Category Archives: The rural working class

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