.

However, all the talk of conscription was effectively undermining the worth of the voluntary system. The situation was set out in a letter from the State Parliamentary Recruiting Committee in March 1916 to all local recruiting committees in Victoria.

You have no doubt observed in the public press that there is a movement in various parts of this State to bring in conscription in some form. Local recruiting committees and sergeants report to us that this talk of conscription is detrimental to recruiting, in the first place because it gives those who are looking for some excuse an opportunity of saying they are waiting for conscription, and, secondly, because it tends to make some members of local committees relax their efforts. Those of us who are engaged in this campaign know nothing about conscription. We have been asked, and we have undertaken, to carry the work through on the present basis – which is voluntary. It is clearly our duty to do our best to make this campaign a success, however much our personal opinions may vary as to its efficacy. We would, therefore, ask you to see that the good work which your Committee and others have already put in should be strenuously maintained until such time as the present scheme is superseded by some other by the National Government.

The national background to this push for conscription in early in 1916 was that Hughes was in the UK and the Australian Government’s strategy, under Senator George Pearce the acting PM, was to leave the decision on conscription until Hughes returned, in early August 1916. In the absence of Hughes, political pressure from sectional interest groups for conscription was intense. These groups will be covered in future posts.

Given the background, the appeal from the State Parliamentary Recruiting Committee was hardly convincing and all those actively involved in recruiting appeared to be looking forward to the introduction of conscription. Certainly this was the case with the Yarram Recruiting Committee. In late April 1916, B P Johnson, as acting head of the local recruiting committee, wrote to the State Parliamentary Recruiting Committee:

…  it is the unanimous opinion of the Committee and of the Sergent [sic] that the voluntary system has had its trial and that compulsion is now necessary. In holding recruiting meetings it is impossible to get at the men who are standing back, they will not attend, and the only volunteers we can hope to obtain now are from families who have already done their share and can ill afford to spare others. In our opinion the voluntary system is unscientific, is wasteful and is grossly unfair. It is no good talking to the shirkers, compulsion is the only thing that will move them, they are dead to all sense of patriotism or shame. … We who have sons, brothers & other relatives at the front are most keen & will continue to work to that end, but we feel strongly, from our now rather extensive experience, that only compulsion will give us the success we earnestly desire.

Overall, for the local recruiting committee in Yarram, 1916 represented a wasted effort. The conventional public appeals no longer worked, Hughes’ bold – but also naive – plan at the start of 1916 with his Call to arms had identified those locals who refused to enlist but it too had proved ineffective. Recruiting Sergeant Newland had taken his work seriously and energetically, and directly confronted locals but, again, under the voluntary system there was no ultimate compulsion.  In short, as far as the committee was concerned, nothing worked. Their voluntary and patriotic efforts were frustrated. Their hard work produced no results. They were conscious of anger and opposition directed at them in the community. They saw conscription as the only way forward. In fact, it is reasonable to argue that the real focus for the committee in 1916 was not the promotion of recruiting but the introduction of conscription; and it was significant that after the failure of the conscription referendum at the end of 1916 the local recruiting committee was disbanded.

The composition of the 1916 Yarram Recruiting Committee

There is little in the Shire of Alberton archives covering the work of the recruiting committee in 1916. The suggestion is that after the first few months of 1916 not a great deal happened, at least at the committee level. In September, after Hughes returned from the UK, there was another burst of action on the voluntary system – Hughes effectively gave the scheme one last chance to prove itself – but it appears that this work principally involved Recruiting Sergeant Newland.

In the archives there is a undated, handwritten list of the membership.

Recruiting Campaign 1916

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

Neither D P Fahey nor G F Sauer are included on the list. Both refused to serve on the special sub-committee set up to vet the replies of those who refused to enlist. Rev F Tamgano’s name does appear, even though he also refused to serve on the same sub-committee and formally resigned from the larger committee.  It appears that the list was drawn up at the very start of 1916 because it is substantially the same as the 1915 list.  The membership list again points to the type of local citizens who identified with the work of the recruiting committee. Post 65 looked at the same people and concluded:

Overall, the [1915] Yarram Recruiting Committee was made up of ‘leading citizens’ from the local professional and managerial elite of Yarram, supported by several large and successful land holders who also played significant political and social roles in the Yarram community.

The same situation applied in 1916 and, as has already been intimated, this particular group of local citizens was set to act as the core support group for the Yes vote in the conscription referendum.



Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

The Argus

Archives, Shire of Alberton
(viewed 2014)

The activities of the 1916 Yarram Recruiting Committee came from:
Shire of Alberton
File Number 703-0
War Files
“Recruiting Campaign 1916 – Call to Arms”

See also:

Honest History
Divided sunburnt country: Australia 1916-18 (2): the War Census


James CARTER (1527)

According to the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (23/9/14), James Carter was one of the large group who enlisted at Yarram on Wednesday 16/9/14 and then left by train for Melbourne the following Monday (21/9/14). However, there are records in his service file which suggest that he actually enlisted in Melbourne, one month earlier, on the 15 August, not long after the formal declaration of war. Further, the date of enlistment on the Embarkation Roll is given as 15/8/14. Perhaps he enlisted in Melbourne but then returned home to Port Albert and effectively re-enlisted with the rest of the local men. Whatever the exact situation, his name was definitely included on the list of those who enlisted in Yarram on 16/9/14.

At the time, James Carter was 21 yo and single. His religion was given as Church of England. He was a local boy who had been born at Port Albert, went to school at the Port Albert SS and grew up in the district. His occupation was described as  both labourer and ‘hospital assistant’. The papers also suggest that he was another recruit who was enlisted for the ‘Light Horse South Gippsland’ but ended up in the infantry. Two of James Carter’s brothers enlisted and both were fortunate enough to survive the War.

Private Carter was initially attached to 8 Battalion and he left Melbourne for Egypt on 19/2/15. He saw action at Gallipoli until he was taken off the Peninsula in late August (27/8/15) suffering from ‘diarrhoea’. The war diary for the 8 Battalion from the time shows that there was a crisis in the troops’ health, with a steady stream of men being hospitalised. In the 10 days leading up to Private Carter’s evacuation, the diary recorded 134 men from 8 Battalion being hospitalised. Many others remained ‘sick in the lines’. The main problem appeared to be diarrhoea and there is an entry on 18/8/15 that has 419 men with ‘diarrhoea’ and 118 with ‘Barcoo rot’.*

Private Carter was evacuated to Mudros and then to Malta. His condition was then described as ‘dysentery’. Then in late October he was sent by hospital ship to England and was admitted to hospital in London. He recovered and was sent back to Egypt, disembarking at Alexandria on 13/1/16. By that point, the Gallipoli campaign had finished.

When he returned to Alexandria, Private Carter, together with half the strength of 8 Battalion, was reassigned to the newly formed 60 Battalion. The new battalion left Alexandria on 18/6/16 and disembarked at Marseilles on 29/6/16.

60 Battalion was involved at Fromelles in July. Private Carter survived Fromelles but was wounded 2 months later (17/9/16). At the time, 60 Battalion was  about 10km from Fromelles in the region between Le Doulieu and Estaires. The war diary refers to the specific location as Rue de Bois. Private Carter was evacuated to hospital – 7 General Hospital, St. Omer – but died about one month later (13/10/16) and was buried at the St. Omer Souvenir Cemetery.

The circumstances surrounding the wounding of Private Carter are unclear. There is very little detail in the war dairy for 60 Battalion for that day and no report of any major action. But there were were reports that both sides were involved in sporadic shelling. Most likely, he was wounded by shrapnel and it appears that he was hit in both the left leg and back. The wounds were described as ‘serious’ and ‘dangerous’.

As indicated, Private Carter died in hospital on 13/10/16. At the time, there was a major breakdown in communication between the AIF in France and Base Records in Melbourne. It is unclear what caused the breakdown but the effect was that on 13/10/16 – the exact day that Private Crater died in hospital in France –  Base Records in Melbourne wrote to Private Carter’s father at Port Albert informing him that … advice has been received to the effect that No 1438(1527) Private J. Carter, 60th Battalion, is pronounced out of danger. It went on to reassure the father … that in the event of any further reports being received concerning the above soldier you will be promptly notified.

This was the first the family knew that there was a problem. But then just 2 days later (15/10/16) – presumably after another communication from France –  Base Records sent a telegram to the father advising,

Now Reported Son Private James Carter Suffering Gunshot [sic] Wound Leg And Back Will Promptly Advise If Anything Further Received.

It would have been difficult for the family to reconcile the timing of the 2 communications. Clearly, their son had been wounded but, presumably, they would have reasoned that the order of the 2 communications had been reversed somehow or other and they could be confident that, although badly wounded, he was at least out of danger.

It is not clear exactly when the family found out that far from being out of danger their boy was dead. However, a letter written by the father on 31/10/16 indicates that it was sometime over the next 2 weeks. The last sentence in the father’s letter must stand as a classic expression of understated dismay:

Re my son James Carter reported died of wounds on 13th Oct. Will you kindly inform me when he was wounded. The Hospital he died in and if he left any will or any other details you may have knowledge of. I have been taken by surprise after receiving report from you that he was pronounced out of danger
Yours obediently

The Official Report of Death of a Soldier was duly completed on 22/11/16.

While the AIF clearly botched the reporting of Private Carter’s death and thereby caused unnecessary grief for the family, on several earlier occasions Base Records in Melbourne had helped maintain communication between the family and their son serving overseas. Private Carter was not very diligent at writing letters home, nor even responding to letters the family wrote to him. This was the case even when he was recovering in hospital in England at the start of 1916. On 3 occasions, the father had written to Base Records requesting information on his son. On each occasion, there was a detailed and helpful reply from Base Records.

In July 1917, a  small amount of personal kit – Book, Wallet, Note Wallet, Discs 2, (1 on Chain); Letters, Card, Post Card, Photo Case, Photo. – reached the family in Port Albert.

The family did not complete the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. Private Carter’s name is included on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Soldiers’ Memorial.

  • Barcoo rot – named after Barcoo in Western Queensland – was a relatively common skin disease in the Outback. One cause was dietary deficiency in fruit and vegetables. It was also known as ‘desert sore’.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for Carter James 1527
First World War Embarkation Rolls: James Carter

85. Soldiers’ farewells 1916

This post continues the work covered in Post 60. Soldiers’ Farewells 1915.

Over 1916, the local newspaper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – covered 35 farewells. It also reported on several ‘welcome home’ gatherings.

While the tone of the farewells was always heroic, the welcome homes could be far more confronting. For example, on 28/7/16, the local paper reported the welcome to Private William Sweeney who had been medically discharged after being badly wounded by a bomb at Gallipoli. Those speaking at his welcome praised his sacrifice but they also described him as having … returned a cripple and … practically a wreck. Similarly, at the welcome for Private T Jeffs of Carrajung which was reported on 13/12/16, it was noted that he was the first to return home from France and that at Pozieres he had … received severe injuries losing the sight of an eye. The report also noted that Private Jeffs had to have someone respond on his behalf because he had returned with ‘shattered nerves’.

Overall, farewells in 1916 matched those in 1915. The same committee continued to organise the events. Specifically in the case of Yarram,  the same group of town ‘patriots’ shared the responsibility for speech making.

The great majority of farewells took place in Yarram, at the Shire Hall, with far fewer farewells taking place in the smaller townships and settlements. In 1916, outside Yarram, there were farewells at Alberton (1), Womerah (1) Devon North (2), Madalya (2), Stacey’s Bridge (1), Gormandale (2), Willung South (1) and Wonyip (1).

The farewells themselves tended to be held for locals who had returned home after initial training and prior to embarkation for service overseas. There was the occasional farewell for a ‘non-local’, itinerant farm worker but, as noted in Post 60, this group of men, once they left the district to move into camp, tended not to return.

The farewells at Yarram were better organised but more basic in form and less well-attended. One reason why attendance at Yarram was a problem was almost certainly  because the speeches at these farewells were as much an exercise in recruiting as they were a celebration of the loyalty and sacrifice of the individual(s) leaving. Eligible men and their families were hardly going to attend and draw attention to themselves. The farewells in the other locations in the Shire were generally less strident affairs and more focused on the qualities of the individual(s) being farewelled. They were usually based on a dance or some other social event and they were far better attended. Speakers at these affairs tended to be local farmers.

An interesting exception to the normal routine and tone of the farewells held outside Yarram occurred at Madalya (19/5/16) when one of the speakers was Recruiting Sergeant Newland. He must have been in the local area trying to promote enlistments. As usual, all the local residents had come together for a social dance that went well into the night. The 3 young men being farewelled were brothers Alfred and Arthur Jones – 22 yo and 24 yo respectively – and Ernest Anderson 18 yo.

That night at Madalya, Recruiting Sergeant Newland targeted  the ‘eligibles’ and both his presence and message were intended to cut through the camaraderie, jollity and conviviality of the occasion:

He [Newland] expressed pleasure at being present to wish the three men good luck, but by the appearance of the hall he felt sure there were at least a dozen more eligible to go than the three who had enlisted. The Jones Bros. were only just making a start in life, and as to young Anderson, he was only a boy. It was, he thought, a shame that one so young should have to go, when older and more mature men hung back.

Newland then went on to defend his work as Recruiting Sergeant and, again, he was very keen to take on anyone there who did not like his role. He had no problem with making himself and his work the focus of attention that night:

He [Newland] thought it was a disgrace the way some men looked upon the recruiting sergeant, treating him as if he were the cause of the war, instead of helping him in his duty to get recruits. As far as the position went, he would far rather be in the trenches fighting. But being unfit for active service he intended to do his duty no matter what they thought of him. He referred to one young man who told him he was losing friends in the district because of his strong attitude but it did not concern him. If he were to lose friends in the execution of his duty they were very poor friends. He considered most of his friends were at the front.

The episode highlights how even in small, local communities where everyone had come together to farewell one of their own, the potential for conflict and recriminations was ever present. It also shows background resentment towards those calling for more enlistments.

Post 60 identified the most common themes touched on speakers at the 1915 farewells:

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

Overall, the same themes continued in 1916. There were variations in their emphasis but certainly all continued to be very evident, as is demonstrated below. However, what was strikingly different in 1916, particularly with the speeches delivered in Yarram, was the level and intensity of frustration and anger expressed.

The ongoing themes

note: the dates in the following refer to the date the farewell was reported in the local paper. The location where the farewell took place is also given.

The moral strength of the volunteer

Often, the moral strength of the individual equated to religious practice. For example, at a farewell to 2 men at Willung South (17/11/16), much was made of the fact that they were ‘regular attendants at our church services’ and that ‘Christian principles’ dominated their lives. In a similar tone, when Private H Missen was farewelled from Gormandale (11/1/16) he was given a special presentation – pocket wallet – from the local IOR tent and the claim was made that … fortified by the principles of the Order, he would be better able to do his duty. The evil of drink was often highlighted at farewellls.

The individuals were variously described as: all round good fellows (Yarram, 27/2/16), law-abiding boys (Yarram 23/3/16), stalwart young men who proved good footballers (Yarram 6/9/16), and men who had proved themselves plucky and manly on the football field (Yarram 22/7/16). An individual could be described as a straightforward young man, always ready to give a hand (Yarram 5/2/16), a most respected citizen (Alberton 22/11/16), one of the straightest men in the district (Yarram 10/8/16). When Private Glen was farwelled (Yarram 15/5/16) the speaker, Chalres Barlow, noted, a more reliable, trustworthy and sober man on a farm he had never met.

The unique character and success of he AIF

This theme certainly picked up in frequency and intensity after Gallipoli. The belief that Australian soldiers had proved themselves either the best or amongst the best in the world was taken as indisputable and speakers referred to it constantly. For example, at a major farewell in Yarram (26/4/16), the president of the Shire – Cr. Bland – stated:

The Charge of the Light Brigade faded into insignificance compared with the brave deeds of our Australian boys at Gallipoli.

B P Johnson at another farewell at Yarram (28/7/16) declared:

The children had read of the famous charge at Balaclava, of Woolfe, and other great deeds in history, but equal to anything was the charge of the Light Horse at Anzac (Applause).

Unlike Bland, Johnson was only claiming equivalence for the AIF, in terms of the glorious history of the British army. Like others, he continued to push the claim that the AIF,  born of the British army, had now become its equal. At another farewell – Yarram (17/5/16) – he declared:

The boys at Gallipoli showed the old British blood and their fighting qualities and achievements made the whole world stare.

Others were keen to identify what they saw as the unique spirit, ethos or culture of the AIF, not just its achievements in battle. W V Rymer – the former Anglican reader at Yarram, who had  served for a short time on Gallipoli before his health broke down – stated at a farewell at Alberton (22/11/16):

There was no name he (the speaker) loved better than “mate” or “cobber,” and that was why he was pleased to say a few words of appreciation to the young man who was joining the ranks. (Applause.)

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

Declarations of loyalty to the Empire continued at farewells. Men who volunteered were still referred to as … only doing their duty in enlisting in defence of the Empire, of which we formed a part – Gormandale (16/8/16). The equivalent sentiment was expressed at Yarram (8/9/16). It was Australia’s war because it was Great Britain’s war and the Empire’s war. As a speaker at Madalya (19/5/16) put it:

It was Great Britain’s war, which included Australia and every part of the Empire.

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

The invasion of Belgium and the attendant horrors were still very common speaking points. And Germany remained a ruthless and powerful enemy. At a farewell in Yarram (5/4/16) B P Johnson exhorted those there:

Think of Belgium! God help us and our womenfolk if the Huns got hold of Australia. We have not by any means won the war. We are up against a ruthless and thoroughly prepared nation.

He returned to the theme one month later – Yarram (17/5/16) – when he reminded those present of the plight of … the women and little children of Belgium.

Some speakers were prepared to ramp up the attack on Germany and abandon any semblance of moral constraint or forbearance. W G Pope, who presided at a farewell at Yarram (10/5/16), ran a very hard line:

His opinion was that air raids should be made even on unfortified towns, and if a few German women and children were killed it simply meant that civilians must suffer for the crimes of the nation to which they had the misfortune to belong. And as Germans used gas in warfare we should use it too; and if we could do so we should try and discover an even worse kind of gas than that used by Germans. England must strip off the kid gloves and strike these fiends with the bare knuckles. (Applause). That’s the only sort of treatment they understand; kindness is wasted on them.

On occasion, speakers also referred back to the fears of White Australia before August 1914. Germany was obviously the present danger but it was not the only threat to Australia. As J H Hill reminded an audience at Yarram (17/5/16):

As time goes on and the Asiatic races get more powerful, the European nations will have to fight against an invasion like the Middle Ages.

The mother’s sacrifice

The anguish of the mother was still a common theme. B P Johnson expressed the standard form at a farewell in Yarram (28/7/16):

He felt sorry for a mother. The boys suffer pain for us, but what anguish must a mother feel!

However, as the number of married men who enlisted began to increase, the loneliness and anxiety of the wife had also to be taken into account. To accommodate the broader focus the term ‘womenfolk’ was commonly employed. C S McLeod at a farewell for a married man at Devon North (10/5/16) stated:

He felt sorry for the womenfolk who have a lot to bear when those they love leave for battle. It was they who were making the sacrifice. (Applause).

The pioneer as soldier

This theme was constant throughout 1916. B P Johnson at a farewell at Yarram (25/2/16) early in 1916 referred to the young volunteer – James Wight – as being ‘made of the same stuff’ as the pioneers … dating back to the forties [1840s], who came out from the Old Country and made Australia what it is today.

Cr Bland at a welcome home for 2 soldiers from Devon North (22/3/16) – Driver Gay and Private Sutton – expressed pride in the men’s service and declared that they had … proved they had the spirit so marked in their fathers in the older days.

Johnson was again exhorting the pioneer spirit at a farewell in Yarram in April (5/4/16). He claimed the 2 soldiers – Privates Percy Boddy and Robert McKenzie – … were honoring the descendants of pioneers who came to the district years ago, and these young men were showing the same pluck and determination.

Effectively there were 2 links to the pioneers. One drew the direct, historical link between pioneers who overcame the bush to carve out a prosperous future for their children and descendants – and thereby create the new nation of Australia – and those brave young men, their grand children or even children, who were now defending the same nation, as part of the Empire. The second link was more about character and how the soldier in the AIF had inherited the same essential traits that had enabled the pioneer to survive in the bush. Both were tough, loyal, no-nonsense, independent types. The men from the bush made the best soldiers.

The only qualification here was that the actual term ‘bush’ was not as commonly used in the context of Gippsland. Rather, people tended to talk in terms of settlers and selectors taming the forest and scrub. For example, at a farewell at Wonyip (6/9/16) the report noted that the 2 soldiers – brothers R W and R E Lee – were sons of early pioneers who had … done their share of turning a forest into green fields.

The issue of anger

Overall, the same themes identified in 1915 continued into 1916. However, while the themes remained constant there was a heightened sense of anger evident in the speeches, particularly those delivered in Yarram, and this anger reached its highest pitch at the time of the first referendum on conscription (28/10/16).

There were many targets of the anger: townspeople who were not prepared to put themselves out to attend a farewell; eligible men who refused to enlist; unions that undermined the war effort; and, by the end of 1916, all those opposed to conscription, including the ALP.

To understand the anger it is necessary to have a closer look at the composition of the committee responsible for organising the farewells and welcomes. In the main, and definitely in Yarram, the actual speakers at the farewells were members of this committee. The list of committee members was published in the local paper on 28/7/16 . The following table shows the committee members for 1916. It also shows the other relevant organisations in which individual members of the committee were involved.

The National Referendum Committee (Yarram branch) was the body set up in late September 1916 to promote the Yes vote in the conscription referendum. The table shows that the majority of members in the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee were actively involved in recruiting. Also, as will become apparent in later posts, several of its members – B P Johnson, Rev Tamagno and W G Pope – were key backers for the Yes vote.

As already argued, in Yarram, those involved in the organisation of soldiers’ farewells employed the functions to promote recruiting and push the Government’s agenda on the War. On the specific issue of conscription, the committee was pressing for it for more than year before the referendum was held. The committee was convinced that the voluntary system had failed and as 1916 progressed, they were increasingly frustrated because, in their opinion, the locals did not share their sense of urgency and commitment.

As they saw it, those in the committee were making significant sacrifices in supporting the work associated with organising and putting on the farewells and welcomes. They were doing their civic duty and working on behalf of others, both those being farewelled or welcomed and, as significantly, the rest of the community. They saw themselves as patriots working in the cause of the Nation and the Empire. They were committed. They knew what had to be done and they were prepared, as responsible citizens, to take leadership. They also believed that any farewell or welcome had to play a part in the overall effort to raise recruits. Even if no eligible men were in the audience, it was still essential to remind everyone there that enlistment levels had to be maintained and, later, improved dramatically. Specifically, they focused their attention on those men who, they believed, should have already enlisted.

Whereas they saw the necessity and nobility of their work, they too found, like Recruiting Sergeant Newland, that they were often met with indifference or hostility. Not surprisingly, as their efforts were compromised they reacted with anger.

Anger directed at townsfolk who did not attend farewells

As indicated, this was really only a problem in Yarram. Some farewells in Yarram were very popular – there was a major farewell to 22 men in April (26/4/16) which was very well attended –  but the numbers at many others were poor. It was common practice for the head teacher of Yarram SS – A E Paige, a committee member – to take a party of senior students from the primary school to farewells to increase the numbers there. There was even one farewell (30/8/16) where the attendance was so small that the ceremony was held not in the Shire Hall but in an office in the Shire Hall. Committee members were often reported as being embarrassed for the men being farewelled by small audiences. At a committee meeting in late March (29/3/16)  it was reported:

Surprise and disgust were expressed by several members of the committee at the small attendance at the various farewells etc. It was mentioned that many people in the town [Yarram] had not even put themselves out enough to attend once, although the soldiers were giving up everything for them.

Anger directed at those who would not enlist

It would have been virtually impossible for those speaking at farewells and intimately involved in recruiting to understand why some men refused to enlist. For the patriot, the logic of the situation – the Empire and Nation were both threatened; high levels of casualties called for more enlistments; every male citizen had the same civic duty to answer the call; ‘mates’ in their time of need could not be abandoned; it was ‘manly’ to fight to protect the weak – was irrefutable. It was especially galling that married men, and even men in their forties, were prepared to sacrificed so much by enlisting while younger, single men held back.

Those men who refused to do the ‘right thing’ were constantly targeted. When he farewelled James Wight at Yarram (25/2/16) B P Johnson singled out those holding back:

Those chaps who were standing back and not heeding the cry did not seem to realise what our nation was up against.

When A H Moore spoke at a farewell at Stacey’s Bridge (26/4/16) he made the point that … the brave lads were practically offering their lives on behalf of those who stayed behind. At the farewell for Sgt Filmer at Womerah (3/3/16) one speaker … spoke of the excuses made for not enlisting. There was too much of “I’ll go when so-and-so goes’. B P Johnson at a welcome home (22/3/16) contrasted the sacrifice of the 2 returning men with the cowardice of ‘shirkers’:

The war had taught all the lessons of sacrifice. When those who hung back saw these two young men, and contrasted them with their own cowardice, they would surely want to find a small hole to crawl in and hide.

Johnson was very fond of the term ‘shirker’. And he was prepared to use it widely, and not just for those who refused to enlist. At another farewell in April (5/4/16) he declared:

He did not think it [“shirker”] too strong a word. Every man who could not fight, and stayed home in comfort and did not give, was a shirker. Every sweetheart who stopped her lover, every father or mother who stopped their son, and every wife who stopped her husband from enlisting was a shirker.

Another common description of those who refused to enlist was ‘waster’. At a farewell in Yarram (28/4/16) Rev Walklate declared:

It was a mistake to see so many brave boys going out of loyal families, while wasters were holding back.

For patriots, the only way forward was conscription. Conscription would create a ‘level playing field’ and ensure that the sacrifice was spread fairly. They would no longer have to appeal, in vain, to the conscience of the ‘shirker’ or the ‘waster’. Johnson (28/4/16) captured the frustration and anger of the group when he declared that he favoured conscription because then the Government could effectively … get men by the scruff of the neck and seat of the pants and run them in. (Laughter).

As much as they favoured conscription, speakers were generally keen to identify the city, and not the country, as the natural home of the shirker and waster. Cr Barlow (28/4/16) declared his support for conscription, noted that some from the district were holding back but focused on his attention on the large cities:

He was proud to see so many good men going from the district to help finish the good work begun, but there were many more who should have gone. In his opinion the voluntary system is a rank failure. He could not understand why the Government did not come forward and take the men wanted  by conscription. His remarks did not apply so much to the country as to the cities, where thousands were attending race meetings and prize fights who were no good to their country.

Anger directed at those undermining the war effort and recruiting

One obvious target was the union movement. G F Sauer at a farewell at Yarram (28/1/16) attacked the bans on shipping and declared that … the lives of such men [trade unionists] were not worth fighting for. Another common call was that preference to unionists should be replaced by preference to returning Anzacs.

But by far the greatest anger over 1916 was directed at those in the ALP who opposed conscription. This will be covered in future posts but for now it is worth noting Johnson’s views as early as July 1916 (26/7/16) when various Labor Leagues – in this instance at Broken Hill – began the political manoeuvring – including the threat of strikes –  to oppose the introduction of conscription. Speaking of those workers in favour of such resolutions, Johnson declared,

It was the duty of all speaking in public to condemn them. In his opinion all such men should be interned. They were either enemies or traitors who ought to be shot.


When it had been formed in 1915 the focus of the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee had been narrow and its work uncontroversial. However, over time, as it turned its attention first to recruiting and then to supporting conscription, it became a far more partisan and aggressive body. Its links to other local bodies pushing for the Yes vote in the first national referendum on conscription will be covered in future posts.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative








80. Pozieres: Moquet Farm from 10/8/16 – G W APPLEYARD, A REEVES, J NEIL & P J MILLS

Gordon William APPLEYARD 865
9 Battalion DOW 24/8/16

Gordon William Appleyard was one of 6 brothers of the Appleyard family from Alberton who enlisted. Gordon and another brother – Charles Courtney Appleyard MM – were both killed in 1916, Gordon in August and Charles in November. In addition, there was a cousin – Edgar Appleyard, from Alberton – who was also killed, in Egypt in 1917. The names of all three are on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial.

Gordon’s mother – Jane Appleyard – recorded the following when she completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour:

Pte. W. G. Appleyard was one of 6 brothers who enlisted with the A.I.F. My Mother’s Father and only Brother served their time under Queen Victoria. This boy said when very young if war broke out when he was a man he would be a soldier. He proved himself one.

Private Gordon Appleyard enlisted on 3/9/14, just one month after the formal declaration of war (4/8/14). At the time he enlisted he was living and working in Queensland. He enlisted at Rockhampton. But even though he enlisted interstate, he was clearly still regarded as ‘local’. He had been born in Yarram, grew up in the district and attended school at Binginwarri. It is not evident when he moved to Queensland, but it was probably in his early twenties because he had been a member of the South Gippsland Rifle Club.  His name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton War Memorial and the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.  Also, his mother gave Binginwarri as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.

At the time of his enlistment, Gordon was single and 26 yo. His occupation was listed as labourer. Back in Gippsland, the father had a farm at Binginwarri, with at least some of the boys helping out.

Private Gordon Appleyard joined 9 Battalion, one of the very first units of the AIF. It embarked within a couple of months of being formed and reached Egypt in December 1914. It was involved from the very beginning of the Gallipoli campaign.

Private Appleyard was evacuated from the Gallipoli Peninsula to a hospital ship in September 1915. He appears to have been suffering from dysentery and rheumatic fever. He was in hospital in Malta before being transferred to England in October 1915. Hospitalisation and treatment continued right through to July 1916. He left England for the front in late July and rejoined his battalion on 8/8/16, nearly a year after being evacuated from Gallipoli. At Pozieres, and  less than 2 weeks after rejoining his unit, he was wounded on 20/8/16, and then died from the wounds just 4 days later on 24/8/16, at the 44th Casualty Clearing Station. He was buried in a marked grave at Puchevillers British Cemetery.

In terms of the specific action in which Private Appleyard died, the war diary for 9 Battalion indicates that, as part of the 1 Division, it was involved in heavy fighting at Pozieres, in the vicinity of Mouquet Farm, from August 19 – 23. The fighting was characterised by intense enemy artillery barrages. There was one such barrage on the afternoon of the 20 August.  Most likely this was when Private Appleyard was wounded.

Over the course of the 5 days (19-23 August), 9 Battalion suffered 164 casualties. The war diary also offers a telling insight on why the casualty levels from artillery bombardments were so high. Essentially, the shelling was so intense that the front line was being levelled, day after day.

I desire to draw attention to the inadequate arrangements for the improving of the communication trenches to the very forward positions. Owing to the short time a Battalion is in the line it is impossible to secure a continuity of Policy. The main communications should be in the hands of an Officer who has control of Pioneers and salvage men and these trenches should be built in the most concealed position and maintained. Considering the enemy levels them every day, it is difficult work, but it should be done. I consider half my causalities were due to defective communications [trenches].
25th August 1916
Lieut. Col. Commanding 9th Battalion.

The formal Report of Death of a Soldier for Private Appleyard was issued on 30/9/16, five weeks after his death, but it appears that word of the death was passed to the family in mid to late September 1916. The following letter, dated 27 November 1916, again points to the way families were informed via the local clergy. It also clearly reflects the pressing need for as much information as possible in relation to deaths. The letter was written by the father (George Appleyard). It was sent to Senator Hon, G. F Pearce, Minister for Defence.

Will you please give me particulars of the death of my son who died of wounds on the 24th August 1916. That is all the information I received from a telegram sent to the Church of England Clergyman of Alberton. I would like to know where he died. Also particulars of deferred pay and any pay due to him. He sailed from Queensland on 15th Sep.1914 on the troopship Omrah and died on 24th Aug 1916. Hoping you will give this your favourable notice.

The response came from Base Records on 4 December 1916. It was effectively the form letter of the time; and the only additional piece of information offered was the name of the casualty clearing station.

With reference to the report of the regrettable loss of your son, the late No. 865 (1027), Private G. W. Appleyard, 9th Battalion, I am now in receipt of advice which shows that he died at No. 44 Casualty Clearing Station, France, on the 24th August 1916, of wounds received in action.

It is clear from the records that the family continued to try to uncover details of the son’s fate. Even though he was never ‘missing’, it appears that the Red Cross Society (Melbourne) took up the case on behalf of the mother in late 1918 (25/11/18).

The above named soldier is officially reported as died of wounds on the 24th August, 1916 – he is one of five brothers who enlisted and his mother is particularly anxious to get any information that is available concerning his death and burial.

The Red Cross was able to track down the details of the burial – He was buried at Puchevillers Military Cemetery on the 25/8/16 by the Capt. Rev. Knevitt C.E. padre to the Forces.

The Red Cross correspondence of 25/11/18 refers to 5 brothers from the Appleyard family having enlisted. This figure of 5 brothers is one less than previously highlighted. The discrepancy came about because in early October 1916, after word of Private Gordon Appleyard’s death had reached the family, the parents wrote to the Minister of Defence (1/10/16) requesting that the most recent, and the sixth son to enlist, be discharged from the AIF. The request was approved:

I have 6 sons in the A.I.F. The first one [Gordon William] went at the outbreak of the war in Oct 1914. He was in the Dardanelles for 6 months when he was invalided to England. He recovered was sent to France some time ago and was killed on 24th Aug.

Another son was wounded about the same time in France and I cannot hear where he is or any tidings of him. 3 other sons are in the thick of the battle. The 6th son is still here in camp. He was ill and sent to the Base Hospital where he was operated on a month ago. He came home yesterday on sick leave for 14 days. I am writing to ask you to give this son his discharge. He is the only one we have. His Father is too old to look after the farm and I think we have given our share with the 5 boys who we might never see again. Please grant this request and discharge our son. We shall be ever grateful to you. I am yours most respectfully

The son in question, Ernest, enlisted on 26/4/16. He was 30 yo and his occupation was given as farmer. He was assigned to reinforcements for the 46 Battalion but never embarked. He was operated on for ‘varicocele’ in late September 1916 and, as indicated, his recuperation involved being nursed at home for two weeks, from 29/9/16. When he returned to the hospital he was ordered to report to Royal Park, where under instructions from Divisional Headquarters he was discharged, on 20/10/16. Private Appleyard himself recorded as the reason he was requesting his discharge – family circumstances as stated in correspondence already forwarded to D. H. Q. 3rd M.D. The official records show that he was discharged forthwith for family reasons.

Three lots of personal kit for their son – (1) Belt, part of pipe lighter, cigarette holder, Button protector and (2) Identity Disc, Chain, Pipe, Cigarette Lighter, Cards, Photos, Wallet, Note Book, Money belt, Linen Bag and (3) Testament, Fountain pen, letter – were returned to the family over 1917 and 1918.


National Archives file for APPLEYARD Gordon William 865
Roll of Honour: Gordon William Appleyard
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Gordon William Appleyard
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Gordon William Appleyard



Alfred REEVES 3342
24 Battalion DOW 25/8/16

Alfred Reeves was yet another young, English immigrant farm worker who found himself in Gippsland at the outbreak of World War 1. And like so many of them, there is very little detail of his life, both in the Shire of Alberton and in the AIF. His name is not included on either the Shire of Alberton War Memorial or the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Yet he was definitely living and working in the Shire prior to enlistment. He completed his initial medical at Yarram 30/7/15 and was then issued with a railway warrant (No. 190, dated 30/7/15) by the Shire Secretary so that he could travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment. Fish Creek is given as the place of association on the (National) Roll of Honour, but the basis for this association is unclear.

When he enlisted in Melbourne (4/8/15) he gave his age as 18 yo and his occupation as farmer, again reflecting how the descriptors ’farmer’ and ‘farm hand’ or ‘farm labourer’ were often used interchangeably. He would have been younger than 18 yo at the time because he was only recorded as 18 yo when he died one year later (25/8/16) in France. He had been born in Leicester and he gave his father, also of Leicester, as his next-of-kin. His religion was Church of England.

There was some confusion and contradiction in terms of his initial time in the AIF and there is even an incorrect reference to him being a deserter. The very date from which he was said to have been missing – 25/11/15 – was in fact the the day his group of reinforcements for 24 Battalion left Melbourne for the Middle East.  To add to the confusion, the same date is also given as the date he ‘re-attested’ or re-enlisted. Perhaps his initial enlistment papers went missing at the point he embarked for overseas service and, back in Australia, the AIF authorities were searching for a soldier who was in fact on his way to Egypt.

He spent a short time in hospital in Egypt and then reached Marseilles on 18/5/16 and was taken on strength with 24 Battalion on 31/7/15.

Less than one month later he was wounded (25/8/16) – shrapnel wound chest and buttocks – and died the same day. He was another killed by the ferocious artillery barrages that characterised the fighting at Pozieres. The war diary for 24 Battalion for that day reported Heavy shelling all day. The other item to feature in the diary for the same day was a reference – one of the very first – to German soldiers carrying flame throwers – One cylinder when struck exploded & blew the man to pieces.

Private Reeves was buried at Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery, Picardie. The family was advised on his death on 21/9/16. A handful of items from his personal kit – Letters, Wallet, Cigarette Cards – were also returned. The mother received a pension of £2 a fortnight from 25/10/16.

There is no correspondence in the service file from the family in England. Nor did the family complete the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. So there is very little to add to the short life of this largely unknown and unacknowledged young English immigrant. However, there is a transcribed copy of a letter that Private Reeves wrote to his mother in England when he was in training – at the military camp at Flemington – in August 1915. This does at least serve as some acknowledgement that he was probably a naive, and certainly patriotic, very young volunteer. He was also very close to his mother:

Dear Mother
Just a few lines to let you know that I am alright and happy hoping this letter will find you the same. You will see by the address [Methodist Soldiers’ Institute. Military Camp, Flemington] where I am, and I am under training. I am getting on alright, and I am very glad I got in. I have been in a fortnight and I have had a good bit of training. I have signed papers that in the event of my being killed all my wages go to you and if I get wounded it will go to you just the same. When you [are] writing your letter write this, A. Reeves, 2 Section, 4th Platoon, and then I will get them alright. I am sending you some photos of me and I hope in three weeks I will send some more. You see, I have not got my pay. We only get paid 1 a month and I will have to go another 14 days before I get my money. I have not had a letter from Ada for about 18 weeks but I don’t care. If she doesn’t want to write she need not bother. I am very sorry to hear such a lot have been killed from Home but we will win. I shall probably be gone to the War by the time you get this letter

Well Dearie. Au Revoir. Ever your loving son. Alfie.
remember me to all.


National Archives file for REEVES Alfred 3342
Roll of Honour: Alfred Reeves
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Alfred Reeves



James NEIL 3897
22 Battalion KIA 26/8/16

James Neil was born at Tarraville. His father, as next-of-kin, was Richard Neil who was on the electoral roll as labourer of Tarraville. James grew up in the district and attended state school at both Tarraville and Alberton. He had been in the Port Albert Rifle Club for 6 months prior to enlistment. He gave his occupation on the enlistment papers as labourer. His religion was Church of England and he was 21 yo and single. There was an older  brother – William Neil – who had enlisted about one month earlier (29/6/15).

James Neil had his initial medical in Yarram and then completed the enlistment in Melbourne on 29/7/15. He was taken on as reinforcements for 22 Battalion. His group left Melbourne for overseas service in early 1916 (8/2/16) and reached France at the end of March (27/3/16).

Within days of arriving in France, he was hospitalised for two weeks with ‘scabies’. After his discharge from hospital he was finally taken on strength for 22 Battalion on 31/7/16, less than 1 month before he died.

22 Battalion, as part of 2 Division, first saw action at Pozieres on 29/7/16. This attack failed. 2 Division next featured in the attack on 4/8/16. This time there was limited success, but the men were subsequently subjected to a ferocious two day artillery bombardment. By this point, 2 Division had suffered nearly 7,000 casualties. The third appearance was on 26/8/16 and on this occasion it managed to reach Mouquet Farm, one of the key objectives, but was not able to hold it. Private Neil was one of the casualties on 26 August.

The War Diary of 22 Battalion indicates that in the fighting on that day – 26/8/16 – it reinforced its sister battalion, 21 Battalion, at the two locations known as ‘Toms Cut’ and the ‘Quarry’. The actual level of casualties for 22  Battalion was not very high, only approximately 50; and Private Neil would have been one of the 8 reported as ‘missing’. By contrast, 21 Battalion suffered nearly 300 casualties in the same action.

Private Neil was initially reported as ‘missing’ and then at a court of enquiry held 15 months later – 26/11/17 – this was changed to ‘killed in action’ on the same day. His body was never recovered and his name appears on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

There was only one piece of correspondence from Private Neil’s family in Tarraville over his fate.  In October 1916 (15/10/16)  another brother – John Neil – wrote:

Please supply me with the information of Private James Neil who was recently reported missing a few weeks back and I have not heard anything since.

The response from Base Records – 21/10/16 – indicated that he was still ‘reported as missing on 26-8-16’ and promised prompt communication should any further information ‘come to hand’.

However, it appears that the family knew of their son’s fate well before the official committee of enquiry determined that he had been killed. The Red Cross report for Private James Neil suggests that news of the death was conveyed to the older brother – Private William Neil – by men from 22 Battalion. Private William Neil was in 14 Battalion (4 Division) and he had been wounded – GSW lower extremities and shell shock – in action at Pozieres on 12/8/16. He was hospitalised first in France and then in England. Presumably, while recovering in hospital, with the very many other casualties from the extended series of battles at Pozieres, he heard first-hand accounts of his brother’s death. He would have then conveyed this information to his family back in Tarraville.

Surprisingly, there is no indication that any personal kit was ever returned to the family.

The information for the (National) Roll of Honour was provided by the brother – William Neil – who identified Tarraville as the place with which his younger brother was ‘chiefly connected’.  Strangely, James Neil is listed on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial but his name is not included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.


National Archives file for NEIL James 3897
Roll of Honour: James Neil
First World War Embarkation Rolls: James Neil
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: James Neil



Patrick Joseph MILLS 4236
7 Battalion DOW 29/8/16

note: Patrick Joseph Mills was the brother of my wife’s grand father (Frederick John  Mills).

Patrick Joseph Mills was born at Gordon, about 25 Km from Ballarat. He came from a very large family of 18 children and one foster child. Similar to the Appleyard family above, at least 5 Mills brothers saw service in WW1. Two served in the New Zealand army – John Francis Mills KIA and George Thomas Mills – and at least 3 served in the AIF: Patrick Joseph Mills, William Mills and Gordon Francis Mills. Of the 3 in the AIF, William Mills returned to Australia in 1919 with an English wife – Margaret New – but the other 2 brothers were killed: Gordon Francis Mills 4/10/17 and Patrick Joseph Mills 29/8/16.

The Mills boys grew up at Gordon. They went to St. Patricks, the Catholic primary school in Gordon. When the father completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour for Private Patrick Mills, he even gave Gordon as the location with which his son – Patrick – was ‘chiefly connected’. However, by the outbreak of WW1, three of the Mills brothers – Patrick Joseph Mills, James Patrick Mills and Frederick John Mills – were living and working in the Shire of Alberton.

Private Patrick Mills (4236) enlisted on 7/8/15 in Melbourne. At the time he was 26 yo and single. He gave his occupation as labourer. He was Roman Catholic.

The records suggest that Private Mills was initially in 10 Battalion but was transferred to 7 Battalion on 25/11/15. He embarked for overseas service at the end of December 1915 (29/12/15). He was not involved in the Gallipoli campaign and his unit reached Marseilles from Alexandria at the end of March 1916.

He was hospitalised in France at the end of June 1916 and rejoined his battalion one month later (29/7/16). He was wounded in action at Pozieres on 18/8/16 and died 2 weeks later on 29/8/16. The wound was described as ‘Shell wound Abdomen and Thigh’. Like Private George Appleyard, he died at the 44th Casualty Clearing Station and, also like Private Appleyard, he was buried in the Puchevillers British (Military) Cemetery.

The war diary for 7 Battalion gives details of the background fighting at the time Private Mills was wounded. On 17 August, 7 Battalion was ordered to relieve 5 Battalion and take over the front line from ‘Tramway to Bapaume Road’. This was completed by 0700 on 18 August and, generally, that day itself passed reasonably quietly with only 3 casualties recorded. However, the Diary also indicates that beginning that night, 7 Battalion was involved in a major attack which involved a far higher level of casualties.

The ‘notes’ reproduced below, are taken from operational orders for 7 Battalion, issued at 5.20 PM on 18th August 1916. They detail the perilous nature of such attacks, particularly when they involved advancing towards the enemy positions as their own side’s artillery barrage was in progress, ‘creeping forward’. All this needs to seen against the background reality that the Australians’ own artillery could fall short and hit the advancing troops. It was certainly not an exact science. Also evident is the need to prevent the troops from panicking and falling back to their own lines at the nearest suggestion of any order to withdraw. Doubtless the last claim [(d)] would have been seen as exceptionally gratuitous advice, presuming of course that the men survived the enemy’s bombardment. There were 164 casualties in this particular action.

(a) Men should be warned to follow barrage closely but not to run into it.

(b) When objective is reached, not to pursue small groups of men, but to follow with fire. If our men rush past the object they will run into our own barrage of artillery and M. Gun fire.

(c) Impress on all ranks that the words RETIRE and EVACUATE are not to be obeyed and no excuse will be accepted for troops withdrawing on such commands. N.C.Os. should particularly be warned that they must not take such orders from anyone, but until received from a known superior they must stick and keep their men with them.

(d) Men who have stood through an enemy bombardment have nothing to fear from his infantry attack when his artillery lifts.

Because Private Mills died at a casualty clearing station, the formalities associated with recording the death and informing the family were discharged relatively quickly. The Report of Death of a Soldier was issued on 20/9/16, about 3 weeks after his death; and in the normal course of events the family would have been notified by either late September or early October, 1916.

However, whenever the notification of death did arrive it would have been a truly cruel blow, because earlier, on 13 September, some 2 weeks after Private Mills had died from his wounds, the family was in fact advised that their son had been wounded. Worse, the letter to the father assured him that the wound was … not stated as being serious and in the absence of further reports it is to be assumed all wounded are progressing satisfactorily. As seen in earlier cases, the father was then given an address for writing to his wounded son, who was, unfortunately, already dead. When the formal confirmation of death came it would have been a brutal reversal in fortune for the family.

The father wrote in March 1917 asking if any of his son’s kit or other effects had ‘come to hand’. Several months later (August 1917) a small number of personal items – Discs (2). Coins (2). Purse. Belt with buttons attached – were returned to the family. After the War, the medals went to the ‘eldest surviving brother’ –  Kenneth Gordon Mills, born 1866 – because by that point both parents had died. The mother died in early 1915 (24/2/15) and the father in late 1920 (29/10/20).

Private Mills’ name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton War Memorial and the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.


National Archives file for MILLS Patrick Joseph 4236
Roll of Honour: Patrick Joseph Mills
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Patrick Joseph Mills