Category Archives: The role of the Press

105. The soldiers’ vote denied

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murdoch undoubtedly is a fine strong helper. …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

Australian Dictionary of Biography

Bean’s diaries

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

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

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

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

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

General histories

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

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

 

 

 

 

97. The war against drink

While the war against drink was waged well before 1914, World War One definitely gave the already strong temperance movement added credibility and influence. The introduction of 6 o’clock closing was held up as the singular achievement of the period.

Prior to the War, the Licenses (Licensing) Reduction Board  had overseen a significant reduction in the number of hotels in Victoria. Figures cited by Public Record Office Victoria show that between 1907 and 1916, 1,054 hotels had been closed.  Additionally, the same legislation, with its provision for future local option polls, held out the promise that, from 1917, localities could vote to reduce the number of licences. It even offered localities the possibility that they could vote to have no hotels. Many temperance advocates believed that, even before the War, the movement was on the verge of ridding the nation of drink. Driven by women’s movements determined to reduce poverty, child neglect, family hardship and domestic violence, and intimately tied to the issue of female suffrage, the temperance movement had achieved a great deal.

The impact that the War had on the existing push for temperance was both significant and complex. The claim that the war against Germany and the war against drink were intimately connected – to the extent that the former required the latter – was a constant message reflected in the newspapers, particularly in the first few years of the War. Further, the success of state-level referenda over 1915-16 on the introduction of earlier closing hours did indicate that there was popular support for the view that drink did constitute a threat – however defined or quantified – to the war effort.

Specifically in terms of the Shire of Alberton, there was a strong history of temperance being actively promoted by the local Protestant churches. There was also a local ‘tent’ of the Independent Order of Rechabites (IOR) which was actively supported by the same churches.  The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 23/12/14, under heading War Against Alcohol, presented a detailed account of a meeting organised by the local IOR. The other local paper, the South Gippsland Chronicle reported the meeting under the headline No-Licence Campaign, on the same day. The meeting was addressed by Rev Archer Harris, representing the Victorian Alliance. He spoke about the worldwide fight against alcohol and focused on the experience in New Zealand,  where prohibition (no licenses) in the area of Port Chalmers (near Dunedin) had reduced drunkenness and crime. He also cited the success of the prohibition movement in the USA. As well as delivering his public address in the evening, he had also spoken at Presbyterian and Methodist services earlier that day. The vote of thanks was given by Rev W T Johns (Methodist) and Rev Geo Cox (Church of England). At the time, Reverends Johns and Cox were, respectively, the Chief Ruler and Secretary of the local IOR. The meeting declared that drink was ‘the great national foe’ and, at the urging of Rev Tamagno (Presbyterian), decided to form a Yarram branch of the No-License League.

Drink had typically been described in terms of a national threat for many years but the War itself was employed to give this claim additional credibility. The perceived – or constructed – threat that drink posed to the national war effort was highlighted at a public meeting on temperance held in Yarram on 20/4/15. This meeting was again organised by the local IOR tent. It was written up in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 23/4/15. The audience was estimated to be about 70.

The meeting called for people to take inspiration from, and follow the example set by, the pledge – to not drink – taken by the British Royal Family. Accordingly, the first resolution passed by the Yarram meeting was,

That this meeting expresses its profound admiration of His Majesty the King in banishing intoxicating liquors from the Royal household, and we strongly recommend all loyal subjects to follow His Majesty’s example by individually abstaining from the use of alcohol during the currency of the war.

The person who put the resolution was Ben Percival Johnson. Johnson was the most outspoken supporter of the war effort in the community. He was also the driving force behind both recruiting and the Yes vote in the conscription referendum. Importantly, Johnson acknowledged that he had never belonged to any temperance group. At the same time, he was prepared to move and support the resolution because of the leadership the King had shown. Moreover, as Johnson pointed out, it was not just the King who was opposed to drink. He cited the claims made by Lord Kitchener, the Czar of Russia and British politicians like Asquith and Lloyd George. The latter, he reminded the audience, had told the British people that …  they were fighting Germany, Austria and drink and that the greatest of the three was drink.

Johnson spoke of the thousands of hours lost in the munitions industry because of the drinking problems of the workers. He also spoke of the harm drink did to the soldiers. However, principally, for Johnson at least, the most pressing reason for supporting the pledge was that it was a test of moral strength. If loyal subjects across the Empire could follow the King’s example then this universal act would represent the moral greatness and superiority of the Empire.  As he saw it, only the weak and selfish would not commit to the cause. As has already been pointed out – see Post 26. Soldiers of Christ – for Imperial patriots, the War offered the chance for people to re-commit to their religious beliefs and strengthen and prove their moral character. Moreover, for such people, the War was as much a test of moral fibre as it was a battle of military might.

The second resolution passed at the meeting – also unanimously – was more focused in its intention. It called for 6 o’clock closing, in line with other eastern states:

That in view of the appalling physical and mental deterioration, the grave moral depravity, and serious economic wastage, directly and indirectly traceable to the use of alcohol, this meeting respectfully urges the Government to come into line with the State of South Australia by providing for a referendum concerning the earlier closing of hotel bars and wine saloons.

Again, speakers for the resolution laboured the evils of drink. Drink was spoken of as the curse of the working class – It was pitiable to think the working classes could not do without drink – and again there was the extraordinary claim … that the effect of strong drink upon a country is more disastrous and more far-reaching than a German invasion.

