Category Archives: July to December 1917

153. The case of Charles William Frederick Allum

Charles William Frederick Allum was convicted at Yarram on 20/9/17 of impersonating a returned soldier. He was ordered to enter into a good behaviour bond of £10 for 12 months and pay the court costs. The police magistrate on the day, Vivian Tanner, was lenient on him and pointed out that he could have been imprisoned for 6 months or fined £100. He was prosecuted for … falsely pretending to be a returned soldier, contrary to para. 45 B (2) of the War Precautions Regulations 1915, made in pursuance of the War Precautions Act, 1915-1916.

The case was reported in detail in the local paper, Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, on 21/9/17 and even appeared in The Age (24/9/17). The other source of evidence is the individual ‘Security and intelligence record’ [MP 16/1, 1917/807] from the National Archives of Australia.

At the time of his court appearance, Allum was reported to be only 18 yo. Incredibly, he had been passing himself off as a returned soldier since March 1917. Further, he claimed to have seen service both at Gallipoli and in France.

Allum was from Brunswick but for several months from March 1917 he worked at Yarram, at W C Growse’s store. The evidence presented in court detailed how he had told customers that he was a returned soldier who had been injured in France – shrapnel in his back – but who, after 10 months leave, was to return to camp. It was also claimed in court that he had received gifts from several young ladies in Yarram, on the strength that he was returning to camp. When he was arrested he had on him a letter, undated, which he had written, but not sent, to a Miss F Gibbs at Foster. The letter is barely coherent but he claimed to be in camp (Broadmeadows). The address he gave on the letter was his parents’ address at Brunswick.

As noted in an earlier post (Post 148) the first meeting of the local branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia took place in Yarram in late June 1917 (27/6/17). Allum was working in Yarram at the time and, in terms of the identity he had created for himself, he obviously felt the need to attend the first meeting. However the told those there that he would not join the association because he was heading back to camp. His attendance at his meeting was the beginning of his undoing because he came to the attention of 2 office bearers of the new association: E T Benson and W A Newland. Both these men took it upon themselves to interview him and they questioned him about his service record and the specific details of his regimental number and battalion. In evidence in court, both men stated that his answers were ‘wrong’, in that he gave the wrong colour patches for his unit and the embarkation details were also wrong.

The issue of timing is not clear but there is a report in the intelligence file that states that Allum attended one of the early meetings of the local branch of the RSSILA – the date given is 2/8/17 – at which he was accused by both Benson and Newland of not being a returned soldier. The report notes that he [Allum] … cleared out by early train next morning. Presumably, even though he had left the town, the men went ahead and reported him to the authorities.

The authorities caught up with him in late August (27/8/17) when he was working as a steward on a boat – SS Bulla – at Victoria Dock, Melbourne. When he was challenged, he freely admitted that he had presented himself as a returned soldier when he was in Yarram. He was taken into custody – Victoria Barracks – and eventually returned to Yarram for the court appearance on 20/9/17.

According to the report in the local paper, the authorities, in the person of W P Jones, Intelligence Officer, wanted the court to make an example of the young man:

Mr. Jones asked the P. M. [Police Magistrate, V Tanner] to deal with accused as would act as deterrent to others who may come to a far distant town and pose as returned men.

However, evidence presented in the court made it difficult for the magistrate to come down too hard on on the young offender. Representing the young man in the court was B P Johnson, local barrister. Johnson was – see previous posts – one of the most outspoken Imperial Loyalists of the community.

On behalf of his client, Johnson admitted the wrong doing but he claimed the offending was more the act of a ‘fool’, and that his client had become trapped in his own lies. Importantly, Johnson maintained that his client was … not like a lot of young men – cold footers and traitors. Rather, the young man … was a mere boy, of good parentage, and had tried to enlist seven or eight times, but was turned down owing to a weak chest. He at last succeeded, but his mother would not give her consent. He tried again, and was taken out of camp. He had three brothers at the war. This lad had been pestered so much about enlisting, and having tried so often, he foolishly said he was a returned soldier, and having told a lie stuck to it. He did not so act to get any benefit from it.

The young man then confirmed that he had tried to enlist before he was eighteen and then, when he finally was accepted, his parents would not give permission. He stated that he had a ‘chest complaint’ and that his mother was a chronic invalid. He claimed that the fiction about being a returned soldier came because he ‘was pestered to enlist’ by recruiting sergeants. Cross-examined by Jones, Allum admitted that he had received presents from 3 girls at the time he said he was leaving Yarram to go back to camp.

The lad’s father was also called as a witness and he confirmed that his wife was a ‘chronic invalid’. He added that her condition was the result of a railway accident and that his son had been in the same accident. The father stated that he was prepared to pay the court costs, about £ 3.

The other critical detail that helped the young man’s defence was the fact that during the Great Strike (Post 132) he was said to have worked on the Melbourne wharves as a volunteer ‘National worker’. This would have been after he fled Yarram. This display of patriotic support was specifically cited in the newspaper report as one of the reasons the magistrate was inclined to leniency. The other reasons given were the young age, the admission of guilt and the demonstrated attempt(s) to enlist.

As indicated, there was no fine or imprisonment. The father had to pay costs and there was a good behaviour bond for 12 months.

There are some aspects of this case that are baffling. Most times when young men tried to enlist but were unsuccessful there is some record of the attempt. Commonly, in the National Archives database, there will be a MT 1486/1 (1) with minimal details: name, age, address. Moreover, when a person did enlist and go into camp, but was then discharged – on medical grounds or there was a challenge by a parents on the issue of age – there is inevitably a formal record, as brief as it may be. Allum is not a common name and in fact there are only 13 records in the NA database for this name; and there is no record at all for Charles William Frederik Allum. Nor is there any record of any brothers serving in the AIF, at least under the name of Allum.

Lastly, in the intelligence file there is letter from the parents – Esther Ann Allum and Alex C Allum – giving their permission for their son – Charles William Allum – to join the AIF. It was dated 8/9/17. It must have been supplied after their son had been arrested and was waiting trial. But there is no record of Charles William Allum ever having been accepted in the AIF.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for ALLUM Charles William Frederick ‘Security and intelligence record’ [MP 16/1, 1917/807]


(1) This series consists of records for those individuals who applied to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force, and were either rejected, discharged while still in training, or went on to serve within Australia only [usually as depot troops or camp guards]. The most common reason for rejection is on medical grounds.

152. The Queen Carnival of November 1917 and more division

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

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

151. The war against drink 2: the grocer’s licence at the Yarram Co-op Store

The Co-operative Store Yarram, undated. Courtesy Public Records Office Victoria

An earlier post (97. The war against drink) highlighted the significance of the temperance movement in World War One. This post looks in detail at the intense conflict that erupted in the second half of 1917 over the (liquor) licence held by the local co-operative store in Yarram (Yarram Co-operative Store). Specifically, it looks at the extraordinary series of letters in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – that ran from July to September 1917.

[At the time, the spelling of licence/license was inconsistent, even within the same text. In this post, ‘licence’ is used throughout.]

The Co-operative Store at Yarram was established in late 1911. It was developed from an existing store owned by James G McKenzie.The original board of directors was – James F Trigg, George Bland, A H Moore, J Langham, J E Chenhall, Richard Moorfield and McKenzie himself. The manager of the store was J O Whyte. The store ran very successfully to the 1920s. From that point on, competition and customers’ bad debts undermined its profitability. It managed to survive, in reduced form, to the early 1960s.

During WW1, the Co-op Store was closely identified with support for the War effort. Several of its employees enlisted. Individual directors were involved in committees that supported recruiting and conscription and the staging of farewells and welcomes for soldiers. The store had a public policy of purchasing war bonds with its profits. It offered its facilities for fund raising, particularly for the Red Cross.

J G McKenzie had held a ‘grocer’s licence’ to sell alcohol in his original store from 1902, and it was transferred to the new Co-op Store in 1911. It was this licence that became a powerful lightning rod for local temperance advocates in the second half of 1917.

To the end of 1916, the temperance movement had enjoyed considerable success. It had become generally accepted – principally through editorial support in newspapers that featured public statements from the Royal Family, leading politicians, generals, admirals and many figures of authority and respectability – that it was necessary to curb drinking to support the War effort. Drink was even described as an enemy as deadly as Germany. Further, the War was proving difficult to win because too much effort was compromised by drink. As Rev Tamagno (Presbyterian) put it in a sermon at Yarram – reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 26/7/16 – the War had to be won with the ‘enemy [of drink] on our backs’. Beyond the broad appeal to curb (‘hard’) drink, there had been significant checks placed on the sale of alcohol through the introduction of 6 o’clock closing.

The issue of the licence at the Co-op Store in Yarram was first raised, publicly, in an editorial in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 12/7/16. The editorial purported to be an even-handed approach to temperance. Whilst it was in general sympathy with the ideals of the temperance movement, particularly at the present time, it argued that temperance advocates were inclined to be too extreme in their demands and, in particular, it felt that their all-out attack on hotels and publicans was unrealistic. Hotels, the editorial argued, were important institutions in the local community. They served an important social function and generated wealth for the town. They were legitimate businesses. Further, 6 o’clock closing was about to have a serious negative impact on their profitability. Against this background, the editorial took aim at the grocer’s licence. First it emphasised the need for a more ‘temperate’ approach:

Where the Temperance Party fail is in their extreme measures, which could not be swallowed whole by people who are alive to the injustice that would be done. Besides, extreme measures rarely meet with success. All are agreed as to the evils inseparable from strong drink, and but a small percentage is against reform, but it must not be too drastic.

Then it championed the local hotels over the licence held by the local grocer:

The cry of the Temperance Party is “down with the publican,” while little is said about the grocer’s licence, where business is done in a comparative wholesome way. We claim if the business hours of the publican are to be further curtailed [6 o’clock closing] they should at least have the whole of the retailing of liquor, and that no further grocers’ licences should issue. A grocer’s licence is after all but an auxiliary, while a publican depends wholly on the one article. His is a one-line business, while the grocer has a means of livelihood without selling grog, whether by the bottle or by the gallon. This is a point that should be advocated by the Temperance Party. If they will but proceed in a “temperate” way, and be content with a partial gain, the rest may well be left to the next, or following generations.

In the very next edition of the paper (14/7/16) there was a letter-to-the-editor signed by ‘Reform’ which agreed that priority should be given to the hotels and that ‘the absolute abolition of grocers’ licences’ would be an ‘easy win’ for the temperance reformers. The letter also highlighted another key conviction of those opposed to the grocer’s licence:

If the grocer’s licence goes by the way, the quantity of home consumed liquor will diminish greatly. The convenience of adding the liquor order to the grocery order, and the privacy of same helps the grocer’s licence. Many regular buyers at the store will not personally order or carry away bottled stuff from the hotel, hence it is apparent that if the grocery liquor trade were shut down the home consumption must diminish.

The argument that the removal of grocers’ licences was the key to the reduction of consumption of alcohol within the home was to become critical in the debate.

