Category Archives: Religion & Community

181. Returning home in 1918

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The returned men themselves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

161. Anzac Day 1918: For England

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For England

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
The Australasian
The Argus

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The declaration also denied the authority of the Pope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

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

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