The meeting was, of course, one for the converted and committed, but there was a noticeable confidence to the views of those there that prohibition was within reach. The War itself would finally open people’s eyes to the full horror of drink. Moreover, the legislation was already in place to enable far greater checks to drinking.  At the meeting, Rev Johns declared that, Prohibition was coming in 1917, and the public had had 10 years notice to quit. He was referring to the vote – under the Licensing Act 1906 – which promised localities the opportunity to reduce licences even further or, in fact, vote for no licences. In terms of the legislation, 1917 was the year this vote was to occur. However, it was delayed until after the War, in 1920. When the votes did eventually occur, 2 metropolitan districts in Melbourne – Nunawading and Boroondara – did indeed vote for no hotels.

The war against drink was, unsurprisingly, a favourite subject for sermons. As an example, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (26/7/16) featured a sermon on temperance delivered by Rev Tamagno (Presbyterian). It was headed, Temperance Question.  Tamagno spoke about his own experience, over many years, in tackling the consequences of drink and had no hesitation in declaring that it was … the  cause of more wrong in our Empire than any other. … I have no hesitation in saying that the traffic in strong drink is hellish in its results. It is to my mind a traffic in the blood, brain, body and soul of thousands in our fair land. There’s no wrong like it.

Tamagno praised the efforts of the Licensing Reduction Board and he was also looking forward to 1917 and the promised chance to vote out drink. He praised South Australia and the success of its referendum on 6 o’clock closing. He urged moderate drinkers to give up drink entirely as a sacrifice, on behalf of their ‘weaker brother’ who ‘feels in his blood and bones and brain, he must have it’. There were the customary claims about how drink was weakening the war effort across the Empire. Significantly, Tamagno was not just for curbing excessive drink but rather, as he kept putting it, he wanted to ‘drive drink from the land’. He imagined a future Australia freed from the grip of drink, one of a higher moral and spiritual order –

Think of the boundless moral and spiritual benefit that would come to our fair land by gradually weakening the liquor traffic, and ultimately leaving it no legs to stand on.

and he believed that with God’s help the backers of temperance would eventually triumph:

I know that vast problems are wrapped up in the iniquitous thing; but in the evolution of time God help us to drive it out of our land.

A pastoral letter from the Church of England was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 2/6/16. The church also acknowledged the world-wide efforts to curb drinking and praised the work done by the Licensing Reduction Board.  It threw its support behind 6 o’clock closing, not as just a temporary ban for the duration of the War but as a permanent check on the evil of drink.

For the local Protestant churches, the War brought an increased commitment to temperance, with a specific focus on the introduction of 6 o’clock closing. There was also a general understanding that very soon local communities were to have the power to reduce the number of licensed premises and even to vote drink entirely from their midst.

While the temperance cause was driven by heightened religious fervour, and stirring examples of Imperial sacrifice and duty, the actual behaviour of the members of the AIF was another powerful driver behind efforts to curb drink. The metropolitan and local papers were full of stories of drunken and disorderly soldiers. At a number of levels, the picture of the drunken, aggressive and dangerous digger was a very troubling image.

The Argus, under the headline Soldiers and Drink, reported (15/3/16) on a Rechabite conference held at Bendigo where the Chief Ruler claimed,

… there had never been a time in the history of Australia when alcohol had been used to worse effect than during the past 18 months, since the troops had been in training for active service.

and on the face of it, there was plenty of evidence to support this view.

The dangers of life in the large training camps had been identified right from the start, and religious bodies had been quick to try to establish a presence in the camps to counter the evils that young men would face. For example, Rev Tamagno had a letter-to-the-editor in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 26/3/15, appealing for donations to help establish a (Presbyterian)  “Soldiers’ Institute” at Broadmeadows. He claimed the facility was needed urgently … in the interests of the spiritual and social welfare of our church’s young troops . He saw the young men at risk far from home and amid the perils of camp life near to the great city. The ‘great city’ was even more of a temptation because there were no wet canteens in the camps.

The most infamous drink-related episode occurred in the training camps at Liverpool and Casula on Monday 14 February 1916. Events that day, particularly in Liverpool and then Sydney, amounted to a major breakdown of military order and discipline. One soldier was shot and killed and there were many injuries. In the aftermath 1,000 men were discharged from the AIF and over 100 prosecuted on a range of charges.

The newspaper accounts of the day were incandescent in their fury and outrage. The riotous behaviour was presented as nothing less than a national disgrace. And drink was said to behind the excesses of what happened. The Age (16/2/16), in unrestrained commentary, declared the men involved to be traitors to the nation and despoilers of the Anzac spirit:

On Monday night, through a trifling grievance about hours of drill, several hundreds of New South Wales troops rebelled against discipline, broke camp, looted hotels, destroyed private property, and entered upon an orgy of violence. For a few hours they attacked the country, the people and the laws they are sworn to defend. These are not the men of Anzac; yet they wear the same uniform and have the same legal right to call themselves Australian soldiers. The honor of the grand young Australian army is as much in their keeping as it was in the charge of the men who fell, while advancing on the Peninsula. It is idle to discuss the merits or demerits of the complaint which led to the riot. There can be no excuses for a citizen who turns traitor to his country, and there can be none for the soldier who revolts against its authority, and temporarily takes up the cause of the foreign enemy…  Assuredly men of British blood seldom covered themselves with so much ignominy.

