Category Archives: Recruiting

208. Rev George Cox and his ‘Notes on Gippsland History’ (1)

 

Rev G Cox, courtesy of Yarram & District Historical Society

Several previous posts have covered the importance of the the Rev George Cox, the Church of England rector who was appointed to Yarram in 1911. Cox was one of the most important Imperial Loyalists in the local community.

Prior to his own enlistment in 1915, Cox had been actively involved with the local Rechabite Lodge and he spoke at local temperance meetings. He had supported the local Boy Scouts and had served on the committee for Yarram State School. When the War broke out he helped establish the Belgian Relief Fund Committee. Most significantly, he was very involved in the local Recruiting Committee.

Even when he was serving with the AIF, Cox maintained a connection with Yarram and his former congregation. For example, in November 1917 he returned to Yarram to preach. In his sermon, he pointed to the differences between the ‘shirker’ and the soldier in the trenches prepared to sacrifice everything. He reminded his congregation that he had always supported the ‘voluntary system of enlistments’ and he declared that he still believed this was the best method. But now, faced with such peril, Cox urged everyone to support the Hughes Government in ‘any measure brought forward which would compel the shirker to do his bit.’ That night he gave a public address in the Shire Hall to young men on the topic of ‘The National Peril’. The National Peril was the scourge of ‘venereal diseases’. There was a write up of Cox’s visit in the local paper on 21/11/17.

Cox enlisted in September 1915. In fact, Cox had tried to enlist one year earlier in late September 1914 but was rejected by the local doctors. Most probably his age would have been a factor. He was born at Edinburgh in Scotland in 1871 and was then 43 years old. Even after he enlisted, his health was still an issue and he was actually discharged (May 1916) – rheumatic fever – before he re-enlisted, but only for home service. He served with the Australian Army Medical Corps at both the Isolation Hospital, Langwarrin and the Clearing Hospital at Broadmeadows. He held the rank of a/sergeant and he was formally discharged in January 1919. Cox’s determination to enlist and, equally his determination to continue to serve in the face of poor health, would have served as a striking example to the local community.

Cox was one of the most important advocates of support for the Empire.  He used his pulpit to promote the righteous cause of the Allies, remind everyone of the greatness of the Empire and the dire challenges it faced and, in a very practical gesture, make a strong call for volunteers. For a reminder of how Cox effectively fused Christian teaching – for example, the ideal of Christian sacrifice – with support for the War refer to Post 26. Soldiers of Christ.

Another striking example of how Cox presented the Empire of Britain and the Empire of God as overlapping and mutually dependent came in the sermon he preached at Yarram on Sunday 23/5/15. It was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 26/5/15. It was just before Empire Day and it also coincided with the feast of Whitsunday (Pentecost). Cox saw the British Empire as the civil and temporal manifestation of the Heavenly (Christian) Empire:

Tonight we are met for a two-fold commemoration. We stand on the eve of Empire Day, that day on which we commemorate the birthday of Her Most Gracious Majesty, the late Queen Victoria, and we commemorate her memory because of her life and character. She has left us an ideal of what a Christian ruler ought to be. And it was during her life that the British Empire received its greatest development, and was consolidated and established. And today, Whitsunday, we commemorate the birthday of the Christian Empire.

As well as offering both Christian legitimacy and active support for the War effort, Cox provided the local community with another considerable asset. From 1911 when he arrived in Yarram to 1915 when he enlisted, Cox provided the locals of the Shire of Alberton – and the broader community of Gippsland – with a running presentation of the history of Gippsland.

Previous posts that looked at recruiting drives and formal farewells and welcomes home have examined the themes that were commonly employed in speeches on such occasions and the theme of the young soldier as a worthy descendant of the original pioneers was very common. Possibly, even without Cox’s efforts, this theme would have been paramount but there is no question that Cox had provided both the background detail and the renewed interest in the early history of the local area and that there was a natural synergy between his history articles and support for the War effort. In Cox’s world view the success of the European settlement of Gippsland mirrored, admittedly only on the small scale, the inevitable success and greatness of the British Empire. Cox and his readers also saw the very real threat of defeat in the War as the denial of the very British virtues and strengths that had enabled the successful colonisation of Australia. Defeat would represent the very reversal of Australia’s history.

Cox’s efforts as a local historian were considerable. His articles on Gippsland history – Notes on Gippsland History –  which were published regularly in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative were detailed and extensive. As indicated, they ran from 1911 to September 1915 when he enlisted. In that period there were approximately 65 articles published. The articles recommenced in 1921 and continued to 1930. In this instance I am only looking at the articles published prior to and during the War, although this also includes a handful (4) that he wrote after he enlisted.

Interestingly, the articles were written and published in the style of a contemporary blog. Cox often revised earlier texts in view of additional research on his part, or in response to comments or criticism from readers or other researchers. He actively encouraged comments on his work and appealed for additional resources. Also, the topics on which he wrote were ordered somewhat randomly and the various threads and themes in his work were not handled in a strictly sequential manner. The work was definitely in the style of a ‘work in progress’ rather than a finished history. At the same time, the overall scope and detail of his work was very impressive and he gave the community a significant picture of its history, albeit from a particular perspective: the triumph of British colonisation.

John Adams wrote a formal history of the Shire of Alberton in 1990 and in his preface he acknowledged the value of … the many articles published by the late Rev George Cox in the Gippsland Standard. The value of the articles as resource material was always recognised, and in 1997 the Port Albert Maritime Museum re-published all the articles in a 6 volume work. John Adams also wrote the introduction for the series and, again, he acknowledged the significance of Cox’s work – These articles have for many years proved to be important research material for students and historians of Gippsland history … – and also presented an overview of their scope:

From 1911 to 1930 there appeared in the Gippsland Standard, Yarram, a series of articles which went under the heading of ‘Notes on Gippsland History’. These articles, many of them up to 2000 words in length, were the result of detailed and painstaking research on the early history of Gippsland by the Anglican minister, Rev. George Cox. They covered the explorations of Gippsland, the settlement of Port Albert and the subsequent development of Alberton and Tarraville, the early squatters and the cattle trade, the first overlanders in Gippsland and the beginnings of churches and schools in the Alberton area, concentrating to a large extent on the first twenty years of Gippsland.

The other significant feature of Cox’s work was that it was undertaken under the auspices of the (Royal) Historical Society of Victoria. The society had been established only recently in 1909 and, in fact, Cox established the first branch outside Melbourne, at Yarram, in 1911.

Cox addressed the local Australian Natives’ Association (ANA) branch at Yarram in September 1911 – the paper he presented that day became the first of the published articles in the local paper – and revealed his motivation for setting up the first ‘sub-centre’ of the (Royal) Historical Society of Victoria. He was concerned that there was no definitive history of Gippsland and that the challenge was time critical because the essential material resources were fast disappearing. As well, the ‘pioneers’ were dying. He wrote often about ‘our few remaining pioneers’. Recording the past efforts of the pioneers and celebrating their successes were of paramount importance to Cox. In the same paper, he explicitly referred to the duty of honouring the pioneer generations:

Let it be clearly understood between reader and writer that this is a national work, a work of public interest, in which all may take a share, for the honouring of those – our pioneers – who have borne the heat and toil and burden of the day, and for the instruction and inspiration of those who shall come after.

This was history with a high moral purpose, a history that could teach future generations of the enterprise, values and success of the original European pioneers. It was hardly surprising that the theme of the young soldier following in the footsteps of the pioneers became so common in local recruitment appeals.

Cox’s comments ascribe a ‘national’ dimension to the work. While the history Cox pursued was definitely focused on Gippsland, he was at least conscious of the need for a sense of Australia’s national history. Also, it is reasonable to argue that in focusing on the local history of a particular area in Victoria, he was consciously offering a model for other districts and regions to employ. All such work would thus contribute to the overall national history. This idea that a national history was required and that it could be realised, at least in part, by the work of local history groups such as the one Cox had formed needs to be seen in the context that, at the time, both the idea and ideal of an Australian Nation or Commonwealth were in their infancy. Australia has just reached the end of only the first decade of Federation. Truly national history was in only its infant stages. Of course, as matters turned out, WW1 – and particularly the Anzac Legend – would come to claim an extraordinarily powerful place in the national history.

At another meeting, this time to the (Royal) Historical Society of Victoria in Melbourne in June 1914, Cox gave a rationale for the focus on Gippsland and highlighted some of the difficulties faced. The paper was covered in an article published in the local paper on 24/7/14. Cox made the case for what he referred to as ’Neglected Gippsland’. In his view, the history of Gippsland had been omitted from what national history there was at the time. Critical explorations in Gippsland had been ignored and … the opening up of the interior of this magnificent pastoral country half a century later does not seem to have been considered worth mentioning.

Cox gave several reasons to explain why the history of Gippsland had been ignored. The issue of geographic isolation was key. In fact, Cox detailed how isolated Gippsland still remained by describing how long it had taken him to reach Melbourne that very day for the meeting. In other articles Cox emphasised just how isolated the early settlements in Gippsland had been before there was an ‘overland’ route to Melbourne. This was one of the main preoccupations in his history of exploration. Another unique feature of Gippsland’s geography that had complicated the issue of identity related to the way that the focus of the settlement changed so significantly. The centre of settlement had proceeded from Port Albert to Tarraville to Alberton and finally to Yarram and Sale. As Cox put it:

The other feature which creates much difficulty lies in the fact that instead of one place forming a permanent pivot around which settlement has developed, place after place has become the centre of an ever widening and progressive area.

Cox also gave another reason why there were such significant gaps in the history of Gippsland or, from another perspective, why there was only limited enthusiasm for uncovering the past, particularly the very early European past. There were episodes and characteristics there to which people did not want to draw attention. At the same June 1914 meeting, Cox spoke about … the fact that for several years of its early existence as a pastoral settlement it [Gippsland] was a sort of no-man’s land, its inhabitants a law unto themselves, the government apparently having neither men nor money to spare on its administration.

Interestingly, Cox himself was not a local yet he took on himself responsibility for providing the local community with its history. At the time he undertook his series of articles there was effectively no readily available, written history of the area. As Cox himself noted, the history was an oral one and there were locals who knew this oral history and who, as it were, held it in trust on behalf of the community. Cox was keen to access the oral history, match with it primary sources, identify and resolve the inconsistencies and contradictions and come up with a more definitive and critically-tested, written version of the history.

Cox knew his work would stir controversies and upset vested interests but he incorporated this tension into his basic methodology, pointedly acknowledging the different perspectives. Cox would have been able to draw on his status as the local rector to add status and gravitas to his work. The fact that Cox’s version of the history of the local area presented such a glowing vindication of European settlement – set against a background of Imperial expansion, the spread of ‘civilisation’, the ‘opening-up’ of the land, and the innate superiority of White Australia – reinforced its appeal.

This is the background to the extensive series of articles that appeared in the local paper from 1911. A future post will consider the scope, emphasis and omissions of the history.

References

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

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

199. The rejected

This post is an attempt to give an indication of the number of men who were ‘rejected’ in their attempt(s) to enlist in the AIF. The focus is on the Shire of Alberton. The 181 men are listed in the table below.

The overall focus of the research for this blog has been on the identification of all those men who had an association with the Shire of Alberton who did enlist in WW1. As already indicated the total number comes to 815. With this group of 815 there has been a comprehensive effort to identify all relevant characteristics, both of their background and their service in the AIF.

In the research there have been many cases where an individual was at first rejected on medical grounds but was then successful at a subsequent attempt. These men are included in the cohort of 815 because, ultimately, they did enlist and serve in the AIF. At the same time, there were men who, irrespective of the number of attempts they made – and in many instances there were multiple attempts – were never accepted for the AIF. This particular post focuses on such men and represents an attempt to give some indication of the number involved.

However, there are some significant problems associated with trying to research this particular group of ‘rejected’ men. The basic problem of course is that 100 years ago all efforts were devoted to identifying and commemorating those who enlisted and served, rather than those who were rejected. Moreover, while there are some records which I have been able to uncover and use they tend to be both indirect and incomplete. The records employed come from the process of enlisting men at the local level, and it is important to understand this process.

The process of enlistment for volunteers in country and regional areas has been covered in earlier posts. Briefly, in the early months of the War the process could effectively be completed at the local level. In the case of the Shire of Alberton, the locus of ‘local’ was restricted precisely to the town of Yarram. The local doctor(s) in Yarram examined the volunteers and passed them as medically fit. The individual volunteer took the oath and signed the attestation papers in Yarram. The Shire Secretary then issued a railway warrant for travel from Alberton to Melbourne so that the person could report to the AIF.

However, very early on, the AIF authorities came to doubt the ‘integrity’ of the medical examination at the local level and formed the opinion that local doctors, overly influenced by patriotic sentiment, were not as diligent as they needed to be. The AIF concern, not surprisingly, was that men with compromised health or below the set standards of the time, no matter how keen and patriotic, would inevitably end up being an unnecessary drain on resources and potentially undermine the War effort. This was particularly the case in the early months when there was no shortage of volunteers and the AIF could be selective. As already noted, when the local doctors in the Shire of Alberton found out that their medical judgement was being questioned by the AIF – along with all other country doctors – there was much outrage and even a refusal, for a time, to conduct the relevant medical examination. However, by 1915 the process effectively involved 2 medicals: the initial local one was followed by one in Melbourne itself; and the enlistment only proceeded if the second medical was satisfactory.

One of the pieces of evidence used to compile the table below is the list of railway warrants issued by the Shire Secretary. The list of railway warrants is a hand-written record entitled Australian Imperial Force. List of Recruits who enlisted with the President of the Shire of Alberton. 1914.1915.1916.1917.1918. It was created and completed by the Shire Secretary (G W Black) and it recorded the name of the recruit and the ‘date of pass’ (railway warrant). Additionally, the Shire Secretary recorded occasional comments against individual recruits such as ‘killed’ or ‘killed in action’ , ‘wounded’, ‘prisoner of war’, ‘died of illness’ , ‘rejected in Melbourne, and ‘re-enlisted’. An example of a railway warrant is included at the end of this post. A copy of the original list of railway warrants will shortly be included as a resource on the blog, under Resources.

It is essential to note that not every volunteer associated with the Shire requested a railway warrant or enlisted locally – that is, via Yarram. Many simply made their own way to Melbourne. Others enlisted via other regional centres. The discrepancy between the number of railway warrants (474) and the total number of enlistments that I have identified as having an association with the Shire of Alberton (815) points to the large number who enlisted ‘outside’ the Shire, or, more correctly, enlisted at a location other than Yarram.

The list of railway warrants issued by the Shire Secretary highlights the significance of the second medical in Melbourne. On the table below there are 64 men who did receive such railway warrants – and who therefore had passed an initial medical at Yarram and formally commenced the enlistment process – who do not have a service record and who therefore must have failed the second medical in Melbourne. Effectively, this suggests that roughly 13% of recruits who were assessed as medically fit by the local doctors were rejected, principally on medical grounds, in Melbourne. It suggests that AIF concerns about local doctors had some validity.

But this rejection figure of 13% needs to be seen in the context of the other key record that has been used to compile the table below. This second key piece of evidence is another hand-written list entitled Recruits Rejected by Local Doctors. Again, it appears to have been prepared by the Shire Secretary. It also will appear shortly on the blog under the category of Resources. It is not clear why the list was prepared or when but it appears to relate to the earlier years of the War. The list simply records the names of the 136 men who failed the medical administered by the local doctors. In about a dozen cases there is a very brief, added comment, most commonly: ‘afterwards enlisted’, ‘afterwards accepted’ and ’afterwards passed in Melbourne’. My additional research suggests that of the 136 men on the list, a significant number – 44 – did subsequently enlist. The fact that we do not know the specific period covered by this list means that we cannot give a definitive number for those who failed their initial medical in the Shire – at Yarram – over the course of the War. However, it does seem fair to argue that contrary to what the AIF authorities in Melbourne might have believed, the local doctors – at least in Yarram – did fail significant numbers of recruits on the basis of the prescribed health standards. Moreover, the situation did not change as the War progressed. Indeed, earlier posts have noted that throughout 1917 and 1918, when special, high-profile recruiting drives were held in the Shire, there was invariably a newspaper report that highlighted both the small number of volunteers who came forward and also the very high number who were rejected because they failed the medical. Even as the medical standards came down, the failure rate remained high. Overall, while Melbourne standards might have been higher, local doctors certainly did reject recruits on medical grounds.

Overall, we have evidence that for the enlistment process centred on Yarram a significant number of volunteers did not meet the medical standards, either initially in Yarram or subsequently in Melbourne. In fact, the table below, based principally on the 2 pieces of evidence described, suggests that the total figure for cases where the enrolment did not proceed is close to 200 men. But, as noted, this figure really only covers the Yarram process and many men enlisted – or tried to enlist – either directly in Melbourne or in some other regional centre (Traralgon, Sale, Toora, Warragul …. ) so, doubtless, there were others rejected on medical grounds elsewhere and the figure of 200 would have to be seen as a minimum number.

The table makes it clear that the majority of rejections involved medical concerns. At the same time, there were cases where age – too young or too old – was a related issue. With those under 21 yo there was also the issue of parental permission. With those in their forties there could be an issue with dependent children. There was also a handful of cases towards the end of 1918 where the enlistment was, effectively, no longer required. In this group there is even the case of James Wenworth Davis – the last entry on the list of railway warrants – whose pass was dated 11/11/18. Lastly, there were ‘one-off’ rejections. For example, Frederick O Gerstenberger – dated 19/7/15 – who was ‘rejected in Melbourne as father is German’.

There are 5 cases on the table below where there is a major discrepancy, in the sense that the name of the rejected person also appears on a memorial of some kind commemorating those who served. E B Couston appears on the honour roll of the Presbyterian Charge, but there is no equivalent record of military service. Similarly, S Wheildon – Won Wron – and David Ross – Blackwarry – appear on local honour rolls but there does not appear to be any evidence that either enlisted. Even more striking, there are 2 names on the table that also appear on the Honor Roll of the Shire of Alberton : Fred Toyne and S C H Emmerson. There does not appear to be any evidence that these men enlisted; although there is the outside chance that there was an enlistment under an alias.

One issue worth touching on was what it meant to be rejected. Any number of previous posts have shown that in the local community there was a strong expectation that men would enlist. Men therefore who wanted to enlist but who were rejected faced a double bind. There was the frustration that they could not enlist and ‘do their part’ and serve with their ‘mates’. They were not ‘good enough’. But there would also have been the self-awareness that they stood out in the local community as not having enlisted. Admittedly they had tried and failed, and this situation would have been known to family and friends but, equally, they would also have often been placed in the awkward situation of justifying to others the fact that they were not serving in the AIF. Moreover, how many times did they have to test their status – ‘rejected’ – by re-taking the medical. If they had been rejected in 1914 was there a community expectation they would try again in 1915, and then again in 1916…. We also know that in the early months of the War there was sympathy for those who tried to enlist but failed the medical. Names of such people were often published in local news reports. They were accorded some form of intermediate status and there was even talk of them being given some sort of ‘badge’ they could wear to show their patriotic commitment. It is also significant that in the table below there were even names included on a school honour roll – Carrajung South SS – with the designation ‘Rej’.

Even some rejected men, known in the community, were singled out for the ‘white feather’. Also, an earlier post (Post 153) has covered the story of Charles Allum an 18 year-old who was prosecuted for impersonating a soldier. In the trial it was claimed that he had tried to enlist many times but was always rejected because of a ‘weak chest’. He claimed that after he was constantly pestered to enlist he invented the fiction of being a returned soldier.

In the early days after the War when various peace celebrations were held – well before the troops returned home – rejected men were accorded special recognition. But, inevitably, as the RSL grew and matured, along with the heroic reputation of the returned men, the status and fate of the men rejected mattered less and less. What counted was war service, not rejection. It might not have been the rejected men’s fault that they had not been in the Middle East or on the Western Front; but the telling fact was that they had not been there. Besides, those in the AIF knew that many of those initially rejected had managed to get round the system and enlist. The rejected men hoped that people, in their local community and family, accepted that the rejection was genuine. The issue of family acceptance in this context is important. In the table there are 27 cases where at least one brother enlisted. Clearly, there were many families that had to come to terms with the fact that not every brother or son made the same sacrifice: some served and died on active service; some served and returned wounded or with some other major health issue(s); some served and, apparently, escaped unscathed; and others never even served because they had been rejected on medical grounds. All these variations could apply – even all in the one family – and they represented realities that could not be ignored in the years, and even generations, after the War. The fortunes of the rejected men were truly mixed.

Shire of Alberton Railway Warrant (Pass)

188. Valentine Crowley and the cost of disloyalty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical post script

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

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

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

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

References

The Argus
The Age
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Australian Dictionary of Biography (online)

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

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