While to this point the material in the local paper referred only to the general provision of grocers’ licences, there was little doubt that the specific target was the licence held by the Co-operative Store in Yarram. This was made abundantly clear in another editorial published on 18/7/16:

The liquor licence held by the Yarram Co-operative Store was condemned by the local Rechabite Tent some little time ago, since some of the Order are employed in the store, who doubtless never touch nor handle, much less taste the liquor. The crusade against the licence continues, and last week one of the directors, Mr. Geo. Bland, resigned. We hear that in the Methodist pulpit, both at Yarram and North Devon, Mr. Bland’s action was commended, and the holding of a liquor licence by any store was caustically condemned. It is time the Government abolished all grocers’ licences, and allowed hotels the whole and sole benefit to be derived from the trade.

Clearly, for a range of reasons – both economic and moral – the grocer’s licence attached to the Yarram Co-operative Store was an issue in the local politics of the Shire of Alberton – or more particularly, Yarram – even before the fierce debate and division of the second half of 1917.

To give some perspective on the particular licence held by the Co-operative Store, at the licensing court, which sat in Yarram on 6/12/16 and was reported in the local paper on 8/12/16, the following hotels had their licences renewed: Carrajung Hotel, Commercial Hotel Yarram, Commercial Hotel Tarraville, Commercial Hotel Woodside, Hopetoun Hotel Gelliondale, Port Albert Hotel, Ship Inn Hotel Port Albert, Victoria Hotel Alberton, Yarram Hotel and Yarram Club Hotel. In addition to the 10 hotels, there was a wine licence for B Morris of Darriman and, of course, the grocer’s licence for the ‘Yarram and District Co-operative Store’.

The event that triggered the intense debate over the Co-op Store’s grocer’s licence in mid 1917 was the death of Thomas Callender Christie on 30/6/17.

The account of his death was published in the local paper on 4/7/17. Christie was described as a … labouring man who lived a solitary life. He was 55 yo. He worked, off an on, for a local grazier, F E Hobson. As an example of just how involved the life of a ‘local’ farm worker could be, when the estate was settled – reported on 9/1/18 – the ‘Curator of Estates of Deceased Persons’ sold off Christie’s 2-roomed house which was situated at Wonwron on 1 acre of land and included fruit trees. Christie was an example of a local ‘landed labourer’: he worked for local farmers and graziers but he also held a small parcel of land in his own right.

The finding of the deputy coroner was that Christie … died on 30th day of June, 1917, at Wonwron, from want of food and exposure as the result of a drinking bout.

Hobson, Christie’s employer, described how Christie went on ‘periodical sprees’ and related how he [Christie] had told him … on one or two occasions he would like to die drunk. The last time Hobson saw Christie was nearly a week before his death. Hobson said he … appeared to be muddled with drink … and he was… only partly dressed. At the time, Christie was drinking gin and whisky and Hobson noted that he usually drank the gin neat. Hobson was alarmed that Christie did not appear to be eating and so he cooked some sausages for him. He stated that Christie ate the food and drank some tea. A few days later, Hobson asked J H O’Connor who was going to visit his parents – they lived near Christie at Wonwron – if he would check on Christie. It was O’Connor who found Christie dead and notified the police. The police noted that the death was the result of drinking. The officer described how Christie … was clad only in a shirt. It was the middle of Winter. He also noted that … The body was hooked up by the shirt he was wearing to a hook in the fireplace.

Christie’s death, reported in detail in the local paper, was obviously tragic and confronting. It was a stark example, if one was needed, of the inherent danger of drink.

Rev Walklate (Methodist) made Christie’s death the focus for his sermon about 3 weeks later. The sermon was reported in detail, in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 20/7/17. The telling headline for the piece was – The Co-operative Store Grocer’s Licence. Condemned From The Pulpit.

Walklate began his sermon lamenting the general lack of commitment to true Christianity. Then he turned to what it meant to be a true Christian businessman. He posed the rhetorical question: What [as a Christian] is my business life? and then answered it,

Does God come first? True to God in business, then after a business transaction my client should go away feeling, well, that is how Jesus Christ does business.

The focus on the Christian business man was his entree to the store’s licence. In his mind at least, the two were incompatible and Christie’s death presented the chance to prove the incompatibility:

Last week we read of a man named Christie. who drank himself to death: not in a hotel – that is against the law – but in a hut, upon liquor bought at the Co-operative Store.

Walklate’s charge was clear: how could true Christian business men – the manager, shareholders and directors of the Co-op Store – have sold liquor to someone who drank himself to death?

To labour the point about the need to see the person of Christ as a vital figure in the way business was conducted, Walklate offered an unusual – if not bizarre – image. He asked his congregation to imagine a sign painted over the Co-op Store – Jesus Christ & Co., licensed to sell wine and spirits. The presumption was that it was inconceivable. Later, he again placed Christ, literally, at the centre of the trade in alcohol:

If Jesus Christ were to stand at the counter for one day where liquor was handed out, and owners and shareholders of licences could see the face of the Lord, how long would they continue in the business?

For Walklate, the Christian business man had a definite responsibility: Christian teaching and values had to shape his conduct. By the end of the sermon, Walklate had called out all those associated with the operation of the Co-op Store’s grocer’s licence. They were not true Christians at all but, rather, as he put it, … of the race of Judas Iscariot.

In the next edition of the paper (25/7/17) there was another letter from the anonymous ‘Reform’ [see above] who congratulated Walklate as … a clergyman who has the courage to enunciate his beliefs and opinions on such vital public questions as liquor control.

The anonymous correspondent was convinced that … the abolition of the grocers’ licences is the keystone of temperance reform. Get the grocer’s licence cut out and the battle is half won.

‘Reform’ also claimed, specifically in relation to the Co-op Store at Yarram, that the real level of drink sales was hidden in the balance sheet and, more generally, it was … a well known fact that some purchases of liquor in stores hide their purchase under the guise of other goods.

Finally, ‘reformed’ returned to the editor’s earlier claim that it was only fair that licences be restricted, exclusively, to hotels.

To this point, all the reports in the local paper – both letters and editorials – had favoured the push to remove the grocer’s licence from the Co-op Store. This changed dramatically when Richard Moorfield, one of the original directors of the Co-op Store chose to respond.

Moorfield and Walklate had much in common, including the status of both civic leaders and high profile Imperial Loyalists. Both had supported recruitment campaigns and the 1916 Conscription Referendum and both were involved in soldiers’ farewells and welcomes. But there was also a history of conflict between them. For example, during the campaign for the 1916 Referendum, the two had clashed at an anti-conscription meeting held by Senator Blakey. Both had attended the meeting to attack Blakey’s position, but Moorfield had taken the matter one step further. At the end of the meeting, he proposed a motion to the effect that those present at the meeting in fact supported conscription. Walklate had intervened and argued that Moorfield was going too far. The intensity of the clash between the 2 men was remarked on by those there. Presumably, even then, the tension over the licence was affecting relations between them.

In his letter, published in the local paper on 27/7/17, Moorfield launched a spirited defence of the Co-op Store and a strong personal attack on what he described as the clergyman’s ‘vindictive diatribe’.

Moorfield did not dispute that Christie had purchased the liquor at the Co-op Store. But he argued that Christie could and would have purchased the drink from any one of numerous other locations, and he claimed that it was unfounded to single out the Co-op Store as the effective cause of Christie’s death:

Will the Rev. Mr. Walklate affirm that the unfortunate man Mr. Christie would have abstained from liquor had the grocer’s licence been extinct? He knows full well that drink can be procured in the township at various places. Why does “the vilest abomination of that hellish traffic” belong to the Co-op Store in particular?

Moorfield’s criticism then became far more personal. He attacked Walklate as a ‘rabid teetotaler’ who was keen to force his views on everyone, including …thousands of respectable ladies and gentlemen [who] consume wine and spirits as a beverage or stimulant, yet hate intoxication or excessive drinking.

Moorfield was Presbyterian – Rev. Walklate was the local Methodist clergyman – and he certainly had no illusion about the potential ‘evil’ of drink, but he went to considerable length to distance himself from the Walklate’s approach:

I deplore excessive drinking and very much of its social influence, just as much as the Rev. Mr. Walklate does, but I don’t approve of his methods to combat the evil. I have come to the conclusion that many of the rabid teetotalers do more harm than good by their extravagant language and charges against respectable people.

Moorfield even quoted scripture to prove the Church’s approach to drink was not one of total abstinence. He also employed scripture to advise Rev Walklate to step back from passing judgement on other people’s morality. This was clearly criticism of Walklate as a minister of religion.

Lastly, Moorfield could not resist playing with the contrived image that Walklate had set in his letter, where Christ was portrayed as the licensed purveyor of wine and spirits at the Yarram Co-op Store. In such a fanciful situation, Moorfield opined, at least customers would be assured of the quality of the liquor, the sales would be conducted on the ‘very best lines’ and there would be a ‘roaring trade’.

By now, if Rossiter, the editor of the paper, had hoped to stir controversy he had succeeded.

Walklate responded to Moorfield in the next edition (3/8/170. The issue of Christie’s death was receding as Walklate now began to highlight what he saw as the real problem: the appearance of ‘respectability’ that the Co-op Store was able to bestow on the liquor trade. As Walklate stated, grocers’ licences were ‘vile’ … because their hypocritical respectability is an inducement for people to drink. They are vile because they foster drinking in the home. They are vile because women are encouraged to deception and secret drinking.

Walklate’s preoccupation with the apparent duplicity of women prompted him even to suggest that it was their innate ’snobbery’ that sat behind the grocer’s licence. He argued that the … Grocer’s licence is vile because it fosters snobbery. The licensed grocer’s wife or shareholder’s wife seeks to move to a so called higher social level than the hotelkeepers wife. As Walklate saw things, the hapless grocer was driven by his status-seeking wife.

Walklate also started making accusations about the inner workings of the store itself. He suggested that the profits from the sale of alcohol were deliberately hidden in the store’s accounting practices. He also suggested that some employees of the store had had their lives ruined and families broken up because of drink, presumably from their association with the sale of liquor at the store. The further claim was that these employees had then been dismissed … to keep the store “decent and decorous.”

Not surprisingly, Rev Walklate felt the need to challenge Moorfield’s use of scripture. He even suggested Moorfield was not a true Christian:

Use of Scripture is not confined to Christians. If I remember correctly, our Lord ere he commenced his ministry met a gentleman who quoted Scripture to make wrong look right.

As for his own more informed use of scripture, Walklate observed that ‘drunkards’ would never … inherit the Kingdom of God.

Walklate was very keen to deny any association between the historical Christ and any tolerance for the consumption of liquor. In his view, Christ, and the early Church in general, had no involvement with or tolerance of alcohol.

Walklate finished by returning to his main argument that … Christian people have been lulled to unrighteousness by the grocer’s licence and its so called respectability.

For Walklate and his supporters, hotels were ‘evil’ and ‘unrighteous’ places. But this was a given in the community. Everyone knew the dangers of hotels. The Co-op Store, on the other hand, was an even more dangerous proposition because its ‘evil’ trade was concealed by a veneer of respectability. If the licence could be removed it would represent a profound victory for temperance.

