Category Archives: Religion & Community

151. The war against drink 2: the grocer’s licence at the Yarram Co-op Store

The Co-operative Store Yarram, undated. Courtesy Public Records Office Victoria

An earlier post (97. The war against drink) highlighted the significance of the temperance movement in World War One. This post looks in detail at the intense conflict that erupted in the second half of 1917 over the (liquor) licence held by the local co-operative store in Yarram (Yarram Co-operative Store). Specifically, it looks at the extraordinary series of letters in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – that ran from July to September 1917.

[At the time, the spelling of licence/license was inconsistent, even within the same text. In this post, ‘licence’ is used throughout.]

The Co-operative Store at Yarram was established in late 1911. It was developed from an existing store owned by James G McKenzie.The original board of directors was – James F Trigg, George Bland, A H Moore, J Langham, J E Chenhall, Richard Moorfield and McKenzie himself. The manager of the store was J O Whyte. The store ran very successfully to the 1920s. From that point on, competition and customers’ bad debts undermined its profitability. It managed to survive, in reduced form, to the early 1960s.

During WW1, the Co-op Store was closely identified with support for the War effort. Several of its employees enlisted. Individual directors were involved in committees that supported recruiting and conscription and the staging of farewells and welcomes for soldiers. The store had a public policy of purchasing war bonds with its profits. It offered its facilities for fund raising, particularly for the Red Cross.

J G McKenzie had held a ‘grocer’s licence’ to sell alcohol in his original store from 1902, and it was transferred to the new Co-op Store in 1911. It was this licence that became a powerful lightning rod for local temperance advocates in the second half of 1917.

To the end of 1916, the temperance movement had enjoyed considerable success. It had become generally accepted – principally through editorial support in newspapers that featured public statements from the Royal Family, leading politicians, generals, admirals and many figures of authority and respectability – that it was necessary to curb drinking to support the War effort. Drink was even described as an enemy as deadly as Germany. Further, the War was proving difficult to win because too much effort was compromised by drink. As Rev Tamagno (Presbyterian) put it in a sermon at Yarram – reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 26/7/16 – the War had to be won with the ‘enemy [of drink] on our backs’. Beyond the broad appeal to curb (‘hard’) drink, there had been significant checks placed on the sale of alcohol through the introduction of 6 o’clock closing.

The issue of the licence at the Co-op Store in Yarram was first raised, publicly, in an editorial in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 12/7/16. The editorial purported to be an even-handed approach to temperance. Whilst it was in general sympathy with the ideals of the temperance movement, particularly at the present time, it argued that temperance advocates were inclined to be too extreme in their demands and, in particular, it felt that their all-out attack on hotels and publicans was unrealistic. Hotels, the editorial argued, were important institutions in the local community. They served an important social function and generated wealth for the town. They were legitimate businesses. Further, 6 o’clock closing was about to have a serious negative impact on their profitability. Against this background, the editorial took aim at the grocer’s licence. First it emphasised the need for a more ‘temperate’ approach:

Where the Temperance Party fail is in their extreme measures, which could not be swallowed whole by people who are alive to the injustice that would be done. Besides, extreme measures rarely meet with success. All are agreed as to the evils inseparable from strong drink, and but a small percentage is against reform, but it must not be too drastic.

Then it championed the local hotels over the licence held by the local grocer:

The cry of the Temperance Party is “down with the publican,” while little is said about the grocer’s licence, where business is done in a comparative wholesome way. We claim if the business hours of the publican are to be further curtailed [6 o’clock closing] they should at least have the whole of the retailing of liquor, and that no further grocers’ licences should issue. A grocer’s licence is after all but an auxiliary, while a publican depends wholly on the one article. His is a one-line business, while the grocer has a means of livelihood without selling grog, whether by the bottle or by the gallon. This is a point that should be advocated by the Temperance Party. If they will but proceed in a “temperate” way, and be content with a partial gain, the rest may well be left to the next, or following generations.

In the very next edition of the paper (14/7/16) there was a letter-to-the-editor signed by ‘Reform’ which agreed that priority should be given to the hotels and that ‘the absolute abolition of grocers’ licences’ would be an ‘easy win’ for the temperance reformers. The letter also highlighted another key conviction of those opposed to the grocer’s licence:

If the grocer’s licence goes by the way, the quantity of home consumed liquor will diminish greatly. The convenience of adding the liquor order to the grocery order, and the privacy of same helps the grocer’s licence. Many regular buyers at the store will not personally order or carry away bottled stuff from the hotel, hence it is apparent that if the grocery liquor trade were shut down the home consumption must diminish.

The argument that the removal of grocers’ licences was the key to the reduction of consumption of alcohol within the home was to become critical in the debate.

While to this point the material in the local paper referred only to the general provision of grocers’ licences, there was little doubt that the specific target was the licence held by the Co-operative Store in Yarram. This was made abundantly clear in another editorial published on 18/7/16:

The liquor licence held by the Yarram Co-operative Store was condemned by the local Rechabite Tent some little time ago, since some of the Order are employed in the store, who doubtless never touch nor handle, much less taste the liquor. The crusade against the licence continues, and last week one of the directors, Mr. Geo. Bland, resigned. We hear that in the Methodist pulpit, both at Yarram and North Devon, Mr. Bland’s action was commended, and the holding of a liquor licence by any store was caustically condemned. It is time the Government abolished all grocers’ licences, and allowed hotels the whole and sole benefit to be derived from the trade.

Clearly, for a range of reasons – both economic and moral – the grocer’s licence attached to the Yarram Co-operative Store was an issue in the local politics of the Shire of Alberton – or more particularly, Yarram – even before the fierce debate and division of the second half of 1917.

To give some perspective on the particular licence held by the Co-operative Store, at the licensing court, which sat in Yarram on 6/12/16 and was reported in the local paper on 8/12/16, the following hotels had their licences renewed: Carrajung Hotel, Commercial Hotel Yarram, Commercial Hotel Tarraville, Commercial Hotel Woodside, Hopetoun Hotel Gelliondale, Port Albert Hotel, Ship Inn Hotel Port Albert, Victoria Hotel Alberton, Yarram Hotel and Yarram Club Hotel. In addition to the 10 hotels, there was a wine licence for B Morris of Darriman and, of course, the grocer’s licence for the ‘Yarram and District Co-operative Store’.

The event that triggered the intense debate over the Co-op Store’s grocer’s licence in mid 1917 was the death of Thomas Callender Christie on 30/6/17.

The account of his death was published in the local paper on 4/7/17. Christie was described as a … labouring man who lived a solitary life. He was 55 yo. He worked, off an on, for a local grazier, F E Hobson. As an example of just how involved the life of a ‘local’ farm worker could be, when the estate was settled – reported on 9/1/18 – the ‘Curator of Estates of Deceased Persons’ sold off Christie’s 2-roomed house which was situated at Wonwron on 1 acre of land and included fruit trees. Christie was an example of a local ‘landed labourer’: he worked for local farmers and graziers but he also held a small parcel of land in his own right.

The finding of the deputy coroner was that Christie … died on 30th day of June, 1917, at Wonwron, from want of food and exposure as the result of a drinking bout.

Hobson, Christie’s employer, described how Christie went on ‘periodical sprees’ and related how he [Christie] had told him … on one or two occasions he would like to die drunk. The last time Hobson saw Christie was nearly a week before his death. Hobson said he … appeared to be muddled with drink … and he was… only partly dressed. At the time, Christie was drinking gin and whisky and Hobson noted that he usually drank the gin neat. Hobson was alarmed that Christie did not appear to be eating and so he cooked some sausages for him. He stated that Christie ate the food and drank some tea. A few days later, Hobson asked J H O’Connor who was going to visit his parents – they lived near Christie at Wonwron – if he would check on Christie. It was O’Connor who found Christie dead and notified the police. The police noted that the death was the result of drinking. The officer described how Christie … was clad only in a shirt. It was the middle of Winter. He also noted that … The body was hooked up by the shirt he was wearing to a hook in the fireplace.

Christie’s death, reported in detail in the local paper, was obviously tragic and confronting. It was a stark example, if one was needed, of the inherent danger of drink.

Rev Walklate (Methodist) made Christie’s death the focus for his sermon about 3 weeks later. The sermon was reported in detail, in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 20/7/17. The telling headline for the piece was – The Co-operative Store Grocer’s Licence. Condemned From The Pulpit.

Walklate began his sermon lamenting the general lack of commitment to true Christianity. Then he turned to what it meant to be a true Christian businessman. He posed the rhetorical question: What [as a Christian] is my business life? and then answered it,

Does God come first? True to God in business, then after a business transaction my client should go away feeling, well, that is how Jesus Christ does business.

The focus on the Christian business man was his entree to the store’s licence. In his mind at least, the two were incompatible and Christie’s death presented the chance to prove the incompatibility:

Last week we read of a man named Christie. who drank himself to death: not in a hotel – that is against the law – but in a hut, upon liquor bought at the Co-operative Store.

Walklate’s charge was clear: how could true Christian business men – the manager, shareholders and directors of the Co-op Store – have sold liquor to someone who drank himself to death?

To labour the point about the need to see the person of Christ as a vital figure in the way business was conducted, Walklate offered an unusual – if not bizarre – image. He asked his congregation to imagine a sign painted over the Co-op Store – Jesus Christ & Co., licensed to sell wine and spirits. The presumption was that it was inconceivable. Later, he again placed Christ, literally, at the centre of the trade in alcohol:

If Jesus Christ were to stand at the counter for one day where liquor was handed out, and owners and shareholders of licences could see the face of the Lord, how long would they continue in the business?

For Walklate, the Christian business man had a definite responsibility: Christian teaching and values had to shape his conduct. By the end of the sermon, Walklate had called out all those associated with the operation of the Co-op Store’s grocer’s licence. They were not true Christians at all but, rather, as he put it, … of the race of Judas Iscariot.

In the next edition of the paper (25/7/17) there was another letter from the anonymous ‘Reform’ [see above] who congratulated Walklate as … a clergyman who has the courage to enunciate his beliefs and opinions on such vital public questions as liquor control.

The anonymous correspondent was convinced that … the abolition of the grocers’ licences is the keystone of temperance reform. Get the grocer’s licence cut out and the battle is half won.

‘Reform’ also claimed, specifically in relation to the Co-op Store at Yarram, that the real level of drink sales was hidden in the balance sheet and, more generally, it was … a well known fact that some purchases of liquor in stores hide their purchase under the guise of other goods.

Finally, ‘reformed’ returned to the editor’s earlier claim that it was only fair that licences be restricted, exclusively, to hotels.

To this point, all the reports in the local paper – both letters and editorials – had favoured the push to remove the grocer’s licence from the Co-op Store. This changed dramatically when Richard Moorfield, one of the original directors of the Co-op Store chose to respond.

Moorfield and Walklate had much in common, including the status of both civic leaders and high profile Imperial Loyalists. Both had supported recruitment campaigns and the 1916 Conscription Referendum and both were involved in soldiers’ farewells and welcomes. But there was also a history of conflict between them. For example, during the campaign for the 1916 Referendum, the two had clashed at an anti-conscription meeting held by Senator Blakey. Both had attended the meeting to attack Blakey’s position, but Moorfield had taken the matter one step further. At the end of the meeting, he proposed a motion to the effect that those present at the meeting in fact supported conscription. Walklate had intervened and argued that Moorfield was going too far. The intensity of the clash between the 2 men was remarked on by those there. Presumably, even then, the tension over the licence was affecting relations between them.

In his letter, published in the local paper on 27/7/17, Moorfield launched a spirited defence of the Co-op Store and a strong personal attack on what he described as the clergyman’s ‘vindictive diatribe’.

Moorfield did not dispute that Christie had purchased the liquor at the Co-op Store. But he argued that Christie could and would have purchased the drink from any one of numerous other locations, and he claimed that it was unfounded to single out the Co-op Store as the effective cause of Christie’s death:

Will the Rev. Mr. Walklate affirm that the unfortunate man Mr. Christie would have abstained from liquor had the grocer’s licence been extinct? He knows full well that drink can be procured in the township at various places. Why does “the vilest abomination of that hellish traffic” belong to the Co-op Store in particular?

Moorfield’s criticism then became far more personal. He attacked Walklate as a ‘rabid teetotaler’ who was keen to force his views on everyone, including …thousands of respectable ladies and gentlemen [who] consume wine and spirits as a beverage or stimulant, yet hate intoxication or excessive drinking.

Moorfield was Presbyterian – Rev. Walklate was the local Methodist clergyman – and he certainly had no illusion about the potential ‘evil’ of drink, but he went to considerable length to distance himself from the Walklate’s approach:

I deplore excessive drinking and very much of its social influence, just as much as the Rev. Mr. Walklate does, but I don’t approve of his methods to combat the evil. I have come to the conclusion that many of the rabid teetotalers do more harm than good by their extravagant language and charges against respectable people.

Moorfield even quoted scripture to prove the Church’s approach to drink was not one of total abstinence. He also employed scripture to advise Rev Walklate to step back from passing judgement on other people’s morality. This was clearly criticism of Walklate as a minister of religion.

Lastly, Moorfield could not resist playing with the contrived image that Walklate had set in his letter, where Christ was portrayed as the licensed purveyor of wine and spirits at the Yarram Co-op Store. In such a fanciful situation, Moorfield opined, at least customers would be assured of the quality of the liquor, the sales would be conducted on the ‘very best lines’ and there would be a ‘roaring trade’.

By now, if Rossiter, the editor of the paper, had hoped to stir controversy he had succeeded.

Walklate responded to Moorfield in the next edition (3/8/170. The issue of Christie’s death was receding as Walklate now began to highlight what he saw as the real problem: the appearance of ‘respectability’ that the Co-op Store was able to bestow on the liquor trade. As Walklate stated, grocers’ licences were ‘vile’ … because their hypocritical respectability is an inducement for people to drink. They are vile because they foster drinking in the home. They are vile because women are encouraged to deception and secret drinking.

Walklate’s preoccupation with the apparent duplicity of women prompted him even to suggest that it was their innate ’snobbery’ that sat behind the grocer’s licence. He argued that the … Grocer’s licence is vile because it fosters snobbery. The licensed grocer’s wife or shareholder’s wife seeks to move to a so called higher social level than the hotelkeepers wife. As Walklate saw things, the hapless grocer was driven by his status-seeking wife.

Walklate also started making accusations about the inner workings of the store itself. He suggested that the profits from the sale of alcohol were deliberately hidden in the store’s accounting practices. He also suggested that some employees of the store had had their lives ruined and families broken up because of drink, presumably from their association with the sale of liquor at the store. The further claim was that these employees had then been dismissed … to keep the store “decent and decorous.”

Not surprisingly, Rev Walklate felt the need to challenge Moorfield’s use of scripture. He even suggested Moorfield was not a true Christian:

Use of Scripture is not confined to Christians. If I remember correctly, our Lord ere he commenced his ministry met a gentleman who quoted Scripture to make wrong look right.

As for his own more informed use of scripture, Walklate observed that ‘drunkards’ would never … inherit the Kingdom of God.

Walklate was very keen to deny any association between the historical Christ and any tolerance for the consumption of liquor. In his view, Christ, and the early Church in general, had no involvement with or tolerance of alcohol.

Walklate finished by returning to his main argument that … Christian people have been lulled to unrighteousness by the grocer’s licence and its so called respectability.

For Walklate and his supporters, hotels were ‘evil’ and ‘unrighteous’ places. But this was a given in the community. Everyone knew the dangers of hotels. The Co-op Store, on the other hand, was an even more dangerous proposition because its ‘evil’ trade was concealed by a veneer of respectability. If the licence could be removed it would represent a profound victory for temperance.

Matters became very personal in the next exchange from Moorfield on 8/8/17.

Moorfield claimed that he had not entered the debate in his capacity as a director of the store. He claimed not to have set himself up as a ‘mouthpiece’ for anybody. At the same time, he strongly defended the reputation and name of the store and its employees. The claims from Walklate about questionable practices and behaviour, associated with the sale of liquor in the store, had clearly rankled him.

To the best of my knowledge, since the store was taken over from Mr. James McKenzie, over five years ago, no director has partaken of liquor within the store at any time. The manager, Mr. Whyte, strictly forbids the slightest indulgence in drinking. The employees are a respectable body of servants who know and obey the rules of the store. Should an employee be guilty of drinking in the store during working hours, he, or she, would be liable to instant dismissal. The manager is not responsible for the actions of its servants outside working hours, but all who know them, either in the store or out of it, will pronounce them a credit to the town of Yarram.

The irony was that such declarations served to support Walklate’s claim that the very ’respectability’ of the store enhanced its trade in liquor.

Moorfield dismissed Walklate’s claims about the early Church’s commitment to temperance.

He questioned yet again why Walklate refused to tackle the liquor trade at the hotels and focused exclusively on the Co-op Store. He wondered aloud why … he [Walklate] avoids saying one word against the Club or hotels, thereby showing his bitter animosity towards the store “in particular.”

The reference to the (Yarram) Club was critical. As already indicated, the Yarram Club – a private club in Yarram since the 1890s – held its own liquor licence. Yet it had not attracted any attention at all from Walklate.

Moorfield decided that he needed to address this inconsistency. He claimed that he had the ‘painful duty’ to expose the reasons behind this ‘glaring inconsistency’. Moorfield then announced that Rev Walklate was himself a member of the (licensed) Yarram Club.

It is rumored about (but rumor is not sufficient for me), and I have it from an undoubted source, that the Rev. C. J. Walklate joined the Yarram Club, wherein the “hellish traffic” is carried on, and where drink is sold to members only to be drunk on the premises; that the rev. gentleman was duly balloted for, and made a member of the Club.

Moorfield finished his letter with a curt,

The public awaits his reply.

Walklate had challenged the ‘hypocritical respectability’ of the Co-op Store, now he was being called out as a hypocrite himself over his membership of another licensed premises.

Walklate’s lengthy rely on 15/8/17 claimed that Moorfield was twisting and distorting his (Walklate’s) arguments; and that he was being personally attacked and held to ridicule. As for his membership of the Yarram Club, Walklate denied ever having been a member and claimed, again, that Moorfield had deliberately misrepresented the situation. His version was:

I was proposed as a member of the club and successfully balloted, but hearing it challenged as inconsistent with my rechabite principles I personally interviewed the Grand See of the Rechabites in Melbourne, and was told that the Council would hold it as inconsistent with the I.O.R. principles. Desiring to be consistent, I wrote my proposer and the president of the club and asked permission to withdraw my nomination. They kindly let the matter drop, and thus I never was a member. Should the Rechabites ever permit me I shall gladly join the club for, as a man and a Christian minister I ever seek the right to be found in all places (worthy or worthless) as a man among men.

Walklate returned to the claim that the Co-op Store was morally responsible for Christie’s death. He also now claimed that the sale of alcohol was the ‘backbone’ of the ‘grocery department’ and this was the reason the store was so reluctant to give up the licence.

In his ongoing attempt to remove Christ and the early church from any association with alcohol, Walklate persisted with his claim that ‘wine’ from the scriptures was not intoxicating:

Mr. Moorfield knows that he cannot show from scripture that Biblical wine made by our Lord and advised by Paul was intoxicating. He has no ground for dragging in such instances as though they were intoxicating wines. Raspberry vinegar might have been called “wine” in those days. Any fruit steeped in water was a wine.

Moorfield waited a full week before he replied on 22/8/17. The language in his response was particularly strong. He accused Walklate of showing … his maliciousness and malignant disposition against the Co-op., its employees, and a large section of the public who do business under its licence.

Further, he claimed that Walklate’s instruction from the pulpit was so harsh and extreme – driven by his obsession with temperance – that it drove his congregation way:

From his pulpit … he attacked the Christians of his church, or any others, who professed to be followers of their Master, by using harsh and uncalled for language against them, which I have pointed out in this debate.

And he noted … no wonder the churches – in which such doctrines are preached – are becoming empty.

Clearly, Moorfield was directly attacking Walklate’s worth as a minister of religion. He also attacked his ambivalence towards the question of the licence at the Yarram Club and claimed that his obvious – and ongoing – desire to be a member, set against others’ interpretation of Rechabite principles, showed that ‘his mind is very fickle’ and ‘under outside control’. As far as Moorfield was concerned, Walklate was not even his own man.

Further, to accentuate Walklate’s supposed limitations as a clergyman, Moorfield ridiculed his references to ‘raspberry vinegar’ and other forms of non-alcoholic wine at the time of Christ. He even listed 14 specific references to scripture which he maintained showed that, in fact, biblical wine was intoxicating, and early church leaders recommended its use in moderation while explicitly condemning drunkenness. The clear imputation was that he, a layman, was a more informed scholar of scripture than this particular clergyman.

Rev Walklate’s last letter on the matter came on 29/8/17. He opened his letter by claiming that he had been subjected to a … personal and abusive attack by Mr. Moorfield. He accused Moorfield of ‘brow-beating and abuse’ and of twisting ‘my words into insults’. He wrote that Moorfield had violated the ‘law of courtesy in debate’ and, most pointedly, had poured out ‘contemptible abuse on my ministry.’ Walklate claimed that it was generally recognised that Moorfield’s attack had been so extreme that even shareholders and customers of the Co-op Store had approached him and apologised for the way he had been treated.

Overall, the letter was considerably shorter. Walklate still maintained that the store bore moral responsibility for Christie’s death. He still wanted a thorough investigation of the store’s licence. He wanted to know the ‘drink totals of each year’, and how many employees had been dismissed over drink-related problems. He was still suggesting that ‘liquor’ was … being charged as soap, vinegar, grocery or drapery.

He also still wanted to persist with the seemingly fanciful position that … Our Lord’s and Paul’s wine have no connection with intoxication of today.

Oddly, it was only in the last paragraph of his final letter that Walklate explicitly referred to the War and the call for temperance:

Now His Majesty King George, the late Lord Kitchener, Prime Minister Lloyd George, and a gallant host of leaders have banished intoxicants entirely from their households, and have asked loyal citizens to do the same during the war. Surely the Co-op. management can show a spirit of loyalty to the Empire and give a lead to this district by banishing liquor from the store.

It seems strange that he did not employ this patriotic argument earlier, and with more force. Perhaps he used it, at the very end, to claim back some form of authoritative respectability in a debate he believed he had lost.

For his part, Moorfield’s last letter came on 5/9/17. He had no intention of apologising or backing down. He wrote that Walklate was ‘ruffled’, principally because he had been caught out with his membership of the Yarram Club. He then summarised all the charges made against the Co-op Store by Walklate, from moral responsibility for Christie’s death, through the promotion of drinking in the home and the promotion of drinking among women, to the alleged practice of recording alcohol sales as other items. He rejected them all, vigorously:

I repel with indignant and redoubled force and vigor the defamatory accusations which have been cowardly and spitefully levelled at the Co-operative Store, its management, and its shareholders.

He specifically accused Walklate and his backers of an orchestrated campaign:

This outcry from a small section of violent reactionists has gone far enough, and now we say “hands off the Co-operative Store and mind your own business.” Already, if I am not mistaken, the Rev. Mr. Walklate has gone perilously near a precipice. We had peace for over five years in connection with the Co-op., until this conspiracy – by a small circle of “chosen people” – was hatched. This particular section evidently put their heads together to damn the Co-op. Yet, after all their contemptible work and “hypocritical respectability,” the store is rapidly progressing.

He employed religious imagery to damn them:

These I say, “superior” scavengers of society, searching the dust bins in other people’s places for scraps of filth to throw at the community again and again from their housetops, with malignant spite under pre-arranged conspiracies. I say, these are the kind of Pharisees who ran rampant in the days of ignorance. Have their posterity, I ask, reached Yarram and district in the year of Our Lord 1917? If so, I have every confidence that the intelligence of this community will drive them out.

He finished with a passage for Walklate:

Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth – this defileth a man. (Matthew 15, 11.)

The final word on the debate in the local paper over the grocer’s licence at the Yarram Co-operative Store came on 14/9/17. It was a letter from James Bland – a dairy farmer from Alberton – and it was in support of Walklate. He reassured readers that people were not leaving Rev Walklate’s congregation and that there was a lot of support generally for his position, not just from his ‘own people’ but also from ‘most of the other churches’. Interestingly, he took aim at all non-hotel licences, the Yarram Club included:

I feel that grocers’, club and wine licences are an unnecessary evil; that they do encourage secret drinking in the home no sane man would deny. I venture to say that not one half of the drink sold by grocers would be consumed in the homes if there were no grocers’ licences.

Bland finished his letter with a fairly mild rebuke of Moorfield:

If Mr. Moorfield is going to try to get into heaven on his good works alone I think he will have to put up a better argument to Peter for a pass than he has for the grocer’s licence.

On one level, the foregoing account stands as a case-study of the intense social conflict precipitated by the attempts of temperance advocates to impose their views on the wider community. Such advocates saw temperance as proof of moral strength and religious purity. They also believed that they had a duty to promote temperance in the wider community and even impose it on, by definition, weaker individuals or souls. Opposed to such ‘reformers’ there were others who, recognising the risks and even ‘evils’ associated with alcohol, were not prepared to compromise individual rights, set themselves up as the moral arbiters of others, curb or prohibit existing social behaviours and pastimes or even deny legitimate business practices. This, essentially, was the conflict that played out in Yarram in the middle of 1917.

But this level of analysis misses much of the historical complexity associated with what happened in Yarram at that time. Specifically, it does not place the events within the context of the War.

As argued previously, the early stages of the War saw a very close connection between temperance and support for the War. Temperance was advanced as an essential war-time goal and it was promoted, vigorously, at every level – the Empire, the Nation, the AIF and the local community. Specifically, in the Shire of Alberton there was an almost seamless connect between the call for temperance and support for the War. The local Imperial Loyalists of the Shire strongly supported both causes. Importantly, this group largely featured leading members of the local Protestant congregations, including their clergymen, as well as groups such as the local Rechabites. This demographic was naturally inclined to support temperance.

However, by the middle of 1917, after 3 years of the War, when the focus of temperance reform shifted to a very specific local cause – the abolition of the grocer’s licence at the Yarram Co-op Store – the previous unity was fractured. As noted, both Walklate and Moorfield belonged to the leading group of Imperial Loyalists yet, ultimately, the issue of temperance caused them to fall out spectacularly, with considerable bitterness. It seemed that the cause of temperance had, in fact, divided the civic leaders and the core block of Imperial Loyalists.

Yet it also appears that the division and fall out were contained. Effectively, while there was no longer any common position on temperance, this tension was not allowed to undermine the stability of the group of Imperial Loyalists or their support for the War, and within a few months the same group was actively promoting the Yes vote in the second referendum.

There appear to have been 3 critical factors at play that prevented a more profound social and civic rupture. The first was that the public conflict was limited to just 2 people: Walklate and Moorfield. No other public figures became involved. It was as if there was agreement that the debate would be limited to just two spokespeople. Even Rossiter, the editor of the paper and another key Imperial Loyalist, who definitely had strong opinions on the matter, withdrew from the debate once it had been taken up by Moorfield and Walklate.

The second factor was the apparent agreement to keep the various Protestant congregations at arms length. Even though Moorfield was Presbyterian and Walklate Methodist, the debate did not become one that pitted Methodist against Presbyterian. This was a critical point because the temperance movement was definitely not limited to the Methodist congregation. Many Presbyterians were temperance backers, including Rev Tamagno the minister who had chaired the local ‘6 o’clock movement’.  Similarly, Rev George Cox the previous Church of England minister had been a strong temperance advocate. In fact, he had been the Head Ruler of the local Rechabite Tent. The Rechabites drew their number from all the Protestant churches. It appears that there was tacit agreement not to allow the debate to develop into a conflict between or within Protestant congregations. Moorfield was scathing in his attacks on Walklate but he never explicitly attacked him as a Methodist clergyman.

The third factor, already mentioned, was that Walklate did not employ the argument that temperance was vital to the War effort. He only introduced it at the very end of the debate and, as argued, then he appeared to employ it merely to claw back some credibility for his position. One explanation for Walklate’s behaviour is that he knew full well that in the block of Imperial Loyalists to which he belonged, there were others – possibly many others – who, like Moorfield, did not share his strong views on temperance and he was reluctant to use the cause of the War lest he create major divisions within the group. Rossiter, the editor of the local paper, was another example. He had in fact started the debate about the Co-op Store and its licence but he also warned temperance advocates about being over zealous. In one sense Walklate’s reluctance to create too much conflict with his peers was similar to his willingness to ignore the licence for the Yarram Club and focus exclusively on that for the Co-op Store. It appears that Walklate made political decisions about how best to pursue the cause of temperance and at the same time hold together the group of civic leaders, to which he belonged, who were committed to pursuing the War and supporting the Empire.

Even though local politics contained the fall-out from the bitter debate over temperance, it was abundantly clear that the issue of temperance was yet another major fault line running through the community. Arguably, while there was a major Catholic – Protestant divide in the community – over theology, religious history, education, perceived level of support for the War …. , the division within the Protestant churches on the issue of temperance was also very profound.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

150. The second conscription referendum (Dec 20, 1917)

In its Christmas Day edition (Tuesday 25/12/17), the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative featured only limited coverage of the second conscription referendum, held just a few days earlier on Thursday 20/12/17. It limited the coverage to a breakdown of the vote and a short, local anecdote.

The voting returns, to that point, showed that whereas the No vote had succeeded in Victoria, the Yes vote in the Yarram poll had come in at 67% which was essentially the figure achieved in the first referendum. Both the Shire of Alberton, and Gippsland, retained their status as amongst the strongest supporters of conscription. The anecdote that the paper made a point of including was clearly intended to stand as an editorial comment on the failure of the referendum:

An incident worthy of notice occurred at the Yarram polling booth on Thursday. A lady voter, Mrs. Hamilton, second eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Bland, was borne in on a stretcher, having only a few days previously undergone an operation for appendicitis. It will be remembered that Mrs. Hamilton lost her husband at Gallipoli, and with true Anzac spirit, at all events was determined to have revenge in an effort to send “more men.’” Unfortunately the Commonwealth has decided that our boys at the front shall not be relieved.

Essentially, the anecdote was intended to serve as a lesson in moral failure. Once again, beyond all expectation, understanding and exhortation, the Australian Nation had suffered a moral failure.

For the local Imperial Loyalists, the conviction that there was a lack of moral integrity abroad had been expressed regularly in the months leading to the second referendum. The constant claim was that people refused to accept their obligations in terms of the War effort. Three years of War had compromised their sense of responsibility and their inherent selfishness had come to the fore. At a poorly attended welcome home for a soldier (F J Card) in late September 1917, B P Johnson was reported – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, 3/101/7 – as stating:

The war had been on three years and some people had got tired of saying good-bye, or wish (sic) a welcome to the men returning or to say “thank you, old chap.” It showed a tremendous want of feeling or thought. It seemed to be the same all over Australia. They heard people say Australia had done enough. The 320,000 gone had made a name throughout the world. Those men deserved credit. Other men would not go, nor even give those returning a shake of the hand. He felt very strongly about it. They did not realise the protection they had from the British Empire, and did not care how the boys felt.

While the vote in the Shire of Alberton in the 2 referenda was substantially the same, the second referendum was characterised by a far more visible level of division and antagonism within the community. Such discord was set to worsen in 1918. Its most obvious manifestation would take the form of increasingly bitter sectarianism.

Anti-conscription meetings

Reports in the local press indicate that there were 3 public anti-conscription meetings in the shire in the lead up to the referendum. The first of these was held in Port Albert, on the reserve, in the afternoon of Sunday 2/12/17. The key speaker was Mr McGowan, an ALP candidate for St Kilda in the recent state election. Substantially, this meeting was similar to the single anti-conscription meeting held during the first referendum (Post 91): the speaker was someone from outside the local district, there was no indication that any locals were involved in running or even setting up the meeting, and the reception was overtly hostile.

There were about 100 present at the meeting and they had come to disrupt it. The report in the local paper (5/12/17) noted:

In anticipation of some fun, a number of visitors went to Port Albert on Sunday afternoon, to hear Messrs McGowan and Taylor, billed to speak on the reserve on Anti-Conscription. Mr. McGowan was heckled from first to last.

That afternoon, over the abuse and hectoring, McGowan attempted to argue that the Government could not be trusted on the issue of the number of reinforcements required. He maintained the Government was not able to give an accurate number of how many ‘eligible’ men there were nor how many reinforcements were required. Further, it had given conflicting figures. McGowan cited his version of the numbers to prove that compared to others – Canada and the US – Australia had done more than its share. McGowan also pressed the issue of the lack of support for returned soldiers. He told the crowd that invalided soldiers’ pensions were being reduced, those returning could not find work, and their dependents were facing hardship. McGowan actually proposed a collection for returned soldiers but the crowd voted it down.

The next night (3/12/17) McGowan spoke in the Mechanics’ Hall in Yarram. It was a full house.  In the previous week, he had spoken at both Wonthaggi and Leongatha. The report in the press indicated that McGowan received a better hearing at this meeting but there was no indication at all of any support for his position.

McGowan was critical of the wording of the referendum – Are you in favour of the proposal of the Commonwealth Government for reinforcing the Australian Imperial Force overseas? – as manifestly biased in favour the Yes vote. He argued that some Nationalists – William Irvine was the most prominent – were directly advocating the introduction of conscription by legislation and Hughes’ pledge to introduce it only through a referendum was therefore compromised. He also claimed that the vote of married men had been bought at the expense of young, single men who did not even have the vote. He accused the Hughes Government of using wild claims about the IWW and Sinn Fein to create division in society.

At the meeting, McGowan shared the stage with 3 returned soldiers. The advertisement for the meeting had declared that these men would present … the views of the Returned Soldiers’ Anti-Conscription League of Australia. The criticism of the men was that the Government had not looked after the men who returned from the War either wounded, suffering from illness or medically disabled in some way. It was a critical issue. More and more men were returning home and, while welcomed as heroes, they faced all manner of problems. Moreover, the casualty rates were increasing. The second half of 1917 had been a disaster for the AIF and the level of casualties from September had been one of the very reasons Hughes had decided on the referendum. However, the clear implication was that the Government had not provided adequate care and support for those men returning and therefore had no moral right to compulsorily send even more. McGowan’s claim that Australia must do much more for her returned men and their dependents was met with applause.

J R Boucher, one the soldiers present, claimed:

In this country the returned men were promised this and that; brass bands played – but not for them. He referred to a returned soldier, named Divett, whose pension, he said, had been reduced to 15/- a week – a man pronounced by the doctors to be incurable.

One of the other soldiers there introduced the issues of class and wealth:

Returned soldier W Taylor stated he was a committeeman of the Returned Soldiers’ “No” Conscription League, 1500 strong, and every man of them has heard shots fired. He contended that while soldiers offered their lives, wealth should lend money free of interest instead of pocketing 4 1/2 per cent.

McGowan and the soldiers also argued that the unions were not disloyal, working people’s conditions and wages had been reduced and, following the Great Strike, unionists had been persecuted and discriminated against. All this while the promises of jobs for the returning men were not being honoured.

The report of the meeting in the paper makes it clear that the soldiers on the stage were challenged and hectored and the fact that none of them were local returned men would not have helped their cause. However, the issue of repatriation was a key one and, as already noted – Post 148 – it was already creating tension in the local community. There was real concern over the issue. Indeed, at the meeting that night a collection for returned men in need was organised on the spot, and it raised £6.

The meeting at Yarram would have been a difficult one for McGowan and the returned men, but at least they got a hearing. As mentioned, McGowan had spoken the previous week at Wonthaggi, a mining town. His reception there had been very different from the one at Yarram. According to the report in the local paper at Wonthaggi – Powlett Express and Victorian State Coalfields Advertiser, 30/11/17 – the meeting was a clear success for McGowan, and at the end of the meeting the following motion was passed unanimously:

That we the citizens of Wonthaggi will endeavour to do all that lays in our power to secure a No vote on December 20 .

The report also notes that McGowan again stressed the lack of Government support for returned men. Given the more like-minded audience he also made more of the threat conscription posed to Australian unionism and the conditions and employment of Australian workers generally. He also argued that in the UK where the union movement had actively supported the government, working conditions had declined. He pushed the claim that conscription, by its very nature, was an attack on the working class and the union movement.

There was a third anti-conscription meeting held on Tuesday 11/12/17. It was reported, briefly, in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on Friday 14/12/17. This particular meeting was originally scheduled for the day before (Monday 10/12/17) and a large crowd turned up but there were no speakers and no indication of what had happened to them and why the meeting did not proceed. Once again, there was no mention of local people involved in the planning of the meeting. It was, apparently, a completely ‘outside’ affair. The crowd broke up with no one knowing what was going on. The paper (14/12/17) even suggested that the cancellation that night and the rescheduling the next day were part of a ploy to keep the Yes people away, particularly those from Alberton and Port Albert. The disruption of meetings, on both sides, was certainly commonplace. Indeed the same edition of the local paper reported on how local men were even going to Melbourne to break up meetings:

Returned soldiers in the metropolitan area, on the affirmative side, have adopted tactics to break up “anti” meetings. They speak for a while as “No” men, and receive the applause of the audience, but when they make known their true views the air is rent with boo-hoos, and the order of the meeting is gone. Sergeant Newland, of Yarram, was one of these speakers at St. Kilda the other evening, gained his purpose in creating disorder, and was lost in the crowd outside.

The third Yarram anti-conscription meeting did go ahead the next night. It was held in Thompson’s Hall and did not finish until 11.00 pm. Once again, there was a large crowd. The key speaker was Mr Guido Barrachi. The chair was occupied by another returned soldier but, again, he was not a local. Apologies were given for the cancellation of the meeting the day before. Bad roads were given as the reason.

As indicated there was little detail in the local press about the second Yarram meeting. However we do know something about Barrachi and we also know that earlier that day Barrachi and another key anti-conscriptionist, the Rev Frederick Sinclair, had addressed a meeting at Mirboo North. That particular meeting was a very rowdy affair and … at times it looked as if serious trouble would brew. (The Argus, 12/12/17). Part of the problem at Mirboo North was the statement by Sinclair that he wanted to talk to the young people, not the ‘bald headed’ ones.

Both Rev Sinclair and Guido Barrachi were avowed socialists. Not long before he appeared in Yarram, Barrachi had given a lecture on ’Socialism as an Economic System’ as part of a series of free public lectures chaired by Archbishop Mannix. Barrachi was a law student from Melbourne University. He was very involved in the anti-conscription movement and appeared at many meetings. For example, in the week after his appearances in Gippsland he was in Geelong where he appeared at street corner meetings with Vida Goldstein. Baracchi would eventually be prosecuted under the War Precautions Act – both Sinclair and McGowan were also prosecuted – and imprisoned for 3 months.

There was no report on the detail of what was said at the meeting in Yarram, but Barrachi’s opposition to conscription, from a socialist perspective, would have been, arguably, the most strident anti-War sentiment the people of Yarram ever heard. As an example of his position, in July 1917 he had clashed with the board of Melbourne University for publishing the following in the university’s student publication:

The war, whatever the jingoes and junkers may tell us, is not primarily our affair. Essentially it is a European war, fought by the Allies against Germany to maintain the balance of European power. And Australia is not Europe. This is the true explanation of our recruiting figures; the exact index of the nation’s war interest. Nevertheless, through a connection with the British Empire, on the whole rather tragic, the Commonwealth is deeply involved in the European cataclysm, and the event is for us, and for the rest of the world, well nigh as significant as the fall of Lucifer. (Labor Call, 19/7/17)

Pro-conscription meetings

There were 2 major pro-conscriptions meetings in Yarram in the lead up to the referendum. Both were reported extensively in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative. The first was held on Saturday 7/12/17 in the Shire Hall and reported on 12/12/17. The second was held on Thursday 13/12/17 and reported on 19/12/17. Both meetings were advertised in advance, attracted large, supportive audiences, involved outside speakers as well as prominent local backers of conscription and both passed, overwhelmingly, resolutions in favour of the Yes vote.

The first meeting was chaired by the Shire President – Cr McGalliard – and proceedings opened with the National Anthem, “God Bless Our Splendid Men”, “Rule Britannia” and ‘other patriotic airs’. At the end of the meeting the following resolution was passed:

That we, the citizens of Yarram and district, express our determination to wholeheartedly support the Government in adequately reinforcing the men at the front, and to that end pledge ourselves to work for a huge “Yes’ majority.

In opening the meeting, the Shire President praised Hughes for honouring his commitment not to introduce conscription without a referendum. He also noted that Australia was the only place where conscription had not simply been legislated for, as many wished. However, he continued, the stakes were much higher now than in 1916. Critically, Russia had effectively left the War. The threat from Germany was greater than ever. McGalliard also warned that if the referendum was defeated, Hughes, to honour his pledge, would resign and the nation would be thrown into chaos. Finally, he appealed to the Catholic voters. Italy and Belgium, 2 of the strongest Catholic countries in Europe, were fighting with the allies. People had to put the issue of sectarianism aside and face the greater threat of Germany.

Cr. Embling (Herbert Arthur Embling, Mayor of Prahran) as the invited speaker, took the high moral ground, reminding everyone that Australia had pledged support to the last man and last shilling. Further, the setbacks in Europe – Russia was out of the War and Italy had been badly set back – justified conscription. Without reinforcements the Australian divisions would continue to reduce in number. The UK had stood by Australia, even buying the wool and wheat it had no hope of transporting back to England. It proved the UK stood by Australia. There was also praise for the UK unions and workers who were totally behind their government.

B P Johnson, in introducing the motion of support for conscription, spent time attacking the claims made by McGowan at the earlier anti-conscription meeting. He also claimed that the local returned soldiers would not support the claims made at that meeting by the soldiers on the platform with McGowan. Johnson was keen to remind everyone of the last referendum:

Yarram gave a magnificent “Yes” vote at the last referendum, and it was to be hoped that a bigger majority would be given this time. (Applause)

Rev Cyril John Walklate began by detailing his own unsuccessful attempts to enlist. He declared that he would never hide behind either his marriage or his calling as a clergyman. He recounted how he had only recently been rejected on medical grounds. Further, in a barely disguised attack on Fr Sterling, he claimed that if he had been able to enlist as a chaplain he would have insisted on serving the men in the front line and not by taking the role of chaplain on a troopship. This public attempt to belittle Fr Sterling’s efforts as a chaplain was to continue through at least 1918.

Walklate disputed all the figures that the antis had cited in their claims that Australia had done enough. In his mind, the arguments about numbers and ‘share’ was a false one. The real issue was loyalty to the Empire. What he wanted was equality of sacrifice from families, not colonies. Given his audience, he had no compunction in stating that not only had conscription been introduced in the UK but .. the labor of the working man had also been conscripted as well (Applause). His claim – ironically, one of the key fears of the Australian labour movement – was in line with the overall argument about shared sacrifice.

Walklate tended to make the most extreme claims in these public meetings. He made a range of claims about Germans, including that … the children were fed scientifically on raw meat. Further, if … a woman happened to get in front of a military officer in Germany she was thrown aside, and should her husband interfere he would be slashed with the sword.

Walklate also referred to the recent death of his brother at the front: Captain Harold Vernon Walklate, 14 B kia 22/10/17.

Finally, as reported, Rev Walklate gave a somewhat convoluted reason to explain why so many soldiers had voted no in the 1916 referendum.

At the last referendum tens of thousands of soldiers voted no because they had never seen the firing line.

The general consensus amongst historians is that in 1916 the troops in training in the UK and on the troopships tended to vote Yes, precisely because they had not experienced the western front.

It was also somewhat odd that Walklate laboured the number of desertions from the AIF – principally in Australia, prior to embarkation – at the meeting. He was trying to argue that the figure of total enlistments used by those opposing conscription, had to be adjusted to take into account the 67,000 men who had deserted. While this made some sense from a statistical perspective, the audience could hardly have warmed to such a claim. Certainly, it did not fit with the popular image of the AIF.

The second Yes meeting saw many of the same claims repeated. G H Wise, the local federal member and the guest speaker, again hailed Hughes as an honourable person who had determined to keep his word and not introduce conscription without a referendum. This was despite all those, including some in Hughes’ government, who argued that the Government should use its numbers and legislate for conscription. But where Hughes was honourable, Wise claimed that those opposing him were not. They were insincere and blindly following the (ALP) party line:

He knew from his own knowledge that those men’s speeches are not sincere, and that they are only spoken from order and not from the heart. (Applause.)

Wise also stressed that the current situation was dire, far worse than in 1916: The position is blacker today than it has been since the war started. He noted that Russia was effectively out of the War, Italy was struggling and … Roumania is down and out.

In a stretch of logic, Wise argued that the reinforcements were not required because of the casualty levels but to give the men at the front a rest.

Again there was the contrast to the labour movement in the UK. In Britain labour stood behind the Government but in Australia the ALP … are the only ones not standing behind their Government. And there was the rhetorical question on what would happen if the referendum was lost and Hughes, to honour his word, resigned. He warned of the chaos to follow.

The first local speaker that night was W G Pope. He presented the motion to be put to the meeting:

That this meeting of the citizens of Yarram and district pledges itself to support the Government in this national crisis, and to use very effort to secure an overwhelming majority for “Yes” in the coming referendum.

Pope warned how real the threat of the German conquest of Australia was. Then he launched into an idiosyncratic claim that those enlisting only stood a 1 in 20 chance of being killed. It is difficult to know what those in the audience would have made of it, particularly as there was no equivalent figure for the odds of being wounded, having your health ruined or being left disabled for the rest of your life. Many would have found his claim inappropriate or misleading and certainly counter-productive:

Life Insurance companies say that they may safely insure men going to the front at a premium of 5 per cent above that of civilians. That means that after a careful investigation of all the figures, the added risk of men being killed at the war is 1 in 20, and about 80 per cent. may be expected to return.

On the question of death rates, Pope felt compelled to argue that, ultimately, it didn’t matter. What mattered was not the degree of sacrifice but the integrity of the sacrifice:

If Australia gave her last man and her last shilling she would not have done too much.

The motion, which was of course passed overwhelmingly, was seconded by Rev C J Walklate. He obviously knew he was speaking to the converted:

The thing that stood out in his [Walklate’s] mind was that the “Yes” platform is a statement of facts, and the anti platform a concoction of lies. (Loud Applause.)

Extraordinarily, Walklate justified one of the key arguments employed by those opposed to conscription: the threat it posed to the maintenance of the White Australia Policy. As far as Walklate was concerned, even the risk of undermining this policy was not enough to break the sacred promise to the men at the front:

If we are going to deplete Australia, and colored labor comes here, is that any reason why we should break our promise and leave the soldiers there to die?

He finished with an analogy about married men and bolting horses. Again, it could not have meant much to the audience, particularly given that under the conscription proposal married men were to be protected:

If a team of horses bolted up the road, and a man’s life were in danger, and married men looked on and said because they were married men they could not risk their lives to save that man, what would you call them? (A voice: Cowards.)

Essentially, the 2 pro-conscription meetings held at Yarram were set pieces. Their key purpose was to demonstrate the strength of support for the Yes vote in the local community. The arguments put forward for the second vote were the ones that had been promoted at other public meetings – farewells, welcomes, recruiting drives, religious memorial services – for most of 1917.

In addition to the large, formal meetings held at Yarram, there were at least 2 public meetings held in local townships. One was at Hiawatha (Fairview) on Friday 14/12/17 and the other at Binginwarri on Monday 17/12/17.

The meeting at Hiawatha was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 19/12/17. It was addressed by speakers for the Yes vote: Rev Walklate and E T Benson, the secretary of the local branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia. The report noted that it was the first ever public meeting on the issue of conscription held at Hiawatha. The meeting was peaceful. There were some interjections but overall … the meeting was very orderly and no doubt educational. While there was no formal motion of support for the Yes vote, the audience closed the meeting with God Save the King. Overall, it was uneventful. In fact, the key point raised in the report was the delight that the car load of speakers had been able to mange the drive, at night, to Hiawatha. It was cited as proof that Hiawatha was not as isolated as some locals believed.

The meeting at Binginwarri was very different. It was reported in the edition of 19/12/17.

The report suggested that the speakers knew there was gong to to be trouble. It noted how fortunate it was that Senior Constable McLeod accompanied the speakers that night. It was again a pro-conscription meeting and the first 2 speakers – W G Pope and B P Johnson – ‘got a good hearing’. However when Rev Walklate spoke ‘at length’ the mood changed significantly.

Walklate attacked the views of Dr Mannix and claimed that in fact other Catholic clergy supported conscription. Walklate then stressed that Mannix’s opposition to conscription was because he, as an Irishman, blamed the British for Ireland’s problems.

Presumably, the Catholics in the audience did not appreciate being lectured by a local Protestant minister on either the nature of the Catholic position on conscription or the political situation in Ireland and its relevance to them as Irish-Australians. Perhaps Walklate had been determined to provoke a response.

The meeting became very lively. The report noted that people got up and walked out and eggs started flying. At the meeting’s end, a tense stand-off followed outside the hall – it was near midnight – and as the car of speakers left it was pelted with eggs:

As they moved off the party were pelted, obviously intended for Mr. Walklate, whose strong utterances aroused the ire of “No” voters.

Walklate himself was convinced that he was being singled out because of his views on conscription. In an editorial in the local paper on 12/12/17 there was a claim by Walklate that, in an earlier incident, his dog had been shot – not fatally – because of his outspoken comments in favour of conscription. However, the editorial noted… but it is more than likely that his canine was amongst a flock of sheep and got a charge of shot.

The report of the trouble at Binginwarri is the only substantive report in the local paper of sectarian conflict as a feature of the referendum. However, previous posts have tracked the significant divisions – cultural, religious and political – between the Protestant and Catholic communities in the Shire of Alberton. Conscription brought the division to a head but it itself was only one aspect of a very complex picture. Moreover, there had been real efforts to moderate the divisions and strive for a common approach to support the War effort, at least to the end of 1917. Following the defeat of the second referendum, sectarianism became far more public in the community.

There was one additional source of tension for the local Catholic community in the political landscape that existed post the 1916 referendum. In late September 1917 the Hughes Government passed its so-called ‘Bachelor Tax’. Essentially, single men who had not enlisted were hit with a levy. It was specifically intended to promote enlistments and raise money for the repatriation of those who had served in the AIF. However, the Catholic Church took great exception to the law and saw it as an attack on its priesthood and male religious orders. Celibacy was a central plank of the religious life and therefore, unlike other religions where the clergy could marry, the Catholic Church argued that it was being singled out.

Catholic opposition to the legislation was significant. One outspoken critic was Bishop Phelan of Gippsland. At a function in Maffra in mid November 1917, Bishop Phelan not only condemned the ‘bachelor tax’ but directed his congregation to … Refuse to contribute to every patriotic appeal when that appeal is in the interests of the Government which framed this iniquitous law. This was all reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 23/11/17, in the lead up to the referendum. For patriots and Imperial Loyalists this was further proof that Catholic support for the War was, at best, highly qualified and compromised. For Catholics, the legislation was further proof that the Hughes Government was targeting them. Importantly, even though the point was not made specifically, the following directive from Bishop Phelan, in the context of the impending vote on conscription, could have been interpreted as a more general call to withdraw all support for the Government:

To the Catholics of Gippsland I say, follow the example of your pastor, to very demand made on you for Red Cross, Repatriation Fund etc, say: – We have to pay a bachelor tax for our priests, and as long as that law remains unrepealed we refuse to help the Federal Government. The Win-the-War Party may then see that their ill-considered action has helped to dry up a source which was the glory of Australia, namely the tens of thousands contributed by voluntary offerings.

The farmers’ vote

The tone of formal appeals to farmers to vote Yes in the referendum became almost hysterical. The editorial in the local paper on 30/11/17 featured a detailed appeal from the Reinforcements Referendum Council. It began:

The farmers’ vote will be the decisive one on December 20th. If the farmers unite and work to secure a “Yes” vote the Commonwealth Government’s scheme will be carried. If they hang back, if they are indifferent as to the result, if they lack enthusiasm, and if they accept the view that one vote more or less does not matter, the the referendum will be defeated.

The language sharpened considerably as the appeal continued:

If the farmers, who have responded so generously to the call of Empire, and who have aided so liberally the cause of the democracy, fail to exert the whole of their strength on this occasion, they will be acting as traitors to their relatives and friends in the trenches. They will be acting, moreover, as enemies of their country.

In this particular appeal the true enemy was the IWW which had caused so much damage in the recent industrial unrest and which played with the incredulity of the working class:

The memory of the great hold-up in August and September is still fresh in the minds of every man on the land. The I.W.W. play upon the credulity of the big mass of the working class, and they used the deluded workers as an instrument to crush and despoil the farmer.

The formal appeal to the farmers from Hughes was published in the local paper on 14/12/17. In it, Hughes gave the IWW and Sinn Fein as the 2 forces behind the No vote. He depicted the IWW as the natural and historical enemy of the farmer. He warned the farmers:

If you by your vote defeat the Government’s proposals, then you hand over the reins of government to extremists, the I.W.W. and the Sinn Fein. That is the responsibility that rests upon you.

Most of Hughes’ appeal sought to counter the claim that conscription would deny the farmers workers. Clearly, for Hughes the constant claims and counter claims over numbers in the referendum debate was having a negative effect. He stressed that the number of 7,000 men per month was the maximum that would ever be required under the conscription proposals. However, in the same equation that sought to reassure the farmers that there would be no labour shortage, Hughes stated that of those soldiers returning to Australia – those repatriated and discharged on medical grounds – 50% would take up their former occupations and another 25% would be fit for ‘light work’. In other words, the low target of 7,000 per month was in part based on the assumption that 75% of those members of the AIF being repatriated would slot back into the workforce. This claim would not have matched the actual experience of farmers in the Shire of Alberton, or other farming areas. They saw with their own eyes that many of those returning would never work again. Moreover, statistical claims about labour availability meant very little if the direct experiences of farmers confirmed that there was a labour shortage. If anything, statistical arguments tended to confirm the weakness of Hughes’ position.

The returned soldiers’ vote

As indicated earlier, returned soldiers were present at anti-conscription meetings in Yarram, and they claimed to be members of the Returned Soldiers’ Anti-Conscription League of Australia. But these men were dismissed as ‘outsiders’.

The official position of the local branch of the RSSILA was published in the local paper on 30/11/17.

Mr. W. A. Newland, hon. secretary of the Yarram sub-branch of the Returned Soldiers’ Association (sic), has received the following letter from headquarters, which is deeply interested in the reinforcement referendum campaign.

The position was:

That knowing the urgent need for reinforcing our comrades at the front, this committee of the Victorian branch of the R.S.S.I.L.A. urgently appeals to our members and to the public to vote in favour of the proposals to be submitted on the 20th Dec. next.

The position of the local paper

The final editorial published in the local paper on 19/12/17, the day before the referendum was also very telling on the issue of statistics. A J Rossiter, who signed the particular editorial, noted

Much twisting of figures has been perpetrated by the “Antis” in an endeavour to make it seem that there are ample men and that Australia has done enough.

He then attempted to debunk some of the claims. However, the reality was that by that point. figures did not mean a great deal, either to those who believed that Australia had done enough and the cost had just become too great or to those who believed that, ultimately, no sacrifice was too great.

Rossiter wanted to claim the high moral ground:

To-morrow Australia will decide whether reinforcements are to be sent to our brave men in the firing line. We cannot conceive that any right-thinking man will have been so influenced by anti clap-trap to record “No” at the polling booth – tantamount to signing the death warrant of thousands of our boys in the trenches.

As indicated, the vote in the Shire of Alberton was overwhelmingly in favour of conscription. The Shire had not been affected by the ‘clap-trap’ of the ‘Antis’; and its moral compass and unswerving loyalty to the Empire remained true. It could start 1918 confident that it was one of the few places in Australia that had remained ‘loyal’.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Australian Dictionary of Biography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memorial Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He appealed for fairness:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The South Gippsland Chronicle also noted:

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

Shire of Alberton archives

Shire of Alberton archives

Recruiting Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Catholic Position

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

Archives, Shire of Alberton
(viewed 2014)

The activities of the 1917 Yarram Recruiting Committee came from:

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

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

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

 

112. H M Raymond

Harold McCheyne RAYMOND (2675)
12 Battalion   KIA 9/4/1917

Harold McCheyne Raymond was born in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton. He attended Melbourne Church of England Grammar School [Melbourne Grammar School] and Geelong College. As a boy and young man, he had no contact with the Shire of Alberton and his father gave Melbourne as the location with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. Harold Raymond’s name is not recorded on any memorial in the Shire of Alberton. However, there was a very strong indirect connection to the local area because Harold Raymond was the son of Reverend Arthur Rufus Raymond who, between January 1917 and October 1918, was the Church of England minister in Yarram.

As the local Church of England minister over 1917 and 1918, the father was called on to deliver the fateful telegrams informing the next-of-kin of the death of their loved ones. For example, the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – reported (27/4/17) the following in relation to the death of Gunner John Gellion who was the focus of the last post (Post 111):

The sad news reached Yarram on Wednesday evening of the death of Gunner John T Gellion, killed in action on 3rd April. The Rev. Mr. Raymond, Church of England minister, received a telegram from the Defence Department, asking him to kindly inform his brother, and to convey the sympathy of King and Queen and Commonwealth.

More ironically, the local paper reported (13/4/17) Rev. Raymond playing the same role for the parents of Private Percy David Boddy – Post 109 :

The Rev. Mr. Raymond performed the sad duty on Monday [9/4/17] of breaking the news to Mr. and Mrs. Boddy, Balloong, of the loss in battle of their son Reginald (sic).

The cruel irony was that, most likely, Rev. Raymond’s own son – Harold Raymond – was killed on 9/4/17 (Easter Monday, 1917), the very day he (Rev. Raymond) delivered the telegram to the Boddy family.

When it came the turn of Rev. Raymond himself, a fellow clergyman – Rev Tamagno, the local Presbyterian minister – delivered the telegram. The local paper (2/5/17) reported it thus:

The Rev. F Tamagno on Monday night had the sad duty of breaking the news to the Rev. A. Raymond, Church of England minister, Yarram, of the loss of his son in battle on 10th ultimo. Private H. McC. Raymond enlisted in Queensland, and would have attained his 25th birthday on 21st Inst. … The deepest sympathy will be extended to Mr. and Mrs. Raymond in the loss of their youngest son.

As indicated, Private Raymond enlisted in Brisbane, on 13/7/15. He was 23 yo and single and he gave his occupation as bank clerk. His father, given as next-of-kin, was then the Church of England minister in the town of  Ross in Tasmania. This was 18 months before the father moved to Yarram.

There was a brother – Rev. Charles Hedley Raymond – who was also a Church of England minister, at Parkville, Melbourne. Religion was a significant influence in the young man’s life and the father, on the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour noted that, He was a loyal churchman & a Christian and that, He enlisted in response to a powerful appeal made in his own parish church in Brisbane by the present Bishop of Tasmania, Dr. Hay.

Private Raymond joined as reinforcements for 26 Battalion but he transferred to 12 Battalion in March 1916. He was hospitalised – I. C. T. Feet – in July 1916 and then rejoined his unit on 16/9/16. He was killed 6 months later. There was some doubt over the circumstances of his death. The Roll of Honour has his death as ‘killed in action’ on 9 April 1917 but the official report of death has the date as ‘between 6th /10th April’. There is no record that he was initially listed as ‘missing’. The body was never recovered. His name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial. According to information in the service file, there was also, for a short time at least, a memorial cross erected in the Hermies Hill British Cemetery.

There is a Red Cross report for Private Raymond and there is also a detailed report in the war diary of 12 Battalion for the action at Boursies from 7-10 April 1917. At the time, the Australians were pushing the Germans as they were withdrawing to the Hindenburg Line. The Germans managed to inflict very heavy causalities as they gave up ground. In the 4 days of fighting, the casualties for 12 Battalion were 62 dead, 184 wounded and 10 missing. The fighting was also at close-quarters and brutal. For example, the war diary records that early on Sunday 8/4/17 (Easter Sunday) a party of 6 Germans surrendered to the Australians but then one or more of the group threw a percussion bomb. The diary records that the German prisoners were … immediately killed as a result.

In terms of the Red Cross report, the most reliable witness statement, dated 13/11/17, came, arguably, from Sgt. Huxley (4957). Sgt. Huxley, like Pte. Raymond, was in 12 Platoon, C Company of 12 Battalion:

He was in my platoon. No. 12. and was killed on Easter Monday [9/4/17] morning riddled with machine gun bullets, death was certainly instantaneous. I saw him just after. I saw the burial party going out the same morning. I know he was buried on the field. I do not think there was any proper cross or that  the grave would be registered, though I know the exact spot between [Louveral] and [Boursies] … Our Sgt. Major and several others wrote to his people and have had an acknowledgement. I think they have all possible particulars.

As indicated, word of the death reached the family in Australia at the very start of May 1917. The personal kit – Wallet, Photos. 2, Letters, 2 Discs, Wrist watch & strap (damaged), Wrist strap, Pendant, Photo, Scarf, 3 Handkerchiefs, 3 Testaments, Comb, Purse, Razor, Prayer Book. – arrived in January 1918.

Faced with the death of his son, Rev. Raymond continued to call for enlistments and support for the War. Three months after his son’s death, the local paper reported (11/7/17) his comments at the farewell of an another local, J L Dennison, from Womerah:

Rev. Mr. Raymond said his whole heart went out to the men who fought for the Empire, Home and Country, and referred to the death of his son at the front. Private Dennison was going to do his part. May God go with him and keep him safe, and may he return decorated with a Victoria Cross.

In normal circumstances the reference to winning the Victoria Cross would have seemed odd. Certainly, many local men had received military awards but the possibility of winning the VC was always very remote. However, at that time, 2 VCs had been recently awarded for the very action in which Private Raymond had been killed. One of the recipients was Captain James Ernest Newland, in charge of A Company,12 Battalion. Captain Newland himself had no direct contact with the local area; but he was the brother of the local recruiting sergeant, William Andrew Newland. There was also another Newland brother – Alfred Lindsay Newland – who had been killed in action at the end of 1916. He had also lived and worked in the local district before the War. Overall, the Newland family was well-known locally and, not surprisingly, the award was written up in great detail in the local paper (13/6/17; 21/9/17). It must have also been weighing on the mind of the Rev. Raymond.

As indicated, Rev Raymond left the Shire of Alberton at the end of September 1918. He served less than 2 years. There were many farewells and, on the face of it, he was was well-liked and respected. He was praised, in particular, for his work in improving the finances of the local church: a feat his predecessors had not achieved. People spoke of his genuine interest in, and care for, his parishioners. However, for all the praise, a letter-to-the-editor appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 16/10/18 which suggested another side to the shift from Yarram. It was anonymous – just signed ‘Church Goer’ – but the fact that it appeared was significant. Rossiter, the editor, was closely involved with the local Church of England. He had been, and was probably still serving, on the Board of Guardians for the local Church of England and it seems hard to believe that he would have tolerated the following anonymous letter if there was nothing to it. In fact, it is conceivable that Rossiter himself wrote it. The casual or background racism in the letter is reflective of the time.

Sir, – In your issue of Wednesday last I was very pleased to notice an allusion to Rev. A. R. Raymond, and the esteem in which he was held. The wonder is with so many warm friends (as shown in the practical manner described by you) that he got the move on. Surely it must have been a very small minority that was the cause of it. Well, I do not envy them their success, or would like to incur their responsibility, for in my humble opinion Mr. Raymond was one of the best ministers that ever came to Yarram. Possibly he was too evangelistic for them. It is the fashion in these days for some ministers to preach smooth things, so as not to ruffle the feelings of their hearers. Mr. Raymond was not of that sort. This small minority would probably delight in a more fashionable church with a parson to match; something like one in America, of which it was said that an old darkey wished to join. The minister thought it was hardly the correct thing to do. Not wishing to hurt the old chap’s feelings, he told him to go home and pray over it. In a few days the darkey came back. “Well what do you think of it by this time?” asked the preacher. “Well, sir,” replied the darkey, “I prayed and prayed, and da good Lawd, He says to me, Richard, I wouldn’t bother ma head about dat no more. I’ve been trying to get into dat church myself for da last twenty years, and I aint had no luck at all.”

Rev. Raymond had been one of the local clergymen to push for the local Co-Operative Store to give up its licence to sell alcohol as part of the renewed push to promote temperance in WW1. Perhaps that position cost him some support. Perhaps he had pushed too hard for financial contributions from the locals. Whatever the case, it does seem that there was some sort of pressure exerted behind the scenes for his move. In his farewell speeches he certainly gave the impression that he was disappointed to be be moving after such a comparatively short time.

But beyond the local politics of the church, you cannot but wonder – to continue a theme initially presented in Post 26: Soldiers of Christ   that the bigger challenge facing Rev. Raymond was to reconcile, at every Easter that followed, the death of his son for ‘Empire Home and Country’ with the joyous celebration of the resurrection of the Son of God.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for RAYMOND Harold McCheyne 2675
Roll of Honour: Harold McCheyne Raymond
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Harold McCheyne Raymond
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Harold McCheyne Raymond

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.