Category Archives: School & Community

215. The problematic history of the names on the Soldiers’ Memorial in Yarram

Two previous posts have looked at the history of the war memorial (soldiers’ memorial) in the main street of Yarram:

96. Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

212. The Shire of Alberton unveils a memorial to its soldiers

This particular post looks specifically at the addition of the actual names of ‘the fallen’ in the second half of 1929. It took 14 years from the time of the first deaths – at Gallipoli, in 1915 – for the names of the Shire’s dead to be acknowledged formally on the memorial.

The post examines the complex and fraught question of who was included on the soldiers’ memorial. Typically, most people looking at the names on a memorial, such as the one in Yarram, would assume that it presented a complete and accurate tally of all the ‘local’ men who had made the ‘ultimate sacrifice’. However, as will become obvious, the reality is more complex and and less certain.

The process of adding the names

The Shire of Alberton archives reveal at least part of the history behind the inclusion of the names on the soldiers’ memorial. The archives show that in November 1928, a request was made by the Diggers’ Club that the council receive a deputation – Dr Rutter, W A Cole and E Smithies – that was to seek council support – and a financial contribution – for the inclusion of the names on the soldiers’ memorial. Tellingly, from the very start the clear intention was that the names of the men would be supplied by the Diggers’ Club and that the cost of the exercise would be met in equal shares by the Diggers’ Club and the Shire. Previously, with the creation of the monument itself, the council had driven the entire project and met all costs. The wording on the monument when it was unveiled in 1920 acknowledged the council’s primary role:

Erected by the Shire of Alberton out of gratitude to the men who offered service in the Great War 1914-1918

But now, for the addition of the names, responsibility was passed exclusively to the Diggers’ Club and the council agreed to meet half the costs involved. Responsibility for the determination of the names being passed to the Diggers’ Club is not a small point. However, at the time, no one appeared to have been concerned that the Shire’s significant responsibility was delegated to another body. The resolution passed at the relevant council meeting (8/11/28) explicitly made the Diggers’ Club the responsible agent:

That the Diggers’ Club be requested to depose and compile the list of fallen whose names they consider should be be engraved on the Soldiers’ Memorial.

Council business in early 1929 (14/2/29) indicated the Diggers’ Club had drawn up a list of 61 names. There was a letter – dated 13/2/29 – to the council from E Griffiths, Honorary Secretary, the Diggers Club, Yarram:

At present we have the names of sixty one soldiers from this shire who fell in the Great War. We propose to publish these names in the Gippsland Standard and the Melbourne daily papers with the request that anyone knowing of any soldier who was killed on Active Service and whose name does not appear on the list should communicate with the undersigned…

Presumably, the inclusion of the notice in various newspapers had some effect because 2 months later, in another letter to the council, the numbers had grown to 79 names. The letter was dated 9/4/29 and, again, it was signed by E Griffiths.

As stated in a previous letter the Diggers Club was undertaking the task of compiling the list of names of the soldiers from this Shire who fell in the Great War. This has been done and I enclose the list herewith. It contains the names of 79 soldiers and every effort has been made to secure that it is complete.

With the letter was a hand-written list of the 79 names. These were the 79 names that ultimately appeared on the memorial. There were some minor changes to the order of the names and whereas the list provided by the Diggers’ Club sometimes included first names in full, the memorial used only initials – for example, Harold Seymour Ray on the list became Ray H. S. on the memorial. But, critically, apart from such minor changes, the list provided by the Diggers’ Club in early April 1929 represented the final version that appeared on the memorial.

It was interesting that the letter specifically referred to 2 of the names: the brothers Bryon and George Nicholas. They were included at the very end of the hand-written list, as numbers 78 and 79, with the following comment:

As regards the last two names – it is known that these two brothers were school teachers in the Shire but we have not been able to ascertain whether they enlisted here or at their home town – Trafalgar.

The fact that the two Nicholas brothers were added at the very end of the list plus the apparent concern that they might not have enlisted in Yarram suggest that their inclusion on the list was uncertain. Further, there was a brief note added to the letter specifically in response to the question of where the brothers enlisted. The note read, not in Yarram. Presumably, this had been added by George W Black as the Shire Secretary, and the officer who had maintained enlistment records over the course of the War. Black was able to state that they had not enlisted at Yarram. Both enlisted in Melbourne. In the end, the place of enlistment must not have been an issue because, as noted, the brothers were included on the memorial. I will return to the case of the two brothers later but, in this initial context, it is worth noting that the work undertaken by the Diggers’ Club in compiling the list was done independently of the Shire. Black, as the Shire Secretary, did have records that would have been of considerable assistance in helping to draw up or, at least, vet the Diggers’ Club list. For example, he had had to keep accurate records of the railway warrants he had issued to men who had enlisted at Yarram, so, in effect, he had a tally of all men who had enlisted at Yarram. Also, Black had annotated this list throughout the War, including, for example, with references to those men known by him to have been killed. Again, as we will see, there was no single, complete, perfect set of records and, in any case, the specific criteria applied for inclusion on the list of the fallen were neither explicit nor consistently applied. However, it seems strange that the council effectively abdicated its responsibility and relied entirely on the deliberations of the Diggers’ Club. Perhaps it just assumed that the ‘pooled memory’ of those involved with the Diggers’ Club would suffice. Perhaps it anticipated controversy over the exercise and made a political decision to leave the judgment to the local body that claimed to speak directly on behalf of the returned men.

Other council papers in the archives cover the tender for the work and the agreement between the Shire and the Diggers’ Club to divide the cost equally. The wording at the head of each of the two columns of names – These men gave their lives for their country – was also determined by the Diggers’ Club and then approved by the Council. The total final cost for the lettering was £61/16/6.

The Council also opened a public subscription for local families to make a financial contribution to the work. I think it is fair to argue that the response was underwhelming. The subscription list in the council papers showed only 9 parties (B. R Jeffs, R. Wight, M. Nebbitt, J. E Attenborough, ‘Eyes Right’, Mrs Caroline Sexton, Miss Jeffs, Mrs A. M. Morris and ‘Parents’) who contributed a total of £7/13/6. Perhaps the parents and families of the men killed took exception to any suggestion that it was appropriate for them to contribute to the cost of having their son or husband’s name recorded. Perhaps the response was some measure of war weariness. Perhaps the response was affected by the passage of time. In some cases it was up to 15 years after the soldier’s death; and for all of the men it was at least 10 years.

At the time, the inclusion of the names on the soldiers’ memorial must have brought some sense of finality to the offical commemoration of the Great War in the local district. It is also possible that the final act of inscribing the names brought a sense of what we refer to today as ‘closure’ to the War itself and provided the opportunity for the local community to ‘move on’. Finally, the names of those men from the Shire of Alberton who had paid ‘the ultimate sacrifice’ were engraved in stone in the main street of Yarram. The list of names could stand as a permanent record; and in a real sense the list has stood as a fixed reality for the past 100 years.

From a historical perspective, one key defining feature of any formal list of names is that it presents the opportunity for checking. Using the range of historical resources available, it is possible to assess the accuracy of the list. Applying this methodology, we can establish that the list of names on the memorial falls short in terms of the total picture of those with a link to the Shire of Alberton who were killed in the War. As well as establishing some sense of the extent to which the picture is incomplete, we can also tackle the related and difficult question of how the picture presented by the memorial came to be incomplete. And there is another set of questions to do with the implications of this situation.

While the Shire Council passed responsibility for coming up with the list of names to the Diggers’ Club – presumably, this body used the collected memory of its members to create the list – there were other options at the time. Arguably, the key reference in the exercise should have been the Shire Secretary, G W Black who had been appointed to the position in 1911. Throughout the War, Black had been tasked with keeping records of those who enlisted from Yarram. At the start of the War, he kept hand-written records of those who completed medicals at Yarram and, as already noted, as an extension of this work, he also had to keep account of those who were given railway warrants to travel to Melbourne. He kept other records – unfortunately these were incomplete – of those who were awarded the Shire Medallion. After the War, in early 1920, Black was instructed to compile a list of all those from the Shire who had … offered service in the Great War. This was the basis for the honor roll drawn up for the Shire of Alberton at the same time. [See Post 24. Honor Roll of the Shire of Alberton.] The roll also highlighted the 62 men ‘killed’. Overall, while Black’s primary focus was on those who enlisted in Yarram, he certainly had a broader picture of all those from the Shire who enlisted elsewhere, most commonly in Melbourne.

Additionally, throughout the War, other groups also kept records of enlistments and formally recorded the deaths of soldiers. The most significant example of this practice involved the local state school, and at the end of the War there was a memorial honor roll or honor board unveiled in each local school which recorded all past scholars who enlisted, and it also highlighted those killed. There were some issues with these honor rolls – for example, past scholars could have left the district well before they enlisted – but, certainly, the school rolls were all available for reference by 1929 and, arguably, should have been used. In addition to school memorials, there were also some church and district honor rolls and boards and even memorials created. They were obviously another valuable resource that could have been used. Additionally, as we have seen, throughout the War the pages of the local papers – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative and South Gippsland Chronicle – had recorded details of enlistments and deaths and commonly included death notices and in memoriams. In the early stages of the War the papers often published lists of those who had enlisted. For example, in January 1916, the South Gippsland Chronicle published a list of approximately 250 men who had enlisted to that point. The list included those who had enlisted outside the Shire and it also gave some details on men killed.

The key observation in all this is that there was a good deal of information available in the district that could have been used to compile a comprehensive and accurate record of all those locals from the Shire who had died in service. It would have taken a reasonable amount of coordination and organisation and there would have had to have been basic agreement on what constituted a ‘local’ in the particular context. Also, you would assume that it would have been the Shire council that took the lead role.

It is of course possible that the Diggers’ Club did seek input from other groups or individuals, perhaps informally and on an ad hoc basis. However, as already indicated, the material in the Shire archives certainly suggests that the list came exclusively from the Diggers’ Club executive. Further, the Council saw the list as the responsibility of that body. It will also become apparent that there was not not much cross-checking by the Diggers’ Club against existing Council and other records records; or, seen from the other persecutive, the Council did not apply too much critical attention to the list provided by the Diggers’ Club.

The incomplete picture

With this background in mind, it is relevant to examine how all the various lists of the ‘fallen’ from the time line up against each other. The picture that emerges, to put it mildly, is one of confusion.

We can start with the list drawn up by Black in early 1920. This became the Honor Roll of the Shire of Alberton. As noted, it highlighted the names of 62 men ‘killed’.

The first issue with this list is that 3 men identified on the list as ‘killed’ were not killed. Tyler, H. B. – Henry Bernard Tyler – is marked as killed, but it was his brother – Tyler, G. T.: George Thomas Tyler – also on the honor roll, who was killed. It was an awkward case of mistaken identity. The second individual was Loriman, J. B. – John Bourke Lor(r)iman. While he definitely was not killed – he returned and was medically discharged in July 1919 – there was at least some confusion about his fate during the War. For example, in a memorial service held in Yarram in May 1918 his name was included as one of the dead. The last person to be listed as killed, but who in fact survived the War, was Pullbrook, L. J. – Lisle John Pul(l)brook was not killed and he returned to Australia in July 1919.

Of more concern is that fact that the Shire’s 1920 honor roll also featured the names of 28 local men who were killed in the War but who were not marked as ‘killed’. For present purposes, we can assume they were ‘local’ because they appear on this formal list drawn up by the Shire Secretary. Somewhat incredibly, Black had ‘missed’ that they had been killed.

The 28 men whose names appeared on the Shire’s honor roll but who were not acknowledged on that roll as having been ‘killed’ can be divided into 2 groups. Nine of them did, in time, appear on the soldiers’ memorial, which meant, in effect, that their sacrifice was ultimately acknowledged. But, incredibly, the names of the other 19 men killed did not appear on the soldiers’ memorial.

Obviously, the original error lay with Black and his honor roll. You could argue that just 2 years after the War there could have been some uncertainty over the fate of some soldiers. Then again, to miss 28 deaths from your list of local men is a major failing. At the same time, it is hard to understand how by the time, nearly ten years later, when the Diggers’ Club came to draw up their list, only 9 of the 28 men had been picked up. Surely, by that point, the fate of local men who appeared on Black’s 1920 list would have been known. One explanation has to be that the Diggers’ Club did not cross-check their list against Black’s.

Below are the names of the 9 men who (1) were killed (2) were included on the Shire’s honor roll drawn up by Black in 1920 (3) were not shown as ‘killed’ on this honor roll, but then (4) were included in 1929 on the soldiers’ memorial in Yarram:

Appleyard, Edgar – Appleyard, Edgar John
Christensen, Allen – Christensen, Allan Patrick
Carter, Jas – Carter, James
Fleming R. V. – Fleming, Robert Victor
Missen, Harold – Missen, Harold Joseph
Sherlock, A. – Sherlock, Albert
Tolley, C. S. – Tolley, Charles Samuel
Tyler, G. T. – Tyler, George Thomas (see above re confusion with brother, Henry Bernard Tyler)
Wilson, T – Wilson, Thomas Anderton

Below are the names of the 19 men who (1) were killed (2) were included on the Shire’s honor roll drawn up by Black in 1920 (3) were not shown as ‘killed’ on this honor roll, and (4) were not included in 1929 on the soldiers’ memorial in Yarram:

Aubrey, G. V – Aubrey George Victor
Booth, N. W. – Booth, Norman Waterhouse
Campbell Donald – Campbell, Donald
Francis, John – Francis, John
Farthing, A. V. – Farthing, Arthur Vincent
Harrison, Frank L. – Harrison, Frank Lionel
Kennedy, A. – Kennedy, Arthur Charles Valentine
Manders, J. H. – Manders, John Henry
McIntosh, Jas – McIntosh, James Edward
McLeod, L. J. – McLeod, Leslie John
O’Day, J. R. – O’Day, James Robert
Patterson, O. – Patterson, Owen
Pallot, E. R. – Pallot(t), Ernest Ralph
Robertson, J. D. – Robertson, John Douglas
Robinson, Edward – Robinson, Edward
Robinson, Alex – Robinson, Alexander
Singleton, J. – Singleton, James
Somers, A – Somers, Arthur John
Skene, G. A. – Skene, George Alexander

In one sense you could argue that it was only really the second group of 19 men that was of concern because for the first group of nine men the ‘mistake’ made in 1920 was corrected by their inclusion on the soldiers’ memorial in 1929. On the other hand, the second group of 19 was significantly disadvantaged because even though they were ‘local’ – as indicated by their inclusion on the 1920 honor roll of the Shire of Alberton – their names were left off the permanent memorial. The obvious question is how did such a situation occur? There is no obvious answer. As suggested, the basic problem might have been that there was little, if any, cross checking of available records. Or perhaps the cross checking involved was careless or, more accurately, carried out in only a cursory manner.

However, I want to argue that there was a bigger problem beyond the issue of problematic record keeping. Once again, I think the basic issue is all about how ‘local’ was defined. The reality was that there was no single, agreed definition, and different groups, institutions and even families had different perspectives on who was and who was not ‘local’. And this problem was exacerbated by the fact that there was a high background level of mobility – both individual and family – in society, particularly amongst the rural working class.

Even more missing names

Moreover, my research suggests that the potential number of missing names from the soldiers’ memorial in Yarram was far greater than is suggested by the above discrepancies between the records of Shire Secretary, Black and the Diggers’ Club. There was, potentially, another large group of men ‘forgotten’ or ‘left off’.

Throughout this research, I have attempted to cast the widest possible net over the Shire of Alberton to identify all those directly involved in or affected by the Great War. To do this I have relied on a significant range of primary resources: from electoral rolls to a wide range of memorials, from council archives to local newspapers, from personal accounts and local histories to the individual service files of hundreds of enlisted men. With this approach, I have identified just over 800 men for whom there is some direct link to the Shire. This figure is considerably greater than the 446 men that featured on the 1920 honor roll for the Shire of Alberton. Similarly, my data base records approximately 170 deaths amongst this group, a figure which is far higher than that on the soldiers’ memorial (79) which itself was greater than the number of deaths (62) recorded on the 1920 honor roll.

Applying my methodology, the list at the end of this Post shows the 70 additional men ‘killed’ but whose names do not appear on either the Roll of Honor for the Shire of Alberton or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial in Yarram. For all in this group, there is at least some evidence that links them to the Shire of Alberton and makes them, in some sense at least, ‘local’. I have indicated for each individual first the place of birth and then the place of enlistment, and also given a very brief note on the evidence linking them to the Shire. In some cases, the evidence is limited – sometimes it is only a mention on the honor roll of a local school – but in many other cases there is considerable evidence to tie the individual to the Shire and give them the status of a ‘local’.

What do we make of all this?

One critical point, which has been made repeatedly, is that there was no agreed definition of ‘local’. For example, on my additional list there are at least 18 men who enlisted interstate, or even overseas (New Zealand and Canada). Obviously, they would not have been living in the local area at the time they enlisted and were therefore not ‘local’. But when you look more closely at the individual cases you can see that many of them were certainly well known in the local area: they had been born there, attended school and grown up there; and their families had been in the district for a long time and indeed many of the family were still living there. But the individual himself had left the Shire. So you could start to make all sorts of distinctions between someone who had a ‘strong local background’ or someone who was still ‘very well known in the local area’ and someone who was a ‘local’ because he was actually living in the area. You might want to argue that only someone who was living and working in the local area at the time of enlistment could count as ‘local’, in terms of having their name added to the memorial. On the face of it, this would make sense and would provide a consistent criterion. And on that score, the following names from my additional list would never be considered local because they enlisted interstate or, as indicated, even overseas:

Adams, John Henry: Enogerra, Qld
Booker, Frederick Peter: Perth, WA
Bunston, Leslie William: Lismore, NSW
Dove, Albert Ernest: NewZealand
Ellis, Robert G:Vancouver, Canada
Godfrey, Albert John Jeffrey: Perth, WA
Lowther, Frank William: Toowoomba, Qld
Mates, Harold: Brisbane, Qld
Morgan, Arthur: Adelaide, SA
Moulden, William: Belmont, WA
Noonan, Leonard: Sydney, NSW
Raymond, Harold McCheyne: Brisbane, Qld
Saal, Christopher: Toowoomba, Qld
Slavin, John Leonard: Perth, WA
Tregilgas, Archibald Sturt: Adelaide, SA
Whitford, Roy Victor: Perth, WA
Widdon, Albert Edward: Dalby, Qld

The problem with this hard but consistent definition of ‘local’ is that it was not applied at the time. In fact, five men were included on the soldiers’ memorial even though they enlisted interstate and were obviously living and working interstate at the time they enlisted:

Appleyard, Gordon William: Rockhampton, Qld
Grinlington (Grimlington on memorial), Dudley: Perth, WA
O’Neil, John Albert: Claremont, Tas
Sutton, David George: Brisbane, Qld
Sutton, William Henry: Brisbane, Qld

The logic has to be that if some men were included on the memorial on the basis of a strong local identity, even if they were no longer living in the Shire, then might not some of the 18 men on my list have had the same claim?

Then there is the issue of the school memorials. Many individuals on my list have their name recorded on one or more of the memorials from local state schools. In a limited number of cases – approximately 7 – it is the school honor roll that is the sole piece of evidence tying the individual to the Shire. Often, the individual concerned might have left school, and the district, many years before the War. So the argument could be that they were no longer ‘local’ in any meaningful way. But it is worth making several qualifications. As noted, cases where the only link to the Shire was the inclusion of the name on a school memorial are few.

Further the school honor rolls and boards were deliberately created at the time as significant historical records. All schools created them. They were completed with care and they were based on school registers which were significant records in their own right. They were treated with considerable pride and there was always a formal unveiling ceremony associated with their completion. The effect of all this was that the status of ‘former student of the local state school’ served, as it were, as a variety of ‘local’. The point is that that from the perspective of history it is not possible simply to dismiss those named on these rolls as not genuinely ‘local’. At the time, people did see the previous schooling of those who enlisted as proof of their local status. Indeed, the need to tie both the enlisted and, more particularly, the ‘fallen’ to their local school was obviously a very powerful driver at the time and one of the defining features of Australian society’s memorialisation of the War.

There is also another dimension to this whole business of the local school’s honor roll which is worth exploring. Again, it highlights just how complex the issue of ‘local’ was. Earlier, I mentioned the 2 Nicholas brothers. Both had taught, but only for a short period, in local state schools. Both brothers appear on the honor roll for Gormandale East and, additionally, Bryon Nicholas appears on the Carrajung South SS honor roll and George Nicholas on the Wonyip SS honor roll. As mentioned, when the Diggers’ Club came up with their list of names for the soldiers’ memorial there was some question over whether their names should be included. It was noted that neither brother had enlisted locally. But in the end both names were included. Their inclusion would appear to have been on the sole basis that both had taught in local schools. I highlight their inclusion because on my additional list there are another 5 men who also taught in local schools : Brain, Edward George (Ryton Hall/Wonyip SS), Chester, Charles Edward William (Ryton Hall/Wonyip SS), Martin, John Herbert (Hiawatha SS), Moysey, James Edgar (‘former school teacher of the district’), Ormsby, Philip Michael (Madalya SS). As well as highlighting yet more inconsistency over this vexed issue of ‘local’, the matter draws attention to the large number of state school teachers, the great majority in their first few years of teaching, who did enlist.

As well as the vexed issue of ‘local’ there were obviously problems with record keeping. Strictly speaking, it was not so much the creation of records but more so the checking of records and understanding their significance. I have already highlighted how there was apparently no cross checking between the Diggers’ Club list of names and the Shire honor roll created by Shire Secretary Black. My additional list highlights some more failings. I have already written about the significance of railway warrants – Post 201. Railway warrants 1914-18 – and noted that Black’s records of these warrants identified men who definitely enlisted in Yarram. That is, they had their initial medical in Yarram, signed attestation forms and took the oath and were then issued with their railway warrant to travel to Melbourne to complete the process. So, presumably, anyone appearing on Black’s list of railway warrants would have been living and working in Yarram or elsewhere in the Shire at the time of enlistment. They would have been, at least in some basic sense, ‘local’. Yet my additional list has at least seven men who were on Black’s list of railway warrants – and were subsequently killed – but who do not appear on either the Shire’s honor roll or its soldiers’ memorial:

Dietrich, Henry James
Hofen, Robert Henry
Martin, Gordon
McCarthy, Terence Charles Francis
Reeves, Alfred
Smith, William
Sebire, Francis Henry

Further, in most of these cases there was additional evidence that pointed to a connection to the district at the time of enlistment.

As suggested, the basic problem with this group, presumably, was that no one cross-checked various lists. Also, possibly because these men had only been working as itinerant farm labourers for a short period before they enlisted in Yarram, no one ever saw them as ‘genuine locals’. Nor is it hard to see how they would fall outside the collected memory of the Diggers’ Club, ten years after the War.

There is one other critical piece of evidence to consider in relation to this general discussion of ‘local’. Strictly speaking it was evidence not available to local authorities at the time but it is still important to look at it because it highlights just how subjective the very issue of ‘local identity’ could be.

For those men killed – or who died – in the War, a circular was sent to next of kin seeking a limited amount of personal information for commemorative purposes. The request was headed, Particulars required for the Roll of Honour of Australia in the Memorial War Museum [National Roll of Honour] and one of the items sought specific details on the location to which the individual could/should be linked. The specific question was:

With what Town or District in Australia was he chiefly connected (under which his name ought to come on the Memorial)?

The significance of all this is that on my additional list there are 10 men who, according to their next-of-kin, were ‘chiefly connected’ to some location within the Shire of Alberton. The men and the specific location are as follows:

Ashton, John Henry Parker: Tarraville
How(e), Harold Christopher: Yarram
Lowther, Frank William: Yarram
Mason, James Oliver: Yarram
Morgan, Arthur: Boolarra
Morley, Robert Herbert: Gormandale
Radburn, Edward: Boolarra
Tibbs, Walter: Tarraville
Wilson, William: Yarram
Withinshaw, George: Yarram

Admittedly, two of these locations (Boolarra and Gormandale) are potentially ‘borderline’ with other shires but, as with other examples, there was usually other corroborating evidence to suggest the link to the Shire of Alberton.

You can begin to see what likely transpired in these cases by going a little deeper. For example, George Withinshaw was born in the UK. When he enlisted in Warragul in November 1916 he was 22 yo. On enlistment and embarkation, he gave his address c/o C J Stockwell, Yarram. Charles Stockwell was a grazier from Yarram; and, presumably, Withinshaw was working for him. When his parents completed the information for the National Roll of Honour they gave Yarram as the place with which their son was ‘chiefly associated’, They also gave Stockwell’s name – and address – as a person who would be able to provide additional information, if required.

Of course, the existence of that particular record would not have been known by anyone in Yarram. Moreover, Withinshaw was killed in September 1917, so 12 years had passed when the Diggers’ Club came to compile its list. It is easy to see how, in effect, Withinshaw’s name disappeared from local memory. Walter Tibbs was a similar ‘lost’ person. He had come to Australia as a 15yo and worked as a farm worker in the Shire. He enlisted as a 21yo very soon after War broke out (21/8/14) and was killed at Gallipoli on the first day of fighting. Without his parents’ identification of Tarraville as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’ there would be nothing to tie him to the Shire. Yet he was clearly working in the district before he enlisted. These types of examples indicate the significant limits to ‘collected memory’ and ‘local knowledge’.

Finally

As I stated at the start, people look at war memorials like the one in Yarram, with its list of the ‘fallen’, as some form of sacred scroll, and assume that it is based on an accurate and complete reckoning. My research suggests that the true status of such a memorial is less perfect. It stands as an incomplete record: proof that arbitrary judgements, problematic definitions, faulty memories and careless record-keeping can all play a part in compromising the historical record.

However, for all its problems the memorial is still very much a historical artefact in its own right. It has its own 100 year history and, moreover, its creation reflected the historical realities of the time.

Some might want to argue that the list of names on the memorial needs to be extended so that there is a more accurate picture of the true cost of sacrifice across the Shire in WW1. Some might want to argue that the others who died have a ‘right’ to have their name inscribed, and that the present community has a ‘responsibility’ to undertake this task. Personally, I have major reservations about any ‘re-working’ of the memorial. As argued, I see the memorial as a piece of history in its own right. I do not believe we have any right or responsibility to re-create it in any way.

At the same time, we certainly have a responsibility to understand and explain the history of the memorial’s shortcomings; and that history points to the divisive and complex politics that characterised Australian society after the War. For example, I think it was particularly significant that at the time the Shire abdicated what was undoubtedly its responsibility and made the Diggers’ Club the sole arbiter. And there were other powerful forces at work – for example, the extraordinary degree of mobility that characterised society – particularly with the rural working class – at the time.

Moreover, in terms of ‘trying to set the record straight’, I also think that it would be impossible to come up with a definitive list of all those ‘from’ the Shire of Alberton who served and, of this group, those who were killed. There were too many interpretations, too many variables, too many inconsistencies, too many lost memories, too much missing information; and while some family interests were very strong, others were not strong enough or never even represented …

I think there is one final, important irony to note. As stated repeatedly in recent posts, throughout the War promises were made routinely and religiously to the young men who enlisted that their loyalty and sacrifice would never be forgotten. It was effectively one generation’s promise to the next one. The civic leaders, prominent citizens, clergy and elders persuaded the younger generation to enlist on the basis of a raft of causes: Imperial loyalty and patriotism; national interest, including the maintenance of White Australia; the universal test of manhood; the upholding of British values and opposition to German militarism; the protection of the weak and defenceless; and even the memory of the colonial pioneers. And the same generation promised that the men’s sacrifice would never be forgotten and they would be cared for and their memory honoured. Their names would be engraved in stone. But as we have seen, the actual history did not play out like that. In its own way, the history of the names on the war memorial underlines this reality.

Additional list of seventy men killed who had some association with the Shire of Alberton but who are not recorded on either the Roll of Honor for the Shire of Alberton or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

Adams, John Henry
Ballarat (born) /Queensland (enlisted)
The family was well known in district. He had attended school at Longwarry. After school, he worked with his father on the family farm farm at Jack Creek. But he must have been in Queensland for several years before enlisting. On his embarkation record his address was given as Yarram. He had one of his letters home published in local paper. In it he wrote about catching up overseas with other locals, including Eric Coulthard.

Anquetil, Henry Stewart
Northcote/Richmond
He had attended school at Binginwarri and his mother was living in district.

Ashton, John Henry Parker
Tarraville/Leongatha
He was born at Tarraville and went to Tarraville SS. Fish Creek was given as his address on enlistment form. The National Roll of Honour had Tarraville as the location with which he was ‘chiefly associated’.

Atkinson, Bertram
Ballarat/cannot find record
He had attended Yarram SS. At the time of his schooling, his father – Rev James C Atkinson – had been Church of England minister in Yarram, c. 1905. His death and connection to the district were reported in the local paper.

Booker, Frederick Peter
Yarram/Perth
He had attended North Devon SS. He was one of three brother who enlisted. The other two, younger, brothers retained strong contact with the district but by the time he enlisted he was in Perth. The local paper gave details of his death and referred to him as ‘former resident’.

Brain, Edward George
Geelong/Toora
He had been a teacher in the district – Ryton Hall – and, given that he was only 19yo when he enlisted, it was probably his first appointment. His name appears on the Wonyip & District honor board. He also likely played for a local football team.

Browney, William
Ipswich, Qld/ Foster
He was also known as Beadmore (adopted). He had attended school at Korrumburra. Reports of his death in the local paper clearly identified him as local of Wonyip. The paper also reported on his formal farewell from Wonyip. His name appears on the Wonyip & District honor board. He also played in the local football competition.

Bunston, Leslie William
Boolarra/Lismore, NSW
He had attended Carrajung South SS.

Chester, Charles Edward William
Glenmaggie/Melbourne
He was a teacher in the district – Wonyip – up to the time he enlisted. The local paper reported his death and its commemoration in Wonyip. His name appeared on the Wonyip and District honor board.

Coverdale, Robert
Ballarat/Melbourne
He had attended Madalya SS. Local paper reports had him residing in Madalya in early 1914, and he enlisted in Sept. 1914. His name appears on the Madalya and District Roll of Honor.

Davidson, Percy James
Auburn,Tas/Yarram/Melbourne
He was one of the first group to enlist at Yarram in Sept 1914 but he was then discharged on medical grounds. He subsequently re-enlisted in Melbourne in early 1915. The initial enlistment at Yarram was with his ‘mate’, Percy Wallace. They both subsequently served in 22 Battalion and when Percy Wallace was killed (15/4/16), Percy Davidson provided an account of the death which was featured in the local paper (23/6/16).

Dewell, William Scoones
London, UK/Melbourne
At the time he enlisted (Oct. 1914), re was a 20 yo working at Wonyip. At the time, he wrote to the Shire Secretary to advise him, directly, that he had enlisted in Melbourne. In the letter he noted that he had been advised by the Shire Secretary (Black) to enlist in Melbourne because at the time the Shire was not accepting enlistments. This was just after the first large group of 50 had enlisted from Yarram, in Sept. 1914.

Dietrich, Henry James
Jeeralang/Morwell
He must have been working in district at the time because he received a railway warrant from the Shire Secretary. Reports on his service – and also family matters – featured in the local paper.

Dove, Albert Ernest
Gormandale/New Zealand
He was born Gormandale and attended Gormandale SS. The local paper (4/6/15) specifically referred to him as one of the ‘Gormandale boys’ but he actually enlisted in New Zealand.

Dunne, James Richard
Yarram/Melbourne
He was born in Yarram and attended Yarram SS. He had left district by the time of his enlistment. The local paper referred to his death and noted he was formerly of the district.

Ellis, Robert G
Sale/Canada
He had attended Tarraville SS and the family was local (Port Albert) but he himself had left Australia by WW1. He enlisted in Vancouver. The local paper gave details of his death and featured an in memoriam.

Ferres, Sydney Eversley
Ararat/Melbourne
He had attended Alberton SS but by time of enlistment he was living at Toora. There were several reports covering his death in the local paper.

Ford, Ernest Leslie
Deans Marsh/Melbourne
His name appeared on the Methodist Circuit honor roll, where he was associated with Mullundung. His father worked at the timber mills at Mullundung.

George, Herbert Ilott
Dunolly/Melbourne
He had attended 2 local schools: Alberton SS and Port Albert SS. At the time of his death, the local paper described how he had been a resident of Port Albert and had worked in a store at Yarram. He must have left the area not long before enlisting. The local paper covered reports of his death and stated that he was well known in Yarram, Port Albert and Foster. The paper even featured one of his letters home.

Godfrey, Albert John Jeffrey
Melton/Perth, WA
He was one of 5 brothers who enlisted. The other 4 brothers survived. All the brothers had attended Alberton SS. The family moved to WA late 19 – early 20C but the father did subsequently return to district and died at Alberton (1897).

Grenville, Vincent
Yarram/Melbourne
There is very little on him but he was born in Yarram and the family had been in the district from 1880s. The local paper referred to his death (8/9/16) and noted he was from Yarram. On his enlistment papers, the father’s address, as next-of-kin, was Yarram.

Hanrahan, Dennis Ambrose
Welshpool/Melbourne
The family was local, with the mother and 2 sisters living at Alberton West/Binginwarri/Hedley. On his enlistment papers he gave Alberton West as his address. The local paper reported his death and described him as a ‘native of Hedley’.

Hibbs, Clifford/Clifton (Goodwin, Arthur)
Tarraville/Yarram
It was a complicated case: desertion then re-enlistment under another name. At the same time, he was definitely local. See Post 142.

Hofen, Robert Henry
Bairnsdale/Yarram
Medical, enlistment and railway warrant were all from Yarram. He had also been in Woodside Rifle Club for 3 years prior to enlistment.

How(e), Harold Christopher
Kent, UK/Yarram
He would only have been in the Shire a short time before enlistment. Medical, enlistment and railway warrant were all from Yarram. The local paper identified him as a local. On the National Roll of Honour, the place to which he was ‘chiefly connected’ was Yarram.

Inseal(Ensil), Arthur George
Wales, UK/Melbourne
He appeared on the honor roll for Carrajung as a resident. He also appears in the 1915 Electoral Roll as ‘farm labourer’ of Carrajung.

Kiellerup, Frederick Charles
Narrandera, NSW/Melbourne
He had attended Yarram SS. The local paper reported his death and noted he had once been the Wertheim representative in Yarram. However, he was 31 yo when he enlisted so it is possible that his stint as the Wertheim rep in Yarram could have been up to 10 years earlier.

Kennedy, John
Woodside/Sale
He had attended Darriman SS and his name was also on the Presbyterian Charge.

Lear, Eric Nightingale
Fryerston/Melbourne
He had attended Won Wron SS. His father had been a teacher at Tarraville in 1890s. The local paper reported his death and noted he was nephew of the local councillor, Nightingale.

Liddelow, Aubrey
Tarraville/cannot find record
He had attended Tarraville SS.

Lowther, Frank William
Woodside/Toowoomba, Qld
He had attended North Devon SS and Yarram SS. His name also appears on the Presbyterian Charge and the North Devon District honor roll. There was a detailed write up in the local paper on his death. There was also an in memoriam. He was well known in district. On the National Roll of Honour, Yarram was given as place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. He was farming with his brother in Queensland when the War started.

Martin, Gordon
Dunolly/Yarram
Medical, enlistment and railway warrant were all from Yarram. Detail on the embarkation roll showed his address as ‘Barry Hotel, Alberton’.

Martin, John Herbert
Abbotsford/Warrnambool
His name is on the Hiawatha SS honor roll. He was a teacher at the school in 1913

Mason, James Oliver
Won Wron/Melbourne
He had attended Yarram SS. The National Roll of Honour has Yarram as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. The local paper reported his death and noted he was well known in Yarram.

Mates, Harold
Nyora/Brisbane, Qld
He had attended Carrajung South SS. The local paper reported his death and noted he had been previously employed at the local branch (Yarram?) of the Colonial Bank.

McCarthy, Terence Charles Francis
Kensington/Yarram
He was one of the first group to enlist from Yarram (16/9/14).

McLeod, Alexander John
Merino/Melbourne
He and his brother – Leslie John McLeod – were sons of the local police officer at Yarram who was appointed there in 1914. Both brothers were minors when they enlisted. The other brother is listed on the Shire Roll of Honor – and as ‘killed’ – but he is not on the soldiers’ memorial. This brother is on neither the soldiers’ memorial nor the roll of honor.

Morgan, Arthur
Boort/Adelaide, SA
He had attended Womerah SS. His name appeared on the list of medicals and enlistment of locals for November 1914 but he did not enlist for another year and then from Adelaide. Correspondence indicates he was definitely a former student of Womerah SS. On the National Roll of Honour, the father indicated that the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’ was Bullarah, Gippsland (Boolarra) and that his former occupation was ‘saw mill hand’.

Morley: there were 5 Morley brothers from Gormandale who enlisted and the following 3 were killed. All had been born at Gormandale and all had attended Gormandale SS. The local paper highlighted their service and identified them with Gormandale. All three appeared on the war memorial in Gormandale itself. Their father was dead. The mother was living at Gormandale. Only one of the brothers appeared on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor (Morley, Archie Cortnage). The family’s ‘sacrifice’ was well known throughout the district.

Morley, Ernest Edward
Gormandale/Melbourne
He had attended Gormandale SS.

Morley, George Thomas
Gormandale/Brisbane
He had attended Gormandale SS. He was obviously not living in the district at time of enlistment.

Morley, Robert Herbert
Gormandale/Melbourne
He had attended Gormandale SS. On the National Roll of Honour, the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’ was given as Gormandale.

Moulden, William
Alberton/Belmont, WA
He had attended Binginwarri SS. The family had been in the district from the 1870s. He had obviously moved to WA before he enlisted but the local paper referred to him as ‘native’ of Binginwarri, and his mother gave Alberton as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’ for the Roll of Honour.

Moysey, James Edgar
Yinnar/Bairnsdale
The local paper reported his death and noted he had been a former teacher in the district and a well-known local footballer.

Neil, Leonard John James
Port Albert/Foster
He had attended Port Albert SS.

Nicholson, James vernal
Maldon/Melbourne
His name appeared on the local Methodist Circuit memorial. His father was a farmer at Balook. The local paper reported he was one of those commemorated at a memorial service in May 1918.

Noonan, Leonard
Tarraville/Sydney, NSW
He had attended Tarraville SS. His father had been the local police constable at Tarraville before retiring as a farmer at Jack River. He had obviously left district before enlistment.

Ormsby, Philip Michael
Ballangeich/Melbourne
He had been a teacher at Madalya and his name appeared on honor roll for Madalya School and District, as a teacher. He would have been a (the) teacher at Madalya one or two years before enlistment.

Owens, Charles Athwell
Traralgon/Melbourne
He had attended Gormandale SS.

Pickett, James Burnett
Rupanyup/Yarrawonga
He had attended Yarram SS and Darriman SS. His father had been the Alberton Shire Engineer (1900-1904). His death was reported in the local paper and he was commemorated at a local memorial service (May 1918). He was certainly well known in the district. The Shire medallion was even presented to a relative on his behalf. The South Gippsland Chronicle listed him – early 1916 – as a local who had enlisted and been killed.

Radburn, Edward
Bairnsdale/Boolarra-Melbourne
His name was included on the honor roll for Wonyip & District. The local paper reported on his farewell from Gunyah (October 1914). The National Roll of Honour had Boolarra as location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.

Raymond, Harold McCheyne
Brighton/Brisbane, Qld
He was the son of Rev Arthur Rufus Raymond. The father had been appointed as the Anglican minister to Yarram in January 1917. He was killed 9/4/17 – a few months after his father’s appointment – and the local paper reported the death.

Reeves, Alfred
Leicester,UK/Yarram
The medical, enlistment and railway warrant were all from Yarram. He served for several months and then deserted; but he then ‘re-attested at Broadmeadows’.

Reville, Albert James
Alberton/Melbourne
The family well known in the district but they had left by time of his primary schooling. The local paper covered his service and death.

Robinson, James Nobel
Bendigo/Melbourne
He appeared on the 1915 Electoral Roll as ’storekeeper’ of Mullundung.

Saal, Christopher
Toowoomba, Qld/Toowoomba, Qld.
He had attended Binginwarri SS. The local paper had an in memoriam for him in September 1918 from a ‘friend’ (Victoria Hiho) from Hedley.

Sebire, Francis Henry
Port Melbourne/Melbourne
His name appeared on the honor rolls of Binginwarri SS and Wonyip SS. He was a teacher and one his first appointments was at Binginwarri (1911-14). He was in the Stacey’s Bridge Rifle Club at the start of 1914. The local paper reported him missing and presumed dead (June 1918). It noted that he had been a teacher in the district.

Slavin, John Leonard
Yarram/Perth, WA
He had attended Yarram, Balloong and Tarraville SS. The Slavin family was well known in the district and a sister was still living there. The family had shifted to WA and three brothers enlisted there. The other two brothers survived. His death was reported in the local paper which noted that he had spent his boyhood in the district.

Sleigh, Stephen
Trentham/Wonthaggi
On the embarkation roll his address was given as c/o Bank of Australasia, Yarram. The Shire rate book indicated that he had 20 acres at Binginwarri. BP Johnson acted as his lawyer and held power of attorney.

Smith, Leslie
Northampton,UK/Melbourne
He had attended Wonyip SS. The family must have immigrated when he was a child. When he enlisted (21yo) his father’s address was given as Wonyip. The memorial plaque was sent to the father at Wonyip but the father by then had moved to Toora.

Smith, William
Yarram/Yarram
He had attended Wonyip SS. The medical, enlistment and railway warrant were all from Yarram. The father’s address was Jack River and Binginwarri. He had shares in the family farm at Binginwarri.

Spargo, Clifton James
Brunswick East/Melbourne
His name was on the honor roll for Wonyip & District. His Father’s address was given as Wonyip via Boolarra. The father’s pro-Conscription stance was highlighted in the local paper.

Statham, Sydney Joseph
Port Mackay, Qld/Melbourne
His name was on the honor roll for Wonyip & District. The local paper gave an account of his death and described him as ‘one of our boys’ from Gunyah. He was presented with a gold medal by locals (Gunyah) and was well known and popular.

Tibbs, Walter
Leeds, UK/Melbourne
His address on the embarkation roll was ’Tarraville via Yarram’. The National Roll of Honour gave ‘Tarraville, Gippsland’ as the location with which he was ’chiefly connected’. He enlisted very early: 21/8/14. This was a month before the first, mass group of enlistments from the Shire.

Tregilgas, Archibald Sturt
Sturt, SA/Adelaide, SA
He had attended North Devon SS and his name was also on the North Devon District honor board. It appears the family left the district in the early 1890s.

Walker, Moore
Mortlake/Mortlake
He had attended Wonyip SS. On his service record, the father’s address changed from Mortlake to Wonyip and Yarram.

Whitford, Roy Victor
Yarram/ Perth, WA
He had attended Won Wron SS.

Widdon, Albert Edward
Yarram/ Dalby, Qld
He had attended North Devon SS and Yarram SS. His name was also on the Methodist Circuit. The family was still in the district and the father had land at Devon. There was extensive coverage of his death in the local paper, which noted that he had enlisted in Queensland. Many of his cousins in the district also enlisted. He was commemorated at a memorial service in Yarram in May 1918. He was referred to as one of the ‘Yarram lads’. The South Gippsland Chronicle listed him – early 1916 – as a local who had enlisted and been killed.

Wilson, William
Trentham/Daylesford
Yarram was identified on the National Roll of Honour as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. His siblings were living in the district. The South Gippsland Chronicle listed him – early 1916 – as a local who had enlisted and been killed.

Wilson, Alexander
Traralgon/Melbourne
His name appears on the Blackwarry roll of honor.

Withinshaw, George
Staffordshire,UK/Warragul
The National Roll of Honour gave Yarram as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. His address on enlistment and embarkation records was c/o Stockwell, Charles John – grazier of Yarram. There was a report in the local paper (6/10/16) of him being charged with being on the premises of Yarram Hotel during prohibited hours. This was just one month before he enlisted.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle and Yarram and Alberton Advertiser/South Gippsland Chronicle

Archives, Shire of Alberton
Box 377
Files 285-292
Including a collection of papers: Inscribing the names of the Fallen on the Soldiers’ Memorial

212. The Shire of Alberton unveils a memorial to its soldiers

Post 96. Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial gave a brief history of the monument in Commercial Road, Yarram. This post examines in detail the local politics leading up to first the construction and then the dedication of the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. As for the previous post on the establishment of the Diggers’ Club in Yarram, it also highlights the nature and degree of the tension in the local community in the first few years after the War.

The decision to erect a memorial to the soldiers of Alberton Shire was taken at a council meeting on 13 May 1920:

A Soldiers monument (sic) be erected in Commercial Road,Yarram, cost to be referred to next year’s estimates, form and price to be decided at next meeting.

This was just after a presentation by the Melbourne firm of Corben & Sons. The actual cost indicated at the time was £550.

While the Shire’s decision appeared clear-cut, the way forward was to prove difficult.

To begin with, the editor – A J Rossiter – of the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – was keen to influence the debate over a suitable memorial. Indeed, initially at least, Rossiter had an entirely different proposal, which he promoted in the pages of the paper. In a sense, it was all a case of deja vu, as the previous post highlighted similar efforts by Rossiter to push his proposal for a grand, commemorative civic hall over the returned men’s wish for a more exclusive and lower-key Diggers’ Club. This time, Rossiter was keen on ’swimming baths’. Prior to the Shire’s resolution of 13/5/20 on the construction of the memorial on Commercial Road, outside the Post Office, Rossiter had been pushing his ‘public baths’ proposal. An editorial on 10/3/20 – two months before the council meeting – outlined his proposal. It began with an acknowledgement that his previous ambitious proposal had been rejected; but, as far as he was concerned, that was no reason to hold back from yet another bold, public venture:

Since the bold proposal of a public hall, embracing a soldiers’ club, did not find favor, why not a public memorial in the form of swimming baths? We have before advocated swimming baths for the rising generation, and have pointed out the necessity for every child to be taught the art of swimming. The old Mechanic’s Institute was at one time suggested as a suitable site, because of a natural watercourse that intersects that property. The public might well join issue with the Shire council in establishing public baths as a memorial to district soldiers, and the donor roll could be placed at the baths, instead of being hid in a comparatively obscure place in the shire hall which so few enter. Public baths as a memorial would be far before a granite monument in the main street or at the shire hall, because of their utilitarian character. Whatever is done by the shire council must cost a fair sum. No paltry donor board would suffice as a district memorial to the soldiers who fought for their country.

As matters progressed, the call for the memorial swimming baths appears to have slipped away. However, Rossiter had yet another proposal to replace the baths – the extension and refurbishment of the Shire Hall so that it could accommodate 1,500 people. In another editorial on 2/6/20, Rossiter raised the £550 figure for the proposed memorial in Commercial Road, and claimed that it would represent money ‘thrown away’. He wanted … something better done with the money. He had a far more beneficial and utilitarian proposal:

The town does not possess a hall worthy of the name, and none has the facilities which the public are justly entitled to. The proposal we have in mind as a fitting memorial to our soldiers is to re-model the shire hall, and build at the rear a balconied hall to seat about 1,500 people.

In the same editorial, Rossiter called for a public meeting to discuss the whole issue:

A memorial, in the form suggested, would for all time commemorate the deeds of not only the fallen, but those who have been spared to us. If remodelling the shire hall find favour amongst our readers, in place of the proposed monument, we would suggest that a public meeting be called as early as possible.

And there was yet another option. The third option focussed on the so-called (Soldiers’) ‘Memorial Park’.

When a new cemetery had been established at Yarram in 1902, the graves from the ‘Old Yarram Pioneer Cemetery’ had been relocated to the new site. In 1911, an act of the Victorian Parliament had provided for the old cemetery site to be converted to a park. Subsequently, from August 1914 several, local Friendly Societies – the local branch of the Australian Natives’ Association appears to have been the major player – undertook to turn the ‘old local burial ground’ into a ‘pleasure place for the populace’ . The details appeared in the local paper on 21/8/14. The Friendly Societies were to take advice from Shire personnel and organise working bees. The plan called for … the planting of palms, trees and shrubs in preference to flowers, and suggested a large grass plot in the centre where children could play, and where a bandstand could be erected. It was recognised that the amount of work involved was considerable and that a time frame of at least 2-3 years was required.

Over the period of the War, not a great deal of remediation work in the park was undertaken. Then, in mid 1918, a public meeting was held to consider … the question of beautifying the old burial ground, south of the town, and form a memorial park. By the end of October that year, there was a formal committee of the ‘Yarram Memorial Park’. There was also an agreed schedule of work to be undertaken by volunteer organisations, including the ANA, the Returned Soldiers’ Association, the Soldiers’ Fathers Association, the IOR and the local Traders’ association. It was all detailed in the local paper (25/10/18). Again, the scope of the remediation work was extensive. In fact, the scope was arguably too ambitious. In June 1921, in the South Gippsland Chronicle (1/6/21), the ’Soldiers’ Memorial Park’ was described as a ‘carefully fenced thistle patch’. The account described how, after an enthusiastic start, the effort slipped away:

The area was cleared and graded, the paths were laid out and gravelled, a fence was erected, and then – Yarram’s short-lived energy “petered out”

So, in mid 1920, the third option for the district soldiers’ memorial was to focus efforts on what was being described as the Soldiers’ Memorial Park and, potentially, include in the park a dedicated memorial of the kind proposed for Commercial Road. The Shire President at the time (J J O’Connor) was a strong backer of this proposal.

Given the range of proposals and what appeared to be strong community interest, the Shire council undertook in June 1920 to defer the decision on the soldiers’ memorial for two months, on the understanding that in the interim there would be a public meeting to canvas views in relation to, at least, the three proposals being put forward. The meeting was scheduled for 21/6/20. In the ads that appeared in the local press there were calls for a large attendance:

A large attendance is requested, and relatives of fallen soldiers are specifically invited to attend.

It is relevant here to point out that in the lead up to this public meeting on the soldiers’ memorial, the local paper was again targeting the politics associated with the Diggers’ Club. The point is that in the background to the local politicking over the soldiers’ memorial, there were ongoing charges being made against the local returned men. This situation could well have affected the locals’ interest and involvement in the whole business. As we will see, hardly anyone attended the public meeting on 21/6/20, despite all the publicity on how important it was.

In an editorial on 26/5/20, Rossiter had been almost gleeful in reporting trouble at the Diggers’ Club. He commenced with,

Has the Yarram Diggers’ Club so soon met trouble?

He then retold the story of how the returned men had held themselves ‘aloof’ from the local community by insisting on their own club rooms. He also argued that the resulting Diggers’ Club, as it was set up, was supported by local subscriptions; and those who had contributed financially understood they were contributing to a facility that would be available to all returned men, with the only restriction being a ‘small members’ fee’. The previous post revealed that, in time, the membership was also extended to include fathers’ of men who had served and also those men who had been ‘rejected’ on medical grounds.

Rossiter then claimed that there were significant divisions within the club over the very issue of membership. There was a ballot system to determine membership and Rossiter claimed that ‘certain rejects’ had been ‘black balled’ in the ballot process. This in turn had led to the resignation of the ‘chief officers’ of the club’s management committee. There were no further details on the men denied membership, nor on the fate of those said to have resigned from the committee. Obviously, the issue of which ‘rejects’ would be admitted to the Diggers’ Club was always going to be contentious. Rossiter was quick – and also keen – to point to the potential outcome for the club. He warned that … the public will be quite alienated, and the club too soon become a white elephant.

Overall, in the lead up to the public meeting on 21/6/20, the background politics associated with returned soldiers had become both public and contentious.

There was a detailed account of the public meeting in the local paper on 23/6/20. As indicated already, the attendance was very small. In fact, the number given was only twelve, ‘including one lady’. The paper claimed it was ‘farcical’ to suggest the meeting was either ‘public’ or ‘representative’. In any event, the meeting proceeded and the Shire President outlined the three proposals:

The three proposals that had been made were a monument in the public street, to cost about £500; the completion of the public park and the erection of a smaller monument in it; and the erection of a memorial hall.

The President declared that he favoured the second proposal – the Soldiers’ Memorial Park – but acknowledged that the Shire had already settled on the first, the monument in Commercial Road. He doubted that the memorial hall proposal would receive public support. Rossiter then spoke to his proposal of the hall, pointing out the benefits for the wider community. However, he also made the point that should his proposal not win support then he would finally quit his ‘effort to get a public hall for Yarram’. This was to be his last effort for the commemorative public hall for Yarram, which he had been pushing from the end of the war.

Councillor Barlow was obviously perturbed by the whole business. He argued that such a small meeting could hardly make any decision of import. Further, he maintained, the basic issue related to the whole of the Shire of Alberton and the narrow focus on Yarram – for the hall proposal – was inappropriate. Further, in relation to the same proposal, he had trouble reconciling what he saw as a business venture – the Shire would take out a loan and then seek to repay it by charging usage costs etc – with the commemoration of the soldiers’ sacrifice. He even went as far as accusing the backers of trying to … make money out of the lives of their fallen soldiers’ lives that had been given for their freedom. It was a strong claim. Barlow was obviously not about to change his support for the Shire’s initial vote to to establish the monument in the main street of Yarram, where the total cost would be covered by the Shire.

There followed further discussion over the merit of even considering alternative proposals if the councillors’ minds were already made up. In the end, the meeting closed without any motion being put. From that point, Rossiter’s proposal for the memorial hall in Yarram was dropped.

After the agreed two months for public discussion had passed, the matter was taken back to council. At the meeting on 12/8/20 the discussion focused on whether the monument was to in the park or in the main street. Incredibly, the vote was tied at four each way. The deciding vote of the President determined that the monument would be erected in the park. So notice was then given that there would be a vote to rescind the original council resolution of 13/5/20 – the one that had the monument in Commercial Road – at the next meeting. However, at the next meeting (9/9/20), the resolution to rescind the original vote was lost. At the same meeting, the following resolution was passed:

That the design for [the] soldiers’ memorial, submitted by H. B. Corben & sons, and numbered 5, to cost £550, be adopted; that it be surrounded by a bluestone and chain railing at an additional cost of £50; and that it be erected in Commercial Road, Yarram, opposite the post office.

Finally, there was a definite decision on the form and location of the soldiers’ memorial for Alberton Shire. It would be dedicated just under one year later. The back story to this decision highlights simmering divisions in the local community over the key question of ownership of the business of commemoration.

The unveiling of the memorial

The Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial was unveiled on Wednesday, 10 August 1921. The ad for the event specified that it would occur … immediately after arrival of train from Melbourne (about 3.30 p m). The train station at Yarram had been opened earlier the same year (February 1921). The event was written up in the local papers – both Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative and South Gippsland Chronicle – on 12/8/21. The number of locals who attended was put ‘between 400 and 500 people’.

The two dignitaries presiding at the unveiling were the local Federal member G H Wise and Major-General C F Cox. Cox had served on Gallipoli, and then throughout the Sinai-Palestine campaign, with distinction. After the War he was elected to the Senate as a Nationalist.

The account in the local paper noted that the Shire President – John Barry – opened the proceedings by referring to the 700 men who had left the district to fight and the 80 who had died. In his comments, Senator Cox described the memorial as … a credit to the district and a fitting tribute to the boys who saved the country.

For his part, Wise was more political with his remarks. He was keen to refute the claim – it was most commonly identified with Archbishop Mannix – that the War had been waged for merely economic reasons or, more specifically, over trade. Wise insisted that … Those people who thought the past war was a trade or financial was were making a great mistake. For Wise it had been a war to check German power and militarism. It had been a war … fought to end all inhumanities and guarantee freedom and liberty. Arguably, the most significant point here was that Wise felt the need to make the comments. Wise also referred to what he saw as the ‘levelling’ effect of the War:

One of the aftermaths of the war was that it brought all classes on a more equal footing.

At the actual unveiling of the memorial, the Last Post was played. And at the conclusion, B P Johnson gave a ‘hearty vote of thanks’ on behalf of the community.

That night, there was a formal dinner for Wise and Cox and other invited guests in the Yaram Club Hotel, put on by the Shire President, John Barry JP. Prior to the event, newspaper articles had made it clear who was to be invited:

Invitations are being issued to members of the soldier land settlement committee, the repatriation executive, and representatives of the Returned Soldiers’ League.

In the Archives for the Shire of Alberton there is a list of those who were invited. The actual list runs to approximately 55 guests but there is no corresponding list of those who did actually attend. It was an all-male affair. In the write up in the papers the number who were present was described thus:

Between 40 and 50 of the most representative citizens sat down to the dinner at the Club Hotel that would have done credit to a city caterer.

What is clear though is that the single largest group of invited guests consisted of members of the Soldier Land Settlement Committee. There were 18 of them. The second largest group – approximately 15 – would have covered all the Shire representatives: councillors, Shire Secretary, Shire Engineer, Clerk of Works, Treasurer … There was also a small number from the local repatriation Committee. Finally, in terms of distinct groupings of guests, there were approximately 10 returned men. Presumably, they were all associated with either the Diggers’ Club or the local branch of the RSSILA; although it does appear that one or two of them might also have been soldier settlers.

What this all means is that the returned soldiers themselves were a definite minority at the function. Precedence was given to what effectively was the previous generation, the very one that that committed the men to the War. It was something of a classic example how even the commemoration of the War was dominated by the earlier generation. Further, as we will see later, the local Soldier Land Settlement Committee exercised considerable authority over the returned men or, more specifically, those who tried to set themselves up as successful soldier settlers. Not surprisingly, many of the returned men would have felt that everything was skewed to the interests of the previous generation, the one that had not done the fighting.

At the formal dinner there were the usual toasts – ‘The king’, ‘health of the federal Parliament’, ‘the AIF’ … – and B P Johnson appears to have served as MC.

Wise spoke again at the dinner and it was evident that he was defensive over the range and intensity of disquiet in the community about the Government’s management of post-War expectations. For example, he referred to what he saw as the folly of the ‘public indignation meetings’ that were increasingly being called across the country. He defend the Government’s record on ‘soldier service homes’ and claimed the Government had ‘done their best’. And there was criticism of those – he referred to the ‘wealthy’ – who attacked the Government over the level of the War debt.

Another speaker that night was William G Pope. Pope had been a prominent Imperial Loyalist during the War and a backer of the returned men’s push for their own club rooms after the War. He was responsible for the toast to the AIF. His comments reflected those of Bean in that he saw the legacy of the AIF becoming a driving force in Australian history. He acknowledged that the AIF had officially ceased to exist, but then launched into the following, mutli-themed panegyric:

… it [The AIF] will live in Australian hearts and have a beneficial influence on our national life and character for all time, as in every true Australian heart the glorious deeds of the A. I. F. are enshrined for ever. There imperishable glory is the beaconllght on the hill, to which in future all who love and would serve Australia must turn for inspiration, and in the men who lighted it are the descendants of those men and women of British stock whose never-failing courage has laid the foundations of that Commonwealth or British nation, which is the hope of the world.

Returning to a more mundane level, Pope finished with a critique of those upset about the level of war indemnity or reparations that Australia was not going to receive from Germany. The background here was that there had recently been reports -for example, South Gippsland Chronicle, 20/7/21 – that Australia’s share of war indemnity had been reduced from £30M to £400,000, compromising overall repatriation efforts. Pope dismissed the concerns, arguing that the potential of reparations was hardly the reason Australian had gone to war.

It is interesting that even at such formal, commemorative events, the general disquiet in the community about the overall situation in Australia, just short of three years after the Armistice, kept intruding.

For his part, Senator Cox did not have much to say. He was full of praise for the 700 men from the Shire who had all left as volunteers. But even he finished with a call for a significant increase in immigration, as a matter of urgency.

There were several letters touching on both the unveiling ceremony, and the formal dinner, published in the local press immediately after. Predictably, there were complaints about the guest list for the dinner. A letter (12/8/21) from ‘A Dinkum Digger’ intimated that not only were the diggers generally under-represented but some of the diggers invited were not ‘genuine diggers’:

… I would like to ask who was responsible for the issuing of the invitations? Why was it that several Diggers were invited and partook of a hearty meal (and doubtless felt the effects of a bad head the following morning), and other real Diggers were quite overlooked? Why this state of things should be is puzzling. We hear of a dinner and on looking round the guests we see people with no claim to a seat as a Digger, and we also see many with no claim at all as a guest on such an occasion. What was the controlling influence in the choosing of the guests? Did it not count that a man who had really seen service for 4 1/2 years, from first to last, and who had ‘borne the burden and heat of the day,’ should not be asked. Why was it that so many of these real Diggers were not invited, while there were guests with no such record partaking of the good things and ‘eating the fatted calf.’ It seems evident that the same old trouble, class distinction, must have crept in. It is painful to think of such a thing after hearing the address of Mr Wise in the afternoon, when he commented on the fact of how the war had done away with this, and instanced a case of where he had seen hundreds of men on a transport all on an equal footing. Surely it must have pricked the consciences of some of the guests last night when they must have noticed the absence of some Diggers, men perhaps not holding ‘soft jobs’ or clerkships, but Diggers all the same, and justly entitled to a seat at the festal board.

The idea of the ‘genuine’ digger had history. For example, Johnson himself had fought off claims earlier in the War that his son had a secured a position away from the front lines. The AIF had regularly sought to ‘comb out’ men involved in clerical and support roles to reinforce those at the front. But, more generally, there was always the question of whose service in the AIF counted the most or, at least, for more than others’ service. Clearly, in this instance the claim was that some of he diggers at the dinner did not have the same entitlement as others who had served throughout the entire War. Perhaps it was a criticism on those who had taken on positions of responsibility in the local organisations to do with returned men. Clearly, there was politics associated with the operation of the Diggers’ Club. It was always going to be a vexed question. There were even shades of the same dilemma in the case of those ‘rejected’. For example, how many formal attempts and rejections did it take it take before someone became a genuine ‘reject’? Arguably, the more important point here is that the issues of entitlement and status were being raised publicly. The point was being made that not all diggers were ‘equal’.

It was not only the local returned men who were put out by events associated with the dedication of the memorial. One other criticism was that the local school children had not been sufficiently involved in the unveiling ceremony. In the South Gippsland Chronicle of 17/8/21 there was a letter from the head teacher (A M Parratt) of the Yarram State school. He was obviously upset that the children had not been asked to have a formal presence at the ceremony. There was some important history here. All through the War, the then head teacher, A E Paige, had ensured that the school children were always available, even at short notice, to attend formal and semi-formal functions. For example, Paige would quickly organise for a group of school children to attend a farewell organised for a departing recruit. The school children had become a feature of all such public occasions. But, on this occasion, they had been passed over. The new head teacher made the point that … the school was never asked to attend. Had there been an invitation, the school, most definitely, would have been there. In fact, it had a right to be there, and at the dinner as well:

The teachers and children were all willing to march down had we been asked. After all that the children did for the soldiers we were conceited enough to expect an invitation; we also thought that the schools of the district might have been represented at the dinner, either by a teacher or a member of the school committee, but those in authority thought otherwise.

There were even other letters with advice on how the whole ceremony could have been better staged.

The critical observation in all this was that even the acts of commemoration were capable of creating and stirring division. And while some of the tension and division was superficial, manufactured and even trivial, there were other issues that were deep and serious.

The last point to note is that when the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial was unveiled on 10/8/21, the actual names of the dead had not yet been added. Provision had been made for the names of 80 dead to be inscribed. But it was to be nearly another 10 years before the names were added. This detail will be the subject of a future post.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
South Gippsland Chronicle

Archives, Shire of Alberton

Minute Book October 1913 – April 1921

File: 285-292

Box: 377

 

 

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

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

84. Schooling, religion & Imperialism, Part B: Secularism

Post 68. Schooling, religion & Imperialism, Part A: a natural trinity considered the extent to which the War sharpened the perception for Irish Catholics that the state school was both Protestant and Imperialist. This was particularly the case after Easter 1916.

This post looks chiefly at Catholic attempts from 1915 to establish a school in Yarram. It highlights the significant fault lines that existed in the community, and reveals how the religious division between Catholic and Protestant was exacerbated further by the desire to create a  Catholic school. Catholic opposition to the Protestant proposal to teach the Bible in state schools was another major controversy at the time. The post provides a case study of the bitter sectarianism that became a feature of Australian society and politics as the War progressed, and also in the period after the War.

The Catholic school, St. Mary’s, at Yarram  was not opened until the start of 1918. This meant that in the period leading to the War, and for most of the War, all Catholic children in the Shire of Alberton attended the local state schools. This common experience of schooling helped to reduce the level of religious difference in the local community, at least until Easter 1916. In fact, as noted in earlier posts, over the early period of the War there was little apparent conflict between Catholic and Protestant. Catholics enlisted at rates equivalent to their numbers in the local community. Importantly, the promise of Home Rule had neutralised the key political difference between Great Britain and Ireland.

Arguably, the clearest example of the unity between Catholic and Protestant in support for the War came in March 1916 with the St Patrick’s Sports Carnival. In February 1916, Fr Sterling suggested that the proceeds from the annual sports carnival should go to support wounded soldiers. St Patrick’s Sports was the biggest sports carnival held in the Shire of Alberton and it was normally used to raise funds for various Catholic charities and works. Fr Sterling’s offer was written up in both local papers: South Gippsland Chronicle (2/2/16) and Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (9/2/16). It was seen as a very generous and patriotic offer. There was a large working committee set up to manage the event and, significantly, its membership went well beyond the local Catholics and covered all sections of the community. For example, it included at least 2 members – B P Johnson and A E Paige – from the Church of England Board of Guardians. Alfred Paige was in fact the head teacher of the Yarram State School. As well, many of the committee members also served on the local recruiting committee or other groups such as the local Belgian Relief Committee. Overall, the working committee featured some of the most outspoken Imperialists in the local community.

The total profits raised by the 1916 St Patrick’s Sports Carnival was £720 and the detailed breakdown of the day’s takings were outlined in an article in the  Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 3/5/16. The profits were divided between the Red Cross and the Victorian Sick and Wounded Soldiers’ Fund. The whole day was acknowledged as a stunning success and it was easily the single, most successful fund-raising event for the War effort staged in the Shire of Alberton to that point. As the local paper put it (3/5/16) the effort … will stand for many a year as the district’s biggest effort.

However, by the time the profits were counted the Easter Uprising in Dublin had occurred and long-standing differences were building. Moreover, it is possible that the efforts of the local Catholics in supporting the War effort via the St Patrick’s Sports Carnival were at least partly driven by the sense that there was real pressure on them to prove their loyalty and demonstrate that they understood the need to make financial sacrifice for the war effort.

There was a significant local background issue. Just 2 weeks after the local Catholic community offered the St Patrick’s Sports Carnival as a fund raiser for the War effort, the newly built St Mary’s Catholic Church was blessed and opened in Yarram. The cost of the new church was £3,500 and by the time it was opened most of the funds for it had already been raised. It was a dramatic achievement by the local Catholic community to fund and build the church in only one year. So in early 1915 the Catholics had the newest and most impressive church in Yarram. However, there must have been misgivings, if not opposition, to this development, with the argument that the time was not right for such fundraising and building programs. All attention should have been focused on the War. In his history of Catholic education in the area, Synan (2003, p. 144) makes the claim directly:

In reality World War I was not a prime time for the Yarram Parish to proceed with a new church and school. Because of patriotic fervour, the wider community took a dim view of Catholics using scarce resources to build parish facilities when all the nation’s energies were being directed towards winning a war against Germany.

However, the situation was more complex than this claim. In his account (1/3/16) of the opening of the new church in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, the editor, A J Rossiter, wrote in praise of the local Catholic community and the new church. In Rossiter’s view, other religions in the community needed to follow the Catholics’ example:

The Catholics have set an example worthy to be followed by at least two other denominations in the town. As with them, wooden structures had to suffice in the times when the people were struggling, but all that is changed. People are well off comparatively, many have grown rich, and were that zeal displayed in spiritual matters which was characteristic of our fathers, there would be no wooden churches to-day in Yarram. It is a disgrace that the very worst buildings in the town are certain churches. From Sunday dates a new era in the Catholic Church in this district. There stands on an admirably adapted site a church that is an ornament to the town, and in the minds of all devout Catholics there must abide a feeling of pride and thankfulness.

It is also worth noting that a new Anglican church was also built in Yarram in WW1. The foundation  stone was laid on 6/2/18 and the new church was dedicated on 24/7/18. So the establishment of the new Catholic church was not, in itself, a direct cause of division in the local community. However, the creation of a new church school was a different matter; and from early 1915 the Catholic community was committed to such a move.

There had been a Catholic primary school (St Mary’s) in Yarram from 1885 -1890. However without access to a Catholic teaching order it had not been able to compete against the local state school. The situation changed dramatically with the appointment of Bishop Phelan to the diocese of Sale (1913-26).

Patrick Phelan was born in Kilkenny, Ireland. He was ordained in 1888 and arrived in Melbourne the same year. He was consecrated bishop in 1913. He was a keen supporter of Home Rule. As the new Bishop of Sale, he made Catholic schooling a major focus for his work. He wanted more parish primary schools across Gippsland. In the report from his ad limina visit to Rome in 1914, Phelan noted that there were twice as many Catholic children in state schools across the diocese as there were in Catholic schools (Synan, 2003 p. 138).

Specifically in relation to the Shire of Alberton, Bishop Phelan set out his plans for a Catholic school in Yarram in a visit to the parish in May 1915. The grand scheme was described in detail in a report in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 5/5/15. Phelan made the initial focus that of the education of girls. He emphasised the importance of a Catholic education for girls … the future women who have the making or marring of the future. If they have the ladies – the real Catholic ladies – they sanctify the home. He spoke of a Catholic school in Yarram where families who lived out of town could send their daughters ‘as weekly boarders’.  Critical to the success of the plan was  his promise that he would attract an order of teaching nuns who would set up a convent and run the school. However, he also made it very clear that there was no chance of attracting a teaching order of nuns to the town until there was a new church. He was reported as stating:

He had spoken of a community of nuns, but for them they needed a decent church. So long as this disgraceful church stood to their credit – or discredit – there was no chance of a convent.

For Bishop Phelan the contract with the local Catholic community was that a new church had to be built before the convent and the school were established. As indicated, the church was funded and built in less than one year.

In early 1915 when Bishop Phelan set down this contract with the local Catholic community, relations between the various religions in the community were, apparently, unremarkable and, as already noted, there was certainly no difference in terms of support for the War. Yet, even then it did not take much to stir religious controversy. In his preaching that day, Phelan focused on what he saw as the evil of ‘secularism’ and he used France as his example. Secularism for Phelan equated to godlessness and religious persecution. In fact, secular schooling, as far as Bishop Phelan was concerned, was in large part the cause of France’s parlous situation. In the same sermon he was quoted as claiming:

The present state of France is due to the secular education imparted by a masonic and infidel government in the public schools to the last generation of children. … In his opinion the present awful war was in one aspect due to the iniquities in France, which are directly traceable to infidel education imparted in the schools. It was up to Almighty God to chastise that nation and bring her back to a right sense.

The risks involved with such sweeping condemnations of secularism and secular education became very quickly apparent. One week later (12/5/15)  in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative there was a very extensive letter from Francis Blanc – farmer from Alberton West – highly critical of both Bishop Phelan and his arguments. Not only did he attack Phelan for being hostile to the French, he actually made the claim that Phelan was a ‘friend’ of the Germans. He also aired the (conspiracy) theory that the Vatican was supporting the Germans. As well, based on his own experiences as a school boy in France in the 1860s in Catholic schools, he blasted the failings of the very education system that Bishop Phelan advocated.  Essentially, Blanc argued that in his personal experience the ‘learning’ in Catholic schools in France had covered not much more than religious dogma and indoctrination.  Further, he argued that the weakened state of the Catholic Church in France was the direct result of the Church’s involvement in politics and, in particular, its support for the restoration of the Bourbons. Finally, in praising the contemporary secular system of education in France, Blanc also noted that it was the same as the Victorian model of compulsory and secular schooling.

Two days later (14/5/15), Fr Sterling felt the need to defend Bishop Phelan with his own letter to the editor. Stirling did not engage in the argument on the claimed failures of secular education. Nor did he  tackle the issue of church-state relations in contemporary France. Rather, his primary intention was to defend Phelan against the charge of disloyalty;

I am in a position to know that the Bishop is thoroughly anti-German in the present war, and when in Ireland made several speeches to the Nationalist Volunteers urging them to go to the front.

Additionally, Sterling refuted the claims about the Pope supporting the German side, or, more correctly, the claim that the Vatican had not been prepared to support to the cause of Belgian relief. He also made a point of praising both France and the French, and he pointed to his own family’s close association with the country – at the time he had 3 siblings living and working in France. The letter stands as an urgent exercise in damage control.

Bishop Phelan’s views on the contemporary secular state and, more significantly, its State system of education represented one of the fundamental fault lines in early 20 C Australian society; and this particular episode showed just how much tension and division there was to draw on and how quickly the old enmity could flare up.

The Catholic position on education was that children’s religious growth and development were at least as important as their mastery of the conventional – ‘secular’ – curriculum. For Catholics, both components of education had to be delivered, preferably by a religious order, within a school that was distinctly Catholic in its culture and daily practices. Moreover, the local Catholic primary school was seen as a highly visible manifestation of the strength of the local Catholic parish. Bishop Phelan’s deeper message to the Catholics of Yarram in early 1915 was that they needed first to build a church that truly represented their standing in the wider community, and then establish a Catholic primary school that would develop the Catholic identity of the local children, strengthen Catholic families and serve as proof of the strength of the local Catholic community.

The Catholic position was commonly seen by many as divisive and exclusive. It effectively removed Catholic children from the mainstream, secular state school and denied that a common education could characterise Australian society. It also meant scarce resources were compromised. The push for the Catholic school occurred at the same time as the community was lobbying for a higher elementary school in Yarram.

But there was yet another tension in this overall picture from mid 1916. Under the Education legislation of the time, religious denominations had the option to conduct religious instruction classes in the state school. Even though the option was taken up by all denominations, including Catholics, it was certainly not the preferred option. For Catholics, it could only ever be a compromise solution until a Catholic school became available in the local area. But for Protestants it was also an unsatisfactory arrangements. Their preferred model was that the state school teachers themselves – and not the local clergy coming in to the school on an occasional basis – taught ‘bible lessons’ as part of the school curriculum. But Catholics saw this plan as an attempt to turn the state school into a Protestant institution.

The debate was a long-standing one but the War appeared to give it some additional momentum, in the same way that the temperance movement gained considerable traction. Indeed, the backers of bible instruction for (Victorian) state schools advocated a referendum on the issue at the same time as the referendum on early closing. An article in the The Argus on 28/6/16 reported that the (Victorian) Government wanted to make clear that it was not going to follow the advice of the Scripture Instruction Campaign Council on the timing of any such referendum. Indeed, Cabinet also made it clear that it understood how divisive the issue was in both parliament and the community, and that it believed that even those who favoured the idea of the referendum… did not favour it while the war was in progress, and in no circumstances would support at this time a proposal of that kind, which might cause great division among the people.

However, there clearly was lobbying at the time for the referendum for ‘scripture in schools’, and those in favour of the referendum had a very different take on the issue of the timing of the referendum during the War. Ironically, given Bishop Phelans’ earlier attack, the argument ran on the presumed evils of secular France. For example, J Nicholson, Superintendent, Scripture Council, wrote in a letter to the editor in The Argus on 29/6/16:

The plea for postponement of all efforts to honour God’s Word in our national education until after the war is singularly lacking in moral perspective. If ever there was a time for “acknowledging God” in our national “ways” it is surely now! France was the first to lead in “secular” education, and the banishment of God from national thought; but this war has done much to correct that blunder in France. May we do likewise.

Even though the proposed referendum was formally put on hold, it continued to be pushed and  this prompted the Catholic hierarchy to respond. On 2/8/16 the South Gippsland Chronicle reported in detail on a sermon delivered by Bishop Phelan in Sale. In his sermon, Phelan told Catholics that they could not vote – in State elections – for anyone who supported the proposal to conduct the referendum. For Phelan, the backers of the referendum were determined to teach the Protestant religion in state schools and have all taxpayers, including Catholics, pay for the arrangement:

To put such a question to a popular vote would be to ask the people as a whole to say, first of all, whether the State – which has no religion – should in future teach the Protestant religion in the State schools; and whether Catholics should be called on to pay equally with Protestants for the teaching of the Protestant religion.

He added an argument which was to take on far greater meaning at the end of 1916:

No man has a right to record a vote [in a referendum] to coerce the conscience of another.

Not surprisingly, Bishop Phelan’s position attracted criticism. Specifically in relation to the Shire of Alberton, it set off a series of letters-to-the-editor that ran for all of August and into September 1916, with the 2 key letter writers being Rev F Tamagno (Methodist) and Fr. P F Sterling (Catholic). Once again, Sterling was required to step in and defend his Bishop’s comments.

Rev Tamagno’s first letter in the South Gippsland Chronicle was on 4/8/16, just 2 days after Bishop Phelan’s sermon. Tamagno certainly did not back away from the idea of having the Bible … inculcated in the State school curriculum.

The State Government lately decided against a referendum on Scripture lessons in the schools. … We Protestants do not accept the Government’s decision as final. We must organise (like our Roman Catholic friends) to send men into Parliament who will endeavor to have the Bible firmly established in this State’s schools.

Rev Tamagno argued that such scripture or Bible lessons would not equate to the teaching of Protestantism and would not promote sectarianism. He also took exception to the claim made by Bishop Phelan in his letter that the Catholic schools were saving the Victorian taxpayers £300,000 pa. In his view the amount claimed was overblown and yet another of the Catholics’ ‘fanciful grievances’. Further, he held that if the Roman Catholics faced financial hardship it was because of the ‘arrogant claims on education’ made by the ‘Romish Church’. The implication appeared to be the naive and gullible Roman Catholics in Gippsland – and all of Victoria and all of Australia – were being manipulated by the autocratic Roman Pope in the Vatican. On the issue of Church-State relations, Tamagno certainly saw the weakness of the modern, secular state but he argued that Church and State needed to work together – as in the case of the referendum on scripture – and that Protestants were far better placed to do this than Roman Catholics who were ultimately answerable to the (foreign) Pope. However, as indicated, he did admire the political organisation of the Catholics and urged his side to adopt the same tactics.

Fr Sterling replied to Rev Tamagno, in the same paper, on 9/8/16. Sterling argued that Tamagno’s letter was a typical attack on Catholics. He claimed Tamagno wanted to represent Catholics as … a terrible nuisance always growling about their grievances. Sterling’s tone was sarcastic and in his attempt to reveal what he saw as Tamagno’s condescending tone, he put words into Tamagno’s mouth, literally, and had him claim:

We [Protestants] even gave them [Catholics] permission to enlist in the army and fight and die for their country and still they keep on grumbling.

Sterling was making the point, directly, that Catholics were not second-class citizens. Nor could their beliefs be ignored or simply dismissed as the product of unthinking or blind obedience to Rome. In fact, Sterling was pointedly critical of Tamagno’s language:

The church to which I have the honor to belong is known to its members and to most outsiders by the designation of the Catholic church. Officially we are styled Roman Catholics. This term is ridiculous and self-contradictory, but we tolerate it because we must. No gentlemen and no man of education, except a piebald bigot, ever uses such terms as Rome or Romish.

Fr Sterling also covered the main argument that Catholics were right to fight against the teaching of scripture – as part of the curriculum – in state schools because, in his view, this practice would in effect make the schools Protestant. Sterling saw the proposal as an attempt by the Protestants to get their religion into the state schools ‘on the cheap’.

As indicated, this controversy continued in the local press for at least 6 weeks. It would have been impossible to ignore.

The events and positions described in this post show clearly that, leaving to one side both the complexities of the broader conflict between Irish Nationalism and British Imperialism, as played out in Australia, and the divisive issue of the first conscription referendum in late 1916, there was considerable potential for suspicion, mistrust and outright enmity between Catholic and Protestant in the local community, with much of this tied to very particular interpretations of ‘secularism’, particularly in the context of education. As much as people in the local community worked to promote a sense of unity in the face of the War, the fault lines between Catholic and Protestant were very substantial and undeniable. In this particular case, the commitment by local Catholics to reject ‘secular’ education and establish their own school, and at the same time deny Protestant influence in the state school, definitely compromised the ideal of a united local community.

References

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

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

The Argus

 

 

68. Schooling, religion & Imperialism, Part A: a natural trinity

The last post looked at how political events in Ireland from the very start of the War affected the Irish-Australian community.  However, the tension between Irish Catholic and British Protestant went well beyond the immediate political situation in Ireland. There were several hundred years of division and conflict to draw on. There were fundamental differences in religious faith, identity and practice that directly affected people’s everyday lives, for example, in areas such as marriage or, as it was more commonly described, the particular case of ‘mixed marriage’. Moreover, the differences in faith were overlain with differences between class and culture, with the Irish-Catholic Australians generally characterised as working class and even represented as lower-order citizens. However, notwithstanding long established enmity between Irish Catholic and British Protestant, the start of the War and the promise of Home Rule did see an attempt on both sides to play down the differences and unite against the common enemy.

This particular post is the first of two to show how sensitive relations were between these 2 dominant religious and cultural groupings in the local community. The specific focus is on education. Differences over the provision of schooling in the local community demonstrated how deep the divisions went and how apparently insurmountable they were. The War focused even more attention on these differences.

The provision of schooling in rural areas in late 19C and early 20 C Australia was always a problem. Settlements and townships were small and isolated. Schools could be created overnight and disappear as quickly. Most were one-teachers schools and many were part-time. There was competition between communities for the provision of schooling. Schools were often not set up in purpose-built buildings but in local halls with very rudimentary facilities. It was hard to attract and hold teachers. It could be difficult for students to access the school and many parents were reluctant to forego their children’s labour.

If anything, the problems faced by the Shire of Alberton in setting up schools across its district were more challenging than in other rural settings in Victoria. This was particularly true in relation to the spread of settlement into the very difficult and isolated ’hill country’ of the eastern Strzelecki Ranges from the 1880s.

Analysis of the WW1 honor rolls of the local schools reveals that students often attended more than one local state school. In part, this represented the movement of rural working-class families across the district as they followed work opportunities. But it also highlights how the schools themselves opened but then closed, shifted from full-time to part-time, relocated to another site and so on. The following extract from the standard text on the local history of the Shire of Alberton (Adams, 1990) gives some indication of the situation. It is looking at the provision of state schooling in the specific location of Darriman round the turn of the century.

At Darriman two schools were opened in the 1890s, one at Darriman, no. 3013, in the kitchen of the public hall erected on an acre of E. Kuch’s selection, and opened in 1892, and the other at Darriman West, no. 3070, off the main Sale road in a building leased from Mr. Geddie, with Charles Barchan, the first teacher. Numbers were poor and in 1893 Darriman closed to be reopened in 1896 half-time with Darriman West. The Darriman school closed again in 1907 while Darriman West school no. 3070 was worked part-time with Woodside until 1911. (p. 169)

Clearly, the difficulties facing the individual local communities in establishing, maintaining and improving schooling – and it was essentially primary-level schooling – were major and constant. And this level of difficulty related solely to the provision of state schooling. If the provision of Catholic schooling were to be added to the equation, all the difficulties would be magnified considerably. Two systems of schooling in such a rural environment had to increase inefficiency and compromise viability.

The reality was that, with one exception, following the legislation covering the provision of state schooling in Victoria in 1872, there was no Catholic school in the Shire of Alberton, at least up to the period of WW1. The exception was the short-lived (1885-1890) initial iteration of St Mary’s primary school in Yarram. And even before 1872 and the ‘free, compulsory and secular’ legislation, there had only ever been very limited Catholic schooling in the Shire. Setting up another, stand-alone school system, particularly in small townships and settlements, was not a realistic option. Moreover, local politics would certainly have discouraged such moves as being wasteful of limited resources and unnecessarily divisive for the community.

Importantly, the lack of Catholic primary schooling in the Shire of Alberton meant that all the young men who grew up in and enlisted from the Shire had shared a common experience of schooling, in the state system. That system was explicitly and unreservedly Imperialist in outlook and practice. Whatever the boys were told at home – and most of the Irish-Catholic families in the district still had very close relations with wider family back in Ireland – at school they were given the full and glorious version of the history and greatness of the British Empire. In her comprehensive account of the critically important role played by the Victorian state school system in WW1, Rosalie Triolo leaves no doubt of the Imperial outlook that shaped the Department and its schools:

Tate [ Director of Education], Long [Editor of the Education Gazette and School Paper] and most members of the Department’s community, especially at leadership levels, were imperialist. They were products of their culture, educational background and era. They were ‘militarist’ before and during the war in allowing a surfeit of war-related material in the Education Gazette and School Paper, especially on the Empire’s strengths and successes. They encouraged school boys to join the navy, and… conveyed views to their community during the war that able-bodied men should enlist. They gave three main reasons for believing that Australia should be involved in the war: the greatest Empire the world had known was protecting Australia from Asia and possibly other invaders; it ensured the continuation and development of trade between Australia and many countries; and, it ensured that Australians could continue to enjoy what they considered to be a morally, politically, economically and culturally superior standard of life grounded in British ways, systems and institutions.  (p14)

Triolo also argues that the Department effectively backed conscription. She quotes Tate, after the 1916 referendum:

I think the ‘Yes” vote on the referendum in Victoria [it was successful in Victoria] was a good deal influenced by the war work of the State Schools. (p59)

While the legislation of 1872 had ostensibly provided for free, compulsory and secular education, all 3 ideals were compromised in serious ways. In terms of the idea of ‘secular’, while state funding had been withdrawn from all denominational schooling, the prevailing tone of schooling was certainly religious. There was no suggestion whatsoever that state schooling was non or anti-religious. Every Monday morning, round the flag pole, the children would recite: I love God and my country; I honour the flag [Union Jack]; I will serve the KIng and cheerfully obey my parents, teachers and the laws. In addition to the constant presumption of a Christian God shaping all moral instruction in the school, there was provision for ministers and priests to come into the school and take religious instruction.

Within this common or ‘non-denominational’ Christian ethos in the state school system, Protestantism enjoyed one highly significant advantage. Protestantism was the established religion of England and the assumed religion of the British Empire. Apart from the fact that Protestant missionary zeal was a key force driving the Empire, and the common conviction that the very success of the Empire was proof of the inherent worth and destiny of Protestantism, the Protestant faith had naturally assumed moral and religious ownership and control of the Empire. In Australian at the time, to the extent that the state school system presented the Empire as the bedrock of political and moral belief, it accepted Protestantism as the ‘natural’ religion of the school system. This reality was not lost on Irish-Australians and, in part, it explains the ‘sectarianism’ that became so evident during and after WW1.

The extent to which the interests of Empire, Protestantism and state schooling could effectively overlap and create a trinity of purpose and direction was certainly evident in the case of Yarram SS. At the start of WW1, Yarram SS was by far the largest school in the Shire of Alberton (180+ students) and it was lobbying for the creation of a higher, post-primary level. The three-way overlap was most obvious at Empire celebrations and other patriotic activities that either focused exclusively on the state school – concerts, fund raisers, unveiling school honor rolls etc – or relied on the participation of students from the state school.

Both the composition and dynamics of the management committee of the Yarram SS highlight the three-way interchange between the state school, the local Protestant faiths – primarily the Church of England, but also the Presbyterian and Methodist churches – and Imperial loyalty.

The committee itself was relatively small and, in addition to the head teacher – A E Paige – there were only another 5 or 6 members.

One member, until he enlisted in the AIF in August 1915, was Rev George Cox (Church of England). Cox was one of the most public Imperialists in the community. He was, for example, the driving force for having the 1915 Empire Day celebrations focused on the state school when, as he alleged, the Shire Council, to its shame, was unwilling to organise an appropriate celebration. Cox himself was a member of the local Recruiting Committee and the Belgian Relief Committee. He was also very active in the temperance movement as ‘Chief Ruler’ of the local Rechabite Tent. Temperance was strongly promoted by the Empire and the Royal Family at the time. Cox was also a regular speaker on Imperialism at the school. In short, the local Church of England minister was very closely identified with the local state school.

In something of a reciprocal arrangement, Alfred Edmund Paige, the head teacher, was on the Board of Guardians for the Church of England in Yarram. He was also a member of the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee, and he regularly took groups of students from Yarram SS to soldiers’ farewells at the Shire Hall. The students would form a guard of honour. More importantly, they effectively made up the numbers at such occasions when too few townspeople made the effort to attend. Poor attendance at the farewells was a constant irritation for the committee.

Another member of the school management committee was Augustus John Rossiter, the editor of the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative. Coincidentally, Rossiter was also a member of the Church of England Board of Guardians. He was another outspoken Imperialist and a member of both the local Recruiting Committee and the local 1916 National Referendum Committee – local committees set up all over Australia, at the urging of PM Hughes, to promote the Yes vote in the 1916 conscription referendum. Rossiter used his paper to promote all the patriotic causes, including conscription, with which he was associated. He was a keen backer of Rev Cox.

Thomas Whitney, the chair of the school committee, was the manager of the South Gippsland Creamery and Butter Factory. He was also on the 1916 National Referendum Committee.

Another member, George E Ruby, a local land and finance agent, was on both the local Recruiting Committee and the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee. He was also a steward of the local Methodist Church. Whilst neither the local Methodist minister (Rev Walter Johns) nor the Presbyterian minister (Rev Francis Tamagno) was on the school committee, both clergymen appeared regularly at school functions and both were strong Imperialists. Rev Tamagno in particular was a leading and highly provocative Imperialist who served on the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee, the Recruiting Committee and the 1916 National Referendum Committee.

The interconnections between all the relevant committees in the local community overlapped even more than this short description suggests, and they will continue to be explored in future posts. However, it is apparent that people at the time would have seen and assumed that there were common interests and associations between the local state school, Protestantism and the ideal of Imperial loyalty. While the school was ‘secular’, its Imperial identity inevitably cast it as a Protestant-like institution and the War itself intensified this perception. Given, as argued earlier, that Protestantism was the religion of the Empire, this state of affairs would have seemed perfectly natural to all true patriots and Imperialists. However, for Irish-Australians who, post Easter 1916, were becoming increasingly uncomfortable with calls for complete and unquestioning loyalty to the Empire, the state school was viewed with increasing suspicion.

Part B will look at the moves to establish a Catholic school in Yarram during the War and the tension that this challenge to the existing arrangements created.

References

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

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

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

membership of local committees, boards etc taken from:

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

38. ‘Flag flapping’ patriotism

This is the first of 3 short posts that look at divisions within the local community that began to form from the very beginning of the War. From 1916, with the push for conscription, the division would reach levels unparalleled to that point, however from the very beginning of the War the signs of tension were there. This first post looks a ‘flag flapping’. The second looks at early ‘shirkers’; and the third at Germans in the local community.

In the early stage of the War, division arose over the proper display of patriotism. In the heightened anxiety and bravado of the times, the standards of patriotism demanded – of both individuals and institutions – encouraged true ‘patriots’ to go looking for and expose those whose loyalty could be called into question. Local newspapers were keen to assist, and had the power to legitimise and also intensify the debate. This was the opportunity for them to present themselves as the voice of the community.

On 2 December 1914, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative published a letter to the editor from an anonymous correspondent going by the name of  “Patriot”. The letter called into question the patriotic loyalty of the head teacher of Port Albert State School. The basic issue was the claimed reluctance of the head teacher to fly the flag, literally, and show an appropriate level of patriotism.  His indifference was compared with the enthusiasm apparent in all other schools across Australia. The possible counter claim that the school’s flag was old and tattered was already being discounted. It was a full-on attack on the head teacher’s sense of patriotism and the local paper chose to print it. “Patriot” wrote:

What has struck me forcibly for a considerable time, is the attitude of the head teacher of the State School, compared with that of other teachers all through the States. In every school in the State the teacher thinks it an honor for the national flag to be flying, and for the scholars to salute it. At Port Albert it is never seen now (when it should be proudly displayed more than ever) the excuse being the flag is tattered. In the days of Nelson and Wellington a torn flag signified honourable service. The teacher may probably be forgetful in such matters, but I would like to see patriotism installed in my children whatever happens.

The head teacher – Gerald Russell – had little choice but to reply in the next issue (4/12/14). He criticised the parent for writing under a pseudonym and then pointed out that the local school committee had …  already arranged for the purchase of a new flag. However, he was not prepared to leave the matter there and, given the very public attack on his sense of patriotism, he fired back at his detractor’s own patriotism, arguing it was more show than substance. It was clear that he knew who “Patriot” was because he went on to accuse him of not contributing to the school’s patriotic fund. He also questioned if “Patriot” had expected him, as head teacher, to purchase a flag with his own money, and then suggested that perhaps “Patriot’, if he was so keen on the idea, could himself have paid for the replacement flag:

Did “patriot” expect me to provide, from my own pocket, funds for that object? Had I known that gentleman was so keen on getting patriotism instilled into the minds of his children I might have deliberately suggested such an opening for himself. The wonder is that the children of such a parent should feel such a need. Let me suggest a practical way of achieving the same laudable result. There is a patriotic fund at the school for the purpose of receiving  children’s small offerings. “Patriot’s” children have not paid in a red cent. Is “patriot’s” patriotism of the blatant variety?

Thanks to the local paper, this was now a very public dispute across the district and the potential for arguments over the display of patriotic fervour to poison relations between a head teacher and his parents – with the students in the middle – was very obvious.

“Patriot” returned fire in the next edition (9/12/1914). This time he revealed his identity – “Patriot.” Otherwise known as Jack Robertson. Robertson was a fisherman from Port Albert. In his reply, Robertson takes on the persona of a parent forced, reluctantly, to call out the head teacher for lack of patriotic loyalty.  The attack on the head teacher, as one of the leading members of the local community, is severe; and the threat in the last couple of sentences is clear:

It has been common talk for weeks about our school teacher never displaying the Union Jack. I stood it as long as possible, but last Monday week was the limit. Three young men left on that day for Broadmeadows. They were born and educated here. There was no demonstration whatever at the school. Surely the time was opportune. A few of the bigger boys, who asked permission, were allowed to go to the station a few minutes before train time. The rest of the school were disappointed at not seeing their chums off. Another illustration: Last Empire Day every school in the shire had a celebration: Port Albert – nil. Mr. G. Russell says “Patriot’s” children never paid a cent into the Patriotic Fund at the school. They never did and never will. I prefer to send mine otherwise. I have contributed in a dozen different ways, besides making shirts, handkerchiefs, etc. If he has given as much (which I doubt) as I have he has not done too badly. He “delicately suggests”  I should install patriotism in my children myself. I have, from the time they were able to understand. I would not like that task left to him. He might only “delicately suggest” patriotism. I maintain a good teacher has a great influence over a child, and very often the making or marring of a child is started at school. We can look back with pride on a lot of our past teachers, men who were first and foremost in everything. Mr. G Russell wants to know if my patriotism is of the “blatant variety”? My patriotism is through every fibre of my body, and will stand the wear and tear. Will his? Mr. G. Russell never mentioned in his letter whether he is loyal or not. Probably he will when the new flag comes, if he doesn’t ——.

The 3 young men, former students of the school, referred to were Harry Lewis (1639), James Lindsay (1566) and Jack Robinson (1602). They enlisted together at Yarram on 24 November and they were given consecutive railway warrants (numbers 61- 63) for travel to Melbourne on 30 November 1914. The whole issue about farewells for young men who had enlisted was certainly topical at the time and no clear protocol had yet emerged. In fact, over the entire course of the War there was significant variation between local communities across the Shire in the way such farewells – and later on, welcome homes – were handled. As will become apparent in future posts, in some instances the local school did become the centre for such farewells, but this arrangement was not universal. Basically, the claim that the school did not give a decent farewell to the 3 young men was, in terms of practice at the time, somewhat opportunistic and even unwarranted; but the claim did reflect genuine concern that not enough was being done to farewell the young men. Certainly, people at the time would have read the letter and agreed that the school should have done something.

One week later on 16 December,  Russell replied. Inadvisedly, he determined to give the readers a lesson on the various forms of patriotism. Almost certainly, the locals were never going to welcome instruction by the local school master on the nature and varieties of patriotism. He drew the distinction between the true patriotism of the “young hero” who faced death on the battlefield, and the contrived patriotism of the likes of his opponent, “Patriot”. Labouring metaphors, the head teacher dismissed the “Patriot” as …  entrenched behind an ink pot and a sheet of paper … who could only … wield a bad pen, venomed by spite, and hurl mud bombs on all and sundry.

Russell also laid on the sarcasm, another ill-advised tactic:

We have it on the highest authority- his [Patriot’s] own: “Patriotism [is] through every fibre of my body.” Is it any wonder there is little left for me when he has such a superfluity of it? How fortunate we are in the possession of such a one. Slumber sweetly, ye babes of Port Albert. No danger of “Louvains” while “Patriot” … is with us.

The letter ends with a palpable sense of outrage that one of his own school committee has turned on him:

The most regrettable thing about the whole affair is that a member of the school committee should treacherously attack one whom, by virtue of his office, he was honourably bound to assist.

In the next edition (18/12/1914) Robertson replied, with what was to be his last missive. It was short but sharply pertinent. He obviously felt that he had won the contest. He claimed that the head teacher, with his talk of varieties of patriotism, was merely trying to dissemble and that for all his clever words he had repeatedly refused to address the basic charge, namely that under his leadership the school was not putting on the sort of patriotic display common in other schools, and which the community expected and wanted. As far as Robertson was concerned, the head teacher could be as smart as he wanted with his arguments and repartee, but he could not conceal this major failing.

Head-Teacher Russell replied in the next edition. He felt the need to emphasise his practical loyalty and pointed out that he had been … contributing five per cent of my salary to the State School Patriotic Fund since its inception. He welcomed the closest scrutiny of this claim and wrote that he doubted that Robertson was making the same sort of financial sacrifice.

Perhaps Russell sensed by this point that he had lost the argument; but he was still keen to point out the hollowness that could so easily characterise displays of patriotism:

Flag flapping is very well in its place, and it is the most blatant patriot that shouts “God save the King” the loudest.

However, the problem the head teacher faced was that flag flapping was precisely the type of patriotic display that the community expected from the local state school. The issue was not whether it was Russell or Robertson who had the finest sense of what true patriotism represented, or even who of the pair was making the greatest financial contribution to patriotic fund-raisers, but, rather, the key issue turned on what sort of visible patriotic display the local community could expect to see at the school. And the short answer was that they definitely wanted to see something; and they did not feel the need to argue this with the head teacher. Russell might have been the finest and most generous patriot in his private life, but the local community wanted the public manifestation of patriotism.

The last letter published on the matter appeared on 23 December 1914. It was another anonymous effort, this time signed Foreman of Jury. There is no way of ever knowing its provenance, but it looks like the sort of final word or verdict that an editor – in this case, A J Rossiter – could impose on a dispute that had seized the attention of the local community, a dispute that the local paper had enabled and promoted. Irrespective of whoever wrote the short letter, it is very clear that the head teacher had been found guilty as charged:

On the main points at issue, neglect to fly the flag, and failure to have any patriotic demonstrations on Empire Day and other suitable occasions throughout the year, the plaintiff, Patriot, gets the verdict. Penalty £5: to be paid into Empire Patriotic Fund, half by defendant, Russell, and and half by members of the school committee.

To some extent this last letter makes light of the whole episode and dismisses it with some gentle mockery. However, it is apparent that the background issue was not seen as trivial. The local head teacher had been publicly attacked over his perceived lack of patriotism and his reputation had been severely damaged. Doubts about his patriotism would have coloured the community’s dealings with him from then on. At another level a clear warning had been issued to all other local schools and head teachers that the local community did expect a highly visible form of patriotism to be on display.

The last point to make is that there was in fact a formal farewell for the 3 men referred to earlier. It came in the following January. It was written up in the local paper on 6 January 1915. This time the school children were involved. It is interesting to speculate whether (a) this formal farewell would have occurred and (b) the Port Albert State School would have been involved, had it not been for the earlier agitation of the “Patriot”.

The Port Albert railway station presented an animated scene on Monday last, when a large crowd assembled to bid farewell to three local soldier boys, James Lindsay, Harry Lewis and Jack Robinson. The school children sang, and the whole crowd joined in “Tipperary” and “God Save the King.” Detonators were placed on the line in honor of the volunteers.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

3. Empire Day 1914

Even though she was long dead, Queen Victoria’s birthday (May 24, 1819) fell on a Sunday in 1914 and that meant that Empire Day was celebrated in Victorian schools on Friday 22 May.

The common arrangement across all public schools in Victoria saw the morning devoted to lessons or talks on the Empire, and the afternoon to extra-curriculum activities.

The following account of Empire Day 1914 is based on a series of articles that appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative at the time. The schools involved in the articles were: North Devon State School, Yarram SS, Hedley SS, Carrajung South SS, Bulga SS and Binginwarri SS. This is certainly not the complete list of public schools in the shire at the time, and Hedley SS was not even in the Shire of Alberton, but the reports taken collectively certainly give a lively account of what Empire Day looked like in state schools at the time.

Commonly, there were several days of preparation and on the day the school was decorated with flags, bunting and floral displays. In the morning, special guests – local councillors, the Shire President, clergymen, school committee representatives, visiting dignitaries etc – would attend and present stirring speeches on the theme of the British Empire. For example, at North Devon, Cr. Barlow spoke about the Union Jack … the emblem of unity, peace and honesty. He reminded the boys that the red of their flag stood for bravery. At Yarram SS that same morning, the  Rev. Geo Cox (Church of England) spoke on the “Symbol of Empire” and his religious confrere, Mr Rymer, covered the topic of “Freedom within the Empire.” While at Bulga SS, the President of the School Committee (Mr S Wills) addressed the children on … their duties, as children of the Empire.

In some cases the children read their own reflections on the Empire and there were also special topical lessons. For example, at Yarram the staff had prepared lessons for the day covering: “Why we keep Empire Day,” “The Royal Family,” “The Union Jack,” “The Australian Flag,” “The Possessions of Britain” and other topics of a suitable nature.

There was also plenty of singing and recitation. At Bulga SS the children sang “Rule Britannia” and “The Sea is England’s Glory” ( J W Lake, 1885) and keeping up the nautical theme they also recited, “Jack the Sailor”.  Here is the first verse of  The Sea is England’s Glory which you would have heard had you been there that day:

The sea is England’s glory!
The bounding waves her throne;
For ages bright in story,
The ocean is her own.
In war the first, the fearless
Her standard leads the brave,
In peace she reigns so peerless,
The Empress of the wave!

To modern ears the lyrics might sound jingoistic or at least embarrassingly simple, but at the time the British Navy was the most significant asset in Australia’s external defence policy.

The other key piece of formality in the morning was the ritual of saluting the flag and singing the national anthem:  At noon the Union Jack was saluted and the usual oath recited, after which cheers were given for the King, the Empire, the Flag and for “Australia, our Own Land”   (Yarram SS)

If the morning was given over entirely to outpourings of imperial loyalty and scripted lessons on Australia’s place and destiny within the Empire, then the afternoon was a far less formal affair. The most common pursuit was a sports carnival with a picnic or special lunch to precede it.

One variation on the children’s afternoon entertainment saw their parents also participating in in the sports with their own events. For example, at Carrajung South SS, the afternoon crowd swelled to some 300 people as parents joined. The same applied at Binginwarri SS, and at Hedley SS the parents appeared to take over because while the children’s sports ran from noon to one o’clock, the parents’ events started immediately after and ran through to dark.

There were variations. Yarram SS did not go down the path of the sports carnival. Instead they opted for a skating afternoon at the Mechanics Institute. Some of the children brought their own skates, while others were provided with those so generously lent by the Yarram Town Band Committee.

With all these events involving parents and others, Empire Day reached well beyond the local school to the wider community. Moreover, in many locations the activities went well past the normal school day. Admittedly Yarram SS finished its celebrations at the child-sensible time of 5 o’clock but other communities continued well past dusk. For example, at Carrajung South SS A dance was held in the school that night to terminate the days enjoyment, when about 40 couples tripped the light fantastic... At Binginwarri SS the dancing went to midnight. At Hedley SS the community organised a major bonfire with fireworks, before the dance; and the dancing did not end until 2.00am the next morning.

Empire Day in 1914 across the Shire seems to have been a rather relaxed celebration. There was a balance between the formality of the local primary school’s focus on both the central place of the Empire in every aspect of Australia’s national life, and every child’s corresponding duty to the Empire, and a more relaxed opportunity for people, not just the children, to come together, have some fun and celebrate the sense of belonging to the greatest empire on earth. Most importantly, there was no sense at all that the Empire itself was under dire threat from external forces or a major war was about to engulf Europe.

However there were challenges to the Empire and while it would have gone unsaid at the celebrations in all the schools on Friday May 22, the most significant threat came not from without but from within. It was, of course, the ever-present question of Ireland. Consider the timing. The Home Rule Bill was passed by a substantial majority in the House of Commons on May 25 1914, the day after Empire Day.

Ireland then was an Imperial flash point even before the War began. It was the one part of the Empire that did not share the  narrative on the greatness of the Empire and its manifest destiny. Further, the fundamental issue of Home Rule was not settled before the War began. It was merely put ‘on hold’ but it was clear to all that it was by then a compromised package.

While there was a significant separation between what was happening in the United Kingdom and what was happening in Australia, the conflict from  ‘Home’  – whether England or Ireland – did play out in various forms in the new Commonwealth of Australia.

Specifically in relation to the celebration of Empire Day, it is worth looking at how parallel tensions ran in Australia at the time. Empire Day was seen by the Catholic Church hierarchy in Australia as a distinctly British celebration. Its implementation from 1905 had been driven by the British Empire League and it was viewed with deep suspicion by the Catholic Church. In direct response, from 1911 the church hierarchy directed that May 24 was to celebrated as Australia Day. The day would be one where ‘patriotism’ was equated with commitment to Australian nationalism. The flag would be unfurled and a special Australian National Hymn was to be sung. There was also the option of a holiday with entertainment for the children. May 24 happened to be not only Queen Victoria’s birthday but also the feast day of Our Lady Help of Christians, the patron of Australia.

It is not clear how keenly the Australia Day celebration was taken up by the Catholic schools across the Nation but, not surprisingly, merely the suggestion of opposition to celebration of the Empire prompted incandescent outrage. The Argus on 29 May 1911, p.6  reported a speech by O R Snowball MLA, who was also Grand President of the Loyal Orange Council of Australasia. His comments are informative because they tend to confirm Catholic fears that the version of the Empire promoted by the likes of the British Empire League was decidedly Protestant. Snowball stated categorically, The Empire rested on Protestantism.  … He trusted that the Protestant people would more and more realise that it was not material wealth, but sturdy Protestantism, and its observances and spirit, which had made and would maintain the empire. It was because the Lord God of Hosts was with us.

But not only was the Empire a Protestant creation, the Catholic Church was its mortal enemy. Even then, in 1911 – three years before the War! – the claim that WW1 was a Vatican plot was being floated:

It was common knowledge that the aims of the Roman Catholic Church were a danger to our national life. He hoped that Protestants would deal with that church in the way it deserved. The head of that church in Australia had declared himself in unmistakable terms that he would have none of this empire celebration recognised by his church. This church was a great standing menace to the British people. German hostility to Britain was being engineered by the Vatican which hoped to set the two great Protestant powers at each other’s throats next year. That would never be. (Applause.) Protestants need not charge the Roman Church with disloyalty it charged itself, and declared itself. It was a treacherous influence which would tear down our flag and trample it underfoot.

So in the lead-up to WW1 there were major tensions over such as the celebration of Empire Day and Home Rule for Ireland, and sitting behind these flash points there was the more fundamental issue of whether Protestantism, the natural religion of the Empire, was also therefore the proper religion of the Nation; and even behind this there were other concerns: for example, was it possible for the new Commonwealth to have any distinctive identity outside the Empire. But none of this was evident in the reporting of celebrations for Empire Day in the Shire of Alberton in 1914. There is no reference to tension of any kind.  The day was simply an unqualified celebration of the British Empire and a chance to have some fun.

It is also worth pointing out that the lack of Catholic primary schools in the Shire at the time meant that great majority of Catholic children were exposed to the same strong messages on the Empire. For children across the Shire it had been a near universal experience for many years, even before the formal introduction of Empire Day in 1905. Catholic children had been schooled, in the state sector, to honour and identify with the Empire. Most of the young men from the Shire, both Protestant and Catholic,  who enlisted in the AIF over 1914-1918 had been well and truly taught all the prescribed lessons on both the the glory of the Empire and the loyalty they owed it.

As a final observation, it is hardly surprising  that the Catholic  Australia’s National Hymn did not take hold as any sort of national anthem. It just swapped the jingoistic British Empire for a higher order, but far too ethereal, Heavenly Empire.  The following version was published in the Freeman’s Journal (Sydney) – later the Catholic Weekly – Thursday 11 May 1911, p25. It ran to seven stanzas with the three below recommended.

God bless our lovely morning-land!
God keep her with enfolding hand
Close to His side,
While booms the distant battle’s roar,
From out some rude, barbaric shore,
In blessed peace for evermore,
There to abide!

Love lives in promise otherwhere,
But we are brothers – in the care
Of one birthright;
One God above, one home below,
One foot against our country’s foe,
And – if needs be – one ringing blow
The wrong to smite.

God bless thee, lovely morning-land,
God keep thee with enfolding hand
Close to His side!
Make thee the home of liberty,
While sweeps the Murray to the sea,
And lifts a proud front dauntlessly,
The Great Divide!

etc.

References

 Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

‘Empire Day. Yarram’, 27 May 1914, p.2
‘Empire Day. Bulga’, 29 May 1914, p.2
‘Binginwarri. Empire Day’, 3 June 1914, p.4
‘Empire Day. Hedley’, 3 June 1914, p.2
‘Empire Day.Carrajung South’, 5 June 1914, p.4

The Argus

‘Australia Day. Ne Temere Decree. Mr. Snowball’s Criticism’, 29 May 1911, p.6

Freeman’s Journal (Sydney)

‘Australia Day’, 11 May 1911, p.25