Category Archives: Post War

224. Those who survived (2) – the sick

This post continues the work of the previous post in analysing the physical and mental condition of the men returning home, having ‘survived’ the War. The focus in the last post was the extent of wounds and it revealed that half of the cohort of 585 were hospitalised, at least once, as the direct result of being wounded in battle.

The focus of this post is the extent of disease, sickness and non-conflict injury across the same cohort. For a start, 478 men or 82% of the cohort were hospitalised at least once as a result of disease, sickness or injury. With men being hospitalised more than once, the total number of hospitalisations for the group was close to 1,000 (960). As with those wounded, some of these conditions were so severe that the soldier was repatriated to Australia and discharged as medically unfit. Equally, many of those discharged as TPE at the end of the War had extensive records of hospitalisation, serious health issues and debility; and their poor health was obviously going to be a negative factor in their future lives.

Injury, sickness and disease are not unique to military service and it can be argued that many of the cases of hospitalisation covered in this analysis would have occurred, in Australia, in normal, everyday life. However, there are two critical points. First, several of the conditions were definitely unique to the experience of war. For example, ‘trench feet’ and ‘trench fever’ can be classified as conditions that soldiers experienced directly because of their military service. Equally, the cases of malaria and other infectious disease such as enteric fever that soldiers suffered were also directly related to war service in a particular geographic location, principally in the Middle East. Second, while many of the sicknesses and diseases were, as it were, ‘universal’ and not defined by either location or military service, the actual conditions of military service intensified both the spread and severity of these conditions. Because the men lived in such close proximity, often in highly compromised conditions of basic comfort, cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation, and because their daily experiences were often so physically and mentally demanding and fraught, diseases and sickness were more likely to occur, more likely to spread both further and faster and more likely to have more significant health effects.

The other critical point is that ‘sickness’ as such was only half the story. We have already seen in the previous post that 50% of the survivors suffered ‘wounds’ of some kind. Now we have more than 80% of the same group of survivors hospitalised, at least once, with some form of sickness. Obviously, many men fell within both categories; and it is reasonable to argue that it was the cumulative impact of these experiences that most affected men’s health, both at the time and into the future.

The range of sickness, disease and injury

What was immediately apparent in the analysis was the extraordinary range of medical conditions described. They ranged from a horse bite to the right ear and concussion of the brain (from a non-combat fall) through every common disease, infectious and non-infectious, to more one-off medical conditions including: (a) enlarged spleen, (b) abdominal swelling/tumour and (c) alcoholic insanity.

Again, it is important to acknowledge the type or records being analysed. As discussed in the previous post, the records here are essentially records that track the soldier’s service – to the day – and both the amount and form of medical information that appear are limited. In some service files there are more detailed medical records such as medical assessments conducted in relation to a medical discharge. However, the primary record employed in the following analysis is the entry in the service file that detailed when an individual was hospitalised and for how long and where.

Categorising the data

To begin, there were cases where the only entry was generic. Specifically, there were 49 cases of hospitalisation where the only detail recorded was sick. Obviously, there would have been a more prescriptive diagnosis later in the period of hospitalisation, but in terms of the record-keeping the only reference is sick. There was a similar situation where for 28 cases the only entry was NYD or Not Yet Determined. Again, presumably, there would have been a determination of the condition at some point; and In some instances you can actually see that the NYD was changed to a definite diagnosis; but NYD is the only record in the file for 28 cases. Lastly, there were 41 cases where the only reference given was PUO (Pyrexia of Unknown Origin). Most likely these cases would have been eventually diagnosed as conditions such as trench fever but, like the previous two generic cases, there is only the acronym PUO in the file. Overall, there were 118 cases of hospitalisation where no specific medical description was given.

At the same time, certain conditions appeared constantly. The following breakdown records those conditions that appeared at least 10 times. The total figure comes to 644 cases of hospitalisation.

Appendicitis: 10
Bronchitis: 24
Diarrhoea: 28
Dysentery: 23
Enteric Fever: 19
Gastro-enteritis: 11
Influenza: 142
Jaundice: 14
Malaria: 16
Measles: 16
Mumps: 54
Pleurisy: 21
Pneumonia: 14
Rheumatism: 18
Scabies: 41
Synovitis: 10
Tonsilitis: 20
Trench Feet: 21
Trench Fever: 22 (Many cases designated PUO (41) would have been Trench Fever)
VD: 120

In addition to these cases, there was a very diverse range of less common diseases and sicknesses. The number of hospitalisations involved came to 92.

Adentitis: 4
Chicken Pox: 3
Colic: 4
‘Debility’: 6
Diphtheria: 4
Enteritis: 6
Gastritis: 2
Hernia: 7
Impetigo: 4
Laryngitis: 8
Lymphangitis: 2
Myalgia: 9
Nephritis: 2
Orchitis: 3
Osteomyelitis: 2
Typhoid: 3
Rheumatic Fever: 2
Scarlet Fever: 2
Small Pox: 2
Tachycardia: 6
Tuberculosis: 2
Urinary: 3
VDH ( Valvular Disease of the Heart): 5

There was another set of hospitalisations from one-off conditions: varicose veins, asthma, anaemia, heat stroke, sun stroke, neuralgia, myositis, quinsy, hepatitis, rubella, sciatica, neuritis, catarrh, osteoporosis arthritis, fibrositis, fibrosis of lung, colitis, rhinitis, balanitis, thrombosis, neuralgia, intestinal colic, abdominal colic, real colic …

There were 50 hospitalisations stemming from what can be described as general (non combat) injuries, where the the most common injury was sprained ankle (10). Others included fractures, lacerations, burns and scalds, concussion from falls and knocks, and a range of horse-related injuries: kicked, bitten etc.

There were also several hospitalisations that clearly related to mental health issues. For example, there were men hospitalised where the following type of descriptors were used: alcoholic insanity; mentally deficient; mental; premature senility and rheumatism. These cases were separate from the shellshock/neurasthenia cases considered as ‘wounds’ in the previous post.

Clusters of sickness and disease

When considering the extensive range of medical conditions described in the AIF service records, it is helpful to pull the various medical descriptions together and focus on key areas for this particular cohort of 585 men. For example, you can identify a relatively small group (6) suffering from various dental problems. Similarly, there was a slightly larger group (10) suffering from hearing issues and another group (12) with eyesight issues. If you bring together all descriptions relating to the heart – valvular disease of the heart (5), tachycardia (6), angina, heart palpitations, cardiac irritability and heart attack – you also end up with a cluster of about 15. There was a larger cluster of cases (30+) associated with rheumatic disorders, including rheumatism, arthritis, synovitis, rheumatic fever and poliomyelitis.

There were 2 areas where the effect of clustering was very significant. The first related to skin complaints and the second to respiratory system issues.


Scabies, with 41 hospitalisations, was the dominant skin complaint and one of the most common reasons for hospitalisation. However, when you add other skin complaints – impetigo, a range of septic sores (hands, feet and legs), boils and cysts, neuralgia, unspecified skin diseases, plus a series of related ICT (Inflammation of Connective Tissue) conditions in hands and feet – the size of the cluster increases significantly, to approximately 60 hospitalisations. In a sense, the skin acted as a front line defence for the overall health of the body and it was under constant pressure because of the unhygienic conditions and the prevalence of mites, parasites and viruses. Even the simplest cut or laceration could result in infection. Treatment in hospital for scabies was exacting and could even promote more forms of dermatitis. There was also the debilitating effect of re-infection.

Respiratory system

For the cohort of 478 men there were at least 200 hospitalisations as a result of respiratory system conditions. The major diseases were Bronchitis (24), Pneumonia (14), Pleurisy (21), and, of course, Influenza (142). There were also cases of tuberculosis, asthma, laryngitis and tonsillitis.

Clearly, influenza stands out as the most common reason for hospitalisation. In terms of influenza, the following is a breakdown of hospitalisations by year. It shows the peak of cases in 1918, principally in the second half of the year. The 1919 cases tend to be concentrated in the first half of the year. The 1919 numbers have to be considered incomplete because by that point men were being returned, or had already been, returned to Australia. There were cases where the men contacted the influenza on the voyage home and were hospitalised in the ship’s hospital.

1915: 12
1916: 34
1917: 26
1918: 52
1919: 18
total: 142

The incidence of Mumps across the cohort

What might appear as surprising in the breakdown of hospitalisations, was the incidence of mumps (54). In fact, it transpires that in WW1 after influenza and VD, mumps was the most common cause of hospitalisation.

It is worth noting that adults contracting mumps could experience more adverse effects than those experienced by children. Orchitis – testicular swelling and tenderness and even testicular atrophy – was the most common complication for adult males. Obviously, the confined and unhygienic conditions the soldiers experienced increased the transmission of the virus. Typically, mumps involved a 3 week period of hospitalisation.

The incidence of VD across the cohort

There were 120 hospitalisations for VD and the number of individual men involved was 93, or 15% of the cohort of survivors. In general, the records in relation to episodes of VD are highly accurate, principally because pay had to be deducted for every day spent in hospital. Because of the very precise record keeping in relation to VD it is possible to calculate the total number of days involved in hospitalisation. For this cohort of survivors the figure was 6,182 days. It is an extraordinary amount of lost service time. In terms of the 93 individual soldiers involved, the average hospitalisation works out to be 66 days or more than 2 months of military service. Also, the average period of hospitalisation for the 120 cases comes to 51 days.

In a small number of VD cases, where treatment occurred at Langwarrin, the records appear to be incomplete. For example. in one case the person contracted VD before embarkation and was admitted to Langwarrin in November 1916 but it is not clear how long he was kept there. He eventually embarked for overseas on 19/2/17. In another case someone had enlisted in 1914 and contracted VD in Egypt in September 1915. As for many others, he was sent back to Australia and reached Melbourne on 17/10/15. It appears he was then treated in Langwarrin, presumably until early February 1916, before re-embarking for overseas service in early March 1916. A third example also involved someone – he had also enlisted in 1914 – being sent back from Egypt in August 1915. Again he appeared to spend up to 4 months there before being ordered to return to duty on 23/12/15; but at that point he deserted.

Some men experienced very high levels of hospitalisation from VD, both in terms of the number of hospitalisations and their duration. In terms of these ‘repeat’ cases, it is not clear from the records available if it was a case of the same infection flaring up again – medically, this was a definite possibility – or a new, additional infection, possibly following a period of leave. The following are examples of extensive cases:

(a) 25 yo when he enlisted in early 1916. Three periods of hospitalisation with VD: 63 days from May 1918; 84 days from January 1919; 50 days from October 1919. Total number of days: 197

(b) 20 yo when he enlisted in 1914. Three periods of hospitalisation with VD: 178 days from April 1916; 9 days from early May 1917; 46 days from late May 1917. Total number of days: 233

(c) 24 yo when he enlisted in the second half of 1915. Three periods of hospitalisation with VD: 100 days from September 1916; 145 days from June 1917; 17 days from December 1918. Total number of days: 262

(d) 25 yo when he enlisted in 1914. Three periods of hospitalisation with VD: 40 days from October 1915; 48 days from October 1916; 30 days from December 1916. Total number of days: 118

The longest single period of hospitalisation for VD was 253 days from very early December 1918. The soldier involved had enlisted in the second half of 1916 as a 33 yo.

These examples demonstrate the significant impact VD could have on soldiers’ service. They also indicate that VD hardly ended with the Armistice and that cases continued through 1919. In fact, it is possible – but it would be hard to establish – that rates of VD increased after the fighting ended. Certainly, in Australia at the time there was concern over the potential number of men returning with VD who posed significant risk to future partners, wives and children.

One other detail that emerges when you look at the complete picture of men’s health is that VD was only part of the story. It was very rare that VD was the only disease or sickness men suffered. In fact, the general health of men who contracted VD was often very problematic. It would be difficult to establish the connection, if any, between VD and other illnesses; but when you look at the full picture of the individual soldier’s health you are struck by an overall sense of poor health. Some examples will help:

(a) 26 yo when he enlisted in 1914. In August 1915 he was hospitalised – and repatriated to the UK – with dysentery and enteric fever. The hospitalisation lasted 5 months. In July 1917 he was hospitalised again – this time for 3 weeks – with disability/pyrexia. Then in March 1919 he was hospitalised with VD for 28 days.

(b) 21 yo when he enlisted in 1914. In April 1915 he was hospitalised with influenza. In November 1915 he was hospitalised for 5+ weeks with diphtheria. In January 1916 he was hospitalised for 3 weeks with mumps. There was another week in July 1917 with debility. In August 1917 he spent 1 month in hospital with sick contusion leg. There was another month long hospitalisation in May 1918, again with debility. Then in August 1918 there was another 6 weeks with malaria. Finally, at the very end of the War, there was a period of 6 weeks, from 23/10/18, with VD.

(c) 24 yo when he enlisted in the second half of 1915. Hospitalised for 3+ weeks with trench fever in May 1917. Hospitalised for 146 days with VD from February 1918. In February 1919 hospitalised with pleurisy for 2 weeks. On the return journey to Australia he was hospitalised – ship’s hospital – with influenza. Additionally, in July 1916 he had been hospitalised in the UK for 6 weeks with a gsw neck.

Interestingly, none of these men was discharged as medically unfit. All three were discharged as TPE. Yet, from a purely medical perspective, it is clear that at the very least their physical health had been severely compromised by their experience of war.

While VD was treated, medically, as a disease, there was this complex set of perspectives that shaped the authorities’ attitude towards it. Principally, VD was generally seen as the consequences of a moral lapse. It came from behaviour that was ‘licentious’, where, as it were, the individual soldier had not been able to resist the temptation of the ‘sins of the flesh’. As noted earlier, religious authorities referred to VD as an issue of ‘Purity’: the pure soldier, the ‘Soldier of Christ’ would never fall so low. So there was this sense of the individual having to accept personal responsibility for their medical fate. Indeed, in the early days of the War the AIF set out to shame the troops in Egypt who came down with the disease and returned large numbers of them home – to Langwarrin – in disgrace. Equally, those who became infected and had to be hospitalised for treatment deserved to lose their pay. However, over the course of the War, the significant limits of the purely punitive approach became obvious as VD rates stayed high. Social and medical reformers argued that changing people’s behaviour via moral lessons was not effective and that more proactive strategies employing an educative approach to prevent infection in the first place had to be adopted.

There were other major concerns at the time. For example, there was the fear that the disease had the potential to break out of what people perceived to be its own unique social setting – the weak man, overcome by alcohol, frequenting the brothel – and seep into mainstream society, and into the family home, directly affecting the health of both wife and children. There were even claims that VD, unchecked, was a form of ‘race suicide’.

Certainly, at the personal level, cases of VD tended to remain ‘unspoken’ and ‘hidden’. An example will help explain how this played out. This particular soldier enlisted early in 1915 as a 20 yo and he served until he returned to Australia in September 1919 and was discharged as TPE. In May 1920 the the Melbourne Headquarters of the Independent Order of Rechabites (Victoria) – a friendly society committed to the temperance movement – requested from the AIF a ‘certificate showing duration of illness’ of the soldier. Presumably he was making some sort of claim for sickness or disability. In due course a detailed record was provided and it covered hospitalisations for mumps, scabies, dental caries, a serious hernia condition and a gunshot wound to the left thigh. However, what the formal AIF record released to the IOR did not include was 88 days of hospitalisation from February 1919 for VD, s a direct result of contact with a prostitute in London.

Final notes of the extent of sickness

The preceding analysis makes it clear that many of the War’s survivors had their general health compromised by the sickness, disease and (non combat) injuries they experienced over the period of their service. Further, the negative consequences for the men would have continued post their discharge from the AIF. This was true not just for those discharged as ‘medically unfit’ but for the entire cohort generally.

One area that is not adequately covered in this analysis is that of mental health. Admittedly, we have seen that there was some medical sense of ‘psychological trauma’ . For example, in an extreme case, a soldier who was, literally, buried by an artillery barrage and then dug out, suffering from concussion and/or other wounds was likely to be described as suffering from shell shock. Equally, a man could be repatriated to Australia for medical discharge suffering from ‘premature senility’ or even ‘alcoholic insanity’. And, once returned home and discharged, a returned soldier could be described in the local media as someone who had ‘lost their wits’ or someone who had had a ‘breakdown’, so much so that at their welcome home someone else from the local community had had to speak on their behalf. So, such extreme cases of psychological trauma were apparent and noted. But that, of course, was but a part of the true picture. The problem was that the medical science of ‘mental health’ was very much in its infancy and there was no comprehensive mapping of the extent of psychological trauma across the cohort of all those returning. However, the fact that there was no ‘measurement’ at the time hardly denies the reality of such ‘sickness’. Everything about war service – the fear of death, the sight of death and wounds, the trauma of conflict and killing, the wretchedness of living conditions, the sense of powerlessness and blind fate, the tedium of military life and the impact of military discipline, the actual experience of being wounded or suffering serious illness, the loss of those close to you … – inevitably compromised the individual soldier’s mental health. Today, the most common description we would use would be PTSD. One hundred years ago the term was not used and there was no medical science to describe and record the condition; but it did exist and it would continue to have a significant impact on the men’s lives well after discharge.

Final notes on both being wounded and falling sick

The last two posts have focused on, first, the wounds experienced by the cohort of survivors and, second, the pattern of sickness, disease and (non combat) injuries experienced by the same cohort. While this separation is helpful in ordering the material, it is, in another sense, misleading as it can intimate that there was some sort of either/or arrangement. The reality, of course, was that the two conditions overlapped and interacted wth each other. If 50% of our cohort of survivors experienced at least once episode of being wounded and more than 80% of the same cohort were hospitalised at least once with some form of sickness, disease or (non combat) injury, then most men were affected by both possibilities. To understand the cumulative medical impact of war experience, the interaction between these two conditions is a critical consideration. It is only when you start to consider the combined or total medical experiences of the men that a true picture of the impact of the War on the mens’ health – physical and mental – both at the time and into the future begins to emerge.

The analyses in both this and the previous post have pointed to the very high levels of hospitalisation that characterised military service. It was not just the number of hospitalisations – for this particular cohort of 585 survivors the overall number of hospitalisations is in the order of 1,000 – but the length of such hospitalisations, which could easily extend to 2 or more months at a time. Inevitably, there would have been a very significant ‘churn’ effect in the various units in which the men served. Historians tend to assume that there was a strong sense of esprit de corps across the AIF and men identified strongly with their particular unit. However, the overall extent of hospitalisation tends, to some extent at least, challenge this perspective. The reality would have been that men returned to their original unit – sometimes months later – to find mates from their past either dead or now in hospital themselves, and new members added to the unit. There would have been a constant sense of flux. Moreover, significant battles might have taken place in their time in hospital and that sense of ‘shared battle experience’ compromised. The effect of such churn would have been negative for both unit morale and the mental health of the individual soldier.

The last comment relates to the overall health of the AIF. Admittedly, the focus throughout the blog has been on one particular regional area. However, over a number of posts the following points have been made:

1. The large number of men rejected on medical grounds, often with multiple rejections, where the rejections by local doctors began in the very first days of recruiting

2. The number of men still being rejected on medical grounds even in the last months of the war; and the sense that there were virtually no ‘medically fit’ recruits left

3. The ongoing lowering of the medical standards for recruitment

4. The number of men who did enlist but who were then discharged as medically unfit before they could even embark for overseas service

5. The number of men who died ( 22% of the cohort of men who saw overseas service)
the extent of wounds across the cohort of survivors (50%)

6. The extent of sickness, disease and (non combat) injury across the cohort (82%)

7. The number of men discharged, after service overseas, as medically unfit (48%), accepting that many of those discharged as TPE were, in fact, also ‘medically unfit’

The various indicators obviously highlight the immediate and ongoing medical consequences of war service. But there is also the suggestion that the overall quality of mens’ health in Australia at the outbreak of WW1 was more compromised than various myths of the Anzac story have assumed. The narrative about the best and fittest rushing to enlist at the start of the War might have substance; but only if you accept the level of rejection on medical grounds even at that point. Moreover, as the War progressed, there was a significant decline in the medical condition of the men enlisting in the AIF. Over the course of the fighting, the level of hospitalisation associated with both wounds and sickness was remarkably high. Finally, at War’s end the overall health – both physical and mental – of the men leaving the AIF was obviously severely compromised. Against this background, it seems sad to cling to notions of the Digger as some sort of stoic, super-fit and super-human archetype.


As indicated, the principal resource is the individual service file for each soldier.

223. Those who survived (1) – the wounded

This post and the next look at the men who ‘survived’ the War. As indicated in earlier posts, the number of men in the group who embarked for overseas service and then served – either in the Middle East or on the Western Front; and, commonly, they served in both locations – came to 753. Of this figure there were 168 deaths, which leaves a figure of 585 who survived the War.

Of the 585 ‘survivors’, nearly half (280: 48% ) were discharged from the AIF as ‘medically unfit’ (MU). Half of this number were discharged at some point over the course of the fighting, from the landing at Gallipoli through to the final battles on the Western Front. Many of this group were back living in the Shire before the Armistice. As we have already seen, they were routinely involved in various commemorations and dedications in the local area. The other half of the men discharged as MU were actually discharged after the War. These were men who were returned to Australia, principally in 1919, and then assessed as MU at the point of their discharge from the AIF.

Obviously, the fact that virtually half ( 48%) of those who survived the War were discharged as medically unfit is a strong indication of the negative impact the War had on the men’s health at the time. It was also a pointer to the degree to which war service would compromise their future health.

However, to gauge the true impact of war service, you need to look beyond just those discharged as medically unfit. The analyses in this post, and the next, will show that the health of the 305 men not discharged as MU but discharged as TPE (Termination of Period of Enlistment) was in many cases as compromised as the health of those who were officially discharged as MU.

It is also worth noting that of the entire cohort of the 585 survivors, the number of men who were not hospitalised at any point in their overseas military overseas – from either wounds or sickness – was just 34 or 6%. Being wounded and/or finding yourself in hospital with some serious, if not life-threatening, disease were very common experiences for the men.

Arguably, the two most significant statistics are that of the cohort of 585 survivors (a) 294 men were hospitalised at least once with wounds and (b) 478 men were hospitalised – again, at least once – with disease, injury or other sickness. Obviously, many of the cohort experienced both conditions; and many experienced both conditions more than once.

A note on the data

The analysis in both this post and the next relies heavily on the service records of the individual soldiers. As these records tracked the movement of the soldier over their military service they always included periods of hospitalisation. So it is possible to ascertain the date of hospitalisation, the length of hospitalisation and the location of the hospital. Generally, you can also track the sequence involved. For example, in the case of a soldier being wounded in France, you can track the movement through regimental aid posts, casualty clearing stations, field hospitals and then repatriation to the UK; and, once there, the sequence of hospitals and related institutions.

Generally, these records also included brief details for either the wound or sickness that related to the hospitalisation. However, as stated, these records were essentially intended to track the movement of the soldier’s service, on a day-to-day basis. They were not intended to be detailed medical records. In some cases there are additional, very specific medical records included in the individual service file. For example, occasionally there are detailed hospital records of the patient’s condition and treatment. Sometimes there are extensive reports from various medical boards. But there is no consistency in terms of the availability of such additional material. Consequently, the analysis featured here relies principally on these movement records which cover only minimum details on the reason for the hospitalisation. At the same time, the movement records do provide the opportunity to establish an essential, background picture of the men’s health.

The survivors: the wounded

This first post looks at those survivors who were wounded. A quick point to note at the start is that there was a very small number of cases – less than 10 – where the records states that the soldier was wounded but ‘remained on duty’.

For the analysis, I have categorised 4 distinct classes of wounds: (1) gunshot wounds (gsw), (2) shrapnel wounds (sw), (3) gas, gassed or gas poisoning and (4) what I have described as ‘psychological trauma’.

As noted, some men were wounded more than once. The following is a breakdown of the multiple occasions men were wounded and then hospitalised.

wounded once: 211
wounded twice: 74
wounded 3 times: 9
wounded more than 3 times: 1

number of individual soldiers: 294
total number of hospitalisations for wounded: 386

The soldier wounded more than 3 times was White, Charles Herbert. In December 1916 he was hospitalised for a gsw right clavicle and left knee and also shellshock. The next month – January 1917 – he was readmitted with shellshock. In late February 1917 he was hospitalised with gsw right shoulder; and finally in mid June 1917 he was again hospitalised with shellshock. It appears that there was significant amount of hospital re-admission for recurring conditions He returned to Australia at the end of July 1919 and was discharged as TPE. He is an example of someone with an extensive medical record who was not discharged as medically unfit.

Some more notes on the records

Any analysis of the men’s service files quickly indicates some of the complexities associated with uncovering the picture of the men’s wounds. Take, for example, the distinction between a gunshot wound and a shrapnel wound. There are records where the wound was initially listed as a gunshot wound but then changed to a shrapnel wound at some later point. The converse was also true. Obviously, in the dreadful aftermath of battle, when under pressure and dealing with multiple casualties, making what was probably the fine distinction between gunshot and shrapnel wounds would not have mattered as much as dealing with the medical trauma at hand.

Similarly, you can come across descriptions of wounds where the site of the actual wound appears to change. For example, in one entry you can read of a gsw right arm and in the next the arm in question is denoted as left. In some instances the difference is more significant than right or left.

There is also the issue of how much detail was recorded. Some entries were very brief. In a small number of cases – approximately six – the only entry was wounded, plus the date and hospitalisation details.

Further, where one record might just record sw face, another could be far more descriptive: bomb wound, compound fracture of skull and burns to face and arms. Equally, where you can find just shellshock in some entries, others will extend the description to shellshock/neurasthenia or shellshock/concussion/ neurasthenia. One entry recorded the more informative, buried, shellshock and another shellshock, loss of voice, gas.

There is a related issue here because the more formal and detailed papers relating to medical discharge, when they occasionally appear in a service file, can feature information that does not appear in the conventional (tracking) records. For example, there could be a reference to an amputation that was not recorded anywhere in the service file. Also, it is not uncommon to come across references to the effects of gas in medical discharge papers, where there has not been any reference in the relevant service record to the soldier being gassed. Presumably, in this type of case the individual was not hospitalised and the gassing was not reported at the time but, months later, at the time of his discharge from the AIF, the effects were evident to trained medical staff.

There is one final point worth noting in terms of the records. Being wounded in battle – hit by rifle fire, machine gun fire, shrapnel blast from artillery, mortar, grenade ….. – was not, as it were, a clean cut experience. While there are many entries that indicate that a single wound occurred – for example, gsw right hand, slight – there are many others that indicate that more than one ‘wound’ occurred at the same time. The following examples are all actual descriptions from the files. Obviously, shrapnel could hit multiple parts of the body; and, presumably, the gunshot wounds here are the result of machine gun fire:

sw head and right heel

sw face and hands

gsw right clavicle and left knee; shellshock

gsw right arm and right thigh, arm amputated

bomb wound head and left hand

sw multiple/ lower limbs and abdomen – accidental explosion of ammunition

gsw throat and arm, severe

gsw abdomen and right hand, severe – fingers amputated

While from a record-keeping perspective there is only one entry, the medical reality is that individuals could experience multiple wounds at the one time. With this in mind, the following overview describes all the wounds experienced by the men. In other words, the focus is not on the number of hospitalisations – 386 for the cohort of 294 wounded – but on the number of wounds, which comes to the significantly larger figure of 420.

With all these reservations in mind the following is a breakdown of the ‘wounds’ that characterised this cohort of men.

Gunshot and shrapnel wounds

It is hardly surprising, given the nature of the fighting – and more particularly the effects of machine guns and artillery – that these 2 classes represent the greatest concentration of wounds. In fact, you could argue that the two should be combined. The combined figure comes to 340 separate ‘wounds’ as the result of enemy fire.

Again, we need to remember that men could be wounded more than once; and when they were wounded, because of the weapons being used, they could be ‘hit’ in more than one site on their body. It is strikingly clear that the incidence of being wounded by ‘enemy fire’ was very high.

Gunshot wounds
The total number of gunshot wounds across the cohort was 250.

hand/wrist: 44
foot/ankle: 11
legs/knees/hips/thighs: 80
arms/elbows/shoulders: 56
torso/chest/back: 30
other (essentially, these were all head wounds – eyes, neck, face, cheek, throat …): 29

Shrapnel wounds
The total number of shrapnel wounds across the cohort was 90.

hand/wrist: 7
foot/ankle: 3
legs/knees/hips/thighs: 37
arms/elbows/shoulders: 14
torso/chest/back: 9
other (essentially, these were all head wounds – eyes, neck, face, cheek, throat …): 20

Combined Gunshot wounds and Shrapnel wounds
The total number of wounds across the cohort was 340.

hand/wrist: 51
foot/ankle: 14
legs/knees/hips/thighs: 118
arms/elbows/shoulders: 70
torso/chest/back: 39
other (essentially, these were all head wounds – eyes, neck, face, cheek, throat …): 49

On these figures, there was a higher chance of being hit in the general area of the legs than anywhere else. The comparatively lower figures for the general torso area probably reflect the fact that wounds in that area were more likely to prove fatal.

On some occasions there would an additional note designating the wound as slight but it could also have been severe or penetrating. The significant point was that it involved a hospitalisation, generally ranging from a minimum of one week to several months; and in many cases the hospitalisation extended right through to – and even beyond – the point at which there was a medical discharge. For men for whom there was no medical discharge, the period before they rejoined their unit could be very extended. After repatriation to and hospitalisation in the UK, there was commonly a further period spent in convalescence and then even more time spent in training before they were eventually returned to their unit.

Psychological trauma

It is reasonable to argue that the number of cases (21) where men were hospitalised with the effects of some form of psychological trauma was a significant under-representation of the problem. At the time, the medical science covering such trauma was very limited. Additionally, the attendant behaviour, rather than being seen through a medical lens, could readily be interpreted as being in breach of military orders and a threat to military discipline. Further, individual soldiers would be unwilling, for a variety of reasons, to admit to the disability. In fact, it is arguable that it is significant to get this pronounced cluster of such cases. Some of these cases involved a 2 -3 month period of hospitalisation.

In about half the cases, the only reference given for the hospitalisation was shellshock ; and in a handful of cases (3) there was just a reference to neurasthenia. In other cases there was more description, and it looks as if shellshock was often associated with concussion. Perhaps concussion was seen as a more credible medical condition. Unsurprisingly, there also appeared to be a link between shellshock and being ‘buried’. Further, as noted, the one period of hospitalisation might have been the result of multiple wounds at the one time, and so shellshock could appear together with more ‘conventional’ wounds like being shot or gassed.

We also know from reports of welcome home functions held in the Shire that it was not uncommon for a returning ‘hero’ to be referred to as ’struggling’ mentally or emotionally.

Overall, the statistics uncovered here give but a glimpse of the true nature and extent of the psychological trauma experienced by the soldiers.


There were 59 cases where men were hospitalised with gas. Occasionally, there would be a specific reference to ‘mustard gas’ but generally the simple term ‘gas’ was used.

As already noted, this figure would have to be taken as a minimum. It refers specifically to men hospitalised at the time because of the effects of the gas on their skin, eyes and respiratory system. However, the very nature of gas as a weapon – particularly the varieties that were odourless and invisible – relied on it settling and remaining in the trenches the men used. Inevitably, the number of men exposed to gas – and, arguably, on multiple occasions and for extended periods – but who were not hospitalised at the time would have been high.

Equally, the effect of gas on the individual soldiers would have played out over a long period and would have depended in part on their general health. As we will see in the next post, many men had pre-existing respiratory problems – some going back before their enlistment and others brought on during the war – that would have compounded the effects of gas, both at the time and also into the future. Gas itself did not directly and immediately lead to many deaths. It was more of a ‘legacy’ wound where the effects would play out over a very long time.


The previous post highlighted how those who died had additionally endured significant trauma and suffering before they made the ‘ultimate’ or ‘supreme’ sacrifice.

This post points to an equivalent situation for those from the Shire who survived the War and returned home to Australia. It highlights how half of those who survived were discharged – either during the War or after it – as medically unfit (MU). Further it argues that for the other 50% – discharged as TPE – there was also a very high level of hospitalisation as the result of either wounds or sickness. In fact, the number of men who survived without ever being ‘hospitalised’ was only 6% of the cohort.

This post also shows that half (294) of the survivor cohort (585) experienced at least one period of hospitalisation as the direct consequence of being wounded in battle. Further, given that men were wounded more than once, the total number of hospitalisations as the result of being wounded came to a figure of 386. However, even this figure does not give the complete picture because the nature of the weapons being used – this was particularly in relation to the effects of machine guns and artillery – meant that the individual soldier could be wounded in more than one site on a single occasion. By this reckoning, the total number of ‘wounds’ comes to 420.

In a sense, this finer description of the extent of the wounds as a direct result of battle is academic. It is the general picture that is more relevant; and that picture is definitely one that has half the survivors returning home with high levels of physical and mental trauma brought on by the specific experience of being wounded in battle.

The next post will examine the additional trauma associated with sickness, disease and (non conflict) injuries that the surviving soldiers experienced.


As indicated, the principal resource is the individual service file for each soldier.

222. A closer look at the ‘supreme sacrifice’ of those who died on active service

This post looks in details at the 166 men associated with Shire of Alberton who made the ‘supreme sacrifice’. As noted previously, the full number of dead was 168, but for two of the men, apart from knowing that they were either killed or died, there are no other details at hand. The 2 men were Dove, Albert Ernest who enlisted in the New Zealand forces and whose date of death was given as 29/8/18; and Ellis, Robert G who served in a Canadian unit – Yukon Machine Gun Brigade – and whose date of death was given as 14/11/16. Dove was originally from Gormandale and Ellis’s family look to have been from Port Albert/Welshpool.

A quick breakdown of the cause of death has 118 men ‘killed in action’ (KiA), another 35 who ‘died of wounds’ (DoW) and a third group of 12 men who ‘died of disease’ (DoD). Additionally, A J Godfrey committed suicide. [See Post 107].

Typically, the pattern of the deaths matched the cycle of the War. Twelve men died in the first half of 1915 with a concentration at the time of the Gallipoli landing itself. In the second half of 1915 there were 15 deaths, with additional concentrations for the fighting at Lone Pine and The Neck. There were only 3 deaths for the first half of 1916 when the AIF was in the process of re-organisation and re-deployment. However, the second half of 1916, beginning with Fromelles and going through to Pozieres, was the darkest time and there were 43 deaths recorded. In the first six months of 1917 the figure for the number of deaths was 20; but, again, it rose sharply over the next six months when 35 deaths were recorded, with the greatest concentration in October (Passchendaele). The first 6 months of 1918, with the German Spring Offensive, saw 15 deaths; and then in the last 6 months of the War another 23 men lost their lives. In the last 6 months, the greatest concentration came in July (Hammel). On the Western Front, the AIF was withdrawn from the fighting in early October. In the Middle East, the last AIF action involved the capture of Aleppo in mid October.

Additionally, there were three deaths that occurred after the cessation of hostilities. As we will see, all three were the result of disease. One of the men – O’Neill, John Albert – died on 25/11/19 in a military hospital in England. His case is a reminder that even two full years after the War, Australians were still serving in the UK.

What needs to be kept in mind with this breakdown of the sequence of deaths is that the reality at the time was less definite. As has been noted throughout, there were very many occasions when men ‘disappeared’ on the battlefield. They were then listed as ‘missing’ and it could take up to a year for some official determination of their fate. Consequently, the time when parents or wives were notified, officially, of their loved one’s death was often well past the time of the death itself. Often, those back home were better informed of the real situation by letters from mates and family friends in the relevant unit. But irrespective of when notification of the death did come, this particular sample of men strongly suggests that over the course of the War, with the single exception of the first 6 months of 1916, there was no let up in the dreadful news from overseas, with the constant flow of deaths continuing right though to the point the AIF was withdrawn from the fighting.

The question of how long an individual soldier survived on the battle field was tied to a number of variables, with the two most significant being the number of battles, or the amount of fighting, they experienced, and the ferocity of the specific engagements they faced. For this particular group, an analysis of the time between enlistment and death highlights both how quickly death could come and, equally, the length of time – three or more years – others survived on active service before being killed. A simple breakdown for the cohort shows that five (5) men only survived to six months. Another fifty (50) of the group were either killed or died in the period between six months and one year. Another fifty eight (58) survived for between one and two years. Thirty four (34) survived for between two and three years. Thirteen (13) survived more than three years but less than four. Lastly, there were three (3) men who survived more than four years. All three of this last group died of disease.

It is important to note here that the period of ‘survival’ is taken from the time the men enlisted. This is significant because when you allow for training before embarkation, the length of time taken by transports to reach either the Middle East or Europe, and then the amount to time required for deployment to the battle field, it is apparent that men were killed within a very short period of time after reaching the front. In this sense, it is worth looking more closely at the five (5) men who died within six months. Chester, Charles Edward was the only one of the five men not to die in action. He died of disease – ‘cerebrospinal meningitis’ – in the UK on 31/1/17. He had been a state school teacher in the local area and he was, arguably, another example of someone who should never have been accepted for enlistment. He first enlisted in early January 1915 but was discharged as medically unfit – ‘severe varicocele’ – the next month. He re-enlisted on 23/8/16, embarked for overseas on 21/10/16 and reached the UK on 28/12/16. Within a matter of days, he was admitted to hospital (30/1/17) as ‘dangerously ill’ and died the next day. The other four men who only survived to 6 months were killed in action. Unsurprisingly, they were all killed in the Gallipoli campaign. The following indicates the relative speed with which a man could enlist, embark for the Middle East and then be killed. Ellefsen, Thomas Elevious enlisted on 1/10/14, embarked 2/2/15 and was killed in action, at the Gallipoli landing on 25/4/15. Sutton, David George enlisted on 31/12/14, embarked 13/2/15 and was killed in action on 29/5/15. Atkinson, Bertram enlisted 24/3/15, embarked 8/5/15 and was killed in action on 27/9/15. Tyler, George Thomas enlisted 16/4/15, embarked 17/6/15 and was killed in action at Lone Pine on 8/8/15. Incredibly, Tyler survived less than 4 months.

As indicated, at the other end of the scale there were men who survived the conflict for three or more years before being killed. Remarkably, one or two of this group survived with no illness or wounds or injuries of any kind until they were killed in action. For example, Sexton, Patrick John enlisted in September 1914 and survived both the Middle East and the Western Front until he was killed in action in the German Spring Offensive on 16/4/18. For more than three and a half years Sexton survived the conflict without, as it were, ‘a scratch’. There is no question that he saw action. In fact, he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery. At the same time, as we will see shortly, the longer a soldier served, and the more conflict he experienced, the greater the chance not just of death but of being wounded, injured in some way and/or contracting disease. Thus, the experience of men from this group tended to be closer to that of people like Sherlock, Albert and Singleton, James. Sherlock enlisted 16/7/15 and survived until he was killed in action on 20/8/18; but over that period of 3 years and 1 month he had been hospitalised on at least three occasions, each of at least one month’s duration. The diseases had been mumps, nephritis and, lastly, epilepsy. The second of the men, Singleton, had enlisted 16/9/14 and survived until he was killed in action 9/8/18, which amounted to just under four years of service. He was wounded – gunshot wound, (right) leg and back – on 25/4/15 at Gallipoli and hospitalised for 2 months. The wound flared up again in September 1915 and he was repatriated to the UK for an extended period of treatment. He eventually made it to France at the end of 1916. In 1917, there was another two-month period of hospitalisation with more (right) knee problems. In January 1918 he suffered fractured ribs in an accidental injury and there was another month spent in hospital in the UK. He eventually rejoined his unit in France in June 1918 and was killed in action about 6 weeks later. To make an obvious point, had Singleton been returned to Australia and discharged as medically unfit he would not have been killed.

The cause of death

It is work looking in more detail at the nature of the men’s deaths. As already noted, the majority (118) were designated as ‘killed in action’ (KiA), often after an extended period in which they had been reported as ‘missing’. Thirty five (35) men ‘died of wounds’ (DoW) and the third group of twelve (12) ‘died of disease’ (DoD).

Died of Disease

The following summarises the essential details of the group who died of disease. The conditions that stand out include enteric fever, malaria and cholera in the Middle East, influenza and respiratory disease generally and outbreaks of meningitis.

Brain, Edward George: admitted to a hospital ship with Enteric Fever/Dysentery on 18/10/15 and DoD 24/10/15. He was buried at sea.

Chester, Charles Edward: admitted as ‘dangerously ill’ on 30/1/17 with ‘cerebrospinal meningitis’ and DoD 31/1/17. Notes in his file indicate that three others died from same disease, in the same UK hospital at same time.

Farthing, Arthur Vincent: had a history of pneumonia and, in fact, had been previously discharged in January 1916 as medically unfit. He managed to re-enlist and embark. In the UK he was again hospitalised on 26/8/16 with pneumonia. He was transferred to another hospital on 8/11/16 but died the next day of pneumonia and ‘cerebral abscess’.

Gay, Edward Thomas: had a history of influenza from his time on the troopship (9/6/16) and from when he reached the UK. He was hospitalised in July 1916, then re-admitted in August 1916. His family was advised in November 1916 that he was ‘dangerously ill’ . He died of ’tubercle of lung’ on 2/1/17.

Glanfield, William Donovan: contracted cholera in the Middle East and was admitted to hospital on 8/10/18. He died on 15/10/18.

Hofen, Robert Henry: hospitalised on 20/2/18 when on leave in the UK with ‘cyst of liver’ and died the following month (18/3/18) of ‘abscess of liver’.

Smith, William: hospitalised on 8/10/18 in the Middle East (Damascus) with ‘malignant malaria’ and died on 17/10/18.

Spargo, Clifton James: like Smith, also hospitalised (Damascus) in early October (4/10/18) and also died (15/10/18) from ‘malignant malaria’.

Walker, Moore: hospitalised in France on 5/10/16 and died from ‘cerebro-spinal fever’ four days later (9/10/16).

As indicated, there were also three deaths from disease after the war:

Lowther, Frank William: hospitalised in France on 17/11/18 with ‘influenza/bronchial pneumonia’ and died one week later (24/11/18).

O’Neill, John Albert: hospitalised in UK (Brighton) on 3/11/19 with acute bronchitis and reported as ‘dangerously ill’. Died on 25/11/19: ‘morbus cordis, mitral regurgitation’ ‘heart failure’/ ‘ valvular disease of the heart’ (VDH).

Perkins, Harold Claude: hospitalised in France on 19/2/19 with, initially, ‘pyrexia’ then ‘influenza’. Reported ‘dangerously ill’ on 24/2/19 and died on 26/2/19 from ‘broncho pneumonia and influenza’.

Killed in action or died of wounds?

There is not a great deal of information in relation to the men killed in action. Typically, in terms of the men’s individual service files, there will just be an entry that records their death as killed in action on a specific date. As we have seen throughout, it is possible to access additional information in relation to individual deaths from Red Cross files and other sources such as unit diaries. However, there are significant gaps, and little consistency, in terms of the availability, scope and nature of such additional information. On the other hand, for those who died of wounds, a limited, but significant, amount of extra detail is contained in the men’s service files. Consistently, details of the wounds, the periods and places of hospitalisation and, obviously, the date of death were all routinely recorded. All of this information can be used to build up a more comprehensive picture of what ‘sacrifice’ entailed.

It is also important to recognise that often there was not much difference between the designation of KiA or DoW to describe a soldier’s death. In some cases men were killed instantly, but in other cases they lived, sometimes still conscious, until they bled to death, or otherwise died from their trauma, on the battlefield. All this means that, strictly speaking, many men who were designated as ‘KiA’ technically died of their wounds. An example will help. Whitford, Roy Victor [Post 137] disappeared on a raiding party on German lines in October 1917. He was designated as ‘missing’ and then 7 months later this was changed to ‘killed in action’. So, officially, his death is recorded as KiA. However, witness statements from those with him on the raiding party indicate that, in fact, he died of wounds. Essentially, his left leg was ‘blown off’, and he died a few minutes later. His body was left behind.

To some extent, it is splitting hairs to question this distinction between KiA and DoW; but it is important to understand that the DoW classification involved the wounded man receiving medical assistance, even if it was only at the very rudimentary – or earliest – stage where, typically, he was collected by stretcher bearers and taken to a first aid post or casualty clearing station. At the other end of the continuum, the same term was used in the case where the soldier died several months later, after he had been moved well back from the line, through a series of medical facilities, to be hospitalised in the UK.

However, as pedantic as the discussion on the use of the terms can be, the critical point from our perspective is that where soldiers’ deaths were described as DoW there is additional detail in their file; and this detail gives us a better appreciation of how men were killed in battle and how long they survived after being wounded. With this in mind, I have detailed here the thirty five (35) men who, officially, died of wounds. It is important to note that the wounds described here are, exclusively, the wounds that killed the individual soldiers. Wounds or injuries that the men suffered prior to this will be discussed later.

Soldiers designated as ‘died of wounds’ (DoW)

The brackets indicate the length of time the soldier survived after being wounded.

Appleyard, Gordon: wounded 20/8/16 with shrapnel wound to spine and DoW 24/8/16. (4 days)

Appleyard, Courtney: wounded 10/11/16 with shrapnel wound to right shoulder and DoW 15/11/16. [brother of Gordon] (5 days)

Appleyard, Edgar John: wounded 19/4/17 with gun shot wound to the spine and DoW 3/8/17. (3+ months).

Because of the length of time in hospital the medical record is more extensive. Medical notes show that he was ‘wounded 19/4/17 by rifle bullet which penetrated the tissues of the back… ‘Paralysis followed immediately’. Further, ‘while lying paralysed patient was again hit in the neck’. He was evacuated and eventually reached hospital in Cairo on 24/4/17. The very next day he was reported as ‘dangerously ill’. As from 5/5/17 his family was advised that he was ‘out of danger’ but then he was dangerously ill again from 10/5/17 and he remained on the list until his death. There was a post-mortem which gave the cause of death as ‘ 1. GS wound of spinal cord- myelitis 2. septic cystitis & extensive bed sores’. The notes also indicate that because of the paralysis there was great difficulty in curbing infections, in at least the bowel and urinary tract. There are also references to the use of a water bed and from June it appears that morphine was being administered. It was clearly a harrowing and drawn-out death. It is also clear that some of the new medical technology was of limited value. There were notes that the patient was too sick for X-rays to be taken and then when they were taken, the assessment was that they were ‘worthless’.

Bird, Frederick Arthur: wounded on 6/8/15 with shrapnel wound to the head and DoW the same day. (same day)

Carter, James: wounded on 17/9/16 with gun shot wound to left thigh and back and DoW 13/10/16. It is possible that his condition was compromised by the length of time before he reached hospital. (3+ weeks)

Chenhall, Harold Beecher: wounded on 9/8/18 but no details and DoW on 12/8/18. (3 days)

Dunne, James Richard: wounded on 7/4/18 with shrapnel wound to neck and penetrating wound to chest. DoW the same day. (same day)

Garland, Eugene: wounded on 6/7/18 with shrapnel wound to the abdomen and DoW the same day. (same day)

Gilfoy, Herbert: wounded on 19/7/16 with gun shot wound to head, severe and DoW 26/7/16. (5 days)

Grinlington, Dudley: wounded on 12/10/17 with gunshot wound to left knee and DoW 17/10/17. (5 days)

Harrison, Frank Lionel: wounded on 19/5/18 with shrapnel wound to head – possibly ‘friendly fire’ – and DoW the same day. (same day).

Kennedy, Arthur Charles: limited details but wounded just before withdrawal from Gallipoli and DoW 27/11/15.

Laing, Alexander: wounded on 17/11/16 with shrapnel wound to both legs and DoW the same day. Medical notes indicate that at least one leg amputated. (same day)

Lear, Eric Nightingale: wounded on 23/7/17 with gun shot wound to thigh, buttocks and arm and DoW next day on 24/7/17. (1 day)

Martin, Reginald Henry: wounded on 8/8/18 with shrapnel wound to chest, penetrating and DoW same day. (same day)

Mason, James Oliver: wounded on 10/2/17 with shrapnel wound to chest, penetrating and died the next day. (1 day)

McCarthy, Edgar James: wounded on 16/4/17with shrapnel wound to head and fractured back and DoW 6 days later on 22/4/17. (6 days)

McLeod, John: wounded on 18/4/18 with shrapnel wound to right thigh and leg and DoW same day. (same day)

Mills, Patrick Joseph: wounded on 18/8/16 with shrapnel wound to abdomen and thigh and DoW 29/8/16. (11 days)

Morley, Ernest Edward: wounded on 3/5/17 with gun shot wound to left thigh and DoW 14/5/17. (11 days)

Morris, Brian Percy: wounded on 17/3/18 when he was ‘gassed/gas shell poison’ and DoW (‘Died of Gas Poisoning’) on19/3/18. (2 days)

Nuttall, William Richard: wounded on 16/6/18 with shrapnel wound to chest and DoW next day. (1 day)

O’Day, James Robert: wounded on 29/9/17 with ‘bomb wound’, right leg amputated but DoW same day. (same day)

Ormsby, Philip Michael: wounded on 29/10/16 with gun shot wound chest, penetrating and DoW on 2/11/16. (3 days)

Owens, Charles Attwell: wounded on 29/9/18 with shrapnel wound to left thigh and DoW next day. (1 day)

Peel, Walter George: wounded on 5/9/15 with ‘gunshot wounds leg, eye, nose and neck/dangerous’ and DoW the same day. (same day).

Radburn, Edward: wounded on 30/6/15 with gun shot wound to thorax/chest, penetrating. Reported dangerously ill on 9/7/15 and DoW on 10/7/15. (3 days)

Reeves, Alfred: wounded on 25/8/16 with shrapnel wound to chest and buttock and DoW the same day. (same day)

Robinson, Edward: wounded on 9/8/18 with shrapnel wound to left knee. Hospitalised in UK and leg amputated but DoW on 11/9/18. Cause of death given as ‘septic pneumonia and septicaemia’. (4+ weeks)

Robinson Alexander: wounded on 18/11/16 with shrapnel wound to loin and buttock and DoW on 20/11/16, 2 days later. [brother of Edward] (2 days)

Tregilgas, Archibald Sturt: wounded on 1/11/17 with gun shot wound left thigh and was ‘dead on admission’. (same day)

Trigg, Robert John: wounded on 23/10/17 with gun shot wound to left knee (also ‘forearm’). Hospitalised in UK for 1 month but DoW 29/10/17. Cause of death was given as ‘gunshot wound left knee, septicaemia secondary haemorrhage’ and the same notes referred to ‘right (sic) leg amputated – upper third of femur’ . (2 months 1 week)

Wallace, Percy Allen: wounded on 14/4/16 with gun shot wound to right leg and left forearm and DoW the next day. (1 day)

Whitford, Albert Henry: wounded on 20/3/17 but no details and DoW the same day. (same day)

Wilson, Thomas Anderton: wounded on 4/6/18 with gun shot wound to face. Hospitalised in France but DoW 16/6/18. (12 days)

This is, of course, only one, small sample of all the men who died from wounds in WW1 but it does point to several observations which, in one sense, are hardly surprising. Men died within a short period of time after having been wounded. Presumably, this was the result not just of the wounds themselves – note the prevalence of men hit in the head, chest and back – but the length of time that passed before they received any medical attention and then the quality of the attention they received. Also, even though some men survived the initial traumatic period after being wounded, both the ever present risk of infection and the extreme nature of the wounds themselves – for example, paralysis – meant that the very idea of ‘survival’ was highly qualified, both in terms of time and the degree of suffering the men experienced over the period they ‘survived’.

The bigger picture – not just death, but the suffering beforehand

As has been pointed out several times, the focus above has been on the specific wounds that resulted in the deaths of the individual soldiers. However, in a real sense, this is only half the story. If we look at the total service history of the men in our sample – the 165 men who were killed in action, or who died of either wounds or disease – we can see that many were wounded earlier in their service and that they had faced significant levels of suffering and hardship well before they met death. The following overview reveals the number of men who, prior to being killed or dying on active service, had been wounded.

Adams, John Henry: survived ’ bomb wound back’ on 23/5/15 and eventually rejoined his unit 2+ months later on 2/8/15. He was KiA 6 days later on 8/8/15.

Alford, Edwin James: hospitalised for 3 weeks with ‘trench feet’ on 26/10/17. KiA 4/4/18.

Anquetil, Henry Stewart: wounded with shrapnel wound to temple on 27/7/16. He rejoined his unit on 4/8/16. KiA 4/10/17

Ashton, John Henry Parker: wounded on 27/5/18 but stayed on duty. Wound was described as ‘bruised by shell’. KiA 3/10/18.

Barlow, Albert Edward: hospitalised for 2+ months with ’trench feet’ on 15/12/16. KiA 19/4/18.

Bolger, Thomas Michael: wounded on 13/3/17 with gun shot wound to back and hospitalised in UK for10 weeks. Did not rejoin unit till 9/7/17 and KiA 1 month later on 4/10/17.

Booth, Norman Waterhouse: wounded on 3/8/16 with gun shot wound to head and neck, severe. Hospitalised in UK for 10 weeks and rejoined unit on 23/10/16 then KiA 2 weeks later on 7/11/16;

Bunston, Leslie William: wounded first time on 2/8/17 with gun shot wound to back and elbow, and hospitalised in UK for 2 months. Wounded second time – gassed – on 26/5/18 and hospitalised for 1 month. KiA 2 months later on 21/8/18.

Butler, Frederick William: wounded at Gallipoli with gun shot wound to right thigh and returned to Australia for medical discharge. In Australia he worked as a recruiting sergeant and on 14/3/16 was found ‘fit’ to return to active duty. In France he suffered an accidental injury to the back on 16/10/16 and did not rejoin his unit until 1/2/17. KiA 20/9/17.

Chenhall, Harold Beecher: hospitalised in UK on 21/12/17 with ’trench fever’ and did not rejoin his unit until 19/3/18. Wounded 9/8/18 and DoW 3 days later on 12/8/18.

Christensen, Allan Patrick: hospitalised in UK on 28/1/18 with ‘trench fever’ and did not rejoin his unit to 7/6/18. KiA 28/9/18.

Dietrich, Henry James: wounded on 30/7/16 with gun shot wound to the back and hospitalised in UK for 5 months. Wounded again – gun shot wound left ear – on 3/5/17 and hospitalised for 1 week. On 28/5/17 hospitalised again for 2 weeks with ’synovitis right knee’ and then again from 27/6/17 for 6 weeks with ‘hypertrophy of bone, contusion right knee’. Rejoined unit on 7/9/17 then KiA 1 month later on 9/10/17;

Dunne, James Richard: wounded on 28/4/16 with gun shot wound to both thighs and hospitalised in UK for 1 month. DoW 7/4/18.

Foote/ Vicars Foote, Ernest Rolleston: wounded on 30/11/15 with shrapnel wound to the face and shell shock and hospitalised for 2+ months. More hospitalisation in UK – 2+ months – from 10/11/16 for ‘blistered feet/trench feet’. KiA 10/4/18.

Forde, Ernest Leslie: wounded on 1/4/18 with shrapnel wound to head and hospitalised in UK for 3+ weeks. KiA 5/10/18;

Garland, Eugene Loftus: hospitalised for 10 weeks from 26/11/15 with ‘asthma/trench feet/frostbite’. DoW 6/7/18.

George, Herbert Illot: wounded on 25/4/15 with gun shot wound right leg and hospitalised 1 month. Wounded again on 10/8/15 with ‘blast wound right eye’ and hospitalised 4 months. KiA 25/7/16.

Grinlington Dudley: wounded on 6/8/16 with shrapnel wound to face, mouth and jaw. Hospitalised in UK for 6 months with extensive treatment and convalescence required. Several medical board reports gave graphic descriptions of the extent of the wound, and as late as 28/5/17 the degree of disability was still evident: ‘He is still unable to eat hard food, such as crusts or hard biscuits’. He finally returned to France on 21/9/17. Three weeks later he was wounded on 12/10/17 – gun shot wound left knee – and DoW 5 days later on 17/10/17.

Hickey, William: hospitalised for 4 months in UK with ‘trench feet’ from 31/1/17. KiA 9/10/17.

Hofen, Robert Henry: wounded on 3/5/17 with gun shot wound hospitalised for 1 month. DoD 18/3/18;

Jeffs, George Edward: wounded on 29/6/16 with gun shot wound ankle, legs and head and hospitalised in UK for 2+ months. He rejoined his unit on 3/9/16. KiA 12/12/16.

Jolly, Sydney: wounded on 27/2/17 ‘ with shrapnel wound right elbow’ and hospitalised in UK for 5+ weeks. KiA 25/9/17.

Jones, Alfred: wounded on 2/3/17 with gun shot wound to left elbow and hospitalised in UK for 6 weeks. KiA 26/9/17;

Liddelow, Aubrey: wounded on 25/4/15 with ‘bullet wound left ankle’ and hospitalised for 7 weeks. Wounded again on 12/7/15 – ‘wounded slightly eye, chest’ – and hospitalised for 2+ months. KiA 19/7/16;

Martin, John Herbert: wounded – no details – on 25/7/16 but remained on duty. Wounded on 6/11/16 with gun shot wound to left hand and hospitalised for 1+ month. KiA 2/3/17.

Murray, John Bridge: wounded on 8/5/17 with shrapnel wound to right leg and hospitalised in UK for 1.5 months. Wounded second time on 4/10/17 with shrapnel wound to right eye and hospitalised in UK for 11 weeks. KiA 11/8/18.

Nicholas, George Mason: wounded on 12/12/15 with shrapnel wound to right arm (‘severe’) and hospitalised 5+ weeks. KiA 14/11/16.

Noonan, Leonard: wounded on 8/5/15 with shrapnel wound to head; but no other details. Wounded again on 6/8/15 with gun shot wound thigh and hip and hospitalised 3+ weeks. KiA 25/7/16.

Nuttall, William Richard: wounded on 9/8/15 with description reading, ‘shock and wnd head’ . Hospitalised for 5 weeks. Hospitalised again on 23/10/16 for 5 weeks with ‘septic thumb’ from barbed wire. Again wounded on 25/9/17 and this described as ‘blown up and buried by shell at Polygon Wood’ . His condition described as ‘shell shock’ and ’tremulans, complains of headaches’. Hospitalised for 2.5 months. For this situation the following form had to be completed: Report to be rendered in the case of Officers and other ranks who, without any visible wound, become non-effective from physical conditions claimed or presumed to have originated from effects of British or enemy weapons in action. DoW 17/6/18.

O’Neill. John Albert: wounded on 19/9/17 with shrapnel wound to left arm and hospitalised in UK for 1 month. DoD 25/11/18.

Owens, Charles Athwell: wounded – ‘gassed’ – on 7/7/18 and hospitalised for 5 weeks. Wounded less than 2 months later on 29/9/18 with shrapnel wound to left thigh and DoW the next day.

Power, Robert Ernest: wounded on 7/6/17 with gunshot wound to head and hospitalised but only for 12 days. KiA 4/10/17.

Ray, Harold Seymour: wounded on 5/8/16 with shrapnel wound to left arm and hospitalised in UK for 2 months. KiA 9/10/17.

Raymond, Harold McCheyne: hospitalised for 1 month with feet problems – no other details – from 13/7/16. KiA 9/4/17.

Rendell, Clyde: hospitalised in UK for 3 months from 13/1/17 with severe trench feet. Another 2+ months period of hospitalisation with trench feet from 6/10/17. More hospitalisation with trench fever for 1.5 months from 22/2/18: trench fever . Yet another period of hospitalisation with trench fever/influenza from 17/5/18 for 2 weeks. KiA 6/7/18.

Robinson, Edward: wounded (1) on 20/9/17 with gun shot wound to left leg and hospitalised for 1 month. Wounded (2) on 31/3/18 with gun shot wound to right shoulder and hospitalised for 1 month. Wounded (3) on 9/8/18 with shrapnel wound to left leg and DoW on 11/9/18.

Say, Leonard: wounded on 10/7/5 and hospitalised for 1+ week but no other details. KiA 7/11/17.

Singleton, James: wounded on 25/4/15 with gun shot wound to (right) leg and back and hospitalised for 2 months. Re-admitted to hospital with ‘old wound’ on 27/9/15; and then spent another 11 months convalescing before rejoining unit in France. More hospitalisation for 2 months from 18/12/16 with right knee complications. Another period of hospitalisation for 1 month from 18/1/18 as a result of fractured ribs from accidental injury. KiA 9/8/18.

Sommers, Arthur John: wounded on 27/2/17 with gunshot wound to right leg and hospitalised for 1 month. KiA 12/10/17.

Sutton, William Henry: wounded on 26/9/17 with gun shot wound to face and chest with ‘Large jagged wound left cheek- has not perforated into mouth’. Hospitalised in UK for 2+ months and eventually returned to unit in France in late May 1918. A court martial held on 8/6/18 found him guilty of ‘wilfully self-inflicting a wound’: ’cellulitis back of left fore-arm on 28/5/18’. Pleaded not guilty but found guilty and sentenced to 2 years hard labour. The sentence was suspended on 28/6/18. He rejoined his unit and was then KiA on 11/8/18. [Post 176]

Sweeney, Cornelius James: wounded on 28/8/16 with shrapnel wound to pelvis and the right hip was fractured (severe). Hospitalised in UK for 5 months. 11/4/17: reported missing on 11/4/17 and then KiA the same day

The above detail shows that a large number of those in the sample who either died or were killed on active service had endured considerable trauma and suffering before they met their death. On the face of it, there were individual cases above where repatriation to Australia and a medical discharge would have seemed the proper course. I will consider this issue in the next post when I look at the experiences of the whole cohort of men, not just this group that paid the supreme sacrifice.

But even the above analysis does not tell the full story of the men’s ‘sacrifice’. In addition to being wounded, many of this group also suffered from significant sickness and poor health. As noted, the next post will examine the men’s health in more detail and it will focus on the complete cohort, not just those who died. However, for present purposes the following brief account in relation to those who did die is worth noting.

Disease and chronic health conditions across the cohort of the dead

Looking first at the group of men just covered – those wounded at some point prior to their death – it is clear that there were additional sicknesses and injuries that would have had a negative effect on their overall wellbeing. Consider the following 4 examples:

Foote/ Vicars Foote, Ernest Rolleston: in addition to the more than 4 months of hospitalisation in relation to shrapnel wounds, shell shock and trench feet, there were two periods of hospitalisation – each of 2 weeks – for quinsy (peritonsillar abscess) and another extended period – 2 months – for cellulitis.

Forde, Ernest Leslie: one year prior to being wounded with shrapnel wounds to the head, this soldier had been hospitalised for 3 weeks with scabies.

Ray, Harold Seymour: in addition to being wounded with a shrapnel wound to his arm, there were 3 periods of hospitalisation with scabies/septic sores.

Sutton, William Henry: in addition to being shot in the face and chest, this soldier endured a sprained back which saw him hospitalised for 3+ months. Additionally, there was a chronic skin problem – phlebitis – which saw him hospitalised for 3 weeks and a heart condition (mitral regurgitation).

When you shift the focus from just those soldiers who died of wounds and take in the full cohort of men who died – from any cause – the extent of sickness, disease and injury becomes more apparent. Again, the following is just a series of examples:

Appleyard, Gordon William: DoW on 24/8/16 but had suffered from dysentery (May 1915), rheumatic fever (September 1915) and rheumatism (October 1915).

Berryman, Lewis Richard: KiA on 25/6/17 but had been ‘dangerously ill’ with pyrexia over 6 week period September- November 1916.

Clayton, Charles John: KiA19/7/16 but had been ‘dangerously ill’ with pneumonia in Egypt in January 1916 before going to France.

Inseal/Ensil, Arthur George: KiA 5/8/16 but in December 1915 had had Enteric fever and returned to Australia for ‘change’. Then on 11/3/16 a medical board determined he was ‘fit for duty’ and he re-embarked on 29/3/16 and rejoined his unit in France on 7/7/16. He was killed one month later.

Johnson, Cyril Hamlin: KiA 14/5/18 but had been hospitalised 5 times with scabies. Each period of hospitalisation was between 1-2 weeks.

Sherlock, Albert: KiA 20/8/18 but had extensive history of disease covering mumps 1/2/16 (1+ month), nephritis 30/4/17 (1 month) h) and epilepsy 8/1/18 (1+ month).

Smith, William: DoD 17/10/18. He had been hospitalised with ‘septic sores’ on 20/7/17 (1 week).

A final word on those who made the ‘supreme sacrifice’

It is clear that when the focus is placed on those men who died on active service – 166 from our full cohort of 753 – a more complete picture of the extent and nature of the reality of ‘supreme sacrifice’ emerges.

Importantly, the very act of describing death as a form of ’supreme sacrifice’ had the effect of neutralising and ‘sanitising’ the dreadful effect of the death itself. The terminology implied some sort of high moral purpose to the death. It became a code for people to use, on the one hand, to provide comfort and a sense of righteousness for those mourning and, on the other, to distance everyone from the reality of the individual death and its specific circumstances.

There were other factors in WW1 that were fairly unique to Australian soldiers and which contributed to this ‘distancing’ effect. The great geographical distance separating Australia from the actual theatres of combat in the Middle East and Europe meant that troops did not return on leave and, consequently, as the years passed, the sense of physical and emotional separation grew, particularly if there was only ever limited correspondence between the front and home. Also, when men died they were buried – if, in fact, the body was recovered – in, literally, very distant ‘foreign fields’ and it would prove very difficult, if not impossible, for loved ones ever to visit the grave. It is also worth pointing out that in many cases loved ones never uncovered the details surrounding the death. Details provided by the AIF were limited in scope, general in detail and formal, if not abrupt, in tone. True, additional information could come, for example, from mates in the same unit and some families might have seen very explicit details in Red Cross reports, but overall there there was a natural inclination to spare the family shocking details and write and talk up the notion of sacrifice. So, overall, the notion of ’supreme sacrifice’ acted, 100 years ago, as a form of what we commonly now refer to as ‘closure’.

However, from the perspective of history there are obvious failings when the shocking carnage of WW1 – and any war for that matter – is papered over with notions of ’supreme sacrifice’. It denies and warps the suffering and grief of the loved ones left behind. It minimises the enormous social, economic and other impacts on the local area, state and nation. And, ironically – given the very terminology employed – it fails to give an honest picture of the nature and extent of the suffering the men endured.

This short analysis at least begins to uncover the true sacrifice made by the men who served and died.


All material taken from individual service files

221. Analysing the ‘sacrifice’ of the cohort of men who enlisted, embarked and served overseas.

It is time to draw the blog to a finish. But before I do, I want to devote a couple of final posts to a description of the experiences of the men who enlisted, went overseas and took part in the fighting.

At the time, much was made of the core ideal of ’sacrifice’. So it seems proper to try to give some picture of exactly what sacrifices were made by the men. In particular, I want to have a close look at the impact of the fighting on the men’s health and wellbeing both during the War and in the years after.

The data that I am drawing on comes primarily from the individual service histories of the men. These records detail a significant amount of information on any wounds, injuries, sicknesses and diseases experienced. They also cover matters such as length of time spent in hospital and other related institutions. Importantly, they indicate whether the individual soldier was discharged as ‘medically unfit’ (MU) or at the ‘termination of the period of enlistment’ (TPE). The same records give an indication of the longer term disabilities and suffering the returning men had to carry with them after discharge from the AIF.

After having considered the medical profile, I also intend to look at the men’s service histories in terms of their (military) behaviour in the AIF. I will also look at the military honours and awards received.

The cohort under review

To this point, the blog has identified all those men (814) with a link to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in the AIF at some point over 1914-1918. However, I now want to reduce this cohort to focus on those enlisted men who embarked for overseas service and who took part in the fighting in the Middle East and Europe. To do this, I need to remove the following groups from the full cohort:

  1. men who were discharged from the AIF on medical grounds shortly after enlistment and before their units embarked for overseas
  2. men who deserted form the AIF before embarkation
  3. men who enlisted late in 1918 and were either discharged before embarking or who were on troopships that were recalled after the Armistice and then discharged
  4. men who for other reasons either never embarked or never reached overseas

Taken together, all these groups cover 61 men, which reduces the cohort to 753. That is, for these last few posts the focus will be on the service histories of the 753 men, linked to the Shire of Alberton, who enlisted in the AIF, embarked for overseas and saw service in either or both the Middle East and Europe.

This particular post examines the several groups men excluded for the above reasons. It provides an indication of just how complex individual enlistments in the AIF could be.

Some background on the general health of recruits

We know that, overwhelmingly, our particular cohort of men who enlisted were young – late teens and early twenties – and that they came from a rural work background, employed as either agricultural labourers or assisting on the ‘family farm’. You would probably expect then that the overall level of health and fitness amongst this group of recruits would have been high. Certainly, this was the impression created right at the start of the War when the first group of approximately 50 local young men rushed to enlist and were promptly screened by the local doctors in Yarram. There was a clear sense that the fittest and best of the local community – and this was true for the nation as a whole – had volunteered for service.

Men rejected on medical grounds

At the same time, we know that many recruits were rejected on medical grounds. Previous posts have looked at this issue of rejection. See Post 199. The rejected and Post 200.’Recruits Rejected by Local Doctors’. It is a complicated issue, made more complicated by the fact that medical standards for enlistment changed over the course of the year; and men who were initially rejected were later deemed to meet the new standard. The issue of rejection on medical grounds is important because it offers another perspective on the general health of those of who enlisted. Possibly, the general health of those who enlisted in the AIF in WW1 was more compromised than we have presumed.

One important point to keep in mind is that the data I have on this issue of medical rejection only relates to enlistments in Yarram. Essentially, it covers the medical assessments carried out by the local doctors when men from the shire fronted to enlist. As noted, when local men presented themselves for enlistment they had a medical with the local doctor and if successful were then given a railway warrant to travel to Melbourne. The data I have suggests that there were approximately 150 cases where local men were ‘rejected’ or ‘failed’ the medical. But, as usual, there are significant qualifications to note. The most obvious one is that, as discussed, many of those initially rejected on medical grounds were subsequently accepted. In fact, of the 136 men individually listed by local doctors as having failed the medical, it appears that at least 35 were subsequently accepted.

Another key qualification was the conviction of AIF medical staff that local doctors were not rigorous enough in enforcing the medical standards that had been prescribed. They believed that local doctors were unduly influenced by the ideal of patriotism and that they passed men whom, from a purely medical or physical standard, they should have failed. As a consequence, over time, the AIF significantly qualified the worth of the assessment by the local doctor by requiring a second medical screening in Melbourne; and the enlistment would only proceed on the basis of this second medical assessment. So, it is possible that the number of rejections by local doctors represents an understatement of the problematic level of the general health and fitness of those who came forward to enlist.

Moreover, the number of medical rejections recorded in Yarram is only part of the full picture. Roughly half the men in the full cohort of 814 enlisted in Melbourne or some other large centre such as Warragul, Sale or Foster. Commonly, this was because by the time they came to enlist they had left the Shire of Alberton or, while they were still living and working in the shire, they travelled directly to Melbourne or some other location to enlist. Because these recruits were never examined by the local doctors in Yarram, we have no equivalent record of medical rejections at the local level. At the same time, when you look at the individual service files of the men it is clear that many of them, just like those who enlisted in Yarram, were initially rejected on medical grounds. So it seems safe to assume that the number of rejections for this group would have been comparable to that for the Yarram group and that, overall, for the complete cohort of just over 800 men, the total number of rejections could have been in the order of 300 or more. But, again, many of this group did in fact end up being passed medically and enlisted in the AIF.

You have to start to wonder if the overall health of this particular demographic – young, single, male, rural workers – was not as ‘positive’ as was presented at the time, where the prevailing view was that rural or ‘bush’ life was the natural and highly desired environment for the physical, social and even moral development of the archetypal Australian male. For example, we can reflect on all the stirring farewell speeches that lavished praise on the new recruits from the shire, not just as the heirs of the original, physically tough and mentally resilient pioneer stock of Gippsland, but as the embodiment of all that was best of the young Australian male.

At the same time, the general issue of the men’s background health is complicated. For example, take the single issue of teeth. A problem with a potential recruit’s teeth – the lack of teeth or the condition of the teeth – appears to have been the most common reason for failing the medical. At least this was the case with this Yarram cohort. There are two possible responses to this situation. One is that the AIF and the local doctors were too preoccupied with the condition and number of men’s teeth; and that teeth generally should have been of a lower order of importance. What did it matter, so to speak, if a recruit was missing a few teeth but as fit as the proverbial ‘mallee bull’? Indeed, it is clear that many men initially rejected because of their teeth were ultimately passed as fit. So was too much made of this single criterion? At the same time, if the issue of teeth was critical in terms of being able to eat army food and rations then it was obviously a major consideration. Moreover, arguably a recruit’s general dental condition and his standard of oral hygiene would then – as now – have been taken as critical indicators of overall health.

There is also other evidence to suggest that the general level of health and fitness of the cohort of men presenting themselves for enlistment in the AIF was more problematic than all the contemporary and historic imagery of the WW1 digger suggests. Specifically, of the cohort of 814, thirty-two (30) newly enlisted men were discharged on medical grounds not long after enlisting. None of this group embarked for overseas service. Further, in many of these cases, there was clearly a pre-existing medical condition which, in theory at least, should have meant they were never passed as medically fit in the first place. Basically, it was not just the large number of men who failed the medical screening for enlistment that pointed to poor health and fitness across the demographic but also the cases of men who were accepted only to be discharged on medical grounds within a short time after their enlistment. It is worth looking at these latter cases because they indicate not just the medical conditions but also the apparent failings in the screening system. They also point to the determination – if not, desperation – of some men to enlist.

Men discharged on medical grounds after enlistment and before embarking for overseas (30):

Bourke, George Manning: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne March 1917: 25 years old, single, bank clerk; extensive sickness and hospitalisation from April 1917 – influenza, tonsilitis, rheumatic myalgia, neurasthenia – and discharged 3/10/17, as medically unfit – rheumatism.

Coulthard, Robert Lyn: enlisted Yarram late 1915; single, 23 years old, farmer; discharged February 1916 because of pre-existing tumour on thigh.

Cox, George: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne November 1915; 44 years old, married, clergyman; had been previously rejected on medical grounds; discharged in early 1916 because of long-term effects of rheumatic fever (1913); continued in home service until early 1919.

Crisp, John: enlisted Warragul October 1916; 26 years old, single, labourer; had been previously rejected on medical grounds; discharged April 1917 with ‘tubercular disease of lung’ and long standing pleurisy.

Cummings, Albert James: enlisted Melbourne May 1918; 18 years old, single, labourer; this was in fact the second enlistment as he had been in AIF for a fortnight in March 1917 before medical discharge; again medically discharged after 2 months when he was described as ‘pale anaemic youth’, with ‘bad physique’. He also suffered chronic bronchitis; an operation to remove adenoid obstruction was recommended but he refused.

Dessent, William Allan: enlisted Warragul late 1916; 25 years old, married, farm labourer; had been previously rejected on medical grounds; discharged after 4 months with complications from appendix operation several years earlier.

Dicker, Percy Hensby: enlisted Melbourne November 1917: 26 years old, single, university student; discharged as medically unfit after 2 months but no details given.

Fisher, George William: complicated case – enlisted 3 times; first in 1914 when he was 21 years old, single and labourer and the last in early 1917; enlisted under 2 names and discharged as medically unfit on each occasion; initial problem was ‘deformed feet’ but later included fainting attacks, palpitations, sweating, headaches and ‘neurasthenia’ and there was also ‘debility following pneumonia’.

Fisher, Percy Charles: enlisted Melbourne February 1916; 34 years old, married, labourer; had been rejected earlier by doctors in Yarram but did not acknowledge this on enlistment in Melbourne; discharged after several months as medically unfit with ‘chronic synovitis of right knee’ from past football injury.

Fitz, Francis: enlisted Foster/Melbourne August 1916: 24 years old, married, fisherman; discharged after one month with defective eyesight.

Godfrey, Reuben Curtis: enlisted Geraldton July 1917; 34 years old, single, farmer: had been previously rejected – eyesight- and on enlistment form a note that ‘extensive dental treatment’ required; discharged in October 1917 as permanently unfit: ’tendency to hernia’.

Goodwin, Walter Lewis: enlisted twice – Maffra January 1915 and Yarram/Melbourne July 1915 – first enlistment discharged because he was underage, on second enlistment there were medical issues with tonsillitis; he as recommended for operation but he refused and was granted a discharge.

Handley, Frank: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne July 1915; 25 years old, single, labourer; medical board discharged him in January 1916 for ‘chronic appendicitis, dating back 5 years; refused operation

Light, Thomas Rueben: enlisted Leongatha March 1916; 27 years old, single, farmer; discharged in July 1916 as medically unfit but no further details.

Lucas, Richard Albert: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne August 1915; 26 years old, single, labourer; discharged after 2+ months because of ‘post operative trouble after appendicitis’ aggravated by military exercises, also -‘has also had measles and influenza since enlistment and is at present suffering from depression’.

Matthews, Oliver George Ewen: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne October 1916; 35 years old, single, saw mill hand; had been previously rejected – ‘teeth’ – at least once; discharged February 1917 with emphysemia.

McKean, Alfred: enlisted Melbourne July 1918; 19 years old, single, farm hand; a very late enlistment and discharged as medically unfit in early November: ‘poor physique’, ’neurosis’ and ‘unlikely to be efficient’.

Mitchell, Walter Laurence: first enlisted Yarram, August 1915 – 33 years old, single, contractor – but then rejected in camp with ‘ill health’; subsequently enlisted again at Warragul in October 1916 – acknowledged earlier rejection – but only lasted 3 months before discharge with ‘chronic asthma’.

Moser, Leonard: first enlisted Wangaratta March 1916; 32 years old, married, engine driver; discharged as medically unfit after 2 months; subsequently enlisted Yarram/Melbourne May 1917 but again discharged as medically unfit after 2+ months.

Parrott, Oliver Joseph: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne July 1917; 21 years old, single, labourer; limited details and no date for discharge but it appears he was in hospital at time of unit’s embarkation and there is no record of overseas service.

Peel, Ernest: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne September 1915; 30 years old, married, farmer; had been previously rejected on medical grounds and was discharged as medically unfit after 2 months with poor eyesight: there was loss of sight in right eye and vision in left eye was defective.

Ratcliffe, Robert James: enlisted Goulburn September 1916; 34 years old, single labourer; discharged after 6 months: ‘acute rheumatism’.

Roberts, Charles Essex: enlisted Toora/Melbourne September 1915; 36 years old, married, farmer/‘bush carpenter’; discharged after 2 months: eye problems

Rooney, John Joseph: enlisted Melbourne February 1916; 44 years old, single, labourer; discharged after 5 months – pre-existing foot injury made worse by army service; but record also noted he was ‘over 45 years of age’; appears he tried again to enlist, unsuccessfully, in 1918 when his age was given as 47 years old.

Rowley, John David: enlisted Melbourne September 1914; 27 years old, single, horse-breaker; only lasted 1 month – ‘not likely to become an efficient soldier’; tried again in May 1916 to enlist, at Yarram, but must have failed medical – appears on list of those rejected by local doctors.

Sims, William Gordon: complex case but, critically, no overseas service; first enlisted Yarram in October 1914; 20 years old, single, butter packer; discharged as medically unfit January 1915, appears to have been ‘goitre’; re-enlisted for home service in April 1916 and served 7 months then discharged, but not on medical grounds; re-enlisted in May 1917 for permanent guard and then discharged at own request in July 1918; then in July 1918 enlists in AIF under alias (Law) not divulging previous service history; admitted to situation in late August 1918 and finally discharged ‘at own request ‘ in December 1918.

Skinner, Evelyn Bruce: enlisted Melbourne January 1917; 35 years old, married, solicitor; discharged by medical board September 1917: ‘chronic otitis media’ – hearing problems for many years previously and had had ‘private treatment for deafness before enlisting.’

Trusler, Ernest George: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne June 1917; 20 years old, single, motor driver; had been previously rejected on medical grounds; discharged as medically unfit April 1918 – ‘r.sided inguinal hernia’ for which he refused operation and was then discharged.

Wilson, James Dennis: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne February 1916; 27 years old, single, labourer; discharged after 5 months – asthma

Wykes, William Alexander: enlisted Melbourne October 1915; 21 years old, single, baker; discharged after 7 months: ‘palpitations on slight exercise’; file indicates there was a significant pre-existing heart condition.

Another group of men I need to remove from the full cohort takes in those who deserted some time after enlistment and prior to embarkation for overseas service. The major qualification here is that possibly some of these men did subsequently enlist but under an alias. What tended to happen with these men is that they did not return from a period of leave, or they just left camp, and after a significant period of being absent without leave there was a committee of enquiry appointed which found that they had been illegally absent. They were then declared to have deserted and a warrant issued for their arrest. At the same time, their service files at least do not give any indication that they ever were apprehended. All these men were of course ‘volunteers’; and, presumably, some of them simply changed their minds and believed they had the right to do so.

Men who deserted (11):

Appleyard, R T: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne February 1916; 34 years old, married, farmer; charged with desertion and struck off strength December 1916.

Claydon, R: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne May 1916; 26 years old, single, labourer; committee of enquiry found him a deserter and struck off strength November 1916.

Fogarty, W H: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne November 1915; 31 years old, single, labourer; absent without leave from February 1916 and in March 1916 declared to have deserted.

Heriot, J: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne September 1915; 26 years old, single, labourer; ‘deserter’ marked on file and warrant issued for arrest November 1915.

Hibbs, A: enlisted Warragul/Melbourne October 1916; 25 years old, single, fisherman; had previously been rejected – chest measurement and bad teeth; absent without leave from early February 1917 and then marked as deserter mid February 1917.

Kennedy, J J: enlisted Melbourne September 1916; 28 years old, single, labourer; absent without leave from mid November 1916 and then declared deserter. Possibly re-enlisted under name of Byrne.

Kenney/Kenny, L A: enlisted Melbourne September 1915; 19 years old, single, jockey; he had previously (September 1914) been rejected on medical grounds by doctors in Yarram; enlistment in September 1915 only lasted 1 month then discharged on medical grounds – ‘chest measurement’; re-enlisted at Sale in February 1916 but was in trouble – absent without leave (numerous) and insubordination – from April 1916 and eventually declared a deserter in mid May 1917. It appears he misrepresented his age and could have been as young as 16 years old when he first enlisted.

Northan, A: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne November 1915; 25 years old, single, farm labourer; absent without leave from early December 1915 and declared a deserter in January 1916. Name also appeared as ‘Northern’.

Rice, C L: enlisted Melbourne June 1916; 18 years old, single, labourer; had previously been rejected by doctors in Yarram; marked absent without leave at time off embarkation (October 1916); oddly, he appeared as awl again – in a different unit – in June 1918 and a court of enquiry in July 1918 determined that he be struck off the strength and declared a deserter.

Rowland, J V: enlisted Korumburra/Melbourne March 1917; 35 years old, single, labourer; limited detail but ‘illegally absent’ from at least 21/11/17 and a court of enquiry on 11/12/17 had him struck off strength as a deserter.

Tolhurst, H W: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne December 1915; 21 years old, single, farm worker; absent without leave from March 1916 and a court of enquiry found him ‘guilty of desertion from 10/4/16’; [see Post 70]

So far we have covered (1) the group of men whose enlistments lasted only a short time before they were discharged as ‘medically unfit’ and (2) the group who deserted in Australia before embarkation. But there are still others we need to remove from the overall cohort if we want to focus exclusively on those men who enlisted in the AIF, embarked for overseas and saw service in either – or both – the Middle East and Europe.

Men who enlisted late in 1918 who were discharged before they embarked for overseas (9):

Berry, William Gordon: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne, September 1918; 35 years old, married, farm labourer; no embarkation and discharged at end of 1918.

Clark, George (Jim): enlisted Yarram/Melbourne July 1918; 20 years old, single, saw mill hand; no embarkation and discharged at end of 1918

Cottrell, James Robert: enlisted Melbourne May 1918; 19 years old, single, dairyman; Influenza (6 weeks) August 1918 and did not embark; discharged at end of 1918.

Curtis, George Albert: enlisted Sale/Melbourne September 1918; 20 years old, single, labourer; no embarkation and discharged at end of 1918.

Harris, Edward Evan: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne September 1918; 20 years old, single, farm labourer; had been previously rejected (knee); did not embark; discharged at end of 1918

Johnson, Larry Gordon: enlisted Melbourne October 1918; 20 years old, single, labourer; did not embark and discharged at end of 1918.

Jones, Gilbert: enlisted Hobart August 1918; 18 years old, single, labourer; had been previously rejected in Yarram – chest measurement; did not embark and discharged at end of 1918.

McAinch, Peter James: enlisted Melbourne November 1918; 18 years old, single, family farm; had been previously rejected at Yarram; did not embark and discharged mid December 1918.

O’Connor, Arthur Mortimer: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne October 1918; 19 years old, single, family farm; did not embark and discharged end of December 1918.

Men on troopships that were recalled (5):

English, James: enlisted Melbourne June 1918; 39 years old, widower, engineer; embarked but troopship recalled and arrived back In Australia January 1919 and discharged February 1919.

Gasson, Silas Randolph: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne August 1918; 22 years old, single, farm labourer; embarked but troopship recalled and discharged end of 1918.

Greenaway, Albert Joseph: enlisted Melbourne August 1918; 38 years old, single, family farm; embarked but troopship recalled and discharged at end of 1918.

Summerfield, James William: enlisted Melbourne May 1918; 20 years old, single, farm labourer; embarked but ship quarantined in Adelaide and then discharged early February 1919.

Turnbull, Roy William: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne July 1918; 19 years old, single, bank clerk; troopship recalled mid December and discharged late January 1919.

Lastly, there are two smaller groups of men who did not see any service overseas:

Men discharged in Australia before embarkation for other reasons (3):

Appleyard, Ernest: enlisted Melbourne March1916; 31 years old, single, farmer; discharged for ‘family reasons’ in October 1916.

Bateman, Harry: enlisted Melbourne March 1915; 35 years old, single, labourer; lasted only 1 month but no medical details recorded.

Connor, Ernest: Lieutenant with commission from December 1914; 42 years old, single, land agent; appointment terminated April 1915; no further details but it is possible there was some form of ‘home service’ later in War.

Men who died of disease in Australia (3):

Mcleod, Leslie John: enlisted Melbourne July 1915; 18 years old, single, clerk; died of disease 29/8/15 – ‘cerebrospinal meningitis’ – on troopship off Fremantle, WA.

Nicholson, James Vernall: enlisted Melbourne July 1915; 22 years old, single, labourer; died of disease 22/9/15 – ‘cerebrospinal meningitis’ – at Alfred Hospital.

Willis, David Geoffrey: enlisted Rosedale/Melbourne July 1915; 26 years old, married, labourer; died of disease 26/8/15 – ‘cerebrospinal meningitis’ – at Alfred Hospital.

The final cohort and a first note on the degree of sacrifice

As indicated, once all these various groups have been removed from the full cohort, the final figure for local men who enlisted in the AIF and embarked for and served overseas is reduced to 753. It is this cohort that will be the focus for the next few posts.

As a quick preview of the picture that will emerge from a statistical survey of the data, the following points are worth noting:

  • 168 men of the cohort of 753 were killed in action, died of wounds or died of disease (22% or 1 in 5)
  • of the 585 men who ‘survived’ the War, roughly 50% (280) or 1 in 2 were discharged from the AIF on medical grounds (‘Medically Unfit”), as the result of either wounds, injury, disease or some other physical or mental disability

A more detailed breakdown will follow in the next couple of posts but, clearly, the experiences of the local men who served overseas came to define the very meaning of ‘sacrifice’.


The data and personal details come from the individual service files of the men.

National Archives of Australia

220. Soldier settlement: a scheme of best intentions designed with inherent weaknesses

This post basically looks at the unfolding problems that came from the very design of the soldier settlement scheme. In particular, the focus is on the mismatch between the best of ideological intentions and the historical and economic realities of closer settlement.

Misplaced optimism at the start of the soldier settlement scheme

At the start of 1921 there was a generally optimistic assessment of the soldier settlement scheme. However, within just a few years circumstances changed dramatically; and the Victorian Government established a Royal Commission (1925) to investigate the scheme, against the consensus that it faced major difficulties, if, in fact, it had not failed completely.

An article in the South Gippsland Chronicle in January 1921 (21/1/21) summed up the optimism at the start of the third year of the scheme. There was positive commentary on the quality of the men themselves:

In districts where returned soldiers are settled, they have created a highly favorable impression. They are showing a marked aptitude for their new calling, and working earnestly and energetically with a fixed determination to succeed.

There was the conviction that the scheme was going to be a success and that the level of inevitable failures in any form of closer settlement would be manageable:

From present indications the percentage of failures will be small, much smaller than might be expected. The State will greatly benefit by the increased production that will result from placing returned soldiers on the land.

Overall, in a time of good seasons and strong demand for more land to accommodate the great number of potential settlers, the future of the scheme looked very positive:

A satisfactory feature of the good season is that it will enable returned soldiers who have gone on the land to make an auspicious commencement in farming. Those who have embarked on either wheat growing or dairying, and they constitute the majority, could not have done so at a better time. These industries are enjoying a year of unprecedented prosperity, and both are in a buoyant condition, as up to the close of 1920,1,419,589 acres was purchased for repatriation purposes, at a prime cost of £10,821,676. At the end of November 6,540 men were placed on farms, and land is available, or is being made available, for 2,268 more.

Notwithstanding the optimism, there were also hard lessons from the long history of closer settlement schemes in Victoria generally and Gippsland specifically. True, the soldier settlement scheme post WW1 had two major positives associated with it. The first was the high degree of government – at all three levels of commonwealth, state and local – support for and encouragement of the scheme, where the support was driven by what amounted to ideological conviction, with a strong sense of a national debt being repaid. The second, and it obviously related to the ideological conviction of the first, took in the make up of the settlers themselves: the soldier settlers embodied all the attributes, experiences and skills that had created the success of the Anzacs. They were the best of the best. This was a closer settlement scheme that could not fail.

But there were plenty of warnings and, specifically, the history of closer settlement in the Shire was not something that could be ignored. In fact, at the time, there was a very obvious example of settlement failures in the district. It was the focus of much attention. The local papers featured stories through 1921 about settlers abandoning their blocks in the ‘Hill Country’ in South Gippsland. This area had been opened up to closer settlement from the late 19C. The settlers found the clearing of the land – it was very hilly with enormous gullies; and covered in massive eucalypts with a dense understory of smaller trees, shrubs and ferns – extremely difficult, and far more demanding than that involved in the earlier history of selection in the Shire, dating from the 1860s. The Hill Country took in settlements at Woorarra and Gunyah from the 1890s. In the first decade of the 20C it also included settlements such as Binginwarri, Wonyip, Whitelaw’s Track, Womerah, Fairview (Hiawatha), Madalya and Lower Bulga/Mack’s Creek. But, as noted, even as these new settlements were being established, earlier settlers in the Hill Country were abandoning their blocks.

In April 1921 (29/4/21), the South Gippsland Chronicle ran a story under the headline, Abandoned Hill blocks. It reported on a deputation of settlers from the Gunyah area who wanted the Minister of Lands to take action over what was described as ’34,000 acres of land that had been abandoned by the original holders’. One of the key issues was that the abandoned land was now held by financial institutions and private mortagees who were effectively under no compulsion to maintain it, in the sense of controlling noxious weeds and vermin. The deputation believed that the land in this abandoned state, without new settlers to take it up, would continue to degrade. They wanted the vacant blocks picked up by either soldier settlers or immigrants:

It was urged that this land was valuable for the settlement of returned soldiers or immigrants, and that if an area of 7500 acres recently swept by bush fires and now ready for sowing were not taken up and cultivated out kept cleared it would go back to the virgin state and be difficult and expensive to reclaim.

Even though the blocks had been abandoned by the original settlers, the deputation was still convinced that a new group of settlers could succeed. They argued that the soil was fertile and that 150 acres was sufficient land for a successful holding. What was needed was ‘the right class of man’. The deputation from Gunyah also drew attention to the need for government support with the provision of adequate roads. Both the lack of roads, and the poor quality of the existing ones, were constant concerns throughout this period.

later in 1921, there was legislation to encourage closer settlement in South Gippsland, in what was described as an area of 40,000 acres. Essentially, it was land that had been abandoned by settlers who had struggled for ten to fifteen years. In line with what historians refer to as the ‘Agrarian Myth’ of colonial Australia, the target audience for the new scheme were immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland and British Dependencies. Principally, the myth was underpinned by the belief that there was a symbiotic relationship between Australia and Britain, one stream of which involved the excess population of Britain serving as the essential labour force for Australia’s rural industries to help boost primary production.

The critical observation here is that at the very time the soldier settlement scheme was implemented in the Shire of Alberton- and Victoria, generally – there was direct experience of significant failure associated with very recent and ongoing attempts at closer settlement. Admittedly, the soldier settlement scheme was different, chiefly because the settlers were Anzacs and, also, there was such a commitment to its success from all levels of government and the local populace. However, sitting behind such ideological conviction and commitment, there were very powerful forces and limitations that had compromised all previous instances of closer settlement.

Based on recent history, people at the time knew the complex and interrelated host of factors that determined success or failure in terms of closer settlement. Briefly, there was a set of ‘natural’ factors that took in characteristics such as the quality of the soil, the rainfall, the nature and degree of the essential land ‘clearing’ required. Then there were the issues specific to the individual farm selected. These included such as the size of the holding, the topography, the way the sub division had been created and what that meant in terms of such basic issues as the individual farm’s access to water and roads. There was another set of factors in relation to the individual settler and his family which covered characteristics such as the level of experience and expertise and the amount of family labour available. There was also the issue of the level of support from the wider family or local community that the individual settler and family could call on. Related to such personal factors, there were issues to do with the proximity to local townships and community facilities, particularly to local state schools. The quality of the season(s) obviously played a role. So too did the reality of changing markets for farm produce. And, critically, there was the issue of capital. Limited capital – and this was a very common experience – meant that there was no ‘buffer’ to absorb any of the inevitable financial shocks that occurred. And just as there was no capital to absorb any losses, there was also no capital to invest in essential stock, seed, supplies, farming equipment, fencing ….. which were all required for the farm to grow, or even survive.

Abandoned blocks in the Shire of Alberton

The following section examines several specific examples of individual soldier settlers in the Shire of Alberton who, for one reason or another, abandoned their blocks. The cases show the myriad of factors that drove such a fateful decision.

John William Cantwell (607)

Sometimes, there was no indication why the block was abandoned, just a reference to the fact that it had happened. Consider the case of the local ex-soldier John Cantwell. In the Shire Archives, there is a letter (9/4/23) from Black to Inspector Ford, who was based at Foster, advising him that urgent action was required in relation to the block that Cantwell had abandoned:

The house on Cantwell’s abandoned block in the Parish of Bulga is in danger of destruction by fire. Cr Barlow recommends that Mr. Robt. McKenzie, who is an applicant for the block, be placed in charge of the property.

Cr Barlow was in charge of the relevant local evaluation committee. In this instance the recommendation was adopted by the CSB, with the proviso that McKenzie paid rent on Cantwell’s former property at the rate of 10/- per week.

John William Cantwell was a local from Stacey’s Bridge who had enlisted as a 21 yo in September 1914. He had worked on his father’s farm. His service overseas (4 LHR) was extensive and he returned to Australia at the end of 1918 on Anzac leave. He was discharged in early 1919. There was a significant service history of sickness and hospitalisation, and he had suffered no fewer than 3 bouts of malaria over the course of his overseas service.

Files in the Shire Archives indicate that Cantwell received land – 169 acres – in Sutton’s Estate, Bulga in December 1920. One year later, there is correspondence relating to his request for an advance to purchase essential dairying equipment: a ‘separator’ for £30 and ‘cream cans’ for £5/15/-. As was usual with such requests, the chair of the local valuation committee – in this case, J H Connor of Woodside (Cr O’Connor, North Riding #2) – was asked for his assessment of the request. In a letter to Black (16/12/21) he replied:

I have no hesitation in recommending the advance [for separator etc] mentioned for Cantwell as he is a good doer & would not go in for anything that was not necessary.

Clearly, the start of Cantwell’s stint as a soldier settler was promising and he had support from the local valuation committee, but for whatever reason, just two years later, his block had been abandoned.

Reginald Box (4577)

The case involving Box, serves as a stark example of the level of debt that soldier settlers had to service. It also shows how such debt continued to follow them even after they had abandoned their block.

Reginald Box was born in Kent, UK. He enlisted as a 21 yo in Melbourne in June 1915. He gave his occupation at the time of enlistment as ‘motor driver’. He was not local to the Shire of Alberton.

Box was discharged from the AIF as ‘medically unfit’ (neurasthenia) in October 1916. He first appears in the soldier settlement files of the Shire Archives in February 1922 when he was allotted land in the parish of Tarra Tarra. The files also show that he was given advances to set himself up in mixed farming. In fact, the files show exactly what sort of advances were given by the Closer Settlement Board, with the approval of the local valuation committee. They also indicate the extent of debt that could be very quickly built up. In the case of Box, there were advances for cows (£96), horses (£45), a disc plow (£45/10/-), cream cans and buckets (£13/2/-), a spring cart (£20), a separator (£20), harrows (£9/5/-) and a harness (£15/17/-). With little or no capital, the soldier settlers were forced to take on very high levels of debt simply to begin farming. With Box, the debt continued to grow because later (October) that same year he needed further advances for grass seed (£3/15/- ) and manure (£2/18/9). At the start of 1923, there was even approval of an advance for the purchase of ‘light lorry’. The acquisition of the vehicle had been recommended by the CSB Inspector. But this advance was later cancelled. Presumably, Box had found the ever increasing level of debt unsustainable. Or perhaps Black, as the middle-man who was overseeing the advances and the one with an awareness of the farm’s success or otherwise, began to raise concerns. It is also worth noting that, at least for the first part of 1922, Box was also receiving sustenance.

It appears that Box gave up his block towards the end of 1923. In effect, he lasted less than two years.

As an indication of how close the relations were between the individual soldier settler and local officials, Box actually wrote to his local valuation committee, via Black as Shire Secretary, in March 1924 (25/3/24). He was hoping to enlist help in his dispute with the CSB over the size of his debt. At that point, Box was living in Sydney. He explained that after giving up his block he had been unable to find work, first in Yarram and then Melbourne. In Sydney, he and his wife were running a small shop, thanks to family contacts, but they were ‘only struggling along’.

In his letter, Box explained that on the farm he had been assisted by his brother and wife, and that none of them had taken any holidays. He also made a point of stating that he had tried to avoid debt, noting that … all I was able to repay I did so, as we were very anxious to keep out of debt.

Box suggests in the letter that towards the end of 1923 it was made clear to him that he would have to quit his block. But there was an issue with the the harvesting of his crop(s). He states that he was given to believe that if he stayed and harvested the crop then he could leave the farm pretty well debt-free. However, because he stayed on to do this he had been charged with another year’s insurance:

Owing to my having to wait for the Board to decide about the crop we were unable to leave by the end of the year, this is evidently the reason a second years insurance has been put down to me.

After being given to understand that if I waited to cut the crop that I would come out equal, you may imagine this huge bill has come as a great shock.

In his conclusion, Box expressed gratitude to the local valuation committee and noted the effort and savings that had gone into his attempt to become a successful soldier settler:

We did not get more than absolutely necessary implements etc, which were all left on the farm. If you make enquiries around the district I think you will hear we were hard workers all three of us.

I spent all our hard earned savings to get the farm.

I wish to thank the Local Committee for their kind help and advice.

Box included in his letter a copy of the notice he had received form the CSB detailing the debt he owed. The request for payment was dated 13/3/24. The itemised account included advances for stock (£227/7/0), implements (£86/19/3) seed, even an architect’s commission for house plans (£3/6/0). There was also a separate item for interest on advances ( £20/19/10). The same account also detailed credits for Box. These included improvements he had carried out to the property (approx. £200) and the sale of his assets that had been left on the block (approx. £200 ). The transfer of equipment on Box’s property to other settlers brought in another £100. In all, Box was left owing approx. £300, an amount which he stated he could not repay.

Black felt the need to respond to Box and, presumably after contacting Cr Christensen who chaired the relevant local valuation committee (South Riding #2), he replied on 4/4/24. Black offered some hope, but it is not known how the matter was resolved.

Your letter of the 25th ult., together with the copy of the Closer Settlement Board’s letter of the 13th ult. which you enclosed, was brought under the notice of Cr Christensen. He advises that you write to the Board on the same lines as your letter to the Local Committee, and feels sure that when the Board is aware of your circumstances they will not deal harshly with you.

The case highlighted how even after abandoning the block, the very real consequences of the failure dogged the former soldier settler: abandoning the block did not mean abandoning the debt. This was to be an issue the 1925 Royal Commission struggled with.

James Tyson Seagrave (51468) and Thomas Stanley Stubbings (2325)

Amongst other matters, this case highlights how major adjustments and improvements could be made after a block was abandoned. In a real sense it was a case of taking advantage of an abandonment to fine tune original decisions.

Neither Seagrave nor Stubbings was local to the Shire of Alberton. Seagrave was born in Tasmania. When he enlisted in Ararat, in December 1917, he gave his occupation as bank accountant. He was single and thirty-six years old. He did not reach France until October 1918. After the War, in the UK, there were several periods of hospitalisation with mental health issues (’delusional insanity’). He returned to Australia in late January 1920 and was discharged in mid April 1920 as ‘medically unfit’: ‘psychasthenia (post Influenza)’ [obsessive-compulsive disorder].

Stubbings was born at Taradale, near Castlemaine. He enlisted in Melbourne in December 1915. He was twenty-two years old and single and he gave his occupation as ‘farm labourer’. He served in the Middle East throughout the War. He was returned to Australia in August 1919 and discharged (TPE) the next month.

Both Seagrave and Stubbings received land in the parish of Tarra Tarra in March 1922. They were to farm on neighbouring properties.

Seagrave did not last long. He had abandoned his block by mid October 1922, not much more than 6 months after it was allocated. We know he had abandoned the block from a letter Black wrote to the CSB on 18/10/22. It appears that Seagrave had contracted to erect a house on his allotment. But now that he had abandoned his block, Black was keen to have the same house erected on Stubbings’ block. In the letter, Black specifically noted that Seagrave had ‘abandoned his block’. Black wrote:

It is believed that the contractor is agreeable to carry out the contract, erecting the house on Stubbings’ block instead of on Seagrave’s. Carting is a big item on account of the wet weather, and it would therefore be difficult for Stubbings to cart material at the present time. He and his wife are living in great discomfort, and appear to be people who are trying their hardest to make good. For these reasons Cr Barlow [chair of relevant local valuation committee] directs me to state that he strongly urges that Stubbings’ request be acceded to, and the house erected his block at the earliest possible date.

The following month, Black wrote another letter to the CSB (20/11/22). Black explained that Cr Barlow had informed him that there was … no permanent water on the block held by Mr Stubbings. Given that Seagrave’s block had been abandoned, Stubbings had requested that he be allowed … to access water in one of the springs located on Seagrave’s (adjoining) block. It appears that there were 3 such springs on Seagrave’s block but none of Stubbings’. In fact, Cr Barlow had gone further and argued that 10 acres needed to be taken from Seagrave’s allotment and transferred to Stubbings’ allotment. The 10 acres would cover one of the springs. According to Barlow … there will be about sufficient fresh water from this spring to supply the stock on No. 2 [Stubbings], and the other two springs on No.1 [Seagrave] will leave an ample supply for that allotment. Black closed his letter to the CSB with the request that they … give this proposal consideration, as the provision of permanent water on no. 2 [Stubbings] will be a matter of some difficulty. On 3/1/24 the CSB advised Black that the matter had been referred to the District Surveyor.

Harry John Jenkins (1537)

Jenkins was another soldier settler who was not local to the Shire of Alberton. He had been born in Tasmania and he enlisted there as a 21 yo in November 1914. At the time he gave his occupation as ‘sailor’. In France, in July 1916, he was badly wounded – GSW right thigh, severe – and repatriated to hospital in the UK. He was then returned to Australia in mid 1917 and discharged as medically unfit in February 1918.

He was allotted land – 188 acres – in the parish of Tarra Tarra in March 1922. However, within just three months he had abandoned his property.

In the Shire Archives there is a note by Black dated 22/6/23 in which he outlines the situation with Jenkins. The detail is obviously based on a conversation with Jenkins’ wife:

Mrs Jenkins called and stated that Jenkins’ war wounds had broken out again, and he had to leave for hospital that day. She thought he would have to give up his block, and stated they had written to the Board about a fortnight ago and given them the information, and asked what they would do with the purchase. There were two horses on block and one at Alberton, harness on block, and some at Waddington’s, ordered but not taken delivery of, and plough and harrows which were at Alberton Station. Told her to wait a few days before any further action was taken, as she might hear from the Board in the meantime.

Four days later there is another note (26/6/22):

Inspector Ritchie called, and went to see Mrs Jenkins. Called next day and said Jenkins was giving up, and asking if plough & harrows could be left at Shire Hall. Agreed to suggestion. On June 19, 1922, Jenkins left harrows, which were placed in shed at corner of Shire Hall.

It appears that Jenkins formally started to transfer his holding in late August 1922. Documents in his PROV file include a medical certificate dated 21/8/22 indicating he was ‘unfit for farm work at present’. There was also a note from Jenkins himself:

H. J. Jenkins
Allot 19

Tarra Tarra – O’Connors & Matches land
Owing to ill health (doctor’s certificate attached) I am compelled to give up my block. I am going into the Caulfield Military Hospital on 26th inst to undergo treatment for my leg and foot. My intention is to pay the deficiency on my block when I am well enough to work; possession of the land can be given at any time as I left the block about 5 weeks ago.

The last reference suggests Jenkins abandoned the block in mid July 1922. There was another note in the file, dated 25/8/22:

Mr Jenkins states horses are still on the allot. Plough harrows & swings are with Shire Secretary, Yarram. Buggy Harness with F Woods adjoining settler.

The Closer Settlement Board accepted Jenkins’ ‘application to surrender the above mentioned allotment’ on 31/8/22.

One obvious question to emerge from this case is why Jenkins, with significant wounds, was even considered for the scheme. By any measure, the odds were stacked against his success. It was an issue everyone at the time was aware of; and it was definitely not restricted to only a limited number of cases. In its findings, the 1925 Royal Commission highlighted both the issue, including the rationale for including men like Jenkins:

The cry was that every soldier should get a chance if he desired to go on the land, especially if he were suffering from war injuries, it being supposed that his health would benefit by living in the country. (p8)

Samuel Francis Coulthard (2159)

Coulthard was a resident at North Devon, and had lived in the district all his life. He was 33 yo when he enlisted in April 1916. He had also served in the Boer War. He gave his occupation as labourer. He completed 713 days of service, 586 of which were served overseas. He was discharged as ‘medically unfit’ – chronic bronchitis – in April 1918. He received a pension of 15/- per week. On his application for soldier settlement he had stated that he was ‘fit to do ordinary farm work.’

Coulthard was granted land – 100 acres – at Ballooong (Creedmore Estate) in April 1919. He requested funds to erect a 3 roomed house. He also requested advances to purchase stock – dairy cows – plus utensils and farm implements.

There is no indication of what went wrong but Coulthard had abandoned his block by January 1921. In the Shire Archives, there is correspondence from Black to the CSB, dated 26/1/21, indicating that he had had word that Coulthard had left his block. Black recommended that another soldier settler be appointed as caretaker of the property.

Cr Barlow has heard that S. Coulthard has finally left his block, 3 Creedmore Estate, Balloong, and that no one is in charge. He suggests that James Austin, who is on the adjoining block, Allotment 2, be appointed caretaker until further arrangements are made. As far as Cr Barlow is aware nothing belonging to the Board has been removed from the property.

The last reference in the brief note highlights the difficulties authorities had in terms of tracking plant, equipment, stock etc when settlers, in effect, walked off their holdings and just left everything as it was.

Despite Black’s recommendation, Austin was not appointed caretaker. Instead the land went to C. S. Cooling. Black noted that … this property was transferred to C. S. Cooling.

Carl Seale Cooling was not a local. He has a PROV file and in it is a letter he wrote to the CSB applying to be caretaker ‘of the property forfeited by S. F. Coulthard of Woodside’. Cooling indicated that he was an applicant for the land, and that he was married and that he and his wife were currently ‘living under great inconvenience’ in Woodside. Cooling also claimed that if the land was not looked after it would deteriorate very quickly. This was another case where the failure of one soldier settler was quickly followed by yet another attempt.

All the above cases sketch some of the reasons for failure. The health of the soldier settlers was clearly an issue, particularly where they carried serious wounds or other debilitating sickness from the War. It seems remarkable that men discharged as ‘medically unfit’ could even be considered as capable of handling the physical effort. At the same time, given the rationale behind the very scheme – a reward for those young men who had given so much – it would have been difficult to deny the involvement of those who had sacrificed even more than others. The accumulation of debt was also another clear problem. All those involved, at the level of both the CSB and the local valuation committees, wanted the scheme to succeed and the individual men to be able to make a go of it, and therefore they were keen for the men to be set up as best they could be. But the setting up – in a market where prices had been inflated by government money – required the men to incur levels of debt that were, in effect, unsustainable. Other essential problems with the scheme highlighted in the cases above include the very creation of the sub-divisions, whereby some blocks posed far greater risks than other, for example, blocks that had limited access to water.

One feature that the above examples also demonstrate was that even though failure was an ongoing reality there was always another soldier settler prepared to take on the failed block and try to make a go of it. Moreover, the very process of failure actually provided some limited ‘correction’ process where local authorities provided the CSB with recommendations to improve the actual holding and increase the chance of the new settler’s success.

Commonly experienced problems raised by soldier settlers

While all the above cases represent individual failure, each with its own particular combination of factors, there were instances where the soldier settlers presented a common voice on the problems they faced with the scheme, and where they called for structural and system-wide improvement.

There was a Soldier Settlers’ Association in place in Woodside by 1921. In March that year the association highlighted the problem of falling prices for stock and produce. There was a report in the South Gippsland Chronicle on 16/3/21that indicated the soldier settlers knew that … the only means by which soldier farmers could hope to be successful was by raising more and better (especially better) stock and growing heavier crops. The association believed that ... Farming in the Woodside district was of a low order, and to ensure success it was necessary to bring more thorough and scientific methods of soil treatment into use, than had ever been attempted. What was significant was this realisation by the soldier settlers that farming practices in the district needed to improve if they were to succeed. They wanted support from the Agricultural Department. The same article also featured more general criticism of the Closer Settlement Board. There were complaints about letters not being answered in a timely manner. In fact, there was a claim that the way the CSB dealt with the soldier settlers was so unbusinesslike that the men were sometimes forced to … to break the regulations under which they were settled in order to avoid monetary loss.

An earlier article in the same paper (4/2/21) made it clear that the soldier settlers in Woodside had significant issues and were keen to lobby government. On this occasion, Thomas Livingston – he was, at the time, the State minister in charge of agriculture – and officers from the ‘Crown Lands Investigation Committee’ were visiting the Shire:

Quite a number of returned soldiers have taken up areas of resumed lands round about Woodside, and they have been nursing their grievances for some time, waiting a favourable opportunity for their ventilation.

Principally, Livingston was there to promote the government’s extension of the railroad to Won Wron. Yet another article in the South Gippsland Chronicle from the time (11/2/21) highlights how the soldier settlers at Woodside had been lobbying for the extension of the railway not just to Won Wron but to Woodside as well. Won Wron required another 15 miles of rail from Yarram; and Woodside would require a further 9 miles. For the soldier settlers at Woodside, the hope was that the railway would cut transport costs. Current transport costs meant that it was uneconomic to cart produce to Yarram. And even if the settlers could afford the exorbitant costs, the existing road system meant that there was no guarantee that the produce could be moved.

At the public meeting at which Livingston spoke, the settlers at Woodside lobbied him for the railway extension to Woodside on the basis that while the district had so much potential to thrive, it was being held back by the lack of the railway. For his part, Livingston promised the meeting that he would look at the claims, with the interests of the soldier settlers in mind. But he pointed out that the current priority was to complete the 15 miles to Won Wron. He also indicated that the cost of this railway extension had doubled from 1915 and that the current estimate was £100,000. At the end of 1921 the extension of the railway to Won Wron was completed; and eighteen months later (June, 1923), the line did reach Woodside. There was even talk of extending the line through to Sale but the proposal was never seen as viable; and, in fact, losses on the Woodside line began to accrue soon after it opened. Indeed, notwithstanding the demands of locals and the significant expenditure of public money, from the mid 1920s the history of railway in the Shire of Alberton was essentially one of service cuts and line rationalisation.

Another example of the soldier settlers publicly raising concerns about the soldier settler scheme came in a letter to the editor in The Argus on 25/4/24. It was from the sub branch of the Mirboo RSSILA and it appeared under the heading, Soldier Settlers in Gippsland.

The group was critical of the CSB and its perceived indifference to the plight of the soldier settlers. The letter claimed that … the agitation amongst soldier settlers has arisen because they are not progressing under present conditions and cannot see any hope in being successful. On this occasion, the key problem was seen as the price of land. the claim was that the land had been purchased by the CSB at too high a price, and it was often unsuitable for dairying and mixed farming.

The contention is that much land has been purchased at too high a price. Some of it is quite unsuitable for dairying and mixed farming and some is in such a bad state that capital is needed before it will become productive.

The letter also identified the problem with abandoned blocks:

Abandoned blocks are going back, and ferns and rabbits are taking possession.

It also gave a very negative prediction of the overall success of the scheme:

Leave things as they are and our contention is that more than 50 per cent of the men will be compelled to leave their holdings, and the land will go back to a quarter of its present value if left alone for any length of time.

And it posed a question that was taxing everyone:

Will the country, we ask, allow its heroes to fail?

The Royal Commission investigates

The Royal Commission visited many rural areas to gain a first-hand experience of the problems of the scheme. It visited Seaspray (Prospect Estate, Curtis Estate) in May 1925. The visit was written up in the Gippsland Times on 4/5/25. Not surprisingly, one of the major problems raised with the commission was the ‘lack of good roads and railway facilities’ . The soldier settlers complained of being 21 miles from the nearest railway station and … the condition of the road [to Sale] added materially to the cost of cartage.

Besides this basic issue of transport, the settlers also claimed that they had been misled about the average rainfall rate. They claimed they had been told it was 24 inches but the reality was that from 1920 it had not been more than 18 inches and that as a result … there is insufficient grass feed for nine months of the year.

There were some specific concerns raised in relation to Curtis Estate. The settlers told the commission that the land could carry only one sheep per 3 acres and that it needed to be improved, but that this was very expensive. Also, there were major issues with the amount of vermin.

In addition to the transport problems, the poor rainfall, the inferior quality of the land itself and the problem of vermin, the soldier settlers at Seaspray also pointed out that they were at the mercy of the market place. Specifically, they cited the problem for dairy farmers where the current value of butterfat was less than the cost of producing it. The article noted that the men had calculated that an income of £400 per annum was required to ‘keep the farm going’; but they could not achieve this figure and consequently their financial position, year by year, was deteriorating. This downward spiral also meant, of course, that they could not repay the Closer Settlement Board. They were effectively trapped by debt.

The 1925 Royal Commission: metaphors on the tangled fishing line and unchartered seas

Certainly, by the point the Royal Commission (Royal Commission on Soldier Settlement) was set up, the many problems associated with the soldier settlement scheme were well known. For a start, there was the very problematic history of previous (closer) settlement ventures; and the level of abandoned blocks in South Gippsland was commonly highlighted. Specifically in relation to the soldier settlement scheme, there was the fundamental issue of the suitability of the men involved. Then there were all the issues to do with the land: the quality of the land purchased for the scheme; the size of the holdings; the creation of the estates and the viability of the individual blocks; the price paid by the CSB for the land and the related cost passed on to the settler. There was also a raft of interrelated economic issues covering everything from the (over) availability of credit to changing market conditions, limited access to labour, unmanageable debt accumulation and, most significantly, the lack of capital the men were able to bring to the enterprise. And there were even more specific, and often more localised, issues such as the challenge of clearing land: the incidence of vermin and weeds etc. The lack of transport was another well known problem and it covered everything from the lack of access to the railway to the appalling condition of local roads. There were issues driven by the distance the men and their families had to live from townships and essential services. And there were environmental issues including rainfall, bush fires etc.

One of the more interesting aspects of the findings of the Royal Commission was the assertion that the scheme had been set up with so many inherent contradictions, and the problems that had arisen were interrelated in such complex ways, that it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to identify solutions, or even improvements. The majority report of the commissioners included significant qualifications on any immediate solution and pointed to a very long future of remediation:

The process of bringing Soldier Settlement into a solvent and satisfactory position will be a long one. There is no easy road by which that end can be attained. The difficulties to be surmounted are great, and it will mean long, patient, and anxious toil on the part of those to whom the task is committed, if great injustice to individual settlers is to be avoided, as well as large preventable financial losses to the State. (p19)

In other parts, the commissioners were even more direct:

There is a widespread opinion in the community that the ills of soldier settlement will be cured if only some scheme can be found, bold in conception and simple in execution, involving of course the expenditure of a large sum of money. Find the plan, let Parliament in a generous way throw a few more millions into the Soldier Settlement Fund, and we need no longer lend an attentive ear to the complaints of soldier settlers.

If we could satisfy this demand, we would no doubt deserve and receive the grateful thanks of our fellow countrymen. The possibility of a solution of the problem on these lines has been explored to the best of our ability, but we have been reluctantly forced to the conclusion that there is no such practical plan that would not create in its application as many anomalies as it would remove. Unfortunately, the nature of the facts rules out such treatment. The position may be likened to a tangled fishing line which is to be straightened out, not by violent and impatient tugs, but by the appropriate handling of each knot, with infinite care to avoid making new ones, while the sharp knife of the irresponsible onlooker is kept at a safe distance. As to the cost of unravelment, it is futile to pretend that it can be ascertained now.

There are several classes of cases where the proper remedy for one group would be quite ineffective in others. Here the price charged for land should be reduced, there an extension of time to repay advances and arrears would be sufficient. In many cases the claimant need is more land; in others relief might best be given by a re-adjustment of the settler’s total indebtedness to the Board. In some cases two or more of these remedies may have to be combined. (p18)

In fact, there were many metaphors to describe the difficulties of the challenge. Faced with the issue of men who had accumulated so much debt that there was no hope of them ever being successful, the commissioners had to balance the reality of the men’s position, including both the hardship they faced and their service to the Nation, with the integrity of debt, legally and knowingly incurred. They came up with another metaphor to describe what they referred to as a ‘contradiction’:

In a sense soldier settlement is not solely a business proposition, and cannot be dealt with as such. At the same time it would be disastrous for our country if it were admitted that contracts should be treated as scraps of paper whenever they become difficult to carry out. We are thus confronted with a contradiction, and the way to reconciliation lies somewhere in between. Hence the unavoidable vagueness of some of our recommendations. The course lies across an imperfectly charted sea, through many reefs and shoals, and shifting sands called prices. The ship was hastily equipped, but it is well manned, and we believe will ultimately be brought safely into port. (p27)

The Royal Commission was keen to line up the soldier settlement scheme with earlier closer settlement schemes. In its report, it specifically included the following brief history:

When the question arose of establishing discharged soldiers on the land the Closer Settlement plan then existing in Victoria was simple in theory.

The State was called upon to finance that scheme only indirectly. The cost of the machinery by which suitable men who had saved a little money were helped to become small land-owners, was to be borne by themselves. The State merely lent the strength of its credit and organised the undertaking.

In other words, the scheme was financially self-contained and self-supporting. The State borrowed the money required at a low rate of interest, directed the purchase of the necessary lands, and allotted them amongst the chosen applicants, who were charged with all the costs, including principal and interest and the services pertaining thereto.

The repayments were spread over a long period of years, carrying a rate of interest and a loading calculated to cover the cost of administration, as well as the principal and interest the State had to pay to the bond-holders who supplied the money.(p6)

As already noted, it was hardly the case that earlier closer settlement schemes had been problem-free. But the point the commissioners were labouring was that previous schemes had carefully managed the State’s exposure to financial risk. The soldier settlement scheme, on the other hand, significantly shifted the risk to the State. The Commission went to lengths to explain why this transfer of risk had occurred.The scheme was conceived, both politically and socially, as a means of repaying the enormous debt owed to the men who had volunteered and served overseas. It was assumed that, as yet another form of closer settlement, there would be significant benefits in terms of the growth of settlement, increased primary productivity, reduced unemployment and the overall generation of wealth; but the commonly understood rationale for the program, at all levels of government, across all parties and in the community generally was that the scheme represented a ‘reward’ for ‘service’.

This focus meant that the requirements of eligibility in the scheme – critically, the need to secure the all-important Qualification Certificate – were administered ‘liberally’. The argument, referred to earlier, was that all men should have the chance. As the Commission itself put, specifically in relation to the issuing of the QC:

The cry was that every soldier should get a chance if he desired to go on the land, especially if he were suffering from war injuries, it being supposed that his health would benefit by living in the country. At the same time there was strong public demand that the work should be done quickly; and it is surprising, not that there have been many mistakes, but that there were so few.(p8)

Data that the Commission included in its report showed that 21,086 (Victorian) ex-soldiers applied for the QC and 16,633 (79%) were successful in securing it. However, the same data revealed that the number of men who went on to become soldier settlers was 10,565 which meant that nearly 6,000 men who gained the QC did not pursue the scheme or were unsuccessful in their bid to secure a block. Interestingly the number of soldier settlers on the land – and this was up to 1924 – represented only 13.5% of all the (Victorian) ‘returned men’ (77,850).

The Commission also argued that the focus on the best interests of the returned men was also behind another inherent weakness of the scheme. Basically, the State was required to purchase properties which in any other closer settlement scheme it would not have considered because of the cost involved. The soldier settlement scheme featured a significant, inbuilt additional cost, one that was ultimately passed on to the men. In the words of the Commission … it was decided that, as far as possible, a soldier desirous of settling on the land should be given an opportunity to establish his home among his relations and old associates, and not have to seek a selection in perhaps some remote part of the state. This entailed the purchase of lands in all parts of the country where no Crown lands were available. (p8)

The claim is interesting for two reasons. First it assumes that the soldier settlers were coming from a farming background. Second it suggests that soldier settlers were granted blocks in the areas where they had grown up. However, my research on the Shire of Alberton, as limited as it has been, indicates that certainly not all soldier settlers came from a farming background. Also, while there were many locals who returned to the Shire as soldier settlers, there were many other soldier settlers in the district who had no local background.

As far as the Commission was concerned, another key failing of the soldier settlement scheme, compared to previous closer settlement schemes, involved the question of capital. Whereas previous schemes had been based on the assumption that the settler would have some personal capital to bring to the enterprise, the political imperative for the soldier settlement scheme was that the lack of such capital could not be used to deny any former soldier the chance to participate. The Commission noted the inherent problem:

The second important fact to bear in mind is that it was the deliberate policy of the country then deeply moved by a feeling of gratitude, that lack of capital was to be no bar to a soldier’s chance of getting land, should he prove himself to be otherwise suitable. The teaching of past experience of Closer Settlement, that most of their troubles arose through settlers starting with too little capital, was quietly ignored. (p7)

Overall, the problems faced by the soldier settlement scheme stemmed from the fact that, as a form of closer settlement, it had ignored previous critical learnings. Principally, this failing had come from the manifestly political, if not ideological, rationale for the program. Moreover, as the commissioners well knew, the problems inherent in the scheme were not amenable to any quick or easy political resolution: a dilemma they expressed in terms of metaphors. In fact, the problems were to persist well beyond this Royal Commission, for another two decades.

One final, interesting insight from the Royal Commission touches on the sensitive issue of the character of the soldier settlers. Effectively, the 1925 Royal Commission represented the first, formal and considered assessment of the quality of the returned men who became soldier settlers. The background, of course, was the universal conviction that all the returned men, the Anzacs, were the best of the best Australians. They all deserved the chance to become soldier settlers and the success of the scheme would come down to the outstanding quality of the men who took up the blocks. Typically, the commissioners were prepared to push this line:

We have met many of the settlers in different parts of the State, and have been highly impressed by their general bearing. They are a fine body of men of whom our country can justly be proud, and it will not be their fault if a large majority do not win through to success. (p9)

But in all the forms of failure associated with the scheme, as highlighted by the Royal Commission, there had to be some analysis of the quality of the men themselves. While it was not a key focus of the report, there is some indication of the importance of the issue. For example, there was a detailed table that examined the number of men who ‘had gone off their blocks’ over the period from 1917 to 1924 . The simple analysis employed 4 categories to cover the circumstances: abandoned, surrendered, forfeited and transferred. In all, the 4 categories came to 1,870 men.

Each of the four categories appeared to represent different types of men. The ‘transferred’ category (395) were men who transferred blocks, and as the report put it … nearly always did so to their own advantage. These were enterprising men capable of taking initiative and using the system to their advantage. The abandoned category – the largest category at 893 – took in those men who … went out entirely of their own accord. Admittedly, as the commissioners noted:

The abandonments include cases resulting from death, ill-health and causes beyond control. Not a few are attributable to recurrent disabilities contracted on active service. In certain localities poor land or crop failure contributed.

But the commissioners also noted significant personal failings or character deficits:

In a considerable number of cases, however, the Board is of opinion that the personal factor, lack of adaptability, or instability of temperament on the part of the settler or his wife, contributed in some measure to his decision to quit.

The language was carefully chosen, but the more important point was the acknowledgement of some personal failing on the part of some settlers.

With the other two categories, the claims of personal failing were far more direct. The surrendered category (230) were described as … weak men and were doing no good. While the forfeited category (352) covered … men found to be unreliable and unsatisfactory.

Presumably, the politics of explaining that at least some of the failure of the soldier settlement scheme could be traced to personal failings on the part of some ex-soldiers was a highly fraught challenge. It was one that was at odds with so much of the Anzac myth that prevailed.


As we have seen, the dream of some form of soldier settlement scheme to repay the sacrifice of the men who had volunteered and served their country overseas had become a universal expectation by the end of the War. In the Shire of Alberton the scheme was strongly supported, and the generation of locals who had sent their sons to the War now acted as the key backers of the scheme, and also the ones who took on custodial and managerial roles, principally via the local valuation committees that were set up, to ensure the smooth operation of the scheme and the provision of support and direction for the soldier settlers. Everyone was invested in the success of the program. However, notwithstanding the highly problematic history of closer settlement schemes in Victoria (Australia generally), the soldier settlement scheme was conceived within an ideological perspective which guaranteed, in the longer term, significant financial loss to the State, high levels of frustration and anger in rural communities and for many of the ex-soldiers directly involved, crippling levels of debt and a profound sense of failure.


The Argus

Gippsland Times

South Gippsland Chronicle

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

Fry, K “Soldier Settlement and the Australian Agrarian Myth after the First World War.” Labour History, no. 48, Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, Inc., 1985, pp. 29–43

Archives, Shire of Alberton

Box 432

Four of 7 volumes numbered 2-8

Volume 3: July 1919 – Nov 1919

Volume 5: March 1920 – August 1920

Volume 6: Sept 1920

Volume 8: 1922

Battle to farm: WW1 Soldier Settlement records in Victoria
Public Record Office

Report of the Royal Commission on Soldier Settlement, Together with Appendices, H J Green, Government Printer, Melbourne 1925

219. The extent and significance of local involvement in the soldier settlement scheme

Previous posts have focused on how important the local, established farmers were in the operation of the soldier settlement scheme. They provided the references required to secure the all-important Qualification Certificate. They determined if successful applicants were to be advanced additional finance – and how much – to purchase stock, equipment, fencing, building materials, seed etc. They even determined matters like the selection of stock, and the decision on how many stock could be run on the property. They also judged if settlers were to be provided with ’sustenance’ payments before the farm returned any profit, and for how long. The scheme was very much one delivered at the local level with significant input from the local, farming community.

I have already mentioned the significance of the ‘local valuation committee’. It was a small committee made up of a local councillor and 2 or 3 local landowners. Typically the local councillor was also a local farmer or grazier. In the case of the Shire of Alberton, there were 3 such committees for each Riding, which came to a total of nine. Allowing for membership changes – for example, changes to councillor positions after local elections – it appears that over the period from 1919 to 1922 approximately 40 locals served on the committees. Obviously, the group as a whole took in some of the largest landholders in the district. For example, graziers – B E Buckley, A H Moore, R P Nicol and H G Bodman – were well represented. There were also the successful dairy farmers, with holdings typically between 100 and 200 acres. It is also worth noting the strong representation of local councillors. There were the nine required for the committee structure, but several others on the committees had also served as councillors. Overall, of the 40 members, no fewer than 13 had served as local councillors in the Shire. Also, within this group of councillors, 5 had actually served in the position of Shire President (Neils J Christensen, Thomas J McGalliard, Charles Barlow, William Bland and Henry G Bodman). Obviously, there was a strong representation of people heavily involved in local politics as well as those who had significant vested interests in the local rural economy.

The function of the local valuation committee was to inspect local land that was offered to the Closer Settlement Board (CSB). They had to assess both the quality and value of the land offered and their valuation was based on their experience of land values and sales in the local area. Each member of the committee had to sign the report submitted to the CSB. If the CSB found the report favourable and wanted to proceed, it would seek additional valuations from a CSB appointed ‘board valuer’ who operated on a state-wide basis and a CSB appointed ‘local valuer’ who was tied to a particular region. There is correspondence to Black, as Shire Secretary, in February 1920 advising him that the three ‘local valuers’ for the area were W Bland, Yarram; G Christensen, Welshpool; and A G McPherson, Toora. William Bland had also served as a former president of the Shire (1916).

In terms of remuneration. the two CSB appointed positions of valuer were paid for their work, but the work of those on the local valuation committees was honorary; although they could apply for some travel reimbursement. Black as Secretary for the Shire serving all local committees and dealing with the CSB was given an allowance of £50 per annum.

Written instructions for the local committees forwarded to Black, as Shire Secretary, from the CSB made it clear that there was some attempt to limit corruption. Regulation 10 stated:

No valuer or member of the Valuation Sub-Committee shall inspect and report upon any property in which he is directly or indirectly interested.

The reality was that friendships, business associations and family connections across the relatively contained geographic region that made up the local government area, meant that inevitably there would have been instances of at least ‘indirect interests’ affecting such a large group of 40 local landholders. Moreover, all 9 local valuation committees were effectively representing the interests of their smaller area. They all had a direct interest in at least maintaining the overall price of land in their locality.

The general business of making and defending valuations was supposed to be kept confidential, and there are many instances in the correspondence between Black and the CSB where this point is made. For example, the CSB advises Black by letter (11/6/19) that land offered for purchase by SCH Emmerson – 120 acres at Binginwarri – had been rejected. The letter noted … I have to inform you that the offer of this property has been declined as the Closer Settlement Board considers that more suitable properties can be purchased for the settlement of Returned Soldiers. It added,

As this matter is confidential, no press reports should be published.

Obviously, there was considerable scope for significant differences in the valuation of the land. There was the landholder’s asking price, the valuation given by the local valuation committee, additional valuations by the two CSB-appointed valuers, the price proposed by the CSB and, lastly, the price that the vendor was prepared to accept. Publicity on significant variations in all these values would not be helpful as it could undermine confidence in the system,

It is worth looking at the work of the local valuation committee in relation to actual property offered for sale. In September 1919, a land owner in the parish of Giffard offered 4 parcels of land for sale to the CSB. The land was inspected and valued by the committee (North Riding 1) consisting of Cr Nightingale, George Irving and Robert Lamb. The committee’s report made it clear that they had serious issues with the property being offered.

The land was divided into 4 parcels and each parcel was made up of two lots. Three parcels consisted of one lot of 640 acres and the second lot for each of these three parcels was 310, 315 and 202 acres. The fourth parcel of land being offered consisted of one lot of 582 acres and a second lot of 209 acres. The problem for the committee was that it rated the three lots of 310, 315 and 582 acres as ‘useless’ or of ‘no value for closer settlement’. According to the committee, the most valuable land was the 209 acres in parcel 4. This land was described as ‘black soil’ , as opposed to the ‘light, gritty soil’ of all the other land offered. It was suitable for ‘fattening or dairying’ as opposed to all the other land which was suitable for ‘sheep’. The committee valued this land at £8/5/0 per acre. The other land was only valued between £2/15/0 and £4/0/0 per acre. It is not clear if the land – or some portion of it – was purchased by the CSB.

At the same time, there is additional correspondence in the Shire Archives that indicates that land not rated as suitable for soldier settlement by the local valuation committee was in fact purchased by the CSB. For example, Black wrote to Cr Nightingale 0n 3/8/20 advising him that the CSB wanted a report on land that it had just purchased. In fact, it was land which Nightingale’s committee had previously found to be ‘unsuitable for the settlement of returned soldiers’.

There are several issues that stand out. The first is the possibility that vendors were taking advantage of the soldier settlement scheme, with its demand for land, to offload and make a profit on land that was rated as poor. The second is the significance of the individual vendor’s practice of parcelling up the land and, related to this, the CSB’s sub division of the land into settlers’ farms. For the vendor, the intention was to maximise profit and for the CSB the plan was to maximise the number of viable farms. We have already seen what could go wrong with such imperatives, including the creation of settlers’ farms that had no, or very limited, access to water. There was also the potential for significant variability in the quality of the soil across the newly created individual farms. The third issue relates to the differential between the vendor’s asking price and the committee’s valuation. Typically, the vendor’s price was significantly higher than the committee’s valuation. Again, the point needs to be made that while the soldier settlement scheme was routinely described in terms of a reward for the returning Anzacs and an expression of the Nation’s gratitude etc, the reality was that market forces, not altruism, drove the scheme.

There were occasions when the local valuation committee played a direct role in the actual subdivision of the land purchased for soldier settlement. This was the case with Scott’s Estate which was established at the end of 1919. This particular example shows how the local committee was first involved in the recommendation to purchase the land and then in the planning of the sub division.

The land in question was described as 3,200 acres belonging to Alex Scott, in the parish of Woodside. On 25/11/18 the local valuation committee (North Riding #1: Cr Charles Nightingale, George Irving, Robert Lamb) inspected the land and recommended its purchase. The committee determined that a fair price for the land was £9/10/- an acre. The land was declared to be ‘healthy’. The land was said not to be … infested with ferns, Canadian thistle, blackberry, or other noxious weeds. The committee believed that the land was suitable for ‘general farming’ and ‘dairying’ and recommended its purchase for the ‘settlement of returned soldiers’. The committee also believed that it was suitable for subdivision and, in keeping with the conventional wisdom of the time, gave the recommendation of ‘about 200 acres in each farm’. The committee finished with,

The land is at present fenced making it very suitable for subdivision and we strongly recommend the purchase of the land at about the price named above. [£9/10/- an acre]

Black forwarded the committee’s report and recommendation to the CSB on 18/12/18. He also noted in his covering letter that the value of the land had increased significantly since it was last valued by the Shire, eight years earlier:

The value of the land based on the municipal assessment is £5/6/- per acre. The last municipal valuation was made in 1910.

The CSB accepted the recommendation and the land was purchased; although the final price per acre paid is unknown. At the same time, it appears that the soldier settlers themselves paid between £9 and £10 per acre. The negotiations must have been drawn out because the purchase was not finalised until the end of 1919, 12 months later.

In early December (4/12/19) Black wrote to Cr Nightingale, as the convenor of North Riding #1 Local Valuation Committee, to advise him that ‘Scott’s Estate’ had been purchased for soldier settlement and that Council input was being requested by the CSB for the design of the proposed subdivision. Black advised that the committee for this task was to be the ’Shire President or his nominee, the Board’s Valuer and the District Surveyor’ (P Campbell). Cr Nightingale was to be the Shire President’s nominee. As things turned out, Cr Barlow also became involved in the work. Cr Charles Barlow was convenor of another local valuation committee – Central Riding #1 – and he had served as Shire President. Clearly, there was significant local input for the planning of the sub division.

After the inspection of the land (9/12/19) matters moved quickly and in early March 1920 a court was held in Yarram to determine the successful applicants for the sub division. Newspaper advertisements from the time described how Scott’s Estate comprised 3,096 acres and it was located 14 miles from the railway station at Yarram and 16 miles from the station at Port Albert. There was a state school and Post Office at Woodside, 2 miles from the estate. The land has been divided into 12 allotments from 206 acres to 346 acres. Prices for the blocks ranged form from £2,285 to £2,498.The sub division was suitable for mixed farming, and the rainfall was given as 28 inches.

It is also worth noting that the ‘court’ set up to determine the successful applicants was composed of 4 officers, with two of the four being local councillors, in this instance Crs O’Connor and Barlow. Again, this arrangement highlights just how intimately the local council was involved in the whole process: choosing suitable properties and providing valuations; being involved in the design of the relevant sub division; and being directly involved in the selection of successful applicants.

The successful 12 applicants – plus the acreage of their farm and the price paid – are as follows:

Victor Frederick Bird: 222 acres £2221
Geo Albert Cutmore: 243 acres £2284
John Fanning: 222 acres £2231
Ernest Arthur Heyfron: 222 acres £2321
Lionel James Keats: 206 acres £2317
William Mathieson: 206 acres £2317
Alfred Ernest Cecil Riddett: 232 Acres £2221

Geo Finlay: 246 acres £2491
Edward Herbert Hector Missen: 206 acres £2317
Simon John O’Neil: 333 acres £2497
Colin Robert Paterson: 333acres £2497
Percival Thomas Quinn: 326 acres £2490

The first seven men listed above were returned soldiers from outside the Shire, whereas the second list (five men) covered men who had enlisted from the local area. The difference points to the number of soldier settlers who attempted to set themselves up in districts where they had no ‘local’ connection. Sometimes the number of ‘non-locals’ taking up land under the scheme represented an even higher proportion. For example, Prospect Estate in the parish of Giffard, near Seaspray was set up in late 1919. There were 17 farms in the sub division but from what I have been able to uncover it appears that only two of the soldier settlers involved had lived and worked in the Shire prior to enlisting. On the other hand, there were estates where locals dominated. For example, there was a smaller estate – Nightingale’s Estate, Carrajung (1920) – where 4 of the 5 dairy farms established went to returned local men.

There are several points to note in relation to ‘outsiders’ attempting to become soldier settlers in the district. As already noted, men from outside the area lacked ‘local capital’. Whilst they might have had general farming experience, they were not intimately familiar with farming in the particular district. More significantly, they did not have the contacts and support that locals, whose families had been farming in the district for several generations, could call on. Not surprisingly, you had commentary in the local media that favoured the claim that the soldier settlers should farm in the areas where they were experienced. For example in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 26/11/20 there was an article quoting the claim from Woorayl Shire, South Gippsland that local men had … a far better knowledge of the conditions and methods of working land in this part of Gippsland than those from other parts. At the same time, there was obviously no preference given to locals and, presumably, the key reason for this was because of the number of returned men trying to set themselves up as soldier settlers. There was clearly high demand. For example, in relation to Scott’s Estate (above) newspaper reports (Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, 5/3/20) indicated that there had been 50 applications in total for the 12 farms and that because of …. the very large number of applications for this court, we are informed that three other areas each over 1000 acres will shortly be subdivided. Such levels of demand from the returned men, fuelled by the availability of government finance, inevitably created a type of land scramble and supported an overall hike in land values. It also supported growth in all related economic activities – transport, sale of stock, building materials, seed, agricultural equipment etc – across the district; and this increased level of activity was more important than the issue of whether the new soldier settlers were locals.

So far the focus has been on the purchase of large ‘estates’ which were then subdivided into a number of small farms. Applications would then come from the broad pool of returned men. But there were also instances where a single property was purchased by a soldier settler. There was the case of John Clark who purchased land, via the CSB, from two brothers – Charles and Francis Beagley – of Devon North. John Clark was a local who had enlisted in March 1916 as a 25 yo. He was single and gave his occupation as farm labourer but his father (Owen Clark) was recorded on the electoral roll as a farmer of Devon North. According to the 1914 rate book, the father had a small holding of a few acres at Devon North. Clark was wounded in April 1917 – ‘gsw back’ – and repatriated to Australia in November the same year. One month later he was discharged as ‘wounded’. Presumably there was a period of hospitalisation or convalescence of some form in Melbourne because it looks like he did not return to the district until September 1918 when he received a very large welcome home at Devon. Black, as Shire Secretary, records in his summary of work undertaken with the CSB in 1918 that Clark had negotiated with Francis Hamilton Beagley, farmer of Devon North, and Charles Beagley, also farmer of Devon North, for the purchase of 2 allotments (113a and 115a) in the parish of Devon. Black noted:

I have assisted vendors and purchaser to complete the forms which have been forwarded to the Board.

It is not clear if the necessary valuation was completed by the local valuation committee or by the board-appointed local valuer. Presumably, all those involved in this particular transaction would have known each other and shared a long history with the same location.

While the above example shows how locals could negotiate directly with each other, there were other cases where the nature of the negotiated deal was even more intimate, involving the family of the aspiring soldier settler. Two examples are relevant. In relation to the first, Black received correspondence from the CSB (12/4/20) advising that it had agreed to purchase property – 193 acres – from Robert Lee of Wonyip. The applicant for the land was Lee’s son, Roy Edward Lee of Christies PO via Toora. There is a further note in the correspondence indicating that the son’s permit to occupy the property was dated 25/2/21.

The Lee family were pioneers in the district. The 1914 rate book has the father – Robert Lee, farmer, Binginwarri – with 3 properties. Two were in the parish of Binginwarri and one in the parish of Wonyip. The rate book also showed an older son – Robert Wallace Lee – with land in his own name – 20 acres – at Binginwarri.

The 2 Lee brothers had enlisted together in July 1916. Roy was 23 yo and Robert Wallace was 3 years older. Both brothers survived the war. Roy was gassed and hospitalised in UK but discharged as TPE in October 1919.

One possible explanation for the arrangement whereby the father sold part of his land to the CSB so that one his sons could become a soldier settler on the same land is that the father saw the opportunity to set both sons up on the land. Robert as the oldest son would be able to take over the family farm and Roy was able to be set up in his own right on land that had previously been part of the family farm. Effectively, government finance was making the arrangement possible. Further, when Roy took up the land there are records that show that he applied for advances for stock and also for sustenance for himself. Again, government credit was being accessed to set him up.

There was another example of this family dynamic in 1923. William Prout enlisted in April 1916. He was 34 yo and single. He was the son of a dairy farmer at Wonyip. He was farewelled for the Shire – and received his Shire medallion – in November 1916. He survived the War and returned to Australia in November 1916 and was discharged – TPE – in October the same year.

The shire archives show that the father – John Morse Powell Prout – sold 179 acres of land at Wonyip to the CSB in 1923 for £700. The land was allocated to his soldier settler son, William. It is not possible to know the exact motivation in such cases but it appears that some local farming families, with sons returning from the War, were keen to employ the scheme to assist with family succession planning.

Overall, there was clearly a very high level of involvement in the soldier settlement scheme at the local level. Local government was involved, as were community elders, successful local land owners and individual families. The motivation behind this involvement was complex and multi-levelled

Certainly, there was the very powerful motivation wrapped up in the altruism of the ‘Nation’’s debt of gratitude’. It was the key motivation that sat behind everything. Effectively, from very early in the War it had become established wisdom that a soldier settlement scheme would be essential both to ‘repay’ the men for their sacrifice and set them up for their future. Moreover, it would be a closer settlement scheme that would work – unlike many previous attempts – precisely because of the very nature of the men themselves: rugged and tough; individualistic but, at the same time, bonded by mateship; enterprising, risk-taking and strong on initiative; fatalistic and determined etc. These were men who had proved themselves in battle and who could now take on any challenge. The local community had to get behind them and support them, particularly those who had grown up and lived and worked in the district before enlistment. Even in cases where the soldier settler was an ‘outsider’ there was still the debt owed to the Anzac. All the soldier settlers had to be supported, even if that ’support’ often looked like tight control and close direction.

There was also more hard-edged motivation behind the involvement. For several generations, closer settlement had been an ongoing pursuit in rural communities such as the Shire of Alberton. But there was also a long history of problems and failure with such schemes. On this occasion, it was in the interests of both the Closer Settlement Board and the Shire to ensure success. For the Shire, the success of the scheme would boost the overall economic fortunes of the district. The plentiful government money backing the scheme would provide the essential capital to boost economic activity – in farming and all related industries – right across the community. It was essential therefore that the basics of the scheme – the selection of the land, the design of the estates, the setting up of the farms etc – were implemented with the best local advice and involvement. This local input had to be ‘honest’ and ‘critical’ in the sense that if the interests of the soldier settlers could not be represented and protected, and they failed, then the interests of the Shire would also be damaged.

Unsurprisingly, was also another level of more personal and self-interested motivation at play. Like any government scheme, there were individual parties keen to exploit opportunities that the scheme presented. The most obvious opportunity was to take advantage of the artificially created demand for land in the district.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Archives, Shire of Alberton
Box 432
Four of 7 volumes numbered 2-8
Volume 3:July 1919 – Nov 1919
Volume 5: March 1920 – August 1920
Volum6 6: Sept 1920 –
Volume 8: 1922

Battle to farm: WW1 Soldier Settlement records in Victoria

Public Record Office

218. The soldier settler’s dependent relationship on the local committee

Previous posts have highlighted the very close working relationship between the Closer Settlement Board based in Melbourne and the local council (Shire of Alberton). The key local official involved in the coordination of the soldier settlement scheme was the Shire Secretary (G W Black) but beneath this level of responsibility there was a series of nine local committees – referred to variously as ‘local valuation committees’, ‘local repatriation committees’ or simply ‘local committees’ – where each committee was made up of one councillor and two or three local land owners. Each of the three ridings in the Shire had three such committees which meant that, in all, there were approximately 35 local landowners involved in the administration of the scheme. The local committees were directly involved in the selection and valuation of suitable properties. Together with Black, as Shire Secretary, many of the individual committee members were also involved in providing references for ex-soldiers seeking to obtain the all-important qualification certificate (see Post 217). Many of the applicants had worked on the farms of these land owners before the War, as farm labourers. Some had taken up the same work after discharge.

This particular post looks at another key responsibility undertaken by the local committees: the provision of financial assistance – advances – to the soldier settlers as they sought to establish themselves on their new holdings.

Clearly, the overall soldier settlement scheme was designed to represent and respond to the expertise of established and successful land holders in the local community. There were points of difference and conflict between the Closer Settlement Board, based in Melbourne, and local interests but, overall, the soldier settlement scheme relied heavily on the support it received from the local community. While this emphasis on local involvement and support was crucial for the operation of the scheme, it is important to understand the effect it had on the relationship between the soldier settlers and the local, established, land owners, serving on the committees. As already argued, there was a significant generational divide involved. On one hand, there was the older generation of successful farmers, well established in the local area, who, in general, had been keen supporters of the War. In fact, the district had been a stronghold of Imperial Loyalists. It had, for example, prided itself on its support for conscription. This generation had urged its sons to enlist. At the same time, the dominant narrative surrounding the younger generation who had enlisted was that they had made enormous sacrifices, proved themselves in war and were now owed much, if not everything. The soldier settlement scheme was itself presented as a means of expressing the gratitude of the Nation. But, in practice, the administration of the scheme meant that the power rested with the older generation and even if this group had described the men as ‘heroes’ and campaigned for their access, as a right, to the soldier settlement scheme, the reality was that the soldier settlers found themselves under the very close supervision of their elders.

The following cases that illustrate this complex relationship have been drawn from correspondence files in the Shire of Alberton archives and, where available, files from the Public Records of Victoria (Soldier Settlement Scheme).

Archibald Murdoch Forsythe

Forsythe first enlisted at Bendigo in November 1914 in the Australian Naval Forces. He gave his age as 28 years old; but it appears he was born in 1890 (Vic BDMs). He was discharged as ‘medically unfit’ at the end of July 1915. He then re-enlisted immediately in Melbourne in the AIF (29 Battalion). For both enlistments, he indicated that he was not married. However, his embarkation form for later in 1915 indicates that he was married (Ada Forsythe, living in South Melbourne). I have not been able to find any record of the marriage. He was again discharged as medically unfit in September 1916 and returned from Egypt to Australia.

On his application for land, Forsythe gave his occupation as ‘farm labourer’ and his current address as Jack River. In response to the specific question on relevant experience, he wrote:

28 years in Gippsland at Yarram Yarram. Dairying & mixed farming.

However, I have not been able to verify this connection to the local area. He was born at Nurrabiel (near Horsham) and I have not been able to link him to any of the conventional references: school honour rolls, the electoral roll, local newspaper etc. Obviously, under the scheme, he did not need to have lived in the local area to apply for land in the district. Also, he was able to convince the Closer Settlement Board of his farm experience. But the specific reference to having spent 28 years – his entire working life – in Yarram appears incorrect.

Forsythe was given land under the scheme – 402 acres in the parish of Tarra Tarra – in August 1922. His application stated that he was single but that he was intending to marry within six months. There was a reference to the fact that he was to marry a widow. However I have not been able to establish if he did marry.

Forsythe’s land was valued at £2,056 and under the agreement he was committed to a six-monthly repayment of £61. The application also indicated he had very little capital (£190). There was no house on the property and he stated that he would be applying to the Closer Settlement Board for financial support for a house. But he did indicate that the widow he was to marry had sufficient furniture for the house. He also indicated that he would need financial support for stock, equipment etc. There were no improvements on his property other than fencing. At the time he made his application, Forsythe was not on any pension but he was in employment.

Clearly, the challenges facing Forsythe were major. He was, apparently, by himself. His health was likely compromised. He had limited capital. His property was essentially unimproved, and he was starting from scratch in setting up his farm. There was no house. In fact, he only lasted until March 1923 when his occupation permit was canceled for ‘non-payment’.

The issue of Forsythe’s financial position was an obvious concern for the Closer Settlement Board. In December 1922 – this was just a few months after he received his property – the CSB wrote to Black, in part calling for very close monitoring of Forsythe’s spending. The local committee was also involved, even to the extent of determining which items of furniture Forsythe could purchase:

This settler has applied for an advance for furniture and as the Inspector reports that he is without any means of buying it himself it has been decided to grant the advance not exceeding £35 for necessary articles only. It is desired to exercise strict supervision over this settler’s expenditure and he [Forsythe] has been instructed to consult your Committee in regard to the matter. I will be pleased if you will see that a pro-forma invoice for the articles recommended by the Committee is forwarded to this office.

it is a striking example of how dependent the soldier settlers were on the local committees and, of course, Black as the Shire Secretary and formal link with the CSB.

James Croy

On the face of it, the future for Croy as a soldier settler looked more promising. In 1920 he acquired a property of 123 acres at Binginwarri. A house and sheds were included. It was to be a mixed-farming venture, with 50 acres suitable for cropping. William Bland, a local valuer approved by the CSB, gave a positive assessment (20/3/20):

A well improved block of land which raises a good rate of grass & grows good crops Parts of it are rather steep which detracts from its value, otherwise a very nice dairy farm. Well subdivided & everything necessary for the successful working of the place in good order. Within half a mile of good main roads to Yarram, Toora or Welshpool. Cream carts call for produce 3 times weekly.

Bland also noted:

All heavy work in regard to clearing has been done and very little expense is necessary now to keep place in good order.

The cost of Croy’s property was £1,412 and he was committed to a half-yearly payment of £42/6/-. He stated his own capital to be £150 in a savings account. Like similar soldier settlers, Croy needed stock for his dairy farm and in September 1920 the CSB gave him permission to purchase stock locally. The permission was for 16 cows @ £12/5/- per head, for a total of £196. Clearly, establishing even a small dairy farm with the requisite amount of stock was an expensive proposition. Black, informed by the CSB of the approval for expenditure, wrote to Croy informing him that he had to provide him with the ‘full description of these animals’ – the 16 cows purchased – on the form he supplied. Black then forwarded all the paper work to the CSB.

Again, it is a clear example not just of the extent of the finance that needed to be provided to the settlers to establish their farms, but also of the very bureaucratic process involved and the degree to which the men’s spending was monitored.

Nightingale’s Estate 1920 and the role of the local committee

Nightingale’s Estate – parish of Carrajung – was set up in 1920 when a large landholding was subsided into several smaller farms. This was a case where stock and other buildings and equipment associated with the previous operation could be sold to the individual soldier settlers. On this occasion, there were dairy cows @ £16 per head. There were horses – typically the average cost was £20 per head – and there were even (transportable) buildings, for example a store room and ‘men’s hut’. There was also equipment, such as separators. Obviously, these new farms involved considerably more work – and expense – in setting up than the existing farms some soldier settlers managed to take over.

As an example of such arrangements, one of the settlers on the estate was James Gunn. He was working in the local area – Blackwarry – after the War as a farm labourer and he had spent some of his early life in the district. He was single and he had been a prisoner of war. He did at least have some capital, made up of about £500: savings £80, land in city £300, and war bond £128. His land was valued at £2,078. As part of the division of the previous farm’s stock, Gunn was advanced £320 to purchase ’30 dairy cows’. Again, it was a very significant additional cost in establishing his dairy farm.

Not surprisingly, given the amount of money involved and the significance of such purchases in the overall success or otherwise of the farms being established, the CSB wanted tight control over the whole process. It wrote to Black and requested that the Shire supervise the acquisition of the stock, equipment and buildings. There was an understanding that the Shire … would appoint a committee to inspect and approve of same. Basically, the stock, equipment etc all had to be inspected and approved by the local committee. The same committee would also have to ensure that all particulars in relation to any stock or equipment or plant, for which the CSB had advanced money for purchase, would be recorded and sent to Melbourne. It was a significant exercise in record-keeping. But, more significantly, the whole process would have underlined for the soldier settlers how important it was to ensure that they maintained a positive relationship with their local committee. The popular image might have been that the soldier settlers were forging new lives for themselves as independent farmers, relying on their own toughness, endurance and personal initiative – all attributes of the Anzacs – but the reality was that they were locked in a highly regulated bureaucratic process; and as part of this process, they needed to accept the close supervision of the local committee.

Robert Allen Neilson

Some of the requests from the soldier settlers for advances were for absolutely essential farming needs. Take the case of Robert Allen Neilson. Neilson was a local – born at Port Albert – who did not enlist until April 1918. At the time of enlistment, he was married and 34 years of age. He reached the UK in September 1918 but then became seriously ill with influenza and pneumonia and spent 2 months in hospital. When he returned to Australia in May 1919, he was discharged as medically unfit.

Neilson received land – 300 acres – when Ness’s Estate (Parish of Balloong) was established in late November 1920. It appears that while his farm – of the 5 created – had the largest acreage, it was also the cheapest (£2,100). There were much smaller holdings (for example,140 acres) that were valued far higher (£2,450) The significant difference in cost related to water. All the other 4 holdings had access to Bruthen Creek. Neilson’s holding was effectively cut off from access to the creek by the configuration of the other holdings. The only water on his property was a ‘windmill’ located in an extreme corner. It seems incredible that his holding was even created and the situation highlights the limitations involved in creating such ‘estates’. Not surprisingly, the issue of water became acute and in June 1921, Black, as Shire Secretary, wrote to the CSB requesting that Neilson be given an advance of £25 for the creation of a dam. Councillor Barlow as the council member in charge of the relevant local committee (Central Riding #1) had obviously raised the matter with Black. Black wrote (25/6/21):

I am forwarding herewith application for advance of £25 for excavation of dam. Cr Barlow recommends that a dam be put down in the middle of the property, at a cost of £25, as the only water on the place is in one corner of the property, which cannot be properly worked without water in another part. If this application is granted Cr Barlow will give full particulars as to size and depth later on.

Authority for the advance was given on 7/7/21.

Herbert J Harrison

The case of Herbert Harrison illustrates how seriously the local committee took their responsibility to monitor the soldier settlers. The key issue in this case turned on who was responsible for the monitoring.

The issue arose when Harrison approached his local committee for an advance. He wanted £60 for purchase of stock (cows). But Harrison had dealt directly with the CSB to secure his property. Further, he had also previously negotiated advances – for the purchase of farm equipment – directly with the CSB. Now he was approaching the local committee; and they wanted some essential background. Cr McLeod, the relevant councillor on the local committee, approached Black as Shire Secretary. McLeod had had no prior dealings with Harrison and he wanted to know how much money had already been advanced to Harrison, how he was considered by the CSB and ‘his financial position with regard to his land’. Consequently, Black wrote to the CSB on the issue of responsibility. He noted that McLeod … does not feel justified in recommending a further advance to this settler unless he has something to go on, and at present he is in the dark. Black argued that if Harrison was to be the local committee’s responsibility then they needed the background information on his position. Overall, the case was an indication of how seriously the local committees took their responsibility. And behind this, of course, is the further observation that the efforts, success and requests of individual soldier settlers were very closely monitored.

Issue of ‘sustenance’, an allowance to provide for living expenses

So far the focus has been on the provision of additional finance so that soldier settlers could purchase stock, plant, equipment etc to establish their farms. There were instances where a soldier settler was able to acquire what was effectively a working farm but more commonly they faced significant challenges in establishing their holdings. This meant that it was bound to take some time before any sort of income could be generated. Therefore, it was not just a question of providing funds for the establishment of the farming operation but also of providing a level of ‘sustenance’ to cover the living costs of the settler and, where relevant, his family, until the farm generated income. Once again, it was the local committee that supervised this part of the overall scheme.

George James Austin secured land at North Devon in 1919. On 10/7/19, the Closer Settlement Board wrote to Black requesting his advice on whether sustenance should be offered and for how long. Black, presumably based on advice from the relent local committee, replied on 14/7/19:

… Austin has a lot of work to do on his land and that it will be about four or five months before he gets any return. The Council, therefore, recommends that sustenance be granted to him for a period of four months.

Frederick John McKay

The situation involving Frederick McKay offers another example of how sustenance was granted. It is an interesting case because even though McKay was moving onto what could be described as an established farm he also required sustenance.

McKay took on 100 acres in the parish of Binginwarri. The land was described as being 1 mile from the Wonyip PO. From the PROV (Battle to Farm) file for McKay, we know some detail about the farm. His permit to hold the lease and occupy the land was issued in May 1920. The capital value of the land was £1,111. McKay’s assets were declared to be £100, but only £20 was cash, with the rest made up of furniture (£40) and stock (£40). The property was described by the local CSB appointed valuer (William Bland) in positive terms. Bland had written earlier (31/1/20):

A well improved little dairy farm with all necessary buildings for use, the buildings are all in good repair & most of the boundary fencing – cream carts pass the door & collect all cream.

Bland also noted that the farm was … within half a mile of good roads to Yarram, Toora or Welshpool … and that … all heavy work in regard to clearing has been done and very little expense is necessary now to keep place in good order.

Further, there was good feed for cattle on the property. Bland estimated that about 40 acres of the 100 acre property could be cultivated – oats, maize – and he noted that at the time there were potatoes and peas being grown. There was a 6-room wooden house on the farm as well as a cowshed. There was permanent water from a creek and springs. The rainfall was given as 45 inches per annum.

Overall, Bland considered that the farm was a desirable one and he estimated that it was capable of returning £300 per annum.

McKay himself was from outside the local district. He had been born at Meredith. When he enlisted at Geelong in July 1915 he gave his uncle as next-of-kin, noting that both parents were dead. He was 19 years-old and single. He was working as a farm labourer. He went on to serve in both Egypt and France.

From his service file, McKay was wounded twice. The first time – ‘GSW, arm’ – was in July 1916. As a result he was hospitalised in the UK. He did not rejoin his unit (58 Battalion) until mid March 1917 and then, just a few days later, he was wounded again: ‘SW Lt (fore) Arm’. He was again sent to the UK for treatment, but then this time repatriated to Australia for a medical discharge (30/11/17). He was on a pension of 7/6 per week. Interestingly, on his paper work for taking on the land, he declared that he was suffering from no ‘physical disabilities’ from his war service. On the face of it, it is hard to believe that someone wounded and hospitalised twice and discharged as ‘medically unfit’ would not have been carrying some significant physical disability. A single person in this condition, taking on the onerous demands of mixed farming, would have struggled. Indeed, McKay left the farm – the lease was transferred – in 1927, on the grounds of ‘ill health’.

When McKay took on the farm in 1920 he had very little capital and requested sustenance. In July 1920 the CSB contacted Black to seek his assessment. In turn, Black contacted the councillor (T J McGalliard) from the relevant local committee (#3, South Riding). The formal response to the CSB was that … Sustenance should be paid until his cows are bringing in a return, probably early in September. The CSB then advised Black that McKay was to be given sustenance (15/- per week) for two months from 9/8/20.

It is also worth noting that the next month (September 1920) McKay was also given permission by the CSB to purchase additional stock (cows) to the value of £74. Once again, the CSB insisted that the purchase was dependent on the direct involvement of the local committee and that full records had to be completed. the CSB wrote to Black:

The purchase of the animals is subject to the approval of a representative of your Committee who should approve only of the number for which feed is available. Full description and brands should be furnished on the enclosed form.
Mr Mckay has been advised to get in touch with you.


The above cases illustrate, again, that for all the high sentiment expressed about the soldier settlement scheme being a just reward for the brave and heroic boys who had sacrificed so much for the young nation, the application of the scheme itself was highly bureaucratised and tightly supervised. It is also clear that many soldier settlers had limited financial capital and as limited experience in the financial management of a farm. Certainly, in taking on the role of soldier settler they also took on very high levels of debt. The debt related not just to the acquisition of the land but also the significant establishment costs involved. Additionally, some soldier settlers were new to the district and did not have access to the essential ‘local capital’ – knowledge of local farming, contacts, family support etc – that family and friends could provide. Some of the returned men also struggled with significant physical disabilities. Critically, it was also the case that they were heavily reliant on the older generation of established farmers and landowners who were charged with managing the scheme locally and who were constantly called on by the Closer Settlement Board to monitor, assess and report on their individual efforts as soldier settlers.


Archives, Shire of Alberton
Box 432
Four of 7 volumes numbered 2-8
Volume 3:July 1919 – Nov 1919
Volume 5: March 1920 – August 1920
Volum6 6: Sept 1920 –
Volume 8: 1922

Battle to farm: WW1 Soldier Settlement records in Victoria
Public Record Office Victoria

217. The significance of the reference in securing the Qualification Certificate, including a generational perspective

This post looks in more detail at the vetting process that underpinned the soldier settlement scheme post WW1. The analysis is based on correspondence and other files from the Archives of the Shire of Alberton and also the on-line records from the Public Record Office Victoria: Battle to Farm – WW1 Soldier Settlement records in Victoria.

The point has been made in previous posts that returning soldiers were promised so much in terms of repatriation. Schemes, such as settling returned servicemen on the land, were presented as a fitting reward for those who had ‘answered the call’ and proved themselves in battle. However, the reality was that there were significant limits placed on all the fine sentiment [Post 216]. This was very evident with the ‘qualification certificate’ which served as the key eligibility criterion. Without such a certificate, the returned soldier was denied access to the scheme. Moreover, as we will see, the qualification certificate was not easily secured.

George William Black, Shire Secretary

The key individual in the soldier settlement scheme at the local level was George William Black, Shire Secretary. Black had been appointed Shire Secretary in 1911 and he held the position throughout the post-War period. In fact, he served as Shire Secretary for 30 years, from 1911- 1941. As noted many times before, Black had been a key figure in the War effort and had acted as secretary of the local recruiting committee. He was a high profile, avowed Imperial Loyalist.

Specifically in terms of the soldier settlement scheme, Black took on the role of the principal administrative officer [‘Executive Secretary’] across the Shire and coordinated the work of the several local [land] ‘valuation committees’. While these committees, as the name suggests, were principally involved in land selection and valuation as part of the settlement scheme, they also played a broader role in overseeing the efforts of the individual soldier settlers and the operation of the scheme generally. They were also referred to as local ‘repatriation’ committees. The membership of these relatively small local committees consisted or two or three local landholders and a local councillor. There were 3 local committees for each of the three ridings (North, South and Central) in the Shire. Black dealt directly with the Victorian bureaucrats responsible for the soldier settlement scheme under the (Victorian) Closer Settlement Act and he was remunerated for his work. All the members of the local committees contributed their time and efforts on a honorary basis; although they could claim ‘reasonable car hire’ costs when inspecting properties.

Significance of the Qualification Certificate

Instructions under the Closer settlement Act made it clear that the local valuation committee was not to consider any potential land acquisition unless the individual ex-soldier concerned held a qualification certificate. Nothing could happen without such a certificate. Written instructions sent to Black by the ‘Discharged Soldier Qualification Committee” in October 1918, highlighted the critical importance of the certificate:

In connection with placing Discharged soldiers on the land under the operation of the Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act, the first essential in every case is that the intending settler should obtain a Qualification Certificate. To do this he has to lodge an application and appear in person before the Qualification Committee when called on to do so, supporting his application by references showing that he has had previous experience on the land. One reference should be furnished by the Local Repatriation Committee and owing to the position local councillors occupy as men experienced in business and agricultural pursuits with frequently a personal knowledge of the applicant, this reference carries great weight when the matter is under consideration. It is desired that the reference from the Local Committee should be written on official paper, if possible, and signed by the Secretary on behalf of he Committee, also that it specially refers to the class of experience the applicant has had and the period of such experience.

To obtain a qualification certificate, a discharged soldier had to complete a detailed form, provide the essential references and then appear, in Melbourne, before the Qualification Certificate Committee. The applicant had to indicate which ‘class of holding’ the qualification certificate was to cover: dairy farming, mixed farming, wheat growing, irrigation, fruit growing or pig raising. When they submitted their application, they had to … solemnly and sincerely declare that I am the person making the application on the form herewith and that the replies to the questions hereinafter contained are true and correct in every particular.

The information sought by the Qualification Certificate Committee was detailed. Unsurprisingly, it covered the ex-soldier’s service history, down to questions as specific as, ‘‘How long were you actually fighting?’. There were also questions covering any ‘physical disability’ as a result of service and a focus on the former soldier’s present health. There were questions covering their employment history prior to enlistment and their occupation post discharge. There was an obvious focus on farming experience, even to the extent of wanting to know if the wife had had ‘experience in farm life’. Financial details included the ‘amount of capital at your disposal, whether in stock, cash or other accounts’. The authorities also wanted to know … if married, has your wife any separate means? They also wanted to know if the applicant currently held land in their own right or had any interest in land. And, lastly, the Qualification Committee was keen to know, if the applicant was successful, whether or not they would be applying for an ‘advance’. The advance was given to cover the cost of stock, building or farming materials and any other expenses in establishing the successful soldier settler on their property. It even covered the cost of food and other basic consumables. The relevant papers in the Shire of Alberton archives cover many cases where such advances were approved. Essentially, many of the ex-soldiers were trying to establish themselves with very little capital and very significant debt levels, with interest rates around 5%. And, of course, they were trying to establish themselves in a market where prices and land costs had been inflated because of the government scheme ostensibly set up to help them.

If the applicant’s references were satisfactory, and both the information they provided in their written application and their appearance at the interview with the Qualification Committee in Melbourne were also deemed satisfactory, he was given his certificate which declared that … he possesses the necessary qualifications entitling him to apply for land.

Percival Thomas Quinn

It is worth looking at a local discharged soldier who negotiated his way through the process to obtain first the qualification certificate and then the land holding.

Percival T Quinn was born at Tarraville in 1894. He grew up in the area and attended Balloong State School. His father, Patrick Quinn, was a farmer at Woodside. The family farm was approximately 600 acres.

Percival first tried to enlist, very early, in September 1914. He was a minor at the time and it appears his parents would not provide permission. One year later – 26/8/15 – he enlisted in Melbourne. He joined 4 LHR but subsequently transferred to 8 Battalion.

Quinn embarked from Melbourne on 9/3/16 and by this point he had married – Edith Pedley – and there was a child born later in 1916.

Over the course of his service – 1,236 days abroad – Quinn was hospitalised with first bronchitis and then scabies. He was also gassed. He returned to Australia in July 1919 and was discharged (TPE) on 18/9/19. It appears that immediately after returning to Australia he lived with his wife and child in Melbourne. There was a welcome home for him at Woodside in November that year.

Quinn wasted no time in applying for this qualification certificate. He presented before the Qualification Committee in Melbourne in late October, only one month after his formal discharge. In fact, matters moved very quickly for him and after he gained his qualification certificate, he secured his land holding in early March 1920. Presumably his father was helping him with the process.

Quinn secured allotments 2 and 19 of Scott’s Estate. It was an area of 325 acres and its capital value was £2,498-8-0. Scott’s Estate was a property of just over 3,000 acres, two miles from Woodside. The property was sub-divided into 12 farms which were between 200 and 325 acres. The land was classified as suitable for ‘mixed farming’. Quinn’s farm was the closest to Woodside. It was also one of the largest ones. At the time he secured his land, Quinn indicated that he would seek an advance for implements and stock.

On his application form for the qualification certificate, Quinn indicated that prior to enlistment he had been a farm labourer for 8 years. He had worked on his father’s farm and also the farms of other locals. Some of these local farmers provided written references. On the form he also noted that post his discharge he was back working as a farm labourer. On his form, he specifically cited, as experience relevant to his application, 8 years of ‘mixed farming’. He also noted that his wife had lived on a farm all her life.

In terms of personal finances, he wrote that he was not receiving any pension, his wife had no ‘separate means’ and his capital was about £130.

The application form also stated that he was not suffering from any ‘physical disabilities’ … by reason of wounds or disease resulting from your Naval or Military service. Quinn described his ‘present condition of health’ as ‘good’.

Overall, Quinn’s experience is setting himself up as a soldier settler was relatively straightforward. However, the ease of the process belied the enormous challenge that Quinn, and all other soldier settlers, faced. He had very little capital and a significant debt – the term was 36.5 years – with a relatively high interest rate (5%). Moreover, the level of debt in the short-term would increase because he would have to seek advances to set himself up on his mixed farm. Then there were the strict requirements under the scheme. He had to effect levels of ‘improvements’ – farm house, farm buildings and sheds, fencing, land clearing – which were closely specified. He would need to rely on his – and his wife’s – labour. He could do nothing with the land other than the specified mixed farming; and, lastly, he had to reside on the land until it became freehold.

However, this is not the post to assess the worth of the soldier settlement scheme; although it is clear that such men were taking on very high levels of risk with limited resources. Rather, what I want to do is focus on the issue of references.

References as part of the Qualification Certificate

Overall, the references Quinn used in his application were positive. He supplied four such references: three were from local landholders and the fourth was from Black, as Shire Secretary.

The first was from A Missen, ‘Farmer & Grazier’ of Greenmount, Yarram:

I hereby certify that I have known Thomas Quinn ten years he has been amongst all kinds of Stock & Farming all his life He is honest sober and industrious. I consider him a capable man to undertake Farming pursuits He is of a highly respected family living in this district.

The second was from Thomas Gasson,’Grazier’ of Huberts Corner via Yarram:

This is to certify
That I have known Percival Thomas Quinn from infancy

That he worked on a farm up to his enlistment in the A. I. F.
That he thoroughly understands farming
and that he is capable of working land satisfactorily

The third reference was identical – verbatim – to Gasson’s and came from W A Hunter “Farmer”, also of Huberts Corner via Yarram

The fourth reference was the one provided by Black as Shire Secretary. It was on Shire note paper and was dated 29/10/19.

Mr Percival T. Quinn, discharged soldier, has been a resident of the district all his life, and has been connected with farming pursuits all his working years. I have no hesitation in recommending him for a Qualification Certificate.

There is no significant detail in any of the references and they really only represent broad claims, on the the part of those providing them, that the applicant possessed both the general farming background and personal character required to become a successful soldier settler. As we will see, the in-person appearance before the Qualification Committee provided the opportunity to test the issue of relevant farming experience. However, what was critically significant was that several local landholders and the Shire Secretary attested to the applicant’s suitability.

Securing this level of local endorsement was not as simple as this particular case involving Quinn suggests.

Problems with references

Take the case of Edgar Lawrence Lear. Lear was born in Port Albert in 1895. He grew up in the district and attended Tarraville State School. He enlisted as a 20 year-old in July 1915, in Yarram, and was given a farewell and presented with the Shire medallion. He was married. His older brother – Issac James Lear – also enlisted in July 1915. The older brother was killed at Fromelles in July 1916 [Post 74].

Edgar Lear was wounded – bomb wound in his right foot, ‘severe’ – in 1916 but continued to serve. He returned to Australia in June 1919 and was discharged in August the same year as ‘medically unfit’.

In the Shire archives there is a letter from Edgar L Lear to Black as the Shire Secretary, dated 4/3/20, from East Warburton:

As I am about to purchase (through the Repatriation Dept) a block of land for farming purposes, I would esteem it a very great favour if you would supply me (at your earliest convenience) with a reference to the effect that you have known me for some considerable time, also to have a fair knowledge of farming.

No doubt you will be wondering why I make this request, but the fact of the matter is, it is essential I should supply a satisfactory reference from the Shire Secretary from where I enlisted, otherwise I will have rather a rough time of it in reaching my goal. Trusting you will see your way clear to oblige me in this matter & thanking you in anticipation…

Clearly, Lear knew of the importance attached to the reference form the Shire Secretary. He would have been disappointed in the response he received from Black. It was dated 5/3/20:

In reply to your letter of the 4th inst., asking for a reference, I have to point out that I know nothing about your knowledge of farming, and could not, therefore, give the reference. If you have any references from residents of this district, and supply me with their names, I might be prepared to give a reference on the strength of their recommendation. I would be pleased to oblige you, but a reference given under the circumstances would be worthless.

Black’s reluctance is obvious and there is no record of Lear being granted land under the scheme.

There were other cases where Black did provide a reference, but the Qualification Committee found his reference wanting. Karl Klu had been born in the UK but when War broke out he was living and working, as a ‘labourer’, in the district. He enlisted from Yarram with the very first group of volunteers in September 1914. He returned to Australia under the ‘special leave’ provision – set up for the original Anzacs – on 23/12/18 and was discharged on 21/2/19.

On discharge, Klu was living in Melbourne but he obviously contacted Black and requested a reference. However, it appears that when he fronted the Qualification Committee, with his references, concerns were raised about his suitability. Immediately after the interview he wrote to Black advising him of the Committee’s concerns. The letter was dated 11/3/19.

Today I have been before the Soldiers Qualification Committee, for land in connection with which you gave me a reference; but this did not state my ability to manage a farm successfully or what sort of worker I was and the Committee are writing to you for more particulars. I was working for Miss Jack, Madalya. Mr J. J. Kee, Yarram will also give you any information as he has known me personally for some considerable time. Trusting this will explain matters.

The Committee itself wrote to Black on the same matter. Their letter was dated 12/3/19:

Mr. Karl Klu has applied for a Qualification Certificate to enable him to take up land under the provisions of the Discharged Soldiers Settlement Acts. He appeared before the Committee on the 11th. inst. The references he produced were rather vague and the Committee would be glad if you could see your way to supplement your reference by a statement, if within your knowledge, that Mr. Klu gave satisfaction to those who employed him in farm work and if, in your opinion, he would be likely to to be successful if placed on a dairy farm of this own.

Black replied immediately (14/3/19). It was clear that even though he had provided a reference for Klu, Black was now raising significant qualifications:

In reply to your letter of the 12th inst., re Mr Karl Klu, I have to state that I have not sufficient knowledge of Mr Klu to be able to express an opinion as to his prospects if placed on a dairy farm of his own. I understand Mt Klu gave every satisfaction to those who employed him, but a communication to Miss Jack, of Madalya, Jack River, or Mr J. J. Kee, of Yarram, both of whom, I understand, employed him would settle that question, as their testimony could be relied upon with every confidence.

For all the ambivalence, in the end, Karl Klu, in association with his brother, another ex-soldier, did receive land in the district under the scheme.

Leslie Henry Hole was another former soldier from the district who sought a reference from Black. He was also another young English immigrant. When he first tried to enlist he was only 19 years-old and his occupation was ‘farm labourer’. He was rejected by the local doctors in Yarram because of his eyesight. Then in January 1916 he was successful. On his service overseas he suffered from a heart condition and he was eventually discharged as medically unfit in July 1918. He was actually discharged in the UK and on discharge he became an Australian Munitions Worker in the UK. He subsequently returned to Australia and was living at Albert Park when he applied for his qualification certificate.

Hole wrote to Black on 1/11/19 advising him that he had been instructed to secure a reference from him, as Shire Secretary, to include with his application for the qualification certificate. In the letter, Hole claimed he had had experience in dairy farming and that he had worked for several local farmers: W Vardy of Carrajung, A Vardy (a brother) of Alberton, A H Stephenson of Alberton and H Ferris, late of Mr Lucas’s farm at Carrajung.

A few days later (4/11/19), Black wrote to one of the men mentioned – A H Stephenson – seeking information:

A returned soldier, Leslie H. J. Hole, has written to me for a reference in connection with his application for a qualification certificate to enable him to take up land under the soldier land settlement scheme. He mentions that he worked for you amongst others in the district. As I do not know him, I cannot give him a reference without making inquiries, and I would, therefore, be obliged if you would inform me if, in your opinion, he is the (sic) man who would be likely to make a success of a dairy farm. Anything you tell me will be treated as strictly confidential.

Stephenson replied to Black on 11/11/19:

Your letter of the 4th inst. to hand.
Leslie Hole was in my employ for some time and I found him in every way trustworthy and I think him quite capable of taking on a dairy farm on his own.

On the face of it, Stephenson’s reference was definitely positive; and it appears that Black forwarded this reference directly to Hole on 13/11/19. Presumably, Black would have also written to the other farmers mentioned by Hole, but there is no record of any other references received by Black.

Hole must have appeared before the Qualification Committee in Melbourne in early December (1919). Following the interview, the Committee wrote to Black as Shire Secretary on 17/12/19. The Committee was clearly unhappy with Hole’s performance at the interview and sought more information:

With reference to Mr. Leslie H. J. Hole, who has applied for a Qualification Certificate. I may state that this man produced several references, among them being one from Mr. W. Vardy, Musk Grove, Carrajung South and Mr. A. H. Stephenson of Yarram. His evidence before the Committee was very unsatisfactory and in his answers to questions showed very small knowledge of practical farming. He has probably been working on a farm as stated by him, but would seem to have very little idea of farm management.

Would it be possible for you to obtain some further information in regard to this man as it seems highly desirable in his own interests that he should have considerably more experience before he could be entrusted with a farm of his own.

Black followed up with a further letter to both Albert Herbert Stephenson (Stacey’s Bridge) and William Vardy (Carrajung). The Shire archives retains the letter sent to Stephenson. It was dated 20/12/19:

Re Leslie H. J. Hole, to whom you gave a reference some time ago, I have received a letter from the Discharged Soldiers Qualification Committee stating that his evidence before the Committee was very unsatisfactory, and his answers to questions showed very small knowledge of practical farming. The Committee ask (sic) me to obtain further information about Hole as they consider he should have more experience before he could be entrusted with a farm of his own. Could you refer me to anyone in the district besides Mr W. Vardy, who, like yourself gave Hole a reference. I would be obliged if you could put me in the way of getting any further information about this man.

In a handwritten note on his copy of this letter, Black wrote that neither Stephenson nor Vardy was able to to … give any further information regarding Hole. Stephenson’s reply was dated 24/12/19 and Vardy’s 9/1/20. It appears that neither Stephenson nor Vardy was prepared to challenge the assessment made by the Qualification Committee. Consequently, on 9/1/20 Black replied to the Committee:

In response to your letter of the 17th ult., re Mr Leslie H. J. Hole, I have made inquiries, and am unable to obtain any further information about him. He seems to have been a new arrival in the district when he entered Mr Vardy’s employment, and went from there to Mr Stephenson, and on leaving the latter went to Melbourne where he enlisted soon after.

There is no record of Hole obtaining land as a soldier settler.

Not all those applying for land as soldier settlers in the Shire of Alberton had been working in the district prior to the War. Edward Francis Grainger was from NSW. When he enlisted in Sydney in October 1916 he gave his occupation as clerk. He served in France and was finally discharged (TPE) on 25/3/20. At some point over the next couple of years he moved to Victoria and worked on farms in the Shire of Alberton. He then sought a qualification certificate with the intention of becoming a soldier settler in the district.

Black received a letter from the Qualification Committee in Melbourne in early April 1924:

An ex-Imperial soldier named Edward F. Grainger, who states he has been employed by Mr. D. Belcher of Yarram and Mr. S. W. Parsons of Woodside, has appeared before the Qualification Committee in furtherance of his application for a Qualification Certificate.

He is a married man and states he has been getting farming experience since he arrived in this State with a view to taking up land on his own account. he has not, however, been able to save any money to assist in establishing himself and, in these circumstances, a settler needs to be a thoroughly capable man to enable him to work his farm in such a manner he will provide himself with a living and meet his financial obligations to the Board.

My Committee will deem it a favour if you would make some inquiry in regard to him and favor me with your opinion in regard to his ability as a farmer. Your reply will be treated as confidential.

Black replied a few days later on 11/4/24:

In reply to your letter off the 9th inst. (19863).
I have referred your request re E. F. Grainger to Cr Barlow who is in touch with that portion of the district where Mr Grainger states he worked. Cr Barlow does not know of him, and considers it would be difficult to obtain an opinion as to his abilities excepting from those for whom he worked.

There is no record of Grainger obtaining his qualification certificate.

There was at least one case where Black, as Shire Secretary, and other local farmers did challenge assessments made by the Qualification Committee. The person involved was John McLeod. While the name ‘McLeod’ was very common in the district at the time, i have not been able to trace this particular John McLeod. It is possible that, like Grainger, he came into the district after the War; but the following suggests that he was very well known in the district and therefore more likely to have been a local before the War.

On 5/1/23, Black as Shire Secretary wrote to the Qualification Committee in Melbourne:

Some time ago Mr John McLeod, discharged soldier, applied for a Qualification Certificate. He presented three excellent references from local farmers; he has had considerable experience on district farms, and has a very lengthy war service to his credit. He has informed those who gave the references that his application was refused. This has caused them much surprise, and they have requested me to inquire if you would kindly state the reasons for the Committee refusing the application.

The response came a few days later (9/1/23):

I am in receipt of your letter of the 5th instant relating to the above named man [re John McLeod] who appeared before the Qualification Committee on 2nd August last. He presented only two references, one from Mr. J. Sweeney and the other from Mr. C. Barlow both of Yarram

At the time of his appearance he was unemployed and he stated he had been doing casual work in the Railway Department and had been working for farmers around Yarram. He had not, however, worked for Mr Sweeney, had saved no money, and his case was deferred to enable him to produce further references in regard to his farming ability and some written confirmation of his statement that he would receive financial assistance in the event of his obtaining land. Nothing further has been heard from him since the date above mentioned. If he complies with the Committee’s requirements his case will receive further consideration.

Please treat this information as confidential.

Black must have then sought and received additional references from local farmers. He replied to the Committee on 6/4/23:

Referring to your letter of the 9th January last, I am forwarding herewith the references Mr McLeod has obtained. His address is c/o Mrs Hoban, Centennial Hotel, Kensington.

Black wrote on his copy of the letter a list of ‘references forwarded’: G Shaw, Charles Barlow, J J McKenzie, John Cotter jnr, Shire Secretary. Presumably, the 5 references forwarded, including one from him as Shire Secretary, were supportive of McLeod’s application. I have not been able to establish if McLeod was successful in his application.


The foregoing account has identified how fundamental references were in the process of obtaining the qualification certificate, where the qualification certificate was the essential documentation required for the soldier settlement scheme. Without adequate references – covering both character and farming experience/expertise – particularly from the Shire Secretary, there was effectively no chance of success. There was no automatic right to participate in the scheme, applicants had, effectively, to win a place. The analysis has also highlighted the extent of effort involved in securing such references, on the part of both the ex-soldier seeking the reference, and individual local landholders, and, most significantly, the Shire Secretary, in producing the references.

There is another key insight here. The use of the local reference underlined the extent to which the soldier settlement scheme was tied to the ‘politics’ of the local area. The thinking was that the scheme would only be effective if it had the full support and involvement of the local community. Consequently, the scheme was engineered to force the involvement of the local community in two critical areas: the purchase and then allocation of suitable land, and the selection of ex-soldiers who had the greatest chance of being successful. The key institution in this twin intention was the local (land’) valuation committee’ – also commonly referred to as the local ‘repatriation committee’ – and the key local official tying together the operation of the scheme at the local level was the Shire Secretary. It was true, as seen above, that at times the bureaucracy in Melbourne overruled the local officials and committees – we will also see this in relation to land valuations in future posts – but it was the efforts at the local level that largely defined the success or otherwise of the program.

Politically, the locals had always championed the ideal of repatriation and demanded that the State and Commonwealth Governments act decisively. They had also long supported the general idea of settling ex-soldiers on the land, in their specific district. Existing farmers and landowners saw significant benefits for themselves, the ex-soldiers and the wider community in the scheme. For its part, the State Government ensured that the scheme was ‘owned’ at the local level. It ensured that locals were involved in the significant decisions and it demanded an enormous amount of largely unpaid work from them. Locals could and would still complain about the excessive and overbearing direction of the state bureaucracy but the reality was that they too had to accept responsibility for its success or failure. Their motivation for supporting the scheme and the quality of their work were instrumental in determining overall success.

There is one last critical perspective worth mentioning. References inevitably involve one person’s assessment of another. The exercise is, by its very nature, a ‘personal’ one. However, it is worth broadening the focus and making the case that this particular exercise of reference-making had a ‘generational’ dimension to it. The basic reality was that the generation that had stayed at home was passing judgement on the generation that had fought in the War.

The generation of the Shire Secretary, civic elders and prominent townsmen, established landholders, graziers and farmers was the one that, by and large, had promoted the War effort and exhorted the youth to enlist. It was the one that had claimed the patriotic high ground. It had promoted conscription and demanded enlistments. It had praised the valour of those who joined the AIF, and the sacrifices made of both the dead and those who survived. It had lauded the military exploits of the ‘diggers’ and badged their efforts as proof of Imperial loyalty. It wanted not just to celebrate the greatness of the younger generation of soldiers but to live it vicariously. It had promised repatriation for every returning soldier.

On the other hand, the generation of the soldiers, particularly at the start of the War, was considerably younger and also naive. It was the generation of farm labourers, many of them newly arrived English immigrants, and the sons working on family farms. Few of them held property in their own right. This was the generation that had experienced the War, horror and suffering on a scale that was effectively beyond people’s imagining. In many cases they carried the wounds scars and disabilities home with them. Even though they were still relatively young, the rest of their lives would be profoundly shaped by the years of war. They came back different people, even if they looked the same. It was also the generation that had bonded in the shared experience of the War and the AIF and their sense of ‘mateship’ was an exclusive one. Most importantly, it was the generation that was expected to return from the War and simply take up again where they had been before enlisting. The wheel, as it were, had turned full circle and things would be the same again. The conventional order, including the generational respect for and subservience to your elders, was to be restored.

Obviously there was bound to be tension. There was much that was irreconcilable. Indeed, we have seen evidence in earlier posts. There was the conflict over what constituted an appropriate memorial [Post 211] , where a community-focused amenity was rejected in favour the returned men’s insistence on an exclusive ‘diggers’ club’. There was the criticism by town elders over the apparent lack of patriotic fervour on the part of the returned men. They were not living up to the expectations of their elders. Also, as the soldier settlement scheme took effect, it was clear that all the risk lay with the generation of ex-soldiers, while the generation of established landholders stood to profit.

So there was what can be termed ‘generational tension’ and, clearly, the issue of references highlighted this significantly. In effect, the references were being written by the older generation on the younger and, clearly, the power resided in the pen of the older generation. It was hardly a match of equals. The young absolutely relied on the word of their elders.


Archives, Shire of Alberton
Box 432
Four of 7 volumes numbered 2-8
Volume 2: October 1918 – July 1919
Volume 3: July 1919 – Nov 1919
Volume 4: Nov 1919 – March 1920
Volume 8: 1922

Battle to farm: WW1 Soldier Settlement records in Victoria
Public Record Office Victoria

216. Sentiment vs the market: Archie Morley’s failed bid to become a soldier settler

Archie Morley was born in Gormandale in 1889. He grew up in the town and attended the local state school.

Archie married Olive May Scarborough in 1914 and by the time he enlisted in 1916 there were two children: Rupert George Morley (1915) and Arthur Robert Morley (1916).

Archie Morley enlisted at Sale in early February 1916. He was 26 years old, and he was leaving behind a wife and two very young children. His religion was given as Presbyterian and his occupation as farmer. As we will see, he and a brother were farming on land leased from W E Cumming.

According to the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (8/3/16) Archie was farewelled from Gormandale, with another 5 local men, at a social in early March 1916. Each of the men was presented with a fountain pen and an indelible pencil ‘for writing many messages home’.

Archie Morley joined 21 Battalion and embarked from Australia on 3/10/16. After training in England, he finally reached France in mid February 1917. His service on the Western Front was relatively short because he was wounded on 28/4/17. He was hit in the left shoulder by what was described as either (gsw) gun shot or shrapnel. It was a serious wound: ’shrapnel’ / ‘gsw left shoulder severe; fractured clavicle’ and it marked the end of his service. After hospitalisation, he was returned to Australia (21/11/17) and discharged as ‘medically unfit’ (26/12/17).

He received a welcome home at Gormandale – along with 3 other men – in early March 1918. Again, it was written up in the local paper. The account described the men being … welcomed home in a right royal way. Each man was presented with … a gold medal, bearing the inscription, with name, “Service abroad, A.I.F., 1914-17. For duty bravely done. Awarded by residents of Gormandale and district.”

Obviously, Archie Morley returned from the War with a serious disability. He was in his late twenties, married with two young children. A third child – Vera May Morley – was born in 1918. On discharge, his pension and the allocations to his wife and children came to £6/5/0 per fortnight. Back in his local community, not surprisingly – and not withstanding his significant disability – Archie was keen to take advantage of the government scheme to place returned men on the land. On the face of it, he was the perfect match for the scheme.

But there was more to Archie Morley’s background, specifically his family background, that, at least in the eyes of the locals, boosted his entitlement to become a soldier settler in the local area. Indeed, there was considerable support for him right across the Shire of Alberton, not just in the Gormandale district, because of the widespread conviction that the Morley family had well and truly ‘done its duty’.

Five of the Morley boys had enlisted and three had been killed. Of the two who survived, Archie Morley, as already noted, had been discharged on medical grounds, and the other brother – Charles Victor Morley – served until September 1918 when he was returned to Australia to be discharged on ‘special’ grounds. The official record covering his early discharge described the circumstances thus: for sake of family; widowed mother; three brothers killed in action. One disabled on active service. It also noted that ‘two sisters and one brother died’ in the time Charles Morley had been in the AIF.

The three brothers killed were: George Thomas Morley, August 1916 (see Post 79), Ernest Edward Morley, May 1917 (see Post 119) – strictly speaking, he was a nephew – and Robert Herbert Morley, October 1917 (see Post 141). The two sisters who died were Mary Elizabeth Morley (1916 aged 35 years) and Annie Morley/Esler (1917 aged 45 years); and the brother who died was Jesse Morley (1917 aged 35 years). He left behind a wife and three small children; and in fact this family had lost an infant son in 1916. By any standard, the years 1916 and 1917 had brought enormous grief to the Morley family; and their tragic story was well known throughout the Shire.

The father of the Morley family (Jesse Morley) had died, aged 53, in 1897. The mother – Sally/Sarah Dove – died at Gormandale in 1939 aged 83 years. Over the War years, the mother was praised in the local press for offering solace and support for grieving families and also for her involvement with the local Red Cross. As an indication of her position in the local community, when the Gormandale memorial was unveiled by the long-serving federal politician G H Wise in December 1923, the Gippsland Times (24/12/23) reported that Wise readily assented to the suggestion that Mrs Morley – five members of whose family had served at the war, three of whom, alas! had fallen in battle – assist him in the unveiling.

With this background, it was hardly surprising that Archie Morley enjoyed considerable community support in his bid to become a soldier settler in the district. His extended family was well known and had lived in the local community of Gormandale for many years. Locals knew of the sacrifices the family had made in the War. They knew of the tragedy that had fallen on the family over the War years. They knew that Archie was returning home from France with a significant disability. They knew he had a young family to support. They knew he had had considerable experience in farming in the local area. They knew he was hard working and independent. They wanted to support him to take up his former life as a farmer.

But while Archie Morley was the perfect match for the soldier settlement program, his attempt proved unsuccessful. It is instructive to learn why his attempt failed. It certainly highlighted one of the inevitable checks on the grandiose program of repatriation at the end of WW1: market forces proved stronger than civic sentiment.

The account of Archie’s failed bid comes from newspaper reports from the time as well as papers from the archives of the Shire of Alberton.

Archive papers of the Shire of Alberton indicate that in early 1919 the various local repatriation committees set up across the shire, as part of the attempt by the Closer Settlement Board to promote soldier settlement, had become exasperated with what they saw as the faults of the state bureaucracy based in Melbourne. The local committee covering the Gormandale district was particularly critical. It formally raised a series of complaints with the Shire of Alberton Council and the Council in turn took up these concerns with the State body. The chief concern was that so few returned men were actually being placed on the land. In fact, the Gormandale committee claimed that despite all its work no soldier had been settled on the land in the district to that point. There was also ongoing criticism of the work of the (land) valuers appointed by the Government. The key issue here was that the local committees involved in the scheme considered that they had the critical local knowledge of both the suitability of land and local property values; but their advice and assessments were generally ignored and that of non-local, government-appointed valuers accepted.

Archie Morley’s case attracted a lot of attention and, by early 1919, it had even made it into the Melbourne papers. For example, an article in The Argus on 12/2/19, under the headline: ‘District Committees’ Powers’, specifically referred to it. The article covered the same general criticisms being made of the Closer Settlement Board across the Shire of Alberton.

One case in particular was cited, that of a soldier named Morley, who, on his return from the war, desired to take up a property which he had worked successfully for three years before enlisting. It was stated that he even went so far as to build a house on the property, and that one man had offered to buy it [the land] back from the Government in three years’ time at the present price. Morley has a qualification certificate, and is one of five brothers who enlisted, three of whom made the supreme sacrifice.

The ‘qualification certificate’ referred to was a formal certificate that established that the individual had the necessary farming background and character to succeed in the soldier settlement program.

There was another article, two months later, in the Morwell Advertiser (18/4/19) that gave more details on the case. Again, the general tenor was one of criticism of the Closer Settlement Board operating from Melbourne.

Before the war Mr Arch Morley and one of his brothers had a six years’ lease of a farm, compromising 105 acres, from Mr W. E. Cumming, Gormandale. Mr. A. Morley was one of the early volunteers, but returned invalided in November, 1917, and he decided to ask the Repatriation Board to purchase the farm for him. The six years’ lease expired the following February [1918], but in view of the negotiations with the Board, Mr. Cumming extended the tenancy for another 12 months, and the other brother went to Queensland. When the soldier returned from the front the owner of the property asked what he was prepared to pay for the land, and he told him £16 per acre all round. The owner agreed to accept the figure, the local valuers and the local repatriation committee said the price was a fair one. Negotiations have been in progress for 12 months, and the soldier is no nearer to getting possession. Four Government valuers have been over the property, and a certain member of the Closer Settlement Board. The latter came with an augur under his arm, for the purpose of testing the soil. The same gentleman, seeing a fine fruit tree on the farm, remarked, “What a pretty tree of quinces,” but it happened to be a pear tree. At first the Board offered £12 an acre for the property, and have since advanced the price to £13 10s and the owner has come down to £15, as he would like the soldier to get the farm, but has been offered £17 an acre by a resident of Gormandale. Mr. Morley was so confident of getting the farm that he has put an additional building on it. The extended lease has just expired and Mr. Morley wants to know what the Closer Settlement Board is going to do. It is cases like the above that have caused the public to lose confidence in the Repatriation and Closer Settlement Boards. It might be added that “The Courier” has communicated with the Minister for Lands (Mr. Clarke) for an explanation in connection with the above, and bringing under his notice the threatened resignation of the Gormandale repatriation committee, but up to the present no reply has come to hand.

Clearly, the Morley case was being used to show how ineffective the soldier settlement scheme had become. The clear suggestion was that external valuers were the key problem; and that negotiations at the local level, where those involved had a better, more informed view of values and other relevant issues, would produce better outcomes. There was also a dig at the supposed expertise of the external officers, who could not tell the difference between a pear and a quince tree! The article also highlighted the degree of frustration weighing on the local (Gormandale) repatriation committee members who were then threatening to resign. These local committees were active in each of the three ridings of the shire. They were small and usually consisted of 2 or 3 successful landholders with a local councillor. They were unpaid positions and often involved a great deal of work – another reason why the members became so frustrated when their advice was apparently ignored.

Beyond the local newspaper reports, Council correspondence from the time provides some additional detail. There is letter dated 20/3/19 from T G Anderson on behalf of the local (Gormandale) ’Shire Repatriation Committee’. The letter noted that Morley had made application for the land 12 months earlier (early 1918). The land itself actually consisted of 2 parcels: one allotment of 74 acres and another of 31 acres. The local valuers determined an average price for the 105 acres of £15/16/9 per acre. The vendor had indicated that he would accept £15/5/0 per acre. The letter noted, re the vendor’s offer: … and this is considered by local land valuers as a reasonable price.

The letter also noted that Morley had rented the land for 3 years before enlisting and that … ever since he returned 16 months ago has been renting and working on this place. There was clearly an expectation on Morley’s part that he would be able to secure the land. The letter noted that, on the assumption that he would get the land through the ‘Government scheme for returned soldiers’, Morley had erected a house and outbuildings for a dairy farm.

Morley was described as married … with three children and a good wife to help him. He was also described as someone who had spent his whole in the district and was respected by all. He was an industrious young man and the committee was confident that he would be successful. The letter also included the reference to a ‘respected valuer’ (W Pentland) who was willing to act as some of guarantor, in that he was prepared to repurchase the land from the Government – at the current value of £15/5/0 per acre – at the end of 3 years if Morley’s venture did not succeed.

The letter also noted that Morley had also built a house for the widow – and her 3 children – of one of his brothers who had been killed in the war. This must have been the family of Ernest Edward Morley, killed 14/5/17. It was not clear where the house was; but possibly it too was built on the land in question.

On the basis of all this background information, the Gormandale Repatriation Committee requested in the letter that the Shire of Alberton take up the issue and urge the Closer Settlement Board in Melbourne to re-open and review the case. In fact, the Shire itself had already formally decided – on 13/3/19 via a successful council resolution – to request that the Closer Settlement Board re-open the case.

The Alberton Shire formally wrote to the Closer Settlement Board on 25/3/19. The Shire Secretary (G W Black) stated:

The Council has given this case careful consideration, and I am directed to ask if the Board will re-open it.

Black continued,

The Council is of opinion that if the proposition has been turned down, as has been alleged, it must have been due to some misapprehension, and it, therefore urges that the case be re-opened, and full consideration given to the representations as set forth in the accompanying letter. [Anderson’s letter of 20/3/19]

The response from the Closer Settlement Board was immediate – the reply was dated 26/3/19, the next day – and it was as definitive. As far as the Closer Settlement Board was concerned the matter was closed and the decision was not going to be reviewed in any way. The tone was as curt as the reply was prompt:

The vendor was offered a price by the Board which was declined, and no further action will be taken in the matter.

There are many unanswered questions here. For example, was Archie Morley encouraged – by the landowner or others in the community – to make the significant improvements to the property in the belief that this would increase the pressure on the Closer Settlement Board to agree to the sale? Similarly, was there an assumption held by Archie Morley, and the local community generally, that, in effect, the Closer Settlement Board was bound to support him and that the actual cost of the land was of secondary importance, particularly given that the local committee had effectively negotiated a ‘reasonable price’? From another perspective – was this a defining case for the Closer Settlement Board, which was determined to uphold its authority in view of all the criticism it was attracting? And, of course, there were the more technical questions: what was the price offered by the Board and how close was it to the price negotiated by the local committee at Gormandale?

Sitting behind all this is another key question. It is one I hope to pursue in coming posts: were the local repatriation committees, intended to work closely with the Closer Settlement Board in Melbourne to support the soldier settlement scheme, keen to drive up the price of land in the district? After all, the committees were made up of significant landholders in the community and they knew that the Government had become a key player in the local land market. The Government needed land for the soldier settlement scheme; and the market now offered considerable potential for profit. And there are some darker questions to do with who really profited from the scheme to put returned soldiers on the land.

But, beyond all the conjecture, there is little doubt that the case highlights the inevitable clash between sentiment – everyone agreed that Archie Morley deserved to become a soldier settler – and market forces. Archie Morley’s dream was denied because the Closer Settlement Board was not prepared to meet the price requested by the vendor. For his part the vendor was not prepared to accept the price offered by the Board because, presumably, he had had a better offer from some other local party. The vendor was not prepared, as it were, to incorporate a ‘discount for public sentiment’ in his selling price.

Archie and the wider Morley family might have done everything for the War effort – certainly they committed to it and sacrificed a lot more than most – but, in the end, market forces proved more powerful than sentiment.


The Argus

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Morewell Advertiser

Gippsland Times

Archives, Shire of Alberton
Box 432
One of 7 volumes numbered 2-8
Volume 2: October 1918 – July 1919

215. The problematic history of the names on the Soldiers’ Memorial in Yarram

Two previous posts have looked at the history of the war memorial (soldiers’ memorial) in the main street of Yarram:

96. Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

212. The Shire of Alberton unveils a memorial to its soldiers

This particular post looks specifically at the addition of the actual names of ‘the fallen’ in the second half of 1929. It took 14 years from the time of the first deaths – at Gallipoli, in 1915 – for the names of the Shire’s dead to be acknowledged formally on the memorial.

The post examines the complex and fraught question of who was included on the soldiers’ memorial. Typically, most people looking at the names on a memorial, such as the one in Yarram, would assume that it presented a complete and accurate tally of all the ‘local’ men who had made the ‘ultimate sacrifice’. However, as will become obvious, the reality is more complex and and less certain.

The process of adding the names

The Shire of Alberton archives reveal at least part of the history behind the inclusion of the names on the soldiers’ memorial. The archives show that in November 1928, a request was made by the Diggers’ Club that the council receive a deputation – Dr Rutter, W A Cole and E Smithies – that was to seek council support – and a financial contribution – for the inclusion of the names on the soldiers’ memorial. Tellingly, from the very start the clear intention was that the names of the men would be supplied by the Diggers’ Club and that the cost of the exercise would be met in equal shares by the Diggers’ Club and the Shire. Previously, with the creation of the monument itself, the council had driven the entire project and met all costs. The wording on the monument when it was unveiled in 1920 acknowledged the council’s primary role:

Erected by the Shire of Alberton out of gratitude to the men who offered service in the Great War 1914-1918

But now, for the addition of the names, responsibility was passed exclusively to the Diggers’ Club and the council agreed to meet half the costs involved. Responsibility for the determination of the names being passed to the Diggers’ Club is not a small point. However, at the time, no one appeared to have been concerned that the Shire’s significant responsibility was delegated to another body. The resolution passed at the relevant council meeting (8/11/28) explicitly made the Diggers’ Club the responsible agent:

That the Diggers’ Club be requested to depose and compile the list of fallen whose names they consider should be be engraved on the Soldiers’ Memorial.

Council business in early 1929 (14/2/29) indicated the Diggers’ Club had drawn up a list of 61 names. There was a letter – dated 13/2/29 – to the council from E Griffiths, Honorary Secretary, the Diggers Club, Yarram:

At present we have the names of sixty one soldiers from this shire who fell in the Great War. We propose to publish these names in the Gippsland Standard and the Melbourne daily papers with the request that anyone knowing of any soldier who was killed on Active Service and whose name does not appear on the list should communicate with the undersigned…

Presumably, the inclusion of the notice in various newspapers had some effect because 2 months later, in another letter to the council, the numbers had grown to 79 names. The letter was dated 9/4/29 and, again, it was signed by E Griffiths.

As stated in a previous letter the Diggers Club was undertaking the task of compiling the list of names of the soldiers from this Shire who fell in the Great War. This has been done and I enclose the list herewith. It contains the names of 79 soldiers and every effort has been made to secure that it is complete.

With the letter was a hand-written list of the 79 names. These were the 79 names that ultimately appeared on the memorial. There were some minor changes to the order of the names and whereas the list provided by the Diggers’ Club sometimes included first names in full, the memorial used only initials – for example, Harold Seymour Ray on the list became Ray H. S. on the memorial. But, critically, apart from such minor changes, the list provided by the Diggers’ Club in early April 1929 represented the final version that appeared on the memorial.

It was interesting that the letter specifically referred to 2 of the names: the brothers Bryon and George Nicholas. They were included at the very end of the hand-written list, as numbers 78 and 79, with the following comment:

As regards the last two names – it is known that these two brothers were school teachers in the Shire but we have not been able to ascertain whether they enlisted here or at their home town – Trafalgar.

The fact that the two Nicholas brothers were added at the very end of the list plus the apparent concern that they might not have enlisted in Yarram suggest that their inclusion on the list was uncertain. Further, there was a brief note added to the letter specifically in response to the question of where the brothers enlisted. The note read, not in Yarram. Presumably, this had been added by George W Black as the Shire Secretary, and the officer who had maintained enlistment records over the course of the War. Black was able to state that they had not enlisted at Yarram. Both enlisted in Melbourne. In the end, the place of enlistment must not have been an issue because, as noted, the brothers were included on the memorial. I will return to the case of the two brothers later but, in this initial context, it is worth noting that the work undertaken by the Diggers’ Club in compiling the list was done independently of the Shire. Black, as the Shire Secretary, did have records that would have been of considerable assistance in helping to draw up or, at least, vet the Diggers’ Club list. For example, he had had to keep accurate records of the railway warrants he had issued to men who had enlisted at Yarram, so, in effect, he had a tally of all men who had enlisted at Yarram. Also, Black had annotated this list throughout the War, including, for example, with references to those men known by him to have been killed. Again, as we will see, there was no single, complete, perfect set of records and, in any case, the specific criteria applied for inclusion on the list of the fallen were neither explicit nor consistently applied. However, it seems strange that the council effectively abdicated its responsibility and relied entirely on the deliberations of the Diggers’ Club. Perhaps it just assumed that the ‘pooled memory’ of those involved with the Diggers’ Club would suffice. Perhaps it anticipated controversy over the exercise and made a political decision to leave the judgment to the local body that claimed to speak directly on behalf of the returned men.

Other council papers in the archives cover the tender for the work and the agreement between the Shire and the Diggers’ Club to divide the cost equally. The wording at the head of each of the two columns of names – These men gave their lives for their country – was also determined by the Diggers’ Club and then approved by the Council. The total final cost for the lettering was £61/16/6.

The Council also opened a public subscription for local families to make a financial contribution to the work. I think it is fair to argue that the response was underwhelming. The subscription list in the council papers showed only 9 parties (B. R Jeffs, R. Wight, M. Nebbitt, J. E Attenborough, ‘Eyes Right’, Mrs Caroline Sexton, Miss Jeffs, Mrs A. M. Morris and ‘Parents’) who contributed a total of £7/13/6. Perhaps the parents and families of the men killed took exception to any suggestion that it was appropriate for them to contribute to the cost of having their son or husband’s name recorded. Perhaps the response was some measure of war weariness. Perhaps the response was affected by the passage of time. In some cases it was up to 15 years after the soldier’s death; and for all of the men it was at least 10 years.

At the time, the inclusion of the names on the soldiers’ memorial must have brought some sense of finality to the offical commemoration of the Great War in the local district. It is also possible that the final act of inscribing the names brought a sense of what we refer to today as ‘closure’ to the War itself and provided the opportunity for the local community to ‘move on’. Finally, the names of those men from the Shire of Alberton who had paid ‘the ultimate sacrifice’ were engraved in stone in the main street of Yarram. The list of names could stand as a permanent record; and in a real sense the list has stood as a fixed reality for the past 100 years.

From a historical perspective, one key defining feature of any formal list of names is that it presents the opportunity for checking. Using the range of historical resources available, it is possible to assess the accuracy of the list. Applying this methodology, we can establish that the list of names on the memorial falls short in terms of the total picture of those with a link to the Shire of Alberton who were killed in the War. As well as establishing some sense of the extent to which the picture is incomplete, we can also tackle the related and difficult question of how the picture presented by the memorial came to be incomplete. And there is another set of questions to do with the implications of this situation.

While the Shire Council passed responsibility for coming up with the list of names to the Diggers’ Club – presumably, this body used the collected memory of its members to create the list – there were other options at the time. Arguably, the key reference in the exercise should have been the Shire Secretary, G W Black who had been appointed to the position in 1911. Throughout the War, Black had been tasked with keeping records of those who enlisted from Yarram. At the start of the War, he kept hand-written records of those who completed medicals at Yarram and, as already noted, as an extension of this work, he also had to keep account of those who were given railway warrants to travel to Melbourne. He kept other records – unfortunately these were incomplete – of those who were awarded the Shire Medallion. After the War, in early 1920, Black was instructed to compile a list of all those from the Shire who had … offered service in the Great War. This was the basis for the honor roll drawn up for the Shire of Alberton at the same time. [See Post 24. Honor Roll of the Shire of Alberton.] The roll also highlighted the 62 men ‘killed’. Overall, while Black’s primary focus was on those who enlisted in Yarram, he certainly had a broader picture of all those from the Shire who enlisted elsewhere, most commonly in Melbourne.

Additionally, throughout the War, other groups also kept records of enlistments and formally recorded the deaths of soldiers. The most significant example of this practice involved the local state school, and at the end of the War there was a memorial honor roll or honor board unveiled in each local school which recorded all past scholars who enlisted, and it also highlighted those killed. There were some issues with these honor rolls – for example, past scholars could have left the district well before they enlisted – but, certainly, the school rolls were all available for reference by 1929 and, arguably, should have been used. In addition to school memorials, there were also some church and district honor rolls and boards and even memorials created. They were obviously another valuable resource that could have been used. Additionally, as we have seen, throughout the War the pages of the local papers – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative and South Gippsland Chronicle – had recorded details of enlistments and deaths and commonly included death notices and in memoriams. In the early stages of the War the papers often published lists of those who had enlisted. For example, in January 1916, the South Gippsland Chronicle published a list of approximately 250 men who had enlisted to that point. The list included those who had enlisted outside the Shire and it also gave some details on men killed.

The key observation in all this is that there was a good deal of information available in the district that could have been used to compile a comprehensive and accurate record of all those locals from the Shire who had died in service. It would have taken a reasonable amount of coordination and organisation and there would have had to have been basic agreement on what constituted a ‘local’ in the particular context. Also, you would assume that it would have been the Shire council that took the lead role.

It is of course possible that the Diggers’ Club did seek input from other groups or individuals, perhaps informally and on an ad hoc basis. However, as already indicated, the material in the Shire archives certainly suggests that the list came exclusively from the Diggers’ Club executive. Further, the Council saw the list as the responsibility of that body. It will also become apparent that there was not not much cross-checking by the Diggers’ Club against existing Council and other records records; or, seen from the other persecutive, the Council did not apply too much critical attention to the list provided by the Diggers’ Club.

The incomplete picture

With this background in mind, it is relevant to examine how all the various lists of the ‘fallen’ from the time line up against each other. The picture that emerges, to put it mildly, is one of confusion.

We can start with the list drawn up by Black in early 1920. This became the Honor Roll of the Shire of Alberton. As noted, it highlighted the names of 62 men ‘killed’.

The first issue with this list is that 3 men identified on the list as ‘killed’ were not killed. Tyler, H. B. – Henry Bernard Tyler – is marked as killed, but it was his brother – Tyler, G. T.: George Thomas Tyler – also on the honor roll, who was killed. It was an awkward case of mistaken identity. The second individual was Loriman, J. B. – John Bourke Lor(r)iman. While he definitely was not killed – he returned and was medically discharged in July 1919 – there was at least some confusion about his fate during the War. For example, in a memorial service held in Yarram in May 1918 his name was included as one of the dead. The last person to be listed as killed, but who in fact survived the War, was Pullbrook, L. J. – Lisle John Pul(l)brook was not killed and he returned to Australia in July 1919.

Of more concern is that fact that the Shire’s 1920 honor roll also featured the names of 28 local men who were killed in the War but who were not marked as ‘killed’. For present purposes, we can assume they were ‘local’ because they appear on this formal list drawn up by the Shire Secretary. Somewhat incredibly, Black had ‘missed’ that they had been killed.

The 28 men whose names appeared on the Shire’s honor roll but who were not acknowledged on that roll as having been ‘killed’ can be divided into 2 groups. Nine of them did, in time, appear on the soldiers’ memorial, which meant, in effect, that their sacrifice was ultimately acknowledged. But, incredibly, the names of the other 19 men killed did not appear on the soldiers’ memorial.

Obviously, the original error lay with Black and his honor roll. You could argue that just 2 years after the War there could have been some uncertainty over the fate of some soldiers. Then again, to miss 28 deaths from your list of local men is a major failing. At the same time, it is hard to understand how by the time, nearly ten years later, when the Diggers’ Club came to draw up their list, only 9 of the 28 men had been picked up. Surely, by that point, the fate of local men who appeared on Black’s 1920 list would have been known. One explanation has to be that the Diggers’ Club did not cross-check their list against Black’s.

Below are the names of the 9 men who (1) were killed (2) were included on the Shire’s honor roll drawn up by Black in 1920 (3) were not shown as ‘killed’ on this honor roll, but then (4) were included in 1929 on the soldiers’ memorial in Yarram:

Appleyard, Edgar – Appleyard, Edgar John
Christensen, Allen – Christensen, Allan Patrick
Carter, Jas – Carter, James
Fleming R. V. – Fleming, Robert Victor
Missen, Harold – Missen, Harold Joseph
Sherlock, A. – Sherlock, Albert
Tolley, C. S. – Tolley, Charles Samuel
Tyler, G. T. – Tyler, George Thomas (see above re confusion with brother, Henry Bernard Tyler)
Wilson, T – Wilson, Thomas Anderton

Below are the names of the 19 men who (1) were killed (2) were included on the Shire’s honor roll drawn up by Black in 1920 (3) were not shown as ‘killed’ on this honor roll, and (4) were not included in 1929 on the soldiers’ memorial in Yarram:

Aubrey, G. V – Aubrey George Victor
Booth, N. W. – Booth, Norman Waterhouse
Campbell Donald – Campbell, Donald
Francis, John – Francis, John
Farthing, A. V. – Farthing, Arthur Vincent
Harrison, Frank L. – Harrison, Frank Lionel
Kennedy, A. – Kennedy, Arthur Charles Valentine
Manders, J. H. – Manders, John Henry
McIntosh, Jas – McIntosh, James Edward
McLeod, L. J. – McLeod, Leslie John
O’Day, J. R. – O’Day, James Robert
Patterson, O. – Patterson, Owen
Pallot, E. R. – Pallot(t), Ernest Ralph
Robertson, J. D. – Robertson, John Douglas
Robinson, Edward – Robinson, Edward
Robinson, Alex – Robinson, Alexander
Singleton, J. – Singleton, James
Somers, A – Somers, Arthur John
Skene, G. A. – Skene, George Alexander

In one sense you could argue that it was only really the second group of 19 men that was of concern because for the first group of nine men the ‘mistake’ made in 1920 was corrected by their inclusion on the soldiers’ memorial in 1929. On the other hand, the second group of 19 was significantly disadvantaged because even though they were ‘local’ – as indicated by their inclusion on the 1920 honor roll of the Shire of Alberton – their names were left off the permanent memorial. The obvious question is how did such a situation occur? There is no obvious answer. As suggested, the basic problem might have been that there was little, if any, cross checking of available records. Or perhaps the cross checking involved was careless or, more accurately, carried out in only a cursory manner.

However, I want to argue that there was a bigger problem beyond the issue of problematic record keeping. Once again, I think the basic issue is all about how ‘local’ was defined. The reality was that there was no single, agreed definition, and different groups, institutions and even families had different perspectives on who was and who was not ‘local’. And this problem was exacerbated by the fact that there was a high background level of mobility – both individual and family – in society, particularly amongst the rural working class.

Even more missing names

Moreover, my research suggests that the potential number of missing names from the soldiers’ memorial in Yarram was far greater than is suggested by the above discrepancies between the records of Shire Secretary, Black and the Diggers’ Club. There was, potentially, another large group of men ‘forgotten’ or ‘left off’.

Throughout this research, I have attempted to cast the widest possible net over the Shire of Alberton to identify all those directly involved in or affected by the Great War. To do this I have relied on a significant range of primary resources: from electoral rolls to a wide range of memorials, from council archives to local newspapers, from personal accounts and local histories to the individual service files of hundreds of enlisted men. With this approach, I have identified just over 800 men for whom there is some direct link to the Shire. This figure is considerably greater than the 446 men that featured on the 1920 honor roll for the Shire of Alberton. Similarly, my data base records approximately 170 deaths amongst this group, a figure which is far higher than that on the soldiers’ memorial (79) which itself was greater than the number of deaths (62) recorded on the 1920 honor roll.

Applying my methodology, the list at the end of this Post shows the 70 additional men ‘killed’ but whose names do not appear on either the Roll of Honor for the Shire of Alberton or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial in Yarram. For all in this group, there is at least some evidence that links them to the Shire of Alberton and makes them, in some sense at least, ‘local’. I have indicated for each individual first the place of birth and then the place of enlistment, and also given a very brief note on the evidence linking them to the Shire. In some cases, the evidence is limited – sometimes it is only a mention on the honor roll of a local school – but in many other cases there is considerable evidence to tie the individual to the Shire and give them the status of a ‘local’.

What do we make of all this?

One critical point, which has been made repeatedly, is that there was no agreed definition of ‘local’. For example, on my additional list there are at least 18 men who enlisted interstate, or even overseas (New Zealand and Canada). Obviously, they would not have been living in the local area at the time they enlisted and were therefore not ‘local’. But when you look more closely at the individual cases you can see that many of them were certainly well known in the local area: they had been born there, attended school and grown up there; and their families had been in the district for a long time and indeed many of the family were still living there. But the individual himself had left the Shire. So you could start to make all sorts of distinctions between someone who had a ‘strong local background’ or someone who was still ‘very well known in the local area’ and someone who was a ‘local’ because he was actually living in the area. You might want to argue that only someone who was living and working in the local area at the time of enlistment could count as ‘local’, in terms of having their name added to the memorial. On the face of it, this would make sense and would provide a consistent criterion. And on that score, the following names from my additional list would never be considered local because they enlisted interstate or, as indicated, even overseas:

Adams, John Henry: Enogerra, Qld
Booker, Frederick Peter: Perth, WA
Bunston, Leslie William: Lismore, NSW
Dove, Albert Ernest: NewZealand
Ellis, Robert G:Vancouver, Canada
Godfrey, Albert John Jeffrey: Perth, WA
Lowther, Frank William: Toowoomba, Qld
Mates, Harold: Brisbane, Qld
Morgan, Arthur: Adelaide, SA
Moulden, William: Belmont, WA
Noonan, Leonard: Sydney, NSW
Raymond, Harold McCheyne: Brisbane, Qld
Saal, Christopher: Toowoomba, Qld
Slavin, John Leonard: Perth, WA
Tregilgas, Archibald Sturt: Adelaide, SA
Whitford, Roy Victor: Perth, WA
Widdon, Albert Edward: Dalby, Qld

The problem with this hard but consistent definition of ‘local’ is that it was not applied at the time. In fact, five men were included on the soldiers’ memorial even though they enlisted interstate and were obviously living and working interstate at the time they enlisted:

Appleyard, Gordon William: Rockhampton, Qld
Grinlington (Grimlington on memorial), Dudley: Perth, WA
O’Neil, John Albert: Claremont, Tas
Sutton, David George: Brisbane, Qld
Sutton, William Henry: Brisbane, Qld

The logic has to be that if some men were included on the memorial on the basis of a strong local identity, even if they were no longer living in the Shire, then might not some of the 18 men on my list have had the same claim?

Then there is the issue of the school memorials. Many individuals on my list have their name recorded on one or more of the memorials from local state schools. In a limited number of cases – approximately 7 – it is the school honor roll that is the sole piece of evidence tying the individual to the Shire. Often, the individual concerned might have left school, and the district, many years before the War. So the argument could be that they were no longer ‘local’ in any meaningful way. But it is worth making several qualifications. As noted, cases where the only link to the Shire was the inclusion of the name on a school memorial are few.

Further the school honor rolls and boards were deliberately created at the time as significant historical records. All schools created them. They were completed with care and they were based on school registers which were significant records in their own right. They were treated with considerable pride and there was always a formal unveiling ceremony associated with their completion. The effect of all this was that the status of ‘former student of the local state school’ served, as it were, as a variety of ‘local’. The point is that that from the perspective of history it is not possible simply to dismiss those named on these rolls as not genuinely ‘local’. At the time, people did see the previous schooling of those who enlisted as proof of their local status. Indeed, the need to tie both the enlisted and, more particularly, the ‘fallen’ to their local school was obviously a very powerful driver at the time and one of the defining features of Australian society’s memorialisation of the War.

There is also another dimension to this whole business of the local school’s honor roll which is worth exploring. Again, it highlights just how complex the issue of ‘local’ was. Earlier, I mentioned the 2 Nicholas brothers. Both had taught, but only for a short period, in local state schools. Both brothers appear on the honor roll for Gormandale East and, additionally, Bryon Nicholas appears on the Carrajung South SS honor roll and George Nicholas on the Wonyip SS honor roll. As mentioned, when the Diggers’ Club came up with their list of names for the soldiers’ memorial there was some question over whether their names should be included. It was noted that neither brother had enlisted locally. But in the end both names were included. Their inclusion would appear to have been on the sole basis that both had taught in local schools. I highlight their inclusion because on my additional list there are another 5 men who also taught in local schools : Brain, Edward George (Ryton Hall/Wonyip SS), Chester, Charles Edward William (Ryton Hall/Wonyip SS), Martin, John Herbert (Hiawatha SS), Moysey, James Edgar (‘former school teacher of the district’), Ormsby, Philip Michael (Madalya SS). As well as highlighting yet more inconsistency over this vexed issue of ‘local’, the matter draws attention to the large number of state school teachers, the great majority in their first few years of teaching, who did enlist.

As well as the vexed issue of ‘local’ there were obviously problems with record keeping. Strictly speaking, it was not so much the creation of records but more so the checking of records and understanding their significance. I have already highlighted how there was apparently no cross checking between the Diggers’ Club list of names and the Shire honor roll created by Shire Secretary Black. My additional list highlights some more failings. I have already written about the significance of railway warrants – Post 201. Railway warrants 1914-18 – and noted that Black’s records of these warrants identified men who definitely enlisted in Yarram. That is, they had their initial medical in Yarram, signed attestation forms and took the oath and were then issued with their railway warrant to travel to Melbourne to complete the process. So, presumably, anyone appearing on Black’s list of railway warrants would have been living and working in Yarram or elsewhere in the Shire at the time of enlistment. They would have been, at least in some basic sense, ‘local’. Yet my additional list has at least seven men who were on Black’s list of railway warrants – and were subsequently killed – but who do not appear on either the Shire’s honor roll or its soldiers’ memorial:

Dietrich, Henry James
Hofen, Robert Henry
Martin, Gordon
McCarthy, Terence Charles Francis
Reeves, Alfred
Smith, William
Sebire, Francis Henry

Further, in most of these cases there was additional evidence that pointed to a connection to the district at the time of enlistment.

As suggested, the basic problem with this group, presumably, was that no one cross-checked various lists. Also, possibly because these men had only been working as itinerant farm labourers for a short period before they enlisted in Yarram, no one ever saw them as ‘genuine locals’. Nor is it hard to see how they would fall outside the collected memory of the Diggers’ Club, ten years after the War.

There is one other critical piece of evidence to consider in relation to this general discussion of ‘local’. Strictly speaking it was evidence not available to local authorities at the time but it is still important to look at it because it highlights just how subjective the very issue of ‘local identity’ could be.

For those men killed – or who died – in the War, a circular was sent to next of kin seeking a limited amount of personal information for commemorative purposes. The request was headed, Particulars required for the Roll of Honour of Australia in the Memorial War Museum [National Roll of Honour] and one of the items sought specific details on the location to which the individual could/should be linked. The specific question was:

With what Town or District in Australia was he chiefly connected (under which his name ought to come on the Memorial)?

The significance of all this is that on my additional list there are 10 men who, according to their next-of-kin, were ‘chiefly connected’ to some location within the Shire of Alberton. The men and the specific location are as follows:

Ashton, John Henry Parker: Tarraville
How(e), Harold Christopher: Yarram
Lowther, Frank William: Yarram
Mason, James Oliver: Yarram
Morgan, Arthur: Boolarra
Morley, Robert Herbert: Gormandale
Radburn, Edward: Boolarra
Tibbs, Walter: Tarraville
Wilson, William: Yarram
Withinshaw, George: Yarram

Admittedly, two of these locations (Boolarra and Gormandale) are potentially ‘borderline’ with other shires but, as with other examples, there was usually other corroborating evidence to suggest the link to the Shire of Alberton.

You can begin to see what likely transpired in these cases by going a little deeper. For example, George Withinshaw was born in the UK. When he enlisted in Warragul in November 1916 he was 22 yo. On enlistment and embarkation, he gave his address c/o C J Stockwell, Yarram. Charles Stockwell was a grazier from Yarram; and, presumably, Withinshaw was working for him. When his parents completed the information for the National Roll of Honour they gave Yarram as the place with which their son was ‘chiefly associated’, They also gave Stockwell’s name – and address – as a person who would be able to provide additional information, if required.

Of course, the existence of that particular record would not have been known by anyone in Yarram. Moreover, Withinshaw was killed in September 1917, so 12 years had passed when the Diggers’ Club came to compile its list. It is easy to see how, in effect, Withinshaw’s name disappeared from local memory. Walter Tibbs was a similar ‘lost’ person. He had come to Australia as a 15yo and worked as a farm worker in the Shire. He enlisted as a 21yo very soon after War broke out (21/8/14) and was killed at Gallipoli on the first day of fighting. Without his parents’ identification of Tarraville as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’ there would be nothing to tie him to the Shire. Yet he was clearly working in the district before he enlisted. These types of examples indicate the significant limits to ‘collected memory’ and ‘local knowledge’.


As I stated at the start, people look at war memorials like the one in Yarram, with its list of the ‘fallen’, as some form of sacred scroll, and assume that it is based on an accurate and complete reckoning. My research suggests that the true status of such a memorial is less perfect. It stands as an incomplete record: proof that arbitrary judgements, problematic definitions, faulty memories and careless record-keeping can all play a part in compromising the historical record.

However, for all its problems the memorial is still very much a historical artefact in its own right. It has its own 100 year history and, moreover, its creation reflected the historical realities of the time.

Some might want to argue that the list of names on the memorial needs to be extended so that there is a more accurate picture of the true cost of sacrifice across the Shire in WW1. Some might want to argue that the others who died have a ‘right’ to have their name inscribed, and that the present community has a ‘responsibility’ to undertake this task. Personally, I have major reservations about any ‘re-working’ of the memorial. As argued, I see the memorial as a piece of history in its own right. I do not believe we have any right or responsibility to re-create it in any way.

At the same time, we certainly have a responsibility to understand and explain the history of the memorial’s shortcomings; and that history points to the divisive and complex politics that characterised Australian society after the War. For example, I think it was particularly significant that at the time the Shire abdicated what was undoubtedly its responsibility and made the Diggers’ Club the sole arbiter. And there were other powerful forces at work – for example, the extraordinary degree of mobility that characterised society – particularly with the rural working class – at the time.

Moreover, in terms of ‘trying to set the record straight’, I also think that it would be impossible to come up with a definitive list of all those ‘from’ the Shire of Alberton who served and, of this group, those who were killed. There were too many interpretations, too many variables, too many inconsistencies, too many lost memories, too much missing information; and while some family interests were very strong, others were not strong enough or never even represented …

I think there is one final, important irony to note. As stated repeatedly in recent posts, throughout the War promises were made routinely and religiously to the young men who enlisted that their loyalty and sacrifice would never be forgotten. It was effectively one generation’s promise to the next one. The civic leaders, prominent citizens, clergy and elders persuaded the younger generation to enlist on the basis of a raft of causes: Imperial loyalty and patriotism; national interest, including the maintenance of White Australia; the universal test of manhood; the upholding of British values and opposition to German militarism; the protection of the weak and defenceless; and even the memory of the colonial pioneers. And the same generation promised that the men’s sacrifice would never be forgotten and they would be cared for and their memory honoured. Their names would be engraved in stone. But as we have seen, the actual history did not play out like that. In its own way, the history of the names on the war memorial underlines this reality.

Additional list of seventy men killed who had some association with the Shire of Alberton but who are not recorded on either the Roll of Honor for the Shire of Alberton or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

Adams, John Henry
Ballarat (born) /Queensland (enlisted)
The family was well known in district. He had attended school at Longwarry. After school, he worked with his father on the family farm farm at Jack Creek. But he must have been in Queensland for several years before enlisting. On his embarkation record his address was given as Yarram. He had one of his letters home published in local paper. In it he wrote about catching up overseas with other locals, including Eric Coulthard.

Anquetil, Henry Stewart
He had attended school at Binginwarri and his mother was living in district.

Ashton, John Henry Parker
He was born at Tarraville and went to Tarraville SS. Fish Creek was given as his address on enlistment form. The National Roll of Honour had Tarraville as the location with which he was ‘chiefly associated’.

Atkinson, Bertram
Ballarat/cannot find record
He had attended Yarram SS. At the time of his schooling, his father – Rev James C Atkinson – had been Church of England minister in Yarram, c. 1905. His death and connection to the district were reported in the local paper.

Booker, Frederick Peter
He had attended North Devon SS. He was one of three brother who enlisted. The other two, younger, brothers retained strong contact with the district but by the time he enlisted he was in Perth. The local paper gave details of his death and referred to him as ‘former resident’.

Brain, Edward George
He had been a teacher in the district – Ryton Hall – and, given that he was only 19yo when he enlisted, it was probably his first appointment. His name appears on the Wonyip & District honor board. He also likely played for a local football team.

Browney, William
Ipswich, Qld/ Foster
He was also known as Beadmore (adopted). He had attended school at Korrumburra. Reports of his death in the local paper clearly identified him as local of Wonyip. The paper also reported on his formal farewell from Wonyip. His name appears on the Wonyip & District honor board. He also played in the local football competition.

Bunston, Leslie William
Boolarra/Lismore, NSW
He had attended Carrajung South SS.

Chester, Charles Edward William
He was a teacher in the district – Wonyip – up to the time he enlisted. The local paper reported his death and its commemoration in Wonyip. His name appeared on the Wonyip and District honor board.

Coverdale, Robert
He had attended Madalya SS. Local paper reports had him residing in Madalya in early 1914, and he enlisted in Sept. 1914. His name appears on the Madalya and District Roll of Honor.

Davidson, Percy James
He was one of the first group to enlist at Yarram in Sept 1914 but he was then discharged on medical grounds. He subsequently re-enlisted in Melbourne in early 1915. The initial enlistment at Yarram was with his ‘mate’, Percy Wallace. They both subsequently served in 22 Battalion and when Percy Wallace was killed (15/4/16), Percy Davidson provided an account of the death which was featured in the local paper (23/6/16).

Dewell, William Scoones
London, UK/Melbourne
At the time he enlisted (Oct. 1914), re was a 20 yo working at Wonyip. At the time, he wrote to the Shire Secretary to advise him, directly, that he had enlisted in Melbourne. In the letter he noted that he had been advised by the Shire Secretary (Black) to enlist in Melbourne because at the time the Shire was not accepting enlistments. This was just after the first large group of 50 had enlisted from Yarram, in Sept. 1914.

Dietrich, Henry James
He must have been working in district at the time because he received a railway warrant from the Shire Secretary. Reports on his service – and also family matters – featured in the local paper.

Dove, Albert Ernest
Gormandale/New Zealand
He was born Gormandale and attended Gormandale SS. The local paper (4/6/15) specifically referred to him as one of the ‘Gormandale boys’ but he actually enlisted in New Zealand.

Dunne, James Richard
He was born in Yarram and attended Yarram SS. He had left district by the time of his enlistment. The local paper referred to his death and noted he was formerly of the district.

Ellis, Robert G
He had attended Tarraville SS and the family was local (Port Albert) but he himself had left Australia by WW1. He enlisted in Vancouver. The local paper gave details of his death and featured an in memoriam.

Ferres, Sydney Eversley
He had attended Alberton SS but by time of enlistment he was living at Toora. There were several reports covering his death in the local paper.

Ford, Ernest Leslie
Deans Marsh/Melbourne
His name appeared on the Methodist Circuit honor roll, where he was associated with Mullundung. His father worked at the timber mills at Mullundung.

George, Herbert Ilott
He had attended 2 local schools: Alberton SS and Port Albert SS. At the time of his death, the local paper described how he had been a resident of Port Albert and had worked in a store at Yarram. He must have left the area not long before enlisting. The local paper covered reports of his death and stated that he was well known in Yarram, Port Albert and Foster. The paper even featured one of his letters home.

Godfrey, Albert John Jeffrey
Melton/Perth, WA
He was one of 5 brothers who enlisted. The other 4 brothers survived. All the brothers had attended Alberton SS. The family moved to WA late 19 – early 20C but the father did subsequently return to district and died at Alberton (1897).

Grenville, Vincent
There is very little on him but he was born in Yarram and the family had been in the district from 1880s. The local paper referred to his death (8/9/16) and noted he was from Yarram. On his enlistment papers, the father’s address, as next-of-kin, was Yarram.

Hanrahan, Dennis Ambrose
The family was local, with the mother and 2 sisters living at Alberton West/Binginwarri/Hedley. On his enlistment papers he gave Alberton West as his address. The local paper reported his death and described him as a ‘native of Hedley’.

Hibbs, Clifford/Clifton (Goodwin, Arthur)
It was a complicated case: desertion then re-enlistment under another name. At the same time, he was definitely local. See Post 142.

Hofen, Robert Henry
Medical, enlistment and railway warrant were all from Yarram. He had also been in Woodside Rifle Club for 3 years prior to enlistment.

How(e), Harold Christopher
Kent, UK/Yarram
He would only have been in the Shire a short time before enlistment. Medical, enlistment and railway warrant were all from Yarram. The local paper identified him as a local. On the National Roll of Honour, the place to which he was ‘chiefly connected’ was Yarram.

Inseal(Ensil), Arthur George
Wales, UK/Melbourne
He appeared on the honor roll for Carrajung as a resident. He also appears in the 1915 Electoral Roll as ‘farm labourer’ of Carrajung.

Kiellerup, Frederick Charles
Narrandera, NSW/Melbourne
He had attended Yarram SS. The local paper reported his death and noted he had once been the Wertheim representative in Yarram. However, he was 31 yo when he enlisted so it is possible that his stint as the Wertheim rep in Yarram could have been up to 10 years earlier.

Kennedy, John
He had attended Darriman SS and his name was also on the Presbyterian Charge.

Lear, Eric Nightingale
He had attended Won Wron SS. His father had been a teacher at Tarraville in 1890s. The local paper reported his death and noted he was nephew of the local councillor, Nightingale.

Liddelow, Aubrey
Tarraville/cannot find record
He had attended Tarraville SS.

Lowther, Frank William
Woodside/Toowoomba, Qld
He had attended North Devon SS and Yarram SS. His name also appears on the Presbyterian Charge and the North Devon District honor roll. There was a detailed write up in the local paper on his death. There was also an in memoriam. He was well known in district. On the National Roll of Honour, Yarram was given as place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. He was farming with his brother in Queensland when the War started.

Martin, Gordon
Medical, enlistment and railway warrant were all from Yarram. Detail on the embarkation roll showed his address as ‘Barry Hotel, Alberton’.

Martin, John Herbert
His name is on the Hiawatha SS honor roll. He was a teacher at the school in 1913

Mason, James Oliver
Won Wron/Melbourne
He had attended Yarram SS. The National Roll of Honour has Yarram as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. The local paper reported his death and noted he was well known in Yarram.

Mates, Harold
Nyora/Brisbane, Qld
He had attended Carrajung South SS. The local paper reported his death and noted he had been previously employed at the local branch (Yarram?) of the Colonial Bank.

McCarthy, Terence Charles Francis
He was one of the first group to enlist from Yarram (16/9/14).

McLeod, Alexander John
He and his brother – Leslie John McLeod – were sons of the local police officer at Yarram who was appointed there in 1914. Both brothers were minors when they enlisted. The other brother is listed on the Shire Roll of Honor – and as ‘killed’ – but he is not on the soldiers’ memorial. This brother is on neither the soldiers’ memorial nor the roll of honor.

Morgan, Arthur
Boort/Adelaide, SA
He had attended Womerah SS. His name appeared on the list of medicals and enlistment of locals for November 1914 but he did not enlist for another year and then from Adelaide. Correspondence indicates he was definitely a former student of Womerah SS. On the National Roll of Honour, the father indicated that the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’ was Bullarah, Gippsland (Boolarra) and that his former occupation was ‘saw mill hand’.

Morley: there were 5 Morley brothers from Gormandale who enlisted and the following 3 were killed. All had been born at Gormandale and all had attended Gormandale SS. The local paper highlighted their service and identified them with Gormandale. All three appeared on the war memorial in Gormandale itself. Their father was dead. The mother was living at Gormandale. Only one of the brothers appeared on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor (Morley, Archie Cortnage). The family’s ‘sacrifice’ was well known throughout the district.

Morley, Ernest Edward
He had attended Gormandale SS.

Morley, George Thomas
He had attended Gormandale SS. He was obviously not living in the district at time of enlistment.

Morley, Robert Herbert
He had attended Gormandale SS. On the National Roll of Honour, the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’ was given as Gormandale.

Moulden, William
Alberton/Belmont, WA
He had attended Binginwarri SS. The family had been in the district from the 1870s. He had obviously moved to WA before he enlisted but the local paper referred to him as ‘native’ of Binginwarri, and his mother gave Alberton as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’ for the Roll of Honour.

Moysey, James Edgar
The local paper reported his death and noted he had been a former teacher in the district and a well-known local footballer.

Neil, Leonard John James
Port Albert/Foster
He had attended Port Albert SS.

Nicholson, James vernal
His name appeared on the local Methodist Circuit memorial. His father was a farmer at Balook. The local paper reported he was one of those commemorated at a memorial service in May 1918.

Noonan, Leonard
Tarraville/Sydney, NSW
He had attended Tarraville SS. His father had been the local police constable at Tarraville before retiring as a farmer at Jack River. He had obviously left district before enlistment.

Ormsby, Philip Michael
He had been a teacher at Madalya and his name appeared on honor roll for Madalya School and District, as a teacher. He would have been a (the) teacher at Madalya one or two years before enlistment.

Owens, Charles Athwell
He had attended Gormandale SS.

Pickett, James Burnett
He had attended Yarram SS and Darriman SS. His father had been the Alberton Shire Engineer (1900-1904). His death was reported in the local paper and he was commemorated at a local memorial service (May 1918). He was certainly well known in the district. The Shire medallion was even presented to a relative on his behalf. The South Gippsland Chronicle listed him – early 1916 – as a local who had enlisted and been killed.

Radburn, Edward
His name was included on the honor roll for Wonyip & District. The local paper reported on his farewell from Gunyah (October 1914). The National Roll of Honour had Boolarra as location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.

Raymond, Harold McCheyne
Brighton/Brisbane, Qld
He was the son of Rev Arthur Rufus Raymond. The father had been appointed as the Anglican minister to Yarram in January 1917. He was killed 9/4/17 – a few months after his father’s appointment – and the local paper reported the death.

Reeves, Alfred
The medical, enlistment and railway warrant were all from Yarram. He served for several months and then deserted; but he then ‘re-attested at Broadmeadows’.

Reville, Albert James
The family well known in the district but they had left by time of his primary schooling. The local paper covered his service and death.

Robinson, James Nobel
He appeared on the 1915 Electoral Roll as ’storekeeper’ of Mullundung.

Saal, Christopher
Toowoomba, Qld/Toowoomba, Qld.
He had attended Binginwarri SS. The local paper had an in memoriam for him in September 1918 from a ‘friend’ (Victoria Hiho) from Hedley.

Sebire, Francis Henry
Port Melbourne/Melbourne
His name appeared on the honor rolls of Binginwarri SS and Wonyip SS. He was a teacher and one his first appointments was at Binginwarri (1911-14). He was in the Stacey’s Bridge Rifle Club at the start of 1914. The local paper reported him missing and presumed dead (June 1918). It noted that he had been a teacher in the district.

Slavin, John Leonard
Yarram/Perth, WA
He had attended Yarram, Balloong and Tarraville SS. The Slavin family was well known in the district and a sister was still living there. The family had shifted to WA and three brothers enlisted there. The other two brothers survived. His death was reported in the local paper which noted that he had spent his boyhood in the district.

Sleigh, Stephen
On the embarkation roll his address was given as c/o Bank of Australasia, Yarram. The Shire rate book indicated that he had 20 acres at Binginwarri. BP Johnson acted as his lawyer and held power of attorney.

Smith, Leslie
He had attended Wonyip SS. The family must have immigrated when he was a child. When he enlisted (21yo) his father’s address was given as Wonyip. The memorial plaque was sent to the father at Wonyip but the father by then had moved to Toora.

Smith, William
He had attended Wonyip SS. The medical, enlistment and railway warrant were all from Yarram. The father’s address was Jack River and Binginwarri. He had shares in the family farm at Binginwarri.

Spargo, Clifton James
Brunswick East/Melbourne
His name was on the honor roll for Wonyip & District. His Father’s address was given as Wonyip via Boolarra. The father’s pro-Conscription stance was highlighted in the local paper.

Statham, Sydney Joseph
Port Mackay, Qld/Melbourne
His name was on the honor roll for Wonyip & District. The local paper gave an account of his death and described him as ‘one of our boys’ from Gunyah. He was presented with a gold medal by locals (Gunyah) and was well known and popular.

Tibbs, Walter
Leeds, UK/Melbourne
His address on the embarkation roll was ’Tarraville via Yarram’. The National Roll of Honour gave ‘Tarraville, Gippsland’ as the location with which he was ’chiefly connected’. He enlisted very early: 21/8/14. This was a month before the first, mass group of enlistments from the Shire.

Tregilgas, Archibald Sturt
Sturt, SA/Adelaide, SA
He had attended North Devon SS and his name was also on the North Devon District honor board. It appears the family left the district in the early 1890s.

Walker, Moore
He had attended Wonyip SS. On his service record, the father’s address changed from Mortlake to Wonyip and Yarram.

Whitford, Roy Victor
Yarram/ Perth, WA
He had attended Won Wron SS.

Widdon, Albert Edward
Yarram/ Dalby, Qld
He had attended North Devon SS and Yarram SS. His name was also on the Methodist Circuit. The family was still in the district and the father had land at Devon. There was extensive coverage of his death in the local paper, which noted that he had enlisted in Queensland. Many of his cousins in the district also enlisted. He was commemorated at a memorial service in Yarram in May 1918. He was referred to as one of the ‘Yarram lads’. The South Gippsland Chronicle listed him – early 1916 – as a local who had enlisted and been killed.

Wilson, William
Yarram was identified on the National Roll of Honour as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. His siblings were living in the district. The South Gippsland Chronicle listed him – early 1916 – as a local who had enlisted and been killed.

Wilson, Alexander
His name appears on the Blackwarry roll of honor.

Withinshaw, George
The National Roll of Honour gave Yarram as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. His address on enlistment and embarkation records was c/o Stockwell, Charles John – grazier of Yarram. There was a report in the local paper (6/10/16) of him being charged with being on the premises of Yarram Hotel during prohibited hours. This was just one month before he enlisted.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle and Yarram and Alberton Advertiser/South Gippsland Chronicle

Archives, Shire of Alberton
Box 377
Files 285-292
Including a collection of papers: Inscribing the names of the Fallen on the Soldiers’ Memorial