Category Archives: The rural working class

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

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

96. Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

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

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

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

The process of adding the names

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The incomplete picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even more missing names

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

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

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

What do we make of all this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

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

132. The Great Strike, August 1917

Throughout August 1917, a series of strikes spread along the eastern seaboard. The initial strike involved railway workshop employees in Sydney who went out over attempts to introduce a US style card system, based on Taylorism, intended to speed up work. This first action was on 2 August. However, virtually from the very next day, strike action began to spread to an ever increasing range of industries. In NSW, the strike spread across the railways, collieries and then the wharves. Initially, it took in the full range of workers in the railways, and then miners, wharf labourers and seamen. By mid August, strike action spread to Victoria where the key workers involved were the wharf labourers and seamen. On a lesser scale, other industries and specific enterprises became involved and the unrest spread to other centres including Broken Hill. All the various actions are usually described, collectively, as the ‘Great Strike’ of 1917.

The end to the NSW railway strike on 9 September is taken as the end of the Great Strike, even though some workers continued their action for some time after. For example, the Melbourne wharf workers did not vote to return until 4 December.

The Great Strike of 1917 was a conflict that went beyond industrial action, as large scale as this was. It is possible to see it more as a wider working-class revolt than a series of strikes. Certainly by 1917 there was considerable disaffection in the working class. There was ‘war weariness’ but the War had also eroded real wages. Price rises had been extreme. There was also war profiteering. Above all, there was widespread concern that hard-won, pre-War industrial conditions were being eroded under the cover of patriotism. Opposition to the Yes vote in the recent conscription referendum had been strengthened by the fear that conscription was to be used to weaken organised labour. As pointed out in Post 105 even soldiers on the front line shared this concern that conscription would be used to undermine the working conditions and job security of Australian workers. The sense that the hard-won industrial conditions of the (white) working class were under attack was very strong.

Another interesting feature of the Great Strike was the degree to which the traditional power brokers in organised labor – the union hierarchy and the ALP itself, as the political wing of the movement – were by-passed by more rank-and-file leadership and agitation. The organisation was entrusted to an ad hoc ‘Defence Committee’. Also, in many instances the traditional power brokers were opposed to the specifics of the industrial action. In several key instances, unions voted to strike, against the advice of the union leadership.

Importantly, the industrial unrest was not restricted to just the act of striking. There were very large public demonstrations and marches – portrayed as unruly, mob-like and dangerous by the popular press – in Melbourne and Sydney. The role of women in these highly visible activities was striking. In Melbourne through August there were almost daily demonstrations in locations such as Treasury Gardens, Exhibition Gardens and Yarra Bank. Extra police were brought in from rural areas to maintain public order. To some extent, the month long strife was more an expression of the ‘direct action’ promoted by radical worker groups like the IWW than the conventional strike. Not surprisingly, the press was keen to push the claim that this radicalisation of the workers was the handiwork of the IWW and other extremist labor or socialist groups. There was speculation that the massive social dislocation in Russia could even play out in some form in Australia.

Another important feature of the action was the so-called ‘black doctrine’. According to this doctrine, no unionist could work alongside a ’scab’ worker or handle or have anything to do with goods or services provided by scab labour. The speed with which this doctrine prompted other unions to strike and the way it acted as a rallying call – often against the direct advice of the union hierarchy – suggests that the ever-expanding wave of strikes represented not just specific industrial grievances but also a declaration about the fundamental beliefs of the union movement. Specifically, the focus was on the very definition of the union notion of ‘mateship’. This ties in with the argument that after 3 years of War, and ongoing attacks on the union movement, the working class itself pushed back with the equivalent of a public manifesto of what it stood for and what it would never tolerate.

Ironically, the ‘black doctrine’ was arguably the main reason for the failure of the Great Strike. Essentially it meant that the strikes went too wide, too quick and too shallow. While many industries across state boundaries became involved very quickly there were important segments in these industries, and other whole sectors of the economy, where production and business continued unaffected. From the beginning, union organisers had sensed the inherent weakness of the campaign but, it appears, workers generally were not in the mood to listen to their leadership. Indeed, even when the various strikes collapsed and the workers were forced back under very punitive conditions, many workers believed, unrealistically, that they had been on the point of victory and saw the return to work as a ‘sell-out’. This sense of betrayal was heightened by the severity of the conditions surrounding their return to work; and in many cases they were never taken back.

In a real sense the Hughes Government was always going to win. To begin with, after the split over conscription, the ALP was in a weak position. Further, it was clear that the union movement itself was divided over the strikes. Also, the popular press lined up behind the government. The government also had the very powerful War Precautions legislation to employ as required. Finally, Hughes set up the National Service Bureau which in effect recruited volunteers to act as strike breakers. The large number of such volunteers and the efficient organisation of the scheme were enough to break the strike.

When the strikes collapsed, the workers, if they were re-employed at all, had to accept reduced conditions. In many cases their positions were taken by those who had volunteered for Hughes’ scheme of ‘national service’. The strikers were defeated and a brief period of working-class solidarity and direct action, built round idealistic notions of ‘industrial mateship’, came to a bitter end. At the same time, the victory against the strikers virtually made it inevitable that any second vote on conscription would fail. Arguments that conscription was by its very nature an attack on the working class designed to break the unions and reduce wages and working conditions – as well as open the country to cheap non-White labour – were obviously set to have more appeal. Equally, those who argued that the War was nothing but a sordid trade war were going to attract considerably more attention. For many, the War was turning into a war on the Australian working class.

It is interesting to consider the attention that the strikes over August attracted in the local media in the Shire of Alberton. Overall, the ongoing, daily accounts of the strikes were left to the metropolitan dailies. At the same time, the Gippsland Standard and Alberon Shire Representative did highlight how serious the national situation was. The following appeared on 17/8/17:

Industrial Australia is now engaged in the greatest upheaval known in the nation. Emanating from the strike of the railway men in New South Wales it has extended in the past few days to numerous industries in which labor is concerned, and present indications are that serious trouble will ensue before a settlement is effected. The Federal Government is taking a firm stand in the matter, and appears determined to fight the Unions and those who have attempted to disturb and upset railway and shipping facilities. Gradually the strike mania is being extended by the originators to centres of industry which, prior to the outbreak, had no cause for complaint, but are drawn into the trouble by the influence of their fellow workers.

As usual, the local paper lined up behind the Hughes Government. It was keen to support the call for volunteers to break the strikes. There was not as much call in Victoria for volunteers from the country as there was in NSW. In Melbourne there were ample volunteers from the metropolitan area, including students from the University of Melbourne and private boys’ colleges. The following appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberon Shire Representative on 24/8/17:

The Government is now receiving offers from country volunteers, and many have taken up the work in Sydney. An individual, a former sailor, walked into our offices [Yarram] yesterday and offered to go and help the Government wherever his services might be of any assistance. We believe a number of others have volunteered from this district.

The paper also reported on the Shire Council’s resolve to support the Government. The following resolution appeared on 31/8/17:

That this Council grant all possible assistance to the Government in the matter of providing labor during present strikes and that the [Shire] secretary be instructed to accept applications from volunteers.

And on 29/8/17 it noted the strong support from at least one local branch of the Victorian Farmers’ Union:

Alberton branch of Victorian Farmers’ Union … resolved that, in the event of it [strikes] becoming more serious, the Alberton branch pledged itself to endeavor to obtain volunteer workers to assist the Government.

The paper also reported (24/8/17) when the local police constable was called to Melbourne … to do duty should trouble arise.

The following article appeared on 29/8/17:

Serious Extension of the Strike Trouble to Womerah. Ferns Declared “Black” – “Trouble never comes alone” was demonstrated at the office of a leading grazier in this district last week. The overseer was waited upon by a deputation of three at “Smoko” requesting a substantial increase in wages, or ferns would be declared “black.” The increase was at once acceded to, pending official confirmation. The official presented the objects of the deputation under threat of dismissal. The strike was of short duration, extending from forenoon “Smoko” on Friday, 17th and terminating on Saturday, 18th when at 5 p.m. the spokesman was dismissed, and one of his senior colleagues resenting such treatment left in sympathy. The dismissed agitator when last seen, was making his way toward Morwell Shire seeking ”White Ferns” and “Pastures New.” We are pleased to state that the strike is ended, as it was causing much concern amongst local employers. The call for volunteer labor was quickly answered by one recruit, who has accepted the agitator’s place without the right of spokesman.

Presumably the article is meant to be a parody – albeit a very clumsy one – of the situation in Melbourne and Sydney. Country employers know how to handle unionists. There does not have to be any workplace bargaining, the boss just gets rid of those who cause ‘trouble’. And there are plenty of other workers who will take up the positions of those dismissed.

The article does at least serve to remind that organised labour was very weak in country areas. This was particularly so in areas like the Shire of Alberton, where the nature of settlement and ongoing development had meant that there was little, if any, history of organised labor. With the exception of the timber industry and state-wide industries like the railways, there was no large concentration of workers in the one economic activity or location. Instead, the stronger history of labour in the Shire was that of the struggling selector and the family-based farm.

The history of selection was one characterised by the lack of capital, equipment, technology, and services, including transport. There were major environmental challenges – drought, flood, fire – and the endless struggle to ‘clear the land’. In this  world, the sense of ‘labour’ was the diametric opposite to that which had grown up in the late 19C in the large urban centres of Melbourne and Sydney. In the rural setting, the focus took in, on the one hand, self-help and rugged individualism, with the family as the basic economic unit, and on the other hand a commitment to a form of agrarian communalism. Only by coming together at this second level were ‘settlers’ able to establish schools, community halls and services such as the bush nurse. Their understanding of ‘mateship’ was one of looking out for their own interests and being self-reliant but at the same time supporting the neighbouring farms in times of crisis or against common threats. Local farming families had to rely on each other to establish the necessary social, economic and even political infrastructure for the community survive.

Not surprisingly, in this environment there was an inherent fear of and antagonism to the idea of ‘organised labour’ and the threat of the strike. Moreover, even when casual labour was taken on – for example, the large number of young, single, immigrant English farm workers – the nature of the work, the isolation of the workplace and the living arrangements of the workers – commonly they lived on the farmer’s property – meant that there was a completely different master-worker relationship to the one that existed in the metropolitan factory.

For a more detailed analysis of prevailing attitudes to the unionisation of rural workers in the local area see Post 10.

One industrial action that caused great angst in the rural community was the strike on the railways or at the ports that held up the transport and/or export of their primary produce. It was unconscionable that their livelihood could be threatened by secondary industrial action that had nothing to do with them. They saw their interests exploited by organised labour in an industrial conflict that was not of their making. The appeal in August 1917 to go tho the city and stand in as volunteer wharf labourers was a very powerful and natural call to arms in farming communities.

It is also important to acknowledge that the rural communities also viewed the Great Strike as a direct threat to the War effort. As they saw it, the union movement was undermining the nation’s ability to prosecute the War. At the very least, the series of strikes was a major distraction and drag on the Hughes’ Government’s ability to proceed with its singular focus on maintaining Australia’s commitment to the Empire. At their worst, according to the official narrative, the strikes were intended to cripple the Hughes’ Government and pull Australia out of the War. The strikes were overlaid with accusations of treachery, if not treason. The hand of the mythically powerful and omnipresent Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was said to be behind it all. For its part, the Government was keen to retaliate by employing the considerable force of the War Precautions Act to defeat the strikes.

Even though they have faded from the nation’s memory, the events of August 1917 in Australia were highly significant at the time. The speed with which the strikes spread and the number of industries affected caused considerable anxiety. With only limited support from the union hierarchy – and even less from the demoralised and broken ALP – the workers themselves fashioned the strikes into the radical defence of their hard-won conditions and the commitment to fundamental union principles and values. The strikes were symptomatic of deep and divisive concerns about the true cost of the War and the future of the working class. The strikes became an expression of class solidarity and class conflict. But the strikes were also destined to fail and the Hughes Government was keen to settle scores. For all these reasons the “Great Strike’ of August 1917 was a unique chapter in our history. And at the time, the events of August virtually guaranteed that any second referendum on conscription would be defeated. As the workers saw it, the impact of the War was now being carried disproportionately by the urban working class.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberon Shire Representative

For general background on the Great Strike see:

Beaumont, J 2013, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW. [pp 329-335]

Bollard, R 2013, In the Shadow of Gallipoli: The hidden history of Australia in World War I, New South Publishing, UNSW, Sydney NSW [Chapter 6]

 

 

 

 

121. Messines: G Martin & W E Babington

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

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

Gordon Martin

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

William Edward Babington

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

62. Enlistments in the second half of 1915: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

This post continues the analysis, in six-monthly intervals, of the essential characteristics of all those with a link to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in WW1. The relevant previous posts in the sequence are: Post 22: Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status, and Post 56: Enlistments in the first half of 1915: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status.

The specific characteristics covered in the attached table are: the place of birth, the place of enlistment, the address of the next-of-kin at the time of enlistment, the address of the individual volunteer at the time of enlistment, the occupation at the time of enlistment, and age and marital status at the time of enlistment. For a more detailed account of the methodology and sources refer to the earlier posts.

Arguably, the most significant feature of the cohort of men who enlisted between July and December 1915 was its size: 199 men and 1 woman (Alice Cocking, a bush nurse from Madalya). In the first half of 1915, the size of the equivalent cohort was 102. The dramatic increase was tied to the Anzac campaign – and the reporting of the campaign –  which ran through to the end of 1915. Also, as will be covered in coming posts, the second half of 1915 saw the first, planned, large-scale recruiting drive.

Movement

The  nature of the enlisted men’s association with the Shire of Alberton has been covered in the earlier posts. The same features apply for this particular cohort. The mobility of the rural working class – to other locations in the same district or the wider region (Gippsland as a whole), to and from Melbourne and other regional centres, and interstate, particularly Queensland and Western Australia – is striking. Notions of ‘local’ were far more dynamic than the inherently static definition that we commonly employ in studies of ‘local history’.

The table shows that 29 of the 200 men were born in the United Kingdom. When this figure is added to the equivalent numbers for the 2 earlier cohorts, the total number of UK immigrant rural workers to enlist, to the end of 1915, from the Shire of Alberton comes to 63 or 15% of the total number (436). Clearly, the local community would have been aware of this obvious trend and, presumably, given the numbers involved, it would have been very difficult for any such immigrant worker not to enlist. The expectation was that the British immigrant had an even higher responsibility to answer the Empire’s call to arms.

The point was made in Post 56 that by the middle of 1915 the enlistment process required that while men could be enlisted in country areas – following an initial medical by the local doctor – and given a railway warrant to travel to Melbourne, the enlistment process would only be completed after another medical examination in Melbourne. This is apparent in the table where ‘Yarram/Melbourne’ is listed as the most common place of enlistment. Incidentally, the local doctors – Drs Pern and Rutter – were incensed by the directive and took it as an attack on their professional credibility. For a brief time they even refused to carry out the (initial) medical. The boycott, limited as it was, will be covered in a future post.

Occupation

Once again the cohort is made up predominantly of the rural working class. By far the 2 most common occupations given were ‘labourer’ (50) or ‘farm labourer’ (31). Others gave a more descriptive title – drover, stockman, boundary rider, shearer, sleeper hewer, saw mill hand, timber hewer, gardener, railway shunter, railway employee, railway porter, fisherman, bar man, shop assistant … – and there were some from more skilled backgrounds – lino type operator, blacksmith, carpenter, baker, butcher, cordial maker…  There was also a group of teachers (7), a larger group of clerical staff (13 ) and a very small number of professionals including Rev George Cox, the local Church of England minister and Dr Horace Pern, one of the 2 local medical practitioners. Overwhelmingly, as before, the cohort was fundamentally a rural working class one.

As a separate group, there were 29 men who came from what I have described as the ‘family farm’. These are highlighted in the table. As has been pointed out, the description is somewhat arbitrary. However it is important to identify all those cases where a son who was working on the family farm enlisted. Amongst other considerations, this category will prove very important in terms of the conscription issue. Farmers typically wanted to manage the issue of enlistment on a case by case basis, reflecting the unique nature, responsibilities and needs of their individual family unit. Conscription on the other hand threatened to impose inflexible demands and posed a direct threat to the economic viability of the family farm.

Typically the son linked to the family farm was in their late teens or early twenties. Also typically they did not hold any land in their own right. The land was recorded in the relevant rate book in the father’s name. However, there were some cases where the land was recorded in the name of both the father and son.

In most cases of family farms, the young men recorded themselves as ‘farmers’. But, again, as the table shows, some described themselves as ‘farm labourers’. Possibly, this reflected the fact that while they assisted on the family farm they also worked for a wage on other properties, presumably to bring in more income for the family.There were many possible arrangements.

In the table, the case of the 3 Cook siblings demonstrates Just how complex the arrangements associated with the ‘family farm’ could be. In fact, there were 4 siblings who enlisted: James Cook would enlist in the second half of 1916.

According to the rate book, the father – Thomas Anderton Cook – had a small holding at Balook. The oldest 2 of the 4 sons – David Alexander Cook and Henry Cook – were also listed as joint owners of the same property. These 2 siblings were married. The 2 younger siblings were not married.

Of the 4 Cook brothers, two described themselves as ‘farmer’, one as  ‘farm labourer’ and the fourth as just ‘labourer’. The exact pattern of land holding across the family is unclear because while it appears that there was more than one holding, the rate book only lists one. However what is clear was the fact that when the sons enlisted, responsibility for managing the Cook family farm (or farms) fell to the father and the wives. We know this because in June 1918, Henry Cook was returned from Europe and discharged from the AIF for ‘family reasons’. The family reasons involved the management of the farm(s). Initially, the AIF refused the request, noting that the particular case was not as serious as other ones brought to its attention. It appears that the intervention of local politicians at both state and federal level won the discharge from the AIF.

Correspondence in Henry Cook’s file reveals that his wife was sick (‘neurasthenia’), and with 3 children – ‘8, 6 and 2 years respectively’ – she was struggling to manage. Moreover, the father was as hard-pressed. He noted,

I myself am a farmer at the above address [Balook], my four sons have enlisted, and I am unable to obtain necessary labour to carry on, not only my own farm, but also the farm of the above son mentioned, and his other brothers at the front.

In corroborating evidence, the local police noted:

I have made careful enquiries re this matter and so far as I am able to ascertain this man’s [Henry Cook] financial position is very poor. He has a small selection of about 100 acres which he has been in possession of for about 12 years, there is little or no stock on the place, and his wife who is in delicate health cannot afford to pay for the necessary labour on the place to keep it in order and the Father is not in a position to help, consequently the place is going back, hence the Father’s reason for applying for his return.

Another case worth mentioning involved Robert John Trigg of Alberton West. According to the rate book, he and his brother – Joel William Trigg – had approximately 200 acres at Alberton West. Only Robert enlisted – he died of wounds in December 1917 – and presumably this was a mutually agreed arrangement that left one brother to manage the farm(s). Again, this particular case will be looked at in more detail in the context of the conscription debate because it was another instance where this internal family arrangement between the brothers was potentially threatened by the blanket application of the demands of conscription. What was also interesting about this case was the fact that when he enlisted, the local paper (4/8/15) carried a report that Robert Trigg had … engaged a man to take his place while he is absent in the fighting line. Obviously, lost labour needed to be covered; but there would have been few cases like this where there was funding available to engage someone else.

The cases highlight 2 critical issues: the complexity of ‘family farm’ arrangements; and the increasing social and economic impact that the loss of so much labour from the district was having on individual families and the wider community.

In the table there are only 2 instances where the description of ‘farmer’ (in his own right) has been used. Both of these relate to cases where it has not been not possible – to this point – to establish the validity or otherwise of the claim.

There are also instances where the description ‘farmer/farm labourer’ has been used. There are 13 such cases where even though the enlisted man gave his occupation as ‘farmer’ there is no corroborating evidence to support the claim: there is no link to any family farm, the men are too young or there is nothing in the relevant rate book or electoral roll to prove they were farmers. The more likely situation was that they worked as farm labourers.

As with the previous cohorts, to the end of June 1915, the burden of enlistment continued to fall on the rural working class –  whose employment was typically itinerant and casual – and a small group of young men coming from family farms. There was also a significant number of immigrant rural workers from the UK who enlisted.

Age

The following table gives a breakdown of ages.

Ages of volunteers – second half of 1915
ages                       %
18-20        38       19
21-25        91       44.5
26-30        39       19.5
31-35        21       10.5
36+            11        5.5
total        200      100

The next table presents equivalent data for the full period from 1914. It shows a slight shift away from the group of ‘minors’ and the related gradual move to an older cohort of men enlisting. The percentage of those in the 18-25 age band shifts from 73.1% (1914) to 69% (1915-1) to 64.5% (1915-2).

Marital status

The number of men in this cohort who were married prior to enlistment was 23. This represented some 11.5% f the cohort. The equivalent percentage figures for the 2 earlier cohorts were 7.8% (1915-1) and 4.5% (1914). Again, as with age, there is an incremental increase in the number of married men enlisting.

The figure of 23 does not include the 7 men who married at some time after enlistment and before embarkation. Nor does it include the 9 cases where men married in the UK.

Overall

Through to the end of 1915, the volunteers associated with the Shire of Alberton continued to be  young and single. Predominantly, they were rural workers and most simply described themselves as ‘labourers’ or ‘farm labourers’. There was also a group of young men –  about 30 in this particular cohort – who came from the ‘family farm’. This group was roughly the same size as the group of immigrant rural workers (29) from the UK who ‘answered the call’.

By the end of 1915 there had a very significant reduction – approximately 300 men –  in the size of the labour pool across the district. The significance of the enlistment in the AIF of this large number of rural workers would be highlighted in the conscription debates over 1916-17. Conscription threatened to be a blunt instrument that would further compromise the viability of the family farm, and ignore the considerable sacrifices that the local farming community had already made in the interests of the Empire.

The reasons why the rural working class were keen to join the AIF and the consequences of this association will continue to be explored in the blog.