And the paper highlighted the evil power of drink:

Throughout the riots bottles, liquor, beer and hotels were consistent features. Whenever intoxicants were introduced to the scene the riotous soldiers became more unrestrained and the mischief the greater. Had all the hotels in the neighbourhood been closed before the riot, as they were closed shortly afterwards, the story would have been stripped of most of its sensationalism. Wherever the seeds of disorder may lie, strong liquors stimulate them into a foul and deadly growth. And not only does excessive drinking arouse latent lawlessness, it may debase soldiers of the finest manhood, and lead them in their madness to join the worst elements at the head of the mob. Discipline, therefore, depends to a fair extent upon restricting the opportunities for drinking.

While the Liverpool strike/mutiny/riot was the worst incident, there were many others at the time. For example, just 10 days earlier there had been trouble involving several hundred soldiers near Central Railway Station in Sydney. The Age (4/2/16) reported that the trouble had started over claims that a returned, wounded soldier had been manhandled by staff at a nearby ‘oyster bar’. The Age also reported on riots involving soldiers at St Kilda Beach in January 1916. At the end of February (28/2/16) it featured a story of a drunken riot at Warrnambool involving soldiers from the local camp. The police magistrate who dealt with the aftermath was quoted as declaring that … it appeared that when some men got liquor they went mad, and it was a great pity they got supplies at all. The same edition of the paper featured an account of how a 45 yo soldier – John Heath – had been killed in Melbourne, at the corner of King and Little Collins Street. Apparently, he had been involved in argument with a much younger soldier. In what for us is a depressingly contemporary story, Heath had been trying to talk his mate down when the younger soldier lashed out, unprovoked, and hit him. Heath fell to the pavement, fractured his skull and died instantly. The young assailant managed to disappear.

Post 26. Soldiers of Christ,  looked at the earlier riots involving soldiers in Melbourne in 1914. Drink was a common feature of such riots, both in Australia and Egypt at the time.

Faced with ongoing accounts of soldiers behaving badly it is not surprising that there there was popular support for the introduction of 6 o’clock closing. In jurisdictions where the issue did go to a referendum – South Australia and New South wales – there was strong support. Clearly, the threat of soldiers on leave, descending on the city for heavy drinking sessions and causing havoc did play on the minds of civilians. Many saw it as outrageous behaviour and wanted the culprits made an example of. For example, after the Liverpool trouble the local Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (23/2/16) fulminated in its editorial,

Over 1000 men have been discharged from Liverpool and Casula camps for misconduct, drunkenness and absence without leave, and 116 men are held in custody for trial by court-martial. Rather should the men be made to fight, and placed in the front trenches, as the Germans do with this class of soldier.

At the same time, there were some who saw the problem as one caused, ironically, by temperance advocates. They argued that Senator Pearce had bowed to the pressure of temperance advocates and not allowed wet canteens in the camps. This ensured that when men went on leave, they were were bound to make the most of their limited chance to drink. As the writer of the Melbourne Letter – published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (22/10/15) – had put it back at the end of 1915:

The soldier, who is a civilian, has been accustomed to drinking at any odd time that he feels so disposed, will not drink any less when in town because he is made to imbibe only “soft stuff” in the camp. Rather is he prone to make certain that he uses the opportunity, while it offers, to get a fill of his favourite beverage, before he returns to another week or a fortnight of “raspberry and lemonade”.

Similarly, after Liverpool, many called for wet canteens in camps where soldiers’ drinking could be better controlled. Some also wanted tighter curfews and regulations that prohibited the sale of drink in licensed premises to any man in military uniform. Even temperance advocates could see the need for wet canteens. For example, Archdeacon Martin who worked in the Sydney camps with the Home Mission Society was quoted – The Age 22/2/16 – as advocating a wet canteen ‘under strict military discipline’,

These men become irritated when they are deprived of what they have been accustomed to, and when they get the chance they overdo it, and take more than they would if a wet canteen existed in the camp.

Six o’clock closing was first introduced in South Australia in March 1916. This followed a referendum held in 1915 (27/3/15). In the referendum only one-third of voters favoured keeping the present arrangement (11.00 o’clock) and 56% opted specifically for 6 o’clock. In New South Wales a referendum was held a few months after the Liverpool riot and the press campaign in particular drove the result. There was virtually no support for retaining the current hours, and 60% voted specifically for 6 o’clock. Accordingly, 6 o’clock closing was formally introduced in July 1916. In Victoria, 6 o’clock closing was finally introduced in October 1916. Initially it had been proposed to hold a referendum but in the end the decision was taken by the parliament. The Government judged that there was clear popular support for the action.

Some people acknowledged that drink could harm the War effort in a number of ways and they were prepared to support early closing on the basis of war-time necessity. Similarly, others recognised that drink and the AIF represented a dangerous mix, particularly if the effects played out in the streets of the cities, and they were prepared to limit drinking hours. At the same time, the fact that what many saw as an appropriate, temporary, war-time restriction was to remain in place well after 1918 – in some instances for up to 50 years – highlights the way temperance advocates at the time viewed 6 o’clock closing. For them, it was another major, non-reversible step on the way to a truly drink-free Australia.

Specifically in terms of the Protestant churches, the temperance push in WW1 was another example of the way the War itself was seen as a call by God for people to recommit to their religious beliefs and lead a more moral, socially responsible and  decent life. Protestantism was committed to both a moral and military war; and it was seen as perfectly natural that, as was evident in the case of the Shire of Alberton, the local Protestant clergy called for recruits and support for the Yes vote in the conscription referendum at the very same time they were calling for temperance and 6 o’clock closing.

The issues surrounding the push for temperance in the local community will be taken up again in a future post, where the focus will be the attempt by temperance advocates to remove the liquor licence from the local Co-Operative Store in Yarram.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

The Age

For 1916 NSW referendum results see NSW Electoral Commmission.

For 1915 SA referendum results see SA Electoral Commission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

93. Conscription Referendum 1916: the (private) No vote

Previous posts (87, 88, 89 and 91) have covered the strength of the public campaign for the Yes vote in the Shire of Alberton. All relevant local institutions, from the local council itself through to the local press, actively and  wholeheartedly supported the Yes vote. Conscription had been widely supported by the district’s professional, business and managerial elite from early 1916. The local Protestant churches had even preached to their congregations the responsibility to vote Yes. The only potential limit to the Yes vote was the ambivalent position of the Catholic Church: the individual could certainly vote Yes, but, unlike the Protestant position, Yes was not mandated and, rather, had to be guided by an informed conscience. Other than this, the idea that a local could – let alone would – vote No was not publicly entertained.

Immediately prior to the referendum, Thomas Livingston, the local member for Gippsland South in the Victorian Parliament, was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (27/10/16)  as predicting, confidently, that the Yes vote would be 75%. In the event, the Yes vote – for the sub-division of Yarram – was 66%.

The response of the 2 local papers to the loss of the referendum is instructive. Both took the course of criticising the national result while at the same time lauding the high level of patriotism evident in the strength of the Yes vote in the Shire.

The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, in its first edition after the referendum (1/11/16) found the national result ‘deplorable’ but its real focus was the proven loyalty of country Victoria and, in particular, Gippsland:

The country vote in [Victoria] favoured “Yes” in every electorate but three, these being Ballarat, Bendigo, and Grampians. The seven other country electorates voted for conscription and Gippsland … gained the distinction of securing the greatest majority for conscription of all the Victorian electorates.

Similarly, the South Gippsland Chronicle, in its first edition (1/11/16) after the referendum also praised the loyalty of those in Gippsland:

It is gratifying to note the overwhelming vote in favor of Conscription given by the people of the Gippsland division, a “Yes” majority being shown in every portion of the electorate with the exception of a few small places. The totals for the division were – Yes 16,056, No 7,725. Majority for Yes 8,331.

The quoted figure gave the Yes vote for the whole of Gippsland as 67.5%.

The same article broke the vote down by electoral sub-divisions and for the Yarram sub-division – effectively the Shire of Alberton – the results were reported as 1,144 Yes, 573 No, with 24 informal votes. This gave the Yes vote for the Shire of Alberton as 66%.

As strong as the Yes vote was in the Shire of Alberton, and Gippsland generally, there was still the question of why one-third of the local community had voted No.  At least part of the answer came in the editorial in the South Gippsland Chronicle on 3/11/16. The paper claimed that it was the pre-emptive decision by the Hughes Government to apply existing provisions under the Defence Act to call up – for military service within the Commonwealth – all single men between the ages of 21 to 35.

On the assumption that there would be a successful Yes vote, Hughes wanted the military training of the first group of conscripts underway as soon as possible, and before the referendum had even been conducted. This strategy would mean that reinforcements could be sent to the Western Front as quickly as possible. While the initiative smacked of contempt for the democratic process, the real problem for Hughes was that the call up – and more significantly the exemption process that it involved –  forced the rural community to experience at first hand what conscription would mean for them; and they were left in no doubt that it posed a serious threat.

The editorial of 3/11/16 noted specifically that the call-up telegraphed the Government’s intentions once the referendum had succeeded.

The results following the referendum, should it be carried, were clearly defined by the Prime Minister, and men were even called into camp for home service in order to receive part of their training and be ready to go abroad should they be classed as fit after the people had conferred the necessary power on the Government. This was undoubtedly responsible for many who would otherwise have voted “Yes” going to the poll and helping to secure a majority for “No.” It cannot be denied that the calling up of men has inflicted a great hardship in many cases, and, as was instanced at the exemption court held at Yarram last week, made it almost impossible for those who remain behind to carry on their former vocation.

In fact, the Government had been telegraphing its intentions on conscription from the time of the War Census in late 1915. People surmised that the purpose of Schedule 1 of the census – to be completed by all males aged 18 and under 60 – was to provide the Government with data that could inform a system of conscription should the voluntary system not deliver sufficient reinforcements. Then in December 1916, Hughes issued his Call to Arms which involved a personal letter to every eligible man between 18 and 45. The men had to submit a formal response to the letter. Those who failed to return the form would be identified and pursued. The expectation was that the men targeted would enlist immediately or in the near future. If they refused to enlist they had to submit reasons and they could be challenged, in person, by the local recruiting sergeant. It was obviously a considerable shift away from a purely voluntary system.

As discussed earlier – Post 87 – there was obvious ‘push back’ in the Shire of Alberton to this drift to conscription. We know that some locals refused to return their Call to Arms forms. But, more strikingly, we know that of the 188 who had returned their forms by January 1916, 66% had selected the option to refuse to enlist. 8.5% of those who received the call from Hughes had already enlisted, 18% indicated they were prepared to enlist immediately and 7.5% said they were prepared to enlist at a later time. This left the 66% who refused the Call.

Clearly, as the drift to conscription – vigorously promoted by the Yarram-based local recruiting committee – continued to gain momentum there was growing opposition. However, this opposition took the form of a private response – failure to complete the form or failure to respond appropriately – rather than any public, organised demonstration of dissent.

The dynamic involved in the of growing (private) opposition to conscription was driven by the fundamental structure, and related ethos, of the local farming community, where the key social institution was the family farm.

As has been covered in the 2 posts – Post 60 and Post 85 – that looked at speeches given at farewells in 1915 and 1916, one of the most common themes was that of the pioneer as soldier. The young men enlisting were said to show the same spirit and character as the pioneers who had settled the district from the 1840s. The pioneers had opened up the land, battled the elements, overcome isolation and brought civilisation to the frontier of settlement. Within this general narrative, there was a particular focus on the selectors from the 1860s who had struggled to break the monopoly of the squatters and establish a new social and political landscape of family farms spreading out from small towns and settlements. The selectors had a particularly hard struggle as they attempted to establish themselves with meagre levels of capital. Often they had little background in farming itself and their access to relevant technology was limited. The parcels of land they secured were often too small, isolated or poor in quality. There was very weak infrastructure, particularly in the area of transport. Many of the selectors  lived in exceptionally challenging, if not primitive, conditions. They also felt they had little support from all levels of government. They were by themselves. But against this background, the narrative held that they had survived. They were tough, resourceful, independent and hard-working. They were the pioneers who had made the district what it was.

However, on the specific issue of labour, the pioneer as soldier theme featured a major internal contradiction which, inevitably, played out in the 1916 referendum.

Arguably, the most important resource for the selector trying to establish the family farm was the labour of the family itself. The absolute importance of family labour – the parents and the children – to the success and survival of the family farm had been a fundamental given from the very beginning of selection. The family worked as an economic unit. And the economic realities in  turn helped shape the social identity of the family, in areas such as inheritance, marriage, the generational expansion of the family enterprise and the care of the parents as they aged. This took place in a period that pre-dated modern social welfare provisions.

The actual pattern of labour on the family farm was complex. Individual landholdings could be so small, or the land so difficult, or the seasons so bad – and any number of other factors, and combinations thereof – that in many cases the ‘family farm’ was not viable without some family members working outside the farm as wage earners. Sons could work on other farms as labourers and daughters could work as domestics, either on other farms or for the middle-class families in rural towns.

Importantly, labour in these rural communities was generally not organised. The selections were too small, the nature of the farming – eg dairy farming, vegetable growing – required fewer workers per individual farm, the settlement was too dispersed and there was a long-standing, natural antipathy to the trade unions of the urban working class, as their industrial action often compromised the interests of the rural economy.

In the political and economic environment of the Shire, the assumption was that the family farm had to have the power to control its labour resources and employ them to meet its needs, in a difficult and complex environment. It was this fundamental belief that was directly challenged by conscription.

For the first 2 years of the War, individual families had decided by themselves how best to balance the need to manage the farm and ensure its survival with the concomitant need to ‘answer the call’ and discharge their ‘patriotic duty’.  However, the introduction of conscription would see the imposition of rigid and impersonal rules that would take away all the autonomy, flexibilty and individual judgement that farming families had previously exercised.

The two key events in the Shire of Alberton in the lead up to the 1916 conscription referendum that gave farming families the clearest understanding of how conscription would work, and how it would take away their autonomy, were the registration process held on 14/10/16 and the exemption court held in Yarram on 27/10/16.

Registration: Yarram, 14/10/16

The day set aside in Yarram for men to register under the Commonwealth’s call up arrangements was Saturday 14 October 1916. On the day, all single men, and widowers without dependents, aged between 21 and 35, had to register. Those who had previously been rejected for military service also had to register and undertake the medical.

The day was seen as a major event in the Shire. On 13/10/16, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative reported:

Yarram tomorrow will present quite a military air, with officials in kharki [sic], some half-dozen doctors, about a dozen clerks, and between three to four hundred single men, with divided minds as to the necessity of enlisting. It is wonderful, even when called for home service, how many “unsound” men there are! However, these matters will be decided by the doctors.

Rossiter, the editor – and also member of the Yarram Recruiting Committee and keen supporter of conscription – clearly saw the occasion as a chance to identify all those local men who were shirking their duty. His reference to the men being called up for ‘home service’ was highly disingenuous.

The next edition of the paper (18/10/16) gave a detailed report of what had happened on the day:

Yarram was thronged with young men of military age last Saturday, when they were required to report themselves, whether considered fit or unfit for military service. A busy day was spent by Capt. Macfarlane and four other military officers, three doctors and 14 clerks filling in attestation forms. The duties commenced at 9 a.m., and by 3 p.m. the main rush was over. In the time, 222 single men were examined, 102 of whom were fit, 10 unfit, and 110 doubtful. 116 of the number applied for exemption.

With few exceptions the demeanour of the men was excellent. Some rejoiced at the prospect of going to the front, having previously tried and been rejected.

Those who did not report on Saturday will have put themselves to serious inconvenience. Within seven days they must report at Warragul. Failure to report means salutary punishment of a kind that will reflect discreditably on the men.

One man refused to take the oath, but this makes no difference. To camp he will go if passed as fit.

The doubtful ones [110 of the 222 medically examined] were ordered to attend at Korumburra for final examination. This arrangement has since been varied. The medical board will shortly attend at Yarram, and save the men the inconvenience of travelling down the line.

An exemption court will sit at Yarram on 27th and 28th inst., when reasons for declining service will be fully gone into. This court is public, and the proceedings will be published in the local and daily papers. Those who have reasonable excuses need have no fear of advancing their claims for exemption.

Whereas between 300 and 400 men were expected at the registration, only 200 were there on the day. The low turn-out tallies with other accounts (Connor, J, Stanley, P, Yule, P 2015 p. 112) that claim that, nationally, only one-third of men bothered to register. As already noted, a similarly poor response had occurred earlier when local men had not returned their Call to Arms forms.

Only 50% of the men medically examined that day were passed as fit. Many of those who failed would have failed previously. Strikingly, half of all the men who registered on the day applied for exemption. The overall results were hardly encouraging. Rossiter attempted to put a positive gloss on the affair, writing about the positive ‘demeanour’ of the men. But his last paragraph reads as a thinly veiled threat to those pursuing exemption.

The Exemption Court, Yarram, 27/10/16

The exemption court sat in Yarram on the day before the referendum and the reports of what transpired at the court did not appear until the Wednesday (1/11/16) after the referendum. However, similar courts had already been held across Gippsland. Also, the reports in the local paper make it clear that there were many people there on the day watching the proceedings. In all, locals would have known, before the referendum, of the judgements made being handed down at the exemption courts.

Rossiter was true to his word and the proceedings were covered in great detail. The individual particulars, including full names and reasons presented to the court, were given for each request for exemption. Rossiter gave the number of applications for exemption on the day as 124. However, this number does not tally with the number of individual cases he reported.  For example, he stated that 41 exemptions were granted but in fact in his report only 33 exemptions are recorded as having been granted. Presumably, there were so many cases handled in one day that he had great difficulty in keeping up with proceedings. At the same time, putting to one side the problems with tallies, his report certainly does give a description of how the court worked. Regulations required that the applicant had to appear in person before the court and represent himself. Solicitors were not permitted.

According to Rossiter’s report, 31 of the 33 exemptions granted on the day were because either the applicant was the only son (11) or the required number of sons – at least one half – had already enlisted (20). These were provisions covered in the  regulations. The other 2 cases involved the situation where the applicant was the ‘sole support’ of ‘aged parents’ or a ‘widowed mother’. One of the cases involved John Henry James Price – labourer of Blackwarry – who was one of 3 sons. Only one brother was in the AIF – under the at least one half ruling, 2 brothers had to enlist – but the applicant claimed to be the sole support of his parents. The other case involved F J Pearson who was one of 3 sons in the family. No son was in service, but 2 of the siblings were not yet of military age and this son, the oldest, supported his widowed mother.

The 33 cases where exemption was approved were, in terms of the regulations, clear cut . What focused people’s attention was how the other 63 individual applications fared. According to Rossiter’s account, 32 of the 63 applications for exemption were rejected, 15 men were given temporary exemption and the remaining 16 cases were adjourned.

Employing Rossiter’s account it is possible to divide the exemption requests into 2 categories: those involving families where there had been no enlistments at all, and those where, according to the formula, not enough sons had enlisted.

Families with no enlistments

In terms of the first category, there were 26 families, involving 34 individual men, where no eligible son had enlisted. Apparently, the number of families across the Shire of Alberton where no eligible son had enlisted was low. However, the important qualification is that there could have been other families that completely ignored the registration process and did not seek exemption.

Of the 34 individual men applying for exemption, 19 were refused outright, 7 were given temporary exemption and 8 were adjourned. Rossiter’s brief notes on each case make it clear that the reasons for the exemption related to the family’s economic interests or welfare. There was only 1 case where a position of ‘conscientious objection’ was registered. It involved the 3 Kallady brothers – Ambrose, Allan and Leo – from Devon. There were 4 brothers in the family and therefore 2 had to enlist. There was some brief discussion of what their understanding of ‘conscientious objection’ involved – would they, for example, defend their mother, sister, or even themselves – and the army officer assisting the police magistrate presiding over the court suggested options such as ‘stretcher bearer’ and ‘putting barbed wire entanglements in front of trenches’. In the end, the magistrate found that the 2 fittest of the 3 brothers of military age would have to serve. The case was then adjourned to 7 December for objections to be heard.

Several examples from this first category highlight the way family dynamics – including the ages and marital status of the sons – affected the outcome. For example, George Lewis Brunlow was a fisherman from Port Albert. He was one of 3 male siblings but both his brothers were married and therefore not required to register. He claimed to be the sole support for his invalid sister. His application was refused, presumably on the basis that his married brothers could or should pick up the responsibility for the sister. On the face of it, conscription was redefining an existing family arrangement.

B Hanrahan was one of 2 sons. As his brother was married, he had had to register. He claimed an exemption on the basis that he owned the farm and he partly supported his widowed mother and her 6 children, presumably his younger siblings. The application was refused, again overturning an existing family arrangement.

The more common reason for claiming exemption was the economic hardship or threat to the viability of the family farm or business that the loss of labour would cause. For example, Eric Oliver Hobson was working on the family farm at Yarram. There were extensive landholdings at Yarram and Won Wron. There were 3 sons in the family, one of whom was married. Under the regulations this unmarried son (Eric) had to serve. The father claimed that as a dairy farmer with a large herd he depended on this son to look after the stock. The father claimed no one understood the stock like this son. The son also kept the books. The father claimed he had tried, unsuccessfully, to find someone to replace his son. He stated that if his son went he, the father, would have to give up dairying. The magistrate said he was bound by the regulations and refused the application. He did add that the son could seek a temporary exemption, but only after he had reported for duty at the camp at Warragul.

William Thomas Charles Stonehouse operated a blacksmith business at Yarram. He had 3 sons, all of them single. Under the formula, 2 of them (J E Stonehouse and W Stonehouse) were required to serve. The father explained that all 3 sons helped in his business and if the 2 of military age went the business would have to be closed as he, the father, could not work and he had not been able to secure other workers. The application was refused.

There were 6 sons in the Vardy family from Alberton West. 3 sons were married. The other 3 sons – Leslie James Vardy, F E Vardy and Percival John Vardy – were required to serve. There was a family farm of 100+ acres; although it appears only 1 son was helping the father on the farm. Presumably the other 2 sons were working as labourers on other farms.  The magistrate noted that the 3 sons were a significant source of revenue for the father. The application was refused.

William Macaulay, a farm labourer, was one of 3 sons, one other of whom was married. He was 32 yo. He claimed that if he went it would cause great hardship and loss to those at home. The family had a farm – 180 acres – at Stacey’s Bridge. The father claimed that the farm could not be worked without his son. A temporary exemption to 27/1/17 was granted.

Families with insufficient enlistments

This second category, covering 29 individuals from 28 families, featured the cases that would have caused the most disquiet in the district. These were families where men had already enlisted but now, under conscription, more would be taken. Once again, the impact, would affect both the welfare of the family and the financial viability of the farm. Of the 29 requests for exemption, 13 were rejected outright, there were 8 cases of a temporary exemption being granted and 8 cases were adjourned.

John Joseph Egan – labourer, Alberton West – worked on the small family farm at Alberton West. There were 5 sons but 3 were married. This meant that the remaining 2 had to serve. One was already in camp. Exemption was claimed on the basis that the father was too old to work the farm and this son – John – was the only son available to help. Exemption was refused.

Joel William Trigg was involved with a family farm of approximately 170 acres at Alberton West. There were 3 sons which meant 2 had to serve. One was already in the AIF and the other brother had been judged medically unfit, which meant Joel had to go. He claimed that he would be forced to sell out if he was forced to go. The application was refused.

There were 6 sons in the McPhail family. Only 2 were serving in the AIF which meant one more son was required. The father claimed that this son, Archibald McPhail, was not fit enough to go in the trenches but the medical officers had recently passed him. The application was refused.

There were 5 sons in the Wight family with 2 in the AIF, one of whom had been wounded. At least one of the other 3 sons was below military age. The son seeking the exemption – David Wight, had a 100 acre farm at Carrajung. He worked with his father. The application was refused.

There were 9 sons in the Lay family with 4 on service with the AIF. This left still one son required. Of the 5 remaining, 3 were married and one was only 18yo. This meant that Leslie Gordon Lay had to serve. The application for exemption was refused on the grounds that even though he and his younger brother were supporting the family farm, he – the applicant- was not the sole support of his parents.

There were 6 sons in the Cantwell family, with 2 in service. James Hennessy Cantwell – labourer, Stacey’s Bridge – claimed that he supported the family – there was a family farm of less than 100 acres – and that the father was ailing and the mother an invalid. He claimed that if he were called he would have to sell the cows. Rossiter’s notes stated that exemption was granted until the cows were sold.

Nigel Hugh McAlpine had 40 acres of land at Carrajung in his own name. There were 3 sons in the family but only one was in the AIF. Nigel applied for exemption on the grounds that the brother in the AIF had left him (Nigel) in sole charge of his farm and stock. The third brother was unfit because of a knee injury. Nigel was reported as declaring that if he was forced to go his farm would ‘go to the dogs’. He was given a temporary exemption until 27/1/17.

In summary, Rossiter’s notes on the individual cases covered by the exemption court were brief and perhaps not always accurate. Also, the claims made by those requesting exemption might  have been overdrawn or misleading. At the same time, the proceedings of this court held in Yarram, and others in Gippsland, would definitely have been closely followed in the local community; and it would have been clear that conscription was set to have a major negative impact on the traditional autonomy of the family farm and farming families. The proposed level of control over both the labour agenda and social dynamic of the family farm was of a form and degree never seen before.

Exemptions for the dairy industry

It is also important to note that there was a feeling in the community that the general labour demands of the dairy industry had been ignored. As has been shown in many previous posts, by far the largest group of men enlisting in the AIF in the Shire of Alberton came from the rural, itinerant, working class. By the end of 1916 the size of this group of enlistments had reached the order of 600 men. They simply described themselves as ‘farm labourers’ or just ‘labourers’. It was a very significant pool of labour to withdraw from the local economy. At the same time, the number of men coming from the family farm was in a definite minority; and the preceding cases help explain why it was so difficult to release sons from the family farm. Yet conscription promised that even more of this labour pool would be withdrawn. Locals formed the view that despite reassurances from the Commonwealth Government the dairy industry was not being protected.

In an article that he wrote on 25/10/16, just before the exemption court sat, Rossiter wrote how in the ‘interests of production’ many claims for exemption could and should be granted. Then after the court he wrote (1/11/16) critically on the lack of exemptions granted. He used highly qualified language but others would have seen the court proceedings as a deliberate attack on the local dairy industry:

There was much concern locally in regard to a great number of applications for full and temporary exemptions made at the exemption court held on Friday last. A number of claims were made by dairymen and others engaged in that industry in various ways. The applicants who were refused exemption were informed that they must report at Warragul camp on Friday next, it being understood by them that no exemption would be granted without reporting at camp. In view of the critical situation thus presented, and of the fact that the Prime Minister had stated that rural workers, engaged in producing industries, would be allowed exemption, the position created by the court authorities caused some uneasiness in the minds of dairy farmers and those engaged as milkers by them.

The reference to the Prime Minister’s promise of exemption for rural workers is very important. It appears that as the referendum drew near Hughes became concerned that the farmers’ vote could go against him. Perhaps he received intelligence of how the call up in rural districts and the operations of the exemption courts were being received. In the week before the referendum, he issued a detailed statement which was published in the metropolitan papers (for example The Age 25/10/16 p. 7). He reminded the farmers of all the Government had done for them – purchasing their crops, setting prices, securing shipping – and declared that,

It [His Government] has given them generous exemptions. It has released all the labor necessary for their industry; their lands will be tilled, their crops harvested; members of their families will be left to carry on the farms, and sufficient labor to carry on their industry will be exempted.

Hughes also acknowledged that there was concern over the labour shortage in rural industries. He put a positive spin on the cause:

The men from the country parts of Australia have responded magnificently to the appeal for recruits, much better than the great cities. The consequence is that labor for the rural industries is relatively scarce, while in the cities there is a surplusage [sic] of thousands of eligible men.

Hughes concluded by promising again that the rural industries would have the labour they needed and, at the same time, conscription would ensure that those in the cities also did their share:

The farmers and the men on the land will have the labor they require, and the eligible men in the cities will be compelled to do their duty.

The problem was that this was not the experience of the local farmers in Gippsland. There was a critical shortage of labour and there was no real evidence that exemptions were available. The only exemptions being granted were temporary, and ‘temporary’ meant only until the end of the year (31/12/16). Further, men could, initially, only apply for exemptions after they had been admitted to the military camp (Warragul). When this very restrictive requirement was relaxed at the end of October, it was replaced with a general exemption … to all engaged in the dairying industry, including milkers to the end of the year. But, again, the exemption was only temporary and only to the end of the year; and now the men had to submit a statutory declaration from their employer – or the heads of households in the case of families – to support the claim. Once again, there was considerable tension between what was being promised and what was being experienced. The fact that men being given exemptions were finger-printed – purportedly to prevent fraud – added to the general level of antagonism.

The first 2 years of the War had demonstrated very high levels of loyal and patriotic support across the Shire of Alberton. The support was demonstrated in areas such as recruiting, fund raising and public demonstrations for the Empire. The local community was an inherently conservative one. There was a natural antipathy towards organised labour. It supported PM Hughes’ efforts to overcome the ‘industrialists’ in his own party. The middle class professionals, mangers and proprietors in the community – concentrated in Yarram – presented a narrative of the War that was aligned with the Government’s position. Publicly, the local community was pro-conscription and this was reflected in the final voting figures. In the lead up to the referendum there was no indication of any organised, public No campaign. However, events over October 1916 presented the local farming community with a clear picture of what the reality of conscription involved and there is little doubt that many would have seen it as direct threat to both their livelihood and the traditional autonomy of the farming family. Without any show of public opposition – they did not even need to draw any attention to themselves – they had the option to vote No; and, presumably, many did. Their votes help explain why, in such a conservative rural community, and with no evidence of organised public opposition, one-third of electors voted against conscription.

References

The Age

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

Connor, J, Stanley, P, Yule, P 2015, The War At Home, The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War Volume 4, Oxford University Press, Melbourne

See also

Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume XI – Australia During the War, ‘Chapter IX The First Conscription Referendum’. 7th Edition 1941

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

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

 

 

88. Conscription Referendum 1916: the Yes vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The composition of the 1916 Yarram Recruiting Committee

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

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

Recruiting Campaign 1916
Committee:-

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

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

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

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

 

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

The Argus

Archives, Shire of Alberton
(viewed 2014)

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

See also:

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

85. Soldiers’ farewells 1916

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ongoing themes

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

The moral strength of the volunteer

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

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

The unique character and success of he AIF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mother’s sacrifice

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

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

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

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

The pioneer as soldier

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

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

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

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

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

The issue of anger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anger directed at townsfolk who did not attend farewells

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

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

Anger directed at those who would not enlist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anger directed at those undermining the war effort and recruiting

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

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

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

 

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative