Category Archives: Prominent Citizens

181. Returning home in 1918

This post examines the series of welcome home celebrations staged in the Shire of Alberton in 1918 to the end of hostilities in November. In all there were 29 such celebrations reported in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – over the period. On a few occasions a welcome home was combined with a farewell to one or more soldiers about to embark for overseas service. Of the 29 occasions, 8 involved welcome home events in Yarram and the rest were divided across the smaller towns and settlements in the Shire: Stacey’s Bridge (2), North Devon (4), Alberton (2), West Alberton (1), Port Albert (1), Won Wron (3), Wonyip (1), Binginwarri (1), Willing South (1), Stradbroke (1), Kjergaard (1), Carrajung (1), Lower Whitelaw (1), Lower Bulga (1).

Some men who had in fact returned prior to 1918 were also ‘welcomed’ again at some of the events in 1918. Also, men could be welcomed home in more than one location. Commonly, they would attend a welcome in Yarram and then they would also be welcomed home in their particular township, or even in more than one township. Some men returned to Australia before 1918 but they remained in hospital in Melbourne for extended periods and did not return to the Shire for an official welcome until some time in 1918. Lastly, there could have been some men who enlisted from the Shire of Alberton and who returned to Australia for medical discharge in 1918 but who never returned to the Shire. With all these qualifications in mind, it appears that over the course of 1918, 40 men were welcomed home in the 29 formal events referred to above.

By way of comparison, prior to the 40 men in 1918, 12 men had been formally welcomed home in 1917, 8 men in 1916, and one person – William Andrew Newland who became the local recruiting sergeant – in 1915. Clearly, over 1918, there was a dramatic increase in the number of men being discharged. Some would have seen this increase as incontrovertible evidence of the desperate need to provide reinforcements for the AIF. At the same time, all would have seen it as dramatic proof of the escalating human cost of the ‘sacrifice’ that had been exacted over the past 4 years.

The local state school was often used as the venue for welcome home celebrations. For example, there was a major function held at the Yarram school on Anzac Day 1918 when 12 men were welcomed not just home but also to their old school. It was the largest welcome home event staged in 1918. Other local schools involved in welcome home celebrations included Stacey’s Bridge, North Devon, Willing South, Lower Whitelaw and Lower Bulga.

There appear to have been a number of reasons why the school was such a popular venue. In the case of Yarram there was the ongoing issue about attendance at such functions. As noted previously, there was the constant complaint from speakers at these events that not enough locals were prepared to show up and demonstrate their support for the men, either those leaving for overseas or those returning wounded. At a welcome home as late as October 1918, Councillor Barlow was reported in the local paper (11/10/18) lamenting the poor attendance but, at the same time, acknowledging the presence of the school children. The lack of attendance was only really an issue in Yarram. Events staged in the other townships were invariably well attended. They also almost always featured a more expansive program which included a social and/or dance to ensure a genuine community celebration.

While staging the event at the school guaranteed an audience, much was also made of the appropriateness of the school per se. Speakers claimed that it was the local school that had formed the initial, critical character of the men who had enlisted. Rossiter, the editor of the local paper, expressed this argument when he spoke at a welcome home for Robert McKenzie at Devon North State School in February 1918. His comments were reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 22/2/18:

It is fitting that these send-offs and welcomes should take place in the school, for here, as in every country community, the school is the centre of local interest, and when we consider that in nearly every case it was in this school that these soldiers have received their early training in love of country, it is highly desirable that it should be in that building they should be bid “god speed” or “welcome’.

Rossiter’s comments placed the local school as a critically important institution in the formation of the Australian soldier’s character. In the report (26/4/18) of the 1918 Anzac Day welcome home ceremony referred to above, Rev. Walklate, another of the district’s outspoken Imperial Loyalists, highlighted the specific significance of the school curriculum. It is clear that the experience of WW1 was redefining the traditional (Imperial) narrative that had prompted such high levels of patriotic loyalty and duty at the outbreak of WW1. The claim that Australia’s true history only really began with Gallipoli was by then common place. Even Federation – less than 20 years earlier – had been replaced.

Rev. C. J. Walklate said that the 25th April three years ago was the beginning of Australian history. They [the school children there that day] had read of the exploits of our explorers, who had mapped out the land for civilisation to come and make homes for the present generation. But the tragic landing at Gallipoli eclipsed everything else. They had read of the charge of the Light Brigade, but what the Australians had done put that feat in its shade, when they landed against such great odds on 25th April 1915.

In general, the themes highlighted at the welcome home events were often identical to those used at farewells. For example, much was made of the sacrifice and heroism of those returning and both qualities were often contrasted with the self-interest and cowardice of those ‘eligibles’ who refused to go. B P Johnson, welcoming the returned soldiers, reflected pointedly at the same Anzac Day event:

Many have died, but their names will never die; memory of them will live far beyond those eligibles who remain at home.

Johnson would learn just one month later that his own son had been killed (14/5/18).

The soldier as the true son of the ‘pioneer’ was another common theme. There was a very large welcome home social – 170 in attendance – held at Won Wron in early May 1918. One of the speakers was reported (8/5/18) as declaring that … the character of the child came from that of the parents, so there was no need to wonder at it. These parents were the pioneers of Gippsland and assisted in making history for Australia, while their sons made history for the world.

The outstanding fighting qualities of the Australian soldier was another common theme. J J O’Connor (9/10/18) declared at a welcome home in Yarram that the … Australian soldier was recognised as the best fighter on the side of the Allies. It was a common claim.

Not surprisingly, the most common theme was that of ‘repatriation’. Speakers laboured the idea that the men returning, both those returning wounded and the thousands who would be discharged at the end of the fighting, had to be ‘looked after’. The details of any large-scale repatriation scheme were still sketchy but the ideal of ‘repatriation’ had become a given. There had to be both recognition and recompense. In 1918, civic leaders were fearful that the local community did not appreciate the size of the problem and would even be indifferent to the men’s situation, as they been indifferent to so many other aspects of the War. Just before the Armistice, at a welcome home to A J Martin in Yarram on 30/10/18, B P Johnson was reported in the local paper (1/11/18) as declaring:

There was a big thing facing the people of Australia in regards to the returned men, and that was repatriation: and as yet the public did not seem to grasp it. In this district it was not very apparent, as most of those who had returned had, in their independence of spirit, not asked for help. However, the time would come when men would return to the district who needed help, and the people must be ready with that assistance, for if anyone deserved a helping hand it was those men who had fought for us. It would not be conferring a favor but simply endeavoring to repay in a small measure a debt that was due. No matter what was done for the returned lads, it would only be as a drop in a bucket compared with what they had done for us.

In rural areas, the idea of repatriation equated to settling the returned soldier on the land. It was seen as a natural reward for their effort and it was commonly believed that returning soldiers would be the very type that could make a success of it. Also, the common labourers and farm workers amongst them had won the chance to better themselves by becoming land owners. At another welcome home at Won Wron on 11/10/18 – reported on 16/10/18 – one of the local farmers was reported as hoping that … the Government would do its duty by such as he [D’Arcy Brown, the soldier being welcomed home] who had risked his life for Australia. The boys had fought for it [land] and it was theirs, if the Government did right it would give, not sell to returned soldiers the land they required. They had gone forth and fought for it while others just as able remained at home, getting high wages and at ease.

While, not surprisingly, the common sentiments expressed at the welcome home events were those of relief and gratitude, the events also highlighted the ever-present division in the local community. This was particularly the case involving the larger more set-piece welcomes, especially those held in Yarram or those that featured leading Imperial Loyalists as the key speakers. In such instances, the welcome home presented a public platform to attack eligibles, press for recruits and chastise the community generally for not lending sufficient support for the War. A striking example of this behaviour was the welcome home at North Devon on 13/9/18. It was reported in the local paper, in great detail, on 18/9/18. The event, which was very well attended, had a dual purpose: to welcome home and present a special medallion to 8 recently returned local men and also to honour the … memory of those who had fallen. The returned men sat on the stage throughout. The event was organised by the North Devon ‘Old Boys’ Association’, a local committee that throughout the War had been very active in ensuring all those who left from and returned to the district of North Devon were recognised and celebrated. However, for some reason, the key speakers on the day were two of the most outspoken Imperial Loyalists from Yarram. Benjamin Couston was the bank manger of the Yarram branch of the Bank of Victoria and the Rev Cyril John Walklate was the Methodist minister from Yarram.

Couston started his long speech by praising the returned men on the stage. He declared that, Every heart should be pulsating for the men who had done their duty to their country and had returned home. He then noted that, The people did not appreciate fully what these brave men had done. He then declared that … these men are heroes, and no honor that is bestowed upon them would adequately repay them for what they had done. If the whole wealth of this prosperous district were handed to these men, it would not be one-tenth of what was their due.

Continuing in this effusive style, he could not pass up the opportunity to remind those in the audience that they themselves had been fickle:

They would remember when the lads left this district that there was cheering, singing and flag waving, but some of those who did those things soon forgot the lads.

The real target however was the man who refused to enlist. Couston, who invariably described himself at such gatherings as ‘the father of two soldiers’, saved his fiercest criticism for the eligibles, some of whom he had recently seen playing football at Yarram. There was menace in his remarks:

Why was it that some stood on one side? They were never touched with that patriotic feeling which should be within the breasts of all. When he saw a number of men assembled together the other day at Yarram playing football he asked himself the question. Why weren’t these men playing the game yonder, why weren’t they helping their pals? To his own mind there was only one reason, and that was cussed selfishness. But the time would come when these men would dearly regret their selfishness, as they could not expect to be treated in the same way as the men who had sacrificed themselves.

Couston continued and attacked those who were in favour of negotiations for peace, the ‘pacifists at Trades Hall’ and those who wanted ‘revolution’. For Couston, It was no time to talk of peace. In his mind, the War had to be pursued until Germany was totally crushed, and therefore he urged,

If there was one man in Devon who was eligible he asked him in God’s name to go.

Following Couston, Rev Walklate’s primary focus was not the men on stage being welcomed home, but those who had died. His theme was the universal one of sacrifice, Christian sacrifice. He preached that life only had meaning if it was lived in the spirit of sacrifice. There could be no other measure:

The living of life must be measured by the spirit in which that life was given. Unless the spirit of self-sacrifice entered into man’s life that life was not lived in the true meaning of the word. It was probably hard to understand, but it was true. The men who had fallen and those who are prepared to go forth and make the sacrifice are the men who live. If that spirit of sacrifice died then the men lived no longer. The parents and loved ones of the fallen heroes had done their part, and had lived because they had sacrificed themselves.

With the returned men sitting on the stage as props, Walklate continued his sermon on real life. It was not about ‘wealth’ and ‘social position’ but about ‘sacrifice’. The length of life was not as important as its spiritual quality. There was of course the mandatory text and its explication:

“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.” Men worshipped in different creeds, but the final test was whether it was done under the name of Jesus Christ or not. The final test was the test of Jesus Christ, that a man live in that spirit and that he lay down his life for his friend. These men, and these alone, had reached the stepping stone into eternal life.

To make it clear that he too was targeting eligibles, Walklate spoke of the returned men who had confided in him that they felt spurned by locals, while they saw eligibles – who had ‘failed in their duty’ – being favoured. He declared:

One man who had fought and bled [like those on the stage] had told him that many girls were keen to catch the glances of the shirker, but hardly noticed the returned soldier.

Walklate went so far as to condemn, in the religious sense, the man who would not accept his responsibility. Such a person would not enter the kingdom of God. He warned … those who were enjoying the comforts of this life would find out their mistake later on, as they would soon die, and they could not live again. Only sacrifice, in this case in the cause of the Nation and Empire, could guarantee eternal life:

The entrance to eternal life was by sacrifice, and if people did not respond to life’s responsibilities, they would have an awakening [fateful reckoning] in the life to come.

The final speaker that night was a local, the father of Edwin Alford who had been killed in April that year (Post 158). Alford had just been given a medallion for his dead son. He rounded out the condemnation of all those who had refused to enlist:

Mr. Alford said he would value the token received that evening all the days of his life. He was an Australian, and was proud to be one. He also felt proud to know that his boy had gone and done his duty. He would sooner any son of his fight and die for his country than to remain home and be a coward. He said to those fathers who had sons, to send one to the front to see themselves from dishonour. Neither himself nor his wife would wish to have a son who shirked his duty. (Applause.)

It is clear that those on the stage that night were being welcomed back to a divided community where there was much grief, frustration, anger and bitterness.

The returned men themselves

The men welcomed home in 1918 were the ones who had been repatriated to Australia for a medical discharge. They returned home with their health significantly compromised. In several cases they were not able to attend welcome home ceremonies because they were still recovering in hospital in Melbourne. In other cases, when they attended such functions they were not able to speak because of ‘nerves’. In other instances they appeared before the locals as amputees. The standard approach to handle the nature and extent of battle wounds was to appeal to notions of manhood and Empire. As W G Pope declared at a welcome home in March 1918 (reported on 20/3/18):

He was sorry to see some of them wounded, but these scars would be their glory for the rest of their lives. They had proved to be men of the same description of our Nelson and Wellington heroes.

The report in the local paper also noted the similar remarks of Rev A R Raymond, the local Anglican clergyman:

Rev. A. R. Raymond extended a hearty welcome to the soldiers, men who could say they bore marks on their bodies in fighting for King and Country, and in defending right we were [as] proud of them as they were proud of their marks.

Beyond such platitudes, it is worth examining in more detail the condition in which the men returned. Of the 40 men welcomed home in 1918, only two had not been discharged on medical grounds. Henry Cook had been discharged for ‘family reasons’. Four brothers from the family had enlisted, but by 1918 the parents were not able to cope by themselves. The other person was Sydney Collis who had been returned to Australia on Anzac Leave and, in theory, was to return to France for the planned offensive in Spring 1919. However, the medical condition of both these men was problematic. Cook had been wounded – gsw back – and had suffered from shell shock, while Collis had been hospitalised earlier with enteric fever.

Of the remaining 38 men, some had been discharged for ongoing medical issues. One was discharged for chronic bronchitis, another for defective eyesight, a third for hearing problems and a fourth for gastric ulcers and tachycardia. Two men, both in their forties, were discharged for (premature) senility.

The remaining 34 men were discharged on medical grounds that specifically related to battle field experience. Two had been ‘gassed’ and one had been discharged with ‘trench feet’, including ‘blood clots in the legs.’ There was a group of 4 men who had been discharged because of neurasthenia. While only 4 men were discharged solely on the basis of this condition, neurasthenia often occurred in the medical notes of men discharged for other (medical) reasons. The condition was commonly described in terms of ‘shell shock’, ‘paralysis of the legs’, and often tachycardia was included.

The largest group of men (25) were medically discharged because they had been wounded by gunshot (gsw) or shrapnel (sw) or, in the case of Gallipoli veterans, by ’bomb’. The wounds in these instances were most commonly to the chest, back, legs, arms and thigh. Sometimes the wounds were ‘multiple’. There were several amputations – leg, hand, arm – associated with these wounds.

Clearly, even after they had been discharged from hospital, the general health of this group of returned men was going to be problematic. While they were welcomed home as heroes, the reality was that they were to face compromised health, most probably for the rest of their lives. This would affect their lives generally, including work prospects. It also meant that those who were relatively young – most were in the mid to late twenties – and single (33) were most likely going to have to rely on the support of their parents and siblings. The fortunes of the families of the 7 married men would also be compromised, and the burden of care would fall heavily on the wife.

It is also important to note that the most common occupation for men in this group of returned soldiers (50%) was that of ‘farm worker’ or ‘farm labourer’. There was another 25% of the group who came from the ‘family farm’. Essentially, even with a pension and even if they managed to find and keep work or perform a productive role on the family farm, these men were always going to struggle financially. They did not have financial resources to fall back on. Again, notwithstanding the degree to which they were feted on their return – and told to wear their wounds as ‘badges of honour’ – the reality was that their lives had been seriously compromised. The cost of sacrifice fell disproportionately on the rural working class.

There are 2 additional interesting observations. The first is that a significant number of the men – 9 of the 40 – had been UK immigrants who had worked as farm labourers in the Shire before they enlisted in the AIF. Rather than be discharged in the UK these men had returned to Australia and then, once back in Australia, they had chosen to return to the very district where they had worked before the War. Presumably their overall decision was shaped in part by issues such as the need for ongoing medical care and the provision of pensions but, at the same time, the decision to return to the very district where they had worked before the War suggests that they saw themselves as true ‘locals’. Perhaps they also reasoned that they would be better supported in their (adopted) local area.

The other interesting detail is the fact that 25% of the group actually went on to become soldier settlers after the War. There are 2 pertinent observations here. The first is that the figure tends to confirm the view that had soldier settlement as the ‘natural’ vocation for returned soldiers. The thinking at the time was that such men had the right experience, skills and character for the challenge. They were tough, independent and resourceful. Because of their experiences in the AIF they could make the scheme work. Moreover, in the spirit of some form of ‘rural socialism’ these soldier ‘battlers’ deserved the chance to secure land and move beyond the lot of the (itinerant) rural working class. Men wounded in battle had sacrificed even more and the logic had to be that such men deserved the chance as much as any other returned soldier. The other observation is that men whose health had been as compromised as it was for this group, would inevitably struggle more as soldier settlers than those whose health was relatively intact. Essentially, this view holds that these men were set up to fail.

In the last year of the War a record number of wounded men returned to the Shire of Alberton. They were welcomed as heroes. They were promised that everything possible would be done for them and that their sacrifice would never be forgotten. At the time, their sacrifice was also used to condemn those in the community who had refused to enlist. The men themselves must have seen that the community they returned to was divided. What they could not see was the future in which all the promises made would be qualified and their relative standing in the same community compromised. The currency of their scars would decline and the reality was they would never be able to slip back into their old lives and take up again where things were before they enlisted.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

180. Farewells in 1918

According to reporting in the local paper, the number of men who received formal farewells in 1918 was 22. Over the same period of time – the whole of 1918 – the number of local men who enlisted was approximately 40. In other words, about one half of those who enlisted in 1918 were given formal farewells from the Shire of Alberton. It is possible that in one or two cases a more private farewell occurred but it was not reported. It was also the case that another small group of men specifically rejected the offer of a formal farewell. More commonly, as noted in previous posts, men enlisted in Yarram, went off to camp but then never returned to the Shire of Alberton before embarking for overseas service. Hence there was no opportunity for a formal farewell.

Previous posts have shown the background complexities associated with enlistment over 1918. There was considerable ongoing pressure for enlistments, particularly after the major German offensive – and spectacular successes – in April-May 1918.

While public recruiting drives continued to be held locally – see Post 167. The search for ‘eligibles’, May 1918 – many of those who came forward at such public demonstrations failed the medical. There was a further drop-out rate amongst even those who did pass the (local) medical. Either they could not obtain parental permission or they failed subsequent medicals or perhaps they were discharged as unsuitable.

There was also the local recognition that, whatever the official recruiters might claim, the number of eligible men left in the district was small. Estimates suggest that by the end of 1918 approximately 800 men with a link to the Shire of Alberton had enlisted. Consequently, however desperate the need for reinforcements, the reality was that the available pool was, by the end of 1918, very limited. At the same time, this reality was often discounted – particularly by those who spoke at farewells – and the calls for enlistments remained right to the end of the War. The denunciation of ‘cold footers’ and ‘shirkers’ also continued to the end.

An indication of how the pressure was maintained to the end comes from the observation that men continued to enlist right through to early November 1918. Indeed, 3 men – James Wentworth Davis, Albert McEvoy and Christian Gregory Olsen – received their railway warrants for travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process on the very day of the Armistice, 11/11/18. Equally, as will become apparent, formal farewells were held through to the end of October 1918.

As previously noted, the farewells staged in the small settlements or townships of the Shire – places such as Womerah, Stacey’s Bridge, Lower Bulga, Wonyip – tended to be more community-focused and elaborate than those conducted in Yarram. Invariably in these places, the farewell was incorporated in a social of some kind, there was a very large attendance and the men being farewelled received not just the conventional Shire Medallion and (religious) Card but also some additional remembrance, for example a ‘wristlet watch’ or a ‘gold locket’ or inscribed ’gold medal’. In Yarram, attendance always seemed to be an issue and, as previously noted, A E Paige, the head teacher of the primary school and one of the common speakers, would often bring a party of students from the school to help make up the numbers. The problem with farewells at Yarram was that they were invariably used for recruiting purposes. The farewells were organised by the same group of Imperial Loyalists who were involved in the various iterations of the local recruiting committee and they also backed the Yes vote in the 2 referenda on conscription. Eligibles would hardly attend farewell – or welcome home – events at Yarram and, over time, ordinary locals would, inevitably, become reluctant to attend to be harangued on the need for enlistments. Then, when the numbers attending dropped, the speakers attacked the townsfolk for being indifferent to the War situation and the sacrifice of those being farewelled.

The themes employed by speakers at the farewells, both in Yarram and the outlying centres, remained constant to the end of the War. Loyalty to England and the Empire was ever present. As was the praise of those in the AIF and the conviction that as a fighting force it ranked with the very best. Indeed, for many it had proved itself to be the best fighting unit in the world. Speakers referred to commentary in the newspapers that constantly pushed this claim. Often there were also references to the young man enlisting as representing the very best character and spirit of the original ‘pioneers’ of the district. The pioneers had battled to settle the land and now their descendants were battling to protect what had been created. But by far the most constant theme was the one that had enlistment as a test of character; and this was after 4 years of constant appeals for enlistments, endless recruiting drives and 2 failed referenda on conscription. The essential dichotomy was there throughout the entire period of the War: that while most Australian men proved themselves loyal and brave and enlisted, there was a solid core who refused to acknowledge their responsibility and, no matter what pressure was applied, did not enlist. The sub themes here were that such men were cowardly, they forced mere boys and married men to take their place and do their duty, and they took the jobs of those who had enlisted voluntarily. These men were to be despised. They would forever be outcast because they had never been part of the AIF. Moreover, they must never be able to take either the jobs or the promotions of those who had enlisted.

Often, the various themes and sub themes ran together. For example, Leo Furlong was farewelled from the school at Lower Whitelaw on 21/1/18 and then again at the Womerah Hall on 22/1/18. The farewells were reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 30/1/18 and 6/2/18. Furlong enlisted as a 21 yo . His family ran a dairy farm. One of the speakers at Womerah was Henry John Alford another local dairy farmer who had take a strong, public pro-conscription position. At the time, his son – Edward J Alford – was serving in the AIF. He would be killed on 14/4/18 (Post 158). Alford started by declaring that at Womerah … practically all the eligible men had enlistedand now married men and boys were going. Accepting that this was the case, in such a small community the locals would have known which ‘eligibles’ had not enlisted. Alford went on to dismiss one of the arguments – it was not Australia’s fight – put up by those who refused to enlist. In the process, Alford not only questioned their reasoning but attacked their base character. These were not real men:

Unfortunately there were men (so called) who refused to take any part in the defence of Australia. They said, “This is England’s quarrel, not ours. If an enemy should land in Australia we would fight.” He would say to those men, “If England goes down Australia is doomed. Only the British navy protects us”. Should an enemy land in Australia there would be no scrub on the hills thick enough to hide those heroes.

Another local farmer who spoke that day – Matthew Thomas – managed to tie together a range of themes:

Mr. Mat Thomas said there were two classes of men who were not taking their part in the war. Those who would like to go, but were afraid, who he felt sorry for, the other class were those who would like to see the enemy win who were traitors, and should be turned out of any position they held. No returned soldier should be looking for work while one of these men held a position.

In May 1918, not long after his son had been killed, H J Alford spoke at another farewell from Womerah. It was reported on 7/6/18. Of the 2 men farewelled that night, William H Clemson was very young. He gave his age as 19 yo but in fact he might have been as young as 16 yo. It was a complicated enlistment and, indeed, he might not have lasted in the AIF, presumably because he was so young. In any case, it must have been Trooper Clemson’s very young age that prompted H J Alford to declare:

It was a shame that young men of more mature years [those not as young as Clemson] should stand back and allow a boy to go to fight for them. If there were any eligible men there that night who could go he appealed to them in God’s name to go at once while yet there was time; if not, how could they face these boys when they came back? They would stand branded all their days as shirker, who in their country’s danger refused to defend her.

Clearly, the stage was set for some form of orchestrated reckoning when the War ended and the men of the AIF returned home. The heroes of the AIF, backed by the general community, would confront and settle the score with the ‘traitors’, ‘cold footers’ and ‘shirkers’.

There was another theme that touched on family sacrifice, or, more pointedly, the father’s sacrifice. As indicated, H J Alford’s son had been killed in April 1918. Another very public Imperial Loyalist, B P Johnson, lost his son in mid May 1918 (Post 164). Men in the public eye, who were in favour of conscription and who advocated ceaselessly for enlistments, promoted the enlistment of their own sons as praiseworthy and proof of their own loyalty. They even loosely cast themselves as modern-day Abrahams, where they, as well as their sons, were making great personal sacrifice. Benjamin Couston was the manager of the Yarram branch of the Bank of Victoria. He had been in Yarram since late 1916. He was pro-conscription and had served on the local Yes committee. He was constantly attacking ‘eligibles’ and claimed he saw them playing football locally. At public farewells, he praised his own sons for enlisting while attacking those … who had no encumbrances but were hanging back and would not enlist. (28/6/18). At the farewell for Private H Brand held in Yarram on 26/6/18, and reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 28/6/18, Couston once again attacked the eligibles but did so in the context of the personal sacrifice that he, as the patriarch, was called upon to make:

He [Couston] knew of no reason and would acknowledge no reason why eligible men should stay at home. They had no right to do so when their country was calling. The Empire was tottering to its foundations and during no time in history had it been in such deadly peril. … He could not understand eligibles remaining at home. His second son who was only 20 years of age, had just written asking for consent to enlist. One was in camp, and this as his only remaining boy, and he considered whether he ought to sacrifice the manhood of his family for those cold-footers who were remaining in security. There were other people with six or seven eligible sons who had done nothing.

A few weeks later on 10/7/18 it was the turn of Couston’s son – Kenneth Couston, who had enlisted on 1/6/18 as an eighteen-year-old – to be farewelled from Yarram. The farewell was reported in the local paper on 12/7/18. Again the young age of the recruit was noted. In fact, the comments on the day by George Bland – one of the key figures responsible for organising farewells and welcomes – smacked of desperation:

Mr. Geo. Bland said it was another instance of a youth taking a man’s place. So much had been said on that question that it seemed useless to endeavour to persuade men of more mature years to enlist.

When his turn came to speak, Couston declared that – like Abraham – he was prepared to sacrifice everything, in this case for the Empire and the Allies:

Mr. B. Couston said that on behalf of his son he thanked them for their kindly wishes. The present time was not a time when a father could put his feelings into words. He had given all he had – his two sons – for the cause of the Empire; and no father could do more. He would sacrifice everything to advance the cause of the Allies (Applause).

The same sentiment was being expressed as late as October 1918. There was a farewell held at Womerah on 1/10/18 – reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 9/10/18 – for James Summerfield who had enlisted at the end of May 1918. The father was prepared to commit his son to the ‘fiery furnace of war’. He was reported thus:

Since he was 18 the boy had wanted to go, but he held him back, considering him too young. He was now 20, and going with his full consent. Though he was as anxious as anyone to see early peace declared, but (sic) rather than have an inconclusive peace he would wish to see the war continue and his boy pass into the fiery furnace of war till the beast of Berlin was securely chained. (Applause.)

Wilfred Owen’s poem, The Parable of the Young Man and the Old [below] explored the fateful consequence of the patriotic fervour of such patriarchs.

The penultimate farewell from the Shire of Alberton took place at Won Wron on 28/10/18 and was reported in the local paper on 6/11/18, five days before the Armistice. The event was a social-dance for George ‘Jim’ Clark and the hall was packed. Clark was a 20 yo ‘saw mill hand’ who had enlisted on 2/8/18. As well as being presented with the usual Shire Medallion and Card, Private Clark was also given a certificate in a blackwood frame. The theme referred to that day was the common one of ‘playing the game (of football) as part of a team’.

When attending the school, he had always upheld its traditions and he felt sure that by the stand he had taken, he would uphold the standard already attained by the Australian soldiers. (Applause) … When the opposition [football] team needed a bump “Jim” could give one, and he felt sure now that he is a “member of the team” out for justice and liberty, he will endeavour to give the enemy a good solid bump. He possessed the many fine and sterling qualities of his parents and was certain he would uphold Australia’s good name.

The very last farewells from the Shire of Alberton occurred on the night of 29/10/18 and the morning of 30/10/18. Both events were reported in the local paper on 1/11/18. On the night of 29/10/18 Ernest George Griffiths was farewelled from Stacey’s Bridge. The next morning there was another farewell for him in Yarram. At this second farewell, one other local – Roy William Turnbull was also farewelled, and Sapper A J Martin was welcomed home. Ernest Griffiths was a 21 yo clerk whose family was from Stacey’s Bridge. He had enlisted in August 1918 but, as was pointed out in speeches on the night, he had been trying to enlist since 1916. Roy William Turnbull was only 19 yo. He was a bank clerk from Yarram and he had enlisted in July 1918.

By this point – early November 1918 – there was a growing sense that the fighting had just about finished. Speakers remarked that the news from the front was ‘much brighter’ and it was possible that neither of the men being farewelled would face battle. They were quick to add:

Privates Griffiths and Turnbull had enlisted some time ago, and the fact that they were just about to sail did not detract in any way from the spirit in which they had enlisted.

Specifically in relation to Private Griffiths, the chair of the farewell at Stacey’s Bridge declared that … Private Griffiths was not going to the war because he thought it was nearly over. To his credit he enlisted three years ago, and has tried several times since. This time [18/8/18] he was successful.

The key theme for this last set of farewells saw the return to the legacy of the pioneers. The chair at the Yarram farewell – George Bland – effectively summed up both the Shire’s overall contribution and the ongoing link with the pioneers and their spirit. He declared that the 2 men being farewelled were … grandsons of pioneers of the district, and it was pleasing to see that the grand old spirit which was in the blood of their grandfathers had been inherited by these boys. Almost every district family was represented at the front, and he was proud to say the boys had proved their worth.

The same theme was picked up by B P Johnson. Johnson had returned to his role as key speaker at such events after a period of several months following the death of his son. The sub-theme of racial superiority comes through in all the references to the superior (White and British) ’blood’ of the pioneers.

Mr. B. P. Johnson said in regard to the two boys that were going to the war, they were descendants of old pioneers of the district, and blood tells every time. Their forefathers were men who came out to this country and showed they had true British blood in their veins by the work they had done, and their boys were now going forward to lend their assistance to a cause that was keeping from these shores a fate worse than death.

Johnson of course had been present at the very first farewell of men from the Shire of Alberton at the Alberton Railway Station on 21 September 1914. On the day, there had been much enthusiasm, but that very first farewell had been poorly organised – see Post 11 – and the men nearly did not make it to the station. Johnson, conscious of the second-rate and very amateurish send-off the men were being given, promised to make it up to them with a ’tip-top reception’ when they came back. At that first farewell, all the newly enlisted men were enthusiastic and confident. There was an overabundance of volunteers. The community was totally behind the men. There was no real challenge for any speaker on that occasion. Johnson simply declared:

You are a decent lot, and we are proud of you fellows. You are going to the biggest battle the world has ever seen. It will not be a picnic. You will have a hard time, but we know you will do your duty. I only wish I were a few years younger and I would be amongst you, (Cheers). The Empire is proud of men like you. We know you will come back victorious. We’ll win the fight, even if it takes every man and every shilling we’ve got. We’re fighting for right.

Just over 4 years later, at the end of 1918, farewells had become very different affairs. In the past 4 years, 800 men had enlisted from the Shire and more than 100 had been killed. For at least 3 of the 4 years, recruiting drives had been a constant, draining feature of life for everyone. Two conscription referenda had been defeated. Enlistment targets could not be met and the Government claimed constantly that the nation was failing its soldiers on the front line. In the conservative, rural community of the Shire of Alberton, Imperial Loyalists had not been able to comprehend, or accept, the defeat of the conscription referenda. Principally, they saw the treachery in the City but they also saw evidence of it in their own community, with some not prepared to share the sacrifice. Overall, while formal farewells still acknowledged individual sacrifice, loyalty and selflessness – particularly amongst the very young – they had also become very public demonstrations of division, bitterness, frustration and disillusionment. This was particularly the case for those farewells held in Yarram.

The Parable of the Young Man and the Old

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

167. The search for ‘eligibles’, May 1918

It appears that by the end of 1917, the local recruiting committee for the Shire of Alberton had ceased to operate. As had happened after the failure of the first referendum, the members of the recruiting committee no doubt considered that their efforts, in the face of what they saw as national apathy and opposition, were neither valued nor effective. From the start of 1918, Shire of Alberton council papers indicate that all correspondence from the State Recruiting Committee was being tabled at council meetings, suggesting that the Council itself had taken over responsibility for recruiting. Also, there is no correspondence in the relevant Shire of Alberton archives that deal with the local (Yarram) recruiting committee past early September 1917. On that occasion, there was a letter from the regional recruiting officer, based in Sale, seeking funds to cover the fitting out of a waggon – … of a nature similar to a drovers waggon – that he could use to travel to the more remote ‘back blocks’ so that he could … gain access to eligibles remote from the railway. He was seeking funds from all 23 local recruiting committees in Gippsland. The proposal was that after the trip the waggon would be sold and the money raised would be returned to the committees. The officer – Lt Radclyffe – received the following, rather terse, reply from G Black, Secretary of the Yarram Recruiting Committee. It was dated 6/9/17.

In reply to your letter of the 3rd inst., soliciting a contribution towards a turn out to travel the back blocks, I have to inform you that this Committee has no funds.

From the end of 1917, the only time that the local recruiting committee reprised its role, albeit in a limited way, was in May 1918. This was when the (Victorian) State Recruiting Committee launched a recruiting drive focused on country Victoria. The scheme was referred to as the Itinerary Training Scheme and, over a period of two months, 3 recruiting teams covered the entire state. Each team consisted of approximately 35 AIF soldiers, with an army band of 16 members and a ‘platoon’ of another 15 soldiers – made up of both returned men and those about to embark – as well as a small headquarters staff. Each team also had a Victorian federal politician – J H Lister MHR, J W Leckie MHR and G A Maxwell MHR.

The 3 teams travelled from country town to country town – normally via train – and over a period of between 2 and 4 days, depending on the size of the town, conducted a recruiting drive. There was a standard program for each visit which included some form of civic reception for the AIF members, at least one major concert, several recruiting appeals, a major march/procession though the town and a (Protestant) memorial service as well as a requiem mass organised by the local Catholic priest.

The Itinerary Training Scheme – sometimes referred to as the Itinerary Recruiting Scheme – was specifically targeted at ‘eligibles’ and, in theory, the intention was to identify all the local eligibles and make a personal appeal to each of them. But this was difficult, particularly where the eligibles resided in outlying areas and also, of course, when the eligibles did not want to be contacted. The following extract from the 27/6/18 edition of the Swan Hill Guardian and Lake Boga Advocate highlights some of the challenges. As indicated, J W Leckie was one of the 3 members of federal parliament attached to the recruiting teams.

Mr. J. W. Leckie, M.H.R., who is touring the country with one of the parties under the itinerary training scheme, tells some amusing stories of the experiences of the party.

At a small country town out of Ballarat, members of the party were “beating” the outlying parts for eligibles, when a baker’s cart was seen standing outside a house about 100 yards away. As the party approached, an athletic looking young driver came out of the house, and was about to mount the step, when he saw the “khaki” in the distance, and instantly disappeared. The party was mystified at his quick disappearance, but when the door of the cart was opened he was found crouched among the loaves.

In another instance a couple of soldiers visited a farm house to interview an eligible whose name had been submitted by the recruiting committee. As the soldiers approached the farm house they saw a young fellow bolt into the stables. They searched for him, and eventually he was discovered hiding under a bundle of bran bags in the loft.

Two eligibles were reported in another town to be working in a garage, and the recruiting sergeants paid the garage an unannounced visit. The eligibles, however, got the “tip,” and the sergeants saw them scale a high fence and escape into an adjoining property. They did not return to work until the party left the district.

There were claims in the media at the time that the Itinerary Training Scheme was very successful and up to 500 men were recruited. However, the numerous accounts in country newspapers suggest otherwise. They indicate that while the visit of the AIF party prompted feelings of patriotism in the local community – and certainly the soldiers were well received – the actual number of eligibles who could be persuaded to enlist was very small. As will become obvious, this was certainly the case in relation to Yarram.

The Itinerary Training Scheme came to the Shire of Alberton in mid May 1918. And at this point, the local council appears to have requested that a separate committee be formed to manage the arrangements. This was when the previous recruiting committee was reformed. B P Johnson called a public meeting at the start of May and a committee was set up – it gave itself the title Itinerary Recruiting Committee – with the sole purpose of organising the visit. The key people involved in the committee were B P Johnson, E T Benson, J W Fleming, H C Evans and W F Lakin and, with the single exception of Herbert C Evans, all of these had been involved in the previous local recruiting committees.

The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative outlined the agreed program in its edition of 1/5/18. The AIF team was to arrive at Alberton Railway Station on Monday 13/5/18 at 3.00 PM. Jonson’s committee had to organise a fleet of private cars to transport the men to Yarram. The men were to be dropped on the outskirts of town where they were to form up and then march, with the band leading, down Commercial Street to the Shire Hall for a civic reception. The committee had to make sure that the town was decorated with flags and bunting. Businesses were to be closed and the townsfolk were expected to join in. After the civic reception the men were to be taken to their billets – the organisation of billets for all the men was another responsibility of the committee – and then later that evening they were to stage another town parade which immediately preceded the major concert to be put on by them. In the morning of the next day -Tuesday 14/5/18 – there was to be another town march and a special Appeals Parade. The afternoon was set aside for what was termed ‘Personal appeals to eligibles’. Again, the committee was to organise transport for this so that the AIF recruiters could go to the outlying townships. Presumably, the committee – or perhaps the council – also provided names and addresses. That evening there was to be another parade and recruiting rally back in Yarram. On the Wednesday, 15/5/18, the Catholic community was to organise a requiem mass in the morning, and this was to be followed by another parade and appeals. In the afternoon, yet another parade was to herald the 3.00 PM Memorial Service which was to be held at the Showgrounds or, if the weather was bad, in the Shire Hall. That evening there was to be another parade and then the final recruiting rally. On the Thursday – 16/5/18 – the team was to leave from Alberton for Leongatha at 11.45 AM, after they had been transported by private cars from Yarram, and after the final parade set down for 10.30 AM. Obviously, the whole affair required a significant degree of planning and preparation. The so-called Itinerary Recruiting Committee was set up as a short-term working group and it disbanded after the visit of the AIF.

The local paper featured extensive reporting of the events associated with the recruiting drive in Yarram from 13 to 16 May, 1918. The reports appeared in the editions of 15/5/18 and 17/5/18.

The AIF contingent arrived as planned and, having been transported by private cars from Alberton, the men formed up and marched into town, with the AIF band leading. The town’s main street had been extensively decorated with flags and the troop was followed by a large number of townspeople. The men were under the command of a Lieutenant Smith.

The civic reception incorporated afternoon tea and the men were welcomed by the Shire President – Cr T J McGalliard – who hoped that their efforts at recruiting would be successful. McGalliard highlighted what he saw as the dire situation on the Western Front and claimed that the British army was … now far too small an army to stand up against the mighty German hordes. He urged that the struggle had to be maintained until the American troops could make the critical difference. Referring directly to recruiting, he commented proudly on the extent to which the locals had done their duty and enlisted. But he also declared that … every man who was fit and eligible … needed to enlist.

Cr Barlow then expressed gratitude for the size of the crowd at the event and expressed pride in the AIF members who had joined them. He noted that some of them … were going to the front … and he declared that everyone owed ‘a debt of gratitude’ to the returned men also there. Another councillor, Cr O’Connor, expressed anger at the current political situation – he appeared to blame Hughes for not moving quickly enough on second conscription referendum – and frustration over those who refused to enlist:

There were plenty who had good reason for not enlisting, but there were hundreds of thousands of shirkers still in the country, and would be there after the other men had done their duty. They could not be induced to join the colours. They were going to let the other fellow do their work.

B P Johnson also spoke and gave the example of Port Albert where, he claimed, there was not one ‘eligible’ left. He declared that the rest of the district had to copy the example of Port Albert. The claim that every eligible in Port Albert had already enlisted was common at the time.

The officer in command, Lt Smith, thanked everyone for their hospitality. He declared that he was more optimistic than the speakers who had preceded him and was sure that the people of Gippsland would support recruiting. He noted that Gippsland was ‘God’s own country’. He also explained how he had a competition going with the equivalent team then in Echuca. He reassured them that Gippsland was just in front and he declared that he would be able to rely on the local people and … was sure that the citizens of Yarram would be second to none.

That night what was billed as a ‘patriotic concert’ was held in Thompson’s Hall. The local paper described how when the stage curtains were drawn back there was a ‘big display of flags of the Allies’ and seated on the stage were the uniformed men. The AIF Band then struck up the National Anthem.

There was a strong negative tone to all the speeches that night. The way the paper described it, the speakers appeared to vent their frustration over the failure of the 2 conscription referenda and therefore the need to appeal for voluntary enlistments. For Imperial Loyalists, the situation was one of national shame and typical of this sentiment were the opening remarks from the Shire President (McGalliard). He claimed to have received recently 3 letters from relatives who were serving overseas. From one letter he quoted the writer’s belief that … Australia was divided into one lot white, and one lot a dirty, motley yellow. From the second letter he quoted the claim that … Australians did not think as much of their soldiers as the Canadians did, and what was more – it was true. The third letter was from a doctor … who was so disgusted at Australia fighting over petty things instead of considering the sacrifice being made by the boys at the front that he stated “that if it was not for you, mother, I would not come back to Australia again.”

According to the local paper, the most common argument presented that night was the claim that those who had enlisted had been promised, at the time they enlisted, they would be reinforced, yet now that promise was being broken. The chair, in his opening remarks, … emphasised the great need of sending reinforcements to relieve those over there, or they would either have to die or be maimed. The local MP – J McLachlan MLA – one of the invited speakers, declared:

The men who went away had gone with an assured promise, but had not been reinforced to the extent that they ought to be.

Sergeant Perry, a returned soldier and one of the key AIF recruiters there that night, referred back to the very start of the War and declared that:

The one and only thing they [the initial volunteers] were told was that they would be supported. That was the obligation and responsibility placed on those who remained. Not one of them raised any objection to the Government and the pledge that those men would be supported to the last man and and last shilling.

Sergeant Perry went on to labour the point that the lack of reinforcements was having dire effects on the men at the front. He noted that … Those Australians who were fighting in France were becoming physical wrecks for the want of a spell. Some of them had been in the battle since since 1914. He then proceeded to give personal examples of the effects that the lack of reinforcements had. He said he knew of … one boy who was wounded ten times, and on the last occasion had to have an arm and leg amputated. He then made the point that this lad … should have been back 18 months ago. Perry gave statistics on the extent to which casualties had more than decimated battalions. He claimed that of the 1,000 men of 2 Battalion – the unit he left Australia with in October 1914 – only 5 originals remained.

Other themes touched on that night included the bravery and very recent success of the AIF in Europe which had … averted a calamity by driving back the Huns. There was also the usual contempt for those ‘cowards’ who refused to enlist as … the meanest things God ever gave breath. Building on the fear of the ‘enemy within’ and the direct threat posed by Germany – given more credibility at that point by the talk of German raiders off the coast and the claimed activities of local agents and spies – speakers referred to Hughes’ comments about the War being … on our shores, showing that the Germans were at work here. There was also the claim that Australia was an obvious target for Germany acquisition:

This country was most suitable for the enemy with all its great resources, and with a limited population of 5,000,000 the enemy desired this country.

Speakers also criticised those who wanted a ‘negotiated peace’:

Some people were crying out for peace by negotiation, but no man in Yarram could raise his head if they had such a peace. What they wanted was a peace by victory by drawing from all sources of the Empire that man power which they think is available.

On the night, people would have been confused over the question of how many eligibles still remained in the district. The conventional wisdom was that there were very few ‘eligible’ men left in the district. As noted, B P Johnson, for example, was fond of citing Port Albert as an example of a town in the district where there was not one single eligible left. There was also the high number of recorded enlistments from the area. The previous series of posts covering enlistments associated with the Shire of Alberton puts the number of enlistments to the end of 1917 as close to 750. Also, figures from the State Recruiting Committee of Victoria at the end of 1917 revealed that, between January and December 1917, Gippsland had been the country electorate with the highest number of enlistments. The common belief was that country Victoria had done very well with recruiting, Gippsland had been the most successful of all the country regions and that, by contrast, metropolitan Melbourne was the place where all the eligibles resided. This was the gist of comments made at the concert that night by J McLachlan MLA:

In Melbourne there were 20,000 eligible men, who were called upon daily to take the places of their brothers, and there were many eligibles in Gippsland; although Gippsland had done remarkably well.

However this conventional wisdom was turned on its head by comments made by Sergeant Perry who claimed he … knew from official figures that in the subdivision of Yarram there were 839 eligible men and fit to go. On top of that, they had failed to send 65 recruits a year. They had failed badly.

On Perry’s figures, the Shire of Alberton generally, and Yarram specifically, had major concentrations of men who refused to enlist. In fact, on his figures there were more eligibles still in the area than men who had enlisted. Perry’s figures came from a Commonwealth report prepared for the Department of Defence in April 1918. It claimed to show – by subdivision of federal electorates – the ‘Estimated Number of Males between 19 and 44 years at present in Australia’ . It was used, as part of the Itinerary Training Scheme, to highlight just how many eligibles remained. It came with the appeal that … it behoves every individual in the Commonwealth to do his or her best to induce the eligible men to offer their services as early as possible… [letter from State Recruiting Committee of Victoria, 22/4/18]. But the figures were only estimates and, given all the variables involved, vague estimates at that.

Overall, there was certainly no evidence that there were 839 eligibles just in the Yarram subdivision. When the Exemption Court had been held in Yarram in October 1916 – see Post 93 – there were 124 applications for exemption and, based on this figure, it seems reasonable to argue that the number of eligible men who had not enlisted was in the general order of one hundred. Nor is there any evidence that there was an isolated, outlying settlement where there was a concentration of eligibles. Moreover, as has been noted previously, many of these so-called ‘eligibles’ failed medicals when they did try to enlist. The preoccupation with identifying and shaming eligibles meant that under-age and already ‘rejected’ young men were often unfairly targeted. The other complication with country towns was the number of itinerant workers who moved though the district.

In fact, events at the concert that night helped demonstrate the lack of eligibles in the district. At the end of the patriotic concert, after all the exhortations, the call went out and 16 ‘men’ stepped forward. Dr Rutter examined the men afterwards and, immediately, 7 failed the medical. Of the others, some were rejected because they were underage and others must have failed subsequent medicals. In the end, only 4 of the 16 were accepted as genuine recruits; and of the 4 it appears that only 2 – George Clarke from Wonwron and Silvester Callister form Devon North – actually enlisted. Admittedly, eligible men who had no intention of enlisting were not going to attend such a ‘patriotic concert’ and draw attention to themselves but, for all the qualifications, by that point in the War there was not a large pool of eligibles in the Shire of Alberton. At the same time, in the heightened paranoia and patriotism of the time, the quest for eligibles was relentless.

Outside the men who answered the call at the patriotic concert, there were only an additional two or three local men who volunteered in this period of mid May 1918. Even if this additional handful of enlistments was influenced by the presence of the AIF recruiting party in Yarram, it is clear that the overall success of the visit was very limited.

Those attending the concert that night were treated to a full program of popular entertainment. The formula of items had been tried and tested all over country Victoria and the show was designed both to attract the locals and make the soldiers on stage the focus. Newspaper accounts from other towns stressed how much the locals enjoyed having the soldiers in their town and how entertaining the concerts and parades proved. The type of entertainment that featured in Yarram that night was recorded, in detail, by the local paper. For example, after the opening remarks by the Shire President, the paper reported:

The A.I.F. Band then contributed a selection, followed by a chorus “One Man went to Row” by the members of the A.I.F, which was received with loud encores, and they sent out another volley, “Has Anybody here seen Kelly.” The local humorist, Mr. C. E. King-Church, amused the audience with “I had a row with my Wife last night.” The chairman then introduced Private S. Cooke, the hand-cuff king, who gave some clever exhibitions, releasing himself from a straight-jacket, and ropes, chains and hand-cuffs, after being securely (?) fastened by a body of gentlemen from the hall. His feats brought forth rounds of applause. Another selection was rendered by the A.I.F Band.

And interspersed between the calls for recruits, dire warnings about the state of the fighting in France, praise for the men of the AIF and the haranguing of eligibles, there was an ongoing series of popular items. Some of the items would have appeared very exciting, particularly for any children in the audience. There was certainly a martial theme to it all:

Mr. Evans sang “John Bull” in his capable style, and meeting with loud encores favoured the audience with “When the Boys Come Back.” An exhibition of bayonet charging was given by several members of the A.I.F. Mr. King-Church again humorously treated his hearers by singing “Picking Poppies.” Another band selection was rendered by the Military Band.

The other key event that was written up in the local paper (17/5/18) was the memorial service held the day after the concert. It was held – indoors because of the rain – in the afternoon after the Catholic requiem mass had been held in the morning. Returned men were seated on the stage with the clergy. The visiting AIF band provided the music.

The 3 Protestant ministers involved were Rev A R Raymond (Anglican), Rev S Williams (Presbyterian) and Rev C J Walklate (Methodist). Rev Raymond’s son had been killed in action (9/4/17) and Rev Walklate’s brother had also been killed (22/10/17). Rev Williams drew attention to these deaths when in his opening remarks he noted he was … fully conscious that they had on the platform ministers whose family circle had been broken as a result of the war.

During the service, the names of 49 local men who had been killed were read out by Rev Walklate.

The first prayer was for ‘King and Country’ and the focus in the address delivered by Rev Williams was the Empire. As noted previously, many times, Protestantism was the religion of the Empire. Williams tied the deaths of the local men to unquestioning support for Britain and the Empire:

When he read that list of the dead they remembered they were men who stood as soldiers irrespective of creed or denomination to maintain and reserve for Britain the glory of her exalted position, a position that had come by her noble work.

He reminded the audience how they had to … remember their boys as they remember great men and their sons as men who stood to make Britain what she is. These men have handed their life over for the whole world. They were men who had, unflinchingly, answered the call from the ‘mother country’:

When the shadow began to fall on the British Empire, as it crept away and reached to Australia, and the call came from the old mother, the boys in their hearts turned to their parents and said they were going to the war.

Williams set the proud reputation of the Australian soldier within its Imperial context:

Another characteristic in the Australian soldier was that he could take his place alongside the armies of the world. They possessed courage that made them not afraid to take their part. Courage of the kind that General Gordon possessed when he was in the midst of the savage races of Africa. Their courage was shown on Gallipoli, and in France where the men went forth to raid the camps of the enemy at night. In the words of Nelson, who said “We are brothers, we are men, and we conquer to save.” That was the spirit. They were not fighting for the extermination of any race, but liberty, peace and righteousness in all its quarters, to bring about the universal brotherhood of the world.

The focus on Empire was an absolute given in any recruiting campaign. As an example, in early January 1918, when the State Recruiting Committee of Victoria wrote to all the local recruiting committees – at a time when it was trying to re-establish confidence in the voluntary system after the defeat of the second referendum – it made a classic declaration of commitment to the Empire:

It would be superfluous to expatiate on our duty to the Empire because in addition to our being an integral part of the Empire, no sacrifice made by us would be adequate to compensate the Motherland for the assistance and protection she has always unconditionally given.

As indicated, the memorial service – and requiem mass – were intended as set pieces in the overall theatre of the Itinerary Training Scheme and Lieutenant Smith, from the visiting AIF party, gave a short appeal for recruits:

He asked all in this time of grave crisis, when the fate of the Empire hung in the balance to realise their duty.

The AIF band played the popular and moving ‘Dead March’ and the service concluded with the National Anthem.

The Itinerary Training Scheme over April – May 1918 was, in theory at least, designed to boost recruiting by sending out 3 specialist AIF teams to cover all of country Victoria and track down all eligibles. Again, in theory, when these eligibles were confronted with the realities of the present state of the War and their innate sense of patriotic duty was revealed to them, by way of a personal interview with the AIF recruiters, they would enlist.

The actual experiences in the Shire of Alberton in mid May 1918 suggests that the scheme failed. Certainly, estimates of the number of eligibles were overblown, at least in part because many who were seen as eligible had no chance of meeting the medical standard or they were underage and their parents refused to give permission. Moreover, the previous 4 years of recruiting had shown that locals in the Shire of Alberton had enlisted in great numbers and it was definitely not the case that there remained a vast, untapped pool of eligible recruits. Doubtless, there were some genuine eligibles in the local area but, on the face of it, the visit of the contingent from the Itinerary Training Scheme appeared to be out of all proportion to the potential number of recruits. At the same time, the visit by the AIF was a wonderful opportunity for the locals to demonstrate their support for the War effort, their belief in the greatness, newly won, of the AIF itself, their sense of the debt they owed to the soldiers and, of course, their loyalty to the Empire. Moreover in a local community that had – twice – strongly supported the Government’s push for conscription and constantly proclaimed its total support for the War effort, many would have seen the problem with recruiting as not of their making. They were more than happy to participate in the likes of patriotic concerts and support all recruiting appeals, but they hardly felt guilty for the overall situation.

One week after the AIF visit to Yarram, the following letter appeared in the local paper. It was signed by B P Johnson, Chairman and E T Benson, Hon Secretary of the Itinerary Recruiting Campaign Committee:

Sir, – It has been brought under the notice of the committee that a certain gentleman in the town has been accused of supplying names of eligibles to the recruiting officers. This is altogether untrue and in order to remove any misconception, we are directed by the committee to inform the public through your column, that the gentleman gave no information of that kind at all.

There was no further correspondence on the matter and no other related report in the local paper. The claim in the letter is hard to understand. As noted, the very purpose of the whole Itinerary Training Scheme was to identify and then confront all the eligibles in a district. Local recruiting committees were meant to provide names and it was the role of committees such as the one chaired by Johnson to provide the transport so that teams of recruiters could visit the eligibles, even if they resided outside the town limits. Even if the local (Yarram) recruiting committee was no longer actively functioning, its previous work – to the end of 1917 – would have meant that the names of local eligibles were known. Moreover, notices like the one below appeared in virtually every edition of the local paper. Everyone’s attention was focused on the local eligibles. Therefore it seems odd that there were these claims and counter claims over the actions of a single – unnamed – individual in revealing the names of eligibles. Perhaps Johnson and Couston were concerned that just one individual had been singled out as the guilty party. However, overall, the letter merely confuses the larger reality that extraordinary pressure was being applied to force the enlistment of those young men identified as eligibles.

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, 28/6/18 p4.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Shire of Alberton Archives (viewed  Yarram, May 2013)

File: Correspondence etc of Recruiting Committee. Formed, April 26th 1917 (Box 379)

State Recruiting Committee of Victoria

Circular Memo No. 226, 10/1/18

Circular Memo No. 287, 22/4/18

166. Smoke Social April 25, 1918

The local RSSILA branch held a ‘smoke social’ to coincide with Anzac Day celebrations in April 1918. It was reported in detail in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 1 May 1918. It was an all-male affair.

The function was significant for 2 reasons. The first was the singular focus on the issue of repatriation and the second was the apparently eclectic mix of guests, featuring as it did a Victoria Cross recipient who was a pilot in the Royal Australian Flying Corps – F H McNamara – together with a small party of Royal Australian Navy personnel. On the face of it, none of these guests had any association with the Shire of Alberton.

Repatriation

By early 1918, the quest for repatriation had become a national holy grail. Generally, there were 2 broad target groups. There was the increasing number of men being repatriated to Australia for medical discharge, because of wounds, injury or illness. These were men returning to civilian life who were going to face all manner of difficulties. They might face further periods of hospitalisation and treatment. There was the challenge – or impossibility – of securing employment. They would have to live with ongoing disabilities – amputated limbs, blindness, chronic disease – and in general they were still relatively very young. They were to be forced to become reliant on others – on either a temporary or more permanent basis – and in many cases this burden would fall on the parents. If this first group was not ‘looked after’ their position would be dire. The second group of those for whom repatriation had become the national ideal was the much larger core of the AIF itself. These were the men who had ‘answered the call’ and proved themselves heroes. They were to return ‘soon’ and the Nation had to repay the debt owed them. As a minimum, it was totally unacceptable that such men would return to unemployment and hardship. Moreover, they had to be rewarded over those who had refused to enlist.

It is impossible to downplay the strength of the sense that there had to be some sort of national reckoning or settlement for those who had volunteered for the AIF. From April 1915, the Anzacs had been feted as super-humans. Their deeds and character had been celebrated constantly. Their reputation had been used as an integral element in the Government’s narrative of the War. It had been employed in every recruiting campaign and it had served as the essential backdrop in 2 conscription referenda where the basic message was that the heroes of the AIF had to be reinforced. Politically and morally, it was impossible for any government not to commit to repatriation.

But for all the commitment, by early 1918 there was considerable disquiet. It was clear that whatever form repatriation was to take, there was considerable confusion and little evidence that anything was being done. This disquiet was very evident at the Smoke Social held in Yarram in April 1918. As one speaker (G F Sauer) observed:

[Returned] Men had come to him and complained that they had to wait about for weeks before anything was done for them. Their pay was fizzling away and many of them were in want.

Not surprisingly, for many in the Shire of Alberton, the idea of repatriation involved putting the returned soldiers on the land. It was an appealing vision: the hero soldier could be rewarded by being assisted to set himself up as an independent farmer on a modest landholding. The qualities that had made the AIF such a formidable fighting force – toughness, resourcefulness, independence, mateship … – would be the same ones that would ensure success as the soldier transitioned, easily and even naturally, to the life of the farmer. The existing local farming community would welcome them eagerly and support them. It would be their chance to repay the debt. The increased economic activity would create a more prosperous and ever-growing community. Of course, the reality was that there were to be significant problems at every step of the way. The scheme would in time prove to be ruinous for many. Behind the idealism, the scheme was open to exploitation and even victimisation. But that night in Yarram, the dream of land for the returning men was paramount. Thomas Livingston MLA spoke for many:

Gippsland had done splendidly in regard to recruiting, and had perhaps sent more men than any other part of the State. The men were coming back and must have help. He wanted to know the number of men present who wanted land, and would use his best endeavours in Parliament to see they got it.

Later he declared, dramatically:

There was plenty of land about Yarram where the soldier could do well on. They were entitled to it and should get it if they wanted it.

But there were others who were keen to question the commitment of the State Government to the idea of soldier settlement. Councillor Barlow, talking immediately after Livingston, argued that, from his personal experience, the efforts of local councillors to facilitate land acquisitions were routinely blocked by the State Government. On the specific issue of land, he claimed that the very next morning he was going to ride … twenty or thirty miles to inspect land that had been offered the committee for repatriation purposes. But then he aded:

However, his past experience with the [State] Government was that it was bound up so tightly with red tape that many of the labors of local bodies went for nothing. The Government was making a farce of the repatriation problem. Let everyone be up and doing to assist those men who were sent away with so many promises of what was going to be done for them when they came back. There had been a succession of broken promises.

Clearly, the view of local government was that it was all the fault of the State Government. But then the very next speaker – B P Johnson – poured scorn on the commitment of the local council. Firstly, he complained that not enough councillors were present at the function and their absence was typical of people’s indifference to the plight of the returning men. Then he complained about the Shire’s indifference to creating the commemorative record of the men who had enlisted. Admittedly, this issue was not directly concerned with repatriation, but it was, in his mind, indicative of the Shire’s overall indifference to the status and plight of the men. It would certainly have hit raw nerves. It was yet another example of the gulf between what the men had been promised and what they were now experiencing:

As has been said before, there had been a lot of talk, but very little done. He [Johnson] had noticed that in nearly every other place honor rolls were in existence. They should have one to commemorate the men who had gone from the Shire of Alberton. The council had passed a resolution in 1915 to have this done, but so far it had not materialised. … The council should tackle the matter at once, and not only an honor roll, but a book with full particulars of each man who enlisted.

Other speakers that night identified those they saw as the ‘natural’ enemy of the men returning: those who had not ‘answered the call’. Speakers declared that these men – variously described that night as ‘rotters’ and ‘cold footers’ – posed a threat to the ideal of repatriation because they had taken the jobs of the men who enlisted and they would not easily give them up.

Other speakers sensed the indifference and opposition the returning men faced and urged them to ’stick together as a solid body and demand justice’. They needed to become political. Livingston’s advice was reported:

His advice to the Returned Soldiers’ Association was to hang together and vote together. They had the whole political situation in their own hands. They had sacrificed themselves for their country and should force Parliament to redeem its promises. This they could do if they combined together. He hoped to see the majority of seats held in Parliament by returned soldiers. They had fought and bled for their country, so should have the biggest say in the policy of the government.

There were other speakers keen to push an argument about class. Power and privilege could compromise the men’s access to a decent system of repatriation. J W Biggs, a local Catholic with 3 sons in the AIF, spoke on behalf of the Fathers’ League and his sentiments were very clear:

He [Biggs] had three sons at the front and trusted to see them back. As a British subject he appreciated the liberty of living under the flag. There were a lot who talked loyalty in Yarram and then subscribed half-a-crown to a patriotic fund. He endorsed the remarks of sticking together. Let the boys stick together and they would have the fathers solidly behind them. He did not know what might happen to his boys, but he had seen some examples of the injuries sustained and it was appalling. What had the men of wealth done? They went on to platforms and urged the boys to go and fight, while they stayed home and made money, and kept it. This class of man thought very little of other men’s lives as long as it saved their own money. He felt warm on this matter, and had he known as much when his last boy enlisted (he was only eighteen) he would have refused consent until he was twenty-one. He was disgusted the way the returned boys were treated. He hoped those who had promised that evening to do so much for the boys would keep their words and do their duty to the lads. (Applause.)

Finally, there was an immediate insight that night which demonstrated, at least for those there, just how poorly the returning men were being treated. It came in the speech by G F Sauer, late in proceedings. Sauer expressed disappointment that the function, which was obviously for the returned men, had in fact been put on by the men themselves. He believed that this arrangement was the reverse of what should have happened.

In regard to the entertainment that evening, he thought things were topsy-turvy. Instead of the boys giving the social it should have been the people. He trusted next year that the public would give the lads a rousing demonstration, and in the meantime assist in every way to make the lot of the returned men a happy one. (Applause.)

When Livingston, one of the invited guests, heard this, he expressed shock and stated he had been under the ‘misapprehension’ that the community had put on the event for the men. He even offered to pay out of his own pocket.

It is clear that the picture to emerge that night was not an overly positive one. Repatriation – and in particular the call to settle returned men on the land – was certainly both an ideal and an urgent priority – in the community and at every level of government – and there was, apparently, universal commitment to it. However, the lines of division, the political infighting, the threats of recrimination were all coming into focus. Repatriation, as a moral ideal, was about to be hammered into shape as a political compromise. The true worth of the heroes of Anzac had to be tested in the real world. As future posts will show, the situation was going to become ugly and in one of the greatest ironies, where all the advice that night was for the men to stick together and become their own political masters, in the end when the soldier settlement scheme finally became established in the Shire, it would be the ‘old guard’ – the local councillors, existing landholders and other established vested interests – who would have the real power. The heroes would have their repatriation, but only on the terms set by their betters: the generation of Imperial Loyalists who had waved them off.

McNamara, Frank Hubert VC

As indicated, one of the guests that night was Captain Frank Hubert McNamara VC, Australian Flying Corps. He was then 23 yo and while he had seen service in the Middle East he had not been at Gallipoli. In fact, he drew attention to this fact in remarks which he made in praise of those men there that night who had been original Anzacs:

In looking round the hall he [McNamara] felt proud to see so many in khaki, and what thrilled him more was the number of boys with the letter A on their shoulder. That spoke volumes, and he would consider himself an honored man had he that letter on his uniform.

McNamara had been awarded the Victoria Cross in June 1917 for his action in rescuing another downed Australian pilot in March 1917. The downed Australian pilot was in danger of being shot or captured by the Turks when McNamara, himself already seriously wounded, landed and effected a very difficult and dangerous rescue. Subsequently, because of his serious wounds, McNamara had been repatriated to Australia in early 1918 and discharged on medical grounds. However in April 1918, he was appointed ‘Officer Commanding, Air Reconnaissance, South Gippsland’ and it was in that capacity that he attended the smoke social.

The background to McNamara’s appointment involved the German raider, Wolf. In March 1918 the Wolf returned to Germany with the revelation that it had sailed along the east coast of Australia. The captain even claimed to have have used the ship’s own aircraft – it carried a small plane – to fly over Sydney. Moreover, several months earlier, in July 1917, a ship – SS Cumberland – had sunk near the Victoria-NSW border in July 1917 after it hit a mine that had been laid by the German raider. Not surprisingly, the press in Australia whipped up considerable hysteria. To calm matters, Defence decided to mount a series of reconnaissance flights over the south-eastern sea lanes. There were 2 areas of operation: one covering the area round Eden and the other Wilson’s Promontory. For the aerial reconnaissance covering Wilson’s Promontory, Yarram was selected because it had the best location for an airfield. McNamara was appointed the Officer Commanding, and he was supported by radio operators from the RAN and a guard provided by the army. McNamara’s unit operated from 21/4/18 – just a few days before the smoke social on Anzac Day – to 10/5/18. The aircraft in use at Yarram – an FE2b – was damaged on one landing and was out of action for about one week. On the days that flights were not conducted McNamara’s detachment assisted civilian police in following up various reports of enemy activity in the area, e.g. sensational reports of local Germans using wireless to communicate with raiders off the coast. After his time in South Gippsland, McNamara took up duties as a flying instructor at Point Cook.

There must have been some embargo on the reporting of McNamara’s work in Yarram at the time because there is no report in the local paper of his mission. He was identified, but only as a guest, at the smoke social. Moreover, there was only one other reference in the local paper (8/5/18) and this occurred in a speech to students at the local school – Yarram State School – given by a school inspector. McNamara himself had been a state school teacher before enlistment and the inspector (Mr Greenwood) was keen to remind students of the fact:

The Education Department had supplied a big number of soldiers from within its ranks. Captain McNamara, the winner of the Victoria Cross, who was at present in Yarram, was an old school teacher.

Captain Frank Hubert McNamara VC, courtesy of Australian War Memorial

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Australian Dictionary of Biography, McNamara Frank Hubert (Francis) 1894-1961

Coulthard-Clark, C 1997, McNamara VC: A Hero’s Dilemma, Air Power Studies Centre, RAAF Base Fairbairn ACT

Aviation Heritage Vol 25 No 4, Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of Australia.

Watson, D 2000, ‘In the Shadow of the ‘Wolf’: Enemy Activity and the Internment of a Gippsland Fisheman’, Gippsland Heritage Journal, No. 24 pp. 2-9

For film of the type of plane (FE2b) flown by McNamara see here and here.

161. Anzac Day 1918: For England

This post looks at the celebration of Anzac Day in 1918. At the same time, it also traces the intimate relationship between the celebration of Empire Day and Anzac Day over the course of the War and notes how Anzac Day grew from, and eventually eclipsed, Empire Day.

Post 3 looked at Empire Day (24 May) in the Shire of Alberton in 1914 when celebrations for Empire Day in 1914 were relaxed, even if the spectre of trouble in Ireland – potentially even civil war – was present.

One year later, Australia, as part of the Empire, was at war and Empire Day was celebrated  almost exactly one month after the landing at Gallipoli. The timing inevitably raises questions about how much of the Anzac story was known by that point and how did the very recent events at Gallipoli influence the celebration of Empire Day.

In terms of what was known of the events at Gallipoli by the time of Empire Day 1915, it appears that there was certainly sufficient detail for at least the core of the Anzac story to have been fashioned.

First official word of the landing on Gallipoli came in the Federal Parliament on 29 April, 1915. The Australasian on 1/5/15 reported the PM (Fisher) stating,

Some days ago the Australian War Expeditionary Forces were transferred from Egypt to the Dardanelles. They have since landed, and have been in action on the Gallipoli Peninsula. News reaches us that the action is proceeding satisfactorily.

Fisher quoted the cable message he had received from the (British) Secretary of State for the Colonies. This cable also spoke of the success of the operation and the ‘gallantry’ of the men. Fisher also quoted the response from the Governor-General:

The Government and people of Australia are deeply gratified to learn that their troops won distinction in their first encounters with the enemy. We are confident that they will carry the King’s colours to further victory.

Overall, the first official commentary on Anzac, less than a week after the landing, presented the action as a success and hailed the fighting quality of the AIF. Critically, there was also official confirmation that the Australian troops had proved themselves in battle. The more expansive and laudatory descriptions of the AIF in action at Gallipoli began to appear within a week. For example, Ashmead-Bartlett’s account appeared in The Argus on 8/5/15. Casualty lists began to appear from early May. However it was not until mid to late June that the papers were full of personal accounts by soldiers recovering in hospital in Egypt. Further, Bean’s account did not appear until mid June. It appeared in The Argus on 18/6/15.

In the Shire of Alberton, the basic story was picked up very quickly. The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative published Ashmead -Barlett’s account on 12/5/15. The comprehensive account appeared under the headlines: Gallant Australians. Full Story Of Their Fight. Troops Landed In Darkness. Attacked On Seashore. Heroes Of Mons Equalled.

Both nationally and locally, May 1915 saw an increasing flow of information on the Gallipoli campaign. The basis of the Anzac story was established very quickly and universally. The essential features of this story were: the campaign had been a success, even if the notion of ‘success’ had to be increasingly qualified and portrayed in terms broader than military objectives; the AIF had ‘proved itself’ in battle as at least the equal of British troops; the AIF had shown itself to have a distinctly Australian character; Australia’s national identity and the essential character of its people were tied to the AIF; Gallipoli had been a defining moment in Australia’s short history; Australia was robustly and selflessly defending the Empire; and, lastly, it had always been Australia’s manifest destiny to fight for the Empire, and therefore the death and sacrifice of Anzac were inevitable. Critically, Anzac and Empire were intimately linked. The story of Anzac was an extension of the story of Empire.

One way of demonstrating how the Anzac story was so intimately tied to the fundamentals of love for and duty towards the Empire is to look at how, just one month after Gallipoli, the story of Anzac was handled at the Empire Day celebrations in Yarram in 1915. These particular celebrations were directly driven by the local community, in the sense that several prominent locals, despairing that the local council had not taken the initiative to highlight the importance of Empire Day that year, had come together to ensure that due recognition was given. In their planning session – reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 19/5/15 – they referred to the belief that Empire Day that year had … far greater significance and there were references to the ‘present crisis’ and the fact that this year was … more than an ordinary occasion. The present crisis was both the parlous situation in Europe and, of course, the fighting at Gallipoli. Both events underlined the fundamental link between Australia and the Empire or, more accurately, the seamless whole of the relationship.

The celebrations took place on the evening of Empire Day (Monday, 24/5/15). They were reported in the local paper on 26/5/15 under the bold headline: Monster Public Gathering. At the outset, the local council was again criticised for its lack of patriotic spirit. Post 59 has already looked in detail at this event but it is worth recalling just how strong the commitment to the Empire was.

On the night, there were numerous accounts of the greatness of the Empire. In fact, there were so many speakers lined up that several had to give up their turn because the event was proving too drawn out for all the children there. One stirring speech was made by a visiting Presbyterian minister (Cadwallader Jones) who extolled the 1,000 year Empire:

There was something about the British Empire which appealed to Australians, and in the present crisis a sense of its power and grandeur was felt by all. It sent a thrill of independence through us, and we gloried in the legacy which our forefathers had left us; they who had shed their blood to overcome every hindrance which beset them. The flag that had braved all breezes, and all wars for the past thousand years would still be kept flying, and vindicate our right to the Divine possession. (Applause).

After promising that in the present fighting the allies would … triumph as sure as there is a God in heaven, Cadwallader Jones turned his attention to the very recent events at Gallipoli, praised the great deeds of the AIF – the idea of the Anzacs deeds living forever was already clearly apparent – and located the fighting in terms of a broader Imperial struggle against evil, in this case the corrupt Ottoman Empire. At this point the revision of the status of the Turkish enemy – Abdul – was still some time away. Specifically, Cadwallader Jones condemns the Turkish atrocities against the Armenians, an unresolved issue 100 years on:

We have reason to be proud that our nation is having vengeance on the Turks for those awful Armenian atrocities, and will wipe out the Ottoman Empire. He [Cadwallader Jones] never dreamt that he would live to see the day when the Australians would go forth to avenge that awful wrong. What magnificent deeds they had done in the Gallipoli Peninsula cutting off the enemy and trampling them under feet, though at terrible cost, for we are overwhelmed with grief when we read the casualty list. Though our men are laying down their lives to avenge the wrong we will not forget them, their names will be engraved in the hardest tablet of stone, so that our children, and our children’s children, shall know of the heroism and noble deeds of our men in the cause of justice, ever ready to face death itself. (Applause).

The resolution passed by those gathered that night clearly placed the triumph of Gallipoli within its proper Imperial context. Gallipoli had realised the Nation’s Imperial destiny:

This meeting of citizens of Yarram and district, affirms its confidence in the solidarity of our Empire and the integrity of our cause, and while expressing its unbounded admiration of the gallantry of our representatives at the front, and its deepest sympathy with those bereaved, urges upon (sic) all our people to rise to a realisation of our Empire as exemplified by the conduct of our men upon both land and sea.

Besides the speeches and songs that night, there was plenty of visual reinforcement of the ideals of Empire.

A pretty scene was presented when over thirty Yarram school children marched on to the stage, each carrying Union Jacks. The girls were attired in white frocks, and the boys wore red, white and blue ties. The popular songs “Red, White and Blue” and “Sons of the Sea” were given with considerable vim, the choir and audience taking up the chorus.

Whereas the first Anzac Day was, in effect, celebrated as part of Empire Day, by 1918 Anzac Day was a national day in its own right, even if it did not become a public holiday in all states and territories until the end of the 1920s. Moreover, while Empire Day continued to be celebrated it was obvious that in just 3 years the celebration of Anzac Day had already eclipsed that of Empire Day. However, there was a major qualification to this observation, in that it was definitely not the case that by 1918 the celebration of the Empire had in any way diminished. Rather it was just the case that it made more sense – seemed more natural – to focus on the celebration of the Empire as part of Anzac Day. In effect, Empire Day, even though it continued to run as a separate and distinct celebration until the late 1950s – morphed with Anzac Day, just as Anzac Day had been celebrated as part of Empire Day in 1915.

The shift to Anzac Day is very evident in the local paper. There are very few reports of specific Empire Day activities in the local district for May 1918. The paper reported on 31/5/18 of Empire Day Celebrations held at Stacey’s Bridge. The report was very brief and just noted that a … social evening and dance was held on Empire night to raise funds for the Education Department’s April-May appeal. On 5/6/18 there was a report on the success of fundraising by the local Methodist church for Empire Day. There was also a special service for the Methodist congregation for ‘Empire Sunday’.

The detailed reporting of local celebrations for Anzac Day offered a stark contrast. On 19/5/18, the paper published the full school program for Anzac Day. Two days earlier, the paper had published a report of how the (Federal) Minister of Recruiting had requested state education departments to promote bonfires on Anzac night:

… in addition to any other celebration that might be proposed, the head master of public and private schools be asked to arrange that bonfires be erected in school grounds or selected positions with due regard to safety and in charge of responsible officers, and all to be lit simultaneously at 7.30 on Anzac night. He suggested that patriotic songs be rendered by the children, and in view of the seriousness of the present position [The German Spring Offensive], the ceremony be made as impressive as possible.

The 2 references to the schools serve to remind just how important the (Victorian) Education Department was, not just in establishing the practice and form of Anzac Day but in also fashioning the very story of Anzac. There were obviously other influences – for example, the 1916 publication of The Anzac Book edited by Bean – but the role of the various state education departments was critical. Triolo (2011) covers the role of the Victorian Education Department in great detail. And prior to Gallipoli, the Education Department had fashioned and taught the Empire story. Essentially, the state education departments over the course of WW1 – and before and after it – were highly influential in shaping the attitudes of not just the students but their families and the wider community to the War. These departments through their own publications – in Victoria it was the School Paper – also provided an ongoing commentary, if not narrative, of the War. The account was unmistakably Imperial.

As well as the school preparations for Anzac Day, the local paper gave notice (24/4/18) of what was planned by way of other activities on the day. There was advice that between 12 and 2.00 pm local stores would be closed and that a united (Protestant) church service would be held in Thompson’s Hall. In the afternoon, attention was to shift to the school (Yarram SS) for its program and at the same event a number of district soldiers were to be formally welcomed home. At night, a bonfire had been arranged at Port Albert. Lastly, the local Returned Soldiers’ League was to stage a smoke social in Thompson’s Hall. There was concern that the bonfire at Port Albert was going to keep some returned men from the smoke social in Yarram. The smoke social will be covered separately in a coming post as it revealed yet more division and conflict over the issue of repatriation.

The report covering all the events appeared in the local paper the day after Anzac Day.

The welcome home ceremony was a central component of the prescribed school celebrations for Anzac Day 1918.  On the day there were 12 returned soldiers present and of this number 4 were very recently returned. The welcome home meant that a large crowd of locals also assembled at the school for the ceremony. Having the school as the centre of the celebration obviously raised the status and gravitas of the day. As well, the presence of the returned men helped formalise the solemnity. Their presence also had an obvious impact on the speeches made. The opening remarks made by the head teacher – E A Paige – were full of praise for the Anzacs. Their efforts had not only been comparable to the best of the Empire but had in fact exceeded them.

Mr. E. A Paige, head teacher, extended a cordial welcome to all, and addressing the children impressed upon them the importance of commemorating Anzac Day. It was the day our Australian boys landed at Gallipoli against well-armed enemies. They had read of the charge of the Light Brigade, but what the Australians had done put that feat in the shade, when they landed against such odds on 25th April 1915. He extended a hearty welcome to the returned men, and hoped Anzac Day would be solemnly celebrated every year.

Another speaker that day was the Rev C J Walklate, the local Methodist minister and another leading Imperial Loyalist. Walklate made the claim – commonly being made by this point – that Anzac Day was not just a significant event in Australia’s history it was in fact the beginning of Australian history, which history, at least in his view, was very simplistic:

… the 25th April three years ago was the beginning of Australian history. They had read of the exploits of our explorers, who mapped out the land for civilisation to come and make homes for the present generation. But the tragic landing at Gallipoli eclipsed everything else.

The presentation of Gallipoli as some form of ‘tragedy’ had been well established. Sacrifice had been an essential element of this tragedy and the ideal of sacrifice had been instilled in the Anzacs as young boys at school – just like the school children there on that Anzac Day in 1918 – who had read of the glories of the Empire. The Anzac story was the next inevitable chapter of the Empire story. As Walklate put it,

The spirit our boys displayed [at Anzac], was moulded by reading the doings of other brave men in past years.

Another speaker that day was Inspector Greenwood. He told the students that, On 25th April 1915 Australia leaped into history. He spoke about the … records of the deeds of these brave boys. And he described them in an Australian style as ‘dinkum Anzacs’.

Clearly there was an emerging nationalist focus evident: Australian history only begins with Anzac; the AIF is not just the equal of the British Army its troops are better; Australia has effectively ‘come of age’.

However, just as Empire Day and Anzac Day were intimately connected, the new sense of Australian nationalism was still most definitely contained within the broader commitment to Empire. For clear evidence of this seamless connection consider the song – For England – which was prescribed in the formal school program for the day and was to be was sung by the students. Arguably, it was even more suitable for Empire Day than Anzac Day. Moreover, it had been written by an Australian – James Drummond Burns (1895-1915). Burn’s poem had been set to music by L A Adamson, the headmaster of Wesley College. Burns, a corporal in 21 Battalion, was killed at Gallipoli in September 1915. He was 20 yo at the time. He had been born in Victoria and had been a student of Scotch College. In many ways the young Burns embodied the qualities of the Rev George Cox’s ‘Soldier of Christ’ (Post 26).

The song, For England is reproduced below. Its Imperial sentiment and sentimentality are unmistakable. It was created within the environment of the Victorian elite public school but it was sung on Anzac Day in 1918 in all state schools.

For England

The bugles of England were blowing o’er the sea,
As they had called a thousand years, calling now to me;
They woke me from dreaming in the dawning of the day
The bugles of England – and how could I stay?

The banners of England, unfurled across the sea,
Floating out upon the wind, were beckoning to me;
Storm-rent and battle-torn, smoke stained and grey,
The banners of England – and how could I stay?

O England, I heard the cry of those who died for thee,
Sounding like an organ-voice across the winter sea;
They lived and died for England, and gladly went their way,
England, O England – how could I stay.

There are uncanny similarities here with the comments made above by Rev Cadwallader Jones at the Empire Day celebrations in Yarram on May 24,1915. The poem itself appeared in the school’s paper, The Scotch Collegian in May 1915.

One hundred years on, our own celebrations of Anzac Day do not recognise the Imperial basis for the history of the event – indeed, we celebrate it as a distinctly national and nationally-defining event – but in 1918 its Imperial genesis was fundamental, unmistakable and unchallenged. At the time, Anzac Day was an extension of Empire Day. Over time, it effectively replaced it; but the historical drift from Imperialism to Nationalism took a long period of our history. In another irony, in a post-Brexit world, the UK appears keen to reach back to an earlier version of its relationship with Australia, when it was still its ‘Mother Country’.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
The Australasian
The Argus

Triolo, R 2012, Our Schools and the War, Australian Scholarly Publishing, North Melbourne

For more detail on James Drummond Burns and For England see The Scotch College World War I Commemorative Website

 

154. The start of the 1918 school year and yet more division

This post continues to explore themes raised in earlier posts, particularly Post 84 and Post 68.

At the start of 1918 there were 2 very significant developments in the provision of schooling in the local community. At the Yarram State School, higher primary grades commenced and, nearby, the new Catholic primary school – St Mary’s – was opened.

The local community had been calling for a higher primary top to the local state primary school – even a separate high school – for several years. Just days after the outbreak of War, the Director of Education (F Tate) visited Yarram (10/8/14) at the invitation of the local school board to consider the provision of higher primary/higher elementary schooling. The basic agreement reached was that continuing classes – to Intermediate level – could be set up in (new) buildings on the existing primary school site, with the local community agreeing to contribute an amount of £350. In theory, the money was to be raised by the local council setting a special levy. But then the reality of the War intervened.

By late 1917, the push for the higher elementary school picked up again after the Victorian Government set aside funds (£2,000) for a higher elementary school in Yarram. Again, the local community was expected to contribute financially. The amount was now £400, over 4 years. This time the money was to be raised by subscriptions, not a special levy via the council. Tate visited Yarram again in January 1918 and by the end of February, 60 students were enrolled. Initially they were accommodated in existing buildings on the site but new buildings, specifically for the higher primary years, were planned in mid 1918 and officially opened in April 1919.

The provision of higher primary or higher elementary schooling was very significant. Students could now pursue formal education beyond the primary level, without having to leave the district. Other neighbouring towns – Sale, Warragul and Leongatha – had already established equivalent, and in some case even more impressive, post primary schooling. The establishment of the higher primary school – on the grounds of the Yarram Primary School – was proof of civic worth and status. When Tate had first visited in August 1914, he was reported – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, 12/8/14 – as stating that he believed that Yarram warranted the higher primary school and that the community could well afford it. He had observed the … substantial appearance of Yarram with its fine hotels and other buildings.

The overall success of the initiative was qualified in one critical way. At the speech night at the end of 1918 – reported in the local paper on 24/12/18 – there was an urgent appeal for a ‘hostel’ to be set up in Yarram to accommodate students from ‘outside parts’ over the school week – Monday to Friday. Such a facility had been established at Leongatha and it was recognised that an equivalent boarding facility was required in Yarram if students from other townships and settlements in the Shire were to be able to take advantage of the improved schooling. In the same speech, it was noted that while there were 42 students from Yarram attending the new higher primary school, there was only an individual student – or in a few cases 2 or 3 students – coming from Balook (3), Wonyip (2), West Alberton (3), Jack River (1), North Devon (1), Womerah (1), Tarraville (1), Lower Bulga (2) and Welshpool (2). Clearly, the benefits of higher primary schooling were largely restricted to those living in Yarram. Families with sufficient finances who were keen for their children to have a complete secondary education – generally with a view to pursuing a degree at Melbourne University – had traditionally sent their children to a boarding school (college) in one of the larger rural towns – e.g., Geelong (Geelong Grammar School), Ballarat (St. Patrick’s College) – or Melbourne. This pattern continued after the extension of primary schooling at Yarram.

The opening of the Catholic primary school – St. Mary’s – for the start of the 1918 school year was a very pressured business. The building had only just been completed and the accommodation for the Sisters of St Joseph – the teaching order to run the school – was only finalised in the week leading up to the opening. The frantic pace was captured in an editorial in the local paper – 1/2/18 – which also praised the determination of Bishop Phelan:

The Catholic community in this district has accomplished a great deal. They built and opened a large brick church – an ornament to the town – built a school, and have now purchased Mr. Brennan’s property for the comfortable housing of the teaching nuns. When Bishop Phelan gets to work things move apace.

Phelan had made it clear to the Catholic community that he expected a Catholic primary school to be established and that it was to serve not just Yarram but the surrounding district, with students, initially at least, boarding at the convent. But Phelan had also made it clear that the school had to come after the new church had been built and after suitable accommodation had been arranged for the nuns. The church, the convent and the school were all to stand as proof of the strength and social status of the local Catholic community in the district.

Interestingly, much was made of the new teaching order of nuns, the Sisters of St. Joseph. From the late 19 C, a French order of nuns – Sisters of Our lady of Sion – at the invitation of Bishop Corbett, had been operating schools in Gippsland – at Sale, Bairnsdale and Warragul. But for the new school at Yarram, Bishop Phelan had been successful in securing ‘local’ nuns. The following appeared in the local paper on 6/2/18. The claim of Scottish ancestry was, presumably, for the benefit of the large Scottish demographic:

With regard to this particular order of teaching sisters, the branch now established at Yarram is purely Australian. The Mother Foundress of this Order, Mother Mary McKillop, is of Scotch descent, and was born in Brunswick St., Fitzroy. So that the sisters of the Oder which she established are for the most part Australians. They have houses, schools, orphanages from West Australia to New Zealand.

Both these significant developments in the provision of local education took place at the start of the fifth year of the War and, as been argued in previous posts, at a time when, in theory, all fundraising was focused on the War effort. The issue is whether either or both of these initiatives attracted any criticism.

In the case of the local state school there was certainly no criticism. The commitment to establish a higher primary top to the primary school at Yarram had been there well before the War. The community had always been strongly behind the proposal. The Victorian Government had placed the proposal on hold because of the War and the local community had, patriotically, accepted this decision. But now, at the start of 1918, the Government had found funds for the proposal to proceed, accepting that the local community also contributed. Further, the local committee appointed to secure the £400 of local contribution was heavily representative of local Imperial Loyalists. Three members of the small committee stood out: A J Rossiter, the editor of the local paper; Rev C J Walklate, the local Methodist clergyman; and A E Paige, the head teacher of the Yarram SS. These 3 high profile figures would have provided an effective ‘guarantee’ of the appropriateness of the fundraising. Additionally, many of the most generous contributors to the public subscription – names were published in the local paper – were also high profile Imperial Loyalists. The lists included people like B P Johnson (£5), T G McKenzie (£10) and Dr Rutter (£10). Importantly, the change from a Shire-imposed rate increase to a voluntary subscription must have also reduced the potential for conflict. Additionally, the change avoided conflict with the Catholic community who could have argued that they were being forced to contribute, through increased rates, to a school system that they would not use, or even – from the perspective of Catholic faith – could not use. The Catholic Church already argued, on the broader scale, that this was the case with State taxation to support state schools. It appears that subscriptions to raise the £400 came overwhelmingly from Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians. The records, published in the local paper, are incomplete but it appears that Catholics were under-represented, notwithstanding a large contribution (£5) from Michael O’Callaghan, a Catholic grazier from Jack River.

Overall, there was very strong support for the higher primary schooling at Yarram SS and there was no evidence of any opposition to the fundraising associated with it. The situation in relation to the new Catholic primary school at Yarram was a more complex affair.

Ironically, there was an immediate and very significant positive associated with the opening of the Catholic primary school. The forty or so enrolments in the new school reduced the numbers at the state primary school and this meant that the new higher primary students could be accommodated in the existing facilities at the school. The need to build new classrooms was not immediately pressing.

However, such an immediate benefit hardly compensated for the major fault line which was revealed by the opening of the Catholic primary school.

On the surface at least, there did not appear to be any overt hostility directed at the fundraising associated with the new Catholic school. No one appears to have used the local paper to attack these particular fundraising efforts. Indeed, as noted, editorials at the time were complimentary of the Catholics’ efforts. However, there must have been un-reported opposition to the Catholics’ church and school building projects over the course of the War. Bishop Phelan himself made this point, explicitly, in a talk he gave on the visit of the Apostolic Delegate to Sale in April 1918. His address was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 26/4/18. Talking about all the difficulties he had faced in his ambitious building program post March 1915, Phelan noted:

But the greatest difficulty experienced was the wall of prejudice raised by narrow-minded people who endeavored to howl down every movement for raising funds except for Red Cross or Imperial purposes. But the stirling Catholics of Gippsland, like their fighting brothers at the front, did their duty towards all the demands of the Empire, and broke through every barrier that prejudice and bigotry would raise between them and their own field of labour.

He specifically cited the school at Yarram in the same speech; and he used the same emotion-charged language:

Already two convents and two schools, Leongatha and Yarram, have been added to our brave army fighting the battle of Catholic education.

But if fundraising for the Catholic primary school was not a major public concern at the time, there was still considerable controversy associated with its opening.

The new school – with the exception of a brief interlude for an earlier version of St Mary’s primary school, Yarram (1885-1890) – marked the first time that the Catholic community of the Shire of Alberton had withdrawn their children from the local state school(s). Effectively, all the young, local Catholic men who enlisted from 1914 had been educated at the local state school(s). Even though their family background, for the most part, was Irish-Australian, they had been schooled, via the state system, in absolute loyalty to Britain and the Empire. Now, in the fifth year of the War, and with 2 failed referenda on conscription – with much of the ‘blame’ for the failure sheeted home to Catholics – the local Catholics were withdrawing from the state school.

The significance of the opening of the school at that point – the start of 1918 – also needs to be seen in the context of the continuing conflict between Catholic and Protestant over the issue of scripture lessons in state schools. The conflict over scripture ‘readings’ or ‘lessons’ was a constant and while it might seem by our standards, 100 years on, as minor and even trivial, it went to the core of the Protestant – Catholic divide. It was a passionate debate, for while the Protestants argued that any form of state aid to support the independent Catholic sector would be in complete breach of the principles of the ’Free’, ‘Compulsory’ and ‘Secular’ education acts of the 1870s – and only further entrench the Catholic tendency to separation and exclusivity – the Catholic Church argued that any ‘non-dogmatic’ scripture lessons, taught by ‘non-sectarian’ mainstream teachers was nothing but a brazen attempt to incorporate Protestantism in the state school systems and would therefore also be in breach of the same principles. The politics of the day meant that neither side could prevail; but each could antagonise and frustrate the other.

The conflict over scripture lessons was hardly new. For example, for an insight on the complexity and centrality of the issue, consider this account of the 1913 debate – Catholic Educational Claims – held in Melbourne where the proposition was – That the Roman Catholic claims for financial aid from the State treasury toward their denominational schools are not just, and would be destructive of our State system. Speaking for the proposition was Rev J Nicholson, spokesperson for the Scripture Campaign Council, the body representing the Protestant Churches pushing for scripture lessons in state schools. Speaking for the negative was Thomas C Brennan of the recently formed Australian Catholic Federation. The debate was in front of an audience of approximately 1,000 people and while the proceedings were civil it certainly exposed the stark differences between Catholic and Protestant at the time.

The division over the push for scripture lessons in state schools – there were attempts to have referenda on the issue put to the Victorian people – was certainly evident in the Shire of Alberton. In fact, the issue was raised, very publicly, in the lead-up to the opening of the Catholic primary school. In mid September 1917, Bishop Phelan gave a sermon in Yarram. It was reported, in detail, in the local paper on 12/9/17. In brief, Phelan instructed his congregation that in the upcoming state elections they could not vote for any candidate who supported the call for a referendum on the introduction of the scripture lessons in state schools. He saw this referendum as an attempt by the Protestant majority to … crush the Catholic minority.

Phelan must have provided a copy of his sermon to the editor of the local paper because the reporting of the sermon is so detailed. There is an entire section on the Virgin Mary. Citing Luke’s Gospel, Phelan went into great detail outlining the centrality of Mary to Catholic faith, teaching and veneration. The intention behind this specific focus on Mary was to highlight the chasm, between Catholic and Protestant, on the issue of ‘Bible reading’. Phelan pointed out that, irrespective of what the Bible said, Catholic teaching on the role of Mary, and devotion to her, were both anathema to Protestants. He reminded his congregation that up to the very recent past, British monarchs had had to … declare before receiving the crown that “the adoration of the Virgin Mary and the sacrifice of the Mass, as they were used in the Church of Rome are superstitious and idolatrous” . Prior to the Accession Declaration Act of 1910 – in time for the coronation of George V – the wording of the new monarch’s ’declaration’ had been, in part:

… I do believe that in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper there is not any Transubstantiation of the elements of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever: and that the invocation or adoration of the Virgin Mary or any other Saint, and the Sacrifice of the Mass, as they are now used in the Church of Rome, are superstitious and idolatrous.

The declaration also denied the authority of the Pope.

In the face of such diametrically opposed positions – based in large part on Bible reading – Phelan argued that the idea of a ‘non-sectarian’ lesson of Bible reading – conducted by mainstream teachers in state schools – was a myth. For him, the idea of a ’non-dogmatic’ Christian faith was a nonsense. For him, there could never be, as it were, a ‘generic’ Christianity. For the Catholic, the Bible was to be read and interpreted through a person’s faith, which itself had been formed by the teaching of the Church. But from the time of the Reformation, Protestantism had had a very different take on the relationship between the Bible and the individual. The Catholic Church saw the bible lessons in state schools, within the promise of ‘non-dogmatic’ and ‘non-sectarian’ scripture readings, as a thinly disguised attempt to proselytise in the name of Protestantism. It would never accept it.

It would be a mistake to see this particular dispute merely in terms of differences in religious dogma between Catholic and Protestant. Other references in Phelan’s sermon that day show how the tension of the difficult history between England and Ireland was ever present. It coloured everything. Speaking of the efforts of the Irish in England from mid 19C to fight for their faith and the provision of Catholic schooling, Phelan made this extended reference:

The men and women who fought for Christian education in the land of the Saxon were the sons and daughters of Ireland driven from the home of their fathers in the middle of last century by a trinity of evils, the awful visitation of Providence, the famine of ’47, the worst landlord system that ever cursed a nation, and a Government whose policy at that crisis can only be described as diabolical. When Lord John Russell was asked for ships to bring food across the Irish Channel to a starving nation he peremptorily refused, declaring that “such a use of Her Majesty’s navy would interfere with the legitimate freights of the shipping industry of Great Britain.” And the London “Times” spoke enthusiastically of the good time coming when “a Catholic would be as rare on the banks of the Shannon as a red Indian on the banks of the Manhattan.”

The not very subtle sub-text was that the persecution of Irish Catholics at the hands of English Protestants was both historical and ongoing.

Not surprisingly, Phelan’s sermon prompted a vigorous response. The first letter appeared one week later (19/9/17). It was from Joseph Nicholson, Superintendent of the Scripture Campaign, the body driving the push for a referendum on the issue of bible reading in state schools. Nicholson was arguably the most high profile advocate for the cause. He had appeared in the 1913 public debate referred to above. Nicholson argued that it was possible to have (scriptural) lessons of ‘absolutely unsectarian character’. He emphasised what he saw as the Catholic Church’s reluctance to have its followers read the Bible:

It is no doubt difficult for a non-Romanist to understand the fears of the Roman Catholic clergy concerning the effect of Bible reading by their people.

Further, he insisted, even if the Catholic clergy were that terrified about their members reading the Bible – by themselves – the lessons in the state school were not to be compulsory:

While we do not share the fears of the Roman Catholic clergy concerning the disasters that are likely to follow from Scripture reading, yet, in our scrupulous desire to protect Roman Catholic children from what they disapprove, we insist on their absolute freedom from Scripture lessons, and make provision for secular studies instead.

This letter was followed by one from Father Stirling which was published on 21/9/17. Stirling made claims about the misrepresentation of the Catholic position but overall his letter read more like an attempt to defuse the situation. This letter was responded to, again by Rev Nichoslosn, who dismissed Fr Sterling’s ‘feeble comments’. The letter was published on 26/9/17. There were more claims of misrepresentation amid pointed claims that … this infallible church is not uniform in its teachings. Nicholson argued that the arrangements for ‘non-sectarian’ bible reading lessons in Victorian state schools for which the Scripture Campaign was advocating, were in place in other education jurisdictions, both in Australia (NSW) and overseas. Nicholson chose to represent the dispute in terms of the rights and responsibilities of the 2 parties, one the minority and the other the majority. As he saw it, the Catholic minority was at fault:

The Roman Catholic opposition to “unsectarian” Scripture lessons is … intensely selfish in seeking to interfere with the Protestant majority that is tenderly considerate of the Romanist minority. We give them safeguarded liberty, but refuse Romanist domination of Protestant liberties.

This particular iteration of the struggle over the teaching of ‘non-sectarian’ or ‘unsectarian’ or ‘non-dogmatic’ scripture lessons disappeared from the local paper by the start of October 1918. However, as we will see, the issue itself certainly did not disappear. Throughout 1918, Catholics continued to block this Protestant proposal. For their part, the Protestants maintained their absolute rejection of any ‘state-aid’ for Catholic schools.

Leaving aside the symbolism of the local Catholic community establishing its own primary school and withdrawing its children from the local state school, at the very time Imperial Loyalists were calling for a single, united and focused War effort – and also at the very time that the community as a whole was trying to extend the range of post-primary state schooling throughout the district – it is clear that Bishop Phelan’s unrelenting focus on Catholic education during WW1 served to heighten division within the broader community. Effectively, he forced the Catholic community in Gippsland as a whole, and not just in the Shire of Alberton, to assert their separate identity and status through education. The problem was that this identity was overlaid with so many religious, cultural, social and political associations that the loyalty of this minority, at that particular time of National crisis, would inevitably be called into question by the Protestant majority. As much as locals wanted to downplay or ignore the division, it was always there. Equally, while their opposition to conscription is routinely presented as the distinctive behaviour of the Catholic minority in WW1, it is clear that considerably more than this single issue was at play. Indeed, as an immediate example of just how complex the issues were, Thomas Brennan – referred to above as the key Catholic spokesperson in the 1913 education debate and also the first president of the Australian Catholic Federation – supported conscription and was an outspoken critic of Mannix on the issue. Bishop Phelan was said to be neutral on the same issue. In short, the Catholic question went well beyond the issue of conscription.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Synan, T 2003, A Journey in Faith: A History of Catholic Education in Gippsland 1850-1981, David Lovell Publishing, Melbourne

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

153. The case of Charles William Frederick Allum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

 

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