References

Embarkation Roll

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

 

60. Soldiers’ farewells 1915

This post looks at the soldiers’ farewells staged in 1915. Over 1915, the local newspaper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – reported on 30 farewells that covered approximately 60 men.  Clearly, there were far more men who enlisted in 1915 than the number who were given farewells. Some men had already left the district and enlisted elsewhere, including interstate. Other men slipped away deliberately, without any sort of farewell. It also seems that there were not many farewells for men who had been working in the district for only a short time.  Many of the men who were not given farewells did at least receive the Shire Medallion when it finally became available from October 1915. In such cases it was handed to a relative or friend of the local who had enlisted.

Essentially, the data and details in the post come from reports in the local paper.  There was a general expectation in the local community that soldiers’ farewells would be reported in the local paper and identifying the individual locals who had volunteered was a community preoccupation. Equally, as will become apparent, the reports of the farewells also served as ongoing chapters in the narrative of the War. Farewells – and later the ‘welcome homes’ – represented the opportunity for local spokespersons to push the essential themes that maintained the local community’s focus on and support for the War. Even if people did not attend the farewell itself – and falling attendance did become a concern – they could read the substance of the speeches in the local paper.

As well as looking at what was said at the farewells, the post also considers the question of who the speakers were. While there were sometimes gaps in the information from reports of farewells in small townships, the newspaper reports were generally thorough in identifying both who spoke and what was said. The significance of the particular focus on the speakers is that, as already argued, it was the professional, propertied and managerial class of the local community that controlled the narrative of the War. On the other side of this broad equation, it was typically the rural working class that enlisted.

The 1915 farewells at Yarram

Most farewells (22) were held in Yarram as the principal town of the Shire of Alberton.

Included in the 1915 farewells in Yarram, there were farewells to 3 high profile members of the local community. In May, Dr Rutter was farewelled when he joined the Australian Medical Corps. In July, Dr Pern, another local doctor, was farewelled when he too joined the AMC. Then in late September the popular local Church of England minister, Rev Geo Cox, was farewelled. Ironically, Drs Pern and Rutter had failed Cox when he had made earlier attempts to enlist. All 3 farewells were conducted as major events in the community: the venues were full to capacity; there was an extensive line-up of speakers; much was made of the history of selfless community service, as either clergyman or doctor, before enlistment; and because all 3 men were married with children, and Cox and Pern were in their forties while Rutter was thirty-five, their individual enlistments were held up as outstanding examples of sacrifice and sense of duty.

However, farewells of this scale were not possible for everyone who enlisted. By mid 1915 it was recognised that some sort of committee would have to be formed so that a common, but manageable, format could be put in place.  Any farewell, no matter how low-key, involved considerable effort and there needed to be a process that could be sustained.

The first committee meeting to tackle the issue of setting up a process for soldiers’ farewells was held on 6 August 1915 and reported in the local paper on 8 August 1915. As reported, there was general agreement at the meeting that the whole business of farewells needed to be better organised. Everyone agreed that it was essential that those locals leaving the district be given a farewell. There was also general agreement that a wristlet watch be given. Later this would be replaced by the Shire of Alberton Medallion. For efficiency those at the meeting wanted the farewells to be organised for groups of men rather than run on an individual basis. But others pointed out how difficult it was to get accurate and timely advice from the AIF on the men’s movement and that it was never going to be possible to achieve the level of planning and organisation that people wanted.

The first meeting also tackled the issue of who should receive a farewell. Some wanted to draw a distinction between ‘bona fide’ residents of the district and others who had only been there ’two or three months’ and who ‘did not intend returning’. Overwhelmingly, these would have been the rural workers who found themselves in the district when they decided to enlist. Others thought a six month residency in the district should be the standard. At the meeting, the issue was left unresolved. In a real sense, the rural workers themselves resolved the issue for the committee. Most of the farewells that were organised tended to be for men who had already enlisted and who were home on their final leave before embarkation. On the other hand, the pattern for men who had been working in the district as itinerant rural workers was to complete the medical in Yarram, sign their attestation forms, be issued with a railway warrant from the Shire Secretary, and in the next day or so, travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process.  Once in Melbourne, these men did not return to the Shire and so the issue of any farewell did not even arise. Interestingly, those at the meeting on 6 August, were quoting the figure of 200 men from the Shire who had already left, but formal farewells would have covered less than half this number. Most commonly, the discrepancy involved the rural workers.

The major point of dispute at the first meeting involved the financing of the operation. Majority opinion favoured setting up a subscription list, with names published in the local paper, with an initial subscription of 5/- and 2/- per month thereafter. However the minority view was that this amount would not generate sufficient funds and people should be encouraged to donate more. To make their point, several of those there that night immediately handed over donations of £5. Upset by the gesture, Henry George Bodman – grazier of Trenton Valley – predicted, accurately, that faced with the 2 levels of donation, 5/- and £5, the community would be confused, and this would undermine the whole idea of a subscription. Just 2 weeks later, on 18/8/15, the editorial in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative described the ensuing confusion and loss of enthusiasm:

The meeting held on Friday 6th inst., in the shire hall, having passed a resolution which would not provide adequate funds for farewells and welcomes to soldiers, a further meeting was called for Friday last [13/8/15]. Curious to state, but half-a-dozen attended, too few for business, and the movement which promised well at the outset has fizzled out. Surely our boys are worth some little attention! Those gentlemen who came forward with “fivers” seem to have blown out the five shillings project.

It was another example of the petty politics that could so easily undermine local projects. From that point, the compromise was that any level of donation was accepted, and the paper regularly published the amounts which ranged from 2/6 to £5.

The actual farewell ceremony that developed over 1915 was simple. It was held in the shire hall. The timing varied and had to fit in with train times from Alberton. There would be one or two speeches, a toast to the soldier’s health, the soldier would generally reply and there would be a verse of the National Anthem or some other patriotic song. “For he’s a jolly good fellow” was also usually sung. Once the Shire Medallion and Card became available, their presentation added a sense of formality to the occasion.

After the brief ceremony, someone would volunteer to drive the soldier to the train station at Alberton.  The name of the person offering the car would often be published in the paper.

Not much changed over 1915. The committee did request advance notice about soldiers’ leave from the military authorities but, not surprisingly, such a concern was not a priority for the AIF. Late in the year, the committee erected a flag pole outside the shire hall and when a farewell ceremony was to be held the flag would be flown to alert townspeople. This action was in response to poor attendance at the farewells. Initially people put the low numbers down to the lack of notice being given for farewells but, over time, the claim that people were not prepared to put themselves out was raised repeatedly in the local paper. The suggestion made by Wliiam Geo. Pope at a farewell reported on 29/10/15 – he served on the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee – that the local clergy should set up a roster so that there was always one of their number at every farewell was another not very subtle claim that the soldiers’ farewells were not receiving the attention they warranted.

By the end of 1915 the lack of recruits was another disappointment being raised at the farewells. Speakers were insisting that too many men were not doing their duty and the level of enlistments was dangerously low. By October 1915, they were claiming that conscription had to come. The old thinking about the strength of voluntary enlistments no longer applied. As W G Pope declared at a farewell on 27 November 1915 (reported 1/12/15):

The old idea that one volunteer was worth two pressed men did not count these times.

Farewells outside Yarram.

It was obviously easier to cover the farewells held in Yarram than those held in outlying locations. Such farewells usually required a local ‘correspondent’ to write about the occasion. In a couple of cases – Wonyip and Blackwarry – the report was short on details.

Over 1915, there were 8 farewells conducted in smaller townships or settlements:  Blackwarry (1), Kjergaard (2), Womerah (1), Gunyah (1), Alberton (1), Woodside (1), Wonyip (1). Obviously these lay outside the influence of the committee in Yarram, although there was the odd occasion when a committee member from Yarram would attend. As noted before, farewells in the townships and settlements of the Shire of Alberton tended to be on a grander scale than those held in Yarram. Generally, they were held at night and they involved a social and dance in the local hall. They were attended by most if not all the local residents. They were far more of a community celebration. The themes covered by the speakers were the same as those in Yarram, but there were more speeches and more patriotic songs. Also, there was always a special gift – silver mounted wallet, inscribed gold medal, silver mounted pipe, pocket wallet, purse of sovereigns – and this was given in addition to the Shire Medallion.

Themes covered by the speakers

It is possible to analyse the speeches, as reported in the local press, and identify several common themes. Inevitably, the team of speakers at these events would hear each other’s speeches – or read them in the press – and over time a common approach to the themes, the imagery, the stories and even the slogans developed.

For the committee managing the farewells, the men being farewelled had to leave with a strong sense of community support and the conviction that their decision to volunteer was absolutely correct. They had the right to be proud of what they done. As well, the audience at the farewells wanted to be there. They wanted to show their respect, and they believed in and supported what they heard.  Overall, the scene was set for forceful speech making, with plenty of flourish and hyperbole.

The following breakdown represents the themes most commonly covered 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

Note: In the following description, the dates quoted refer to the date the report of the farewell appeared in the local paper. The date of the actual farewell would have been within one week or less of the date of publication.

The moral strength of the volunteer

This was by far the most common theme. Every farewell praised the moral quality or character of the person volunteering. The act of volunteering was proof of character.

This decision to enlist was inevitably described as a duty.  The men answered the call of duty. They were prepared to make a sacrifice. They judged the pursuit of a greater good above personal interest. They were men who refused to let others do the fighting for them. All of them could be described as heroes. They were also true patriots, as W G Pope, speaking at the farewell to Dr Pern (9/7/15) noted:

Dr Pern had placed the price of patriotism on one the side of the scale, and personal considerations on the other, and patriotism had gone down flop and won. (Applause).

The speakers inevitably drew attention to the fine character of the volunteers as young men or boys before they enlisted. Dr Pern was referred to as having … a gentlemanly character and genial nature (9/7/15). G F Sauer was reported (15/10/15) as saying Pte O J Parrott was … a clean living man, and he felt sure he would be a clean fighter. G F Sauer (20/10/15) also farewelled 2 other young men noting that they … had led clean lives, and were a credit to the district. E L Grano referred to the same young men as having been good citizens and he was sure they would … do their duty faithfully. Some of the speakers had known the men since they were boys. At a farewell from Woodside for Pte Richard Starling (17/11/15), one of the speakers, J W Condon, said of Starling, Even when little more than a boy he had been a leader. He had led men older than himself, and had always led them in the right way.  At the farewell for Pte Gordon S Jeffs (13/10/15), Cr Barlow spoke of how he had known the young man from birth and Mr V S Lalor added that Gordon was … the worthy son of a worthy father.  At a farewell at Womerah (4/8/15) one speaker went so far as to relate that, as a youth, one of the men being farewelled, …  never sat down to a meal without saying grace. At his farewell in June 1915 (16/6/15), Pte R O’Dea  was referred to as a ‘manly man’. On the sub-theme of the ‘manly man’, Appendix 1 features the poem, Then You’re a Man by Lyde [sic] Howard. It was read in full by F C Grano at a farewell in late October 1915 (29/10/15). The verse – overdone, even by the standards of the time – is strong on Christian imagery, including the eternal reward in heaven, which featured commonly at the time.

Fellow clergyman, Rev Tamagno (Methodist), at the farewell for Rev Cox (29/9/15), was at pains to express his admiration for Cox’s sense of duty. He described Cox as a true ‘white man’. He went so far as to claim, … there is no whiter man in this town and outside it, and these words are not flattery. Cox, for his patriotic effort, had been raised to some exalted level of manliness in the British Empire.

The unique character and success of the AIF

From the beginning, speakers reminded the volunteers of the need to uphold the ‘tradition’ of Australians generally and the Australian as a soldier. The ‘tradition’ itself was often vague, with occasional references to bravery and duty in the Boer War. However, after Gallipoli and the newspaper reporting of the time, the stakes were raised considerably, with volunteers both praised for their membership of the AIF and pressed with the need to defend its newly-won reputation. Cr Barlow, speaking at the farewell for Pte Bodman (8/9/15) … wished to impress on Private Bodman that he  was an Australian. From what they had read and heard they knew all who had gone to the front were heroes without exception. He hoped all who went to the front would uphold that tradition. When W S Filmer, the school teacher at Womerah, spoke at the farewell to 3 local men (4/8/15), He advised them to try and emulate the example set by the brave Australians on Gallipoli, of whom the naval men said, “Fiercest fighters God never made.”

The then president of the Shire of Alberton, Cr Bland (29/10/15) had no doubt on the quality of Australian soldiers. Even before the AIF had even reached the Western Front, they were the best in the world:

These men were going to join other Australians who had earned the name of being the best soldiers in the war. (Applause.)

W G Pope expressed similar sentiments at the farewell to Dr Pern (9/7/15) declaring,

The daring deeds of our men by scaling the heights of Gallipoli in the face of tremendous fire had opened the eyes of the world. They had covered themselves with glory, and sent a blaze of fame from one end of Australia to the other.

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

This particular theme tended to be represented in an indirect and understated form. It was always there as an assumed reality. ‘Duty’ for example was often described as ‘duty to the Empire’.  Men were said (14/5/15) to volunteer for ‘service on behalf of the Empire’. Dr Pern ( 9/7/15) was said to be leaving to serve ‘King and Country’.

However, on occasion speakers would present the full version of the theme. For example, in the report of the farewell for Rev Cox (29/9/15), W G Pope expanded on the bonds of Empire, claiming that The same blood flowed in the veins of the people here, as was in the veins of the people of the Homeland; and we had been true to the best traditions of the British race… Later, he noted … we Australians would rather go down and die under the Union Jack, than come to affluence under the flag of Germany. He felt that was the true sentiment of Australians. (Applause.)

In a similar turn of phrase, at the farewell for Privates Bird and Biggs (20/10/15) Cr Barlow declared that they … had been living so long in a free British atmosphere, and under the Union Jack, that they would rather go down in honor of their country than live under any other flag. (Applause.)

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

Again, this theme was always there in the background and only rarely did it receive full attention. Cr Barlow, at a farewell at Kjergaard (31/12/15) presented the hard line of ‘no quarter’, even abandoning the British ideal of ‘fair play’:

Look at the murderers of mothers and children, and at the case of an English nurse who had been attending her wounded. When there was such a cold-blooded enemy to deal with he would give them no quarter; they were out to win by fair or foul means, and he would be out to do the same. Britain had been too lenient with the Germans for many years, and now their brave boys had to pay for it.

In the report (9/7/15) of the farewell to Dr Pern, W G Pope also laboured the theme and looked to divine retribution:

The Germans were human monsters, and even taught the hymn of hate to the school children. Such crimes were committed which could not be referred to here. Crimes which in the course of human life could not be expatiated. There was no hope of redress in this life, but in the next life there might be some chance given the Germans to work out their salvation. If that hope did not exist he could only see one haven of refuge  open to them, where on their arrival, they would be installed on the hobs, and frizzle throughout eternity. (Applause.)

At his own farewell (6/10/15) Rev Cox spoke about the need to prevent the Germans ever landing in Australia to commit the atrocities carried out in Belgium.

The mother’s sacrifice

Reference was often made to the mother’s support of her son’s decision to enlist. This was particularly so when the mother was in the audience. Cr Barlow at the farewell for Pte Jeffs (13/10/15) praised the mother’s sacrifice:

He admired the young man for making the personal sacrifice in going to fight for the Empire, but perhaps more to be admired was the worthy mother, who placed no objection in her son’s path of duty. Only mothers knew what it was to lose their sons.

If the man was married, the same praise was bestowed on the wife left at home. W G Pope at the farewell for Dr Pern (9/7/15) described the wife’s anguish:

A doctor’s wife knew full well the dangers of war, and Mrs. Pern would spend many an anxious hour while her husband was away.

The pioneer as soldier

When it was used, this was a strong theme but it only applied to men whose families had been farming in the district for at least 2 generations. In the theme, the current generation had both to reflect and protect the legacy of the original settlers in the district. H G Bodman – grazier, Trenton Valley –  farewelled his only son at a ceremony in the shire hall in September 1915. The report (8/9/15)stated:

Mr. H. G. Bodman remarked that it was not a time for a speech. He would say that he was quite satisfied that his son was going, and felt sure that he would be a credit to his country. (Applause.) His (the speaker’s) father – his son’s grandfather – had helped as one of the old pioneers to develop the country, and he felt proud because his son was going to defend it. (Applause.)

The men making the speeches

The table below gives a brief breakdown of the men who made speeches at farewells in 1915. It gives the names of the men, the number of speeches made and their occupation, taken from the 1915 Electoral Register. Additional information on the individual’s background, from the local newspaper or some other source, such as the Rate Book, has been included. As indicated, most of the farewells took place in Yarram but the table also shows those cases where the speech was made at a farewell in some other location in the Shire.

The group is exclusively male. War was essentially men’s business. The mother or wife sacrificed the son or spouse to the fighting and, as indicated, this was a common theme at farewells, but women played no role in, as it were, the management of the War. Women’s efforts in the local community were restricted to ‘relief’ work in organisations such as the Red Cross. In a sense, their involvement matched that of their place in the local churches where their role was to support the clergyman. The limited role was part of the wider reality of gender-based politics – women, for example, were not local councillors nor justices of the peace.

In terms of the speeches at Yarram it is clear that a relatively small group of local professionals, proprietors and managers dominated.There were some local farmers but these men were tied closely to the politics of the town and district. They occupied civic positions, and exercised power, as local councillors and/or justices of the peace. Moreover, they were successful and established land holders – for example, Arthur H Moore was arguably the largest and most successful grazier in the entire Shire of Alberton.

Outside Yarram when farewells were organised, the range of speakers tended to reflect local conditions. Obviously, farmers tended to dominate but the dynamics of the local community could also play a part. For example, at Woodside when 2 men were farewelled in November 1915 the focus was on their membership of the ANA and on that occasion the speakers were drawn from locals – labourer, barman and blacksmith – who worked in the township.

Looking at the profile of those making the speeches at soldiers’ farewells is only part of the story of how the narrative of the War was represented and controlled in the local community. There were other key groups involved – for example, the various iterations of the local recruiting committee. Moreover, the process itself was inherently dynamic and, in fact, characterised by many tensions. For example, the last post pointed to the criticism levelled at the local council for not according Empire Day in 1915 the recognition it deserved. As we will continue to see, the local politics round support for the War could be fractious, divisive and even bitter. However, it was clear that in 1915 control over the ‘official’ narrative of the War in the Shire of Alberton lay in the hands of the professional, managerial, proprietorial and propertied class centred on Yarram. This group presented the narrative from the pulpits of the Protestant churches, at public celebrations (Empire Day) and other functions (recruiting meetings), in the local state schools, in the pages of the local press, and at the farewells for soldiers staged at regular intervals.

The response from the soldiers

Typically, the soldiers being farewelled had little to say. Often they would claim to be nervous and not accustomed to making speeches. Occasionally, there was some attempt at lightheartedness. For example, at his farewell (16/6/15), Pte R O’Dea managed to get in a line about how … he hoped to pot a few “Turkeys.” (Prolonged applause). However, the soldier would usually just offer a few words of thanks and make some self-effacing claim about duty or responsibility. The farewell for Sgt Johnson (29/9/15), son on B P Johnson, was typical:

Sergeant Johnson thanked them for the kind words uttered, and remarked that he felt he had the best wishes of all in Yarram and district. He was confident that all who were going away to fight would keep up the honour of Gippsland.

At this particular farewell, Sgt Cyril Johnson’s father – Ben Percival Johnson, local solicitor and over the course of the entire War an outspoken advocate of recruitment and, in time, conscription – added the customary lines about the mother’s role:

Mr. Johnson … said Cyril expressed a wish to go, and his mother felt she was doing her duty not to stop him. (Applause.)

Sgt Cyril Johnson was killed in action on 14 May 1918.

Appendix 1

Then You’re a Man

Can you desert the niche that you were bred in –
The path of comfort, and the friends who cheer?
And can you leave the business you have worked at –
Laboured and sweated at from year to year?
And will you bid farewell to wife and kindred?
Keeping up steadfastly as best you can?
Then you fulfil the calling of a Briton.
And you are what you’re made to be sir;
You’re a MAN

And do you deem there is no higher calling
Than that which calls you to your country’s need?
And do you reckon ion you should not answer,
That there are deadlier wounds than those which bleed?
Do you feel proud and happy in the doing;
The sacrifice of every other plan?
The you fulfil the calling of a Briton.
And you are what you’re made to be sir;
You’re a MAN

Since you are made and fashioned in God’s image –
Go forth to fight; stamp out crime and sin.
Wash out, with your heroic blood, it may be,
All foulness and all perfidy within;
Help, free the earth of fearfulness and plunder;
Give her a peacefulness of Endless Span,
The heaven, and all Eternity shall bless you.
And you are what you’re made to be sir;
You’re a MAN

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

56. Enlistments in the first half of 1915: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

This post continues the analysis of Post 22: Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status, in that it examines the same characteristics,  and employs the same approach, for the group of 104 men who enlisted in the first half of 1915.

The specific characteristics covered in the attached table are: the place of birth, the place of enlistment, the address of the next-of-kin at the time of enlistment, the address of the individual volunteer at the time of enlistment, the occupation at the time of enlistment, and age and marital status at the time of enlistment.

As for Post 22, most information in the table is taken from 2 key sources. Place of birth and place of enlistment are taken from the enlistment papers in each individual’s AIF service file. The other pieces of information are taken from the Embarkation Roll.

However, for ‘occupation’, the evidence covers not just the Embarkation Roll and the individual AIF service file but also the Shire of Alberton Rate Book and the Commonwealth Electoral Roll for the Subdivision of Yarram Yarram.

This extended range of evidence is needed to identify those men who were from the ‘family farm’. As is shown in the table, in one or two cases, a young man described himself as a  ‘labourer’ when in fact his father was a farmer in the Shire and the young man was, presumably, working on the family farm. Also, there were cases where the young man described himself as ‘farmer’ when the evidence – principally from the rate book – indicates that he was working for his father on the family farm. Consequently, in the table below, the description of  ‘family farm’ – highlighted – covers all situations (12) where the son was, most likely, working on the family farm.

There was also the situation where a young man described himself as a ‘farmer’ when all the evidence points to him being a ‘farm labourer’. In the table, this is most evident with immigrant farm workers: they were relatively young; had been in the district only a short period of time; there is no record in the local rate book of land in their name; and where they do appear on the electoral roll they are not described as ‘farmer’.

Movement

As for Post 22, the table covering the first half of 1915 highlights movement as a key characteristic of this group.  Again continuing the analysis from Post 22, it is possible to identify 4 broad groups.

First, there are what can be termed long-term residents: those who were born in the Shire, enlisted in Yarram – and were working in the local area at the time of enlistment – and gave a location in the Shire as their own address and that of their parents. This was the largest single group and, not surprisingly, individuals from this group were most likely to be included on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll and, in the case of those who died on active service, the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. One minor qualification to make with this group of volunteers is that increasingly the men were formally being enlisted in Melbourne. This was the case even where they had their (first) medical, completed the enlistment paper work, took the oath and were issued with their railway warrant in Yarram. In part, this arrangement reflected the concern that country doctors were too inclined to pass volunteers as fit. It appears that by the end of June 1915, all men were medically ‘re-examined’ in Melbourne.

The second group involved those who had been in the Shire for some time – they had been born in the Shire and/or spent time there as a child or adolescent – but who, by the time of enlistment, had moved out of the Shire. As before, whether or not they were included on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll – and, if relevant, the Shire of Alberton War Memorial – appeared to be tied to the presence of some ongoing family link to the Shire. There needed to be immediate family members or relatives working to keep the individual soldier’s memory alive in the local community.

Generally, those in this second group only featured on local school honor rolls. However, the individuals concerned were often well known – or more correctly ‘well-remembered’ –  in the local community. For example, Bertram Atkinson only appears in the table because he attended Yarram State School as a child. His name appears on the school’s honor roll. He was 26yo and married when he enlisted, and his wife was living in Hawthorn. He had even attended Malvern East Grammar some time after leaving the state school at Yarram. Clearly, his link with the local area had finished many years before he enlisted. Yet because he was the son of the Church of England minister based at Yarram at the turn of the 20C – the Rev. James C Atkinson – locals definitely remembered him. In fact, there were several articles in the local paper reporting his death (21/9/15) and describing his family’s association with the district.

The third group takes in those who came into the Shire and had established themselves as local by the time of enlistment. The largest group here were the immigrant workers from the United Kingdom. There were 19 in this group. Added to the 15 from the group who had already enlisted by the end of 1914, the total number of UK immigrant workers to enlist to the end of June 1915 becomes 34. Doubtless there would have been a high expectation in the local community that these young men from the ‘Mother Country’ should enlist.

Another example from this group of people who had come into the Shire and established themselves as local, was the local medical practitioner Dr John Hemphill Rutter. There was extensive reporting in the local paper of his farewell and then his service overseas. He returned to Australia at the end of 1916.

The last group was made up of those who had moved into the Shire, but only recently, and in some cases it might well have been that they enlisted in Yarram because that was where they found themselves just at that point in time. Had their work, or search for work, taken them to Foster or Sale they would have enlisted there. But as transient as their work was, the fact is that they enlisted in Yarram.

As pointed out in Post 22, the creation of these 4 groups is arbitrary:  an attempt to impose some sort of order on what was a highly complex pattern of movement. Inconsistencies and anomalies across the table suggest that the boundaries between the groups were not as fixed as the model suggests. However, it is clear that the movement of this group, over what was typically not much more than 20 years of life, was a distinguishing feature. Such movement is also evident in the number of the group who were born interstate – 8 – and the number who enlisted interstate: 7. Moreover, there is only one person common to these 2 sub-groups. It even appears that one of the 104 men – Roy Liddelow – enlisted in New Zealand. All of this data questions the local historian’s natural tendency to try to tie people’s lives to a specific geographic location. ‘Local’ in the context of early 20C Australian History is a highly problematic concept.

Occupation

Obviously the high incidence of movement is tied inextricably to occupation. By far the largest single group (50) was made up of ‘ labourer’ or ‘farm labourer’. As well, there was the typical range of rural working-class occupations. Within this solid rural working-class cohort, there were some men in semi and skilled trades, and there was a small group of young men in clerical positions. However, as with the previous group – the one to the end of 1914 –  the number of professionals and higher level administrative and managerial positions is very limited. Overwhelmingly, in the Shire of Alberton, in the period we have looked at so far – from the start of the War to the end of June 1915 – the typical volunteer was a member of the rural working-class and, most commonly, he simply gave his occupation as ‘labourer’.

In this particular group, it appears that there were 11 cases where a son who was working on the family farm enlisted. The cases are highlighted in the table.  As noted, this included some young men who described themselves as ‘farmer’ – but there was no evidence of them holding any property in their own right – as well as some who had described themselves as ‘farm labourer’, when in fact the evidence suggested they were working on the family farm and their labour contributed to the overall success of the farm.  However, it is possible with this latter group that the son was actually working as a ‘farm labourer’ on a neighbouring farm. Such work provided additional family income. So, conceivably, the number of family farms might be overstated in the table.

The more important point is that the number of volunteers who were independent farmers – the farm was in their name, and they were working and managing the farm in their own right – was very low. In fact, from this group of 102 volunteers, if you discount the 2 men from outside the Shire who claimed to be farmers (Ferres, H D G and Kiellerup, G R) there does not appear to have been a single case where an independent farmer or grazier from the Shire enlisted.  The case has already been made  in Post 22 that there was very little possibility that a farmer would – or even could – simply leave the farm and enlist.

Overall, to the end of June 1915, the burden of enlistment continued to fall on the rural working class –  whose employment was typically itinerant and casual – and a small group of young men –  they were in their late teens or early twenties – coming from family farms. There was also a significant number of immigrant rural workers from the UK who enlisted.

The complex questions surrounding this pattern of enlistment – was enlistment driven fundamentally by economic forces ; why did patriotic duty fall so heavily on the working class; were rural workers searching for an identity and status in the AIF that they could never attain in the life style of the itinerant, rural worker? – will continue to be explored in the blog.

Age

The following table gives a breakdown of ages. The number of ‘minors’ – those between 18 and 21 required written permission of their parents – is high. When the minors are added to those to the age of 25 it is evident that this group – as with the first one – was very youthful.  Overall, the age profile is very similar to that for the first group of volunteers – to the end of 1914 – from the Shire

Ages of volunteers – first half of 1915
ages                       %
18-20        25       25
21-25        46       44
26-30        18       17
31-35          8         8
36+              5         6
total        102      100

Marital status

As before, the expectation continued to be that only single men would enlist. This is evident in this particular cohort, where only 8 of the 102 men were married.

Those rejected

The table below has been developed from 2 sources of evidence from the archives of the Shire of Alberton. The first is a list of 128 ‘Recruits Rejected by the Local Doctors’ and the second a bundled collection of enlistment papers (38) of men who had failed the medical. The latter set of files runs from September 1914 to July 1915. There are gaps and inconsistencies with these 2 sources, but they provide some critical insights on the men who failed the medical examination in Yarram, particularly in the period to the end of 1915. In the table, the specific period covered is the first half of 1915.

The table shows that at least 18 men who presented themselves for enlistment at Yarram in the first half of 1915 were rejected by the local doctors. In most instances, the local doctors simply recorded that the men failed the medical but in other cases there was some basic reason given. As for all other enlistments, the socio-economic profile of the men was typically rural working class.  There was also the typically high number of immigrant farm workers in the group: nearly half the group had been born in the UK. .

The table shows the high number of men who made subsequent attempts to enlist, and also the number who, in fact, did enlist (9), in many cases without revealing that they had been previously rejected. Samuel Henry Young failed his first medical (Yarram) but then passed his second one (Nagambie) within the first half of 1915. He was definitely a local as his name appeared on the electoral roll as a ‘sleeper hewer’ of Mullundung. He appears to be the classic case of someone who left the district to enlist elsewhere. Many local men were determined to enlist and an initial rejection was not taken as final.

Overall

As for the first group of volunteers to the end of 1914, the preceding analysis of the second group – to the end of June 1915 – reveals that it was overwhelmingly the young, single, rural workers – most commonly described as ‘labourer’ or ‘farm labourer’ – who answered the call to enlist. Of the the total number of some 240 volunteers from August 1914 to the end of June 1915, there was a group of young men –  about 30 – who came from the ‘family farm’. This group was roughly the same size as the group of immigrant rural workers ( 34) from the UK who ‘answered the call’.

 

References

Embarkation Roll

Shire of Alberton Archives

Archive One, File Number 703B, Recruiting & Enlisted Men, Box 398.
Included in this collection was a tied bundle of enlistment papers that covered men medically rejected.

Box 379, “Correspondence etc of Recruiting Committee, Formed April 26th 1917”.
Contains an undated and unsigned list headed, “Recruits Rejected by Local Doctors”.

35. Image problems for the AIF before Gallipoli

Typical souvenir sent home from Egypt, 1916.

Typical souvenir sent home from Egypt, 1916.

Prior to 25 April 1915, the AIF was an army in search of an image. The basics of the image were there from the start and the AIF was created to be a national (Australian) army within the greater (British) Imperial army. The name – Australian Imperial Force – succinctly defined the basic building blocks for the image.

All the volunteers for the AIF enlisted as British subjects. Many of its early officers were British. Organisation, training, equipment, weaponry  – all matched the British standard. All essential components were designed so that the AIF could function effectively as a module of the British Army.  In its infancy, the AIF was not capable of acting as an independent military force and relied, for example, on British intelligence and artillery.

At the same time, the AIF was a national army. It was the first, genuinely national military force that the new Commonwealth of Australia had created. While it was created to demonstrate Australia’s total commitment to Britain and the Empire, it still had to reflect a distinctively Australian character. The 20,000 men who landed in Egypt from late 1914 represented the first, large-scale collection of Australian soldiery on the world stage, and it was inevitable that those back home, the soldiers in Egypt, and the rest of the world would try to define this new army in ways that made it unique. The quest was on to define its distinctive national character and explain how it differed from the British Army, and also other Dominion forces, particularly the Canadians and New Zealanders.

The struggle to define the essential character of the AIF began as soon as it was formed and continued throughout the War and in the years after the War. Indeed, it is still a concern today, principally because it has always been argued that the character of the AIF goes to the core of what defines Australia as a nation.

One of the most important commentators on the early AIF was the official war correspondent Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean.  Bean’s own life matched in many way the pursuit of the distinctly Australian (male) character. Born in Australia, Bean was an avowed Imperialist and spent many years at school and university (Oxford) in England; but, once back home in Australia, he became committed to identifying the distinctly Australian national type, and like so many others he was drawn to the itinerant, rural worker.

Bean started his war reporting with a distinctive Australian type in mind. You can see this in some of his earliest reports from Egypt. The following passage is taken from copy he wrote on 22 December 1914. It was published in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 3 February 1915. Immediately prior to this section of the article, Bean had explained how the Australians, because of their higher pay, were being feted all over Cairo, even in the most exclusive hotels. However, it was not just the pay, because Bean also intimated that the Australian, even at the rank of private, had a natural presence and authority to him that promoted respect:

It is a study to see the Australian from beyond the wheat belt with his weather beaten brown wrinkled old face and his rather ill fitting khaki suit sitting at a table in a big grill room amidst over-gorgeous columns and salmon coloured upholstery, surrounded by wealthy Turkish merchants, Italian students, French and Syrian clerks and smartly dressed women, and drinking his coffee or whisky with his mate and waited on by a tall Berber blackfellow in enormous red Turkish pantaloons and wreathed with twice as much gold lace as a field marshall.

Bean captures what he sees as the essential image: the tough, hardened, no-pretence Australian soldier and his mate might appear out-of-place but, in fact, the whole scene revolves round them. However it is all rather simplistic, and for all his efforts to make the connection between the rural working class and the newly formed AIF, Bean must have appreciated that the lifestyle of the rural, working-class male was not ideally matched to the world of military discipline.

In fact, all was not well in Egypt at that time with the AIF.  The Australians were forging a reputation for drunkenness, debauchery and hooliganism and their lack of regard for military discipline was an ongoing concern for their commanders.  For a more detailed account of Australian ‘high jinks’ at the time see Stanley (2010) and in particular his account of the ‘Battle of Wazza’ on Good Friday , 2 April 1915 when Australian and New Zealand troops attacked the brothel district of Cairo.

Australian behaviour in Egypt did not reflect well on either the AIF or Australia. Bean was even asked to write a sort of ‘how to behave in Egypt’ for the newly arrived AIF troops – What To Know In Egypt. It masqueraded as part tourist brochure, part good-health guide and part handbook on understanding-the-local-culture, but it was intended principally to curb the sort of behaviour that was creating a negative image for the AIF. The section on VD was clearly intended to keep the men out of the brothels:

Lastly, Cairo has itself a name in the world as a hotbed of both gonorrhea and syphilis. There is a reason for this. Egypt is not a country under the full control of its government. The Egyptian officials even though they had able British administrators to help them have possessed little control over the foreigners who live here. Egypt has been one of those countries which European nations have only admitted to their circle as probationers, as it were.  …The consequence is that although Cairo has long been a resort of foreign women riddled with diseases it has been almost impossible to check this disease. Egypt has been an ancient home of syphilis – it was certainly here in Roman times; and there is found in the skull bones of mummies a disease which is almost certainly syphilis. Modern Cairo with its mixture of women from all nations, East and West has long been noted for particularly virulent forms of disease. Almost every village contains syphilis. And if a man will not steer altogether clear of the risk by exercising a little restraint, his only sane course is to provide himself with certain prophylactics beforehand to lessen the chance of disastrous results.

However, stronger action was required and Bean was then pressured to write a newspaper piece that left the reader back home in no doubt that there was a problem with the AIF’s image in Egypt. It was written at the very end of December 1914 and it appeared in Australian newspapers about 3 weeks later. Locally, it appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 22 January 1915. Bean emphasised that he was only describing the actions of relatively few men, and he was keen to talk up the great potential of the AIF, but it was a most uncomplimentary picture. It appeared under the headline: Our Soldiers in Egypt.  High Jinks At Cairo.   “Do All Australians Drink So Much.”

There is only a small percentage – possibly one or two per cent – in the force which is really responsible for the occurrences about which Cairo is beginning to talk; the great majority of the men are keen, intelligent, well restrained young Australians, whom you will meet enjoying their hours of leave in front of the cafes or in the museum or the zoological gardens or the post card shops, dressed as neatly as any of the other soldiers in the town, and behaving themselves in the way in which any rational Australian on a holiday would behave. They have the material in them not merely for as good a force as the New Zealanders or the Territorials, but, to one’s own thinking, of a better force, because the Australians here, besides having the best physique, are, man for man, more highly strung, and, if anything, quicker witted.

But there is in the Australian ranks a proportion of men who are uncontrolled, slovenly, and in some cases – what few Australians can be accused of being – dirty. In a certain number of cases it is noticeable that these men are wearing the South African ribbon. Possibly they are the men who since returning from that war, have never had any skilled occupation, and who therefore were the first to enlist when recruiting for the present force was begun; or it may be that the discipline in the South African campaign was very much slacker than that required of troops before they will be permitted to go to the front in the present class of warfare. Or it may be merely that a certain class of old soldier is given to the very childish habit of showing off before the young soldier, and giving him examples of the sort of thing that he thinks may with impunity be done by anyone who knows the ropes. Whatever the reason it has been noticed by too many people to admit of doubt that whilst many of the most capable and splendid members of the force are men with South African experience, there is a class of old soldier who, so far from being the most suitable member of the force, is the least suitable of any. Many young soldiers take these men at their true worth. “It’s the likes of them that are going to spoil the game for the rest of us and lose us our leave,” I heard one youngster say a few days since. “The fellows are getting a bit fed up with them down amongst our lot.” But they are really doing a very much more serious thing than losing other soldiers their leave – they are losing Australia her good name in the outside world, and those Australians who happen to be living in Cairo or are in touch with the world outside the camps have the mortification of looking on whilst day by day the reputation of Australia slowly vanishes before the actions of a handful of rowdies who do not really represent the country. The Territorials have not our physique, and some of the Lancashire regiments seem to be composed largely of mere children; but by dint of hard work they have become thoroughly smart soldiers; and although both amongst them and the New Zealanders there has been a certain amount of the hard living which will always be found where great numbers of men are collected, none who is not deaf can hide from himself the fact that the talk at present current in Cairo attaches to the Australian force rather than to the Territorials, or as far as I can judge to the New Zealanders.

One does not want to give the impression that things have reached the stage of a scandal or anything approaching it. Steps will doubtless be taken to correct it, as they have been taken before, and the Australian force will be doing itself credit before it has finished its training, and be worthy of the majority of men comprised in it. The New Zealanders have just taken steps to get rid of a certain number of men who were doing little good in their force, and the same, or some similar steps, will no doubt be taken with the Australians. But it is just as well that the Australian public should be aware of the reason for the return of the majority of the men who are returning, or have returned, since the expedition sailed. It is easy for a man to return to his native village and reap a certain amount of hero worship on the ground that he was invalided, or to pitch a story before an admiring crowd at the local hotel of how he was going to show them that he was not going to stand any nonsense, and finally “pitched in” his resignation. The facts are that a certain number of men have been invalided through serious sickness or accident, neither of which was their own fault. A certain number also were sent back some time ago from Albany and Colombo, because some of them – no doubt on conscientious grounds or for reason best known to themselves – refused to be vaccinated. A few others have been, and will be, sent back because they contracted certain diseases, by which, after all the trouble of months of training and of the sea voyage, they have unfitted themselves to do the work for which they enlisted. And a percentage will probably find their way back from here, the reason for whose return has been that they have damaged their country’s reputation, and a few of them have been got rid of as the best means of preserving it.

The tone of the piece is cautious and hesitant and the language is qualified, indirect and oblique, if not obtuse. You had to read into it, for example, that men were being sent back to Australia because they had contracted VD (certain diseases).  In the context of Egypt and the the triumphalism of the White Australia Policy, references to Australians being ‘dirty’ would have had all sorts of offensive associations. The attempt to pin responsibility on the veterans of the Boer War was bound to win enemies but, presumably, it was preferable to target this specific group of older men than suggest there was a problem right across the force. You can sense Bean’s wariness in writing the piece; and the article was, potentially, a career-ending move for him. In fact, his reputation with the troops was severely damaged and it was only his bravery in the subsequent action at Gallipoli – he was recommended for the Military Cross and mentioned in despatches for his work with wounded men – that restored his standing.

Some idea of the fury that the article sparked amongst the troops in Egypt at the time, comes from another piece published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative  on 30 April 1915. By this point the local paper was regularly publishing extracts of letters sent home by soldiers serving overseas. This particular letter came from Athol Woods who was the son of (former) Major Woods of Woodside. Alexander Thomas Woods was a grazier of Darriman and his son – Harry Athol Woods – had enlisted as a 34yo in Brisbane on 27 August 1914. It appears he was farming on the Darling Downs prior to enlistment.  Overall, Athol Woods was critical of the way newspapers were reporting events from Egypt, and he specifically targeted Bean. He described Bean’s articles as unjustifiable and unpardonable and he wanted Bean severely dealt with. He was prepared to admit that there were some Australians who were a problem, but he did not want their actions to be publicised, in any way:

Of course, in a body of men like we have here, there are sure to be a few who go over the odds, but it is a very poor percentage, and even these few have not done anything very dreadful. It seems hard that all we Australians should be termed a disgrace to the Empire and Australia by an animal wearing the stars of a captain who has not got the nous of a mule. But enough of this. I think the people of Australia will treat these articles with the contempt they deserve.

The barely concealed rage evident in the letter home from Athol Woods points to just how sensitive the whole issue of the AIF’s image was. Everyone – the troops in Egypt, their officers and all those back home in Australia – knew how critically important the image of the AIF was to the image of the nation as a whole.  Prior to Gallipoli, the fear that the AIF was creating the wrong image weighed heavily on people’s minds. And Bean had come to understand that using the Australian press to hammer home lessons to the troops on how they should behave was not going to work.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Stanley, P 2010, Bad Characters: Sex, Crime, Mutiny, Murder and the Australian Imperial Force, Pier 9, NSW

C E W Bean: entry in Australian Dictionay of Biography

Bean, C E W 1915, What to Know in Egypt: A Guide for Australian Soldiers, Cairo

The ‘Souvenir of Egypt’ is held by the Cashen family. It was sent to Marie Ziesing from Alfred Carr – both of Mile End, SA – in 1916.

22. Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 1- movement, occupation, age and marital status

The last post identified 134 locals, with links to the Shire of Alberton, who enlisted to the end of 1914. This post begins to analyse the key characteristics of this group. The same methodology will be applied to future cohorts of men from the Shire who enlist from 1915 to 1918, to see if the basic characteristics changed over the course of the War.

As indicated, the list of those who enlisted prior to the end of 1914 is not necessarily complete. There is research going on in the background to establish if any of 20+ additional names should be added. Essentially these men fall into 2 categories: those for whom no AIF service record can be located, even though there were newspaper references at the time to their enlistment; and those for whom it is not yet possible to tie their name – e.g., W Rose – to the particular service record. Where additional records are uncovered, and it becomes possible to add names to the current list of 134, the relevant tables in these posts will be updated.

Qualifications like this are important because, as this post will show, trying to recreate the historical record of 100 years ago from individual pieces of information is difficult. Inconsistencies, variations and anomalies are common.

The table below builds on that from the last post by adding the following items of information: the place of birth, the place of enlistment, the address of the next-of-kin at the time of enlistment, the address of the individual volunteer at the time of enlistment, the occupation at the time of enlistment, and age and marital status at the time of enlistment. Future posts will explore other characteristics, including an overview of the war service of each individual volunteer.

In general, the information is taken from 2 key sources. Place of birth and place of enlistment are taken from the enlistment papers in each individual’s AIF service file. The other pieces of information are taken from the Embarkation Roll. However, specifically in the case of ‘occupation’, several pieces of information – the Embarkation Roll, the individual AIF service file, the Shire of Alberton Rate Book and the Commonwealth Electoral Roll for the Subdivision of Yarram Yarram – have been used. The intention here is to identify those men who were coming from the ‘family farm’. In one or two cases, a young man described himself as a ‘farm labourer’ or even just ‘labourer’ when in fact his father was an established farmer in the Shire and the young man was working with his father on the family farm. Similarly, a young man would describe himself as ‘farmer’ when, by looking at other evidence, it was again the case that he was working with his father on the family farm. In the table below, the term ‘family farm’ covers all situations where the son was working on the family farm. The qualification here is that even though there was a family farm it was also possible that the son was undertaking other work in the district – for example, one of them listed ‘horse breaking’ as his occupation – or perhaps it was work in addition to the work on the family farm. The more important point is that the table identifies all those cases where the person enlisting was the son – or possibly one of several sons – of a farmer. On the other hand, where the evidence suggests that the person enlisting was a farmer in his own right – the land was recorded in the rate book in his name, not his father’s – or the evidence is not sufficient to rule out the possibility that the person was a farmer, the occupation of ‘farmer’, as recorded on the various forms, has been let stand.

With the 2 addresses taken from the Embarkation Roll it is apparent that in most cases the volunteer simply gave his next of kin’s address – most commonly this was a parent – as his own address. At the same time, there are some exceptions. For example, Walter Tibbs (122) was a farm worker at Tarraville who had immigrated as a 15 year-old from Leeds in England. Most other immigrant workers simply gave their parent’s address in the UK as their own address, but Tibbs actually recorded his as Tarraville. The significance of this is that this young man – 21 at the time – who was killed at Gallipoli on 25/4/15 was not included on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll. Nor was his name included on the Shire War Memorial. Yet, when his parents completed the Roll of Honor details for the National War Memorial they specified Tarraville as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. It appears that despite all his efforts, and his family’s efforts, his presence in the Shire was never acknowledged or, probably more correctly, too easily forgotten.

Movement
The table certainly highlights movement as a key characteristic of the rural working class. There appear to be four relevant groups involved. First, there are what can be termed long-term residents: those who were born in the Shire, enlisted in Yarram and gave some location in the Shire as their own address and that of their parents. The two Graham brothers (47 & 48) serve as an example of this group; although even here there is an anomaly because only one of the brothers – Leonard Simpson Graham – is recorded as having been to school in the Shire.

The second group involved those who had been in the Shire for some time – they had been born in the Shire and/or spent time there as a child or adolescent – but who, by the time of enlistment, had moved out of the Shire. An example is George William Silver (109) who had been born in the Shire, went to a local school and had remained in the Shire probably up until his adolescence – judging by his 6 years in the Yarram Rifle Club – but who by the time of enlistment was obviously living in Melbourne. He was not included on the Shire Honor Roll. However, others in the same situation were included. The deciding factor in such cases appeared to be whether or not there was still a family connection to the Shire. For example, Gordon William Appleyard (3) was born in the Shire (Binginwarri) and went to a local school. Yet he was clearly not in the Shire when he enlisted (Rockhampton, Qld) and he gave his address as Barcaldine, Qld. However his next-of-kin’s address (Alberton) was in the Shire, and he was included on both the Shire Honor Roll and the Shire War Memorial (he died of wounds at Pozieres). Interestingly, John Henry Adams (1) – killed in action 8/8/1915 – also enlisted in Queensland and like Gordon Appleyeard, his family was very well known in the Shire (Calrossie). His address and that of his next-of-kin were both given as Yarram. Yet he is not on either the Shire Honor Roll or the Shire War memorial. The significant difference here appears to have been that the Adams family moved to Traralgon during the War (1916) and, presumably, as the result of the family connection being lost, the son was not seen as – or not remembered as – a local when it came to including the names on the Shire memorials.

The third group takes in those who came into the Shire and had established themselves as local by the time of enlistment. This includes the likes of Frederick Butler (17), John Crawford (29), Stanley Hawkins (56) and Ernest Singleton (111). It also takes in most of the 15 immigrant farm workers. Generally, this group had their names included on the Shire Honor Roll.

The last group was made up of those who had moved into the Shire, but only recently, and in some cases it might well have been that they enlisted in Yarram because that was where they found themselves just at that point in time. Had their work, or search for work, taken them to Foster or Sale they would have enlisted there. This group stands out because even though they had their medical in Yarram and enlisted in Yarram there is no indication of any long term involvement with the Shire – they were not born there, did not go to school there and their next-of-kin have no apparent link to the Shire – and, in most cases, their names are not included on either the Shire Honor Roll or the Shire War Memorial. Yet, clearly, they did enlist from the Shire.

The creation of these 4 groups is merely an attempt to impose some sort of order on what was a highly complex pattern of movement. Inconsistencies and anomalies across the table suggest that the boundaries between the groups were not as fixed as the model suggests; and whatever scheme is devised, there still has to be accommodation for personal judgements made at the time, 100 years ago. However, it is clear that the movement of this group of early volunteers was a distinguishing feature, and it is reflected in the simple observations that, for example, 16 of the men enlisted interstate; approximately 80 – more than half – of them had been born outside the Shire and nearly half gave, as their address on enlistment, a location outside the Shire.

Occupation
Obviously the high incidence of movement is tied inextricably to occupation. By far the largest single group (44) is that where the men had simply described themselves as either ‘ labourer’ or ‘farm labourer’. When you add those who described themselves as – stockman, station hand, horse driver, gardener, butter maker, sawyer, horse breaker, jackeroo …. – and those working on the railways, in retail as grocer’s assistant , and the fishermen, the group is solidly rural working class. Within this description of rural working class, there are some in semi and skilled trades – plumber, carpenter, fitter & turner, telegraph operator, engine driver, motor mechanic, coach builder, painter, blacksmith, brick layer etc. There are also some from clerical positions. However, with the exception of a group of teachers (5) and one mechanical engineer, the number of professionals and higher level administrative and managerial representatives is very limited.

The other distinctive occupational group takes in the sons from family farms. Doubtless these 18 cases would have been well known in the district. These were the sons of farming families that had established themselves in the local community over the preceding 40+ years. The loss of the son’s labour and support for the family farm would have been significant. It would not have been an easy decision for the family to support the enlistment; but presumably patriotic duty overrode the significant cost to the family. Even with this group there are anomalies. For example, the 2 Scott siblings (106-107) came from a family farm background, yet the details of their individual enlistments suggest that the link with the family farm had been severed by the time they enlisted.

The number of cases involving farmers per se – they owned and were working their own farm – was very small and in fact when you look at their ages it is likely that only about half of the 8 cases identified in the table were such farmers. There was very little possibility that a farmer would – or even could – simply leave the farm and enlist.

Overall, at this point of the War, it is apparent that the burden of enlistment fell squarely on the rural working class, whose employment was often itinerant and casual, and a small group of young men – typically they were late teens or early twenties – coming from family farms in the Shire.

Age
The following table gives a breakdown of ages. The number of ‘minors’ – those between 18 and 21 required written permission of their parents – is high. When this group is added to those to the age of 25 it is evident that this particular cohort was very youthful. The oldest volunteer at forty-one – twice the age of 53 of his fellow recruits – was William Henry Wheildon a miner from Yarram. He had already served in South Africa and in WW1 he served in the Naval and Military Forces in New Guinea.

Ages of volunteers to the end of 1914
ages                       %
18-20        33       24.6
21-25        65       48.5
26-30        22       16.5
31-35        11         8.2
36+             3          2.2
total        134      100

Marital status
At the time the expectation was that only single men would enlist and this is evident in this particular cohort, where only 6 of the 134 men were married.

Overall
In the first few months of the War to the end of 1914, it was the young, single rural workers who could best answer the call to enlist, not the farming families who were, literally, tied to the land. The exception was a group of about 20 young men from local farming families.

References

Embarkation Roll

 

 

19. British immigrant farm workers prior to WW1

When WW1 broke out, there was a large group of single, young men working in the Shire of Alberton who had only recently immigrated from the UK. As a general rule, they were working as farm labourers and they were among the first to enlist. The story behind this group throws additional light on the way migration policy was employed at the time.

An earlier post – The Defence of the Nation: The White Australia Policy looked at how migration policy was used to protect the purity of the English race in Australia. Indeed, it was commonly believed, across all political points of view, that Australia offered the last and best chance for the full flowering of English – or at least White – civilisation. In this post the focus is more on the industrial agenda driving the same policy.

As the labour movement began to take on more formal and institutional power, at first in the separate colonies and then, post Federation, at both the State and Commonwealth levels, its political wing used migration policy to protect the perceived interests of its constituents. The policy was used to ensure that local jobs were not lost to immigrants and that immigration could not be used to force down wages or compromise hard-won conditions. In this context, the gravest threat was seen as coming from any unregulated and large-scale immigration of cheap “Asiatic” labour. White Australia and white Australian workers had to be protected from cheap Asian – and other non-White – labour. While this line was generally accepted across the political spectrum, the ALP went somewhat further, in the sense that it saw potential threats coming from even White immigrants workers. The ALP’s position was thrown into sharp relief by the so called ’Six Hatters’ affair of 1903.

The background to this affair was that when the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 was drawn up, the ALP insisted on the inclusion of a clause (g), under prohibited immigrants S.3, which identified as a class of people to be prohibited – any persons under a contract or agreement to perform manual labour within the Commonwealth. At the time, the assumption was that this was just another provision, amongst many others, to prevent the immigration of cheap, non White labour. However what happened with the Six Hatters affair was that the provision was used to stop the immigration of six British workers.

The episode was highlighted in The Argus of 12 December 1903 (p.17) under the outraged headlines: The “Six Hatters” Scandal. Britishers Blocked At The Wharf. Socialism Run Mad. According to The Argus, the 6 British workers had come to Australia on the RMS Orontes under contract to work in Messrs. Charles and Anderson’s new hat factory in Sydney, at union rates. However, they first disembarked at Melbourne where they were in fact welcomed by members of the local union who showed them round the city and entertained them generously. At this point the British workers gave a copy of their agreement to the local unionists, and it was this contract that triggered the application of clause (g) of the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act. As The Argus told its readers:

The men returned to the steamer. When they reached Sydney they were refused a landing on the evidence of the document [the contract of work], because those whom they had trusted had induced the Ministry to set the Immigration Restriction Act in motion to accomplish something it was never intended to be used for. When Ministers were condemned on all hands for their unpardonable yielding to Labour political pressure, the Prime Minister suddenly discovered that Messrs. Charles and Anderson had to show cause why the men should be exempted from the act before they could be admitted. He began an inquiry, and found that he had no option to allow the men to land.

While the British workers did enter Australia and take up the work – much was made of the claim that it was outrageous to discriminate against British subjects in such a way, and that being ‘British’ carried the same rights across the entire Empire – the episode certainly demonstrated how the labour movement in Australia saw migration policy as a tool to serve the industrial interests of Australian workers. Moreover, when clause (g) of the 1901 act was in time replaced by the Contract Immigrants Act of 1905 the new legislation still placed heavy requirements on any employer seeking to recruit immigrant workers. For example, equivalent labour had to be unavailable in Australia; contracts had to be in writing; and award wages had to be paid. But this new legislation did at least make it clear that British workers could not be denied entry to Australia. Under the new law, the Minster would approve any such contract (to perform manual labour) only if, in his opinion: 5. (2) (b) there is difficulty in the employer’s obtaining within the Commonwealth a worker of at least equal skill and ability (but this paragraph does not apply where the contract immigrant is a British subject either born in the United Kingdom or descended from a British subject there born)

The Australian population did not reach 4 million until 1904; and against the labour movement’s determination to employ migration policy to protect workers’ interests, there was a growing push after Federation to promote the immigration of British people. In large part, this was to strengthen the White Australia Policy. It was commonly accepted, by all parties, that White Australia could not be guaranteed – nor even protected or defended – if the population did not increase. The fear of not being able to hold onto an underpopulated and unprotected White Australia against the ‘teeming masses’ of Asia was a political constant, particularly as one Asian nation – Japan – had emerged as a genuine major power with formidable military and naval assets. WW1 would only strengthen the paranoia surrounding the White Australia Policy. Fear of Asian immigration would surface in the ranks of the AIF during the conscription debates of 1916 and 1917. The claim would be that the white working class of Australia was being so decimated that Asian immigration would be required to make up the labour shortfall. After the War, PM Hughes, when he returned to Australia from the Treaty of Versailles, where he had been instrumental in striking out claims of racial equality, boasted openly of his success in maintaining the White Australia Policy in the face of international opposition, and was applauded widely by the Australian press. Overall, throughout at least the first half of the 20C, Australia, as a nation of untold potential but limited population, had to be defended as both a far-removed but integral part of the Empire and as a unique society where the White (British) race could aspire to some kind of higher order, characterised in large part by the industrial and political rewards made possible for the working man. Hence the push for the immigration of British stock.

In the years between 1906 and 1914, 150,000 British assisted immigrants reached Australia, with the key period being 1910-1913. Over this time the individual States established Agents-General in the UK and promoted various assisted-migration schemes. The primary targets for such schemes were agricultural settlers and farm workers. The Commonwealth was increasingly forced to subsidise such individual programs and, of course, it used its legislative powers to maintain the racial integrity of the overall immigration process and protect the pay and working conditions of Australians.

The focus on farm labourers was widely accepted. British lads and men were encouraged and supported to come as immigrants and take up work in rural districts. Rural Australia was seen as the natural and uncontested focus for immigration. For a start, there were not likely to be industrial obstacles. Small scale selections and the practice of family farming meant that the workforce was not heavily unionised; and there was little prospect of a unionised workforce developing, particularly outside regional centres. Moreover, even though the mechanisation of agricultural production was speeding up there was still high demand for casual rural labour. Also, it was hard to hold onto such labour – pay and conditions were weak and the nature of the work cycle and, even more importantly the work environment, meant that it was difficult to support family life – so the prospect of a regular injection of young, single immigrant rural workers was an essential reassurance. Sitting behind such practicalities were the more ideological beliefs of how the vast interior of Australia had to be ‘opened up’ to the economic benefits of primary industry and how the nation’s very future depended on attracting an ever increasing number of rural settlers. Canada was cited constantly as the most relevant example of what had to be done and the benefits – particularly vastly increased agricultural production and dramatic population growth – that would inevitably flow. Besides, country life was believed to be of a higher order. The vices, unemployment, poverty and temptations of the city, whether here in Australia or back in Britain, gave way to a more natural, wholesome, community-minded and more character-building life, one which was held to be particularly valuable for young, unaccompanied British lads.

Idealised views of the British immigrant and what migration could achieve were tempered by some realities. It was difficult to attract immigrants to Australia. Canada was a far more desirable destination. The States were in competition with each other for a limited resource. It could prove very difficult to keep the immigrant work force in the rural districts after they reached Australia. This was hardly surprising if the young lads came from large British cities – with no experience in farming – and found themselves working on a small family selection, miles from the nearest country town, which was itself only small and also hundreds of miles from a city like Melbourne or some other large regional centre. Not surprisingly, one of the constant criticisms of the migration system was that it did not attract the “right kind” of immigrant. Essentially, this was code for those who were not prepared to live and work out in the rural districts. There were many laments in the media of the day. For example, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative of 9 January 1914 (p.4) featured in its Melbourne Letter from a Special Correspondent, a rather negative assessment of the outcomes from migration:

What is wrong with the immigration work. It is certain that it is not what it should be. It does not seem to be possible to get adequate results from any of these State enterprises, and in this instance the fact the good results are not being obtained is more serious than in some others, because this is work that can be handled in no other way than by the State. Moreover, it is vitally important that it should be carried out. The need for population is generally acknowledged. There has been much money spent in the efforts to fill that requirement, and a fair number of people have been brought from the old country. But it is useless to delude ourselves by laying the flattering unction to our souls that the majority have been the right kind. They have not. And, in addition to that, there is the evidence of figures to show that during the past year
[1913] there has been a decline in the numbers as well as in the class of immigrants.

According to this article, the number of “new arrivals” for Victoria over 1911-1913 were as follows: 1911 – 6,770; 1912 – 14,106; 1913 – 12,112. The article also noted that to ship the total group of immigrants who arrived in Victoria in 1913 – just over 12,000 people – some 125 vessels had had to be chartered. The large number of vessels and the obvious logistics involved give some idea of the challenges at the time in managing a large-scale immigration policy. Organising migration to Canada was more straightforward.

This is the background to the large number of young, single, British-born agricultural labourers who enlisted in the AIF from the Shire of Alberton at the outbreak of WW1. The origins of this group can be traced through the pages of the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative over 1914, accepting that some of them would have arrived as early as 1911, and possibly even earlier.

In the edition of 10 April (p.2) the editorial referred in detail to the migration program, highlighting its value:

Two large parties of lads, numbering altogether about 400, are expected to reach Melbourne during this month from Great Britain. They are coming out specially to engage in farm work, and though many of them are without previous experience in work of this kind, they are very willing and anxious to improve their position and prospects. The lads vary in age from 16 to 20 years, and their services are available at from 10s per week and keep. The Immigration Bureau is desirous of placing them immediately upon arrival on farms where they will have opportunities of gaining good experience and receive fair treatment… A considerable number of similar lads have already arrived in the State, and they have on the whole given very satisfactory service, a great many excellent reports having been received from farmers who have engaged them.

In the edition of 15 May (p.2) advice was given that another party of 500 lads was to arrive in Melbourne on the SS Indrapura on 27 May. Again local farmers were encouraged to contact the Immigration and Labor Bureau.

The edition of 5 June (p.2) reported on the next contingent of lads arriving from Great Britain for farm work. This time there was no indication of the number, but the conditions were the same.

The edition of 15 July (p.2) noted that another 380 British lads for farm work, station work, or other country employment were due to reach Melbourne on 25 July on the S S Hawkes Bay. The lack of any background in farming was still not seen as a problem: … although, generally speaking, they are without rural experience, they readily adapt themselves to country work and rapidly become good helpers, having come out specially to be employed in the country districts.

The edition of 22 July (p.2) advised of another group of potential farm workers, although this time they were described as two hundred men, some of whom were married.

Even after the War started, there were groups of immigrant workers from the UK on the high seas heading for Australia. In the edition of 20 September (p.2) it was reported that the steamer Themosticles would arrive in Melbourne in early October with a party of 70 lads whom it is desired to place in employment in country districts as soon as possible. The editorial also noted that whereas drought conditions in the north of the State had depressed the need for farm labour, the situation in Gippsland was far more buoyant:

With the dairying season in operation under propitious conditions in the western district and in Gippsland, it is expected that evidence of a considerable demand for labor of this description will be forthcoming.

The last advice of a group of potential farm workers came in the edition of 13 November (p.2). On this occasion it was a group of 60 men and 108 lads. The men were experienced in farm work and a few of them were immigrating with their wives as married couples. And in the edition of 18 November (p.3) there was a report of a special appeal by Rev. W Thompson, on behalf of the same group of immigrants. A Presbyterian minister, his title was given as Immigration Representative of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria. He was in Yarram when he made his special appeal:

Rev W Thompson put in a plea for the employment of of 108 lads and 60 men (some married couples) to arrive in Melbourne on 28 inst. He looked to the farmers in Gippsland to do what they could in the direction of finding work for those who booked and paid for their passage to Victoria before the war broke out. He appealed to Presbyterians in particular, but no matter what denomination, Protestant or Catholic, he was prepared to personally select those he considered most suitable for positions offering. He considered it a duty in these times of stress to help those less favorably situated. In other words, to stretch a point in order to find employment for those who have crossed the big waters in the hope of bettering themselves.

In addition to all the advice written in the editorial section of the local paper, there was also a series of related advertisements, prepared and lodged by the (Victorian) Immigration and Labor Bureau, which appeared in the classified ads section of the paper. Obviously, the scheme to bring out lads to work as farm labourers was not restricted to Gippsland but applied across all the rural districts of Victoria. The same advertisements and editorial attention were repeated in other rural locations.

The lads and young men from the UK who came to the Shire of Alberton in the period immediately prior to WW1 to work as farm labourers came as a cheap labour source for the non-unionised farming sector. They also came to strengthen the integrity of White Australia. When the War came, they enlisted in large numbers. There was no doubt a popular conception in the local community that they should be the first to enlist. It was, after all, their home land that was under direct threat. They had a duty to return to fight for Britain. Moreover, there were very few obstacles to prevent them from enlisting. The normal regulations covering parental approval for those under age did not apply. It is also worth repeating that many of these young people had grown up in the major cities of Britain. They had not come from a rural or farming background. As unaccompanied minors, they had travelled to the other end on the world and eventually found themselves working in isolated, both socially and geographically, rural settings. Lastly, the pay of 6/- per day in the AIF was considerably better than the 10/- per week they were supposed to receive as immigrant workers.

References

For a general overview of migration policy and practice in Australia in the early 20C see the National Archives of Australia research guide:
More People Imperative: Immigration to Australia, 1901-39

For a background the fear of Japan see National Library of Australia, Occasional Papers Series , Number 1:
Fears & Phobias: E. L. Piesse And The Problem Of Japan 1909-39

Immigration Restriction. An Act to place certain restrictions on Immigration and to provide for the removal from the Commonwealth of prohibited Immigrants. No. 17 of 1901. Commonwealth of Australia.

Contract Immigrants. An Act relating to Immigrants under Contract to perform Manual Labour in the Commonwealth. No. 19 of 1905. Commonwealth of Australia.

The Argus

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative