Category Archives: Recruiting

123. Yarram Recruiting Committee – first half of 1917. Part A

This is the first of 2 posts which explore the work of the local recruiting committee – commonly referred to as the Yarram Recruiting Committee – in the first half of 1917.

An earlier post – Post 104 – explained how, after the failure of the conscription referendum in October 1916, the local recruiting committee, based in Yarram, was disbanded. There was the belief that patriotic regions like Gippsland had been betrayed by the voters of Melbourne, and the local committee did not see that they should continue their efforts in the face of what they perceived as ingratitude and betrayal. Besides, the committee had long held the view that the voluntary system had failed and they were not committed to it.

However, Imperial Loyalists could not simply abandon the War effort and in time – by April 1917 – the same broad group of locals re-formed the local recruiting committee and tried once more with the voluntary system. But there was little doubt that they, like all those involved in recruiting, held no – or at least very little – hope that ‘voluntarism’ would work. And, in the background, there was still the belief that conscription would, ultimately, be introduced. All this tension was evident in Circular 85 which was sent to local recruiting committees in early June 1916 by the State Recruiting Committee. The circular stated the fundamental problem which, interestingly, was described solely in terms of Imperial duty.

The number of recruits volunteering has greatly decreased of late, notwithstanding the fact that the need for Reinforcements is more urgent than at any period of the war. It is quite realised by the new State Recruiting Committee that extreme difficulty is experienced in inducing the eligible men to attend Recruiting Meetings, and the consequent discouragement caused to some members of the Committees, nevertheless it will doubtless be agreed that continued efforts should be made to constantly and insistently bring before the minds of the public, the responsibility which is imposed on them as citizens of the British Empire to make every sacrifice to bring this titanic, tragic and ghastly war to a triumphant conclusion for our beloved Empire and gallant Allies.

The strategies the circular suggested covered the likes of enlisting the support of the local press, appealing to women, and winning the support of the relatives of serving soldiers. There was also the constant call for more public meetings or ‘demonstrations’ for the purpose of recruiting. In all this there was the claim that the voluntary system could work, if only local recruiting committees would get behind it:

It is quite wrong to think that the voluntary system has failed and if the enthusiasm and interest which characterised the previous Recruiting Campaigns were revived better results would be forthcoming. Public meetings would be greatly conducive to that end.

And, above all, there was one thing that local committees could not do:

It is recognised that great antagonism is displayed to the voluntary system by many people, but as voluntarism is the present method of obtaining recruits it is the National duty of very person to assist that system by shouldering the responsibility of reinforcing our brave and heroic men at the Front. It should be remembered that by (sic) passing resolutions that voluntarism has failed, greatly lessens public interest and enthusiasm and consequently has a detrimental effect upon Recruiting.

This was the essential background to the work of the local recruiting committee in the first half of of 1917: they were obliged to work with – and had to be seen to be supporting – a system of recruiting in which they did not believe. They saw the voluntary system as undermining the War effort to which they were so passionately committed, and they knew that it would never produce the number of recruits required. On this last point, as will be shown, there was abundant proof at the time that voluntarism did not work.

One quick pointer to the lack of recruits from the Shire of Alberton over the first half of 1917 is  the low number of railway warrants issued. These warrants were issued to men who had passed an initial medical at Yarram and who were heading to Melbourne to complete their enlistment process. Some men went to Melbourne to enlist without seeking a travel warrant and not all men who were issued with a travel warrant ended up enlisting. As will become clear, passing the medical in Yarram was no guarantee that the enlistment would go ahead. But for all the limitations, the number of warrants issued is at least a guide to the level of enlistment. In the first half of 1917 only 35 such warrants were issued by the Shire Secretary, whereas in the equivalent period in 1916 the number was 145.

The following tables show the membership of the local recruiting committee for both 1916 and 1917.

1916

Cr W Bland (Chairman)
G W Black (Secretary)
B P Johnson
A J Rossiter
J W Fleming
W F Lakin
Rev F Tamagno
W A Newland (Rct Sgt)
C Barlow
N J Christensen
M J T Cox
E S Stocks
G E Ruby
P J Juniper

1917

B Couston (Chairman)
G W Black (Secretary)
W Bland
B P Johnson
A J Rossiter
J W Fleming
W F Lakin
Rev F Tamagno
W A Newland
F L Merritt (Rec Sgt)
J Bett
G Bland
Dr J Rutter
R H Spokes
E T Benson

Yarram Recruiting Committee, mid 1917. Archives of the Shire of Alberton

It is apparent that most members from 1916 continued in the re-formed 1917 committee. There was a new chairman of the committee, Benjamin Couston. He was the manager of the Bank of Victoria in Yarram and had only arrived in the town in late 1916. He quickly established himself as one of the town’s prominent citizens. He served as a JP in the Yarram Police Court. He was on the committee for the Mechanics’ Institute and, as for most of those on the recruiting committee, he had been one of the local organisers for the National Referendum Committee. He matched the typical profile of the local Imperial Loyalist.

In 1916, the recruiting sergeant had been a local returned service man, William Andrew Newland. Newland continued on the recruiting committee in 1917 but his actual recruiting role was taken on by another returned service man, Frank Leslie Merritt, who had been repatriated to Australia in June 1916. While Recruiting Sergeant Merritt was not from the Shire of Alberton, he was one of 4 brothers from Welshpool who had enlisted. The family was celebrated in Welshpool because every son had enlisted. One brother – Charles Cecil Merritt – was to die of wounds in November 1917.

One important difference in 1917 was that in addition to Newland and Merritt, 3 other returned men joined the committee: Dr John Rutter, Robert Henry (Tim) Spokes and Eric Thomas Benson. Rutter and Benson were to play key roles in setting up a branch of the Returned Soldiers’ and Sailors’ League. Rutter was definitely a local but Benson only moved to the area after his medical discharge in mid 1916. It appears he came to Yarram as the manager of the local State Savings Bank. Like Couston, he quickly established himself as a prominent citizen and, amongst other appointments, was on the board of guardians for the local Church of England. He would go on to play a key role in the second conscription referendum, for the Yes vote. Importantly, the degree of membership overlap between between the 3 most high profile patriotic groups in the local community – the Yarram Recruiting Committee, the Returned Soldiers’ and Sailors’ League and the Soldiers’ Farewell and Reception Committee – was very strong and as for 1916 the members would go on to become the key players in the 1917 referendum campaign.

The actual efforts of the recruiting committee in the first half of 1916 were very limited. The most significant function, a memorial service combined with a public recruiting meeting or ‘demonstration’ held in May 1916, will be the subject of the next post. But apart from this major event not much appeared to happen. The committee provided some promotion for war savings certificates. This Commonwealth scheme was advertised in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 2/5/17. The recruiting committee was meant to be the key backer of the program … to explain the advantages of small investments – that everyone should have a war certificate to help win the war. … while the war lasts it will be necessary to have a continual flow of money into the Commonwealth Treasury for the same purpose. To meet this, War savings certificates in denominations of £1, £5, £10, £100 and £1,000 are offered for sale at a discount, repayable in full in three years from date of issue.

There was also a recruiting film shown in Thompson’s Hall in Yarram on 26/4/17. The film was “A Soldier’s Life in the A.I.F.” and it traced the life of a volunteer from recruit to trained soldier. It also featured scenes taken onboard HMAS Sydney. The film was run as a fund-raiser and according to the local paper it raised about £5 for the local Red Cross. The chair of the Recruiting Committee, B Couston, introduced the film and, again according to the local paper, he …referred to the immensity of the struggle in which the Empire is engaged, and the urgent necessity of securing all the men possible at the front. The report continued that at interval a Lieutenant Crowe gave an address. In response to the appeals made that night, 6 men went up on to the stage as volunteers. Later that same night they were medically examined by Dr Rutter and of the 6, four were passed as fit. However, no names were given in the report and there is no way of knowing what happened to them after that night.

Lieutenant Crowe is interesting. He was attached to the central Sate Recruiting Committee and at that point he was active across Gippsland trying to gather volunteers for the “Sportsmen’s 1000” or the “Sportsmen’s Unit”. He had contact with the Yarram Recruiting Committee from late April 1917 and there is a newspaper report – 2/5/17 – which has him informing the committee that even though people had told him that he would have no luck in the Shire of Alberton he had proved them wrong. It was also Lt. Crowe who recommended the memorial service – next post – and he organised the speakers and the AIF band for the occasion. The local committee was impressed with Lt. Crowe’s approach and organised a car and driver for him to continue his recruiting efforts in the district. After his work in North Devon and Jack River, the local paper published a positive account of his efforts and featured a list of locals who had been recruited through his efforts. However a critical analysis of the list of names, which appeared in the paper (4/5/17), highlights the difficulties those promoting recruiting faced.

Lt. Crowe’s success was significantly exaggerated. The newspaper report covered 3 categories of men who had volunteered. First, there were the 7 volunteers who failed the local medical exam, several of whom had failed the exam previously. Then there were the 6 who were under-age and who had to get their parents’ permission. Of this second group it appears that only one – Leonard John Quirk – did go ahead and enlist. He enlisted on 23/5/18 as an 18 year-old. These first 2 categories gave only 1 recruit from 13 men/boys who were keen to enlist. The third category was that of men who passed the medical, presumably with Dr Rutter. There were 12 in this group but it appears that only 3 of them ever enlisted. It appears that the others failed the follow-up medical in Melbourne. Perhaps the rate at which Dr Rutter passed the men as medically fit was partly driven by his commitment to support recruiting. It is also worth noting that the minutes of the Yarram Recruiting Committee (20/4/17) recorded the attempt by Lt. Crowe … to have Dr Rutter appointed a captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps, so that the doctor’s examination would be final, and recruits could be put through without delay. The 3 men who were successful, in that Dr Rutter’s initial medical assessment was upheld, were all only 19 yo. They were: Harold Bergen Elliott, Selwyn Bruce Cunningham and Cecil George Holman. All 3 survived the War. Overall, of the potential group of 25 volunteers keen to enlist, only 4 – all minors – were taken as recruits by the AIF. Despite Lt. Crowe’s optimism and inflated claims, voluntarism was not working.

Lastly, there was the strange situation that blew up with Sgt, Merritt in late May 1917. Without any prior warning, the Yarram Recruiting Committee was advised by the State Recruiting Committee that Merritt was to be dismissed, forthwith, on the grounds of “lack of vigour and strange conduct at recent meetings”. To that point, the local committee had had no issues with Merritt’s behaviour and there had been no complaints directed to them. They wrote (31/5/17) to State Recruiting Committee with obvious indignation:

We regret that your Committee should take such drastic action without reference to this Committee. The most astounding feature of the case is that your Committee should take such drastic action without formulating definite charges against Sergeant Merritt and giving him a chance of defence. We respectfully urge that, in common fairness to the Sergeant, a full inquiry be made, and that he be given every opportunity of stating his defence.

There was an immediate reply (1/6/17) which apologised that …your Committee should feel in any way overlooked by the action taken, as it is the urgent desire of the Committee to do all that is in its power to assist the difficult work of the honorary Recruiting Committees. Again, it did not spell out the charges, other than to state that the complaints came from ‘his recruiting officer’ – possibly Lt. Crowe or Sgt. Merritt’s superior in Sale – … supported by several other persons who attended the Yarram Demonstration. This ‘demonstration’ would have been the combined memorial service and recruiting meeting held in Yarram on Sunday 20/5/17. With only this briefest of explanations the State Recruiting Committee held its line but did, at least, undertake to review the matter. Then on 5/6/17 the central body wrote and reversed the directive …Serge. Merritt may continue his engagement at your centre.

It was all a mystery – perhaps Merritt did not meet the ‘standards’ of the more specialist State-wide band of recruiters who were in Yarram for the occasion – but, arguably, the most important observation is that the State Recruiting Committee knew how difficult it was to maintain a system of local recruiting committees across the State, particularly when the voluntary system was not working, and it could not afford to be seen as an interfering and arbitrary outside power. Essentially, it took the line that if the locals were happy with their recruiting sergeant then there was little point in getting them off-side. At the end of November 1917, Sgt. Merritt was transferred to the Traralgon and Warragul districts.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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”

121. Messines: G Martin & W E Babington

 

Two ‘locals’ – Gordon Martin and William Edward Babington – were killed in action on 8 June 1917 at Messines.

The fighting at Messines was heralded by the detonation of 19 mines under the opposing German lines. The German troops were demoralised and many surrendered. The allied troops were able to secure their objectives. Messines also saw the more accurate and effective use of artillery. The ‘creeping’ barrage was used to significant effect, although there were still casualties when the advancing troops went forward too quickly. A large number of British tanks were employed and there was more effective targeting of enemy positions, thanks in part to better maps and improved observation techniques. Overall, the military operation was judged ‘successful’.

However, if the battle was judged a ‘success’, the casualties were still very high. As Beaumont (pp.323-4) puts it:

Messiness has been heralded as a classic illustration of what could be achieved on the Western Front when an operation was well planned by competent leaders [The planning by Monash, in charge of 3 Division, was said to be exemplary] and the infantry were asked to advance no further than the distance covered by their own artillery. … It should also be remembered that Messiness [7-14 June] cost 26,000 British casualties, of whom almost 14,000 were from II Anzac Corps, many of them victims of gas.

One of the 2 local men – Martin – was from 39 Battalion and the war diary for this battalion described how the men were subjected to heavy gas shelling even before they reached the assembly trenches for the attack. They had to move through Ploegsteert Wood where the gas was incredibly thick. Using their box respirators they struggled though the heavy gas in the dark. According to the account in the Offical History (Vol 4, Chapt XV) many officers collapsed from the effort involved in keeping the men moving.

The total number of casualties for 39 Battalion, to the point when they were relieved early in the morning of 9/6/17, was approximately 470. There were comparatively few deaths, but 300 were wounded and another 145 were missing.

The other local man – Babington – was from 37 Battalion and the overall casualty level was similar. The casualties, to the point the battalion was relieved – 11 am on 9/6/17 – were 492. In this instance there were 67 deaths, 331 men were wounded and only a handful of men missing.

For the AIF, ‘victory’ at such a cost was unsustainable, particularly given the very low recruiting numbers back home.

 

Gordon MARTIN (179)
39 Battalion KiA 8/6/1917

Gordon Martin was a volunteer whose military service was not remembered in the local area. His name does not appear on any memorial in the Shire of Alberton. Yet he definitely enlisted from Yarram. He had his initial medical in Yarram with Dr Crooks on 28/1/16. A railway warrant (#260) for travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process was issued in his name by the Shire Secretary on the same date. The address that appeared on the embarkation roll was Barry’s Hotel, Alberton. The occupation given was ‘operating porter’, suggesting that he was employed at the Alberton Railway Station. Possibly he had not been living and working in the Shire very long but the reality is that he did enlist from there. There is no evidence that he was ever given a formal farewell from the Shire.

To make his life even more unknown and unrecorded, there is very little detail of his military service and the circumstances of his death. There is no Red Cross file for him and his family did not complete the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. Nor is there any correspondence in his service file to throw additional light on his life in the AIF.

Gordon Martin was born in Dunolly. His enlistment was completed on 21/2/16 – nearly one moth after the medical in Yarram – and at the the time he was 22 yo and single. His religion was Church of England. His father – John E Martin of Seymour – was given as his next-of-kin. He enlisted as reinforcements for 39 Battalion.

Private Martin embarked for overseas on 27/5/16 and reached the UK on 18/7/16. He joined 39 Battalion in France on 23/11/16 and was killed in action at Messiness on 8/6/17. His family was notified of the death at the start of July (2/7/17). He was buried at Strand Military Cemetery, Ploegsteert, Belgium. Personal kit – Identity Disc, 2 Note Books, Photos, Testament, Prayer Book, Fountain Pen, Scissors, Cigarette Case, Razor – was returned to the family in March 1918.

As already indicated, while the casualties for 39 Battalion at Messiness were very high, relatively few men (24) were killed. Private Martin was one of them.

 

William Edward BABINGTON (228)
37 Battalion KiA 8/6/17

Unlike Gordon Martin, William Babington was very well known in the local area and his name appears on many memorials: the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor, the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial, and the honor rolls for the Yarram State School, the Presbyterian Charge and Stacey’s Bridge.

William Babington was born on 22/9/1891 at Trentham. He grew up in the local area, attending Yarram State School. His father – William Dunn Babington – was a dairy farmer at Jack River where he had a 114 acre property. The son worked on the family farm and on his enlistment papers he gave his occupation as ‘dairyman’. The mother was Williamina (sic) Babington. There another brother – John Sutherland Babington – who had enlisted very early in the War (16/9/14). He was younger (20 yo) and at the time was also helping on the family farm. All his military service was in the Middle East and he returned to Australia with the rank of sergeant in July 1919.

When the father completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour he indicated that Stacey’s Bridge was the place with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. William Babington was also closely identified with Devon, where, prior to enlisting, he had been the captain of the local football club.

At the time William Babington enlisted he was 25 yo and single. His religion was Presbyterian and he appears to have been actively involved in the church as a young person.

Private Babington had his first medical on 21/1/16 in Yarram with Dr Crooks – this was exactly one week before Gordon Martin’s medical – and he was re-examined in Melbourne on 16/2/16. The official date for his enlistment was 8/2/16 and he joined as reinforcements for 37 Battalion. There was a formal farewell for him and 20 other local recruits – Gordon Martin was not there – held at Yarram on 24/4/16. It was reported in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 26/4/16. On the occasion, he and the others were told that, The charge of the Light Brigade faded into insignificance compared with the brave deeds of our Australian boys at Gallipoli. It was one of the many occasions when the farewell was used to appeal for more volunteers. The Shire medallion was handed to the men.

Private Babington embarked from Melbourne on 3/6/16 and reached England on 25/7/16. There was a period of further training before he proceeded to France and joined 37 Battalion in November (22/11/16). He was promoted to lance corporal in March 1917 (5/317).

On 1/11/16 the local paper published a letter written by Private Babington which covered, in detail, the voyage from Australia on the troopship Persic, and first impressions of the enormous military camp on Salisbury Plain near Amesbury. He noted of the camp, You will hardly believe that this camp is 12 miles by 13, nothing but huts as far as the eye can see. He also noted that … there are over 40,000 Australians camped here.

Lance Corporal Babington was killed at Messines on 8 June 1917. One witness statement in the Red Cross file had the date of death as 7 June, the first day of the battle. There are other inconsistencies in the several witness statements but, generally, it appears that he was shot, in the chest, and died within a few minutes. Several refer to him being shot by a German sniper and as he was a lewis gunner it is highly likely that he would have been targeted. Some witnesses reported him being buried but others were unsure, and one even reported that he saw the body still in the field three days after he had been killed. Most agreed that if he had been buried, the grave would have been in Ploegsteert Wood. There is also a record of the grave being SE of Messines. However, in the end, there was no formal identification of any grave and Lace-Corporal Babington’s name is recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres.

The cable to advise the family of the death was dated 22/6/17. However, it appears that the information did not reach the family until 26/6/17. Three days later, on 29/6/17, the death was reported in the local paper:

Mr. W Babington, Stacey’s Bridge, received the sad message on Tuesday night that his son, Lance Corporal W. E. Babington, had been killed in action on 9th (sic) June, 1917, and conveying the sympathy of King and Queen and Commonwealth. Lance Corporal Babington previous to enlisting was a popular young man, a good footballer and captain of the Devon team, and worked with his father as a dairy farmer. … Lance Corporal Babington paid the supreme sacrifice for his country. The sympathy of our readers will be extended to Mr. and Mrs. Babington and family at Stacey’s Bridge in the loss of their son.

The article also described how The night before the sad tidings reached his parents a letter came by mail, saying he was fighting only 200 yards from the enemy.

Then on 21/9/17 the following additional article on the death of Lance Corporal Babington appeared in the local paper under the heading A Gippsland Hero. The father obviously provided the paper with the correspondence he had received from the UK. It is worth quoting the letter in full because it illustrates how the all-pervasive, background narrative of the sacrifice of the Christian soldier was so commonly applied at the time and in such a highly personal way. No matter how dreadful the loss of the son, there was a strong and comforting religious ‘explanation’ of the tragedy.

Mr. Wm. Babbington (sic), Stacey’s Bridge, has received from the chaplain at the front particulars relating to his son’s death. He writes: – Dear Mr. Babington. – You have had the official word of your son’s death in action, Lance Corporal W. E. Babington, No. 228. on the 8/6/17. It was in the great battle of Messiness, that splendid victory, but won only by much sacrifice, and your fine lad was one. He was a hero. I have just been talking with O.M.S. Redd[?], of his Company, who was beside him when he fell. It was right up to the very forefront of the attack, and your boy was fearlessly brave – was one of those who by their indomitable courage made the attack so successful. A shot from the enemy, however, got him, and he died on the spot. His comrades thought the world of him, and the O.M.S tells me it nearly knocked the heart out of him to see your boy fall. They were fine fellows, these boys of ours, good souled and fine spirited. As their chaplain I thought very much of them, their earnest interest in the real things that count. How keen they were for religious ministrations, and at services and communions they gave splendid attendance. They went into the fight well prepared, and the God above them gave them strength and courage. As He will give to you for your great sorrow. God help you is our prayer. We always pray for you all in our services. Your boy with the rest was keen on these things, yours in much sympathy.
A. Irving Davidson, Presbyterian Chaplain to the Regiment.

Personal kit was returned to the family in March 1918: Calabash Pipe, Folding Scissors, 2 Notebooks, Cards, photos, Letters.

 

The contrast between the 2 men killed on the same day highlights just how significant the locals’ definition of ‘local’ could be.  It also throws light on the fate of the itinerant, working-class volunteers: if a person was not tied to a particular location, his effort and ‘sacrifice’ could easily dissipate, if not disappear.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Beaumont, J 2013, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW.

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume 4 – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1917 (11th Edition, 1941)

Gordon Martin

National Archives file for MARTIN Gordon 179
Roll of Honour: Gordon Martin
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Gordon Martin

William Edward Babington

National Archives file for BABINGTON William Edward 228
Roll of Honour: William Edward Babington
First World War Embarkation Rolls: William Edward Babington
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: William Edward Babington

120. Soldiers’ farewells and welcomes in the first half of 1917

As indicated in earlier posts, by early 1917 recruitment had fallen away dramatically. Moreover, after the defeat of the conscription referendum in late 1916, even enthusiasm for promoting recruiting had waned. Those who had been enthusiastic members of the local recruiting committee – who had also strongly supported the conscription campaign – felt betrayed by the referendum result and, temporarily at least, withdrew their efforts. This issue will be covered in a future post.

At the same time, there was still the occasional farewell for a new recruit and, increasingly, there were welcome homes for those returning to Australia wounded. This meant that the work of the local ‘send off and reception committee’ – Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee – continued. This post looks at the work of this committee in the first half of 1917. It is also worth recalling that the key members of this committee – the likes of B P Johnson, Councillor C Barlow, E A Paige, H G Bodman, G F Sauer and Rev F Tamagno – were also the key players in the local recruiting committee, and they had also been the key backers of the Yes vote in the recent referendum. They belonged to the group identified as Imperial Loyalists, in that they backed the Empire completely and supported the national government in its every attempt to support Australia’s efforts as part of the Empire.

Farewells

It appears that there were only 3 formal farewells in the first half of 1917.

Benjamin Sutton

The first was for Ben Sutton in April. It was written up in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 4/4/17. The farewell was immediately prior to his embarkation for overseas. At the time of his farewell he was married and 28 yo. The marriage must have taken place sometime after his enlistment because his enlistment forms have him as single. He came from a local farming family.

The report noted that not many people were there:

Several local residents and visitors met at the shire hall yesterday morning [Tuesday 3/4/17] to bid farewell to Private Ben Sutton, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Sutton, Yarram.

B P Johnson, on behalf of the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee presided. In his speech he specifically mention the lack of volunteers:

Mr. B. P. Johnson presided, and referred to the few farewells nowadays. It was evident that young men were content to let the boys fight and die for them, and not go and help. Ben Sutton realised that the boys wanted help, and although a married man he was going to do his part.

This theme about the effect that the lack of volunteers to replace those killed and wounded had on the troops in the front line was very common. Johnson, in his praise of Sutton for volunteering, was quoted as declaring:

A doctor, writing from the trenches, says if the Australians were not soon relieved they will die of sheer exhaustion. Wounded men were sent back to the fighting line. Ben Sutton realised this and goes.

As with all other farewells at the time, Ben Sutton was presented with the shire medallion and the accompanying (prayer) card. And as for all other farewells , those there sang the National Anthem and “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”.

Allan Corrie

The second farewell was for Allan Corrie. It was held at Port Albert and it was written up in the local paper on 9/5/17.

Allan Corrie was only 18 yo. In fact, his parents had made him wait until he was eighteen before giving their permission for him to enlist. He was the son of the local police constable in Port Albert, Robert Corrie. Allan was home for his final leave. There was a large crowd there and the farewell was held on a Saturday night.

As the farewell was held in Port Albert, the speakers that night were Port Albert locals. One of the locals – Peter Todd, Palmerston – when praising the loyalty of the young Corrie … made some scathing remarks about shirkers. He then called for volunteers, from the crowd of well-wishers there, to come forward … but none were forthcoming.

Corrie was presented with the shire medallion and also a ‘wristlet watch’. His father responded on his behalf. Private Corrie survived the War and returned to Australia in June 1919. He subsequently also served in WW2.

James Brown

The third farewell took place in June and was for James Edward Brown. It was written up in the local paper on 6/6/17. Brown had only enlisted recently (24/3/17) after he had been rejected earlier for poor teeth. He was 40 yo and married, and it appears his wife was living in Carlton. He was the older brother of Darcy Brown who had also enlisted. The parents were from Stony Creek. The mother died while both sons were on service.

At the farewell, Cr Barlow noted how hard it was for the father. He pointed out how 2 sons had enlisted and one of them had already been twice wounded:

It seemed hard, he said, that the father should have to give up the only eligible son left, but so many would not respond to the call.

James Brown, at age 40 yo, was probably another example of someone the AIF should not have accepted. As things transpired, he never made it to France. After extended illness in the UK he was repatriated and discharged as medically unfit – ‘premature senility’ – in July 1918.

At his farewell, Private Brown emphasised how he was only doing his duty. He told those there that … he thought it was the duty of every eligible man to go to fight. He promised his best, and hoped to return with the other boys after wiping out the Germans (Applause.)

Welcome Home

Over the same period – January to June 1917 – the local paper reported on 5 welcomes. Obviously, these receptions were for men who had been repatriated either wounded or seriously ill. Consequently, the stage was set, literally, for speeches that contrasted, vividly and directly, the differences between those who still refused to do their duty and enlist, and those who had paid a terrible price for their loyalty.

Robert Spokes

The first welcome home reported in the local paper (14/3/17) was for Robert (Tim) Spokes. He was picked up from the train station at Alberton and driven to the Shire Hall in Yarram where there was a large group of adults and school children. E A paige, the head teacher of Yarram SS declared that if their guest had arrived yesterday (Friday) – as planned – the whole school would have been there to welcome him.

Spokes had enlisted as one of a large group (25) in July 1915. He was only 18 yo at the time. He had been badly wounded – GSW rt arm and r thigh – at Pozieres and repatriated to Australia. He was discharged as medically unfit on 17/4/17, about one month after the welcome home at Yarram. His right arm had been amputated following the injury and by the time he reached Yarram, as the paper put it, he had been … provided with a substitute. It would have been a devastating handicap for someone who was probably only 20 yo.

As he was under 21 yo when he enlisted, both parents had to give written permission. The father had written – and both parents signed – the following note. On the face of it, it was an explicit description of Imperial loyalty:

I give my Consent to my son Robert Henry Spokes to enlist as a soldier to serve King George.

Councillor Barlow presided and after a verse of the National Anthem and “God Bless Our Splendid Men” he started by talking of the debt owed to Private Spokes:

When they saw the condition he was in, carrying marks of war to the grave, they felt they could not repay him for what he had done.

Reverend F Tamagno informed those there that Private Spokes’ condition reminded them of the true nature of war and challenged them that they … could not realise the the strains on muscle and mind of the men in battle. Tamagno praised the young soldier as the model of voluntarism. He praised him as one of those … who had not been sent for, but went of their own accord (applause) – men who volunteered from farms and industries, rich and poor, all of the same quality of heart – it was the spirit of voluntarism.

And, of course, there was the criticism of those who refused to volunteer. He wondered aloud whether … many of these brave fellows who come back will chastise, because of the wounds they bear, those citizens who failed to do their duty. (Applause.)

H G Bodman was far more direct and he turned the occasion into a recruiting drive. He declared to all those there:

It was their duty to send all the men available. (Applause.) If men could see a soldier come back, and sit down in their comfortable homes with no incentive to take a part, he would say they were cowards. The boys who went had done their duty, and there were no better soldiers than the Australians. (Applause.) Yet they had men all round the district not game to take this boy’s place. Though old he was willing to do his part. He had one son there, and if he did not come back it would be a sacrifice for his country he would be proud of. It is for all to think, that unless reinforcements are sent to fill the vacant places, they are failing in their duty. (Applause.)

B P Johnson also laboured the theme of reinforcements. It was a stark moral argument: those men who could volunteer but who chose not to – for what in terms of the logic were entirely selfish reasons – were not just not letting down those serving overseas in the AIF – in the sense that they refused to do their ‘share’ and help their ‘mates’ – but they were also effectively condemning them to death:

He [Johnson] wished he could impress on every body that unless reinforcements are sent few of our men will come back. How many eligible to go, and do not go; how they stand back, and let their brothers fall and not be relieved, was more than he could understand.

In light of the ambivalence of the AIF members towards both the War and the issue of conscription – see Post 105 – we can only speculate what Private Spokes made of the way his homecoming was used for recruiting. The newspaper report noted that he himself did not speak. Instead, he replied via the Chair that … he felt proud that he responded to the call when he did.

As per normal, the welcome closed with “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”.

Oliver Leemon

The welcome home to Corporal Oliver Leemon was reported in the local paper on 25/4/17. He had enlisted as a 22 yo in September 1915.

Corporal Leemon was another wounded soldier from Pozieres. He had been hit, most likely by shrapnel, in the head, knee and arm. The actual medical discharge was dated 27/4/17, just 2 days after his welcome home at Yarram.

The occasion was chaired by G F Sauer and the paper noted that the crowd was disappointing, conceding that both the weather and the timing of the event were poor. Sauer hoped that their guest … would soon be restored to health.

Sauer also felt the need to attack the ‘scum’ of Melbourne over the way returned soldiers were supposed to have been treated at the time. Without giving any source he related how:

One soldier who returned minus an arm, was told that he was a fool to go over there and come back like that, whereupon the single-armed hero punched him. It was the spirit of the Anzacs and it showed they were of pretty good stuff.

Sauer also felt the need to raise the exploits of the Australians at Bullecourt to epic levels:

He could not express in words all that the soldiers had done on the other side, and especially their achievements during the past few days. Where the Australians had attacked was stated to be an insurmountable barrier. It was marvelous how the Australians went through the German lines, held by the Prussian Guards, the flower of the German army, and supposed to be one of the best regiments in the world. Our boys went on to the fields of France and beat them bad.

By early 1917 it was common practice to describe, unashamedly, the Australians fighting on the Western Front as the best soldiers in the world.

David Muir

There were 2 welcomes for Sergeant David Muir. One, at Yarram, was reported in the local paper on 16/5/17 and the other, at Alberton, on 25/5/17.

David Muir had been a well known sportsman in the local area. Before the War, he had been secretary of both the football and cricket clubs at Alberton. He had enlisted in April 1915 as a 23 yo.

However he was certainly not fit when he returned home. The reports of the Yarram welcome referred to his ‘broken health’ and noted that he was no longer … the once active Dave of football fame. He was suffering from rheumatism, trench fever and heart problems. As well, the report noted, he had been on the troopship Southland when it was torpedoed in September 1915 in the Agean Sea. He was said to have spent 2 1/2 hours in the water.

The Yarram welcome was held on a Monday afternoon. The Shire Hall was packed and there were many school children present.

At this welcome, B P Johnson set out to use Sergeant Muir’s story as a recruiting narrative. Interestingly, even though it hard been rejected not much more 6 months earlier, conscription was again being openly spoken about:

… Sergeant Muir, cricketer and footballer, went in for a sterner game. It would be noticed that he bore the letter A on his shoulder, a proud letter which showed he was an Anzac a name known throughout the world (Applause.) Dave is not the robust man he was, and we must remember that he made himself what he is for us. The obligation is on each and everyone not to allow the boys to suffer on their return. Dave’s place is vacant at the front, and anyone who can should go and fill that place. A number of returned men have fought, returned wounded, and are going back again to help their mates. That was the proper spirit. It was said that conscription would be brought in. Those who do not want conscription should go and make the voluntary system a success, and all should work to win the war.

After the speeches, Geo Davis had to respond on behalf of Sergeant Muir because …. what he had been through was so nerve-racking that he could not speak at a home-coming welcome.

Like all the others welcomed home, Sergeant Muir was presented with the shire medallion.

As indicated, not long after, there was another welcome staged at Alberton for Sergeant Muir. It was a social evening held at the Alberton Hall. The paper noted people came from Yarram, Port Albert and Tarraville.

All the speakers that night referred to his health. They all hoped that he would son be ‘restored to health’, and many wanted to see him again on the football field.

The local police constable, Robert Corrie, said of Sergeant Muir:

He went away to do his bit for his country, and he is home again proud to think he has done his duty. It was lads like Serg. Muir and Private Spokes who were upholding the name of Australia, and they who are at home cannot do enough for them. He hoped Serg. Muir would regain his usual strength.

Similarly, another local, Mr Todd from Palmerston, was keen to employ the commonly expressed sporting – particularly football – analogy:

… Sergeant Muir [was] an honest player on the football field, like all Australian lads, and he was glad that they were also honest in going and fighting for their country.

This time, Sergeant Muir did speak on his own behalf. He stated that even though he had returned with broken health, he was better off than many of those still in France. He urged those there to not forget …the boys at the front, as they could not realise what they were going through. He reminded everyone of the need to write to the men and he even mentioned the importance of such basics as sending them cigarettes and newspapers.

John Robinson

John Robinson had enlisted very early in the War (24/11/14) as a 21 yo fisherman from Port Albert. He has already been mentioned in a previous post – Post 38 – where he was one of 3 volunteers from Port Albert, former students of the Port Albert SS, who, according to locals, were not given an appropriate farewell by the school. His welcome was written up in the local paper on 27/6/17.

He had been badly wounded – gsw rt thigh severe – in July 1916. At the time of his welcome in the Mechanics’ Hall at Port Albert he had already had 3 operations and the local paper noted that he was about to have yet another … to have more lead taken out. He was discharged as medically unfit on 4/10/17. He was yet another young man returning from the War with a serious disability and the rest of his life before him.

Robinson was well known in the local area. In fact, the paper made the claim:

It is safe to say that no local lad was better liked than Jack Robinson.

It also noted that many people were there and that,

Two car loads of his relatives, including his grandfather 80 years of age, came from Paynesville at a few hours notice.

Those who spoke at the welcome were locals, including Constable Corrie. As was common, the speakers turned the wounds the soldier bore into some sort of badge of honour. One of them noted that he (Robinson) had gone to the front at a time when he knew the dangers and that he had … returned a soldier and a man. Another referred to him as bearing … the honored scars of battle.

One prominent identity who spoke that day was Father Sterling, the local Roman Catholic priest. Sterling had finished his work as an army chaplain by this point and had again taken up his duties as parish priest. Robinson was Church of England and it appears that the only reason Sterling spoke was because he was asked to. The following report, as published in the local paper, makes clear what Sterling thought of the standard farewell and welcome functions held in the shire. The comments also begin to explain the overt hostility that was directed at him from this point on.

He just happened to be in Port Albert, and accidentally heard of the welcome home to the returned soldier, and dropped in to show his sympathy with the gathering. He thought that the Government ought to apply the War Precautions Act to stamp out a public nuisance which had become very accentuated since the war started. He referred to the dreary drivel poured out by every local orator on the occasion of a farewell or welcome-home social. The singing and dancing were held up while one person after another got up and gave interminable speeches, trying without success to spend a quarter of an hour or more in saying what the chairman could easily say in five minutes or less. How often had they been present at or read of such gatherings. The chairman generally opened proceedings by saying everything it was possible to say about the guest of the evening; the next person spoke of the guest as a citizen; the next as a neighbour; the next as a sport; the next as a member of some friendly society; the next as a white man and Nature’s gentleman, and so on ad nauseum. The only person who does not come forward nor say anything is just the one person who could tell the exact truth, and that person is his wife. If she was to speak of him as a husband. (Laughter.) He had no intention, therefore, of prolonging the agony for the young soldier, or desecrating the honoured name of Anzac by referring to what they all felt gloriously proud of – the immortal deeds of our soldier boys.

In one sense, Sterling’s criticism is simply that the proceedings are too drawn-out, repetitive and ponderous. However, some at least would have heard in his comments the belief that a particular group of locals had turned these occasions into very public – and highly reported – demonstrations of support for the War, including conscription, and thinly disguised recruiting meetings. The members of the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee would hardly have appreciated having their efforts trivialised and ridiculed in such a manner.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

 

116. W S Filmer

Walter Stephen FILMER (4426/2Lt)
22 Battalion   KiA 3/5/1917

Walter Stephen Filmer was born at Noradjuha near Horsham. However he grew up south of Horsham, closer to Hamilton. He attended the state school at Byaduk and when he enlisted his mother – his father was dead – was still living there. Similarly, on the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour, his mother gave Byaduk as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.

At the time of enlistment in February 1916, he was single, 22 yo and he gave his occupation as school teacher. His religion was Presbyterian. On his enlistment papers he indicated that he held the rank of 2nd lieutenant in the Citizen Forces. His mother also recorded – for the (National) Roll of Honour – that he had had two and a half years experience, as an officer in the Senior Cadets, in the Hamilton and Casterton district before he joined the AIF.

Walter Filmer trained as a teacher in the Hamilton area which was where he had the involvement with the senior cadets. Then, as a very young man, he was appointed to the state school at Womerah in the Shire of Alberton. The school had only been opened in 1906. Filmer would have been appointed there in 1914. He was the head teacher at the school when he enlisted. He was well known in the district. Initially, he played football for the local team West Alberton but then in April 1915 he transferred to the team based on the local Fire Brigade. He was a member of the local branch of the ANA and his name is recorded on the their honor roll.

He played a key role in the raising of the first group of recruits from the Shire.  There are numerous references in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – from the period. Given his recent experience with the senior cadets he was soon playing the role of drill instructor and giving the young volunteers their introduction to military discipline. The following appeared on 9/9/14:

A capable instructor [ for drill] has volunteered in the person of Lieut. Filmer, who has had charge of the citizen forces in Hamilton and Casterton district, and he will be assisted by helpers who have had military experience in various arms of the service, and a suitable building has been arranged, viz, the new stables at the Co-operative Store, by the courtesy of the directors. It is proposed to start forthwith, and a parade of all interested is called for Friday evening [11/9/14] at 7.30 p.m. at the place named. This movement has the co-operation of the rifle club and ambulance association.

Another report (11/9/14) noted that his position as drill instructor had been approved by the military authorities:

Lieut. W. S. Filmer has received a letter from the headquarters of the 3rd military district stating that his offer to instruct local riflemen and civilians is much appreciated, and expressing the hope that a great number will avail themselves of the offer. Drill starts this evening in the Co-operative Store stables at 7.30.

Other reports (16/9/14, 18/9/14) made it clear that he also played a role in vetting the initial large group of recruits and conducting their formal enlistment. In fact, the following assessment by the editor (Rossiter) which appeared in the paper on 23/9/14, just after the first large group of recruits had left, made it clear that Lieutenant Filmer’s role had been very significant:

Arrangements [for drill sessions] were made with the directors for use of the large stables at the Co-operative Store, which made a first-rate drill room. Each Friday evening Lieutenant Filmer gave instruction, and to him and the gentlemen mentioned [Rev. Geo Cox, Mr. Jas. Farmer and Mr. Geo Davis] is credit due for having started the recruiting movement in this district. But for Lieutenant Filmer’s efforts we doubt whether as many young men would have responded to the “call to arms’.

At the time, Filmer could only have been 20 yo and it is reasonable to speculate how the local men and boys would have responded to his drill instruction. Certainly, the Shire of Alberton had been an exempt  area under the universal compulsory military training scheme then in place – senior cadets were not introduced in the local area until August 1915 – and so the response by the young locals to military instruction and notions of military discipline might have been challenging. Also Filmer’s youthfulness would have set up some natural antipathy. Besides, he played football with many if not most of the recruits; and they were probably disinclined to take his military rank and bearing all that seriously. It does appear that for all his enthusiasm and commitment, there were some issues. For example, one report in late August 1914 talks about Lieutenant Filmer still ‘persevering’ with the drill instruction. Another discussion, reported in the local paper nearly one year later (6/8/15),  suggested that Lieutenant Filmer’s efforts were not up to the mark:

Mr. Fleming fired a telling shot. He explained that unless drill was conducted by a warrant officer sworn in until termination of the war, the effort would be in vain. It must be under military authority.

At this very point in time, Filmer was involved in the establishment of the local senior cadets. However, the concern seemed to be that his military qualifications and status, while suitable for the cadets, were not up to the mark for those enlisting in the AIF. He would have found this criticism harsh.

Through 1915, Filmer was a strong advocate for the recruiting campaign. At a farewell held at Womerah for 3 new recruits – D Brown, J Loriman and J Morgan – he praised the loyalty of the men, championed the Australian soldiers and made it clear that he also intended to enlist. His comments were recorded in the local paper on 4/8/15:

These men [the 3 recruits] were certainly doing their duty. Personally he envied them very much, but trusted that before long he would be permitted to go with them. He advised them to try to emulate the example set by the brave Australians on Gallipoli, of whom the naval men said, “Fiercer fighters God never made.”

When the Education Department approved of his enlistment, he was given a large send-off from Womerah. It was reported in the local paper in detail on 3/3/16. He was praised as a dedicated and very popular teacher, a selfless and highly regarded member of the local community who went out of his way to help others, and a true patriot. The night of the farewell saw atrocious weather and the road to Womerah was described as unsafe. Yet despite the dreadful conditions, it was noted that people travelled from Yarram to attend. Those there from Yarram included A J Rossiter, editor of the local paper, and A E Paige, head teacher of Yarram SS. ‘Sergeant’ Filmer, as he was referred to that night, was presented with the Shire Medallion and a ‘valuable pair of prismatic field glasses’. The field glasses would be returned in his personal kit after his death.

Private Filmer enlisted in Melbourne on 2/2/16. He was taken on as reinforcements for 22 Battalion. He gave his address as ‘Helensville’, Yarram. He included his previous military service with the Citizens Forces. While he was enlisted as a private, by early March 1916 he was made sergeant, the rank by which he was referred at his farewell.

His group of reinforcements left Melbourne at the end of March 1916. There was further training in England and then in September 1916 he finally joined 22 Battalion in France. His promotion history was complex and in the end there had to be an enquiry and formal ruling. Effectively, he was promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant on 16/12/16.

In February 1917, 2nd Lieutenant Filmer spent about 3 weeks in hospital with parotitis/mumps but rejoined the battalion on 9/3/17. Two months later he was killed in action on 3/5/17, the first day of the Second Battle of Bullecourt.

22 Battalion’s involvement in Bullecourt 2 is covered in its war diary. The strength of the battalion that went into the battle – another 200 men had been detached for other divisional duties – was 21 officers and 618 other ranks.  Zero hour was 3.45 a.m. on 3/5/17 and the troops went in with a covering barrage. The enemy replied with its own barrage at 4.49 a.m. The battalion was able to push through to its second objective after approximately 2 hours of heavy fighting but, as the diary records, because of the failure of the British troops – 185 Brigade – to take the left flank they were left hopelessly exposed and forced back. The fighting was intense, with bombing parties from both sides moving along the German trenches which the battalion had initially been able to take, or, at least, gain some foothold in. The battalion came out of the line the next day at 4.00 a.m. when it was relieved by 3 Battalion. The casualties – ‘killed, wounded, missing, died of wounds, wounded and missing’ – for just that one day of fighting were 438 or 70% of the force committed. Of the 21 officers, 16 (76%) were casualties, including 2nd Lieutenant Filmer who was killed. There was no chance to recover bodies. Lieutenant Filmer’s name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

There is a detailed Red Cross report for Lieutenant Filmer. There were several witness statements to the effect that he was wounded, severely, and that he died shortly after. All agreed that the body had been left when the Australians fell back. The points of difference were over whether he had been hit by shrapnel or a bullet, how long he survived after being wounded, and whether he was conscious or not. One statement had him conscious and even telling those there that he ‘knew he was done for’.  The following statement by Private H A Morris (4498) gives the basic information:

I saw him lying dead on 3rd May, just on the 1st. trench we took (old German trench 1.) at Bullecourt, just at daylight. He had been hit by a shell and I believe only lived a very short time. Someone whose name I cannot recall spoke to him before he died. I was knocked out later the same morning near by and his body had not been brought in when I left about 7 a.m. I knew him before he got his commission and came out with him. He was a fine chap.

Tellingly, there were many similar testimonials to his character in the witness statements. He was commonly described as a fine chap, a good sportsman/footballer and someone who was popular.

In the Red Cross report there is correspondence from February 1918 from the mother, at Byaduk, asking that they – the Red Cross – carefully check POW records. She stated that she had had a letter from a Captain L A Kennedy, of the same battalion (22 B), giving an account of her son’s fate. She wrote that Kennedy stated that … my son was wounded & left in a trench on the Hindenburg line on the 3rd of May 1917. Captain Kennedy says that they applied a field dressing to his wounds & made him as comfortable as possible but they were driven out of the trench by the enemy & could not take him with them. Capt K. did not think my son would live but the fact remains that he was alive & left in the hands of the enemy and if he did live he must be prisoner of war.

The mother’s interpretation of Kennedy’s account, not surprisingly, was that it left open the possibility that the had been taken prisoner. The Red Cross replied in April 1918 that they very much regretted that there was no trace of her son as a POW and that there was no reason to doubt the official report of his death.

Lieutenant Filmer’s death was specifically noted in the battalion’s war diary at the time. The cable advising of his death was dated 19/5/17, just over 2 weeks after his death. The official report of death was dated 10/6/17.

His death was reported back in Gippsland in the local paper on 25/5/17. His success in the AIF as an officer was emphasised, as was his record as head teacher at Womerah. In fact, Lieutenant Filmer had kept in contact with the school while in the AIF. In March 1917 (7/3/17), about one month before he was killed, the local paper reported at the opening of the new Womerah school that a letter from Lieutenant Filmer had been received by the local district school inspector (R H Greenwood). In the letter Filmer was reported to have said that … he would rather put in another two years in the Womerah mud than be in the trenches. He had kindly recollections of the old place in the hills.

The local paper also reported (1/6/17) that the school had erected a ‘fine flag pole’ and that … On Tuesday [29/5/17] the flag was flown at half-mast in memory of the late Lieut. Filmer. The local paper also reported (14/9/17) on further commemorations:

An enlarged photo of the late Lieut. Filmer, formerly head teacher at the Womerah school, has arrived in Yarram. The enlargement, which is a handsome piece of work, suitably inscribed, is being presented to the Womerah school by the pupils of late Lieut. Filmer, as a tribute to the respect in which he was held by them…

Another enlargement of the Lieut. Filmer has been sent to Mrs. Filmer, mother of the late soldier, by parents of the children of Womerah school.

Even though he had only been in the district for not much more than 2 years, Lieutenant Filmer had obviously made an impression on the local community. Probably what struck people was the seriousness of his manner and commitment, and this impression would have been reinforced by his relatively young age.  His name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

Personal kit, including the binoculars, was returned to the mother in October 1917. It came in a sealed valise: Numerous Books, Letters, Cards, Photos, Maps, 1 pen Knife, 2 Pencils, 1 Collapsible Cup, Binoculars in Case, 3 Sword Frogs, 1 Revolver in Holster, Ammunition Pouch, 1 Bolt, 2 Scarfs, Cigarette Case, 1 Pyjama Coat, 1 Mirror, 1 Testament, Regimental Colours, 1 Pipe, 4 Collars, 1 Pr Mittens, 1 Tie, 6 Handkerchiefs, 1 Pr Riding Breeches, 1 Linen Bag, 1 Kit Bag Handle, 1 Leather Purse, 1 Disc, 1 Badge.

There was a brother – Albert George Filmer – who also enlisted (14/2/17). He was farmer and he enlisted in Queensland. He was wounded in September 1918 and invalided to the UK. But he did survive the War, returning to Australia in January 1919.

 

 

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for FILMER Walter Stephen 4426/2 Lt
Roll of Honour: Walter Stephen Filmer
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Walter Stephen Filmer
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Walter Stephen Filmer

105. The soldiers’ vote denied

In early March 1917 (2/3/17), the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative published the mesage that Birdwood had sent to all members of the AIF immediately prior to the first referendum conscription, 4 months earlier. In the letter, included here in full, Birdwood is obviously calling for a Yes vote from the men.

To members of the A.I.F.- As General Officer Commanding the Australian Force, it is not for me to interfere in any political matters or to influence the voting of our men on the coming Referendum.

I know well that in any case all will vote as seems to them necessary in the best interests of Australia and the Great Empire to which we belong, whose freedom has been, and still is, in danger of being turned into slavery by Germany. I feel, however, that I can inform you all of how really essential it is that we should get all the men available to keep these magnificent Australian forces, which are now in the field, and whose name is renowned throughout the Empire, up to their strength.

Every single man would, I am sure, bitterly resent and regret it if we had to reduce a single battalion, battery or company, every one of which has now made history, and established a tradition which we all hope will last as long as the British flag flies over our world-wide Empire. But it is, I think, probable that all ranks do not know as well as I do the absolute necessity of keeping our reinforcements right up to strength, and the present system is not doing this. I feel sure all know the great feelings of regard and pride which I have for every man of this force who has up to now come forward of his own free-will and after great sacrifice.

Many brave men have given their lives for the sake of our Empire and the freedom of the world – lives which have been uselessly sacrificed if we relax our efforts in any way until we have the Germans right down on their knees. Remember, too, boys, that the word freedom does not only mean for ourselves, but what is far more important, freedom for our children and our children’s children. For them, I know no sacrifice can be too great.

In the magnificent manifesto, which our Prime Minister, Mr. Hughes, has sent us, he has fully shown what exemptions there will be when universal service is adopted. It will be seen from this that members of families, some of whom have already come forward, will be fully safeguarded, and no man need fear that there is danger of, we will say, the brother who has been left behind to look after the affairs of the family, being ordered to come out. The shirker, however, will be caught, and made to do his share, instead of staying at home as he has done up to now, not only evading his duties, but getting into soft jobs which we want to see kept for our boys here when they return, or for the representatives of their families who have been left in Australia.

I have nothing more to say, boys, except to point out to you as strongly as I can that the necessity does exist, and I hope that after these two years, during which we have been soldiers together, we know each other well enough to realise that I would not say this without good reason. Having said it, I leave it to you to act according to your conscience, for the good of our King and country, the honour of our people, and the safety of our wives and children.
W. R. Birdwood
Lieut. General G.O.C., A. I F.
October 16th. 1916

The copy of the letter, the paper explained, had been provided by B P Johnson who had obtained it from his brother. [Johnson’s brother was Sergeant Norman C Johnson who had enlisted  – 4 LHR – in August 1914 and who had been repatriated to Australia in April 1916 after having been wounded at Gallipoli.]

The publication of the letter suggests that while the referendum had been defeated, Imperial Loyalists in the local community – like Johnson and Rossiter, the editor – were still steadfastly commited to conscription. Voluntary enlistments had not picked up after the referendum, and, in the minds of people like Johnson and Rossiter, the arguments for conscription remained as valid as at the time of the referendum. The publication of Birdwood’s message to his ‘boys’ reminded everyone of the apparently indisputable logic for conscription. As Rossiter wrote in his introduction to the piece, it was … a powerful appeal for the “Yes” vote. Moreover, the case for conscription was reinforced by the claim that the AIF had in fact voted Yes in the referendum.

Specifically in terms of the soldiers’ vote, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire reported as early as 20/12/16 that the majority had supported conscription. On that occasion, Hughes was reported as stating in federal parliament that … a majority of soldiers of the A.I.F. abroad was substantially in favor of the referendum. When he was pressed for the exact numbers, Hughes declared that he could not divulge them because … the desire of the military authorities in England precluded that [possibility]. The pressure on Hughes to release the precise numbers continued and, finally, at a speech in Bendigo on 27/3/17, he claimed that the number “For” was 72,000 and the number “Against” was 58,000: a majority of 14,000. The numbers were reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire on 30/3/17. [The figures given in the Official History were 72,399 Yes and 58,894 No: a majority of 13,505.]

At the end of March 1917, as far as Hughes and his supporters were concerned, the arguments for conscription had always been – and still remained –  beyond dispute; and they had the support of the highest levels of the AIF command. Further, the soldiers themselves voted for conscription by a clear majority. Therefore, the logic ran, the men overseas had been betrayed by the No vote back in Australia.

However, there was a very different version of the story of soldiers’ vote which, at the time, was concealed. Hughes had his way with his version of the truth and the episode reveals just how comprehensively the Government was able to manipulate the narrative of the War.

The alternative version comes, ironically, from the personal diaries of CEW Bean, the Official War Historian. Bean was certainly an advocate of conscription and indeed he did his best to ensure that the soldiers’ vote was Yes. But at the same time, his personal diaries expose the deceit and manipulation that characterised Hughes’ desperate attempt first to win over the soldiers’ vote, and then, when it did not suit him, effectively bury it.

Hughes’ intention was to have the AIF vote held before the vote back in Australia so that the assumed strong Yes from the soldiers would influence the national vote. However, as the vote neared he was informed by his supporters in England, including Murdoch, that the soldiers’ vote was not guaranteed. At this point Bean became involved. He was given the task of contacting Birdwood and encouraging him to make a representation to the soldiers urging them to vote Yes. This is all set out in detail in the following extracts from Bean’s personal diaries. Bean’s role in all this is very apparent. He was most definitely a key participant in the history he came to write. Bean wrote in a form of shorthand but for present purposes, I have written the diary notes in full prose, without changing any of the content.

On Sunday 15 October 1916, Bean wrote in his diary:

Last night [Sa 14/10/16] White told Bazley not to let me go on any account without seeing him.
[CBB White, Brigadier General, General Staff, Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Working under Birdwood but generally regarded as the real power in the AIF in France at the time]
[AW Bazley, nominal ‘batman’ to Bean but really a colleague]

Hughes had sent a cable to Birdwood from Burnie in Tasmania. It said that the opposition to conscription in Australia was due to the formidable intrigues of the ultra-socialists and the Fenians; and that everything depended on the lead which the vote of our own force in France gave to Australia. He called on Birdwood, with all the earnestness he could put into the cable, to put aside precedent and to use his great influence with the troops to get them to carry conscription by a big majority and give a lead to the people.

White wanted me to see Birdwood and urge him to do a really big thing for the Empire, and take this step. At the moment we both took it that what Hughes wanted was a message to the Australian people.

I hesitated a moment. Perhaps I am weak. I knew that White’s decision, whichever way it was, would have settled me in mine. But I have a very great fear of anyone in Birdwood’s position – a military servant of the State using his influence in a big question at the polls. I should have taken a few minutes to think. I wasn’t sure which way White was. Then he told me he “wants the little man to play the man – and to take a big opportunity of doing a great thing for the Empire.” The loss of this measure would be a terrible smack in the face of the Empire. It would count enormously. It seemed to me that Birdwood might very well tell the Australian people what the military necessity was for reinforcements, as their chief military adviser. It would have enormous effect. White added: “Yes, and get him to point out that every effort that we have made up to the present would go for nothing- would be utterly wasted – if this were lost.” White means, I think, that it would lose us the good name which our energy and public spirit have so far won.

When I got to London I started to search for Birdwood. … After a fair hunt, I heard of Birdie at the Charles Buckleys, where his daughter often stays. Birdie was at Clifton and would not get back till 8.20. I decided to miss the train and stay and see him. Fortunately I found out that the train left at 11.15. [PM]

Birdie, who hated the idea of being made to give evidence at the Dardanelles Commission during the war, had got away quietly to Lincoln and only went to Clifton on his last day.

He came in to the Buckleys with his pretty daughter, the little Harefield nurse, at about 8.45. We had a long talk in Mrs Buckleys sitting room, by ourselves; Mrs Buckley had been exceedingly kind in telephoning all over London for me to find out if he had returned.

Birdie pointed out at once that what Hughes wanted was, clearly, for him [Birdwood] to give a lead to the soldiers. He never hesitated a moment. I too could see at once a reason for this. If the soldiers voted No – that would kill the question, the people at home would never vote Yes if their army here voted No. The Australian vote was to be later, after the result of the A.I.F.’s vote was known. I fancy Hughes had arranged this thinking that the A.I.F would be certain to vote Yes. Anyway, it was no use Birdie sending a message to Australia if the A.I.F. voted No. The thing to do was to get the army to vote Yes.

Birdie told me that he had seen Lloyd George. While he was there Murdoch asked if he might come in. Murdoch wanted Birdwood to send a message to Australia. Lloyd George agreed, too, that B. [Birdwood] should do this, until Birdwood pointed out that if he did, it might be said by opportunists that he was ordering the soldiers how to vote. L. George agreed, and it was decided not to do this; but Murdoch got letters of introduction to Haig and Joffre and started for France to get messages from each of them if possible.

This shows how Ll. George hangs on the Australian attitude – how important he thinks it. Birdwood didn’t hesitate. He got me to sit down and write, to his dictation, a message to the men saying that he wanted them to vote by their consciences and not to influence them in any way. But he added that he probably knew better than they did, the need for reinforcements. He was sure they would not like to see any of the units, with all their traditions and history, broken up. There was a need for men. If the effort of Australia were relaxed now, all the brave lives sacrificed before would have been sacrificed in vain. The Govt has told them what exemptions were to be – they need not fear that the brother left at home to mind the business would be called to enlist; the men it would especially get were the shirkers who were at present filling all the nice fat billets which we wanted to see our men in on their return, or their relations at home.

The poll was to be tomorrow [Mo 16/10/16]. I urged that if possible this [Birdwood’s statement] ought to and could be wired tonight. But the A.I.F Headquarters said it couldn’t. I think it still could. However, Col. Wright said not. So B. asked if the poll could be put off a day or two. Wright, who is under Anderson (who is managing the business of getting the vote taken) said it could. So B. asked them to wire postponing it.

I don’t know one bit the effect of these steps. They are very risky I am sure. I should have tried every way I could to have got the wire across without postponing the poll, but I didn’t put my reasons strongly enough though B. could see that I wanted it.

There it is. I hope it does the business. For I am sure conscription is right.

Bean’s diary entry is striking at many levels. The tone is anecdotal and free-flowing. He places himself at the very centre of the action. He claims close familiarity with the leading political and military figures. He is a confidant and trusted messenger.

The actors seem caught up in the moment of a ‘good idea’ or a ‘desperate plea’ from Hughes and no one is prepared to step back and apply any sort of critical thinking. Bean talks about the unprecedented act of having a military commander intervene in an obviously political situation but there is no evidence of any deep reflection from anyone on just how significant the matter was. The narrative appears to be on the lines of a select group of powerful individuals determining, on the run, that despite the risks something had to be done.

Essentially, all the key characters involved were attempting to influence the soldiers’ vote – despite all the transparently false qualifications Birdwood included in his message –  and Birdwood, acting on Hughes’ request, was using his military status and reputation to intervene directly in a critically important political matter. Moreover, the delay to the voting schedule, so that Birdwood’s message would have the chance to influence the outcome, was obviously intended to manipulate the voting process.

Subsequent entries in Bean’s diary reveal that the political intervention did not achieve the desired outcome. In fact, it probably had the opposite effect. The following entry was dated 21/10/16, immediately after the troops had voted, and it points to an additional strategy which Hughes was keen to employ. Separate from the actual soldiers’ vote on the referendum, Hughes wanted a series of resolutions in favour of conscription passed by public meetings of the soldiers in France.  He intended to use such resolutions to promote the Yes vote back in Australia.

Murdoch tells me that Young (S.A.) O.C. Beale and another have gone across (at his request, by Haig’s leave) to address meetings upon conscription, amongst the men and see if they cannot send some resolution calling on the Australian people to send more men. If the resolution is in favour of conscription, it will be telegraphed to Australia; if against, it will perhaps be telegraphed to Hughes, but he will not publish it. I shall send the results of all these resolutions or none at all, to my papers. Hughes says that Sinn Feiners have sent agents to Australia and that the Irish and I.W.W are against him. I believe the women will carry him through.

Murdoch undoubtedly is a fine strong helper. …

Everybody here exercised [?] about the Referendum. Birdwood’s circular to the troops did little good – rather the reverse. Col. Anderson thinks Hughes is getting as nervous as can be about it. Anything favourable from here will be telegraphed out to give Australia a lead. Anything unfavourable will be suppressed. Sir Newton Moore did not issue Hughes memorandum to his troops at all. Anderson, who is his enemy, hints that this was because Moore would like to see Hughes and Labour out of office as a result of the loss of Referendum, in order that he (Moore) might get some job or position from the Liberal Govt that would follow. But this is absurd.

Anderson is a clever man but a jealous and ambitious one. He has saved a lot of money for Australia, but sometimes his motives are not purely public spirited.

The 2 men that Murdoch had sent to visit the troops in France in an attempt to secure the resolutions in favour of conscription were (Sir) Frederick William Young and Octavius Charles Beale. Young was the South Australian Agent General at the time. He was only 40 yo. Beale was a successful Australian business man living in London at the time. He was much older at 66 yo. Both men were staunch Imperialists. Young was knighted in January 1918 and he was even elected to the UK House of Commons. He effectively lived in England until his death. Beale returned to Australia after the War but he did achieve English honours, including being admitted as ‘freeman of the City of London’ (1918).  Beale was obsessed with the fear of ‘racial decay’.

Anderson, was Brigadier-General Robert Anderson who was Commandant, AIF Administrative Headquarters, London. He was credited with improving efficiencies in the AIF. He was also spoken of as a nationalist, in the sense that he stood up for the AIF’s interests vis a vis the British Army. (Sir) N J Moore was at the time Brigadier-General in charge of all the AIF depots and training centres in Britain. He had been Premier of Western Australia. He was also a very successful business man. Moore was yet another significant Imperialist. He was also elected to the UK House of Commons (1918-23).

Bean’s tone is again anecdotal and once again he places himself in the centre of the politics and intrigue. Once again, people’s motivations are represented as fairly pedestrian. Hughes clearly had no intention of allowing any negative news from the soldiers in France to make it back to Australia. If there was no support for conscription from the troops – either via the vote itself or the passing of various ‘resolutions’ in favour of conscription – then all the related news was to be withheld.

Obviously word was coming in by this point as to how the troops had voted and the intelligence was not encouraging. Bean believed that Birdwood’s message had backfired. A last minute attempt was required to get some sort of resolution in favour of conscription, from at least some of the troops. Hughes was desperate.

There is another diary entry for Sunday 22/10/16. In it, Bean talked about the last minute efforts to get support from key military leaders and the then urgent mission of Beale, Young and one additional, unnamed, agent.  Bean also revealed the apparent failure of the vote amongs the front-line troops.

In London. Lunched with Murdoch at The Times office. He has seen Joffre, Haig and Pollard and each of them has given him an interview. Haig would only make it a message, stating how much France and the allies needed the troops. Birdwood has promised to send a message on the military need for reinforcements. The vote in France has been taken and (up to the present count) the result is a ten per cent majority against conscription. They are accordingly sending to France O. C Beale, Young, and one other, to address public meetings in favour of  [conscription?].

The last diary entry was dated 25/10/16. In it Bean discloses the dismal failure of the efforts of Young to secure a resolution in support of conscription from the troops. Bean also defends his actions in pressing Birdwood to issue his message in support of conscription, but he clealry has reservations about the whole episode.

I can see (though he doesn’t say so) that White thinks I made a mess of my errand to Birdwood. He thinks I ought to have got a message to the people of Australia and not to the troops, and that the message to the troops may be interpreted as an attempt at exercising a dangerous influence and that the putting off of the voting for two days was a dangerous matter. Anderson told White he would not have let him [Birdwood] do it and perhaps I ought to have told him [Birdwood] plainly the dangers I saw in it. But there we are. As White says, I don’t know that Anderson would have found it so easy to stop him [Birdwood].

However, he really did nothing which was not perfectly defensible. He had a perfect right to tell the men his opinion on a point so important – and he had no control whatsoever over the voting. As a fact, I suspect he lost votes rather than gained them.

Bazley tells me that Young, Agent General for South Australia and a very able man, came over as arranged and asked the troops at a public meeting to send a resolution to Australia in favour of conscription. Haig had permitted the meeting provided there were no speeches, except Young’s, and no officers were present. Young put it to them that at present Australia stood first among the Dominions in the eyes of the British nation and that they would lose that regard if the country did not vote for compulsory service. The attitude of the men was quite clear. They said that they did not care whether Australia came first or last in the opinion of the British people. They wanted enough Australians left to maintain Australia’s present character after the war. They did not want so many Australians killed off that the population of immigrants flowing in, should alter the characteristics of the country. They could repopulate it by immigrants but they wanted it populated by Australians. They thought Australia had given enough to the war without forcing those who did not wish to come. They knew what it was like, now, and they were not going to ask others to come into it against their will. Young was going to wait till Sunday, but he went away on Saturday. The 23 and 21 Bns, which he saw, were almost unanimously against him.

They are funny beggars, but they have a lot of sense. It can’t be called a selfish attitude, anyway.

The 2 battalions that Young addressed – 21 and 23 Battalion – appear to have then been in their billets at Steenvorde. Both had recently been in the front lines. It is difficult to identify when Young spoke to the men but the most likely date was Friday 20/10/16. This was also the date that 21 Battalion voted in the referendum. The date for 23 Battalion’s vote is not given in the unit’s war diary but it must have been round the same time. The point is that Young was speaking to the men at the time that they were also voting – or had already voted – in the referendum. Consequently, the arguments they gave for not supporting any resolution that Young proposed were the same ones that shaped their vote. The arguments they gave, as represented by Bean, went to the core of Australia’s national, not imperial, identity. Australia had done enough. Young realised he had failed and went back early to Britain..

Historians generally argue that the overall success of the Yes vote in the AIF came not from those on the Western Front – their vote represented the clear rejection of conscription – but from those on the troopships, in the training camps in the UK  and serving in the Light Horse in Egypt.

The attitude and votes of the soldiers on the Western Front were effectively hidden. Back in Australia, as was evident in its publication in the local paper, Birdwood’s message to the troops continued to be used as a justification for conscription and, after the defeat of the referendum, Hughes was able to represent the vote of the AIF as being in favour of conscription. However, he was not able to use their vote, as he had intended, to influence the vote back in Australia.

Bean’s diary entries reveal Hughes’ determination to control, absolutely, the politics of the conscription vote. They also point to the human frailty, weakness and ordinariness of many of the key actors of the time who, coincidentally, exercised the power of life and death over their fellow countrymen. In Bean’s account, no one emerges with much integrity – or even intelligence – except for the troops themselves: the funny beggars in Bean’s words.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume XI – Australia During the War, 7th Edition 1941

Australian Dictionary of Biography

Bean’s diaries

There are digital versions of Bean’s diaries available from the Australian War Memorial website:

AWM 38: Official History, 1914-18 War: Records of CEW Bean, Official History

Item number 3DRL 606/61/1 – October 1916

Item number 3DRL 606/62/1 – October 1916

Item number 3 DRL 606/63/1 – October-November 1916

General histories

Beaumont, J 2013, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW. (see PP 243-244)

Connor, J, Stanley, P, Yule, p, 2015, The War At Home, Vol 4 The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne. (see p 113)

 

 

 

 

104. Hughes and Mannix, late 1916 – early 1917: the national and local scenes

Even though he had lost the support of his own party and his referendum on conscription was defeated, PM Hughes continued to drive the political landscape in the 6 months from the end of October 1916 through to the overwhelming success of the Nationalists at the federal election in May 1917. By the end of this period, Hughes had re-established himself as, apparently, the only one who could provide the necessary war-time leadership. He had triumphed, while the ALP itself had been broken and defeated.

Over the same period, Archbishop Mannix emerged as the most high-profile, outspoken critic of the War. He became the focus of Hughes’ anger and frustration. Hughes and his supporters saw Mannix as undermining the War effort. And Mannix’s politics and status raised the fundamental issue of where the Catholic Church stood.

As well as playing out at the national level, the same tension and conflict began to emerge at the local level in the Shire of Alberton.

The national scene

The formal end to the ongoing division within the ALP over the conscription referendum and Hughes’ leadership came on 14/11/16 when Hughes broke away, dramatically, with 23 of the 64 members of the federal caucus. The breakaway group took for itself the name ‘National Labor Party’.

Hughes managed to retain his position as PM when, with support from the Liberals, he survived a no confidence motion in the House of Representatives on 29/11/16. Over the next 2 months he was able to establish the new National Party, as an alliance between his National Labor Party and the Liberals, under Cook. Even though his numbers were smaller, Hughes remained as PM in the new party and he even managed, against much opposition, to retain Pearce as his Defence Minister.

In March 1917, Hughes was forced to a federal election. His National Party won the election (5/5/17) with majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Clearly, Hughes was the driving force in Australian politics. His success at the time was in large part due to the image he had established of himself as the ‘natural’ war-time leader. In 1916 in the UK he had been feted in the press – both in the UK and back in Australia – as a no-nonsense, tireless, inspirational and decisive leader. He was closely identified with the AIF. He was an Imperialist of the highest order. He was also a survivor of consummate political skill and he promised a safe pair of political hands. His political messages were simple and consistent.

Hughes also retained the powerful support and backing of the media, business and the Protestant churches which he had enjoyed in the conscription referendum. Hughes and his backers found it relatively easy to portray the old ALP – the ‘Official’ ALP – as confused and contradictory in both its commitment and policies to pursue the War. It was also portrayed as ‘unrepresentative’ and driven by the industrial rather than than the parliamentary wing. It was claimed to be more interested in pursuing and destroying Hughes and settling factional disputes than it was in forming a national unity government. It was said to have become more ‘radical’ and ‘socialist’ than the original ALP and it was unduly influenced by ‘outsiders’, even Americans. Against the apparently enormous political risk the Official ALP presented, Hughes and the Nationalists promised a unity government that had risen above party politics and was committed to the single-minded  pursuit of victory. Hughes also pledged to honour the results of the referendum; but he also made it clear that he had not given up on the idea of conscription. The deal he made with the electorate was that it would never be introduced without a (successful) referendum.

In the reductionist politics of the time, with Hughes presented as the single person who best represented Australia’ s commitment to the Empire and the War, the arch-villain of the popular press had firmed as Archbishop Mannix.

With Mannix, the critical episode appeared to be the report of his speech at the opening of a Catholic school at Brunswick on 28 January 1917. The speech was reported the next day in The Age (29/1/17 p 7) under headline: Cause Of The War. Archbishop’s Remarkable Utterance. ‘An Ordinary, Sordid Trade War’. As reported, Mannix’s assessment of the War’s cause was bound to stir outrage:

They had heard much during the progress of the war of how the war came about and how they were fighting for the rights of little nations. They could believe as much of this as they liked, but as a matter of fact this was a trade war – simply an ordinary, sordid trade war.

The response was both predictable and immediate. The papers were full of denunciations and demands for Mannix’s prosecution under the War Precautions Act. And it was not just Imperialists and Protestants. Many of the letters to the editor attacking his claim was signed by the likes of  ‘Loyal Catholic’ or ‘Irish Catholic’ or ‘Australian Native’ or ‘Catholic Loyalty’. Similarly, individual members of Catholic associations denounced his views as unrepresentative of Catholic views and sentiment.

Not surprisingly, Mannix was damned even more when his position was supported by the Socialists. The Argus (1/2/17 p 9) reported, under the headline Archbishop Mannix. Socialists Approve:

At a meeting of the Socialist party held last night, the following resolution was moved by Miss Adele Pankhurst (organiser), seconded by Mr. R. S. Ross (secretary), and carried unanimously: –
“That this meeting of the Socialist party of Victoria expresses its warm admiration of Archbishop Mannix for his recent bold and clarifying utterances on the nature of the terrible European war, and deems it its duty to put on record its appreciation of Dr. Mannix’s splendid courage especially on account of the malicious abuse and misrepresentation to which he has been subjected…. “

At the time Mannix’s claim was clearly incendiary. It stripped bare the dominant narrative of the War. His simple phrase of ‘sordid trade war’ denied the official narrative of the War as the monumental and defining conflict between democracy and civilised society on one hand and German militarism and barbarity on the other. The comment undercut the high ideals of ‘supreme sacrifice’, ‘Christian love and duty’, ‘liberty and justice’ and ‘Imperial loyalty and patriotism’. Mannix had definitely crossed a line; and his opponents demanded that the Government prosecute him. Mannix at this point was still only the Co-adjutor Bishop of Melbourne – he did not become Archbishop of Melbourne till Carr’s death in May 1917 – and he had only been in Australia for 4 years. However, as far as Hughes was concerned, Mannix’s role in the referendum had been the deciding factor that led to the success of the No vote. Now, not only was Mannix anti-conscription, he was also challenging the very nature of the Empire’s struggle against Germany.

Hughes himself addressed Mannix’s claim a few days later in an address at Ballarat East. It was reported in The Age (31/1/17 p7). Remarkably, as reported, Hughes’ claims actually appear to support Mannix’s observation on trade as the root cause of the War.

People had been told the other day that the war was a trade war, a mere sordid struggle for self, but the causes of this war were not to be sought in the effort to obtain trade. Germany had already secured trade during times of peace to an extent that her claws were in our very vitals. Had Germany’s competition continued in peace for another ten years Germany would have got the kernel of the world’s trade, leaving us and others the shrivelled husk. Germany had fought the American millionaire in trade on his own dunghill and beaten him. Australian trade and commerce before the war was finding its way by devious channels into the maw of Germany. This was not a trade war. It was a war that sprang out of Germany’s lust of world empire.

In the same speech, Hughes also decried the news reports from Germany that represented the defeat of conscription as proof that Australians were ‘against the war’ or at the least ‘war weary’. He urged the people there to show that, even though the referendum had been lost, they still supported ‘the continuation of the war’ and they were prepared to ‘lay aside party feeling, and fight as a united nation’.

As far as Hughes was concerned, the War was now to be waged not just against Germany but also, at home, against public indifference, political infighting and the deliberate sabotage of the likes of Mannix.

The local scene

The sense of disappointment in the Shire of Alberton following the referendum defeat has been covered in Post 93. The common belief was that patriotic and loyal regions such as Gippsland had been betrayed by the voters in Melbourne. There was also a sense of disillusion which translated to a withdrawal of support. For example, by  the end of December 1916 the local recruiting committee had disbanded. Correspondence from the Shire Secretary ( G W Black) dated 5/12/16 noted that while he was still prepared to assist with recruiting on a personal basis, the local recruiting committee itself ‘has ceased to exist’. On 18/12/16, the Shire President (Charles Nightingale) called a public meeting to set up a replacement recruiting committee but, as reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative ( 20/12/16), There were not half-a-dozen present, and the meeting had to be abandoned.  The paper also reported (15/12/16) the views of Cr Barlow – a prominent member of the previous recruiting committee – expressed at the December council meeting. Barlow believed that … the men whom the country could ill-afford to lose would join the colors now, while the shirkers and cold-footers would still remain behind, as nothing had been done to make them go.  He stated that while he was still prepared to help, he … would not take the same interest in recruiting as before. The local recruiting committee would eventually be re-established in late April 1917; but in the immediate aftermath of the referendum defeat there was considerable anger, and support for conscription remained as strong as ever in the Shire.

As indicated in earlier posts – see for example Post 91 –  there was not even any organised support for the No vote in the Shire of Alberton in the first conscription referendum. Also, while there were significant differences over religious belief and, importantly, schooling, and also obvious tension over Ireland, Catholic loyalty and support for the War had not been questioned.  Fr Sterling, the local parish priest had only recently (October 1916) joined the AIF as Captain Chaplain.

The St Patrick’s Sports offered further proof of Catholic loyalty. As has been mentioned previously, local sports competitions were very important in the local community. Such sports competitions – involving athletics, wood chopping, bike races, horse competitions, novelty events  …. – were held annually at locations including Yarram, Carrajung, Won Wron, Madalya, Fairview (Hiawatha), West Alberton and Goodwood. Of all of them, the most important was the St Patrick’s Sports at Yarram, held round the time of the feast day. It was a major Shire event and while it was run by the Catholic parish it was so large that its organizing committee and the judges and officials were drawn from a much wider circle than just the local Catholic community.

The sports carnivals were also important local fund raisers. Typically, the smaller ones at places like Madalya would return approximately £20, while the St Patrick’s carnival at Yarram would bring in £100. In 1914, St Patrick’s raised £94 for the Catholic parish and in 1915 the amount was £100. Then, as explained in Post 84 , in 1916 the Catholic parish donated the funds raised to 2 charities – the Victorian Sick and Wounded Soldiers’ Fund and the Red Cross – related to the War. The amount raised and donated (approximately £700) was very significant and, in fact, would have represented the largest donation raised at a single event in the Shire over the course of the War. It was yet further evidence that the local Catholic community was behind the War effort.

At the same time, the 1916 arrangement was intended as a one-off, and in 1917 the profits from the St Patrick’s Sports were directed once again back to the Catholic parish. Approximately £200 was raised, and the money went to pay off the debt associated with the construction of the new St Mary’s church.

Against this background, the following letter which appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 19/1/17 is not as innocent as its author implies. It came immediately prior to the first meeting of the organising committee for the 1917 St Patrick’s Sports. It was written by Rev Francis Tamagno, the local Presbyterian minister.

Through the co-operation of many agencies last St. Patrick’s day a handsome sum was raised for the Red Cross and the Australian Soldiers’ Fund. I hope that somebody at the meeting next Monday night  will suggest that the money raised this year by St. Patrick’s sports be given to the Belgian Fund. Belgium has given many lives for Australians and her sacrifice demands and requires our sincerest sympathy. Belgium is pronouncedly a Catholic country.

While local Catholics would have found the letter patronising and the accusations thinly-veiled, others in the community would have agreed with its sentiment: now was not the time for Catholics, of all people, to be raising money from the local community for their own sectional interests.

The claim that local Catholics had a particular responsibility to Catholic Belgium was a common theme. An editorial in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 30/3/17 focused on a pastoral letter to the Belgians written by Cardinal Mercier. Mercier was an outspoken critic of the Germans, many of his priests had been killed and he himself had been imprisoned. The theme of the pastoral letter covered the need to speak the truth about the evil of the German occupation. It began:

The truth must be above all, for sincerity is the most essential of all duties. We cannot without cowardice allow untruth to run unencountered. We have protested against violence….

and it ended:

We have made our voice heard for the safeguarding of the liberty of home and labor, demanded the respect due to the dignity of man; and you have stood faithful by our side. We bless God for having made you understand your duty so well. It is nothing less than the fulfilling of the fundamental law of Christianity.

At this point, Rossiter, as editor, added:

Australian Catholics with others of military age will fulfill that law by enlisting.

Again, the local Catholic community was being singled out and, effectively, preached at. Also, the focus on German ruthlessness and atrocities undercut Mannix’s apparently simplistic assertions about a ‘sordid trade war’.

While the 2 examples raised here appear low level, it is the very deliberate way that they have been fed into community discourse that is telling.

By the end of the period under review (May 1917), the antagonism towards and suspicion of Catholics had become far more apparent for the local community.

Reporting on Anzac Day commemorations at Port Albert, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (27/4/17) stated that Rev Tamagno praised Hughes and the ‘Nationalists’ for their non-partisan approach to the urgent challenges facing the nation, and publicly denounced Mannix as a ‘missioner of mischieviousness since he has come to our land.’ Rev Walklate attacked the backers of the No vote for not supporting the soldiers and praised the Anzacs as ‘descended form British stock.’ Both clergymen attacked those who refused to enlist. They wanted them shamed and punished. It was as if the conscription campaign was still running.

A week earlier, GH Wise, local member of the federal parliament, had addressed a packed meeting at Yarram. There was a very detailed report in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 20/4/17. Wise was an outspoken supporter of Hughes. According to Wise, Hughes had proved himself in the UK in 1916 when he had been … ‘admitted to the secret counsels of the Empire’. Hughes had returned aware that conscription was required to maintain the AIF in France but he had been blocked by the ALP platform. After the defeat of the referendum Hughes had risen above the party politics of the day and created a genuine National Government. And it was only the National Government led by Hughes that could win the War.

Mannix is not mentioned in Wise’s panegyric of Hughes but it is very evident that Wise promotes the War as a moral struggle of the highest order. It was certainly not some ‘sordid trade war’. He gave a striking – even bizarre – anecdote to establish German evil:

They had read recently of the trial of an outraged French girl for the murder of her child. She did not speak till the trial, when she said she strangled her child because its father was a German, and she was acquitted. Could anyone who had any thought for the women and children and for the aged, not realise the horrors of a German invasion without resolving to do all in his power to keep the war 12,000 miles from Australia? Did they not realise that it was time to throw party politics aside, and make a united effort to win the war in the name of civilization. (Applause.)

Mannix had been mentioned in another report that appeared 2 days earlier in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (18/4/17). It was headed Dr. Mannix and the War. and it detailed a Presbyterian meeting at Bendigo on 10/4/17 by Rev F A Hagenauer. The meeting passed, unanimously, a motion … the effect of which was that the Presbytery of Bendigo, believing that the whole energy of the nation ought to be directed towards winning the war, was of the opinion that Dr. Mannix should be prosecuted for his recent statements. [sordid trade war].

However, the focus was broadening beyond Mannix, for the same meeting explicitly called into question the loyalty of Catholics generally. Hagenauer noted that it had become … necessary to discuss the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church. He presented 2 scenarios: the Catholic Church agreed with Mannix … or might disagree, but be impotent to silence him. Even though he acknowledged that many individual Catholics had criticised Mannix, Hagenauer was inclined to believe that Mannix’s views were supported by the Church:

What evidence was there that the church as a whole agreed? There was the silence which representative Catholic bodies and societies had maintained and the approving receptions given to Dr. Mannix.

He added that Mannix … claimed that he spoke expressing the views of the Catholic Church, and was applauded.

For good measure, he also refererenced the ‘official’ view that … the Irish vote killed conscription in Australia.

The threat that the Catholic Church now posed to the successful pursuit of the War was being made very public in the local press:

If the Catholic Church did agree with Dr. Mannix, it was a menace to our liberties, second only to the menace of German militarism. If it disagreed with him but was impotent to silence him, the position was almost as serious, for the influence of the Roman Catholic clergy upon the laity was admittedly great.

By the end of April 1917, local Catholics in the Shire of Alberton were reading in their local press that their Church was being charged with disloyalty. Increasingly, they were being forced to choose between the 2 extremely polarising figures of Mannix and Hughes. The ambiguity and respected – and respectful – differences that had characterised past community relations were under extreme pressure. This was the local community that Fr Sterling returned to on 17/4/17 when his appointment as Captain Chaplain in the AIF finished.

References

The Age

The Argus

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Archives, Shire of Alberton
(viewed 2014)

The activities of the 1916 Yarram Recruiting Committee came from:
Shire of Alberton
Archive One
File Number 703B
“Recruiting & Enlisted men”
Bundle headed “Defence Department, Enlisting Recruits 1914-15-16”

For a detailed account and assessment of Mannix’s speech at Brunswick see: Brunswick Coburg Anti-Conscription Centenary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

91. Conscription Referendum 1916: the (public) No vote

On the strength of the meeting held for the No vote at Yarram on 12/10/16, there was little evidence of any public support for the anti-conscription case in the Shire of Alberton. This was in sharp contrast to the high level of support for conscription evident in the very public, organised and ongoing campaign for the Yes vote, as detailed in earlier posts.

The meeting on 12/10/16 was written up, in great detail, in both the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (18/10/16) and the South Gippsland Chronicle (18/10/16). The sole speaker for the No case that night was Senator Blakey, one of the Victorian team of ALP senators. Blakey was on a tour of Gippsland and he knew that he was in for a tough time. He had tried to speak at a similar public meeting at Leongatha 2 days earlier (10/10/16) but, according to the report in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 13/10/16, he had not even managed to make himself heard:

The largest public meeting ever held at Leongatha took place last Tuesday night. Senator Blakey attempted to deliver an address against conscription, but he was hooted, and as soon as he rose to speak the audience stood up and sang the National Anthem. As Senator Blakey tried to make himself heard a cabbage thrown at his head inflicted a cut in his forehead. … He was on the platform for about an hour and a half, but he was not allowed to give expression to his views.

Two days later at Yarram things were only marginally better. While nothing was thrown at him and he did manage to deliver his speech – albeit with a barrage of interruptions – the reports make it clear that the very rowdy and antagonistic audience was not on his side. The meeting started on a negative note when Cr Buckley, introducing Senator Blakey, made the point that while he was prepared to introduce Senator Buckley as a guest speaker he wanted to  make it clear to everyone in the audience that he personally intended to vote Yes. The clear message was that the Shire council was decent enough to support Blakey’s right to speak but they certainly did not support his position.

Not surprisingly, Senator Blakey’s opening remarks were a plea for a fair hearing. He hoped that there would be no … repetition of of the drunken orgy at Leongatha …  because the … matter was too great to treat in a spirit of levity and hoodlumism. But the interruptions were constant. Blakey struggled to get his argument across in any coherent, planned way. Finally, at the end of the meeting, in an obvious attempt to hijack proceedings and make Blakey look foolish, the following resolution was put:

That, in view of the voluntary recruiting not being sufficient to meet the requirements of our army and reinforcement of men at the front, this meeting pledges itself to vote “Yes” at the coming referendum.

The resolution was seconded and put, but the vote in the end was indecisive, with only a handful voting either way. The newspaper report suggested people were either confused or annoyed that the motion had been put. Even the avowedly pro-conscription Rev Walklate … protested against a speech advocating “Yes” being made at a meeting in a hall paid for by those advocating “No”. Such niceties aside, it was abundantly clear that the meeting would never have been able to pass any resolution in favour of the No vote. Further, the reports make it clear that Senator Blakey was by himself. There were no references to other individuals or groups supporting him, either on the stage or in the audience; and most of those who asked questions at the meeting – Rev Tamagno, Rev Walklate, R E H Newberry, J Bett, F C Grano – have already been identified in earlier posts as backing conscription. Blakey would have cut a lonely figure. As a formal attempt to galvanise the No vote in the local community the public meeting was a complete failure.

There are no references in either of the local papers to any other meetings for the No vote held in either Yarram or the shire as a whole. Similarly, there are no references over the period August to October 1916 to the formation of a committee to promote the No vote. Nor is there even reference to specific individuals in the local community advocating the No vote. In short, there is no evidence that there was an organised, public – or even visible – No vote campaign in the Shire of Alberton for the 1916 referendum.

It is also worth looking briefly at the arguments presented at the meeting, both by Blakey himself and his opponents. Blakey argued that conscription per se was morally indefensible. He claimed that Hughes himself had gone back on his word, given in 1915, to not introduce conscription. He held that Australia had done its ‘fair share’ and that the cost of introducing conscription and committing to an even greater sacrifice was beyond the nation’s capacity. He criticised the metropolitan papers – the The Age and The Argus – as shamelessly biased.  He raised the fear that even married men would be conscripted, and there was the usual aside on the fear of cheap ‘yellow’ labour. There were also claims that Hughes was using the censorship laws to stifle the No campaign. For those opposed to Blakey, the major issue was that the AIF had to be reinforced and supported – it was the clearest example of national duty – and conscription was the only way this end could be achieved.

Importantly, none of these arguments were tied specifically to the Shire of Alberton. Blakey could just as well have been addressing an audience In Melbourne. There was no local dimension to the debate.  Nor was the audience divided on any ‘partisan’ basis. Most significantly, there was no mention of any organised Catholic presence at the meeting. In fact, there is no reference to Catholics at all in the extensive reporting of the meeting.

Interestingly, in his history of the Shire, Adams (1990 p186) presumes that the Catholics in the community did represent a bloc opposed to conscription.

Conscription became an important issue late in 1916 and a committee was formed in Yarram with B.P. Johnson as President to forward the movement. When the conscription referendum was held in November [sic] 1916, Yarram voted 1144 to 573. There was a strong Catholic “no” vote reflected in this result.

[Adams’ figures give the Yes vote 67% and the No 33%.]

However this argument appears too simplistic. Certainly for the 1916 referendum, there is no evidence of a Catholic bloc opposed to conscription; and it is too easy to assume that Catholics were the ones who voted against conscription.

The Catholic question was complex. We have already seen that the Catholics enlisted in numbers that generally matched their place in the Shire’s demographics. The argument of the pro-conscriptionists that the men at the front could not be abandoned – this appeared to be the strongest argument in the community – would have been as appealing to the Catholic families of men who had enlisted as any other group. Moroever, the most recent high-profile Catholic enlistment at the time was Fr Sterling, the parish priest, who had enlisted as recently as 21/10/16 as a Captain Chaplain. His enlistment would have been seen as a very public demonstration of loyalty and duty.

There is no evidence that the local Catholic community campaigned against the 1916 conscription referendum. Moreover, previous posts have shown that the local Catholics had actively supported the War effort over the preceding 2 years. It is also relevant, closer to the 1916 referendum, that the assistant priest – Fr W H O’Connor – who arrived in June 1916 to support Fr Sterling, was keen to lend his voice to support for the War effort. In fact, unlike Fr Sterling, Fr O’Connor was even prepared to speak on the same platform as some of the most outspoken patriots – and also pro-conscriptionists – in the community. For example, as reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 9/8/16 Fr O’Connor was one of the key speakers at a public meeting to celebrate the second anniversary of the War. The others on the platform with him were the Shire President, Cr Bland, B P Johnson, Rev Tamagno and the Federal MHR, G Wise. Fr O’Connor spoke at length in favour of the Allied efforts and against German tyranny. He spoke about the local men who had … made the sacrifice and who died nobly and well and who … had offered up their lives for the cause. And he made it clear that in his previous parishes he had called on members of his faith to enlist:

In other parts it was my lot to encourage men to enlist, and [ I ] need only to tell them of their duty and they would go forth and do it. The young men from this district have done likewise and responded to the “Coo-ee” call for assistance.

At the same time, Catholic support for the War was not as unqualified as that of the local Protestants. Bishop Phelan’s position, for example, that the Catholic Church was ‘neutral’ on the matter of conscription, and his significant qualification that the individual citizen’s vote should be shaped by an informed conscience, was at great odds with the very public and uncritical support for conscription from the Protestant churches. Moreover, previous posts have pointed out how fundamental differences in areas such as schooling encouraged sectarianism in the community over the War years. Additionally, events in Ireland post Easter 1916 definitely saw many Irish Catholics question the Australian Government’s total support for the Empire. They also, inevitably, chose to see the AIF not as a component of the British (Empire) Army but as as a distinctive, independent and truly nationalist Australian force, which meant it was possible to support the AIF – and to a lesser extent continue to justify the War – and be anti-Imperialist. But none of these important shifts were on public view in the Shire of Alberton in the lead up to the 1916 referendum.

Overall, there is no hard evidence that for the 1916 referendum, in the Shire of Alberton, there was an organised, public campaign amongst the local Catholics for the No vote. It is possible that Catholics followed Bishop Phelan’s advice and voted according to their conscience. But if they did so it was a private choice made via secret ballot. In any case, given the appeal of the dominant political argument of the day, it makes more sense to believe that the Catholic families would vote Yes, to support the reinforcement of their men at the front.

While it is not possible to identify a Catholic bloc publicly supporting the No vote, there was even less chance that there was an organised and visible bloc of ‘industrialists’, radical unionists, IWW agitators or even just ALP supporters campaigning for the No vote. Most of the rural workers had enlisted and, in any case, there had never been an organised labour movement in the Shire. Individual ALP voters might have opposed conscription and voted No, but, again, it was via secret ballot. It was a politically conservative community. The local papers were full of anti-union stories. They reported how the ‘machine’ of the industrial wing of the ALP was undermining PM Hughes’ authority and destroying the party itself. There were regular stories of how unions generally were undermining the War effort. Unionists were described as ‘traitors’ and ‘shirkers’. But all this was happening in Melbourne and the other capital cities.

Overall, there is no evidence that there was a public, anti-conscription campaign in the Shire of Alberton in the lead up to the 1916 referendum. Instead, we need to look at the reality of the private No vote in the Shire. On Adams’ figures above, it was one-third of the voters. In a community where there was no public campaign for the No vote and, instead, apparently overwhelming support for the Yes side, it was a significant private vote.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

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

 

 

88. Conscription Referendum 1916: the Yes vote

The next few posts will look at the first referendum on conscription held on 28 October 1916. This first post looks at the key groups and institutions in the Shire of Alberton that backed the Yes vote in the referendum. It will be followed by an examination of the key individuals in the local community who backed conscription. There will also be a separate post to look at the far smaller and less organised group of public backers for the No vote. That post will also look at the significance of the private, if not secret, No vote in the local community.

Previous posts have made it clear that in the Shire of Alberton there was widespread support for the introduction of conscription well before Hughes announced the referendum at the end of August (30/8/16). Post 87 showed that in early 1916 the Local Recruiting Committee came to the unanimous position that conscription was necessary. This was evident in the forceful letter that B P Johnson wrote to the Sate Parliamentary Recruiting Committee in late April, 1916. This declaration of support for conscription was doubly significant because the Local Recruiting Committee had been set up as a responsibility of the local council – the chair was the Shire President, its secretary was the Shire Secretary and several local councillors served on it – which meant in effect that the Shire of Alberton itself was seen as pro conscription. As well, Post 85 showed that the local citizens speaking at farewells and welcomes in the district – again, this included local councillors – had been advocating conscription from very early 1916. As argued, the speakers believed that the voluntary system had served its time and that only conscription could deliver the number of recruits required. They were convinced that conscription was ‘fairer’ and more ‘scientific’. It was over the same period, that the Shire of Alberton, along with most other local councils and municipalities in Victoria, supported the resolution of the Warragul Council in favour of conscription (March 1916).

Another key local body which also offered early support for conscription was the Australian Natives’ Association. In May 1916, the local ANA branch at Yarram supported the petition organised – in haste – by the Universal Service League, the key national pro-conscription body which itself had been formed as early as the second half of 1915.

Overall, in the first half of 1916, when Hughes had been in England – and, in theory at least, the issue of conscription was off the political agenda – key groups in the local community were already calling for the introduction of conscription and at every opportunity presented conscription as inevitable. Even at that early point, there was discussion on how Hughes would be able to introduce conscription, given the level of opposition in the Senate.

Once Hughes returned to Australia and publicly committed to conscription at the end of August 1916, local citizens and groups in the Shire of Alberton began to organise to support the Yes vote. As a brief indication of the strength of forces that the Yes vote was able to enlist, the following groups, as a minimum, can be identified as backing the introduction of conscription: the 2 local papers – The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, the South Gippsland Chronicle – the Shire of Alberton council, the local recruiting committee, the local branch of the ANA, and the clergy of the local Methodist, Church of England and Presbyterian congregations.

Despite the apparently overwhelming support for the Yes vote, it proved difficult to marshall people’s enthusiasm and support. This problem had been highlighted before. For example, there had been constant criticism in the local press at the small numbers of Yarram townsfolk who attended farewells and welcomes. The regular complaint was that for all their claimed declarations of patriotism, people were not prepared to put themselves out, and all the effort was left to just a handful of true patriots.

The first request to set up a local branch of the Universal Service League – the key, national pro conscription body – came in July 1916. B P Johnson was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (26/7/16) as having been requested by the organising secretary of the Universal Service League to set up a branch in Yarram.  There was also a brief rationale:

The league aims at conscription, because it is fairer to all, and because under the voluntary system we can neither support our men at the front, nor make the tremendous effort necessary in order to secure Australia from the menace of German domination.

However, nothing appeared to come from this early contact because 2 months later the paper reported (22/9/16) that at another public meeting Johnson had again raised the request that a branch of the Universal Service League be set up in Yarram. The matter was by then urgent so it was resolved to hold a public meeting on 25/9/16; but the report in the paper (27/9/16) of the meeting held highlighted, yet again, the lack of support from the townsfolk:

There was a disappointingly small attendance at the shire hall on Monday night

Johnson, who had … expected the hall to be packed and who feared that … some people’s patriotism was at a low ebb, pointed out that the plan was to launch the national campaign for conscription on October 1. Given the urgency, it was decided to adjourn the meeting and call yet another public meeting the very next night, but this time, in the hope of building numbers, it was to run after a scheduled ANA branch meeting.

At the meeting … there were a few more present than at the adjourned meeting. This time a committee was finally formed. However, the committee that was formed did not describe itself as a branch of the Universal Service League. Rather, from that point on, it was generally described as the local Referendum Campaign Committee.

In the month that was then left before the referendum, the committee managed to stage one large public meeting in Yarram and at least one meeting in one of the other towns (Goodwood) of the Shire. There were reports of meetings scheduled for Woodside (16/10/16) and Carrajung (24/10/16) but it is unclear if they went ahead. The meeting in Yarram was held on 10/10/16 and the guest speaker was Sir William Irvine, former premier of Victoria. The meeting was chaired by B P Johnson. It was written up, in detail, in both local papers:  Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (11/10/16) and the South Gippsland Chronicle ( 13/10/16). The meeting at Goodwood was held on 11/10/16 and the speakers that night were: Cr Barlow, Cr O’Connor, Rev Walklate and J S Graham. This meeting was also written up in the local papers.

The arguments for conscription presented at the meetings had certainly been well rehearsed. Irvine laboured what he saw as the direct threat Germany posed to Australia. He also claimed that those who had already enlisted had done so in the belief that they would be supported with reinforcements. He insisted that Australians had to honour the promise. Other speakers took up the theme of sacrifice and challenged those who claimed that Australia had already done enough to consider the sacrifices being made by people in the United Kingdom. Rev Walklate, talking about the true level of sacrifice required, sought to reassure the audience at Goodwood that even a high death rate amongst the AIF  could be absorbed. The sacrifice could be borne.

… according to statistics over 50 per cent of the males in this country were under 21, and even allowing for those who would be unfortunate enough to lose their lives, that would be sufficient to breed the proper race of people.

Another common argument was that Australia already had conscription – from 1911 – and the referendum was merely intended to extend the scope of where Australian soldiers could be deployed to protect the national interest. There were also all the accusations against the backers of the No vote. They were represented as German sympathisers or extreme, militant trade unionists who threatened not just the War effort but the state itself. And there were those who were just ‘cowards’ and ‘shirkers’. In the end after much applause, the following resolution was passed unanimously at the Yarram meeting:

“That this meeting of the citizens of Yarram and district pledges its support to the Government in this national crisis to secure an overwhelming majority for “Yes” in the coming referendum.” (Applause.)

Essentially there were no new arguments for conscription being presented. The same arguments had been made for a year at all local farewells and welcomes, and in countless newspaper reports, in both metropolitan and local newspapers. At the same time, the public meetings in October were important because they gave the local community the chance to identify with the cause. Local people in Yarram and across the Shire would definitely have known that, at least publicly, there was strong support for conscription. As will be shown, there was no equivalent level of public support for the No vote.

Support for conscription from the local Protestant churches was strong. The declarations of support were also written up extensively in the local papers. In its edition of 25/10/16, the South Gippsland Chronicle reported that At the Church of England and Methodist Church on Sunday last [22/10/16], strong appeals were made to the congregations to vote “Yes” in the coming referendum. It also reported that at Presbyterian services in the district a letter from the Public Questions Committee of the Church was read out. The letter clearly stated that the Government should be given the power to conscript:

To give the Government this power seems to the Public Questions Committee of our Assembly to be supremely just and necessary in this present life and death struggle, and to be a duty we are bound to face.

As will become apparent in the next post, the question of support from the the local Catholic Church was less clear cut. Bishop Phelan’s position was one of neutrality. Accordingly, he directed that public meetings, either for or against conscription, could not be advertised from the pulpit. In its edition of 20/10/16 the South Gippsland Chronicle reported Phelan’s position:

To my own flock, Catholics of Gippsland, I say the church holds no brief for any secular power, nor does she utter an authoritative voice on the question to be decided by the adults of Australia on the 28th. You are free, then, to vote as individuals, according to the dictates of your conscience. But in exercising that freedom, which the church in no way hampers, ask your conscience how far you are justified in despoiling another of that gift, the gift of human liberty, which you so highly prize.

The qualification in the last sentence introduced the difference between a free vote and one based on conscience. For Phelan, Yes was neither simple nor given; and to the local community of the time, it would have been clear that, unlike the Protestant Churches, the Catholic Church was not publicly declaring itself in favour of conscription.

Local Protestant clergy sought to counter this concern over conscience and human liberty. For example, a sermon by Rev Walklate (Methodist) had been reported at length in the South Gippsland Chronicle on 11/10/16.  Walklate tackled the question directly, … have we the moral right to compel men against their will to risk their lives in human slaughter? He concluded that conscription was morally just. However, his argument relied exclusively on religious – not moral – belief and, specifically, belief in the joy and reward of an after-life:

The sending of men to the front under such circumstances was desirable, even if it meant death, for such was the entrance into life under the principle laid down by our Lord, and to give up this life in the service of humanity was to enter into the widest service.

The role of the local press in supporting the Yes vote was critical. The most significant form of this support came from the extensive reporting of the activities of all those institutions, groups and individuals in the local community who were actively promoting conscription. Moreover, the readers would have seen the support for conscription as flowing seamlessly from the local papers’ earlier support for recruitment and the War effort in general. Conscription was presented as the next natural and inevitable step.

The local papers also made it clear that their editorial position was to support the Yes vote. For example, in the months leading to the referendum the South Gippsland Chronicle included extensive editorial commentary on the forces that were attempting to thwart PM Hughes. It wrote (8/9/16) of labor organisations that had been captured by shirkers, extremsists in the ALP who sympathised with the Hun and anti-conscriptionists who had captured Labor’s party machine.

Immediately prior to the referendum, both papers featured editorials and other material to support the Yes vote. On 27/10/16, the South Gippsland Chronicle under the heading Vote “Yes” for Australia featured a list of direct reasons why people had to vote yes, including the following:

Are you going to scab on the Anzacs?
How would the Kaiser vote on 28th October?
A win for “No” on 28th October would be very popular in Berlin.
Don’t forget that the men fighting in Europe are defending Australia.
A vote unrecorded is a vote given to Germany.
Australia is proud of its roll of honor. We want no roll of dishonor on referendum.

The same article also proudly proclaimed that 75% of the district would vote Yes.

For its part, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on the same day (27/10/16), in addition to all the vote Yes material from Hughes and other national bodies, featured the following poem by a local, Thomas Hurley of Woodside. The poem was entitled Awaiting An Answer and it appeared under the headline: Australia Will Be There.  Referendum Tomorrow: Vote “Yes”

Britannia asks her daughter dear
A question fair and square
The way is long, the task is hard,
Say, will you do your share?

Thy sons are brave, their arms are strong
With thoughts to do and dare.
Say, will you fill their tottering ranks,
Or leave them to despair?

And shall Australia’s answer be –
“I think I’ve done my share,
let black or yellow fight for me,
I really do not care.

“Of fighting I have had enough,
In fact I’ve had a scare;
So Mother, dear, fight on alone –
Australia won’t be there!

There is no doubt that there was widespread public support in October 1916 for the Yes vote in the Shire of Alberton. Such support completely eclipsed the level of public support for the No vote. Conscription was presented as the next necessary and natural step in the successful pursuit of the War effort. The referendum itself did not come as a surprise and the arguments in favour of the Yes vote had been rehearsed, extensively, for at least one year prior to the vote. The success of the Yes vote was never questioned. The only issue was how overwhelming the Yes vote victory would be.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

 

87. Yarram Recruiting Committee, 1916: ‘dead to all sense of patriotism or shame’

This post continues the work of 2 earlier posts. The first, Post 64: Monster (recruiting) Meeting at Yarram, July 1915 covered the work of the Yarram Recruiting Committee in 1915 and the second, Post 65: Yarram Recruiting Committee, 1915 looked at the composition of the committee.

Both the work and direction of the Yarram Recruiting Committee in 1916 were set largely by 2 initiatives of the Commonwealth Government in 1915. In July 1915, the Commonwealth Government passed legislation for a War Census. Then in late December 1915, the Commonwealth, under the banner of  The Call to Arms, issued to every eligible male a direct request to enlist in the AIF.

The First Schedule of the War Census Act 1915, had to be completed by all Males aged 18 and under 60. The questions in the schedule tested the respondent’s eligibility to serve in the AIF:  his age, marital status, number of dependents, health, nationality, previous military training and, if born in a ‘foreign country’, the status of his ‘naturalization’ . The schedule even asked for the ... number and description of fire-arms and quantity of ammunition you possess.

Future posts will consider the 1915 War Census in more detail but, for present purposes, the significance of the census was that by the end of 1915 the Commonwealth Government had, in theory at least, a record of all eligible men. It could therefore set realistic targets for an expanded AIF.  The Government determined that it would increase the size of the AIF by 50,000 men and that, concurrently, the ongoing enlistment rate had to be lifted by 9,000 men per month.The next step was to use the information gained via the War Census and communicate directly with every eligible male between 18 and 45 to press them to enlist. This was the recruiting initiative described as The Call to Arms.

The form that men were required to complete was accompanied by a plea from the new PM, W M Hughes who had replaced Fisher when he resigned at the end of October 1915. The 2 major appeals Hughes played to in his Call to Arms were incipient mateship and nationalism:

Our soldiers have done great things in this war. They have carved for Australia a niche in the Temple of the Immortals. Those who have died fell gloriously, but had the number of our forces been doubled, many brave lives would have been spared, the Australian armies would long ago have been camping in Constantinople, and the world war would have been practically over.

We must put forth all our strength. The more men Australia sends to the front the less the danger will be to each man. Not only victory but safety belongs to the big battalions.

and

This Australia of ours, the freest and best country on God’s earth, calls to her sons for aid. Destiny has given to you a great opportunity. Now is the hour when you can strike a blow on her behalf. If you love your country, if you love freedom, then take your place alongside your fellow-Australians at the front and help them achieve a speedy and glorious victory.

On behalf of the Commonwealth Government and in the name of the people of Australia, I ask you to answer “Yes” to this appeal, and to your part in this greatest war of all time.

In short, at the very end of 1915, all eligible men in Australia were asked, under the voluntary enlistment scheme then in place, to enlist in the AIF. If they were not willing to enlist immediately, they had to indicate when they were prepared to enlist, and if they refused to enlist at all, they had to submit written reasons why. Clearly, the Government was determined to push the ‘voluntary’ system to its limit.

At the same time as the form to all eligible men was sent out, PM Hughes wrote to all municipality and shire heads asking for their support. Specifically, he requested that the existing local recruiting committees – established in 1915 – be prepared to accept and manage the completed forms. In his letter to all local government heads – published in The Argus on 2/12/15, p.7 – Hughes acknowledged that the support of the local recruiting committee was critical:

… the success of the scheme scheme depends almost entirely upon the efforts of the local committees, and I appeal to you to put everything aside in order that this great national duty may be effectively and quickly performed.

This particular recruiting drive involved all 3 levels of government. The initiative rested with the Commonwealth, and its working was effectively designed by the Commonwealth Statistician. The scheme itself was run at the local government level, where the Mayor or Shire President – backed by the Town Clerk or Shire Secretary – was responsible for the work of the local recruiting committee. And the administration of the national scheme was delivered at the state level via the relevant Central Recruiting Committee or State War Council.

In 1915, local recruiting committees across Victoria had organised high profile, public recruiting meetings. This new set of responsibilities at the start of 1916 with the focus on the individual was very different. First, the committee had to impress on the locals that the forms had to be completed and returned to them, as quickly as possible. There was limited provision for a respondent to bypass the local committee by sending the form direct to the state recruiting body, but in the case of Yarram only a handful of local men took up this option. Once the local committee received the forms, it had to submit a return which would enable the Commonwealth Statistician to track down those who had failed to return their form. The local committee then had to go through the returns it had received and establish the relevant numbers of (1) those prepared to enlist immediately, (2) those prepared to enlist later and (3) those who refused to enlist.  Finally, and most significantly, the local committee was expected to establish a ‘local inquiry committee’ … to personally canvas those refusing to enlist. While the definition of ‘canvas’ was left somewhat vague it was clear that the overall intention was to first identify and then apply ‘pressure’ – even if the local recruiting committee did not have any legal authority – to those in the local community who refused to enlist.

In theory, this new scheme would have appealed to the Yarram Recruiting Committee. Throughout 1915, the committee had complained that it could not get access to the men it needed. They simply refused to attend public recruiting meetings. Similarly, they avoided the farewells and welcome homes which doubled as recruiting appeals. But this new Commonwealth scheme focused specifically on the group of eligibles and, potentially, brought them into direct contact with the recruiting committee.

However, in practice there was an obvious reluctance on the part of the local recruiting committee to become personally involved in challenging locals who refused to enlist. This was hardly surprising. It was one thing to believe passionately in the cause of the War and promote the duty of all to enlist either in print or at public meetings, but quite another to directly confront individual locals, whom you personally knew and interacted with in many and complex ways, and pressure them to enlist.

At Yarram, the sub-committee of 5 set up … to consider the replies of those who refuse to enlist was made up of Rev F Tamagno, Cr Bland, B P Johnson, D P Fahey and G F Sauer. However, virtually as soon as the committee was set up, 3 members – Tamagno, Sauer and Fahey – indicated they would not serve.

Correspondence in the Shire of Alberton archives indicates Rev Tamagno quit because he was himself of military age. In his letter (17/1/16) he stated,

I feel that I ought to retire from the Recruiting sub-committee. I am of military age, & I think that it will be better on that account to resign.

Presumably, he recognised the problem in pressing others to enlist when he himself had not.

For Daniel Peter Fahey, a farmer from Devon, there is only a brief note, dated 8/1/16, from the Shire Secretary ( G W Black) that Mr Fahey informed me by phone that he could not see his way to act. Intriguingly, when Fahey was asked to join the committee, there was a specific reference to the fact that he was to represent the ‘Labor interest of the sub-committee’:

At a meeting of the local Recruiting Committee to-day [5/1/16], you were appointed the member in the Labor [sic] interest of the sub-committee to consider the replies of those who refuse to enlist.

It is not clear what was intended. Perhaps Fahey was viewed as a local farmer who knew what the labour situation was in the district: someone who could assess the validity of claims men made about not being able to enlist because of labour demands on the farm. But whatever his exact role, Fahey made it clear he did not want to be involved.

George Frederick Sauer was a draper – Draper, Gents’ Mercer, & Shoeman –  in Yarram. He was very active in local politics and was president of the local ANA. He had been involved in recruiting. But on this occasion he wrote back (6/1/16) and stated, I have considered this matter and find I cannot accept the appointment. Possibly, he considered that such a position was not in his commercial best interest.

With 3 of the 5 selected for the committee refusing to serve, Cr Barlow was appointed as a replacement and the committee’s size reduced to just 3: Cr Bland, Cr Barlow and B P Johnson. At the same time, the sub committee did have the support of the local recruiting sergeant. This position was created at the start of 1916 and the person appointed – he had been specifically requested by the Yarram Recruiting Committee – was William Andrew Newland.

Recruiting Sergeant Newland had worked for the local council before the War – he was a mechanical engineer – before enlisting in 1914. He had been badly wounded at Gallipoli (26/5/15) and was returned to Australia (6/8/15) for medical discharge (22/12/15). He had married locally before he went overseas and his wife was living at Yarram. Newland had risen to staff-sergeant in the AIF and he began his work as recruiting sergeant at the start of January 1916.

The Prime Minister’s recruiting campaign was not well received in the local community and the results were underwhelming. At a committee meeting held 19/1/16 and reported in the local paper on 21/1/16, Recruiting Sergeant Newland gave a breakdown of the returns for the Commonwealth’s Call to Arms.  184 replies had been returned, as directed, to the local recruiting committee. Another 4 locals had taken advantage of the option to return their form to the State authority. Of the total of 188, 16 men had already enlisted (8.5%), 34 indicated they were prepared to enlist immediately (18%) and another 14 (7.5%) were prepared to enlist later. The total figure for enlistments was 64 (34%). This left 124 (66%) who had refused to enlist. The clear majority of local men targeted in the Commonwealth’s recruiting campaign at the very start of 1916 rejected the call to enlist.

There is little evidence to indicate that those on the local recruiting committee, or more specifically the sub-committee set up to ‘canvass those refusing to enlist’, did actively pursue local men who effectively ignored the Commonwealth’s Call to Arms. Indeed, there was little they could do. For all the posturing, threats and warnings, the system was still a voluntary one and locals could simply ignore the local recruiting committee.

At the same time, there is evidence that Recruiting Sergeant Newland certainly took his work seriously. As soon as he started in January 1916, there were reports in the local press (12/1/16) of him … impressing upon the minds of eligibles the necessity of enlisting. He was also said to have … startled not a few ignorant folks … with the warning that they needed to complete their Call to Arms returns. Importantly, within a week or two, because of the new scheme, Newland had a list of all those in the district who had refused to enlist. In March 1916, he was at the Binginwarri sports and was reported (24/3/16) … to be seen giving the why and wherefore to young men whom he had his eye on. In fact, Newland developed a reputation for aggressive challenges to eligibles.  The following was reported in the local paper on 14/4/16. It reveals both the forceful way Newland went about his job but also the push-back that this approach could create:

It would be interesting were phonograph records produced of Sergeant Newland’s interviews with certain young fellows who would do well in the fighting line. Onlookers can plainly see that arguments wax warm at times, and we warn those approached that the sergeant should be treated with respect, otherwise trouble may ensue. Recruiting is a matter that cannot be treated lightly. Sergeant Newland has the law on his side, and his province is to inquire into the reason men for for service do not enlist.

The local recruiting committee put out an appeal in the local press (28/1/16) for volunteers to drive Recruiting Sergeant Newland to the more isolated townships and settlements in the district. Again, this allowed him to tackle, on a face-to-face basis, those who had refused to enlist. There was a pool of volunteers, and this practice explains how Newland appeared at a farewell at Madalya (19/5/16) – covered in Post 85 – where again he aggressively challenged eligibles who were there.

While the Commonwealth Government had made it clear that The Call to Arms campaign was to be the priority, the local recruiting committee did persevere to a limited degree with the more conventional practice of the public appeal by an invited speakers. In February, Thomas Livingston, the member for South Gippsland, and minister in the State Government, was visiting the area. He was persuaded by Cr Bland as Shire President to address a large crowd at a Red Cross fundraiser at Yarram.  The speech was written up in the local paper on 18/2/16. As always, the possibility – or threat – of conscription was raised. Livingston appealed to all eligible men there that day:

We must have 50,000 on 50,000 [sic] men, and that is not enough. Go now, at the right time, and help the men already at the front. Yarram and district had done well recruiting, but other parts had not done as well. If the voluntary system does not prove effective, conscription will be brought in, for they were not going to lose the British Empire.

Cr Bland, as Shire President, concluded the recruiting appeal with a fairly base warning:

If they did not get the soldiers required conscription must come in, and those who were pressed men would not get the pay of the voluntary soldier.

Other initiatives of the State (Victoria) Parliamentary Recruiting Committee were employed in 1916. One of them, after Easter, involved a series of recruiting trains that stopped at major stations in country districts. The train featured speakers from both the Commonwealth and State Governments, returned soldiers, bands, local recruiting sergeants etc. The train for Gippsland was scheduled for May and the designated stations were: Warragul, Trafalgar, Moe, Morwell, Traralgon, Sale, Bairnsdale, Stratford, Maffra, Leongatha, Korumburra and Wonthaggi. Apart from the fact that the train did not reach the Shire of Alberton, there was not much confidence in the basic plan. For many, such activities were little more than a distraction and people had to accept that conscription was inevitable. For example, in his editorial on 24/5/16 A J Rossiter – a member of the Yarram Recruiting Committee – wrote:

With much truth, Mr. G. H. Wise M.H.R. remarked at the A.N.A. meeting in Melbourne that “no longer should time be wasted in holding recruiting meetings, nor in stalking through the country in ‘special trains’. ” Last week Gippsland was visited by a train crew, and towns were enlivened by Royal Park Band music and electrified by talk on the part of the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee. One or two records will suffice for the whole. At Stratford two volunteers came forward, both unfit for service. Three stepped out at Traralgon and eleven at Sale. Of the dozen recruits at Leongatha two were returned soldiers, and others had been previously rejected. Both at Leongatha and Korumburra a number who gave in their names would have enlisted in any case, so after all there is little the special train jaunt can take credit for – beyond good intentions. We agree with Mr. Wise in regard to conscription.

Clearly, by mid 1916 the Yarram Recruiting Committee had lost confidence in the voluntary system. Public appeals no longer had much effect, and even the direct approach employed in the Commonwealth’s Call to Arms had been convincingly rejected by the majority of eligible men in the district. The direct, face-to-face encounters between the recruiting sergeant, acting on the committee’s behalf, and local eligibles were tense, time consuming, difficult to organise and generally unproductive. Moreover, as either representatives of local government or just private citizens, and all of them acting on a voluntary and patriotic basis, the individuals on the committee would have felt considerably frustrated, and possibly even threatened, by what they saw as high levels of opposition to, and anger directed at, their work.

However, all the talk of conscription was effectively undermining the worth of the voluntary system. The situation was set out in a letter from the State Parliamentary Recruiting Committee in March 1916 to all local recruiting committees in Victoria.

You have no doubt observed in the public press that there is a movement in various parts of this State to bring in conscription in some form. Local recruiting committees and sergeants report to us that this talk of conscription is detrimental to recruiting, in the first place because it gives those who are looking for some excuse an opportunity of saying they are waiting for conscription, and, secondly, because it tends to make some members of local committees relax their efforts. Those of us who are engaged in this campaign know nothing about conscription. We have been asked, and we have undertaken, to carry the work through on the present basis – which is voluntary. It is clearly our duty to do our best to make this campaign a success, however much our personal opinions may vary as to its efficacy. We would, therefore, ask you to see that the good work which your Committee and others have already put in should be strenuously maintained until such time as the present scheme is superseded by some other by the National Government.

The national background to this push for conscription in early in 1916 was that Hughes was in the UK and the Australian Government’s strategy, under Senator George Pearce the acting PM, was to leave the decision on conscription until Hughes returned, in early August 1916. In the absence of Hughes, political pressure from sectional interest groups for conscription was intense. These groups will be covered in future posts.

Given the background, the appeal from the State Parliamentary Recruiting Committee was hardly convincing and all those actively involved in recruiting appeared to be looking forward to the introduction of conscription. Certainly this was the case with the Yarram Recruiting Committee. In late April 1916, B P Johnson, as acting head of the local recruiting committee, wrote to the State Parliamentary Recruiting Committee:

…  it is the unanimous opinion of the Committee and of the Sergent [sic] that the voluntary system has had its trial and that compulsion is now necessary. In holding recruiting meetings it is impossible to get at the men who are standing back, they will not attend, and the only volunteers we can hope to obtain now are from families who have already done their share and can ill afford to spare others. In our opinion the voluntary system is unscientific, is wasteful and is grossly unfair. It is no good talking to the shirkers, compulsion is the only thing that will move them, they are dead to all sense of patriotism or shame. … We who have sons, brothers & other relatives at the front are most keen & will continue to work to that end, but we feel strongly, from our now rather extensive experience, that only compulsion will give us the success we earnestly desire.

Overall, for the local recruiting committee in Yarram, 1916 represented a wasted effort. The conventional public appeals no longer worked, Hughes’ bold – but also naive – plan at the start of 1916 with his Call to arms had identified those locals who refused to enlist but it too had proved ineffective. Recruiting Sergeant Newland had taken his work seriously and energetically, and directly confronted locals but, again, under the voluntary system there was no ultimate compulsion.  In short, as far as the committee was concerned, nothing worked. Their voluntary and patriotic efforts were frustrated. Their hard work produced no results. They were conscious of anger and opposition directed at them in the community. They saw conscription as the only way forward. In fact, it is reasonable to argue that the real focus for the committee in 1916 was not the promotion of recruiting but the introduction of conscription; and it was significant that after the failure of the conscription referendum at the end of 1916 the local recruiting committee was disbanded.

The composition of the 1916 Yarram Recruiting Committee

There is little in the Shire of Alberton archives covering the work of the recruiting committee in 1916. The suggestion is that after the first few months of 1916 not a great deal happened, at least at the committee level. In September, after Hughes returned from the UK, there was another burst of action on the voluntary system – Hughes effectively gave the scheme one last chance to prove itself – but it appears that this work principally involved Recruiting Sergeant Newland.

In the archives there is a undated, handwritten list of the membership.

Recruiting Campaign 1916
Committee:-

Cr Bland (Chairman)
Cr Barlow
Cr Christensen
Messrs M J T Cox
W F Lakin
E S Stocks
B P Johnson
G E Ruby
J W Fleming
P J Juniper
A J Rossiter
Rev F Tamagno
G W Black (Secretary)

Neither D P Fahey nor G F Sauer are included on the list. Both refused to serve on the special sub-committee set up to vet the replies of those who refused to enlist. Rev F Tamgano’s name does appear, even though he also refused to serve on the same sub-committee and formally resigned from the larger committee.  It appears that the list was drawn up at the very start of 1916 because it is substantially the same as the 1915 list.  The membership list again points to the type of local citizens who identified with the work of the recruiting committee. Post 65 looked at the same people and concluded:

Overall, the [1915] Yarram Recruiting Committee was made up of ‘leading citizens’ from the local professional and managerial elite of Yarram, supported by several large and successful land holders who also played significant political and social roles in the Yarram community.

The same situation applied in 1916 and, as has already been intimated, this particular group of local citizens was set to act as the core support group for the Yes vote in the conscription referendum.

 

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

The Argus

Archives, Shire of Alberton
(viewed 2014)

The activities of the 1916 Yarram Recruiting Committee came from:
Shire of Alberton
File Number 703-0
War Files
“Recruiting Campaign 1916 – Call to Arms”

See also:

Honest History
Divided sunburnt country: Australia 1916-18 (2): the War Census

85. Soldiers’ farewells 1916

This post continues the work covered in Post 60. Soldiers’ Farewells 1915.

Over 1916, the local newspaper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – covered 35 farewells. It also reported on several ‘welcome home’ gatherings.

While the tone of the farewells was always heroic, the welcome homes could be far more confronting. For example, on 28/7/16, the local paper reported the welcome to Private William Sweeney who had been medically discharged after being badly wounded by a bomb at Gallipoli. Those speaking at his welcome praised his sacrifice but they also described him as having … returned a cripple and … practically a wreck. Similarly, at the welcome for Private T Jeffs of Carrajung which was reported on 13/12/16, it was noted that he was the first to return home from France and that at Pozieres he had … received severe injuries losing the sight of an eye. The report also noted that Private Jeffs had to have someone respond on his behalf because he had returned with ‘shattered nerves’.

Overall, farewells in 1916 matched those in 1915. The same committee continued to organise the events. Specifically in the case of Yarram,  the same group of town ‘patriots’ shared the responsibility for speech making.

The great majority of farewells took place in Yarram, at the Shire Hall, with far fewer farewells taking place in the smaller townships and settlements. In 1916, outside Yarram, there were farewells at Alberton (1), Womerah (1) Devon North (2), Madalya (2), Stacey’s Bridge (1), Gormandale (2), Willung South (1) and Wonyip (1).

The farewells themselves tended to be held for locals who had returned home after initial training and prior to embarkation for service overseas. There was the occasional farewell for a ‘non-local’, itinerant farm worker but, as noted in Post 60, this group of men, once they left the district to move into camp, tended not to return.

The farewells at Yarram were better organised but more basic in form and less well-attended. One reason why attendance at Yarram was a problem was almost certainly  because the speeches at these farewells were as much an exercise in recruiting as they were a celebration of the loyalty and sacrifice of the individual(s) leaving. Eligible men and their families were hardly going to attend and draw attention to themselves. The farewells in the other locations in the Shire were generally less strident affairs and more focused on the qualities of the individual(s) being farewelled. They were usually based on a dance or some other social event and they were far better attended. Speakers at these affairs tended to be local farmers.

An interesting exception to the normal routine and tone of the farewells held outside Yarram occurred at Madalya (19/5/16) when one of the speakers was Recruiting Sergeant Newland. He must have been in the local area trying to promote enlistments. As usual, all the local residents had come together for a social dance that went well into the night. The 3 young men being farewelled were brothers Alfred and Arthur Jones – 22 yo and 24 yo respectively – and Ernest Anderson 18 yo.

That night at Madalya, Recruiting Sergeant Newland targeted  the ‘eligibles’ and both his presence and message were intended to cut through the camaraderie, jollity and conviviality of the occasion:

He [Newland] expressed pleasure at being present to wish the three men good luck, but by the appearance of the hall he felt sure there were at least a dozen more eligible to go than the three who had enlisted. The Jones Bros. were only just making a start in life, and as to young Anderson, he was only a boy. It was, he thought, a shame that one so young should have to go, when older and more mature men hung back.

Newland then went on to defend his work as Recruiting Sergeant and, again, he was very keen to take on anyone there who did not like his role. He had no problem with making himself and his work the focus of attention that night:

He [Newland] thought it was a disgrace the way some men looked upon the recruiting sergeant, treating him as if he were the cause of the war, instead of helping him in his duty to get recruits. As far as the position went, he would far rather be in the trenches fighting. But being unfit for active service he intended to do his duty no matter what they thought of him. He referred to one young man who told him he was losing friends in the district because of his strong attitude but it did not concern him. If he were to lose friends in the execution of his duty they were very poor friends. He considered most of his friends were at the front.

The episode highlights how even in small, local communities where everyone had come together to farewell one of their own, the potential for conflict and recriminations was ever present. It also shows background resentment towards those calling for more enlistments.

Post 60 identified the most common themes touched on speakers at the 1915 farewells:

  • The moral strength of the volunteer
  • The unique character and success of the AIF
  • The greatness of the Empire and Australia’s duty to support it
  • The evil of Germany and the dire threat it posed to the Empire and Australia
  • The mother’s sacrifice
  • The pioneer as soldier

Overall, the same themes continued in 1916. There were variations in their emphasis but certainly all continued to be very evident, as is demonstrated below. However, what was strikingly different in 1916, particularly with the speeches delivered in Yarram, was the level and intensity of frustration and anger expressed.

The ongoing themes

note: the dates in the following refer to the date the farewell was reported in the local paper. The location where the farewell took place is also given.

The moral strength of the volunteer

Often, the moral strength of the individual equated to religious practice. For example, at a farewell to 2 men at Willung South (17/11/16), much was made of the fact that they were ‘regular attendants at our church services’ and that ‘Christian principles’ dominated their lives. In a similar tone, when Private H Missen was farewelled from Gormandale (11/1/16) he was given a special presentation – pocket wallet – from the local IOR tent and the claim was made that … fortified by the principles of the Order, he would be better able to do his duty. The evil of drink was often highlighted at farewellls.

The individuals were variously described as: all round good fellows (Yarram, 27/2/16), law-abiding boys (Yarram 23/3/16), stalwart young men who proved good footballers (Yarram 6/9/16), and men who had proved themselves plucky and manly on the football field (Yarram 22/7/16). An individual could be described as a straightforward young man, always ready to give a hand (Yarram 5/2/16), a most respected citizen (Alberton 22/11/16), one of the straightest men in the district (Yarram 10/8/16). When Private Glen was farwelled (Yarram 15/5/16) the speaker, Chalres Barlow, noted, a more reliable, trustworthy and sober man on a farm he had never met.

The unique character and success of he AIF

This theme certainly picked up in frequency and intensity after Gallipoli. The belief that Australian soldiers had proved themselves either the best or amongst the best in the world was taken as indisputable and speakers referred to it constantly. For example, at a major farewell in Yarram (26/4/16), the president of the Shire – Cr. Bland – stated:

The Charge of the Light Brigade faded into insignificance compared with the brave deeds of our Australian boys at Gallipoli.

B P Johnson at another farewell at Yarram (28/7/16) declared:

The children had read of the famous charge at Balaclava, of Woolfe, and other great deeds in history, but equal to anything was the charge of the Light Horse at Anzac (Applause).

Unlike Bland, Johnson was only claiming equivalence for the AIF, in terms of the glorious history of the British army. Like others, he continued to push the claim that the AIF,  born of the British army, had now become its equal. At another farewell – Yarram (17/5/16) – he declared:

The boys at Gallipoli showed the old British blood and their fighting qualities and achievements made the whole world stare.

Others were keen to identify what they saw as the unique spirit, ethos or culture of the AIF, not just its achievements in battle. W V Rymer – the former Anglican reader at Yarram, who had  served for a short time on Gallipoli before his health broke down – stated at a farewell at Alberton (22/11/16):

There was no name he (the speaker) loved better than “mate” or “cobber,” and that was why he was pleased to say a few words of appreciation to the young man who was joining the ranks. (Applause.)

The greatness of the Empire and Australia’s duty to support it

Declarations of loyalty to the Empire continued at farewells. Men who volunteered were still referred to as … only doing their duty in enlisting in defence of the Empire, of which we formed a part – Gormandale (16/8/16). The equivalent sentiment was expressed at Yarram (8/9/16). It was Australia’s war because it was Great Britain’s war and the Empire’s war. As a speaker at Madalya (19/5/16) put it:

It was Great Britain’s war, which included Australia and every part of the Empire.

The evil of Germany and the dire threat it posed to the Empire and Australia

The invasion of Belgium and the attendant horrors were still very common speaking points. And Germany remained a ruthless and powerful enemy. At a farewell in Yarram (5/4/16) B P Johnson exhorted those there:

Think of Belgium! God help us and our womenfolk if the Huns got hold of Australia. We have not by any means won the war. We are up against a ruthless and thoroughly prepared nation.

He returned to the theme one month later – Yarram (17/5/16) – when he reminded those present of the plight of … the women and little children of Belgium.

Some speakers were prepared to ramp up the attack on Germany and abandon any semblance of moral constraint or forbearance. W G Pope, who presided at a farewell at Yarram (10/5/16), ran a very hard line:

His opinion was that air raids should be made even on unfortified towns, and if a few German women and children were killed it simply meant that civilians must suffer for the crimes of the nation to which they had the misfortune to belong. And as Germans used gas in warfare we should use it too; and if we could do so we should try and discover an even worse kind of gas than that used by Germans. England must strip off the kid gloves and strike these fiends with the bare knuckles. (Applause). That’s the only sort of treatment they understand; kindness is wasted on them.

On occasion, speakers also referred back to the fears of White Australia before August 1914. Germany was obviously the present danger but it was not the only threat to Australia. As J H Hill reminded an audience at Yarram (17/5/16):

As time goes on and the Asiatic races get more powerful, the European nations will have to fight against an invasion like the Middle Ages.

The mother’s sacrifice

The anguish of the mother was still a common theme. B P Johnson expressed the standard form at a farewell in Yarram (28/7/16):

He felt sorry for a mother. The boys suffer pain for us, but what anguish must a mother feel!

However, as the number of married men who enlisted began to increase, the loneliness and anxiety of the wife had also to be taken into account. To accommodate the broader focus the term ‘womenfolk’ was commonly employed. C S McLeod at a farewell for a married man at Devon North (10/5/16) stated:

He felt sorry for the womenfolk who have a lot to bear when those they love leave for battle. It was they who were making the sacrifice. (Applause).

The pioneer as soldier

This theme was constant throughout 1916. B P Johnson at a farewell at Yarram (25/2/16) early in 1916 referred to the young volunteer – James Wight – as being ‘made of the same stuff’ as the pioneers … dating back to the forties [1840s], who came out from the Old Country and made Australia what it is today.

Cr Bland at a welcome home for 2 soldiers from Devon North (22/3/16) – Driver Gay and Private Sutton – expressed pride in the men’s service and declared that they had … proved they had the spirit so marked in their fathers in the older days.

Johnson was again exhorting the pioneer spirit at a farewell in Yarram in April (5/4/16). He claimed the 2 soldiers – Privates Percy Boddy and Robert McKenzie – … were honoring the descendants of pioneers who came to the district years ago, and these young men were showing the same pluck and determination.

Effectively there were 2 links to the pioneers. One drew the direct, historical link between pioneers who overcame the bush to carve out a prosperous future for their children and descendants – and thereby create the new nation of Australia – and those brave young men, their grand children or even children, who were now defending the same nation, as part of the Empire. The second link was more about character and how the soldier in the AIF had inherited the same essential traits that had enabled the pioneer to survive in the bush. Both were tough, loyal, no-nonsense, independent types. The men from the bush made the best soldiers.

The only qualification here was that the actual term ‘bush’ was not as commonly used in the context of Gippsland. Rather, people tended to talk in terms of settlers and selectors taming the forest and scrub. For example, at a farewell at Wonyip (6/9/16) the report noted that the 2 soldiers – brothers R W and R E Lee – were sons of early pioneers who had … done their share of turning a forest into green fields.

The issue of anger

Overall, the same themes identified in 1915 continued into 1916. However, while the themes remained constant there was a heightened sense of anger evident in the speeches, particularly those delivered in Yarram, and this anger reached its highest pitch at the time of the first referendum on conscription (28/10/16).

There were many targets of the anger: townspeople who were not prepared to put themselves out to attend a farewell; eligible men who refused to enlist; unions that undermined the war effort; and, by the end of 1916, all those opposed to conscription, including the ALP.

To understand the anger it is necessary to have a closer look at the composition of the committee responsible for organising the farewells and welcomes. In the main, and definitely in Yarram, the actual speakers at the farewells were members of this committee. The list of committee members was published in the local paper on 28/7/16 . The following table shows the committee members for 1916. It also shows the other relevant organisations in which individual members of the committee were involved.

The National Referendum Committee (Yarram branch) was the body set up in late September 1916 to promote the Yes vote in the conscription referendum. The table shows that the majority of members in the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee were actively involved in recruiting. Also, as will become apparent in later posts, several of its members – B P Johnson, Rev Tamagno and W G Pope – were key backers for the Yes vote.

As already argued, in Yarram, those involved in the organisation of soldiers’ farewells employed the functions to promote recruiting and push the Government’s agenda on the War. On the specific issue of conscription, the committee was pressing for it for more than year before the referendum was held. The committee was convinced that the voluntary system had failed and as 1916 progressed, they were increasingly frustrated because, in their opinion, the locals did not share their sense of urgency and commitment.

As they saw it, those in the committee were making significant sacrifices in supporting the work associated with organising and putting on the farewells and welcomes. They were doing their civic duty and working on behalf of others, both those being farewelled or welcomed and, as significantly, the rest of the community. They saw themselves as patriots working in the cause of the Nation and the Empire. They were committed. They knew what had to be done and they were prepared, as responsible citizens, to take leadership. They also believed that any farewell or welcome had to play a part in the overall effort to raise recruits. Even if no eligible men were in the audience, it was still essential to remind everyone there that enlistment levels had to be maintained and, later, improved dramatically. Specifically, they focused their attention on those men who, they believed, should have already enlisted.

Whereas they saw the necessity and nobility of their work, they too found, like Recruiting Sergeant Newland, that they were often met with indifference or hostility. Not surprisingly, as their efforts were compromised they reacted with anger.

Anger directed at townsfolk who did not attend farewells

As indicated, this was really only a problem in Yarram. Some farewells in Yarram were very popular – there was a major farewell to 22 men in April (26/4/16) which was very well attended –  but the numbers at many others were poor. It was common practice for the head teacher of Yarram SS – A E Paige, a committee member – to take a party of senior students from the primary school to farewells to increase the numbers there. There was even one farewell (30/8/16) where the attendance was so small that the ceremony was held not in the Shire Hall but in an office in the Shire Hall. Committee members were often reported as being embarrassed for the men being farewelled by small audiences. At a committee meeting in late March (29/3/16)  it was reported:

Surprise and disgust were expressed by several members of the committee at the small attendance at the various farewells etc. It was mentioned that many people in the town [Yarram] had not even put themselves out enough to attend once, although the soldiers were giving up everything for them.

Anger directed at those who would not enlist

It would have been virtually impossible for those speaking at farewells and intimately involved in recruiting to understand why some men refused to enlist. For the patriot, the logic of the situation – the Empire and Nation were both threatened; high levels of casualties called for more enlistments; every male citizen had the same civic duty to answer the call; ‘mates’ in their time of need could not be abandoned; it was ‘manly’ to fight to protect the weak – was irrefutable. It was especially galling that married men, and even men in their forties, were prepared to sacrificed so much by enlisting while younger, single men held back.

Those men who refused to do the ‘right thing’ were constantly targeted. When he farewelled James Wight at Yarram (25/2/16) B P Johnson singled out those holding back:

Those chaps who were standing back and not heeding the cry did not seem to realise what our nation was up against.

When A H Moore spoke at a farewell at Stacey’s Bridge (26/4/16) he made the point that … the brave lads were practically offering their lives on behalf of those who stayed behind. At the farewell for Sgt Filmer at Womerah (3/3/16) one speaker … spoke of the excuses made for not enlisting. There was too much of “I’ll go when so-and-so goes’. B P Johnson at a welcome home (22/3/16) contrasted the sacrifice of the 2 returning men with the cowardice of ‘shirkers’:

The war had taught all the lessons of sacrifice. When those who hung back saw these two young men, and contrasted them with their own cowardice, they would surely want to find a small hole to crawl in and hide.

Johnson was very fond of the term ‘shirker’. And he was prepared to use it widely, and not just for those who refused to enlist. At another farewell in April (5/4/16) he declared:

He did not think it [“shirker”] too strong a word. Every man who could not fight, and stayed home in comfort and did not give, was a shirker. Every sweetheart who stopped her lover, every father or mother who stopped their son, and every wife who stopped her husband from enlisting was a shirker.

Another common description of those who refused to enlist was ‘waster’. At a farewell in Yarram (28/4/16) Rev Walklate declared:

It was a mistake to see so many brave boys going out of loyal families, while wasters were holding back.

For patriots, the only way forward was conscription. Conscription would create a ‘level playing field’ and ensure that the sacrifice was spread fairly. They would no longer have to appeal, in vain, to the conscience of the ‘shirker’ or the ‘waster’. Johnson (28/4/16) captured the frustration and anger of the group when he declared that he favoured conscription because then the Government could effectively … get men by the scruff of the neck and seat of the pants and run them in. (Laughter).

As much as they favoured conscription, speakers were generally keen to identify the city, and not the country, as the natural home of the shirker and waster. Cr Barlow (28/4/16) declared his support for conscription, noted that some from the district were holding back but focused on his attention on the large cities:

He was proud to see so many good men going from the district to help finish the good work begun, but there were many more who should have gone. In his opinion the voluntary system is a rank failure. He could not understand why the Government did not come forward and take the men wanted  by conscription. His remarks did not apply so much to the country as to the cities, where thousands were attending race meetings and prize fights who were no good to their country.

Anger directed at those undermining the war effort and recruiting

One obvious target was the union movement. G F Sauer at a farewell at Yarram (28/1/16) attacked the bans on shipping and declared that … the lives of such men [trade unionists] were not worth fighting for. Another common call was that preference to unionists should be replaced by preference to returning Anzacs.

But by far the greatest anger over 1916 was directed at those in the ALP who opposed conscription. This will be covered in future posts but for now it is worth noting Johnson’s views as early as July 1916 (26/7/16) when various Labor Leagues – in this instance at Broken Hill – began the political manoeuvring – including the threat of strikes –  to oppose the introduction of conscription. Speaking of those workers in favour of such resolutions, Johnson declared,

It was the duty of all speaking in public to condemn them. In his opinion all such men should be interned. They were either enemies or traitors who ought to be shot.

 

When it had been formed in 1915 the focus of the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee had been narrow and its work uncontroversial. However, over time, as it turned its attention first to recruiting and then to supporting conscription, it became a far more partisan and aggressive body. Its links to other local bodies pushing for the Yes vote in the first national referendum on conscription will be covered in future posts.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative