Category Archives: Recruiting

184. Enlistments in the second half of 1918

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

186. Enlistments in the second half of 1918: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

This post continues the analysis of the essential characteristics of all those associated with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in WW1. The preceding posts are:

Post 23: Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

Post 57:  Enlistments in the first half of 1915: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

Post 63: Enlistments in the second half of 1915: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

Post 83: Enlistments in the first half of 1916: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

Post 103: Enlistments in the second half of 1916: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

Post 128. Enlistments in the first half of 1917: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

Post 146. Enlistments in the second half of 1917: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

Post 173. Enlistments in the first half of 1918: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

Religion

The numbers are too small for any meaningful comparison with earlier cohorts. However, all 4 key religious groups – Church of England,  Presbyterian, Methodist and Roman Catholic – were at least represented and the predominance of Church of England and Presbyterian recruits,  a feature throughout the War, continued to the very end. As noted, this last feature reflected the relative breakdown in the 1911 census.

Units

In some instances the recruits were recorded as being allocated to specific groups of reinforcements but in most cases the only designation to appear on their enlistment forms was ‘Recruit Depot’ (Battalion). In only one case was there any further indication of the unit the recruit was to join. This involved Larry Johnson who, according to notes in his file, had been accepted to join the Light Horse and who had volunteered to serve in Egypt. He had not enlisted until 7/10/18 and was discharged with the majority on 24/12/18.

Service History

None of this cohort ever saw action and most never even embarked. Those who did embark were recalled.

Only one man (Roy Turnbull) served for more than 4 months and in most cases the length of service did not extend beyond one or two months. In some cases, service was measured in terms of weeks.

In terms of medical records, only 2 men were hospitalised. Ernest Griffiths spent time in the ship’s hospital – before the ship was recalled – with influenza. Alfred McKean had a more significant medical condition and was discharged on medical grounds after only a few months service.

It appears that as soon as the Armistice was declared, it was AIF policy to discharge those men who had only recently enlisted. None of this group were still in the AIF after January 1919 and in fact most had been discharged by Christmas 1918. The speed with which the AIF shifted its focus from securing enlistments and sending reinforcements overseas to, as it were, ‘clearing the decks’ and focusing on the repatriation of all those overseas was striking.

185. Enlistments in the second half of 1918: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status 1

This post continues the analysis, in six-monthly intervals, of several key characteristics of all those with a link to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in WW1. The relevant previous posts in the sequence are:

Post 22: Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

Post 56: Enlistments in the first half of 1915: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

Post 62: Enlistments in the second half of 1915: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

Post 82: Enlistments in the first half of 1916: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

Post 102: Enlistments in the second half of 1916: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

Post 127: Enlistments in the first half of 1917: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

Post 145: Enlistments in the second half of 1917: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

Post 172: Enlistments in the first half of 1918: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

For a more detailed account of the methodology and sources refer to the earlier posts.

Movement

As for at least the last 3 cohorts – from the start of 1917 – this cohort is small (12). And like the cohort for the first half of 1918, it is decidedly ‘local’ in nature:  only one of the men was born outside Victoria and all of them, when they enlisted, were living and working in the local area. Possibly, this characteristic reflected the fact that the pool of outside or itinerant farm workers left in the local area by this point of the War was very small.

Occupation

With the exception of 2 young men (Ernest Griffiths and Roy Turnbull) engaged in clerical work and one (George Clark) working at the local timber mill, all the others were involved in farming in the local area. They either worked as farm labourers or they helped on the family farm. And, as pointed out previously, often these roles overlapped, in the sense that some family farms were so marginal that sons would work as labourers on other farms – or in other activities – in the district. As before, the most common description of occupation was that of ‘farm labourer’.

Age

As before, the concentration of those of the youngest possible enlistment age is striking. Eight of the men are under 21 yo. By this point, recruits in the local area were coming predominantly from the group of young men who were reaching the age when they could finally enlist. As indicated already, this situation was constantly highlighted by speakers at recruiting drives, farewells and welcomes who strongly attacked the older ‘eligibles’ who refused to enlist and left it to the ‘boys’ to step forward and ‘do their duty’. The youngest recruit was 18 yo Peter McAinch. The family had a  dairy farm at Waronga. He had even tried to enlist at a recruiting drive in Yarram in May 1917 but he must have been rejected when the authorities learnt his age. He was born on 16/9/1900 so he was not even 17 yo at the time.

Presumably, these young men had absorbed the (patriotic) narrative of the War, including the fame of the AIF, over the years of their mid-teens. They would have seen older brothers and friends enlist and they were keen to follow. For these young men, enlistment in the AIF  had become a ‘right of passage’.

Marital Status

There is only one married man in the group. William Berry was a farm labourer from Jack River. His enlistment was not typical in that he was 35 yo, married and had at least 3 children. He enlisted in early September 1918 and was discharged at the end of December. Interestingly, after the War he became a soldier settler and was allotted land at Waronga.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

124. Yarram Recruiting Committee – first half of 1917. Part B

As indicated in the previous post, the major activity undertaken by the Yarram Recruiting Committee in the first half of 1917 was the memorial service held in Yarram on Sunday 20th May 1917. It was followed by a recruiting meeting or ‘demonstration’. The memorial service was staged at the showgrounds at 2.00 pm and the recruiting meeting was held that evening.

According to the reports in both the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative and the South Gippsland Chronicle on 23/5/17, the weather on that particular Sunday was not good. Light rain fell throughout the service and people took shelter in the grandstand. Yet despite the weather, both papers noted that approximately 1,000 people attended the memorial service and the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative noted that the crowd would have been double if the weather had been better. It emphasised the significance of the occasion:

Never has this district been called upon to take part in such a solemn service; never again, perhaps will a similar scene be witnessed.

As per the last post, the idea for the memorial service and the recruiting demonstration had come from Lieutenant Crowe. In his plan, the memorial service itself was intended, very deliberately, to promote recruiting. Lt Crowe had raised the plan directly with the Yarram Recruiting Committee and the committee agreed. He had also organised the speakers – both the religious ministers and the recruiting officers – for the occasion and, most importantly, he had also organised for the AIF Band to attend. His role was acknowledged in the local papers. The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative noted the plan thus:

We may add that it was at the instigation of Lieutenant Crowe that the service was held, the object, of course, being to help voluntary recruiting.

For its part, the Yarram Recruiting Committee undertook to advertise the event, prepare the promotional material, organise the venues and take care of the transport and accommodation for the visitors, including the band. The committee also organised a 60-voice choir of locals for the memorial service. The whole business was organised within a very short time.

The arrival of the AIF Band created much interest. The members were met at the Alberton Railway Station on the Saturday (19/5/17) and conveyed to Yarram in the cars of locals. That night they performed at a fund raiser for the Red Cross. On the Monday after their duties, they were taken to Port Albert. The plan was that they would be taken out sailing – to Sealers’ Cove – but the weather was too dangerous so they settled for a day of fishing closer in. That night they put on another concert at Port Albert. They were received enthusiastically wherever they went. Their presence certainly drew attention to the memorial service and the recruiting drive.

Memorial Service

The memorial service is worth close attention because as we have seen previously – see, for example, the efforts of local ministers such as Rev George Cox ( Post 26. Soldiers of Christ) – the extent to which Protestantism was employed to support the War effort was striking. Protestantism was the religion of the Empire. It had always offered unqualified support for recruiting and it had forcefully advocated the Yes vote in the 1916 conscription referendum. Moreover, by 1917 when the loss of life and suffering brought on by the War were overwhelming local communities, it was Protestantism that sought to justify the ‘sacrifice’ and soften the sense of loss and pain.

The memorial service commenced at 2.00 pm. The ‘congregation’ had first gathered at Thompson’s Hall and then the AIF Band had led it to the show grounds.

The leader of the service was Chaplain Ray, one of the outside team organised by Lt Crowe, and the first item was the opening hymn – ‘O God our Help in Ages past’ -performed by the band and the 60-voice choir. The spectacle would have been very impressive and stirring. Rev A Raymond, the local Church of England minister – his son had been killed in action in April 1917 – read the first prayer, which was followed by another hymn, ‘Lead Kindly Light’. Then it was the turn of the local Presbyterian minister, Rev A Tamagno, to read a lesson. This meant that 2 of the local Protestant ministers had been involved in the service at the very start, and this pattern was repeated at the end of the service when the benediction was given by Rev Walklate, the local Methodist minister. However, on the day, the local clergy played only supporting roles. But it was clear that they fully supported the service.

Chaplain Ray took as his text John 18-11: ‘The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it.’ The South Gippsland Chronicle reported at length on his sermon. Christ had prayed that the cup might pass him, but it had not and … Christ drained it to its dregs, therefore we should also do this. ‘Our’ sacrifice – the death of soldiers, the pain and anguish of those left behind – had to be borne the same way that Christ had carried his suffering. People were at one with Christ’s suffering. They were not alone. Cox in earlier sermons had laboured the theme of the Christian soldier as the embodiment of Christ. Now Christ’s suffering was being extended to cover the grieving families and the wider community.

To give the impression of personal connection, Chaplain Ray spoke as though he had known the local men. He spoke of them as …brave lads from this district who had offered to make the supreme sacrifice. He claimed, He had the pleasure of meeting many of them in camp, and they had proved themselves to be of the true stuff of which heroes are made. He reassured their families that these men had never been afraid of death because they died in Christ. The sentiments might sound strange to our ears, 100 years later, but Chaplain Ray reassured the families of the dead that … Death was not horror for them, as it meant life and higher greatness hereafter. He comforted the families:

To those who had lost dear lads he would say they were not dead, but in God’s own care.

Chaplain Ray even some saw good in the present War. He saw it turning people back to God. It was some sort of ‘purifying draught’. He even wanted to argue that just as the first settlers in the district had been true ‘pioneers’ because of the incredible sacrifices they had had to make to establish themselves, the sacrifices that the current community was now being called on to bear would make them worthy of their forefathers. God was testing everyone.

Chaplain Ray’s sermon was followed by ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ and ‘Nearer My God to Thee.’

It was then the turn of one of the recruiting officers. There was no hesitation here. The appeal for recruits had always been intended as an integral feature of the religious service. Indeed, as already indicated, that was the primary intention of the exercise. At the same time, the recruiters did add a religious tone to their appeals.

Lieutenant Maskell opened proceedings by telling those there that he wanted to take them back to Gallipoli … where many of our best are buried. Those who died at Gallipoli had never thought of themselves but were prepared to sacrifice everything:

They died in the interests of the Empire and the people of Australia. All those men had placed over their graves was a common wooden cross. They did not want any more, and if it were possible they would go again unflinchingly.

These were true men and … they died as they lived – as men.

And if they were true men, then what of those who refused to enlist and support them. Lt Maskell was keen to add some drama to his appeal:

The lads at present fighting were worthy of every assistance, as many of them were probably being blown to pieces while the people were assembled there that day. He asked the young men present to think of this question honestly, deeply and true, and then make up their minds. The ladies could also give valuable help in encouraging men who had not yet realised their responsibility to go and take the place of their dead and wounded brothers.

It was then the turn of Sergeant Fozard, another of Lt Crowe’s team. He also started with the Anzacs and, given the context of the occasion, added some Christian reference:

He saw many a man receive a fatal bullet wound, and when dying trusted that he would go to a better world.

He also offered a more secular consolation for the brave soldier’s death in battle:

What a terrible blow the war had meant to different homes and families, where the chair of the son, and often the husband, was vacant and the children were left without a father. Behind this cloud, however, there was a silver lining, as those who had fallen had proved themselves to be true Britishers, and died in the noblest of all causes.

Sgt. Fozard contrasted the nobility of the brave soldier, prepared to sacrifice everything, to the baseness of the ’stay-at-home’ interested only in his own safety and comfort:

What must the lads who were there think of those who were taking advantage of worldly pleasure day after day, and doing nothing to help in winning the war?

He appealed for fairness:

Equality of sacrifice was also badly needed in this struggle and it was not fair that some families should bear all the burden and the others none of it.

And he concluded, confident that in the end all the hardship and suffering would be worth it, for the good of the Empire. He spoke about the … great sacrifice made by Australia’s sons for the good old Union Jack.

As indicated, the final benediction was pronounced by Rev C J Walklate. The band played “The Dead March” from Saul. The flag was dipped for the “The Last Post”. Finally, there was the National Anthem and “God Save Our Splendid Men”.

Overall, the memorial service that Sunday afternoon saw both a religious perspective on the current suffering and sacrifice and an appeal for recruits. As a recruiting demonstration the one thing it did not do was specifically call for volunteers to step forward. That was reserved for the evening’s function.

Both local papers reported that everyone was very happy with the service. The South Gippsland Chronicle reported the visiting bandsmen as being very impressed:

The members of the band spoke in high terms as to the smoothness of the service, so different to similar services attended in other parts of the State.

However, not everyone was prepared to go along with the enthusiasm and praise. In the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on the Friday after the service (25/5/17), the following letter-to-the-editor from B P Johnson appeared:

I was surprised to notice on Sunday afternoon that during the solemn rendering of “The Dead March” many men, and women too, were talking and smiling as if the memory of the brave lads whose glorious deaths we were then commemorating was nothing. Later on, while the National Anthem was being sung, and while the flag that at first had been dipped was flying at half mast several men (7) failed to remove even their hats. And our boys are dying and suffering for such as these. Oh, the pity of it.

The letter did not attract any response. Possibly, no one was in the mood for any criticism of such an important and sombre occasion. Johnson was perhaps seen as being unnecessarily negative. He was setting himself up as the arbiter of social manners and devotional etiquette.

The South Gippsland Chronicle also noted:

The programmes used for the day contained special messages from Mr Donal McKinnon (sic) , director general of recruiting, Mr Geo. H Wise, chairman of the State Recruiting Committee, and Capt. A. L. Baird, organising secretary. A photo of the local recruiting committee and other information was also included.

Shire of Alberton archives

Shire of Alberton archives

Recruiting Meeting

The South Gippsland Chronicle (23/5/17) described what happened after the memorial service.

After the church services on Sunday night a recruiting meeting was held in the public hall. Prior to the meeting the band went along Commercial-road and played an enlivening march, a large crowd following to the hall.

B Couston, the chair of the Yarram Recruiting Committee, presided, but the speakers that night were the recruiting officers from Melbourne. Couston in his opening argued that the dire need justified calling a recruiting meeting on a Sunday night. He was also keen to claim that … Yarram had done more than its duty in supplying men for the army. But, at the same time he said that he knew there were still some who could be persuaded to go if they knew the real situation. Hence the need for the meeting.

Lt Maskell, who had spoken earlier at the memorial service, also praised Yarram for its efforts. He emphasised that the need for recruits was not to create new battalions but to secure reinforcements for the existing ones. He wanted to emphasise what the lack of reinforcements meant and point out how unfair the situation was. He claimed that without reinforcements … the soldiers should be in the trenches for 19 weeks without a spell, while there are eligible men here going in for all sorts of amusement.

He strongly condemned those who said Australia had done enough… this was generally made by those who had done nothing. Then he congratulated the people of Yarram for their conscription vote.

Sergeant Fozard was the crowd favourite that night. He told the crowd that the men overseas kept looking at groups of reinforcement to see if they could see their mates. As the paper put it, He pleaded with the women not to hinder the men from going to war. The he turned his comments to the very topical question of the treatment of returned soldiers. He admitted there was a problem and that many young men questioned why they should enlist, given the way those who had returned were treated. But he then went on to claim that as an organiser of the Returned Soldiers’ Association he … could say that the men were not being treated as well as might be expected, but the time was coming when those who had fought for this country would demand and have their rights.

Then the appeal was made for men to come forward. The paper described what happened:

There was no response, and the band played “Keep the Home Fires Burning.” Then one man came up to the front. He was followed by others, some, although only boys, showing that they had the pluck of an Australian in them. The band continued to play, and Sergeant Fozard continued to appeal for “just one more,” and also invited those who had already been rejected to have another try, the result being that in all sixteen men stepped forward and lined the platform. Needless to say there was much excitement, and the recruiting officers were very pleased with the meeting.

The recruiting officers might have been pleased, but if past practice was a guide, very few of those who came forward that night would have been accepted. The boys and those already rejected were not really the intended targets of such recruiting demonstrations.

Sgt Fozard closed proceedings by urging returned men to join the Returned Soldiers’ association and … asked employers in this district to adopt a policy of giving preference to those who had fought for their country.

Overall, neither the memorial service nor the recruiting meeting that night would have produced many volunteers. At the same time, as public demonstrations of the local community’s support for the War and also of the way the same community stood together at a time of great crisis, the 2 events were highly significant. However, with regard to the claim of the local community coming together, there was one major exception – the Catholics.

The Catholic Position

Fr Sterling had made it clear from the start that neither he nor any of his parishioners would be able to attend the memorial service. It was clearly a Protestant service and, as such, church teaching precluded any Catholic participation. This position was well known in the local community. For example, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative reported (16/5/17) that at Sunday mass on 13/5/17 – the week before the memorial service – Fr Sterling told his congregation that … they could not attend the combined service. At the same time, he also reminded them of their … solemn duty to remember the brave dead, and to pay reverently for their loved and lost ones. He also arranged that on the Sunday of the memorial service, there would be a special mass at 11.00 o’clock which … would be offered for the repose of the souls of the Australian Catholic soldiers who have died during the war. The paper also reported that Fr Sterling drew his congregation’s attention to the recruiting meeting to be held after the memorial service.

Fr Sterling supported both the idea of some sort service to the memory of the dead soldiers and the staging of a recruiting meeting. Indeed, Fr Sterling had always been a supporter of the War effort. He had spoken in favour of men enlisting and he had served as a Captain Chaplain with the AIF himself. He had only been back in Australia for a few weeks. There were no grounds to claim that Fr Sterling’s non-appearnace at the memorial service represented some sort of political boycott of the event and that he was taking some sort of stand against both the War and recruiting. At the same time, the non-participation by the local Catholic priest and his congregation would have been dramatically obvious. It would have highlighted, yet again, fundamental tensions and differences between Catholic and Protestant, and some would have interpreted the Catholic position as yet further proof that their support for the War was not as unqualified as that of their Protestant brethren. Catholics, it appeared, were different, and there were always reasons – theological, cultural and political – why they could never come out and give their total and unqualified support for the War, or the State or the Empire.

There was another intriguing twist in this affair and it involved Fr Sterling and his uniform. In the archives of the Shire of Alberton there are 2 items of correspondence. One is a letter from the Yarrarm Recruiting Committee to Bishop Phelan of Sale, dated 14/5/17. In it the secretary – G W Black – wrote:

I am directed by my Committee to ask if your Lordship would kindly give your consent to the Rev. P. F Stirling (sic), of Yarram, wearing his military uniform on the occasion of any patriotic function being held in this town or district. The Committee would esteem it a great favor if you would grant your consent, and trust you will see your way to do so.

Bishop Phelan replied at once. The later was dated 16/5/17. He was most emphatic in his refusal to provide the consent.

I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 14th inst. re Father Stirling (sic) appearing in military uniform at patriotic functions in Yarram and the district. If you were aware of the military regulations on this point I am sure you would not have made such a request which, if granted, would involve the Rev. Father in serious difficulties.

I have been officially informed that a chaplain when discharged has only two days’ grace during which he may wear the uniform, unless he applies for ten or twelve days’ furlough. After that the wearing of the uniform renders him liable to prosecution.

When Father Stirling was relieved of duty he continued to wear the uniform for some days, and his case was reported to our Chaplain General, the late Archbishop of Melbourne. His Grace at once called my attention to the fact and pointed out the danger to which Fr Stirling was exposing himself; and I had to take immediate steps in the matter.

You see then, that I have no authority to grant your request; and from an ecclesiastical point of view I should object to any priest appearing in public as if he were a recruiting officer.

Any attempt to interpret exactly what lay behind this correspondence is risky. It is made that much harder when you appreciate that there is no archived material for Fr Sterling. He has been, as it were, removed from the historical period in which he was such a key figure. However, the following conjectured account could explain the background. Even though the letter from the Yarram Recruiting Committee did not state it, it appears that Lt Crowe had already won approval for returned soldiers to … wear the uniform of their rank to the functions at Yarram on Sunday 20 May. The committee therefore was not seeking any ruling from Bishop Phelan on the procedural correctness of the matter but, rather, they wanted his express consent for Fr Sterling. This in turn suggests that the committee had approached Fr Sterling and asked if he was prepared to attend the recruiting meeting in the evening and, if so, was he prepared to wear his army uniform. Presumably, Fr Sterling had in response directed them to seek permission from his Bishop. This assumes that Fr Sterling was prepared to attend the recruiting meeting, and this view does fit with his general support for recruiting right up to that point. Whatever the background, the response from Bishop Phelan left no one, including Fr Sterling, any room to move.

Another fascinating insight in the whole affair is the claim by Bishop Phelan that people reported Fr Sterling for wearing his military uniform beyond the prescribed time and that it was only timely intervention on his part that prevented a major embarrassment for Fr Sterling. It is possible that such people were in fact locals from the Shire. Later, – and this was particularly so in 1918 – we will see that Fr Sterling came in for criticism over his alleged ‘disloyalty’, and one of the claims made was that he therefore had no right to wear the uniform.

Arguably, the most significant point made by Bishop Phelan is his last one. It could also have been a point that he had already had to make, and now found that he had to make again, privately, but very directly, to Fr Sterling:

… and from an ecclesiastical point of view I should object to any priest appearing in public as if he were a recruiting officer.

Bishop Phelan’s position on this issue of recruiting was the exact opposite of that of the Protestant Churches who, as the memorial service so ably demonstrated, urged their clergy to call on men to volunteer, and applied religious teaching to insist on the responsibility of men to enlist. Further, their religious perspective was shaped in considerable part by their ‘God-given’ loyalty to the Empire. The local Protestant ministers had no qualm whatsoever employing their status and position to promote the agenda of the ‘trinity’ of Nation, Empire and Church. But for the Catholics, there was no such trinity.

 

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

Archives, Shire of Alberton
(viewed 2014)

The activities of the 1917 Yarram Recruiting Committee came from:

File Number 703K
War Files
“Minute Book Yarram Recruiting Committee”

Box 379
“Correspondence etc of Recruiting Committee Formed, April 26th 1917”