Category Archives: July to December 1918

192. Thanksgiving Sunday, 17/11/18

The first Sunday after the Armistice was Sunday, 17 November 1918. On the day, religious services focused on the War’s end and the promise of peace.

Protestant services on the day

The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 20/11/18 published a detailed account of the services under the headline: Thanksgiving Sunday. Crowded Churches. It led with,

In the district churches on Sunday the voice of the people was raised in thanksgiving to Almighty God for deliverance from our enemies … .

The paper’s account first covered the Church of England service taken by Rev M G Opper. Rev Melchior George Opper had only taken over the ministry from Rev Raymond in October 1918. Opper described how he intended to … give thanks to God for the mighty victories recently granted to the Allies in Palestine, Turkey, Austria, France, and for the ending of hostilities after four years of war. His second task was to … commemorate those who had made the supreme sacrifice, and to remember the bereaved.

For Opper and his congregation, there was no doubt that God had intervened on the side of the Allies. God had done so because the Allies had been … confronted by an explosion of evil. Evil was ‘rampant’. But God, as the … moral Governor of the universe… had intervened and the Allies had become … instruments in the hands of our God to save the world from the rule of a cruel, despotic foe. At the start of the War, people’s faith had been tested. As Opper said on the day, God seemed silent or powerless. But, in the end, people’s faith was ‘quickened’. Also, in the end, people saw that the War, as a time of hardship and challenge … had meaning in the world’s history. The hand of God was there.

There were also all the common references to Belgium, the Lusitania and ‘all the barbarisms’ committed by Germany.

As well as arguing that God had played a benevolent and guiding hand in the outcome, Opper also cited 3 specific occasions when he considered that God had intervened directly to change the course of the War. Without further explanation or justification, the three he gave were: ‘the retreat from Mons’, ‘the first stoppage at the gates of Paris’ and ‘the evacuation of Gallipoli’.

Opper’s religious allusions to the sacrifice of the dead were by then commonplace: the sacrifice of the men was in the spirit of Christ’s own sacrifice; theirs was the ‘noble’ and ’supreme’ sacrifice; they sacrificed themselves for others – ‘us’ – willingly; and their parents were resigned to the sacrifice. To our ears, 100 years on, it might sound like religious saccharine but for many the following would have been intensely reassuring:

Their memory is fragrant because counting the cost they offered themselves willingly, though it meant hardship, suffering, death for them. We praise God for their noble lives. We thank God for the women who gave them up, who though they rejoice with us today do so with tears in their eyes… .

Rev Walklate’s sermon to his Methodist congregation that Sunday was more nuanced. Certainly, he too was keen to offer the mandatory … expression of trust and thankfulness to God for triumph over our enemies. But he wanted his congregation to consider the tragedy of Germany in more detail, as opposed to focusing on merely the triumph of Britain and the Allies. Rhetorically, he asked his congregation to consider Germany’s predicament:

We must not forget that today millions of German people are gathering in their respective churches questioning their hearts for the reason why their prayers have been unanswered.

He noted that the Germans were very religious. In fact, he was quick to add that, as a nation, they appeared to be far more religious than Australians. As previously stated, one of Walklate’s most common wartime themes covered the religious indifference or negligence of Australians. On this occasion he noted, again, that in Australia … the spirit of public recognition of God and individual prayer has been sadly lacking. Walklate had seen the War as the nation’s chance to turn back to God. He was constantly disappointed.

Yet for all their prayers, Walklate noted that God had not listened to the Germans. Instead he had favoured the Allies, including the doubtful Australians. Walklate continued with the answer to his rhetorical ‘why?’.

Nevertheless, God has not heard their [the Germans] large cry, but has responded to the plea of our faithful few. We must ask ourselves why this is. Briefly it lies in the distinction between German and British righteousness.

In terms of what he described as ‘righteousness’, Walklate then proceeded to give an outline of German greatness, in fields such as in science, industry, education and the economy. The Germans had been able to solve ‘great social questions’. They were a ‘largely clean-living people’. ‘Physically and morally the Germans held their place… .’ The British way, on the other hand, was described as ‘muddling through’.

Walklate then resolved his rhetorical wonder with the claim that the British political system was inherently more powerful and its underpinning values more closely matched the Christian ideal:

Germany sacrificed the principle of individuality to that of national greatness. The individual only counted in so far as he helped to national efficiency. In Britain we count (the) individual and each personality as supreme. The value of each individual for his or her own sake makes for greater possibilities in our British righteousness than the German system. Christ died for the individual, and the redemption of the world lies in and through the individual.

The argument was more sophisticated than usual: the British (liberal) political tradition with its focus on the minimisation of government control over the individual, closely matched the Christian preoccupation of the fundamental relationship between God and the individual, and particularly the Protestant commitment to keep this relationship ‘pure’ and free from the corrupting influence of a formal (Roman) church. The same tradition served as a natural defence against the rise of the autocratic state – or the form of military despotism – that Germany had become. It was as if Walklate was talking up the value of a Christian (Protestant) theocracy.

Walklate also argued that Germany had been deceived by the sham prosperity that their political system – ‘military autocracy’ – had won for them before the War. However, he was quick to add that this idea of prosperity threatened all nations, including Australia:

The menace of the world to-day, and Australia in particular, is the confusion of prosperity with righteousness.

In fact, it was obvious that Walklate wanted to use the fate of Germany to drive home his message on the peril of pursuing the form of righteousness that equated to mere prosperity or a comfortable life:

You people who foregather in churches are not disturbed by the menaces of social evil, the liquor traffic, impure literature, Bolshevism and political crises so long as you enjoy three meals and a bed secure day by day. But our peril is that of Germany. Decent living Germans by the million are paying the penalty of a handful. The people always pay the price of their rulers’ iniquities. The individual must make himself responsible for his nation’s righteousness.

He even appeared to suggest that God had deliberately unleashed the War on the world to show man what truly mattered:

To me God has used this war to destroy the world’s surplus wealth, which was a barrier ever growing between man and God. In the levelled circumstances (of the) reduced wealth of the people, with clearer eyes we shall be able to see our national faults [drink, ‘impurity’, gambling etc], and remove them.

As argued, Walklate’s sermon was more nuanced than that delivered by Opper but both certainly had God intervening on the side of the Allies against the greater evil of Germany. The Allies had won because their moral cause was superior. God had made Good triumph over Evil.

The Allied victory also reinforced the correctness of the local Protestant clergy’s support of the War effort over the past 4 + years. Numerous previous posts have shown how the local Protestant clergy over the period of the War – particularly Rev George Cox and Rev Arthur Rufus Raymond (Church of England), Rev Cyril Walklate (Methodist) and Rev Francis A Tamagno (Presbyterian) – provided the local community with an ongoing narrative of the War which called for uncompromised loyalty to the Empire and presented the conflict as a clash of cultures and civilisation. They preached the lessons of patriotic duty, Christian sacrifice and Imperial destiny. They actively promoted recruiting and served on local recruiting committees. They supported Belgium Relief. They backed conscription and publicly campaigned for the Yes vote, again serving on local committees. They supported PM Hughes and the Nationalists. They spoke frequently at the local state schools on Empire and duty. They also spoke at formal farewells and welcomes home for soldiers. They all called for greater religious piety, purity and sacrifice in the cause of the War. They could now share in the victory.

Catholic services on the day

While the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – gave significant coverage to the Protestant celebration of the the end of hostilities, the (Roman) Catholic service(s) went unrecorded. Certainly, the local paper always gave greater coverage to Protestant services, particularly when the various Protestant congregations combined for joint services, but it is significant that there was no report at all of any Catholic (thanksgiving) service to mark the end of the War. Certainly, the occasion would have been marked by the local Catholic community with, at the very least, a requiem mass for those killed.

At the same time, it is possible to gain some impression of how Catholics viewed the end of the War by looking at the equivalent services held in Melbourne on the same weekend. Moreover, the significant sermon on that Sunday was preached by Bishop Phelan, Bishop of Gippsland (Sale). The weekend’s events were reported, in detail, in the Advocate on 23/11/18. They were also reported in The Tribune on 21/11/18. In terms of more mainstream papers, there was the briefest of reports on the Catholic services at St. Patricks in The Herald on Monday 18/11/18 and a longer account in The Age on the same day. The account in The Age was neutral in tone and did not touch on the more contentious aspects of Phelan’s sermon.

On the Sunday (17/11/18), ‘solemn high mass’ was sung at St Patrick’s Cathedral at 11.00am. Archbishop Mannix presided. The congregation was described as ‘an immense assemblage’. That evening there was another service ‘in connection with the cessation of hostilities’ and, again, Mannix presided. The cathedral was described as ‘densely crowded’. This was the service where the sermon was delivered by ‘His Lordship the Bishop of Sale (Most Rev. Dr. Phelan).’ On the next day (Monday 18/11/18) there was further … Solemn Requiem Mass … for the Australian soldiers who have fallen in the war.

Mannix’s sermon was covered in the article in The Age (18/11/18). It was definitely not triumphant in tone. He despaired at the folly of ‘man’ and the destruction he had brought to the world. He declared that … God had to build up again from out the wrecks that man had made. He blasted nations and kings and their … lust for power, for domination and for trade. He certainly did not see the point in glorifying the War. He was not preaching to comfort the victors:

Australia had given 55,000 of its manhood in the awful slaughter, and it was cruel to talk to the mothers and fathers of the dead of the glories of war. They hear too much of the victories and the glories that war could give; of the slaughter of which mankind should be ashamed, and which was a disgrace to civilisation.

Mannix called for prayers so that … God would never again allow man to plunge the human race into such misery. The consolation he saw was that the coming peace conference might produce … a lasting peace and a consequent happiness that men had hitherto scarcely dreamt of. But even here he called for the ‘victors’ – not mentioned by name – to be ‘unselfish’ in their negotiations with ‘the defeated nations’.

Bishop Phelan’s sermon was even more remarkable than Mannix’s for its distance from the Protestant notion of ‘thanksgiving’. Apart from anything else, not once in his long sermon was there any reference, even a passing reference, to the existence of the British Empire or its triumph over the Hun. Nor was there any reference to the Nationalist Government or PM Hughes.

Phelan even had a different take on the cause of the War. Whereas the Protestant version most commonly focused on the ‘barbarity’ of the Germans – the outrages in Belgium, the sinking of the Lusitania etc – and the indisputable ‘duty’ of Britain and her Empire to challenge such ‘tyranny’, Phelan shifted the underlying cause back to the formation of the Triple Alliance (Italy, Germany and Austria) and then its counter, the Entente Cordiale (Russia, France and England). He spoke of how at the time, Pope Leo XIII had protested and warned against such treaties. Phelan noted that because of such treaties … When the Archduke of Austria was murdered the world was like a great magazine, which was ready to explode. Two mighty combinations had gathered powder, and occasion was taken of the death of the Archduke to declare war.

Phelan also felt the need to defend the actions of Pope Pius X and Benedict XV over the War years.

He then addressed what he saw as the claim that throughout the War the (Roman) Catholic Church had been ‘on the side of the enemy’. While the War had ended, there was obviously still a powerful sense of anger on the part of Catholics over the perceived way the Church had been attacked:

A crusade of calumny was raised against the Church during the time of war by lip-loyalists and sham patriots, who tried by every means to humiliate, malign and calumniate the Catholic Church. By a servile Press and from a hostile platform and pulpit, they were told that the Catholics in the world were on the side of the enemy and that they were not doing their duty.

Phelan did not offer a detailed rebuttal of the claim of Catholic perfidy but simply made the point that Marshal Foch, Supreme Allied Commander, who … represented the Allied forces in submitting the armistice terms to the enemy … was, in fact, … a loyal and devoted son of the Catholic Church. He also insisted that … Catholics had done their duty nobly and well in the war.

When Phelan turned his attention to Australia’s part in the War now concluded, at the same time as confirming the mythical status of the Anzac, he revisited arguments that had been used against conscription:

Considering our distance from the scene of action, and the difficulties of training and transhipping troops, Australia has supplied her full share, both in quality and quantity, of the forces that have won the world’s freedom. The heroism of the Australian soldiers in forcing the heights of Gallipoli, in the face of a withering storm of shot and shell, has shrouded their names in imperishable glory.

And let us ever remember that their gift of sacrifice or life was a free gift; no cruel law dragged them from their parents and friends. They realised that, dreadful as war is, other things are more dreadful – namely the triumph of despotism, the slavery of conscience, the ruin of country, the loss of national honour. And when such evils are impending war becomes lawful, and sometimes a duty.

The argument is finely balanced: one the one hand Australia (as Australia) was right in fighting the despotism of the (unnamed) enemy but it also correctly rejected conscription, as yet another form of tyranny. Australia’s involvement in the War was of a higher quality because its soldiers made the commitment voluntarily.

When he eulogised the … the fine body of young men who answered the nation’s call to arms, and left their country to face death … Phelan referred to either their love of or sense of duty towards their ‘nation’ or ‘country’ or ‘commonwealth’ or ‘native land’ – and he even referred to their sense of ‘national pride’ – but not once was there any reference to ‘Empire’ or ‘Mother Country’. In his view, the Australians had fought as Australians. They were Nationalists not Imperialists. And when he turned to literary allusions to describe the ‘fallen’, he cited a work that covered the American Civil War. There were to be no conventional Imperial allusions. For Phelan, the Empire was some false god of the Imperialists.

Arguably, the most striking feature of the sermon came when Phelan turned to the issue of the Australian dead.

In terms of Catholic Church doctrine, not all the (Catholic) Australians would have died in the ’state of grace’. Rather, they most likely died in the state of sin. As Phelan was reported as declaring in his sermon:

But to expect that the soul of every sin-stained child of Adam is fit for the immediate possession of God at the moment of death is to expect the unattainable in a world where sin prevails to such an alarming extent.

For the liberation (‘repose’) of such souls, the Church offered the power of prayer and the ‘sacrifice of the mass’ (Solemn Requiem Mass), through the agency of the priest. And Phelan called on the faithful to follow such ritual … for our gallant fellow-countrymen, without distinction, who fought and fell for us. And it was the role of the priest that Phelan was most keen to highlight. He wanted to draw attention to this role as the defining difference between Catholicism and Protestantism.

It might appear strange that Phelan used his sermon on the end of hostilities to focus on doctrinal disputes between Catholic and Protestant but, at the time, it was probably seen, at least by the Catholic congregation, as a justified counter to the the attacks on the Church. The particular dispute is worth additional scrutiny because it highlights the extraordinary animosity between Protestant and Catholic at the end of the War.

To prove his case, Phelan proceeded to relate a rather convoluted story, set in the ‘Middle Ages’, in which he, as a devout Catholic in desperate need of the absolution of his sins, via confession, faces for the choice of confessor either St Francis of Assisi – ‘the angelic St Francis’, ‘the seraph of Assisi’ – or Martin Luther. Unsurprisingly, in Phelan’s story Luther came across as an example of the ’dreaded Hun’ of the War

His heavy Teutonic features and repulsive looks reveal his character. He is a fallen priest, a rebel against God and the Church. He has dragged millions with him on the way to destruction.

However, the doctrinal twist in this case was that whereas St Francis was never ordained as a priest, Luther had been and he still retained the power, thorough confession, to absolve sin. So, in Phelan’s story, Luther is the only one who can help:

Hence in my distress, and having no choice, I pour out the sins of my life into the ear of that wicked man; and from him I beg absolution, and he says over me: “I absolve you from all your sins.” Within an hour my soul frees itself from its house of clay, and wings its flight to the gate of heaven.

The story itself is so contrived, at several levels, that it is easy to dismiss. However, the doctrinal implications that Phelan drew from his little lesson certainly could not be dismissed. They highlight for the modern reader the intensity of the divide between Protestant and Catholic. Phelan stated:

This war, which has revealed many truths, has manifested no truth so striking as the immense difference between the religion established on earth by Jesus Christ and that form of faith propounded by the reformers of the 16th century.

When a man in a dying condition is carried from the battle field, what little use is the Bible-reading clergyman, who has no power to absolve from sins. The utter bankruptcy of Protestantism to meet the wants of the dying and the dead has been exposed in all its nakedness during this war.

Bishop Phelan’s sermon that Thanksgiving Sunday was focused and highly crafted. It reflected profound doctrinal differences between Protestantism and (Roman) Catholicism. The sermon also reflected ongoing anger on the part of Catholics at the way they perceived they had been attacked over the years of the War. Lastly, and arguably most importantly, the sermon reflected careful political positioning on the part of the Catholic hierarchy – whereas Protestantism, as the religion of the Empire, continued to locate Australia’s experience of the War within the fundamental commitment to the British Empire, Catholicism was making a bid that the experience needed to be located solely within the context of the (Australian) Nation. One of the key conflicts associated with the history, legacy and ownership of the War was underway.

References

The Age

The Herald

Advocate

The Tribune

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

191. Armistice celebrations in the Shire of Alberton

The Armistice was signed at 5.00am on Monday 11/11/18 (Paris time) with all hostilities to cease six hours later (11.00am). Word reached Australia Monday night and the next morning Tuesday 12/11/18 Australians woke to newspaper headlines that declared, for example, Germany Accepts Defeat. Armistice Signed on Monday. Completer Surrender (The Argus Tuesday 12/11/18) and The War Ends. Germany Surrenders. Armistice Terms Signed. (The Age, Tuesday 12/11/18)

In line with its normal publication schedule, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative did not appear until Wednesday 13/11/18. The headline (below) which appeared in the edition noted that the local paper had posted the information of the War’s end, at its office in Yarram, as soon as it came though on the Monday night. Amazingly, the same edition also pointed out that, in fact, the Armistice was celebrated locally – and also very prematurely – from around midday on Friday November 8.

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, 13/11/1918. Courtesy NLA

Friday November 8

According to the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, word reached the town late morning on Friday 8 November that the Armistice had been signed. In an article with the headlines, Victory Celebrated. Premature Owing to Unfounded Rumour. Thorough Enjoyment Nevertheless. … the paper traced the source of the rumour first to the Alberton Railway Station and then to telegrams, including one from the (Melbourne) Stock Exchange. The signing of the Armistice was expected imminently and the anxious anticipation in the community meant that these reports were taken as fact. As the paper tellingly put it,

by 11 o’clock townspeople could not further restrain themselves. Flags were flown from every vantage point, stores were raided for the Allied colors, and none could settle down to work. Gaily bedecked motor cars were in evidence, and in their exuberance of spirit, owners clothed their canines in the colors. One dog hoisted a miniature Union Jack whenever he raised his tail. The school children were let loose, and headed by a few “instrumentalists,” who tin-whistled no particular tune, formed a procession through the town. They sang songs, and spectators cheered. The whole was a pleasing spectacle quite spontaneous, and worthy of the town.

However, an urgent telegram from the editor (A J Rossiter) to Reuters to confirm that the Armistice had been signed brought the response that this was not the case. At the same time, there was also a report from the State Department in Washington that the Armistice had not yet been signed. At this point, as the paper put it, ‘enthusiasm subsided a little’. But there was still considerable excitement and confusion. Rossiter blamed The Age for misleading headlines that day and noted that people became convinced that the Commonwealth Censor was trying to withhold the news. To add to the tension The Age itself, on the same day – Friday 8 November – reported on a rumour – ‘peace had been declared’ – that had spread wildly at Flemington Racecourse the day before, Thursday 7 November. On the Friday, there were more rumours about all leave from Broadmeadows being cancelled. Also on the Friday, word reached Yarram that the hotels in Melbourne had been closed, adding strength to the rumour of the War’s end. The hotels in Yarram remained open on the Friday and, according to the paper, there were no incidents as patrons celebrated in the ‘old way’. Word was also coming through by now that that on both the Continent and in America the victory was being celebrated.

Against this background the President of the Shire – Cr Barlow – decreed that local celebrations were to go ahead that night (Friday 8 November), including a bonfire on the show ground. The President’s decision, according to the paper, ‘led to criticism in some places’ but the paper also made it clear that the decision was widely supported. The paper also supported the decision, even if, strictly speaking, the Armistice itself had not been signed.

… but the children and young folks having made up their minds for the fun, the president was right in his ruling, while the spirit was in the air. There was sufficient cause for rejoicing, even though the armistice was not signed. The British Fleet had sailed through the Dardanelles and taken Constantinople, Turkey’s armies had surrendered unconditionally, and Austria, too, had surrendered. Surely this was sufficient for all round rejoicing, without the final scratch of the pen to complete absolute victory. Victory was near enough, at all events, for heartfelt rejoicing, and the people could restrain themselves no longer.

So that Friday night – November 8 – the town celebrated, three days before the actual Armistice. As the paper described,

The town at night was thronged, and wore an unusually gay appearance. Shortly after 8 o’clock a monster procession, headed by the Town Band and the Fire Brigade, moved from James-st., along Commercial-st., to the show ground. While the people were assembling the bonfire was lit, when could be seen the large attendance, numbering with the children upwards of 2,000.
Unfortunately, there was a shortage of fireworks on the night. Once the crowd settled in the grand stand, proceedings began. The ‘Doxology’ was the first item sung, followed by ‘Rule Britannia’, the ‘National Anthem’ and then ‘God Save Our Splendid Men’.

Cr Barlow and Revs Williams and Walklate then addressed the crowd. They commented on the Allied victory, and asked the people to thank God for deliverance from the hand of the Hun.
The speakers were duly cheered.

However at some point that night it must have seemed strange to those there that they were celebrating victory before the Armistice itself had been signed. The newspaper report noted that Cr Barlow told everyone there that once the Armistice had been definitely signed the Government would ensure that the news was wired to every shire in the nation. The realisation that they had been too fast of the mark must have eventually sunk in. This probably explains why the actual speeches that night were limited; and, essentially, there was not much more to do after the short speech by the two reverend gentlemen. As the paper put it,

For an hour afterwards the crowd lingered on the showground, entertained by the band, which gave a programme of well-played music.

Monday (night) November 11

Saturday and Sunday must have been quiet days as neither was mentioned in the paper’s report. But then on Monday night, when planning was underway in the shire hall for another (proper) celebration once the Armistice had been signed, word finally did come through that … an armistice had been signed, and the war had terminated at 6 o’clock that morning.

Finally, it was all for real, and it is clear from the report that there was an incredible release of emotions. There was also a dramatic sense of witnessing a unique historical event. The newspaper’s report captures the wild scenes as they unfolded in a country town. There is the overpowering sense of victory, and the attendant triumph of righteousness. Importantly, the Armistice was never seen in the strict sense of an armistice – The Age on 12/11/18 provided the precise military definition –  but as a certain Allied victory.

The welcome news was conveyed by the “Standard” representative to the meeting [then planning the real celebration for the Armistice], and the meeting appropriately sang the National Anthem and God Save Our Splendid Men. … A big crowd assembled outside the “Standard” office, where the news was posted, and song and cheers broke the stillness of the night. Minor bells tinkled, and the heavy toll of the fire bell, and the boom of Dr Rutter’s cannon announced to people several miles out that the big historic event had been achieved – the Hun was defeated. The town at once gave itself up to rejoicing. Fireworks, too, flashed the glad news, and never has such an enthusiastic scene been witnessed in Yarram. Mrs. Dwyer thoughtfully ran her piano on to the footpath, and for an hour or more a street concert was held. Never have patriotic songs been more lustily sung, and never have the words of “Rule Britannia” and the “Marseillaise ” had such significance. Britain had “ruled the waves” and with the gallant French the two nations had “fought on to victory” with the other brave Allies. Excitement was intense. The severe tensions of the past few agonising years had been relieved, and a thankful spirit prevailed. It was an historic and memorable event, such as will never again be witnessed by the present generation. The world war was over, and the blessings of a righteous peace at last vouchsafed. The doors of Thompson’s hall were thrown open by Mr. Toft, who invited all to participate in enjoyment, and for several hours, till the wee sma’ oors, (sic) young folks enjoyed a dance and general hilarity. It was a night that will never be forgotten.

Tuesday November 12

The next day, Tuesday 12 November, was declared a public holiday across Australia. The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative reported that in Yarram a combined thanksgiving service was held in Thompson’s hall. The presiding ministers were Rev Opper (Church of England) and Rev Walklate (Methodist), with the Rev. Mr Williams (Presbyterian) as an apology. The paper described the service as ‘largely attended.’

The service opened with the National Anthem and ‘Our Splendid Men’. Other hymns included, ‘O God Our Help’, ‘God Moves in a Mysterious Way’, ‘Lest We Forget’, and ‘Jesu, Lover of My Soul’.
As per usual, the service was Protestant. According to the clergymen it might have taken God four long years but He had finally awarded the Allies the victory for which they had struggled. They been victorious because they had been fighting for principles. Their battle had been of a higher order.

All through the war the Allies had shown their inflexible determination to gain the victory, and nothing could lure them from the aim which they achieved. They set out to gain right over might, spiritual over material. They have been fighting for principles enshrined in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the patriotic church of Christendom has spoken with no uncertain voice. Our duty therefore is to return thanks to God, it would be base ingratitude if we refused or neglected to give thanks to the Great Ruler who has given us the great victory.

It is an open question as to how many at the service that day truly believed the God had finally intervened on their behalf and delivered them the victory. However, it was a religio-political line that had been preached consistently for the preceding 4 years and it would have seemed perfectly apt, even credible. Also, there was certainly no doubt that the ‘patriotic church of Christendom’ – as opposed, presumably, to the more politically and religiously ambivalent, if not outright suspect, church of Rome – had been beating a very loud drum for the four years of the War and it now intended to proclaim its (proprietary) victory.

That night (Tuesday), there was another celebration at the show ground. This was a decidedly more lively affair than the thanksgiving service. It was also a more genuine spectacle than the premature affair that had been staged on the Friday night. The celebration started about 8.00 o’clock with a procession of school children. Dr Rutter’s (home-made) cannon was pressed in to service again. The Royal Salute was played on a bugle and the usual ‘God Save the King’ and ‘Rule Britannia’ were sung by everyone there. A score of patriotic songs followed. A paragraph from the paper captures the mood,

Two bonfires were ablaze, in which were burnt the effigies of the Kaiser, Crown Prince and von Tirpiz. Indeed, they were blown up. The grand stand was electrically lighted, and fireworks shot skywards at frequent intervals. The Town Band played selections on the grand stand. All round an hilarious time was spent.

There were of course significant limits to communication at the time, and limits even to the range of Dr Rutter’s cannon. Consequently, news of the Armistice did not reach some townships until early the next day. The following report from the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative of Wednesday 13 November describes how the news reached Toora, about 40 kilometres from Yarram.

The news that Germany had submitted to the Allies’ terms of peace, which was officially wired by the Lord Mayor to Major H. A. Jacobs, Toora, first thing on Tuesday morning [12/11/18], spread like wildfire and the streets were quickly thronged with cheering crowds. Church, school and other bells were started ringing, that at the Church of England being manned by a group of school boys who rhymed their peals to a tune of Peace, Peace, Peace, while buildings became immediately ablaze with flags and banners of all nationalities bar enemy. The school children, to whom a holiday had been granted, were soon abroad, hurrahing and hurrahing louder and more vigorously than all. Heavy rain falling at the time quite failed to damp the ardour of the people’s receipt of the glad tidings that peace had been declared for the time being, Germany having signed the Allies’ terms for an armistice, and that hostilities were to cease at dawn of the previous morn (sic). The joy was touchingly near, real and sincere.

The Armistice was also celebrated in the local (primary) schools. The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (22/11/18) featured a detailed report on celebrations at the Devon North State School held on the Wednesday 20/11/18.

It would have been perfectly natural that celebrations took place in the local (state) primary school. As we have seen repeatedly, the local state school was a critical focus for the War effort, not just in terms of fund raising and other drives to provide comfort and support for the troops but also in the way the narrative of the War was employed – by teachers, inspectors, town elders, local Protestant clergy, the school governing body, the local press – to reinforce amongst the children the sense of loyalty to the Empire and the Nation. The values laboured were those of duty, loyalty, honour and sacrifice. The report in the local paper described how the speakers there that day emphasised that final victory had come from unwavering commitment to such basic values.

It was community celebration:

On Wednesday afternoon the parents and children of Devon North met at the school to express their delight at the successful termination of the European war. The large attendance evidenced the thoroughly loyal spirit, mingled with the deep feelings of relief.

After the National Anthem was sung, the importance of the occasion was explained to the children. They were then warmly praised for their … sustained efforts in support of all war movements. They were also urged to take pride in the school’s long honor roll which featured the names of approximately 60 former students.

That afternoon, the comments made in relation to sacrifice, patriotic loyalty and Imperial duty were virtually identical to those made when the first volunteers left the train station at Alberton in September 1914.

The honor roll, with some 60 names, testified to the loyalty of the residents, and the children were requested to reverence it and cherish the memory of those whose names appeared on it. Should the Empire at any future time demand assistance he [The president of the Shire, Cr. Barlow] was certain that the call would be just as readily responded to. His earnest request was that the children should strive to be worthy of their glorious heritage, and that they should do their utmost to maintain the Empire in the proud position it occupied today.

Cr. Barlow also laboured the theme of national – and imperial – greatness being based on ideals, values and principles. The enemy, on the other hand, was claimed to have pursued only material and worldly things.

In closing, the Shire President could not resist an appeal to the higher authority.

… so long as it [the British Empire] adhered to its present principles, its position was assured. Nations that had based their greatness merely on worldly matters had to-day even their names blotted out; therefore, they [the students] were requested to entrust themselves at all times to the Supreme Ruler.

Presumably, the Supreme Ruler was a reference to God the Almighty rather than George V., even if, as head of the Church of England, King George was the ‘Supreme Anglican’.

The ceremony finished with a mix of formality, conviviality, fun and, of course, the mandatory session of sports.

After the saluting of “The Flag”, afternoon tea was supplied and a programme of sports proceeded with.

All the speech making associated with the immediate local celebrations of the Armistice described the victory in terms of the Empire’s unconquered greatness and the associated triumph of its religion, Protestantism. Essentially, this was a perspective that looked back, to the world of pre-August 1914. All declared that the War had been won by the right side, with the right history, the right religion and the right values. Therefore, according to this logic, order would now be restored. The past could become again the present. Unfortunately, the world, the Empire and Australia itself had changed far too much for that to happen.

References

The Argus

The Age

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

190. Strength of Empire Movement

The Strength of Empire Movement appears to have started in Melbourne in mid 1918. The founder was the Victorian member of parliament, Edmund Wilson Greenwood MLA. In his time, Greenwood held executive positions in the Anti-Liquor League of Victoria and the Australian Prohibition Council. He was a lay preacher (Methodist), a member of the Australian Natives Association and a strong pro-conscriptionist.

Branches of the movement were established in metropolitan and country centres and the movement spread to other states. It also appears to have had some links to the British National Council for Combating Venereal Disease. The charter of the movement had 3 key demands: the introduction of war-time prohibition, using the model introduced in Canada; the use of a ‘bare’ or simple majority in votes to determine the introduction of local prohibition districts; and the application of ’strong measures’ to ‘ensure purity’ (eliminate or limit venereal disease). The movement proclaimed itself intensely loyal to the Empire and represented all its work as underpinning and reinforcing Australia’s commitment to the Empire and the war effort.

The AIF’s perceived problem with ‘drink’ – particularly in the case of returning soldiers – and attempts to combat VD were very much in the public mind at the time.

In early 1918 a Senate inquiry had been set up to investigate the harmful effects of drink on soldiers, particularly in relation to those returning home. The Age (11/1/18) described the function of this enquiry:

… to inquire as to the extent to which intoxicating liquor was adversely affecting outgoing and returned soldiers, and the best method of dealing with the sale of intoxicating liquor during the period of the war and afterwards.

The select committee was adjourned mid year (1918) and its final report did not even appear before the Armistice. Its key recommendation was ‘anti-shouting legislation’ to reduce the level of drinking of returned soldiers.

There was much evidence presented by military authorities, the police and the medical and welfare institutions caring for returned soldiers. It was claimed that drink reduced the soldier’s efficiency, that it had restricted the level of enlistments, that it was overwhelmingly responsible for instances of poor discipline in the field and that returning soldiers in particular were at acute risk.

At the time, some argued that restrictions such as closing local pubs when troopships arrived in port did not go far enough and nothing less that total prohibition would protect the returning soldiers. They argued that the whole of society had a moral duty to protect the returning soldiers and agree to prohibition. The counter view was that society did not have the right to protect the men from themselves, particularly given that the same men had, as volunteers, served the country so commendably. The situation represented the inherent tension between the way society had lionised the men for more than 4 years but now, on their return, was imposing major restrictions on their liberty.

The issue of VD was also very topical. In late 1916, the Victorian Parliament had passed legislation intended to curb the spread of venereal disease. The legislation attempted to stop the work of ’quacks’ peddling bogus treatments. It also attempted to force those with VD to seek out professional medical support. All cases had to be reported to the ‘medical inspector’ so that accurate records could be maintained. The patient was required to accept treatment until a formal statement of ‘cure’ could be issued by the medical practitioner. There was also provision for apprehending and then enforcing treatment for those with VD who refused to comply with the new provisions. At the very end of 1918 there were further legislative attempts. For example, there was a push to give the ‘medical inspector’ the authority to inform either the other party or the parents of the other party that the person he or she or their child was about to marry was infected with the disease. The equivalent law in NSW carried a five year jail term. Many critics voiced the concern that while the legislation focused on the identification and treatment of disease, the larger problem lay outside the law and was driven by the low moral character of those affected. In theory, their solution lay with the elimination of prostitution and the promotion of a more ‘pure’ citizenry.

Importantly, drink and VD were seen, and always represented by reformers, as intimately linked. In this view, drink or inebriation was the root cause of VD and if drink could be curtailed then the incidence of VD would fall. Prohibition would address both major social problems.

One of the cruel realities that drove the debate about VD was the incidence of children born with the disease, and also the number of ante-natal deaths caused by it. In an opinion piece in The Age ( 22/9/17) under the heading The Scourge of Venereal Disease, medical experts outlined the extent to which the diseases affected children:

At the eighth session of the Australasian Medical Congress in Melbourne a special meeting was held concerning syphilis. Dr. P. B. Bennie, reporting on behalf of the section for disease of children, said he inferred that “fully 25 per cent. of the sick children in Melbourne are tainted with syphilis, and that about 10 per cent. of the total number of children in Melbourne are syphilised. .. nearly half the children who die are infected with syphilis. Speaking generally the chances of dying before puberty are for the syphilitic seven times greater than for the non-syphilitic.

The same article referred to the large number of stillborn because of the disease and the equally large number of infants who died because they were born with it. It gave an overall figure of 6,000 deaths, nationwide. At the other end of life, the impact of syphilis was also documented. The same article noted that,

In our lunatic asylums 60 per cent. of the most loathsome, miserable, heartrending cases are victims of this dreadful disease.

The notoriety of Langwarrin as a special AIF hospital for VD cases also served to highlight the prevalence of the disease. Moreover, the statistics gathered at Langwarrin over the War years had revealed another worrying reality: the reformers’ call for ‘purity’ had to extend beyond the common prostitute. Even the notion of the ‘respectable woman’ needed qualification. The article noted that

… statistics that the establishment of the Langwarrin camp has enabled the military authorities to collect – and they are the first reliable statistics it has been possible to obtain on the subject – reveal the startling and disturbing fact that in only 18 per cent. of cases has the disease been caught from common women of the street. The remaining 82 per cent. of the cases were due to association with semi-respectable girls or women, whom the police could not arrest as vagrants.

Obviously, the 2 key areas targeted by the Strength of Empire Movement – drink and VD – had a very high profile over the War years and this profile picked up as the return of the AIF neared. The movement pushed both causes within the context of supporting the War effort and defending the Empire. However, social reformers of many kinds had pushed strongly for prohibition and action against VD before the War and they were to continue their efforts in the post-War period.

It appears that the War years were significant because they provided reformers with what was portrayed as a more urgent and desperate social, political and moral background. They were able to represent the time – not just the War itself but also the period of demobilisation – as one that called for radical solutions. Certainly, (Protestant) religious reformers saw the War as an opportunity for the Christian community to turn back to God, shed their sinful ways and strive to become better people and more loyal and dutiful members of the Empire. It is arguable that their efforts intensified after the loss of the 2 conscription referenda. Moreover, even those who were not religious in their motivation saw the dangers that that the twin evils of drink and VD posed to society and the Empire.

This was the general background to the attempt to establish a local branch of the Strength of Empire Movement in Yarram in the second half of 1918. Given local support, if not zeal, for temperance and the incessant call for religious revival from the local Protestant clergy, the Strength of Empire Movement and the Shire of Alberton appeared to be the perfect fit.

In an editorial on 9/8/18 the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative actively promoted the coming meeting:

The Strength of Empire Movement will be launched on Monday night in Thompson’s Hall by Mr. Gifford Gordon, one of Melbourne’s most notable platform speakers. He is directly acquainted with the facts and effects of drink and disease in hindering Australia’s part in the war. The leading citizens of the State have already identified themselves with this movement to secure wartime prohibition and eliminate venereal disease.

The local paper subsequently provided (14/8/18) a very detailed account of the public meeting. It led with a note of disappointment that so few attended what it described as … a forceful and able address on the evils of drink and immorality. The editor (A J Rossiter) stated that he could not understand why so few locals had attended … as the movement has been inaugurated for the purpose of assisting in winning the war. He could not understand why people did not want to be enlightened on … the evils in our midst which go to sap the virility of the nation. Nor could he understand how while … hundreds turn out to picture shows, only tens attended an address which was for the enlightenment of the people.

The meeting was chaired by two local Protestant ministers: Rev C J Walklate (Methodist) and Rev A R Raymond (Church of England). Walklate’s brother had been killed in the War (22/10/17) and Raymond’s son had also been killed (9/4/17). Both clergymen were recognised as staunch Imperial Loyalists in the community and Walklate, in particular, was very active in the local temperance movement. He was also one of the most outspoken pro-conscriptionists in the local community.

The guest speaker from Melbourne was Gifford Gordon, a prohibitionist. He was very involved with the Victorian Anti-Liquor league. He told the audience that he had been … released form his church for six months in order that he might do what he considered his duty to his country and his fellow creatures. He expressed disappointment at the low number of locals there and stated that he had been … assured that he would have an audience of about 400 people. Indications are that there were less than 50 present. At the end of the night there was a collection taken to cover the costs of the meeting but the results were very disappointing.

Mr. Gordon said he was rather disappointed at the amount given, and unless more was received he would be sent out of town in debt.

Gordon described how the Strength of Empire Movement had been started earlier that year (1918) by E W Greenfield MLA who … believed he had been raised up by God to help and strengthen the people in their efforts to do their utmost for the Empire in this most critical period. Then Gordon outlined what the movement stood for:

Firstly, it was for war prohibition and prohibition during the period of demobilisation. Secondly, for the democratic principle of of a bare majority in regard to [the] local option instead of a three-fifths majority. Thirdly, it stood for purity, and to urge the Government to cope with the terrible evils that were attacking home life.

Gordon declared that he personally supported the movement because … it was in the best interests of the community, and because he was a Britisher. To be loyal a person had to live a life worthy of the great Empire. He believed that the … ideals of the movement were in the best interests of the country, and most of all for the soldier.

Gordon then proceeded to give an extraordinary account of the effect of alcohol on the War effort. Earlier posts have touched on the push for prohibition over the War years and the threat that drink posed to the AIF but Gordon’s remarks that night were striking. At the outset, he claimed that the single factor that had most harmed the War effort over the past 4 years had been ‘intoxicating drink’. Drink lay behind every problem:

It has robbed the firing line of thousands and thousands of men, has caused strikes and all sorts of impediments towards the successful issue of the war. Millions of pounds have been expended in the manufacture of intoxicating drink that should have been used for food for people who were almost on the verge of starvation.

Gordon did not see this as a uniquely Australian problem. Drink had compromised effort across the Empire. He gave the example of Canada where, in the early stages of the War, the temptation of drink had undone all the fine efforts of those promoting and enforcing prohibition and even the desperate wishes of the mothers of the young men:

When Canada sent over her troops they carried with them the requests from thousands of mothers to keep the boys away from drink. These lads had come from prohibition camps and had gone across in prohibition ships. The request was honoured for a while, but the ranks were eventually broken through, and the cry of those mothers disregarded, and tens of thousands of those boys who had never known the taste of drink before were returned home disgraced and degraded, and never saw the firing line; and this through drink.

But Gordon also praised both Canada and the USA for their much tougher stance on prohibition. He presented a stark difference between Canada and Australia. Canada, with prohibition, had been able to make a far more significant contribution to the Empire:

The success of the prohibition movement in Canada should be an example. Canada and prohibition has presented 150 aeroplanes to England and 600 to the United States. Australia has sent none. Canada has built 89 ships and sent them laden with provisions: Australia had built none. Canada loaned £ 81,000,000 to Great Britain; Australia had borrowed £ 139,000,000. The expenditure in Canada on drink would soon be nil; in Australia it was about £ 18,000,000. That was the difference between prohibition and a licensed evil.

Gordon’s address also featured a full-on expose of what he saw as the extent to which drink had undermined the AIF and limited the size of the army Australia could raise. People in his audience would have known of the harmful effects of drink – and the actions taken to try to limit its effects – in the training camps in Australia and on overseas service, but Gifford was presenting a far worse picture. It was a picture of how Australia had failed the Empire:

It might be news to the people to know that 60,000 Australian boys who were in camp never left these shores because of drink. They enlisted because duty called them, and their aims and ambitions were to fight for their country. But the cursed drink defeated them. If we tolerate this sort of thing then we should not claim to be loyal subjects of the British Empire. This awful barrier that came between the boy and his duty should be swept away. Think of the hundreds of thousands of lads who were defeated this way when the mother country was calling for more men; and yet we sanctioned it. It was all very well for the Government to send out recruiting sergeants to get men to enlist, but they allowed these boys to be surrounded with the two great evils – drink and bad women.

[Commonwealth figures from the time – The Senate, 5/12/18 – referred to 68,937 men who had enlisted (upto the end of 1917) who did not go to war. The reasons given were: ‘some had died, some had deserted, and some were discharged.]

Later in his speech Gordon claimed that, Ninety per cent. of the boys who proved unsatisfactory as soldiers were defeated through drink.

Gordon also specifically targeted the drink problems associated with the returned men. He referred to the … thousands of broken hearts and broken homes amongst the returned soldiers caused by the cursed drink alone… and in a striking image he described how … it made his heart bleed to see some of the boys who had returned, some with one limb or one eye, staggering down the street defeated by these curses [drink and bad women].

Commonly, the Strength of Empire Movement held separate meetings for men and women, presumably because of sensitivities over any discussion of venereal disease. But on this occasion Gordon spoke on the topic to a combined audience. The comments were general and focused on the extent of the problem. He referred to it as ‘the purity question’. He also claimed that the authorities had tried to keep the extent of the problem concealed and that in a real sense it was just another manifestation of the problem of drink:

There had been a conspiracy to screen the awful vice of impurity, but it was time now that the veil was lifted. Eighty per cent. of those people affected with that awful venereal disease was the direct result of drink.

He gave statistics on the problem from the UK and Australia, emphasising the number of babies born with the disease, the number of ante-natal deaths and extent of childless marriages. He also claimed that, Eight thousand Australian boys had been treated in Langwarrin camp during the war. He even claimed that ’high medical authorities’ had determined that VD had … killed more British people in one year than all the victims of this great war.

He also touched on the fear of ‘race suicide’, another preoccupation of the time. Australia, or more specifically White Australia, was threatened by a low birth rate, war deaths and casualties and, of course, drink and venereal disease. White Australia was destroying itself through its own reckless and wanton ways. Gordon claimed,

The Health Department had stated that unless the disease [VD] was checked that in 50 years the population would be devastated and we as a people would cease to exist, and that drink was in the main the cause.

Earlier he had despaired that, Australia could not work out the destiny that was intended for it if it allowed this damnable curse [drink] to continue.

Obviously, Gordon was talking that night to the converted. Presumably, the people there were the same locals who had always been strong in local Temperance circles and who had called, for example, for the cancellation of the liquor licence of the local co-op store (See 2 earlier posts: 97. The war against drink and 151. The war against drink 2: the grocer’s licence at the Yarram Co-op Store.) But the comments were at odds with the conventional view of Australia’s support for the War – to the last man and the last shilling – and also the image of the Anzac, as the epitome of the Australian male. With regard to the latter, Gordon had the Anzac as someone lacking in character and moral strength, addled by drink and cursed by VD. He had to be protected from himself. His image of the returned, wounded Anzac staggering down the street in the thrall of drink was decidedly at odds with the common talk of returning heroes who could never truly be repaid the debt their country owed them.

Arguably, the activity of the Strength of Empire Movement represented the early manoeuvring of religious zealots, social reformers and conservative politicians as they prepared for the return of the AIF. For this broad alliance, the men of the AIF would be welcomed as heroes but, equally, their natural failings, augmented by 4 years of war, needed to be contained. They could not be allowed to set the social and moral agenda.

The tension between the Anzac as hero and the Anzac as menace and the related debate as to what represented reasonable limits on their behaviour were both very topical. One specific example illustrates the situation. From mid 1918 there was controversy over returned AIF men having to wear blue arm bands. Army regulations required that returned men, still receiving treatment in hospital, had to wear blue arm bands when they went on leave. Publicans were prohibited from selling alcohol to any AIF member wearing one of the arm bands. The returned soldiers themselves could easily circumvent the requirement but the broader issue over the appropriateness of the measure certainly touched the public conscience.

John Vale, a leading prohibitionist, supported the blue arm bands as a responsible, interim measure on the path to full prohibition. He clearly recognised their limitations but he urged that people saw them as a sign of courage. His views appeared in the Spectator and Methodist Chronicle on 14/8/18:

There are two quite different ways of regarding the blue bands on the arms of our disabled soldiers. ‘To some they appear to be insulting and futile. They are certainly a poor substitute for the measure of Prohibition, which would apply to soldiers and civilians alike; but no right-minded person will regard them as insulting. In Britain a complete suit of blue is the hospital uniform, and usually secures for the wearer special respect and consideration. The blue band on the soldier should be taken as the outward and visible sign of courage in the wearer. It may point to cowardice on the part of politicians.

The following letter – from a Mr W Seamer of Yarraville – appeared in The Herald a few days later (17/8/18). While it also advocated prohibition as the only solution it also highlighted the extent of the heavy-handedness of the authorities and the perverse way the ‘heroes’ were punished while the ‘slackers’ were rewarded.

Why should we call one gambler a patriot and another “a rogue and a vagabond?” Why should we legalise the open temptation and encouragement to drink and then punish the drunkard? Why, indeed, should not the blue arm band principle be applied all round? It is cruel and selfish to have taught some of these noble fellows to love drink and now make them stand by and see the beer they love swallowed by selfish stay-at-homes. They have lost their health for our sakes and must abstain to regain that health. If we were to all adopt the blue arm band principle we should not only help them, but would be everyone of us morally and physically better for the self-denial. That is scientifically and experimentally indisputable. Then, if we are humans or patriots, why not do it?

The last comment on these bands comes from a local from the Shire of Alberton. It was made by H J Alford at the unveiling of the school honor roll at Wonwron and it appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 7/8/18. Alford, as the father of heroes, was very clear about what he thought of the arrangement. He even employed then unchallenged racial slurs to castigate those who refused to accept the worth of the returning men – men returning to their ‘native ‘ land – and who were unwilling to repay the debt owed.

Mr. H. J. Alford stated he was pleased to be present. He had three sons at the war, and one had paid the supreme sacrifice, but as a father he would sooner any of them die a hero than a shirker. They had done their bit for us, but had we done anything for them? He stated that before long he thought the Returned Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Association, the Fathers’ Association, and the Sisters’ Association would unite and make things better for the heroes and worse for the shirkers. He was of the same opinion as Cr. O ‘Connor that land should be given to those who wanted it, and they shouldn’t pay for it. He disagreed with the Department’s decision to put bands around returned men’s arms thus preventing them from being served with liquor. This he thought the blackfellows’ brand. He trusted that the remaining 27 men on the roll would be spared to return to their native land. (Applause.)

Rev Walklate was still trying to establish a local branch of the Strength of Empire Movement in Yarram in October 1918 but he was not having much success. However, with or without a local branch of this particular movement, it was clear that, everywhere, the return of the AIF – both those men already back in Australia and the vast number still to return – was generating a complex and volatile mix of unrealistic expectations and deeply-considered anxieties.

References

The Age
The Herald
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
Spectator and Methodist Chronicle

Stanley, P 2015, ’Enduring: Sacrifice, Aborigines and Sex’, in Connor, J, Stanley, P, Yule, P, 2015, The War at Home, Volume 4 The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War, Oxford, South Melbourne.

Cochrane, P, 2018, Best We Forget: The War for White Australia 1914 – 18, The Text Publishing Company, Melbourne.

Stanley, P, 2010, Bad Characters: Sex, Crime, Mutiny, Murder and the Australian Imperial Force, Pier 9, Millers Point NSW.

 

189. Spanish Flu. Part 1

The 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic is estimated to have killed 50 + million worldwide. In Australia, estimates have about 40% of the population affected to some degree by the virus and between 12,000 -15,000 deaths. In Europe at the time, it was determined that there were 3 waves, with the first in March 1918, the second more fatal wave from September to November 1918 and the third wave in early 1919.

In Australia, the disease was not officially identified until early January 1919 and the initial outbreak was also followed by an equivalent series of waves over the next 12 -18 months. Worldwide, the disease was particularly virulent and, unlike previous historical pandemics, on this occasion the young and fit were particularly susceptible. Death from Pneumonia was a common outcome and, in fact, in Australia the disease was referred to as ‘ Pneumonic Influenza’. The movement of large numbers of soldiers on transport ships played a critical role in the spread of the disease, particularly the movement of US troops to and from Europe over 1918-1919. However, there is still much about the pandemic which remains unknown, including its origin and the reasons for its particular virulence.

This initial post looks at the period through the second half of 1918 as the nature and extent of the threat facing Australia became apparent. A subsequent post next year will cover the actual impact and responses.

The perceived threat posed by the influenza pandemic on Australia was inextricably tied up with views of Australia’s ‘natural’ protection which were themselves tied to its geographical isolation. Admittedly, during the War, many had argued vehemently that Australia was not protected by its isolation. There was the famous 1918 enlistment poster by Lindsay (below) of defenceless Australians being shot by German soldiers against the tank stand in the back yard. The threat of German invasion was proclaimed as real and Australia could not simply rely on its unique geography. Similarly, the fear of an unpopulated and defenceless North was widely seen as an ongoing threat to both national integrity and the White Australia policy. However, there was also the common-sense conviction that Australia was greatly protected by its isolation. Certainly, in the case of the flu pandemic, both the medical authorities and the general population were initially reassured by the relative isolation. Also, Australia, again because of its relative isolation, had time to prepare for the flu should it breach the natural defence of geography.

The flu itself was hardly unknown at the time. Moreover even then, before the pandemic, it could and did kill, most commonly from either pneumonia or heart complications. For example, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative reported on 4/11/14 a severe flu outbreak at Womerah:

Severe forms of influenza have been responsible for confining many residents to their beds for a few days. The most serious case was that of Mrs. E. Stokes, who is being attended by Nurse Cocking [ Alice E Cocking enlisted in the AAMC in July 1915] of the Bush Nursing staff. On Wednesday evening it was thought that the patient was suffering from pneumonia, and the services of Dr. Rutter were quickly requesistioned. Anxiety was relieved when the doctor assured the nurse that it was only a severe attack of influenza.

Similarly, on 23/6/15 the paper reported the death of a 52 yo, highly respected local who had died from … heart failure following on an attack of influenza.

Word that there was a far more virulent form of influenza in Europe seems to have started to appear in the Australian press around June 1918. From late June, there were reports, admittedly very limited, that spoke of ’Spanish Influenza’. For example, Under the headlines Spanish Influenza in London and Hospitals Overcrowded, The Age (26/6/18) described how … Spanish Influenza is spreading in London. It noted that it was ‘extremely contagious’. Similarly, on 2/7/18 The Argus reported:

Influenza is spreading rapidly through the English towns, half the employees in some factories and business places being incapacitated by it. There are thousands of cases in London.

However, it then added, presumably at the direction of the censor:

The attack generally, however, is not serious, and only a few cases are fatal.

And it also noted – again, presumably, to level the perceived playing field – that the disease was …  also prevalent throughout Germany. In fact, at the time, there were several stories specifically detailing the extent of the epidemic in Germany.

In a short time, the level of fatalities associated with the flu became an issue. The Argus on 4/7/18 again noted how quickly the flu outbreak was spreading in England. Schools were now being closed and the number of children affected was very significant. Reporting on the situation in the Midlands, the paper noted:

Four thousand children at Dudley (in the heart of the “black country”) are affected and there have been some deaths.

A little later, The Age (23/7/18) reported that in the past fortnight there had been 5,500 deaths in England and Wales. However, the reporting remained inconsistent. For example, on 31/8/18 The Argus gave a contradictory account of the ’So-called Spanish Sickness’. It noted its prevalence in the UK – and, again, also in Germany – and quoted the London Daily Telegraph as stating that … In nearly every part of the Empire the epidemic continues to rage. Yet it also declared how fortunate it was that … the epidemic is taking a mild form.

Those back in Australia would also have been receiving word of family members who had been hospitalised with (Spanish) influenza. For example, in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 21/8/18 there was a reference to the family of Private A J Cummings receiving word that he had been admitted to hospital in Birmingham suffering from ‘Influenza, pleurisy and effusion.’ Alfred John Cummings was a carpenter from Yarram who had enlisted as a 25 yo in November 1915. After his hospitalisation with the flu he was repatriated to Australia and discharged as medically unfit.

McQueen (1976) has argued that between July 1918 and February 1919 … Australian troops in Britain suffered approximately a 10 per cent infection rate. He added that of this number 209 cases were fatal.

Against the picture of what was developing in Europe it was hardly surprising that any outbreak of (normal) flu in Australia took on a more sinister characteristic. In mid August 1918, The Age (17/8/18) reported on an outbreak of flu at the Broadmeadows Camp. It actually described it as ’Spanish influenza’:

A particularly severe type of influenza, believed to be a form of Spanish influenza, has broken out at the A.I.F. training camp at Broadmeadows. The epidemic first started about a week ago, and already over 150 recruits have been affected. The sickness has also made its appearance at the military camp at Laverton, although in a lesser degree. It is estimated that at the two camps the cases so far reported number at least 200. Patients have been arriving at the base hospital, St. Kilda road, at the rate of 30 and 40 a day. Some of them are very ill indeed. The sickness starts like an ordinary cold, and is followed by feverishness and severe pains in the head. In two or three cases the illness has developed into pneumonia, but so far there have been no deaths.

The same article accused the authorities of trying to … unduly minimise the extent of the epidemic at Broadmeadows.

The official response – The Argus 19/8/18 – from the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) was that the reporting was ‘very much exaggerated’ and that the outbreak at Broadmeadows … was simply the ordinary form of influenza and that no one was seriously ill. The Age (19/8/18) reported the same official line but continued to accuse the military authorities of ‘secrecy’ over the numbers of men at the camps who had been struck down by the sickness.

In the heightened awareness of of the time, there were ongoing reports of outbreaks of (normal) flu. For example, The Argus reported on 24/8/18 how the Melbourne Hospital had just set a record for admissions (400) as a result of ‘Winter influenza’.

In The Age on 7/10/18, there was a report that the flu was affecting the rate at which US troops were being sent to Europe. The rate had been 250,000 per month but this number was to be curtailed as there were 100,000 cases of influenza in ‘home camps’. The same report noted the very serious situation developing in South Africa:

The spread of Spanish influenza is assuming unprecedented proportions. Nothing like it has ever been known in South Africa. Every industry and public department is more or less seriously affected.

Towards the end of 1918, there was no doubt that those in Australia knew that the ‘Spanish Influenza’ was a major, international health crisis.

Also in October 1918, the authorities began issuing advice should the influenza pandemic reach Australia. They were still hopeful that Australia could escape the pandemic but should it arrive the best advice was ’strict isolation’. On 25/10/18 the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative published recommendations issued by the officer in charge of the Quarantine Department:

“Most people know that influenza is spread from person to person with extraordinary rapidity, and the only way its progress through the community can be stayed is by the most rigid isolation on the part of not only the patient, but all who have contact with him from the time of attack. Such isolation includes confinement to bed, separation from children, and all others in the household, except one personal attendant, who should, of course, not come into contact with the rest of the household more than can possibly be avoided.”

By itself, Australia’s geographic isolation was increasingly seen as insufficient protection and the pandemic was moving closer. Its progress appeared inevitable and unstoppable. First South Africa and then New Zealand became the focus of attention. On 18/10/18 the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative gave an account of the dire situation in South Africa:

It is officially stated that the deaths from the influenza epidemic in Cape Town and suburbs from 1st to 13th October number 5,000, of which 33 per cent. were Europeans. Signs of abatement are now evident locally, but the disease is spreading rapidly in country districts. The outbreak took on epidemic proportions in the first week of October. No similar development of influenza, so rapidly assuming virulent characteristics, with such a high mortality, had previously been known anywhere.

In late December 1918, with Australia still officially free of the influenza, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative described the crisis in New Zealand. It used war deaths to drive home the very high mortality level:

Seven hundred and sixty people died in 21 days in Auckland from Spanish Influenza. The total New Zealand losses in the war amounted to 12,000, while between 4000 and 5000 died in four weeks from influenza.

Then it rounded out the warning by pointing out that in the USA … this plague killed six times as many people as the war.

In late November 1918, there was a conference in Melbourne involving all the state health ministers to plan for an outbreak of the flu. At the meeting, a series of protocols for the notification of the disease and strategies for tackling it were agreed by all parties. The Commonwealth was given the critical lead responsibility. The Age (27/11/18) under the headlines The Influenza Peril and States and Commonwealth to Co-operate reported on the level of cooperation between the states and Commonwealth:

The conference of representatives from the various States, convened by the Commonwealth Government to consider methods of co-operation in regard to the influenza peril, met at Federal Parliament House [Melbourne] yesterday. … The fullest co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States … was assured in any steps that it might be necessary to take in combating any epidemic.

However, at this point – less than 20 years after Federation – there was no Commonwealth Department of Health and, as events were to show, Spanish Flu was going to test key principles underpinning the very ideal of federation. State borders were about to be re-imposed.

Not surprisingly, by the end of 1918 the level of anxiety in Australia was high. In fact, some were convinced in November and December that the flu – the Spanish Flu – had already taken hold. For example, on 15/11/18, an editorial in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative ran together the increasing number of deaths in New Zealand with reports of ‘further deaths’ in Sydney. Certainly, people realised that the most likely source of any outbreak would be returning soldiers, and, not surprisingly, some would have reasoned that this line of defence had already been breached. The same paper on 27/11/18 noted the need to maintain strict quarantine:

Several district soldiers were aboard the troopship that arrived in the Bay on Monday, but to guard against an outbreak of Spanish influenza, the boys are obliged to remain in quarantine for three days, until tomorrow.

Australia was more fortunate than most other nations at the time. It knew what it was facing and had had time to prepare. It was protected by its isolation and it knew the most likely source of entry for the disease. But in the end, ‘Spanish Flu’ or ‘Pneumonic Influenza’ did penetrate the country’s defences and while the death rate in the general population was not as severe as elsewhere – the death rate in Indigenous communities was very high – the level of infection certainly did reach epidemic proportions. The effects were bound to be both medical and psychological.

References

The Age

The Argus

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

McQueen, H 1976, “The ‘Spanish’ Influenza Pandemic in Australia, 1912-19”, in J Roe (ed.), Social Policy in Australia Some Perspectives 1901 -1975, Cassel Australia, Melbourne, pp. 131 147.

For a general background on the epidemic see the online resource Influenza pandemic from the National Museum of Australia’s Defining Moments in Australian History series.

 

 

Courtesy of Australian War Memorial

188. Valentine Crowley and the cost of disloyalty

Prior to the 1950s power throughout Gippsland was provided largely by private companies, with hydro-electric generation the preferred model. Many of these private electricity companies were set up during WW1. For example, the Yarram Hydro-Electricity Supply Company was set up in 1917. Local councils were generally reluctant to take on the significant financial costs involved in setting up the necessary infrastructure and the associated management and operating costs. Similarly, while local businesses and residents were keen on the idea of the new technology, they were as reluctant to purchase shares in the companies set up. There was also a raft of technical and engineering challenges involved in what was the new technology of the time.

Against this background, there appears to have been one individual who was critical to the success of setting up and operating these new ventures. Valentine J Crowley was an electrical engineer based in Melbourne who, as well as providing the engineering expertise, vigorously prompted the various schemes and sourced the essential capital – essentially from Melbourne backers – to set up the companies. At Yarram, in October 1916, a public meeting was held to present plans for the formation of the proposed electricity company. The meeting was reported, extensively, in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 27/10/16. The report makes it clear that Crowley was the driving force behind the proposal and the chief spokesperson at the meeting.

At the meeting Crowley outlined the technology to be employed – hydro electricity generated from the Tarra River – as well as the arrangements involved in the transfer of the option for supply of electricity from the exisiting provider – the local butter factory – to the new company. Additionally, he detailed how the company would be financed – 10,000 shares at £1 per share – and his role in securing the essential backing of Melbourne capital. Under the proposal, Crowley himself was to receive 150 shares. Crowley also detailed the composition of the board of directors. As well, he spent a lot of time promoting the business opportunities that electricity would bring. He claimed it would support regionalism and decentralisation and maintain both population and employment in rural areas, such as the Shire of Alberton. There was considerable vision:

Mr. Crowley mentioned woollen mills for Gippsland, the climate approximating that of Bradford in England, where the best tweeds were made. Electricity meant decentralisation, for manufactories would start and keep men in the country.

Importantly, while on this occasion he was promoting the development of a power company specifically for the Shire of Alberton, Crowley emphasised how all the existing and planned Gippsland power companies could, in time, act as an interconnected system. It was a prescient vision. The report in the local paper noted his plan.

Eventually all the schemes in Gippsland would be linked up. The Toora scheme would be extended to Fish Creek and to Leongatha. The next line, at Warragul, would extend to Drouin, across to Korumburra, and connect at Yarram. North and South Gippsland would be linked up by electricity, and later East Gippsland would be embraced. The local scheme would extend to Alberton, and it is proposed to take Jack River in.

The reality of a single system across Gippsland would not not come until after WW2; and then it would be a public enterprise.

At the time, Crowley was himself heavily involved in all these separate Gippsland operations he mentioned. He had controlling interest in the Toora and Foster Electric Company Ltd. which had been formed in 1915. He was also heavily involved in the Warragul Hydro-Electric Company. Moreover, while he was the key player in the supply of electricity in Gippsland, he also had extensive involvement in the provision of other services – for example, water and electric trams – in other rural areas, such as Clunes and Werribee. He was also heavily involved in similar projects in (outer) Melbourne suburbs, including Ringwood, Croydon, Doncaster and Lilydale.

Overall, Valentine J Crowley was a very successful engineer/entrepreneur/company director/publicist. He was very well known and respected right across Gippsland and, specifically, in the Shire of Alberton.

However, neither his fame nor success could save him when, in mid 1918, he was charged with and convicted of the offence – under the War Precautions Act (1914-16) – of making statements calculated to prejudice recruiting.

The case held at Foster on 25/101/8. It was reported widely and, specifically, in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 30/10/18.

The case related to remarks made by Crowley on a train trip from Foster to Meeniyan much earlier in the year on 31/5/18. On the day, he had been in conversation with 3 other passengers, one of whom was Constable Johnston of Meeniyan. It is probable that Crowley did not know Johnston was a police officer. Further, it must have been Johnston who initiated the charge.

The conversation on the War apparently started after Crowley revealed to the others that he had spoken to a returned Anzac. Crowley claimed that this Anzac had told him that McKie/McCay [the Gallipoli commander, Lieutenant General (Sir) James McCay] had been responsible for the slaughter of 9,000 men in one night [Fromelles, 19/7/16 when there were 5,500 AIF casualties]. Crowley was also claimed to have stated that German officers were superior to their British equivalents and that whereas people had been told that on the Western Front one British soldier was fighting 10 German soldiers, the reverse was true.

In the court case, the 3 men who were involved in the conversation with Crowley on the train that day, including the police constable, stated that they did not agree with Crowley at the time and that they had made this clear to him. One stated that he had explicitly told Crowley that he (Crowley) was disloyal. They also stated that they believed Crowley was wrong and that they did not believe that they had been influenced in any way by his comments. Further, they accepted that no other passengers on the train had overhead the conversation.

On the advice of his lawyer, Crowley did not give evidence.The lawyer did not dispute the general content and nature of the conversation that had taken place on the train but he argued that it was a private conversation between the 4 men and the others there had disagreed with Crowley’s claims and made this known at the time. He argued that the men had not believed the claims and nor had they been influenced by them. Crowley’s lawyer maintained that ‘the case had not been proved’.

However, Crowley was found guilty and fined £5 with nearly £10 costs and one month’s imprisonment in default.

Arguably, the guilty finding reflected the fact that a higher standard of behaviour and patriotic sentiment was expected of someone with Crowley’s social standing and high profile in the community.

In his opening remarks, the prosecutor had … contended that [the] defendant in making such statements had gone too far. He was an educated man, and knew such statements were likely to prejudice recruiting of his Majesty’s forces, and were weights on the minds of men who were thinking of enlisting. Had Crowley stood up at a recruiting meeting and delivered the comments then, in theory, they might have had a negative impact on the intentions of those there planning to enlist. Obviously, in such a case, under the legislation, he could have been charged. More likely – particularly if he had been a ’unknown’, lone individual – he would have been howled down and ejected from the meeting.

But this particular case only involved a conversation between several men. However, while it was an unplanned, limited, private conversation it could still attract the attention of the authorities. The law allowed the focus to be on what was said rather than the context in which the comments were made. Even though Crowley’s comments had not influenced the men involved – other reports indicated that none of them, because of either age or occupation, were even eligible to enlist – the court determined that Crowley’s claims by themselves, outside of any actual context, would have had the effect of discouraging enlistment. It was a very potent interpretation and a powerful reminder to everyone to watch what they said.

Nor was there any suggestion that truth was a defence. Admittedly, the claim that McCay was personally responsible for the ‘slaughter’ of 9,000 in one night men was an overreach. At the same time, the more pertinent observation is that by early 1918 there were many returned AIF men who were prepared to give a more accurate account of the disaster at Fromelles and who were highly critical of McCay as an officer. However, the real story of Fromelles did not emerge until after the War and in May 1918 the ‘truth’ was still contained. In Crowley’s case the claims he made about McCay – or more accurately the claims he made about what others had claimed about McCay – were simply taken as proof of disloyalty.

The other 2 claims – which side had the better (more intelligent) officers and what exactly was the numerical balance between the armies – apart from being essentially trivial in nature were both focused on criticisms of the British Army. Again, in the AIF by that point, there was a strong undercurrent of hostility directed at the British officer class: their leadership was problematic and they were the left-overs of a failed class system. It was part of the established AIF belief that had positioned the Australian soldier as better than his (conscripted) English counterpart. However, for Imperial Loyalists this style of (nationalist) criticism was not to be tolerated, and the War Precautions Act gave zealous Imperial Loyalists the chance to curtail such mischief.

Doubtless Valentine Crowley would have been shocked by the court judgement. Presumably he paid the fine and just hoped the matter was behind him. However, he was sadly mistaken. He had been publicly named as disloyal and with his significant profile he became an immediate target.

The first problem came with the Coburg Council. At the time – late 1918 – Crowley was involved in an ambitious plan for electric lighting in Coburg. The Age (28/10/18) had earlier written about the plan:

Coburg town council, acting upon the advice of Mr. V. J. Crowley, electric expert, has arranged to borrow £13,000 from the State Savings Bank, at 6 per cent, to carry out the electric lighting of Coburg in four sections.

Within one month of his conviction there was an orchestrated effort to remove Crowley from the project. The Argus reported on 22/11/18:

At a recent meeting of the Coburg Council a letter was received from the United National Federation calling attention to the fact that Mr. Valentine J. Crowley, electrical expert adviser to the Coburg Council in its scheme of electric lighting, had been convicted at the Foster Court by Mr. V. Tanner, P.M., on October 25, and fined £5, with £9 costs, under the War Precautions Act on the charge of having made statements calculated to prejudice recruiting. The federation requested the council to remove the stigma of disloyalty from Coburg.

The article also outlined how Coburg Council had then communicated with both the court at Foster and Crowley himself. In correspondence, Crowley acknowledged the basic facts,

He [Crowley] said he must admit having been indiscreet, but that he had merely repeated what had been said to him by a returned Anzac. In speaking to a constable of police and men ineligible from age or other reasons for enlistment, he had not imagined that he was in any way prejudicing recruitment.

At the council meeting one of the councillors … moved that no further action be taken. Whatever Mr. Crowley had done he had been punished for, and they did not want to persecute him. However, the motion failed and the matter was adjourned to another meeting to be held on 27/11/18. The follow-up meeting attracted considerable attention. It was reported in The Age on 30/11/18 and in detail in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 4/12/18.

At the meeting there were deputations from the Coburg and Moreland Districts Returned Soldiers’ Club, the United National Federation and the Victorian Protestant Federation. The latter 2 organisations were vehemently pro-Britain and pro-Empire. They were strong backers of the Hughes government and had taken upon themselves responsibility for uncovering and attacking ‘disloyalty’ in the community. They ran under slogans such as ‘stamp out disloyalty in Australia’. They opposed ‘red raggers’, ‘bolshevists’, pacifists and anarchists. They were committed to the ‘one flag’ and believed that Australia’s pledge to help the Empire to the last and and the last shilling still applied, even though this was after the Armistice. This was exactly their sort of case.

The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative gave a picture of the charged scene at the council meeting:

From shortly after 9 o’clock till midnight on Wednesday 27 ult., the proceedings in the Coburg council chamber resembled those at an excited meeting at a general election. There were cheers, bursts of applause, and loud shouts of dissent. The conclusion was the enthusiastic singing of the National Anthem.

Crowley had little chance and the vote to dismiss him from the position was passed 7 – 2. The 2 councillors who opposed the motion were … greeted with loud cries of “Traitors, traitors!”. At a subsequent meeting (23/12/18) reported in The Argus on 25/12/18, Crowley’s position was transferred to … Mr. A. J. Bassett, a returned soldier.

Condemnation of Crowley was not completely universal. At the second Coburg Council meeting (27/11/18), his representative – Mr. Claude Lowe – spoke to letters he had received from a range of people who testified… that they had known Mr. Crowley for a considerable time, and were convinced that he would never be guilty intentionally of any disloyal utterances or anything to harm the cause of the Allies. The same representative also stated that Crowley’s wife was an ‘ardent Red Cross worker’ in the Hawthorn branch of the Red Cross Society and that Crowley’s younger brother was serving with the AIF in France. The brother was Captain Arthur Herbert Crowley who had a commission in the Australian Army Medical Corps. He had enlisted in early 1918 as a medical practitioner and embarked for overseas service on 19/3/18.

One of the character witnesses was no less than G H Wise MHR (Gippsland) and then Assistant Minister For Defence. Two others who signed letters of support were A H Moore JP and Cr. Buckley, both from the Shire of Alberton. Moore was one of the directors of the Yarram Hydro-Electricity Supply Company Ltd.

However, impressive character witnesses were not able to save Crowley. Importantly, not only was his character being destroyed but his considerable business interests and his professional profile were also being damaged. And the damage was not restricted to Melbourne. Later that month (December 1918) the local shareholders of the Toora and Foster Electric Light and Power Company called a meeting … to secure the resignation of the managing director, Mr. V. J. Crowley. The episode was reported, again in great detail, in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 18/12/18.

The local Foster shareholders were not successful in their bid and, in fact, the meeting itself was … not a legally constituted meeting. The basic problem they faced was that they did not have control of the company. As noted earlier, as much as locals in rural districts favoured the introduction of a regular and reliable supply of electricity they were very reluctant to invest. In this case, Crowley and the Melbourne shareholders who were prepared to back him had overwhelming control of the company. Crowley had 500 shares himself and his Melbourne backers another 1700 +. There were only 675 local (Toora and Foster) shares. Crowley pointed out at the meeting that without his involvement in the company it would never have been established:

The Melbourne shareholders put their money into the show because I was running it, other wise they would not want to keep their money in it.

Even though Crowley won this particular battle it was clear that his reputation had been badly damaged and his chance of continuing his previous run of success with local government in rural and metropolitan areas had been fatally compromised. One conversation with strangers on a train in Gippsland had cost him dearly.

There was strong irony in this whole situation. Crowley had been undone by a casual conversation with strangers on a train trip in rural Victoria. He maintained throughout that he was merely recounting comments that he had from a returned Anzac. There is no doubt that returned members of the AIF were determined to relate the truth of Fromelles and other battles. Nor is there any question that throughout the War the Australian soldiers had been fashioning for themselves a distinctively nationalist – uniquely Australian – persona, and a key mechanism in the creation of this image relied on drawing distinctions, often in crude and over-hyped ways, between themselves and the British soldiers, particularly the officer class. Taken at face value, Crowley was not too far of the mark. However as things played out immediately after the War, when the conventional ethos of the Imperial War still dominated, and returned soldiers were keen ‘to settle the score’ with ’shirkers’ and all those identified as ‘disloyal’, he did not stand much of a chance. The fact that he was a very successful 34 yo who did not enlist would not have helped. Nor would his (Roman) Catholicism. Also, you would have to consider that some of Cowley’s rivals in the business world stood to gain by any damage done to his reputation and business interests.

Historical post script

It seems there was another whole chapter to the alleged disloyalty of Valentine Crowley. As far as I can establish, the same Valentine Crowley and another younger brother – Clarence Crowley born 1889 – were 2 of the 18 members of the Australia First Movement who were interned in early 1942 at the time of heightened fear of Japanese invasion. Both were living in NSW at the time. While the younger brother was eventually released and the authorities conceded that he should not have been charged, the same (military) authorities continued to believe that Valentine Crowley was a key ring-leader of the Australia First Movement. Certainly Valentine Crowley was a co-proprietor of the The Publicist, the publication most associated with the movement.

The Australia First Movement reflected a complex and contentious episode in Australian history. At the time of the internments in early 1942 the movement was presented as a group of ‘fifth columnists’ who were actively plotting to support the Japanese invasion of Australia. It was accused of plotting assassinations of prominent Australians and other acts of sabotage. It was said to be pro-fascist and pro-German. It was also stated to be anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish). Its own declarations portrayed itself as anti-USSR and anti-communist. The headline it used was – A Non-Party, Non-Sectional Organisation, pledged to uphold Australia First. I have included a link to a list of a so-called ’50 Points of Policy’ which the The Publicist advocated for an “Australia First” Party after the War. It was written in May 1940 and it appears in a group of papers from the National Archives (NAA: A6335,3 p.68) titled, Australia First Movement (The Publicist). Many of the ‘points’ of the list read like the drivers of the populism and nationalism that appear to be in vogue again in our own times.

The final line in the manifesto : Australia First and Long Live the King is intriguing as, at the time, the AFM was certainly portrayed as anti-British and anti-British Empire. It is generally accepted that the movement grew, at least in part, from the conviction that Australian nationalism had to be free from British influence and links. It wanted a distinctly Australian identity. Valentine Crowley for his part had called for severing links between Australia and Britain and he had even advocated the removal of the Union Jack from the Australian Flag. He was also accused – at least in intelligence reports – of having gloated over the defeat of British forces at the start of WW2.

It is interesting to speculate on the extent to which Valentine Crowley’s experiences at the end of WW1 influenced his move to the more extreme edge of Australian nationalist politics in the lead up to WW2.

References

The Argus
The Age
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Australian Dictionary of Biography (online)

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

187. W D Glanfield

GLANFIELD William Donovan 191
8 LHR Died of Illness 15/10/18

William Glanfield was the last of the Shire men to die in the War. He was also one of the ‘originals’ who had enlisted in September 1914 which meant that he survived on active service for just over 4 years.

William Glanfield was born in Fitzroy and attended the state school at Preston. When his father completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour he specifically identified Preston as the location with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. While William grew up in Melbourne he must have moved to Alberton several years before he enlisted. His enlistment papers show that he was working as a ‘telegraph operator’ at Alberton and his occupation on the 1915 electoral roll appeared as ‘railway employee’. Other forms described his occupation in terms of ‘assisting station master’. Presumably he had started in the Victorian Railways after school and when War broke out he was working at the Alberton Railway Station, which was the station from which the first mass group of volunteers from the Shire of Alberton – including William himself– departed in September 1914.

William’s father – George H Glanfield – was listed as next-of-kin and at the time of the enlistment the father was living in Sydney. There was another, younger, brother – George Frank Glanfield (6230) – who also enlisted, in Sydney. He survived the War and returned to Australia in March 1919.

While William Glanfield may only have been working in the Shire for a short period before he enlisted, his name was included on both the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial and the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.

In the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative in 1914, there are many references in the local paper to William Glanfield playing football for the Alberton team. In fact he was often in the best players and he was even referred to as the team’s ‘topnotch’ player. He also played district tennis for Alberton. Also, over the course of the War, Glanfield wrote letters back to people in Alberton and these were sometimes published in the local paper. The publication of these ‘soldiers’ letters’ shows how important such information was for people at home. For example, on 23/2/16 the local paper published extracts from one of Glanfield’s letters – he had written to Mr. Geo. Barry of Alberton – under the headline: Soldiers’ Letter (sic) Tidings of District Lads. The letter was written at Heliopolis. It described how … a good many Yarram boys are camped here with the Brigade and it specifically – by name – mentioned 17 local men. One man mentioned was Edgar Appleyard. Private Glanfield also described how relieved the men were to be out of the trenches and looking forward to the next stage of fighting, given that it was to be on their terms:

We are now, with the aid of reinforcements, to go once more (mounted this time) in to the firing line to avenge our fallen mates. It will be fighting after our own style, not the monotonous trench warfare of Gallipoli.

In the same letter there was an account of the stunning success of the evacuation from Gallipoli – a marvellous piece of strategy . There was also outrage over the killing of Nurse Cavell and the pledge to defend Australian women. Overall, the tone was positive and proud but also naive:

By all accounts our boys are having great sport on the western frontier (sic), and we are hoping they will have us into it. They have worked our brigade pretty hard, but we will take all they can give us, and we have the name of giving more than we get.

There was also the suggestion of resigned prescience:

The boys are looking forward to the time when they will return, and I hope they all do, but it will be a lucky man who does.

There was another report in the local paper on 10/8/17 which detailed how Sergeant Glanfield had written to the parents of Edgar Appleyard (above) who had died of wounds on 3/8/17.  In fact, the various articles in the paper suggest that Glanfield played an important role in maintaining contacts across all the various locals serving in the Light Horse.

There was also a specific reference in the local paper – 25/8/16 – to William Glanfield himself. No indication of the source of the information was provided.

Footballers will be pleased to hear that Glanfield, who is at the front, received a commission as lieutenant. He scored in the examination 99 1/2 out of a possible 100 points.

Like others who ‘rose through the ranks’, before enlisting in the AIF, Trooper Glanfield had held ranks in the senior cadets/citizens forces. On his enlistment papers he indicated that he had had previous military experience. There is a note that he had been Colour Sergeant, Cadets at the Alfred Crescent State School and he had also held the rank of Petty Officer in the Preston Naval Brigade.

As indicated, William Donovan Glanfield enlisted in Yarram on 16/9/14. He had his initial medical with Dr Pern and was re-examined in Melbourne, where it was noted that his ‘teeth [needed] to be attended to’. As with most of the other ‘originals’ who enlisted at the same time he was put down for South Gippsland Light Horse. However, in Melbourne he formally joined 8 Light Horse Regiment. He was 22 yo at the time, single and he gave his religion as Church of England.

His unit left Melbourne for Egypt on 25 February 1915. The embarkation roll shows him as holding the rank of corporal (signaller).

He reached Gallipoli in May 1915 but after 2 months he was taken off with influenza and admitted to hospital on Mudros (26/7/15). He returned to Gallipoli in August (22/8/15) but was taken off again the next month (13/9/15) with colitis and ‘Acute dysentery’ and did not return to duty until early December.

In June 1916 he was made 2nd Lieutenant and it appears he was appointed the Regimental Signal Officer. Then in September he was back in hospital, with another bout of dysentery. He did not get back to 8 LHR until the end of October (31/10/16).

In December (17/12/16) he was confirmed as full Lieutenant and it appears that throughout 1917 he undertook training at the Imperial School of Instruction (Zeitoun). He was back with his unit by the end of March 1918 and then in April he was given temporary command of 3 Signal Troop.

His service record shows that he was admitted to hospital (German Hospital in Damascus) on 8/10/18 and then died one week later on 15/10/18. The cause of death was given as cholera.

The war diary for the unit (3 Signal Troop) – the unit of which he was the commanding officer – throws some light on Lieutenant Glanfield’s fate. The general background involved the occupation of Damascus early in October 1918 and the major health crisis that followed with ‘broncho-pneumonia and malignant malaria’. Bean covered the situation in his Official History (Vol VII, Chpt XII). The situation in all the hospitals in Damascus at the time was dire and being admitted to hospital posed considerable risk. Bean gives a very bleak picture of the conditions in the hospitals in Damascus, for both the Allied and Turkish sick whose numbers ran into the thousands. The extent of the medical crisis is evident in the war diaries of the various units involved. For example, the diary for the 8 LHR shows that in October 1918 from an original troop strength of 391 officers and other ranks, 106 – nearly 30% – were evacuated to hospital.

As indicated, Lieutenant Glanfield had taken command of 3 Signal Troop in April 1918. When he was evacuated to hospital the former OC – Lieutenant Latham – re-assumed command (21/10/18) and it was this officer who completed the war diary for October 1918. In the diary there is a reference to Lietenant Glanfield’s medical evacuation:

(8/10/18) Lieut Glanfield (OC 3rd Signal Troop) evacuated sick to hospital.

It is clear from the diary that many men were coming down with sickness. In fact, the casualties were so high that the troop was having difficulty in discharging its responsibility to maintain the ‘cable lines’ between the various units. The ‘natives’ were constantly cutting out whole sections of the line.

(10/10/18) Continuous trouble through day on Divn line. Linesmen report many pieces of cable cut out by natives. Owing to evacuations to hospital unit now 12 deficient, making task of maintaining communications particularly difficult.

While the diary does refer directly to the death of one member of the unit – 3054 Sapper Gunter, S E – at the English Hospital Damascus on 15/10/18, there is no reference to the fate of Lieutenant Glanfield, who died the same day.

It is also worth noting that the cause of Gunter’s death was described as malaria. However, for Glanfield the cause was given as cholera. Bean makes the point that it was not until about 12 October that the medical authorities in Damascus had the facility to identify the true nature of disease and prior to this … Some cases of malarial diarrhoea were diagnosed as cholera (737).

Lieutenant Glanfield was buried in the Damascus Military Cemetery, which was in the grounds of the German Hospital.

The cable advising of his death was dated 22/10/18. All kit, medals etc were sent to the father as next-of-kin who, as indicated, was living in Sydney. As an officer, the personal kit was extensive. It came in 3 lots:

(1) one paper package:
one wallet cont. stars, badges, photos, & 1 letter.

(2) one small wooden box:
1 pr top boots, 1 woollen warm, 1 shirt, 1 pr. gloves, 1 balaclava, 1 pr. putties, Military books, 1 notebook.

(3) one black steel trunk in hessian:
1 pr. Scissors. 1 box Visiting cards. 2 shirts. 4 prs. Trousers. 1 pr. Breeches. 2 Sword frogs. 1 S.B. Shoulder strap. 1 pr. Braces. 1 pr. Suspenders. 3 prs. Socks. 1 Pack Playing Cards. 10 collars. 3 ties. Safety Razor & case. 2 prs. Shoes. 1 pr. Boots. 1 pr. Leggings. 1 Belt. 1 tin contg stars. Visiting cards. 1 testament. 1 Photo frame. 1 tunic. 1 military book. 2 writing pads maps. 1 luggage tag. Box contg. Photos. Military notes.

On 6/11/18, just 5 days before the Armistice, the following notice appeared in the local paper:

ALBERTON.
The sad intelligence has reached the many Alberton friends of the death on active service of Signalling (sic) Lieutenant William Donovan Glanfield, at the age of 26 years, after nearly four years active service with the A.I.F. in Palestine. Lieutenant. Glanfield was amongst the first to enlist from this district, prior to which he was employed by the Victorian Railways, in which capacity he was widely known to all for the courteous and civil manner in which he fulfilled his duties. As a man, apart from his many public duties, he was all that could be desired, and will be remembered by all the sporting fraternity of the district as one of the leading footballers of the Alberton Football Club, and was instrumental in placing this club at the head of the premiership list during the year that they were so fortunate in having his valued services.The community has, indeed, lost a valued friend, and extend to his relatives their sympathy in their sad bereavement.

As noted, Lieutenant Glanfield, one of the very first to enlist, was the last of the volunteers from the Shire of Alberton to die before the fighting ceased. Several deaths – from wounds or illness – occurred after the Armistice but he was the last to die on active service before the end of hostilities.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume VII – The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, 1914-1918, 10th Edition 1941

National Archives file for GLANFIELD William Donovan
Roll of Honour: William Donovan Glanfield
First World War Embarkation Roll: William Donovan Glanfield

184. Enlistments in the second half of 1918

This post covers those men with a link to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in the second half of 1918. It builds on the work of 8 earlier posts that have analysed enlistments, in six-monthly intervals, from August 1914:

Post 21: Enlistments to the end of 1914: identifying the ‘locals’
Post 55: Enlistments in the first half of 1915
Post 61: Enlistments in the second half of 1915
Post 81. Enlistments in the first half of 1916
Post 101. Enlistments in the second half of 1916
Post 126. Enlistments in the first half of 1917
Post 144. Enlistments in the second half of 1917
Post 171. Enlistments in the first half of 1918

In the second half of 1918 enlistments continued right through to November. In fact, the last recorded enlistment for the Shire of Alberton (Peter James McAinch) occurred on 9/11/18.

Over the second half of 1918, 12 men enlisted and this takes the overall number of enlistments associated with the Shire of Alberton to 768.

To the end of 1914: 138 enlistments
First half of 1915: 102
Second half of 1915: 200
First half of 1916: 183
Second half of 1916: 70
First half of 1917: 31
Second half of 1917: 10
First half of 1918: 22
Second half of 1918: 12

Importantly, as the research behind the blog has unfolded over the past 4 years, I have identified at least another 20 men associated with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted but who have not yet been included in the above analysis. I will include these as a separate group in a future post. These additional enlistments will give a total figure of 788 men. The final total of approximately 800 men matches estimates in the local press at the time.

In addition to the men who did ‘enlist’ in the second half of 1918, there is evidence that at least another 12 attempted to enlist over the same period. Overall, while enlistment numbers were small – and ever diminishing – recruiting continued to the very end of the War.

In one of these 12 cases (Samuel Parkinson Kiely), the person failed the medical in Yarram. In another case (John Chancy Kilpatrick) the recruit passed the medical examination in Yarram but then failed the more significant follow-up medical in Melbourne. In addition to these relatively clear-cut cases there were another 10 instances where it is hard to follow the record trail and determine exactly why the enlistments did not proceed. In virtually all of these cases, the men passed the medical in Yarram and then received a railway warrant to travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process. In 4 of the 10 cases (Douglas Cameron Paterson, Robert Cornelius Smark, Thomas Lionel McDougall and James Wentworth Davis) there is simply no record at all beyond the point where they were given their railway warrant. In another 3 cases (Robert Owen Thomas, Thomas Lennox Vale and Gilbert Jones) there is a MT1486/1 form which indicates that they were formally rejected in Melbourne. Lastly, in 3 cases the evidence is that the ‘enlistment’ went ahead but was then ‘cancelled’, most likely before the recruit even made it to camp. The 3 men were Albert McEvoy, Christian Gregor Olsen and Alfred Willis Box and as far as can be determined the enlistment dates for them were either late October or early November 1918.

Obviously, none of these men appear on any local memorials but their efforts to enlist underline how recruiting continued right through to Armistice Day.

For the 12 men who did enlist, service in the AIF was very short and only 4 of them (Ernest George Griffiths, Silas Gasson, Albert Greenaway and Roy Turnbull) embarked for service overseas. In all 4 cases, the troopship was recalled.

Most of the men were discharged from the AIF immediately before Christmas (24/12/18). The latest discharge date for the group was recorded as 19/1/19 (Roy Turnbull). One of the group (Alfred McKean) was discharged at least one month earlier than the rest (15/11/18) but this was on medical grounds.

Arguably, the most tragic member of this final group of 12 recruits was Edward Harris. He had previously been rejected – knee – but then in late August 1918, as a 20 yo, he passed his medical at Yarram and was given his railway warrant (9087) to travel to Melbourne. His official enlistment date was 11/9/18. The same month he was hospitalised in camp with influenza. He was discharged – after 106 days of service – with the others on 24/12/18. He enlisted again in WW2 and this time did see active service overseas. Sadly, he died of disease in New Guinea in 1943.