Matters became very personal in the next exchange from Moorfield on 8/8/17.

Moorfield claimed that he had not entered the debate in his capacity as a director of the store. He claimed not to have set himself up as a ‘mouthpiece’ for anybody. At the same time, he strongly defended the reputation and name of the store and its employees. The claims from Walklate about questionable practices and behaviour, associated with the sale of liquor in the store, had clearly rankled him.

To the best of my knowledge, since the store was taken over from Mr. James McKenzie, over five years ago, no director has partaken of liquor within the store at any time. The manager, Mr. Whyte, strictly forbids the slightest indulgence in drinking. The employees are a respectable body of servants who know and obey the rules of the store. Should an employee be guilty of drinking in the store during working hours, he, or she, would be liable to instant dismissal. The manager is not responsible for the actions of its servants outside working hours, but all who know them, either in the store or out of it, will pronounce them a credit to the town of Yarram.

The irony was that such declarations served to support Walklate’s claim that the very ’respectability’ of the store enhanced its trade in liquor.

Moorfield dismissed Walklate’s claims about the early Church’s commitment to temperance.

He questioned yet again why Walklate refused to tackle the liquor trade at the hotels and focused exclusively on the Co-op Store. He wondered aloud why … he [Walklate] avoids saying one word against the Club or hotels, thereby showing his bitter animosity towards the store “in particular.”

The reference to the (Yarram) Club was critical. As already indicated, the Yarram Club – a private club in Yarram since the 1890s – held its own liquor licence. Yet it had not attracted any attention at all from Walklate.

Moorfield decided that he needed to address this inconsistency. He claimed that he had the ‘painful duty’ to expose the reasons behind this ‘glaring inconsistency’. Moorfield then announced that Rev Walklate was himself a member of the (licensed) Yarram Club.

It is rumored about (but rumor is not sufficient for me), and I have it from an undoubted source, that the Rev. C. J. Walklate joined the Yarram Club, wherein the “hellish traffic” is carried on, and where drink is sold to members only to be drunk on the premises; that the rev. gentleman was duly balloted for, and made a member of the Club.

Moorfield finished his letter with a curt,

The public awaits his reply.

Walklate had challenged the ‘hypocritical respectability’ of the Co-op Store, now he was being called out as a hypocrite himself over his membership of another licensed premises.

Walklate’s lengthy rely on 15/8/17 claimed that Moorfield was twisting and distorting his (Walklate’s) arguments; and that he was being personally attacked and held to ridicule. As for his membership of the Yarram Club, Walklate denied ever having been a member and claimed, again, that Moorfield had deliberately misrepresented the situation. His version was:

I was proposed as a member of the club and successfully balloted, but hearing it challenged as inconsistent with my rechabite principles I personally interviewed the Grand See of the Rechabites in Melbourne, and was told that the Council would hold it as inconsistent with the I.O.R. principles. Desiring to be consistent, I wrote my proposer and the president of the club and asked permission to withdraw my nomination. They kindly let the matter drop, and thus I never was a member. Should the Rechabites ever permit me I shall gladly join the club for, as a man and a Christian minister I ever seek the right to be found in all places (worthy or worthless) as a man among men.

Walklate returned to the claim that the Co-op Store was morally responsible for Christie’s death. He also now claimed that the sale of alcohol was the ‘backbone’ of the ‘grocery department’ and this was the reason the store was so reluctant to give up the licence.

In his ongoing attempt to remove Christ and the early church from any association with alcohol, Walklate persisted with his claim that ‘wine’ from the scriptures was not intoxicating:

Mr. Moorfield knows that he cannot show from scripture that Biblical wine made by our Lord and advised by Paul was intoxicating. He has no ground for dragging in such instances as though they were intoxicating wines. Raspberry vinegar might have been called “wine” in those days. Any fruit steeped in water was a wine.

Moorfield waited a full week before he replied on 22/8/17. The language in his response was particularly strong. He accused Walklate of showing … his maliciousness and malignant disposition against the Co-op., its employees, and a large section of the public who do business under its licence.

Further, he claimed that Walklate’s instruction from the pulpit was so harsh and extreme – driven by his obsession with temperance – that it drove his congregation way:

From his pulpit … he attacked the Christians of his church, or any others, who professed to be followers of their Master, by using harsh and uncalled for language against them, which I have pointed out in this debate.

And he noted … no wonder the churches – in which such doctrines are preached – are becoming empty.

Clearly, Moorfield was directly attacking Walklate’s worth as a minister of religion. He also attacked his ambivalence towards the question of the licence at the Yarram Club and claimed that his obvious – and ongoing – desire to be a member, set against others’ interpretation of Rechabite principles, showed that ‘his mind is very fickle’ and ‘under outside control’. As far as Moorfield was concerned, Walklate was not even his own man.

Further, to accentuate Walklate’s supposed limitations as a clergyman, Moorfield ridiculed his references to ‘raspberry vinegar’ and other forms of non-alcoholic wine at the time of Christ. He even listed 14 specific references to scripture which he maintained showed that, in fact, biblical wine was intoxicating, and early church leaders recommended its use in moderation while explicitly condemning drunkenness. The clear imputation was that he, a layman, was a more informed scholar of scripture than this particular clergyman.

Rev Walklate’s last letter on the matter came on 29/8/17. He opened his letter by claiming that he had been subjected to a … personal and abusive attack by Mr. Moorfield. He accused Moorfield of ‘brow-beating and abuse’ and of twisting ‘my words into insults’. He wrote that Moorfield had violated the ‘law of courtesy in debate’ and, most pointedly, had poured out ‘contemptible abuse on my ministry.’ Walklate claimed that it was generally recognised that Moorfield’s attack had been so extreme that even shareholders and customers of the Co-op Store had approached him and apologised for the way he had been treated.

Overall, the letter was considerably shorter. Walklate still maintained that the store bore moral responsibility for Christie’s death. He still wanted a thorough investigation of the store’s licence. He wanted to know the ‘drink totals of each year’, and how many employees had been dismissed over drink-related problems. He was still suggesting that ‘liquor’ was … being charged as soap, vinegar, grocery or drapery.

He also still wanted to persist with the seemingly fanciful position that … Our Lord’s and Paul’s wine have no connection with intoxication of today.

Oddly, it was only in the last paragraph of his final letter that Walklate explicitly referred to the War and the call for temperance:

Now His Majesty King George, the late Lord Kitchener, Prime Minister Lloyd George, and a gallant host of leaders have banished intoxicants entirely from their households, and have asked loyal citizens to do the same during the war. Surely the Co-op. management can show a spirit of loyalty to the Empire and give a lead to this district by banishing liquor from the store.

It seems strange that he did not employ this patriotic argument earlier, and with more force. Perhaps he used it, at the very end, to claim back some form of authoritative respectability in a debate he believed he had lost.

For his part, Moorfield’s last letter came on 5/9/17. He had no intention of apologising or backing down. He wrote that Walklate was ‘ruffled’, principally because he had been caught out with his membership of the Yarram Club. He then summarised all the charges made against the Co-op Store by Walklate, from moral responsibility for Christie’s death, through the promotion of drinking in the home and the promotion of drinking among women, to the alleged practice of recording alcohol sales as other items. He rejected them all, vigorously:

I repel with indignant and redoubled force and vigor the defamatory accusations which have been cowardly and spitefully levelled at the Co-operative Store, its management, and its shareholders.

He specifically accused Walklate and his backers of an orchestrated campaign:

This outcry from a small section of violent reactionists has gone far enough, and now we say “hands off the Co-operative Store and mind your own business.” Already, if I am not mistaken, the Rev. Mr. Walklate has gone perilously near a precipice. We had peace for over five years in connection with the Co-op., until this conspiracy – by a small circle of “chosen people” – was hatched. This particular section evidently put their heads together to damn the Co-op. Yet, after all their contemptible work and “hypocritical respectability,” the store is rapidly progressing.

He employed religious imagery to damn them:

These I say, “superior” scavengers of society, searching the dust bins in other people’s places for scraps of filth to throw at the community again and again from their housetops, with malignant spite under pre-arranged conspiracies. I say, these are the kind of Pharisees who ran rampant in the days of ignorance. Have their posterity, I ask, reached Yarram and district in the year of Our Lord 1917? If so, I have every confidence that the intelligence of this community will drive them out.

He finished with a passage for Walklate:

Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth – this defileth a man. (Matthew 15, 11.)

The final word on the debate in the local paper over the grocer’s licence at the Yarram Co-operative Store came on 14/9/17. It was a letter from James Bland – a dairy farmer from Alberton – and it was in support of Walklate. He reassured readers that people were not leaving Rev Walklate’s congregation and that there was a lot of support generally for his position, not just from his ‘own people’ but also from ‘most of the other churches’. Interestingly, he took aim at all non-hotel licences, the Yarram Club included:

I feel that grocers’, club and wine licences are an unnecessary evil; that they do encourage secret drinking in the home no sane man would deny. I venture to say that not one half of the drink sold by grocers would be consumed in the homes if there were no grocers’ licences.

Bland finished his letter with a fairly mild rebuke of Moorfield:

If Mr. Moorfield is going to try to get into heaven on his good works alone I think he will have to put up a better argument to Peter for a pass than he has for the grocer’s licence.

On one level, the foregoing account stands as a case-study of the intense social conflict precipitated by the attempts of temperance advocates to impose their views on the wider community. Such advocates saw temperance as proof of moral strength and religious purity. They also believed that they had a duty to promote temperance in the wider community and even impose it on, by definition, weaker individuals or souls. Opposed to such ‘reformers’ there were others who, recognising the risks and even ‘evils’ associated with alcohol, were not prepared to compromise individual rights, set themselves up as the moral arbiters of others, curb or prohibit existing social behaviours and pastimes or even deny legitimate business practices. This, essentially, was the conflict that played out in Yarram in the middle of 1917.

But this level of analysis misses much of the historical complexity associated with what happened in Yarram at that time. Specifically, it does not place the events within the context of the War.

As argued previously, the early stages of the War saw a very close connection between temperance and support for the War. Temperance was advanced as an essential war-time goal and it was promoted, vigorously, at every level – the Empire, the Nation, the AIF and the local community. Specifically, in the Shire of Alberton there was an almost seamless connect between the call for temperance and support for the War. The local Imperial Loyalists of the Shire strongly supported both causes. Importantly, this group largely featured leading members of the local Protestant congregations, including their clergymen, as well as groups such as the local Rechabites. This demographic was naturally inclined to support temperance.

However, by the middle of 1917, after 3 years of the War, when the focus of temperance reform shifted to a very specific local cause – the abolition of the grocer’s licence at the Yarram Co-op Store – the previous unity was fractured. As noted, both Walklate and Moorfield belonged to the leading group of Imperial Loyalists yet, ultimately, the issue of temperance caused them to fall out spectacularly, with considerable bitterness. It seemed that the cause of temperance had, in fact, divided the civic leaders and the core block of Imperial Loyalists.

Yet it also appears that the division and fall out were contained. Effectively, while there was no longer any common position on temperance, this tension was not allowed to undermine the stability of the group of Imperial Loyalists or their support for the War, and within a few months the same group was actively promoting the Yes vote in the second referendum.

There appear to have been 3 critical factors at play that prevented a more profound social and civic rupture. The first was that the public conflict was limited to just 2 people: Walklate and Moorfield. No other public figures became involved. It was as if there was agreement that the debate would be limited to just two spokespeople. Even Rossiter, the editor of the paper and another key Imperial Loyalist, who definitely had strong opinions on the matter, withdrew from the debate once it had been taken up by Moorfield and Walklate.

The second factor was the apparent agreement to keep the various Protestant congregations at arms length. Even though Moorfield was Presbyterian and Walklate Methodist, the debate did not become one that pitted Methodist against Presbyterian. This was a critical point because the temperance movement was definitely not limited to the Methodist congregation. Many Presbyterians were temperance backers, including Rev Tamagno the minister who had chaired the local ‘6 o’clock movement’.  Similarly, Rev George Cox the previous Church of England minister had been a strong temperance advocate. In fact, he had been the Head Ruler of the local Rechabite Tent. The Rechabites drew their number from all the Protestant churches. It appears that there was tacit agreement not to allow the debate to develop into a conflict between or within Protestant congregations. Moorfield was scathing in his attacks on Walklate but he never explicitly attacked him as a Methodist clergyman.

The third factor, already mentioned, was that Walklate did not employ the argument that temperance was vital to the War effort. He only introduced it at the very end of the debate and, as argued, then he appeared to employ it merely to claw back some credibility for his position. One explanation for Walklate’s behaviour is that he knew full well that in the block of Imperial Loyalists to which he belonged, there were others – possibly many others – who, like Moorfield, did not share his strong views on temperance and he was reluctant to use the cause of the War lest he create major divisions within the group. Rossiter, the editor of the local paper, was another example. He had in fact started the debate about the Co-op Store and its licence but he also warned temperance advocates about being over zealous. In one sense Walklate’s reluctance to create too much conflict with his peers was similar to his willingness to ignore the licence for the Yarram Club and focus exclusively on that for the Co-op Store. It appears that Walklate made political decisions about how best to pursue the cause of temperance and at the same time hold together the group of civic leaders, to which he belonged, who were committed to pursuing the War and supporting the Empire.

Even though local politics contained the fall-out from the bitter debate over temperance, it was abundantly clear that the issue of temperance was yet another major fault line running through the community. Arguably, while there was a major Catholic – Protestant divide in the community – over theology, religious history, education, perceived level of support for the War …. , the division within the Protestant churches on the issue of temperance was also very profound.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

150. The second conscription referendum (Dec 20, 1917)

In its Christmas Day edition (Tuesday 25/12/17), the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative featured only limited coverage of the second conscription referendum, held just a few days earlier on Thursday 20/12/17. It limited the coverage to a breakdown of the vote and a short, local anecdote.

The voting returns, to that point, showed that whereas the No vote had succeeded in Victoria, the Yes vote in the Yarram poll had come in at 67% which was essentially the figure achieved in the first referendum. Both the Shire of Alberton, and Gippsland, retained their status as amongst the strongest supporters of conscription. The anecdote that the paper made a point of including was clearly intended to stand as an editorial comment on the failure of the referendum:

An incident worthy of notice occurred at the Yarram polling booth on Thursday. A lady voter, Mrs. Hamilton, second eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Bland, was borne in on a stretcher, having only a few days previously undergone an operation for appendicitis. It will be remembered that Mrs. Hamilton lost her husband at Gallipoli, and with true Anzac spirit, at all events was determined to have revenge in an effort to send “more men.’” Unfortunately the Commonwealth has decided that our boys at the front shall not be relieved.

Essentially, the anecdote was intended to serve as a lesson in moral failure. Once again, beyond all expectation, understanding and exhortation, the Australian Nation had suffered a moral failure.

For the local Imperial Loyalists, the conviction that there was a lack of moral integrity abroad had been expressed regularly in the months leading to the second referendum. The constant claim was that people refused to accept their obligations in terms of the War effort. Three years of War had compromised their sense of responsibility and their inherent selfishness had come to the fore. At a poorly attended welcome home for a soldier (F J Card) in late September 1917, B P Johnson was reported – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, 3/101/7 – as stating:

The war had been on three years and some people had got tired of saying good-bye, or wish (sic) a welcome to the men returning or to say “thank you, old chap.” It showed a tremendous want of feeling or thought. It seemed to be the same all over Australia. They heard people say Australia had done enough. The 320,000 gone had made a name throughout the world. Those men deserved credit. Other men would not go, nor even give those returning a shake of the hand. He felt very strongly about it. They did not realise the protection they had from the British Empire, and did not care how the boys felt.

While the vote in the Shire of Alberton in the 2 referenda was substantially the same, the second referendum was characterised by a far more visible level of division and antagonism within the community. Such discord was set to worsen in 1918. Its most obvious manifestation would take the form of increasingly bitter sectarianism.

Anti-conscription meetings

Reports in the local press indicate that there were 3 public anti-conscription meetings in the shire in the lead up to the referendum. The first of these was held in Port Albert, on the reserve, in the afternoon of Sunday 2/12/17. The key speaker was Mr McGowan, an ALP candidate for St Kilda in the recent state election. Substantially, this meeting was similar to the single anti-conscription meeting held during the first referendum (Post 91): the speaker was someone from outside the local district, there was no indication that any locals were involved in running or even setting up the meeting, and the reception was overtly hostile.

There were about 100 present at the meeting and they had come to disrupt it. The report in the local paper (5/12/17) noted:

In anticipation of some fun, a number of visitors went to Port Albert on Sunday afternoon, to hear Messrs McGowan and Taylor, billed to speak on the reserve on Anti-Conscription. Mr. McGowan was heckled from first to last.

That afternoon, over the abuse and hectoring, McGowan attempted to argue that the Government could not be trusted on the issue of the number of reinforcements required. He maintained the Government was not able to give an accurate number of how many ‘eligible’ men there were nor how many reinforcements were required. Further, it had given conflicting figures. McGowan cited his version of the numbers to prove that compared to others – Canada and the US – Australia had done more than its share. McGowan also pressed the issue of the lack of support for returned soldiers. He told the crowd that invalided soldiers’ pensions were being reduced, those returning could not find work, and their dependents were facing hardship. McGowan actually proposed a collection for returned soldiers but the crowd voted it down.

The next night (3/12/17) McGowan spoke in the Mechanics’ Hall in Yarram. It was a full house.  In the previous week, he had spoken at both Wonthaggi and Leongatha. The report in the press indicated that McGowan received a better hearing at this meeting but there was no indication at all of any support for his position.

McGowan was critical of the wording of the referendum – Are you in favour of the proposal of the Commonwealth Government for reinforcing the Australian Imperial Force overseas? – as manifestly biased in favour the Yes vote. He argued that some Nationalists – William Irvine was the most prominent – were directly advocating the introduction of conscription by legislation and Hughes’ pledge to introduce it only through a referendum was therefore compromised. He also claimed that the vote of married men had been bought at the expense of young, single men who did not even have the vote. He accused the Hughes Government of using wild claims about the IWW and Sinn Fein to create division in society.

At the meeting, McGowan shared the stage with 3 returned soldiers. The advertisement for the meeting had declared that these men would present … the views of the Returned Soldiers’ Anti-Conscription League of Australia. The criticism of the men was that the Government had not looked after the men who returned from the War either wounded, suffering from illness or medically disabled in some way. It was a critical issue. More and more men were returning home and, while welcomed as heroes, they faced all manner of problems. Moreover, the casualty rates were increasing. The second half of 1917 had been a disaster for the AIF and the level of casualties from September had been one of the very reasons Hughes had decided on the referendum. However, the clear implication was that the Government had not provided adequate care and support for those men returning and therefore had no moral right to compulsorily send even more. McGowan’s claim that Australia must do much more for her returned men and their dependents was met with applause.

J R Boucher, one the soldiers present, claimed:

In this country the returned men were promised this and that; brass bands played – but not for them. He referred to a returned soldier, named Divett, whose pension, he said, had been reduced to 15/- a week – a man pronounced by the doctors to be incurable.

One of the other soldiers there introduced the issues of class and wealth:

Returned soldier W Taylor stated he was a committeeman of the Returned Soldiers’ “No” Conscription League, 1500 strong, and every man of them has heard shots fired. He contended that while soldiers offered their lives, wealth should lend money free of interest instead of pocketing 4 1/2 per cent.

McGowan and the soldiers also argued that the unions were not disloyal, working people’s conditions and wages had been reduced and, following the Great Strike, unionists had been persecuted and discriminated against. All this while the promises of jobs for the returning men were not being honoured.

The report of the meeting in the paper makes it clear that the soldiers on the stage were challenged and hectored and the fact that none of them were local returned men would not have helped their cause. However, the issue of repatriation was a key one and, as already noted – Post 148 – it was already creating tension in the local community. There was real concern over the issue. Indeed, at the meeting that night a collection for returned men in need was organised on the spot, and it raised £6.

The meeting at Yarram would have been a difficult one for McGowan and the returned men, but at least they got a hearing. As mentioned, McGowan had spoken the previous week at Wonthaggi, a mining town. His reception there had been very different from the one at Yarram. According to the report in the local paper at Wonthaggi – Powlett Express and Victorian State Coalfields Advertiser, 30/11/17 – the meeting was a clear success for McGowan, and at the end of the meeting the following motion was passed unanimously:

That we the citizens of Wonthaggi will endeavour to do all that lays in our power to secure a No vote on December 20 .

The report also notes that McGowan again stressed the lack of Government support for returned men. Given the more like-minded audience he also made more of the threat conscription posed to Australian unionism and the conditions and employment of Australian workers generally. He also argued that in the UK where the union movement had actively supported the government, working conditions had declined. He pushed the claim that conscription, by its very nature, was an attack on the working class and the union movement.

There was a third anti-conscription meeting held on Tuesday 11/12/17. It was reported, briefly, in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on Friday 14/12/17. This particular meeting was originally scheduled for the day before (Monday 10/12/17) and a large crowd turned up but there were no speakers and no indication of what had happened to them and why the meeting did not proceed. Once again, there was no mention of local people involved in the planning of the meeting. It was, apparently, a completely ‘outside’ affair. The crowd broke up with no one knowing what was going on. The paper (14/12/17) even suggested that the cancellation that night and the rescheduling the next day were part of a ploy to keep the Yes people away, particularly those from Alberton and Port Albert. The disruption of meetings, on both sides, was certainly commonplace. Indeed the same edition of the local paper reported on how local men were even going to Melbourne to break up meetings:

Returned soldiers in the metropolitan area, on the affirmative side, have adopted tactics to break up “anti” meetings. They speak for a while as “No” men, and receive the applause of the audience, but when they make known their true views the air is rent with boo-hoos, and the order of the meeting is gone. Sergeant Newland, of Yarram, was one of these speakers at St. Kilda the other evening, gained his purpose in creating disorder, and was lost in the crowd outside.

The third Yarram anti-conscription meeting did go ahead the next night. It was held in Thompson’s Hall and did not finish until 11.00 pm. Once again, there was a large crowd. The key speaker was Mr Guido Barrachi. The chair was occupied by another returned soldier but, again, he was not a local. Apologies were given for the cancellation of the meeting the day before. Bad roads were given as the reason.

As indicated there was little detail in the local press about the second Yarram meeting. However we do know something about Barrachi and we also know that earlier that day Barrachi and another key anti-conscriptionist, the Rev Frederick Sinclair, had addressed a meeting at Mirboo North. That particular meeting was a very rowdy affair and … at times it looked as if serious trouble would brew. (The Argus, 12/12/17). Part of the problem at Mirboo North was the statement by Sinclair that he wanted to talk to the young people, not the ‘bald headed’ ones.

Both Rev Sinclair and Guido Barrachi were avowed socialists. Not long before he appeared in Yarram, Barrachi had given a lecture on ’Socialism as an Economic System’ as part of a series of free public lectures chaired by Archbishop Mannix. Barrachi was a law student from Melbourne University. He was very involved in the anti-conscription movement and appeared at many meetings. For example, in the week after his appearances in Gippsland he was in Geelong where he appeared at street corner meetings with Vida Goldstein. Baracchi would eventually be prosecuted under the War Precautions Act – both Sinclair and McGowan were also prosecuted – and imprisoned for 3 months.

There was no report on the detail of what was said at the meeting in Yarram, but Barrachi’s opposition to conscription, from a socialist perspective, would have been, arguably, the most strident anti-War sentiment the people of Yarram ever heard. As an example of his position, in July 1917 he had clashed with the board of Melbourne University for publishing the following in the university’s student publication:

The war, whatever the jingoes and junkers may tell us, is not primarily our affair. Essentially it is a European war, fought by the Allies against Germany to maintain the balance of European power. And Australia is not Europe. This is the true explanation of our recruiting figures; the exact index of the nation’s war interest. Nevertheless, through a connection with the British Empire, on the whole rather tragic, the Commonwealth is deeply involved in the European cataclysm, and the event is for us, and for the rest of the world, well nigh as significant as the fall of Lucifer. (Labor Call, 19/7/17)

Pro-conscription meetings

There were 2 major pro-conscriptions meetings in Yarram in the lead up to the referendum. Both were reported extensively in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative. The first was held on Saturday 7/12/17 in the Shire Hall and reported on 12/12/17. The second was held on Thursday 13/12/17 and reported on 19/12/17. Both meetings were advertised in advance, attracted large, supportive audiences, involved outside speakers as well as prominent local backers of conscription and both passed, overwhelmingly, resolutions in favour of the Yes vote.

The first meeting was chaired by the Shire President – Cr McGalliard – and proceedings opened with the National Anthem, “God Bless Our Splendid Men”, “Rule Britannia” and ‘other patriotic airs’. At the end of the meeting the following resolution was passed:

That we, the citizens of Yarram and district, express our determination to wholeheartedly support the Government in adequately reinforcing the men at the front, and to that end pledge ourselves to work for a huge “Yes’ majority.

In opening the meeting, the Shire President praised Hughes for honouring his commitment not to introduce conscription without a referendum. He also noted that Australia was the only place where conscription had not simply been legislated for, as many wished. However, he continued, the stakes were much higher now than in 1916. Critically, Russia had effectively left the War. The threat from Germany was greater than ever. McGalliard also warned that if the referendum was defeated, Hughes, to honour his pledge, would resign and the nation would be thrown into chaos. Finally, he appealed to the Catholic voters. Italy and Belgium, 2 of the strongest Catholic countries in Europe, were fighting with the allies. People had to put the issue of sectarianism aside and face the greater threat of Germany.

Cr. Embling (Herbert Arthur Embling, Mayor of Prahran) as the invited speaker, took the high moral ground, reminding everyone that Australia had pledged support to the last man and last shilling. Further, the setbacks in Europe – Russia was out of the War and Italy had been badly set back – justified conscription. Without reinforcements the Australian divisions would continue to reduce in number. The UK had stood by Australia, even buying the wool and wheat it had no hope of transporting back to England. It proved the UK stood by Australia. There was also praise for the UK unions and workers who were totally behind their government.

B P Johnson, in introducing the motion of support for conscription, spent time attacking the claims made by McGowan at the earlier anti-conscription meeting. He also claimed that the local returned soldiers would not support the claims made at that meeting by the soldiers on the platform with McGowan. Johnson was keen to remind everyone of the last referendum:

Yarram gave a magnificent “Yes” vote at the last referendum, and it was to be hoped that a bigger majority would be given this time. (Applause)

Rev Cyril John Walklate began by detailing his own unsuccessful attempts to enlist. He declared that he would never hide behind either his marriage or his calling as a clergyman. He recounted how he had only recently been rejected on medical grounds. Further, in a barely disguised attack on Fr Sterling, he claimed that if he had been able to enlist as a chaplain he would have insisted on serving the men in the front line and not by taking the role of chaplain on a troopship. This public attempt to belittle Fr Sterling’s efforts as a chaplain was to continue through at least 1918.

Walklate disputed all the figures that the antis had cited in their claims that Australia had done enough. In his mind, the arguments about numbers and ‘share’ was a false one. The real issue was loyalty to the Empire. What he wanted was equality of sacrifice from families, not colonies. Given his audience, he had no compunction in stating that not only had conscription been introduced in the UK but .. the labor of the working man had also been conscripted as well (Applause). His claim – ironically, one of the key fears of the Australian labour movement – was in line with the overall argument about shared sacrifice.

Walklate tended to make the most extreme claims in these public meetings. He made a range of claims about Germans, including that … the children were fed scientifically on raw meat. Further, if … a woman happened to get in front of a military officer in Germany she was thrown aside, and should her husband interfere he would be slashed with the sword.

Walklate also referred to the recent death of his brother at the front: Captain Harold Vernon Walklate, 14 B kia 22/10/17.

Finally, as reported, Rev Walklate gave a somewhat convoluted reason to explain why so many soldiers had voted no in the 1916 referendum.

At the last referendum tens of thousands of soldiers voted no because they had never seen the firing line.

The general consensus amongst historians is that in 1916 the troops in training in the UK and on the troopships tended to vote Yes, precisely because they had not experienced the western front.

It was also somewhat odd that Walklate laboured the number of desertions from the AIF – principally in Australia, prior to embarkation – at the meeting. He was trying to argue that the figure of total enlistments used by those opposing conscription, had to be adjusted to take into account the 67,000 men who had deserted. While this made some sense from a statistical perspective, the audience could hardly have warmed to such a claim. Certainly, it did not fit with the popular image of the AIF.

The second Yes meeting saw many of the same claims repeated. G H Wise, the local federal member and the guest speaker, again hailed Hughes as an honourable person who had determined to keep his word and not introduce conscription without a referendum. This was despite all those, including some in Hughes’ government, who argued that the Government should use its numbers and legislate for conscription. But where Hughes was honourable, Wise claimed that those opposing him were not. They were insincere and blindly following the (ALP) party line:

He knew from his own knowledge that those men’s speeches are not sincere, and that they are only spoken from order and not from the heart. (Applause.)

Wise also stressed that the current situation was dire, far worse than in 1916: The position is blacker today than it has been since the war started. He noted that Russia was effectively out of the War, Italy was struggling and … Roumania is down and out.

In a stretch of logic, Wise argued that the reinforcements were not required because of the casualty levels but to give the men at the front a rest.

Again there was the contrast to the labour movement in the UK. In Britain labour stood behind the Government but in Australia the ALP … are the only ones not standing behind their Government. And there was the rhetorical question on what would happen if the referendum was lost and Hughes, to honour his word, resigned. He warned of the chaos to follow.

The first local speaker that night was W G Pope. He presented the motion to be put to the meeting:

That this meeting of the citizens of Yarram and district pledges itself to support the Government in this national crisis, and to use very effort to secure an overwhelming majority for “Yes” in the coming referendum.

Pope warned how real the threat of the German conquest of Australia was. Then he launched into an idiosyncratic claim that those enlisting only stood a 1 in 20 chance of being killed. It is difficult to know what those in the audience would have made of it, particularly as there was no equivalent figure for the odds of being wounded, having your health ruined or being left disabled for the rest of your life. Many would have found his claim inappropriate or misleading and certainly counter-productive:

Life Insurance companies say that they may safely insure men going to the front at a premium of 5 per cent above that of civilians. That means that after a careful investigation of all the figures, the added risk of men being killed at the war is 1 in 20, and about 80 per cent. may be expected to return.

On the question of death rates, Pope felt compelled to argue that, ultimately, it didn’t matter. What mattered was not the degree of sacrifice but the integrity of the sacrifice:

If Australia gave her last man and her last shilling she would not have done too much.

The motion, which was of course passed overwhelmingly, was seconded by Rev C J Walklate. He obviously knew he was speaking to the converted:

The thing that stood out in his [Walklate’s] mind was that the “Yes” platform is a statement of facts, and the anti platform a concoction of lies. (Loud Applause.)

Extraordinarily, Walklate justified one of the key arguments employed by those opposed to conscription: the threat it posed to the maintenance of the White Australia Policy. As far as Walklate was concerned, even the risk of undermining this policy was not enough to break the sacred promise to the men at the front:

If we are going to deplete Australia, and colored labor comes here, is that any reason why we should break our promise and leave the soldiers there to die?

He finished with an analogy about married men and bolting horses. Again, it could not have meant much to the audience, particularly given that under the conscription proposal married men were to be protected:

If a team of horses bolted up the road, and a man’s life were in danger, and married men looked on and said because they were married men they could not risk their lives to save that man, what would you call them? (A voice: Cowards.)

Essentially, the 2 pro-conscription meetings held at Yarram were set pieces. Their key purpose was to demonstrate the strength of support for the Yes vote in the local community. The arguments put forward for the second vote were the ones that had been promoted at other public meetings – farewells, welcomes, recruiting drives, religious memorial services – for most of 1917.

In addition to the large, formal meetings held at Yarram, there were at least 2 public meetings held in local townships. One was at Hiawatha (Fairview) on Friday 14/12/17 and the other at Binginwarri on Monday 17/12/17.

The meeting at Hiawatha was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 19/12/17. It was addressed by speakers for the Yes vote: Rev Walklate and E T Benson, the secretary of the local branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia. The report noted that it was the first ever public meeting on the issue of conscription held at Hiawatha. The meeting was peaceful. There were some interjections but overall … the meeting was very orderly and no doubt educational. While there was no formal motion of support for the Yes vote, the audience closed the meeting with God Save the King. Overall, it was uneventful. In fact, the key point raised in the report was the delight that the car load of speakers had been able to mange the drive, at night, to Hiawatha. It was cited as proof that Hiawatha was not as isolated as some locals believed.

The meeting at Binginwarri was very different. It was reported in the edition of 19/12/17.

The report suggested that the speakers knew there was gong to to be trouble. It noted how fortunate it was that Senior Constable McLeod accompanied the speakers that night. It was again a pro-conscription meeting and the first 2 speakers – W G Pope and B P Johnson – ‘got a good hearing’. However when Rev Walklate spoke ‘at length’ the mood changed significantly.

Walklate attacked the views of Dr Mannix and claimed that in fact other Catholic clergy supported conscription. Walklate then stressed that Mannix’s opposition to conscription was because he, as an Irishman, blamed the British for Ireland’s problems.

Presumably, the Catholics in the audience did not appreciate being lectured by a local Protestant minister on either the nature of the Catholic position on conscription or the political situation in Ireland and its relevance to them as Irish-Australians. Perhaps Walklate had been determined to provoke a response.

The meeting became very lively. The report noted that people got up and walked out and eggs started flying. At the meeting’s end, a tense stand-off followed outside the hall – it was near midnight – and as the car of speakers left it was pelted with eggs:

As they moved off the party were pelted, obviously intended for Mr. Walklate, whose strong utterances aroused the ire of “No” voters.

Walklate himself was convinced that he was being singled out because of his views on conscription. In an editorial in the local paper on 12/12/17 there was a claim by Walklate that, in an earlier incident, his dog had been shot – not fatally – because of his outspoken comments in favour of conscription. However, the editorial noted… but it is more than likely that his canine was amongst a flock of sheep and got a charge of shot.

The report of the trouble at Binginwarri is the only substantive report in the local paper of sectarian conflict as a feature of the referendum. However, previous posts have tracked the significant divisions – cultural, religious and political – between the Protestant and Catholic communities in the Shire of Alberton. Conscription brought the division to a head but it itself was only one aspect of a very complex picture. Moreover, there had been real efforts to moderate the divisions and strive for a common approach to support the War effort, at least to the end of 1917. Following the defeat of the second referendum, sectarianism became far more public in the community.

There was one additional source of tension for the local Catholic community in the political landscape that existed post the 1916 referendum. In late September 1917 the Hughes Government passed its so-called ‘Bachelor Tax’. Essentially, single men who had not enlisted were hit with a levy. It was specifically intended to promote enlistments and raise money for the repatriation of those who had served in the AIF. However, the Catholic Church took great exception to the law and saw it as an attack on its priesthood and male religious orders. Celibacy was a central plank of the religious life and therefore, unlike other religions where the clergy could marry, the Catholic Church argued that it was being singled out.

Catholic opposition to the legislation was significant. One outspoken critic was Bishop Phelan of Gippsland. At a function in Maffra in mid November 1917, Bishop Phelan not only condemned the ‘bachelor tax’ but directed his congregation to … Refuse to contribute to every patriotic appeal when that appeal is in the interests of the Government which framed this iniquitous law. This was all reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 23/11/17, in the lead up to the referendum. For patriots and Imperial Loyalists this was further proof that Catholic support for the War was, at best, highly qualified and compromised. For Catholics, the legislation was further proof that the Hughes Government was targeting them. Importantly, even though the point was not made specifically, the following directive from Bishop Phelan, in the context of the impending vote on conscription, could have been interpreted as a more general call to withdraw all support for the Government:

To the Catholics of Gippsland I say, follow the example of your pastor, to very demand made on you for Red Cross, Repatriation Fund etc, say: – We have to pay a bachelor tax for our priests, and as long as that law remains unrepealed we refuse to help the Federal Government. The Win-the-War Party may then see that their ill-considered action has helped to dry up a source which was the glory of Australia, namely the tens of thousands contributed by voluntary offerings.

The farmers’ vote

The tone of formal appeals to farmers to vote Yes in the referendum became almost hysterical. The editorial in the local paper on 30/11/17 featured a detailed appeal from the Reinforcements Referendum Council. It began:

The farmers’ vote will be the decisive one on December 20th. If the farmers unite and work to secure a “Yes” vote the Commonwealth Government’s scheme will be carried. If they hang back, if they are indifferent as to the result, if they lack enthusiasm, and if they accept the view that one vote more or less does not matter, the the referendum will be defeated.

The language sharpened considerably as the appeal continued:

If the farmers, who have responded so generously to the call of Empire, and who have aided so liberally the cause of the democracy, fail to exert the whole of their strength on this occasion, they will be acting as traitors to their relatives and friends in the trenches. They will be acting, moreover, as enemies of their country.

In this particular appeal the true enemy was the IWW which had caused so much damage in the recent industrial unrest and which played with the incredulity of the working class:

The memory of the great hold-up in August and September is still fresh in the minds of every man on the land. The I.W.W. play upon the credulity of the big mass of the working class, and they used the deluded workers as an instrument to crush and despoil the farmer.

The formal appeal to the farmers from Hughes was published in the local paper on 14/12/17. In it, Hughes gave the IWW and Sinn Fein as the 2 forces behind the No vote. He depicted the IWW as the natural and historical enemy of the farmer. He warned the farmers:

If you by your vote defeat the Government’s proposals, then you hand over the reins of government to extremists, the I.W.W. and the Sinn Fein. That is the responsibility that rests upon you.

Most of Hughes’ appeal sought to counter the claim that conscription would deny the farmers workers. Clearly, for Hughes the constant claims and counter claims over numbers in the referendum debate was having a negative effect. He stressed that the number of 7,000 men per month was the maximum that would ever be required under the conscription proposals. However, in the same equation that sought to reassure the farmers that there would be no labour shortage, Hughes stated that of those soldiers returning to Australia – those repatriated and discharged on medical grounds – 50% would take up their former occupations and another 25% would be fit for ‘light work’. In other words, the low target of 7,000 per month was in part based on the assumption that 75% of those members of the AIF being repatriated would slot back into the workforce. This claim would not have matched the actual experience of farmers in the Shire of Alberton, or other farming areas. They saw with their own eyes that many of those returning would never work again. Moreover, statistical claims about labour availability meant very little if the direct experiences of farmers confirmed that there was a labour shortage. If anything, statistical arguments tended to confirm the weakness of Hughes’ position.

The returned soldiers’ vote

As indicated earlier, returned soldiers were present at anti-conscription meetings in Yarram, and they claimed to be members of the Returned Soldiers’ Anti-Conscription League of Australia. But these men were dismissed as ‘outsiders’.

The official position of the local branch of the RSSILA was published in the local paper on 30/11/17.

Mr. W. A. Newland, hon. secretary of the Yarram sub-branch of the Returned Soldiers’ Association (sic), has received the following letter from headquarters, which is deeply interested in the reinforcement referendum campaign.

The position was:

That knowing the urgent need for reinforcing our comrades at the front, this committee of the Victorian branch of the R.S.S.I.L.A. urgently appeals to our members and to the public to vote in favour of the proposals to be submitted on the 20th Dec. next.

The position of the local paper

The final editorial published in the local paper on 19/12/17, the day before the referendum was also very telling on the issue of statistics. A J Rossiter, who signed the particular editorial, noted

Much twisting of figures has been perpetrated by the “Antis” in an endeavour to make it seem that there are ample men and that Australia has done enough.

He then attempted to debunk some of the claims. However, the reality was that by that point. figures did not mean a great deal, either to those who believed that Australia had done enough and the cost had just become too great or to those who believed that, ultimately, no sacrifice was too great.

Rossiter wanted to claim the high moral ground:

To-morrow Australia will decide whether reinforcements are to be sent to our brave men in the firing line. We cannot conceive that any right-thinking man will have been so influenced by anti clap-trap to record “No” at the polling booth – tantamount to signing the death warrant of thousands of our boys in the trenches.

As indicated, the vote in the Shire of Alberton was overwhelmingly in favour of conscription. The Shire had not been affected by the ‘clap-trap’ of the ‘Antis’; and its moral compass and unswerving loyalty to the Empire remained true. It could start 1918 confident that it was one of the few places in Australia that had remained ‘loyal’.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Australian Dictionary of Biography

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

149. R J Trigg

TRIGG Robert John 2429
29 B  DoW 29/12/17

Robert John Trigg was 25 yo when he enlisted on 21/8/15. He was a farmer who, with another brother, – Joel William Trigg – farmed approximately 180 acres at Alberton West. At the time of the enlistment, both parents – James Frederick Trigg and Jessie Trigg (nee Cuppage) – were dead. The father had been one of the original directors of the local co-operative store set up in Yarram in 1911.

The next-of-kin was given as his brother, Joel William Trigg. There was a sister, Mary Trigg who was much younger. There was also another brother, Arthur Thomas Trigg. Unlike his siblings, this brother – Arthur – did not appear on the electoral roll. Nor did his name appear in the rate book. Yet in Robert’s will he is specifically referred to as a farmer of West Alberton. Apparently, Robert as the oldest brother enlisted while the 2 younger brothers continued to work the farm, and it is possible that Arthur returned to the district specifically to help in this pursuit.

Robert Trigg appears on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and his name is also on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. His name also appears on the memorial for the local ANA branch and the Methodist Circuit. On the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour his brother gave Yarram as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. Before he enlisted, he was the secretary of the Gelliondale Rifle Club and was very involved in local sports associations.

He completed his initial medical in Yarram with Dr Crooks (30/7/15). He was single and gave his religion as Methodist. He had been born in Warrnambool. He enlisted as reinforcements for 29 Battalion.

His unit left Melbourne on 14/3/16 and he spent some time in the Middle East before reaching England in late July 1916. At this point he was attached to 8 Training Battalion and began to receive short-term promotions. He spent some time in the School of Instruction in early 1917 and also served on the headquarters staff of 8 Training Brigade. The appointments in England meant that he did not leave to join his unit in France until early 1917. By the time he did join the battalion (17/3/17) he held the rank of corporal. He was again detached to join the headquarters staff of 8 Infantry Brigade in June 1917 for 2 months and when he returned to 29 Battalion he held the rank of sergeant.

Sergeant Trigg was wounded in action on 22/10/17. The wound was described as ‘G.S.W. Knee, Arm & Chest’. He passed from ambulance train to field casualty centres and thence to hospital in England (1st Eastern General Hospital Cambridge) which he reached on 29/10/17.

Sergeant Trigg died from his wounds on 29/12/17, two months to the day after being admitted to hospital in Cambridge. It appears that his family was not formally advised of his condition until 21/11/17. At that time they received advice that he was ‘suffering from gun shot wound knee and forearm’ and that his condition was ‘severe’. There was another cable on the 28/11/17 advising that he was ‘now dangerously ill’. Then on 7/12/17 the advice by another cable was that he was ‘progressing favourably’ and again on 13/12/17 the advice was ‘still progressing favourably’. Then just over 2 weeks later, on 4/1/18, without any further advice, the family received the cable informing them of their brother’s death. The family was also asked to give permission for a post mortem.

The post mortem had been conducted on 31/12/17. It found,
Thin man: right leg amputated – upper third of femur. Clots from recent haemorrhage in stump. Femoral artery tied. Pus in hip joint’.

The post mortem gave the cause of death as, GSW left knee. Septicaemia Secondary Haemorrhage.
There is an apparent contradiction here in that the initial wound was consistently described as GSW left knee while the post mortem refers to the right leg having been amputated.

The war diary for 29 Battalion gives some background to the action in which Sergeant Trigg was wounded. The battalion had been quartered in the Ypres area following the action at Polygon Wood in late September when it had suffered some 350 casualties. On the afternoon of the 21 October it had moved from near Ypres to the front line to relieve 54 Battalion. This was in the front line east of Molenaarelsthoek. 29 Battalion remained in the line until the evening of 25/10/17 when it, in turn, was relieved by 57 Battalion.

Sgt Trigg was wounded the day after his battalion moved into the line but the diary does not record casualty figures for any of the six days in the line. However, it does record, in detail, the ferocity of the enemy shelling of the line. In the 6 day period there were no fewer than 44 separate reports of enemy shelling, and on the 22/10 – the day Sgt Trigg was wounded – there were 9 individual reports of shelling. It is also clear that much of the enemy barrage consisted of high explosive shrapnel shells and, given that the first report of his wounds referred to knee, arm and chest, it is more likely that Sgt Trigg was hit by shrapnel than rifle or machine gun fire, as recorded in his file.

As Sgt Trigg died in hospital in England there was a formal military funeral and he was buried in the Cambridge Borough Cemetery. In fact, extensive details of the funeral were relayed to the family back in Australia. The following letter was sent to the brother as next-of-kin from Base Records in Melbourne on 15/5/18:

The deceased soldier was accorded a full Military Funeral. The coffin of good polished elm with brass fittings, was draped with the Union Jack Flag. Firing Party and Bugler were supplied by No. 5 O.C.B. Australian Cadets stationed at Cambridge. Pallbearers were supplied by the R.A.M.C. 1st Eastern General Hospital, Cambridge. Several beautiful wreaths were placed on the coffin by friends. Prior to the internment a service was held in the Hospital Chapel. Miss Stephen (Friend) Australian Red Cross, Newnham College, Cambridge, was present at the funeral.
The grave will be turfed and an oak cross will be erected by the A.I.F. London.
Administrative Headquarters, A.I.F. London, were represented at the funeral.

Presumably, Miss Stephen supported him in hospital in her Red Cross role.

A death notice appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 9/1/18. Just over a week later on 9/1/18 a detailed tribute appeared in the same paper. In part, it noted:

He [Robert J Trigg] will be remembered as secretary of the Gelliondale Rifle Club and West Alberton Sports Club, and in other ways was a useful resident of that district. He followed the occupation of a farmer, and when the call came left his two brothers on the farm to go to the front in defence of his country.

Then on 18/1/18 the paper published a letter which had been written by Sgt Trigg on 3/11/17, about one month before he died. The letter had been written from hospital and it was addressed to the newspaper itself. Sgt Trigg explained that he had been wounded … in the knee, arm and face. But he was confident that he was … progressing as well as possible, but don’t think I will be much use for some time, as my knee got a good crack. He described the conditions on the front line as … simply hell pure and simple. He also noted that they … got all objectives and gave Fritz a good hiding. He ended up with the season’s greetings:

Xmas is very nearly on us again, and will be over ere you get this, so although perhaps a little late, I will wish you and all Gippsland friends a Merry Xmas and bright and prosperous New Year.

Sgt Trigg’s personal effects were returned later in November 1918. Interestingly, the list of effects was far more extensive than for others who were killed in the field. Presumably this was because Sgt Trigg spent 2 months in hospital before he died.

1 wallet (containing: – Letters, 2 Keys, Heather, Coins, 1 Lanyard, 4 Australian penny stamps, Post cards, Photos, 1 Wounded stripe), 2 writing pads, 1 mirror, 1 Note Case, 2 Handkerchiefs, 1 Wrist Watch (damaged) 1 cover & strap, 2 Pipes, 1 Hair Brush, 1 Cigarette case, 1 Fountain pen, 1 Pr Nail Clippers, Badges, 1 Match box cover, 1 Comb, 1 Disc & medallion, Pencils, 1 Shaving brush, Shaving Soap, 1 Razor, 1 Pr Braces, 1 Pr Sox, 1 Balaclava, 1 Stationery Wallet.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for TRIGG Robert John 2429
Roll of Honour: Robert John Trigg
First World War Embarkation Roll: Robert John Trigg

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


148. Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League (of Australia), local branch

The local branch of the Returned Sailor’s and Soldiers’ Imperial League (of Australia)  – RSSILA – was formed in Yarram at a meeting on 22/6/17. The meeting was reported in detail in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 27/6/17.

By that point in 1917, the estimate was that approximately 30 local men had returned from the fighting. At the meeting there were 10 present and a further 5 apologies. Of the 10 who were present that night, half (5) were not from the local area. They were returned soldiers who had come to the Shire of Alberton after their discharge.  Presumably they had come seeking work, given the acute (farm) labour shortage in the area. The presence of these early ‘outsiders’ was to be a pointer to all the other returned service men who would come to the Shire after the War when the soldier settlement scheme commenced. This movement of ex-service men into the district would have further implications for the very notion of ‘local’.

Importantly, with several significant exceptions, the group of men who formed the local branch of RSSILA were younger and from a different socio-economic profile than the members of the existing committees that had supported the War effort from 1914. This ‘new guard’ was a generation separate from the ‘old guard’ and, as has been shown previously, they were predominantly from the rural working class, with also a concentration of sons from family farms. The old guard, on the other hand, represented the social and economic elite of the community. The generation and class differences were at least in part responsible for the tension that was to arise between the 2 groups. It was a tension that was to continue well after the War.

There were 3 significant exceptions to this observation, and all 3 people involved were elected to key leadership positions in the local RSSILA branch. Dr Rutter was older than most – 35 yo – when he enlisted in May 1915 and he was married. His professional status as one of the local doctors was also atypical and more in line with the old guard. He was elected at the inaugural meeting as president. William Newland was also older – 34 yo when he enlisted in August 1914 – and also married. Further he had fought for several years in the Boer War. Additionally, he had been the local recruiting sergeant and had worked closely with many of the old guard. Newland was elected as secretary. The third exception, elected as treasurer and vice president, was Eric Thomas Benson. Benson was to become the most public spokesperson for the newly formed branch. It was Benson who had convened the inaugural meeting. Yet he was an outsider. He had been born at Warrnambool and enlisted from there. He had been repatriated to Australia from Gallipoli at the end of 1915 and discharged on medical grounds – ‘neurasthenia’ and ‘shell concussion’ – in May 1916. His service record notes that he was cited for ‘conspicuous gallantry’ on Gallipoli. He arrived in Yarram in late 1916 as the bank manager for the State Savings Bank and remained in the district until the early 1920s. He had worked as a (bank) clerk prior to enlistment. Presumably his war service had helped with his promotion in the bank. Benson had enlisted at 21 yo and was nearly 15 years younger than both Rutter and Newland and much closer in age to the generation of returning men. Even though he was, relatively young, his occupation – bank manager – naturally aligned him with the old guard. Yet, initially at least, Benson was the most outspoken critic of the old guard.

At the first meeting, Newland gave the rationale for the RSSILA. He was reported as stating:

There was a lot of men coming back who would not be in as sound a position as when they went, and no other association existed that had the welfare of the soldiers at heart, although many people had individually.

Newland’s focus was clearly on those who had been wounded or were suffering other disabilities or sickness and who had been discharged on medical grounds.

Benson’s comments on the other hand appeared to look beyond the immediate concern for those medically discharged. He was flagging the broader issue of repatriation for all. This was now a major issue, and the idea – and even ideal – of the soldiers settling on the land was gaining much attention:

There were a lot of men coming back, and it was the duty of those who had returned to help them, and see that they got a fair deal. Repatriation was receiving attention from the State and Federal Governments, and when the scheme had been completed and a man applied for land the local branch of the league could help him.

Both Newland and Benson were asserting that it was the primary, if not exclusive, right – and responsibility – of the returned soldiers to care for and represent themselves, assisted by both Government and the broader community.

Newland was also reported as making the following defence of the league’s activities:

Mr Newland strongly condemned any idea that the league was going to to foster idleness. Members were supposed to help themselves, and if they could not do so they would be assisted by the league.

Presumably, this sort of reassurance was required in a community that had a strong history of self-help and reliance, as well as an entrenched fear of organised labour and unionism. There could be no suggestion that help was going to those undeserving of it or that the league could be a front for union or socialist agitation.

Immediately after the local branch was established, either Newland or Benson – or both – began to appear as speakers at the functions organised by the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee. In the report of the farewell for Privates Dennison and Jones published in the local paper on 11/7/17, about 3 weeks after the local branch was formed, Rev. Tamagno was reported as praising the new body. He also used the development as an opportunity to continue his criticism of the local community over its general lack of support for the War effort.

Referring to the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Association, he [Tamagno] said he was pleased to see representatives [Newland and Benson] present. The value of such an association was recognised, because of the hundreds and hundreds who have returned and are returning to this land. It seemed to him that not enough was being done for these men in our midst, so the men had to do it themselves. It showed the dilateriness and absolute neglect of district residents in not recognising the worth of these fellows. He asked the children [school children from Yarram SS attending the farewell] when they grew up, to do their part for the men who, voluntarily, fought for them and their country.

Later at the same gathering, a soldier was welcomed home and this time Sergeant Newland spoke. The criticism of the ‘gentlemen’ who had farewelled the local soldiers was very evident:

Sergeant Newland spoke on behalf of the local branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ League (sic). He remembered when the first send off was given to men from Yarram and district, a few gentlemen spoke about the brave soldiers, and said what would be done for them when they returned. But what had been done? He offended a man yesterday because he told him there was too much talk and not enough doing. There is a lot to be done for the men, and there would be trouble if it is not done. They had formed a league to battle for their interests, and apologised to none. Organisation was needed, and he felt sure of the help and sympathy of all in the district.

There was an even more striking example of the antipathy between the old and new guard. It occurred at a farewell to 3 local men in early October. The function was of course organised by the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee. On the day, Councillor Barlow was in the chair. Benson’s comments were direct and accusatory in tone and, presumably, Barlow himself  – see Post 147 – was the target:

Mr. Benson, of the local branch of the Returned Soldiers’ League (sic), said it had been determined to have a representative of the league present at these gatherings. They recognised the call for men was never greater and he was glad to see lads going forward to take the places of others in the trenches. This district had done wonderfully well, seeing that over 800 had gone, but the sacrifice should be more equal. There were those who stayed at home, hiding behind mother and father. There were some in families of men who take a leading part in public meetings remaining at home. He wished the boys a safe return.

The fault lines were clear: the new guard was accusing the old of not honoring commitments to the men who volunteered; and, worse, it was calling into question the very patriotic integrity of its members. And sitting behind such claims was the conviction that the only genuine voice for the returning soldiers resided with the RSSILA.

Notwithstanding such thinly veiled antagonism between the 2 bodies – the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee and the local branch of the RSSILA – they continued to work together. It appears that the issue of repatriation was greater than their dispute. In late July 1917, they held a joint meeting to discuss a common approach to repatriation. This joint meeting  took place on 9/8/17 and was reported in the local paper on 10/8/17. Once again Benson’s comments, as reported in the local paper on 1/8/17, were very pointed:

Mr. Benson said that in Yarram they had a good organisation for sending off the local lads with a cheery good-bye, and also in welcoming home the returned men, but unfortunately the good work stopped there.

The discussion that followed looked at models – the most favoured one was that of the local recruiting committee – for the creation of a committee to promote repatriation in the local community. The meeting agreed to send a joint deputation to the Shire Council … urging immediate action in the formation of a local committee to deal with repatriation of district soldiers.

For its part, Council recognised the need for an organised approach to repatriation but it wanted more details on what the Federal program was to involve. Council was also reluctant to delegate its powers. Interestingly, it had not had difficulty in delegating power to the local recruiting committee. It appears however that by this point – late 1917 – Council appreciated that repatriation was to involve some form of a land settlement scheme and it was certainly reluctant to hand over local powers in the area of land management.

As events turned out, the local repatriation committee was not formed until April 1918, and by that point the very public animosity between the various groups had dissipated. The initial tension between the old and new guard had been accommodated, principally, it appears, through the efforts of Benson. Effectively, Benson shifted in his local politics to align himself more with the old guard. However, even if the public dispute had softened, major underlying tensions continued. They would continue through to at least the 1920s.

In summary, it is clear that by the end of 1917 the politics surrounding the repatriation of the AIF was definitely starting to divide the local community.Traditionally, as we have seen throughout this blog, the old guard of the district had promoted recruitment, organised farewells and welcomes, issued shire medallions, supported the Yes vote in the conscription referenda, promoted anti-German sentiment and the exposure of German sympathisers, supported fund-raising and other activities, put on special commemorative and memorial services, and some of them had even supported temperance as part of the overall War effort. One of their constant complaints was the rest of the community, or at least many in the local community, did not share their sense of Imperial Loyalty and commitment to the War effort. From late 1917 there was another voice and another source of division. The new guard were younger and from a different class background. They had no traditional place in the local politics of the community. Some of them were literally ‘outsiders’ who were new to the district. Many were recovering from serious wounds and poor health. Most faced uncertain futures in terms of employment and a ‘normal’ life. However, they held the status of returned Anzacs and they shared an exclusive sense of ‘mateship’. Unlike their elders who spoke about the War, they had had direct, first-hand and terrible experience of it. They demanded the right to be heard.

In part, people at the time would have experienced the division as a clash over narratives. From 1914, the old guard, made up of the community’s elders and senior citizens – its political elite – had emphasised the narrative of loyalty, duty and sacrifice. But their narrative was largely symbolic. They spoke from the position of authority and respectability and their direct, personal involvement was limited. From the end of 1917 there was a new group with a new narrative. This narrative was based on their direct and traumatic experiences at the War. Many carried their wounds – ‘badges of honour’ – to prove it. The central themes of the new narrative were suffering, fairness and recompense. The real issue from that point was how the different narratives could co-exist. As will become clear, the particular outcome in the Shire of Alberton was shaped by the dynamic of local politics.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative












147. Soldiers’ farewells and welcomes in the second half of 1917

In the second half of 1917, as reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, there were 3 separate occasions when soldiers were farewelled and another 4 when they were welcomed home. There were a further 2 occasions when both farewells and welcomes were held together.  Overall, 13 men were farewelled and 9 welcomed home. With one exception – a farewell at Womerah for 3 locals in late July – all the farewells and welcomes were staged in Yarram.

The composition and work of the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee continued as for the first half of 1917 (see Post 120).

At a committee meeting held on 26/7/17, and reported in the local paper on 1/8/17, the members reviewed their efforts and stated that they had either presented or sent overseas a total of 343 shire medallions, together with the accompanying card. At the same time, they pointed out that as … there are about 800 soldiers on service from this shire, they were keen to … hear from those who have not received the medallion and card. The major discrepancy between the number of medallions issued (approx. 350), the number of men said to have enlisted from the Shire of Alberton (800) and the number of names recorded on the Roll of Honor (446) will be explored in a future post.

The themes highlighted by those who spoke at the farewells continued unchanged. Heroism, duty, sacrifice and a sense of loyalty to both the Empire and the Nation continued to be stressed; as were the natural fighting qualities of the men and their determination to uphold the name of the Anzacs. The point was made constantly that these were men who now knew the dreadful realities of the War they were to face. If Rev. Tamagno or Raymond spoke they would inevitably emphasise the honesty and sobriety of the men and urge them to remain true to their Christian faith. The sacrifice of the parents was also stressed.

The themes employed for those welcomed home were similar. The men’s efforts in creating the glory of the Anzacs was a constant. Their bravery and heroism was without equal. Their wounds were proof of their honour. Speakers could only imagine the horrors they had had experienced. They had shielded those at home – and defended the sanctity of Australian women – from the evils of German militarism. They had gone as volunteers. Above all, their sacrifice had to be repaid.

As has been covered in previous posts, there was often tension at the farewells. Commonly, speakers were critical of the low number of locals who attended. They could not understand what they saw as people’s indifference. It was common practice for the head teacher of the Yarram State School  – E A Paige, a member of the committee – to bring senior students with him to swell the numbers.

Additionally, at both farewells and welcomes, speakers would regularly attack the ‘shirkers’ and ‘eligibles’ for refusing to do their duty. They also expressed grave fears that locals generally failed to understand how dire the overall War situation was and how critically important it was for reinforcements to reach the AIF. They urged women to play a more decisive role in supporting the War effort and, in particular, winning the support of men for conscription. And, with the second referendum on conscription imminent – the vote was held on 20/12/17 – speakers called passionately for the Yes vote so that, as they saw it, the ‘shame’ and ‘stain’ of the first vote could be removed.

While such tension at the farewells and welcomes had been evident for at least one year, there is evidence that in the second half of 1917 the underlying tension in the local community was worsening. Even the members of the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee came under attack. Those who had been the most public advocates for the War were now being criticised.

B P Johnson, a committee member, was arguably the most prominent Imperial Loyalist in the entire local community. He spoke forcefully at public meetings in support of all aspects of the War effort, including, at that time, the second conscription referendum. But at the welcome home, in July 1917, for Private S G Jeffs, Johnson felt the need to defend himself from what he saw as malicious gossip. During the official welcome, Johnson noted that a friend had told him of comments that had been recently made about his son. The gist of the comments was that Johnson had used his influence to ensure that his son was kept away from the front. The brief background to the case was that the son – Cyril Johnson – had worked in the pay office for about 6 months from August 1916. He rejoined his unit, 6 Battalion, in France in April 1917.

In the account published in the local paper on 20/7/17 Johnson, during the course of the welcome to Private Jeffs, defended both his son and himself. According to Johnson,

He [Johnson’s son] was ordered there [pay office] by a doctor on account of an injured arm, and getting tired of being amongst so many cold footers, he tried till he got across to the front. That man [the one making the claim] did not go himself, but he allowed other men’s sons to fight for him. It was bad enough to have a son away, without having nasty words thrown at us.

Cyril Johnson was killed in France on 14/5/18.

There were other examples of how members of the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee came under attack and felt the need to defend themselves. At the welcome home to Private John Clark in November 1917, Benjamin Couston and Councillor Charles Barlow, both members of the committee, made public statements to counter personal attacks. As with Johnson, the comments were made in the course of the official welcome to Private Clark.

In fact, on the day, Couston gave the reply of thanks on behalf of Private Clark. But immediately after calling for support for the Government in the conscription referendum, he launched into a defence of his own position. As reported in the local paper (21/11/17), he drew attention to the fact that he had been sent a white feather:

He received by the post the other day a magnificent tribute to himself and his two sons in the form of a white feather (which he produced), which was no doubt the consequence of some remarks he had made a few days previously. He was willing to offer himself straight out if the individual who sent this feather would come forward and do likewise, and would also have his two sons do the same. (Applause). But as most people would know, he was not eligible. The ages of his two boys were 17 and 19 respectively. The latter was at present in a bank in New South Wales. Some years ago he had hurt himself whilst cycling, and had volunteered for the war on four different occasions, even pleading for a certificate of fitness, but he failed. The lad had told him the other day that he was giving himself a chance, and in two months would be in khaki. (Applause). The other boy was also anxious to enlist, and said he would do so when he was 18.

The younger boy – Kenneth Fletcher Couston – did enlist (3/1/18) in Yarram when he was 18 yo.

Benjamin Couston had arrived in Yarram in late 1916. He was the manager of the Bank of Victoria in the town. He sat as a JP in the local police court and was obviously a key local identity. From early 1917 he had been president of the Yarram Recruiting Committee. But, like Johnson, his integrity was being challenged.

The other committee member to defend himself that day was Councillor Charles Barlow. Barlow was another leading spokesperson for the Imperial Loyalists. He was a very public figure. In fact, on the day he chaired the welcome for Private Clark.

As indicated, at the welcome there were strong expressions of support for conscription. For Barlow at least, it appears, there was a strong personal commitment. The following remarks appeared in the account in the local paper. Barlow was speaking after Couston had mentioned his white feather:

The Chairman said that certain remarks had also been made about him, but fathers were not always their sons’ keepers. There was no man more strongly in favor of conscription than himself, although it might be said that he had sons who were not at the war. He prayed that the referendum would be carried, and then if he had eligible sons they would have to go.

Clearly some locals were beginning to question Barlow’s right to impress ideas of patriotism, sacrifice and duty on others.

From the start of the War the group of Imperial Loyalists, based principally in Yarram, had dominated the key committees – the ones actively and directly designed to support the War effort – and through this work they had controlled the official narrative. They represented the professional/ proprietorial/ managerial/ landed elite of the community and they were backed by the local churches – although Catholic support was qualified – and one of their number (A J Rossiter) was the editor of the influential local paper. However it appears that by the end of 1917 this group of leading citizens was being challenged, primarily on the basis of its moral authority.

Conceivably, this situation could be explained in terms of War-weariness. The endless calls for more effort, more reinforcements and the constant criticism of people’s lack of awareness and involvement as well as their indifference proved too much. The local community, which in reality had done and sacrificed so much, simply grew tired of being preached at by their ‘betters’ and rebelled, at least in part by attacking their integrity.

At the same time, there appears to have been at least one other dynamic involved. Essentially, another group emerged round this time  and this group – returned soldiers – directly challenged the right of the ‘elders’ of the local community to control the ongoing narrative of the War. In one sense it was a generational clash. It could also be described in terms of a clash between an ‘old’ and a ‘new guard’, where the latter was now demanding the right to be heard. There is no doubt that this new political force in the local community challenged the work and authority – and to some extent even the integrity – of the existing committees, especially the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee.

The next post will look more closely at the establishment of  the local branch of the Returned Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Imperial League which was formed in Yarram at the end of June 1917.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative