Category Archives: The War to the end of 1914

23. Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

The last post examined a set of characteristics in relation to the men who enlisted from the Shire of Alberton prior to the end of 1914. This post concludes the overview of the men.

As noted in the two previous posts there were 134 men who enlisted in this group. However, the situation is more complicated than this because even though 134 men formally enlisted in the AIF prior to the end of 1914, not all of them were still serving up to the end of 1914. In fact, 15 (11%) of them were discharged before the end of 1914. The notes in the table below show that in most cases the men were discharged as ‘medically unfit’. The notes also show that most of those discharged at this point – prior to the end of 1914 – did eventually enlist. Individual enlistment papers indicate that when men fronted again to enlist they often did not indicate that they had already been discharged as medically unfit. There were also cases where an alias was used for the re-enlistment.

For the purposes of this post, the full complement of men who enlisted prior to the end of 1914 – the 134 of them – is used in relation to the single characteristic of religion, but the lesser cohort of 129 is referenced when looking at individual service histories. The service histories of the 15 men who were discharged to the end of 1914, but who then re-enlisted some time later, will be picked up in the relevant future cohort.

Religion

The relevant data from the Commonwealth Census of 1911, taken from Table 38. Male Population Of The Counties Of Victoria At the Census of 3rd April, 1911 Classified according to Religion (Exclusive of Full-blooded Aboriginals). for the county of Buln Buln, Victoria  has been matched against that of the cohort of the 134 enlisted men.

From the Commonwealth Census 1911:

Church of England          8,306         39%
Presbyterian                    4,897         23%
Methodist                         2,665        12.5%
Baptist                                  274
Congregationalist                 93
Lutheran                              192
Church of Christ                 114
Salvation Army                     78
7 Day Adventist                    17
Unitarian                                 9
Prot. (Undefined)               359
Roman Catholic               4,044          19%
Greek Catholic                         2
Cath. (Undefined)               176
Other [Christian]                 123
Total                                 21,349

From the individual enlistment papers of the 134 men:

Church of England                77       58.5%
Presbyterian                          20       15.5%
Methodist                              14       10.75%
Roman Catholic                    17       13%
Other Protestant                    3         2.25%
no record                                 3        –
Total                                     134

On the basis that the group of enlistees is a small sample, and accepting that the designation of ‘Church of England’ could have been used as a generic description for ‘Protestant’, there is little to suggest that, at this point in the War, the religious profile of those enlisting was markedly different from that of the wider community. At the same time, the over-representation of those identifying as Church of England and the under-representation of Presbyterian could be significant and warrant closer attention over time. However, as suggested, it might reflect not much more than the use of Church of England as a generic identifier for Protestant (as opposed to Roman Catholic). As the research progresses and the number of enlisted men becomes greater it will also be instructive to match the 2 characteristics of religion and occupation.

Units

The unit that appears against each man is taken for the Embarkation Roll. It is possible that there were changes after this point, particularly given the re-organisation of the AIF battalions after Gallipoli. It is also possible that there were changes between when the men first signed on and when they left Australia.

Most of the group embarked from Australia in an infantry battalion, with the most common ones being the Victorian 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and the Melbourne-based 14th. Approximately one-third of the men left in the Light Horse, with the most common regiments the Victorian 4th and 8th, and the 9th, which was a combined Victorian-South Australian unit.

Service history

As indicated, this section looks at the service records of the 119 men who had enlisted up to the end of 1914 and then served in the AIF from the time of their 1914 enlistment to the point when either they died on active service or they were formally discharged from service.

Given that they were the first to sign on and that they did so on an open-ended basis – ‘until the end of the War, and a further period of four months thereafter…’ – this first group were committing themselves from the very beginning of the AIF’s war to its very end; and, not surprisingly, there was a simple logic that generally held that the earlier a person enlisted, the greater the risk they faced.

The men faced a limited range of outcomes. Certainly one was that they would die on active service. They could be killed in action (kia), die of wounds (dow) or die of illness/injury (doi). In fact, 35 of the 119 men (29.5%) met this fate. This group faced roughly a 1 in 3 chance of either being killed or dying on active service.

Another outcome involved being wounded and then repatriated to Australia for discharge as ‘medically unfit’. Most commonly the wounds were either gunshot wounds (gsw) or shrapnel wounds (sw). Another common example, but later in the War, was ‘gassed’. Usually, the soldier experienced extended hospitalisation, commonly in the UK, and then repatriation to Australia. They generally carried some level of disability for an extended period, if not the rest of their lives. Some men were also discharged as medically unfit after being hospitalised with major illness or disease or even injury. The group of men discharged on the basis of being medically unfit numbered 33 or 38% of the cohort.

The figures are grim. An earlier post described the jubilant send-off for the men at the Alberton Station on 21 September 1914. With the benefit of historical hindsight the men that day should have had some basic maths put to them: they stood a 1 in 3 chance of being killed; or a 1 in 2 chance of either being killed or coming back wounded – or suffering from some major disease/illness – to live with a disability of some kind, most probably for the rest of their lives. Moreover, they might have been as young as their early twenties when they started on this path.

In fact, the men’s prospects were even worse than this because, as the table below shows, there were many cases where men were wounded but not then discharged as medically unfit. 48 individual men were wounded – some were wounded more than once – but only 33 men were discharged as medically unfit. Notice also that some of those killed later in the War, had already been wounded in earlier battles. Also, some 69 men were hospitalised at least once with some illness or disease – pneumonia, dysentery, VD, enteric fever, trench fever, malaria, neurasthenia, pleurisy, shell shock… – but clearly not all of these men were medically discharged. In short, the levels of deaths and medical discharges do not reveal the true extent of casualties. Of those still alive at the end of the War, there is only one man in the table below – William Henry Wheildon – who managed to last the entire duration of the War without being wounded or hospitalised with a disease or sickness or injury of some kind. He served in the Naval & Military Forces and was discharged in late 1918. Ironically, he died of influenza within one year of being discharged.

For those men who managed to make it through without being killed or discharged as medically unfit, there were two possible end-points to their military service. On 17 September 1918, PM Hughes announced that the 1914 veterans were to be brought back to Australia on special leave or furlough – commonly it became referred to as ‘Anzac Leave’ – in time for Christmas. The plan was that after 3 months leave in Australia they would return to the Western Front in time for the planned Spring offensive of 1919. At the time it was estimated that 7,000 men remained of the original 1914 enlistments. The plan caused consternation with the military command on the Western Front, as it was already grappling with the very much reduced size of the AIF, but in Australia the plan was popular. Effectively, this group of men had already been away for four years. In the table below there are 22 cases where men were returned under this provision. The earliest – Sydney George Collis – returned home in early October 1918 and the latest case involved John Comber Robertson who did not make it back until mid February 1919. Most of the men reached Australia in December 1918, with the War then over. Ironically, 3 men on the table either died or were killed round the time the leave was announced: James Singleton was killed in action of 9 August 1918; Terence Charles McCarthy was killed in action on 19 September 1918, 2 days after the plan was announced; and William Donovan Glanfield died of illness on 15 October 1918.

More men (26) simply served out their time and were returned to Australia and discharged through 1919 and even in to 1920. The discharge for these men commonly read as TPE: Termination of Period of Enlistment. It was up to a full year after the completion of the War – and 5 years of service – before many of these man finally made it home.

There were a few cases involving variations on the above patterns. 3 of the group were discharged in the UK in 1919. They were men who had immigrated to Australia in the period before the War: Thomas Courtney Sullivan (born London); Alfred Hartfield (born Sussex); and Thomas James Paterson (born Glasgow). Another of the men (Jack Garland) served from 1913 in the Royal Australian Navy and there is no record of his discharge available .

Finally, there are 2 cases that stand out because it appears that in both cases the individual concerned effectively discharged himself. It appears that Reginald Henwood who was wounded at Gallipoli in May 1915, hospitalised in the UK before being sent back to Egypt and then repatriated to Australia in September 1915, went missing without leave – ‘illegally absent’ – from 23/12/15. Eventually, in July 1920 he was formally discharged to close the book on him. However, it can be difficult interpreting what exactly happened when you rely on formal records like those in the personal files of the men who served in the AIF; and it is virtually impossible to use the same records to interpret motivation. For example, Reginald Henwood was actually reported in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative , 28 April 1916 – as attending a ceremony in Yarram on 26 April 1916 at which he was presented with the Shire Medallion. This was when, according to his service record, he was illegally absent and had been so for nearly 4 months. The newspaper report said that he had been wounded at ‘Lonesome Pine’ – Henwood had been wounded on 3/5/15, well before Lone Pine (6-9/8/15) – and had lost an eye, but the official record simply records ‘gsw upper extremities’ and it is not credible that such a serious injury would not be recorded. Henwood’s version of events, as reported in the local paper,  does not appear to line up with the official records.  Ironically, the very same article that praised the service of Private Henwood warned about bogus soldiers: A man came to Yarram recently, wearing some uniform, and was treated as a returned soldier, yet he had never so much as enlisted. At the same time, it seems remarkable that someone in Henwood’s circumstances would run the risk of appearing at a formal ceremony to receive awards and be feted as the returning hero. Then again, perhaps Henwood did see himself as the returned hero: he had volunteered, faced battle, been wounded and repatriated to Australia and so, as far as he was concerned, his war was over. Perhaps there was another R Henwood and identities have been confused. Incredibly, there was in fact another R (Rupert) Henwood – enlisted in Melbourne 25/8/14 – who was repatriated to Australia in 1915; but he returned to Australia on 15/4/15 and was discharged on 27/4/15. Consequently he could not have even been involved in the Gallipoli campaign.

The second case to do with someone who was illegally absent involved Edgar Charles Turnbull. Again, there are all the cautions about interpreting AIF records but the following appears to have been what transpired and, on face value, it is a rather distressing story. In Egypt in February 1915 he came down with pneumonia and was hospitalised in the UK. Other illnesses including sciatica and rheumatism were diagnosed and there was a recommendation that he be repatriated to Australia and discharged on medical grounds. On 30/8/15, his treating medical officer explicitly recommended: ‘Discharge to Australia as permanently unfit for active service’. At the same time, the medical board found that his capacity for ‘earning a full livelihood in the general labour market’ had been halved. However, the final recommendation of the medical board was that he not be discharged as permanently unfit but merely ‘changed to Australia’. Consequently, he was returned to Australia on 9/11/15, but he was not discharged. He subsequently took matters into his own hands and was illegally absent from 12/4/16. He was posted as a ‘deserter’ on 13/7/16. A warrant for his arrest was issued. Then much later, in 1933, he contacted the Army requesting a formal discharge. He was required to sign before a JP a ‘confession of desertion’ which he did on 22 July 1933. It was made clear to him that he had no right to wear medals and that he could not be issued with a Returned Soldier’s Badge. He then received his discharge papers which recorded that he had deserted. He tried to have the reference to desertion removed from his discharge papers and on at least 2 occasions argued that at the time he went AWL he was very sick. He claimed that he had been ‘sent back [to Australia] medically unfit’. He also claimed that he had been told he was ‘not wanted’. In a letter (24/7/37) he wrote: ‘I did not wrong intentionally (sic) and ever since have worked hard and been an honest and sober citizen’. He was having difficulty gaining work and his discharge papers with the reference to desertion were hardly of any use. A few years later his family saw the discharge papers and found out about his desertion. At that point he said he was cut off  from his wife and family. The last correspondence in the file covers desperate pleas for some kind of pardon.

The whole issue of desertion and the related practices of taking unauthorised leave – very common in the AIF – and challenging army authority – certainly not uncommon in the AIF – will be examined in later posts and set within the context of the AIF as a volunteer army.

Overall

These last few posts have looked at the group of men who enlisted in the AIF to the end of 1914. At the time there was unbridled enthusiasm for the War and the call to patriotic duty was overpowering.

The cohort from the Shire of Alberton was young – those between 18 and 25 made up nearly 75% of the entire group – single, and drawn predominately from the rural working class. The mobility of this group was a striking feature. There was a relatively small group of sons from local farming families.

Medical screening at the time was high and a large number of recruits were discharged as medically unfit in the first weeks of their enlistment. Most of those rejected at this point did subsequently re-enlist, presumably as medical standards were lowered.

While much was made at the time of the creation of a special light horse unit from South Gippsland, most of the men enlisted in the new infantry battalions of the AIF.

It will be instructive to compare the casualty rates of this first group of volunteers with subsequent ones, but it is strikingly clear that the odds of enlisting in 1914 and surviving – alive, unwounded and in good health – to the end of the War were particularly poor.

References

The Australian War Memorial

Embarkation Roll

Unit History: WW1

Australian Bureau of Statistics

Census of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1911

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

 

 

21. Enlistments to the end of 1914: identifying the ‘locals’

Earlier posts (11, 12, 13, 14) initiated discussion on the issue of ‘local’ and identified men from the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in the period immediately after the start of WW1. In mid September 1914 there were a large number of men who enlisted in Yarram – most on the same day, 16 September – and who were then farewelled, as a group, from the Shire. Even before this, many individuals had made their own way to Melbourne – or some other recruiting centre – to enlist. However, these earlier posts have only covered enlistments to the end of September 1914. This particular post looks at all the enlistments (134) from August to the end of December 1914, employing the end of the year as a kind of historical marker. As the blog progresses over the next few years, the same methodology used in this post – probably employing intervals of six months – will reveal the complete picture of all the local men who enlisted over the course of the War.

The focus of the post is the methodology used to identify the men who are being described as the ‘locals’ from the Shire of Alberton who joined the AIF. The next post will look at the characteristics of the group of men identified.

From the start (June 2014) I have emphasised the ongoing nature of the historical research that underpins this blog and this post offers another opportunity to emphasise this key feature. It will become obvious that there are gaps and inconsistencies in the historical records that are being used. Work continues in the background to resolve these tensions, at least to the extent that it is possible when dealing with records that were created 100 years ago, within systems and for purposes which were specific to the time. There is also the possibility/likelihood that additional resources and pieces of information – for example, from family history research – will become available which can be considered in the research. At the same time, because the research is being presented via a blog there is the continuing opportunity to both extend and fine tune it. As additional evidence becomes available – including evidence that comes in response to the blog itself – the relevant information, including corrections, can be incorporated. This makes the blog, as a tool in historical research, a powerful option.

Local identity

In terms of this research, the two classic dimensions to the notion of local identity – place and time – interact in complex and dynamic ways. As stated in earlier posts, the Shire of Alberton was effectively the first local government area to be created in Gippsland; but over the years its initial expansive boundaries were progressively scaled back as other local government areas were created. These boundaries were still being redrawn within the timeframe of WW1. For example, the north-east boundary was redrawn as late as 1914 when the town of Willung passed to Rosedale Shire. Not much earlier (1902 and 1908), the boundary with the Shire of South Gippsland had been adjusted and the township of Hedley and the large area of Woorarra were excised from the Shire. One effect of these changing boundaries was that the physical description of the Shire’s boundaries did not always accurately reflect how people viewed either their own local identity or the local identity of others. The socially fluid nature of the Shire’s borders was very evident over WW1 in the reporting by the local press, where the details and experiences of soldiers in neighbouring shires were routinely presented. The research also shows that there was considerable movement between all the local Gippsland shires. Thus someone born in a town or settlement in the Shire of Alberton could, 20 years later, have been working and living in a neighbouring shire, while their parents and siblings continued to reside in the Shire of Alberton. Moreover, the movement from the Shire was sometimes much further than the immediate neighbourhood of Gippsland, and some young men who enlisted did so in Queensland, NSW and WA . Yet in many cases these interstate volunteers were still considered to be local. Then there were those who came into the Shire only a few years before the War started. Earlier posts have looked at the young, immigrant workers from the UK. These young men had not been born in the Shire and they had only been living and working there for a comparatively short time. Equally, there were many Australian-born itinerant rural workers who enlisted in Yarram but who had had only a short-term connection to the district. Both groups of workers were critical to the social and economic dynamics of the local community. There is also the issue of retrospectivity. As the War progressed – and as early as 1916 – there were men who had enlisted elsewhere, served overseas and then been discharged from the AIF, who settled in the Shire of Alberton. There were also some men who after their AIF service married a ‘local girl’ and moved into the district. More importantly, the Shire was a major locus for soldier settlement at the end of the War and this government initiative brought in many ex-service men who, prior to the War, had had no contact with the Shire. Many of these ‘post-service locals’ went on to play very significant roles in shaping the narrative of WW1 and local institutions such as the RSL; but they had had no association whatsoever with the Shire before they completed their service in the AIF.

As a general observation, to define ‘local’ it is necessary to work within two essential tensions: if the parameters to identify the men are set two wide, the focus on the Shire of Alberton as a separate and distinct community will be lost; and if the parameters are set too closely, the full and complex dynamic of the particular community will be lost.

Against this background, the key challenge for this research has been to come up with a methodology that can be applied now and at future defined points – as indicated, intervals of 6 months through to the end of 1918 – to identify all the men, clearly linked to the Shire of Alberton, who enlisted in the AIF over the course of WW1. There has also been a conscious intention to capture those men who, principally because of the nature of their work, tended to pass unnoticed in the community.

The basic methodology has been to employ the available range of relevant historical records that were created at the time. Each of these records is described in some detail below and, progressively, each record set will be added to the blog via individual posts. They will be added under the Resources tab and, at the time, there will be a detailed analysis of their creation, accuracy and significance.

There is one key qualifications to the methodology: the local connection must have been evident before, or at the time of, enlistment.

Also, as pointed out in an earlier post (12), there were several men who, according to newspaper reports of the time, had enlisted and were farewelled from Alberton on 21 September 1914 but who, given that there is no record of any AIF service for them, could not in fact have joined the AIF. All those who appear in the table below can be linked to their individual AIF service records, even if, as in some cases, their service was very short.

The Shire of Alberton Honor Roll
The Honor Roll was drawn up by the Shire Secretary (G W Black) after the War in 1920. It features the names of 447 men identified as local and additionally records the number (62) of those killed on active service. While this is the key record source it does not represent the complete picture of all the local men who enlisted. In the table below there are many examples of local men whose names do not appear on the Shire Honor Roll.

The list of railway warrants issued by the Shire Secretary

Over the entire course of WW1, the Shire Secretary maintained a list of all the railway warrants that he issued to men who had already enlisted in Yarram or who had formally commenced the enlistment process in Yarram. The passes were to provide free train travel to Melbourne to report for service, most commonly at Broadmeadows. The railway warrants were issued right through to late 1918. There were 474 warrants issued.

The list of men medically examined to the end of 1914

Early in 1915, the Shire Secretary was required to draw up a list of all those men (88 ) who had been medically examined, to the end of 1914, by the local doctors, in Yarram, as part of the enlistment process. This list provides another means of identifying men from the Shire who enlisted in this period. Most commonly, men who were given railway warrants also appear on this list. Post 1914, no equivalent lists exist, and from this point the actual significance of any local medical examination was significantly downgraded. In fact, in 1915 the local doctors refused to conduct such medical assessments because they considered their professionalism had been called into question by the AIF medical staff. Essentially, the AIF formed the view that country doctors were not rigorous enough – or were not competent – in assessing the medical condition of volunteers.

The Shire of Alberton War Memorial
The Shire of Alberton War Memorial itself was completed in 1921 but the names of those who ‘gave their lives for their country’ were not inscribed until 1930. The number of dead on the War Memorial (79) does not line up with the number of dead indicated on the Honor Roll (62). The inconsistency between two official record sets is surprising.

The table below also shows a difference between the number of the men (32) who died on active service from this first group of 136 locals and the number of them who were included on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial (17). This discrepancy relates primarily to the inclusion of those men featured on the honor rolls from the local schools and is discussed in the next section.

The honor rolls of various state schools in the Shire of Alberton
Within eighteen months of the War starting, the local state schools in the Shire of Alberton began to create honor rolls on which they inscribed the names of all their past students who had enlisted. They added to the honor rolls as the War progressed, marking in those who paid the ’supreme sacrifice’. By including their names on these honor rolls, the schools were obviously ascribing a sense of ‘local’ to all of their former scholars who had enlisted. The fact that an individual young person might have moved out of the Shire by the time he enlisted was not an issue. He was still celebrated as a former student of the school and the local area. Given the young ages of many who enlisted, the interval between finishing school and enlisting could be as short as only 5 or 6 years. In rural districts, the local state school was one of the most significant institutions – if not the most significant – in the community; and the significance attached to its honor roll was considerable. This was reflected in newspaper accounts of the various ‘unveiling’ ceremonies held at the schools. It was common for individual students to appear on more than one school honor roll. All the names that featured on these school honor rolls were considered by the community either to be locals or to have been locals, and the latter were still held in the collective memory and esteem of the community.  However, when the Shire Honor Roll was created the former students who had apparently moved out of the Shire were discounted. They were also discounted in terms of the War Memorial itself; and their missing names explain, in most part at least, the discrepancy in the number of dead referred to above. In this research, the former students have been included as locals, principally to recognise the intentions of those who created the school honor rolls in the first place. Their inclusion also enables additional historical analysis on critical issues such as family mobility and dispersal and the movement of labour in rural settings. The inclusion also helps keep a strong focus on the critical role played by the local state schools throughout the War.

Not all the school honor rolls from the Shire have been located and a small number may have been lost for good. If additional school honor rolls become available their information will be incorporated in the blog.

Community honor rolls in the Shire of Alberton
Many community associations and services in the Shire also created and maintained honor rolls throughout the War. As a general observation, these rolls featured men whose involvement in the association or service was current right up to the time they enlisted. The community honor rolls that have been used to this point are: the local community honor rolls from Blackwarry, Carrajung, Stacey’s Bridge and Madalya; the honor rolls of the Methodist Circuit and the Presbyterian Charge; and the honor rolls of the local ANA, the Yarram Club and Lodge 207. Hopefully, more such honor rolls will be located.

Newspaper accounts (Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative)

Where a person, not identified by other historical records, had been written up in the local press as a local of the Shire of Alberton he has also been included in the research group. The qualification here is that the person had to be described as someone linked directly to the Shire of Alberton. Those servicemen who featured in the local paper but who were identified with a neighbouring shire have not been included. At the same time, where men were living just outside current Shire boundaries, and the article(s) clearly represented them as local, they have been included. Importantly, in the table below a newspaper reference has only been made where there is very little – if any – other evidence available. As stated, throughout the War the local newspaper was in fact full of references to locals – and others – in the AIF. However in this exercise the paper has only been used where there is no other, or only limited, evidence at hand.

There was another local paper, in addition to the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, available in the Shire throughout WW1. The paper was the South Gippsland chronicle and Yarram and Alberton advertiser. Unfortunately, the editions of the paper for 1914-1918 are not readily available.

Other documentary evidence
There are instances where some other form of documentary evidence points to a person who enlisted as being local to the Shire of Alberton even though none of the other historical records have identified him. The archives of the Shire of Alberton are one such source of additional documentary evidence. Similarly, people’s family history sources can be helpful in determining a person’s status as a local; and the same material can help clear up cases where there is confusion over the identity of a local. The electoral roll and rate book can be employed in the background as a means of establishing or confirming identity. They are limited in dealing with ‘minors’ but very helpful in building the picture of the local family. For example, they can be used to identify young men enlisting from farming families.

One other potential source of documentary evidence relates to the Shire Medallion. To this point, the only information on the presentation of these medallions comes from the local press. It was routine to feature stories about a special presentation of these medallions to groups of men, either departing or returning to the Shire. In some cases there was a reference to an individual soldier receiving one, or a relative being given it on their behalf. There were also articles on the number of medallions that had been handed out up to a certain point. However, unlike the case with travel warrants, there is as yet no sign of any formal list of the recipients of the medallions. If one is uncovered it will prove a valuable resource and it will be incorporated in the research.

Some observations on the table

The table below has been designed to show, at a glance, the pieces of evidence that link an individual to the Shire. For example, it is easy to see the cases where it is only a report in the local press that ties the individual to the Shire.

Closer inspection will begin to tease out some of the contradictions and inconsistencies. For example, 3 men – Charles William Engbloom, Samuel Edward Gay and Reginald Henwood – were each included, individually, on the honor roll of at least one local school, and for each there is an individual newspaper report that he received the Shire Medallion, yet none of these men was included on the Shire Honor Roll. How was it possible that someone who was presented with the Shire Medallion was not included on the Shire Honor Roll? There is a related but potentially more poignant inconsistency. James Burnett Pickett was killed at Lone Pine (7/8/15). He had been a student at 2 local schools (Yarram and Darriman). His name is on neither the Shire Honor Roll nor the Shire War Memorial, yet newspaper reports make it clear that his death was commemorated at at least two special services held in Yarram and that at one of these the Shire Medallion was presented to one of his relatives.

There are significant inconsistencies between the Shire War Memorial and the Shire Honor Roll. For example, Nathan Wellbourne Hepburn was killed in action on 28/6/1915 and his name appears on the Shire War Memorial but his name is not included on the Shire Honor Roll.

To some extent inconsistencies such as these can be explained in terms of the authorship of the particular record source. This will be considered in more detail when each resource is added to the blog. Briefly, for present purposes, the Shire Secretary was responsible for drawing up the list of names for the Shire Honor Roll; the names for the Shire War Memorial were supplied by the local branch of the RSL (Digger’s Club); and the Shire Medallions were the responsibility of the local recruiting/’farewell and welcome home’ committee. All this points to the need to have as many individual sources of evidence as possible.

20. Map of the Shire of Alberton, 1914

The map below shows the key towns, settlements and parishes of the Shire of Alberton in 1914 layered on a current map of Gippsland. I have been trying for some time to locate relevant maps of the area but they are very difficult to find and many of the Shire’s maps from the time are covered in  working notes and other markings. This arrangement should at least provide an initial idea of where the Shire of Alberton was located, particularly for those readers not familiar with either Gippsland or Victoria.

I have included a few locations (yellow) that were then (1914) in neighbouring shires, but earlier on they had been in the Shire of Alberton.

The attached notes should give an idea of the various phases of land selection beginning in the 1860s. It should also be apparent that the idea of ‘settlement’ (conquering the bush and making productive use of the land), particularly in the Hill Country, still held great significance in the period leading to WW1.

References

The information in the map comes principally from:

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

18. Was it possible, by the end of 1914, to comprehend the reality and scale of industrial war in Europe?

An earlier blog – The Belgian Narrative. Part 1 – gave some idea of military casualties in Europe by the end of 1914. The level, after just a few months of fighting, was on a scale never before experienced. Beaumont (2013 p. 28) gives the Austro-Hungarian casualties (dead, wounded, missing) in Galicia as 420,000. Strachan’s figure (2001 p. 278) for total French casualties through to just 10 September is 385,000. Hochschild (2011 p.117) gives total Russian casualties to the end of September as 310,000. Strachan (p. 278) gives combined German casualties for the first battle of Ypres as 80,000 and his equivalent figure for British losses in the same battle is 54,105. Hochschild (p.126) notes that by the end of 1914 the BEF had suffered 90,000 casualties. Strachan (p. 278) generally agrees with this level and notes that casualties to 30 November of 89,964 actually exceeded the size of the original establishment of the British Expeditionary Force. This is only a snap shot of just the first few months: it does not cover either all theatres of conflict or all battles.

At the time, it did not follow that the true level of casualties was either known or, if known, revealed. There was comprehensive censorship in place both in Britain and in Australia. Further, in the case of Australia there was the vast distance from the reality of Europe. In Britain, on the other hand, the constant flow of wounded men arriving back from France made it difficult to conceal the whole truth. Moreover, as British soldiers became casualties in France the letters back home began to dry up, and with this happening on such a scale it was increasingly clear that an unprecedented catastrophe was unfolding across the English Channel. Australia would not experience the equivalent situation until after the end of April 1915.

Casualty levels were quoted in Australian papers at the time, but the picture given was impressionistic, confused and understated. Reports in The Argus after the Battle of Mons (23/8/14) illustrate the point. On 3 September (p.7) under the headline How We Fought At Mons   Stories From The Front   Told By Returned Men  the British casualty figures appeared at the end of the article. In summary, an official list of British casualties showed that some 165 had been killed, 680 wounded and approx. 4,200 were missing. But, 5 days later, in The Argus on 8 September (p.7) another report gave total British casualties to 1 September as 42 killed, 147 wounded and approx 5,000 missing. Allowing for the discrepancy here in the casualty figures given just 5 days apart in the same publication, the more pertinent point is that a few days after Mons, at the Battle of Le Cateau on 26 August – a date well within the time frame of the 2 sets of casualty figures published in The Argus – British losses in a single day came to 8,500.

Whenever casualty figures were given they were always presented in a narrative intended to lionise the British or Allied troops and denigrate or demonise the opposing side. Copy was written so that casualty figures were filtered through the ideals of Imperial loyalty and national greatness. Heroic sacrifices and casualties could and had to be accepted by the grateful nation. For example, readers of the The Argus on 8 September (p.7) would have read in the same article that gave British casualty levels:

The British have established a personal ascendancy over the Germans, who are conscious that the result is never doubtful if the numbers are even. The British rifle fire has devastated every column in attack, while their superior training and intelligence enable the British to cope with vast numbers.

They would also have been buoyed by the following:

The British Press Bureau reports that 800 sick and wounded British troops are at Netley, in the Isle of Wight. Shrapnel had been responsible for the majority of the wounds. Cases of bullet wounds were few, which gave confirmation to the statement that the German infantry shoot badly. Cases of injury involving the loss of a limb are very uncommon, and the vast majority of the wounded were making good recoveries and would soon be able to rejoin their regiments.

Beyond the highly censored accounts of the fighting, understated casualty levels and the constant stories of bravery, duty and martial skill, newspapers of the time turned to other genres of reporting the War. For example in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 30 September (p.3) under the heading War Information. there appeared an unsourced and apparently random collection of war ‘trivia’. For those interested in the technical wonders of modern armaments there were items such as:

A 12-inch gun will send a projectile through three feet of wrought iron at 5000 yards.
12-inch guns fire a projectile weighing 850lb. whilst a 16.25-inch gun can throw a missile a ton weight 15 miles.
The guns of the H.M.A.S. Australia can pierce the heaviest armor used on any modern warship at a distance of 4 1/2 miles.
Machine guns fire over 1000 shots per minute. The best makers are the Maxim, Gatling, Gardner, Hotchkiss, Nordenfeldt and Krupp.

There were also items touching on military and naval strategy: The British dreadnoughts are of too great a draught to enter the Baltic, the sea being too shallow. This is therefore a safe hiding place for the German fleet.

Other trivia attempted to present some sort of comparison with earlier European wars: After the surrender of Paris in 1871 there were 534,000 French soldiers under arms and 835,000 Germans. The French lost during war 156,000 dead, and 143,000 were wounded or disabled. The Germans lost 28,000 dead, and 101,000 were wounded and disabled. French and German casualties had already exceeded these figures by the time the article appeared, just 2 months into a conflict that would run for another 4 years.

There was also the genre of ‘expert’ comment. Arguably, the most bizarre example of this genre appeared in the Sunday Times (Sydney) on 23 August (p.7). Again, it was unsourced but it was probably taken from a British paper. Under the headline – Modern Battles   Not So Sanguinary As Of Old   Improvement In Weapons, Followed By Decreased Proportion of Losses – the article set to establish that:

With the increase in death-dealing arms – machine guns of frightful rapidity, and so on – one would expect to find modern warfare more deadly than when men fought with swords and battle-axes or with flintlock muskets and pikes.
That, however, is not the case. Modern battles have distinctly shown that while numbers engaged on either side are ever growing larger, the proportion of losses has grown less.

There was even a table showing that over time – beginning with the Battle of Borodino (1812) and running through to the Battle of Shaho (1904) in the Russo-Japanese War – the proportion of those killed, wounded, missing and prisoners to total force engaged was declining. Accordingly, no matter how many were engaged in the conflict then underway in Europe, the rate of casualties could be expected to continue to fall.

Whether the article was written as propaganda or it was just superficial commentary from some ‘military expert’, the claims made in its opening paragraph – claims it was seeking to refute – did describe, accurately and graphically, the scale of the blood-letting to follow:

With millions of combatants facing each other in the present struggle in Europe evidently intending to fight to a finish, the carnage that must ensue cannot fail to be appalling. If, indeed, the same proportion of men were to fall as they used to do in battles of bygone times, half Europe would be absolutely drenched in blood.

However, as naive as such expert analysis could be, historians argue that even military commanders had been conditioned to underestimate the dreadful carnage to come. Hochschild makes the point that prior to the outbreak of conflict in Europe, modern weaponry had been reserved for colonial conflicts. He describes the Battle of Omdurman (Sudan) in 1898, noting the deadly efficiency of the new machine guns. Present at the battle were Winston Churchill – then a 23 year-old correspondent – and Major Douglas Haig who would go on to become commander of the BEF from 1915. According to Hochschild (pp. 18-19), on the day of the battle, some 50,000 Sudanese, twice the number of the British troops opposed to them, attacked on a broad front and were cut down by the latest version of the Maxim machine gun. There were 6 of the new weapons deployed and the particular model fired 500 rounds per minute.

… thanks to the Maxims, in a few hours the British were able to fire an extraordinary 500,000 bullets at the hapless Sudanese.
It was a historic slaughter. When the Battle of Omdurman was over later in the day, some 10,800 Sudanese lay dead on the desert sand beneath a brilliantly clear sky. At least 16,000 more had been wounded, and were either bleeding to death or trying to drag themselves away. The British lost only 48 dead.

Hochschild notes that while the new weapons demonstrated their killing power against poorly armed ‘natives’, military authorities were not inclined to consider what would happen if the same weapon was used by both sides in a European conflict. Indeed, Hochschild notes that the European powers appeared to have reserved the new weapons for exclusive use in Asia and Africa. Both British and German forces had used the new weapon in colonial wars. According to Hochschild (p.19),

This, to Europeans, seemed the machine gun’s logical use: “It is a weapon,” declared the Army and Navy Journal, “which is specially adapted to terrify a barbarous or semi-civilised foe.” No one imagined that either British or German soldiers would ever find themselves in the role of Sudanese Arabs, experiencing their very own Omdurmans in the very heart of Europe.

Elsewhere, Hochschild (p.110) also notes that for the military commanders of WW1 – including Haig, referred to above – their formative experiences in colonial wars had failed to prepare them for the true horror to come:

No one on either side was prepared for the fighting’s deadliness. Like the British, recent German and French experience of war had been of minor colonial conflicts with badly armed Africans and Asians: Erich von Falkenhayn, soon to be chief of the German general staff, had helped to suppress the Boxer Rebellion in China, and Joseph Joffre, the French commander in chief, had led an expedition across the Sahara to conquer Timbuktu. Neither side had spent much time on the receiving end of fire by machine guns or other modern weaponry.

Given the censorship and the news reporting of the time it was hardly surprising that people generally did not see the beginnings of industrial war, where new technology – the machine gun, modern artillery and barbed wire in particular – was to enable mechanised killing on a scale never seen before. Moreover, the people of the Empire carried with them into WW1 the tradition of lightning campaigns, the power and glory of the cavalry charge, the élan of the corps, the experience of limited casualties and the certainty of victory from countless Imperial campaigns.

Remarkably, there was one newspaper article at the time that did accurately foretell what was to come. Even more remarkably, it appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (28 August, p.6). The article was headlined: The Million Unit.  Vastness Of Modern War.  Question Of Endurance.  Can Any Nation Stand It? The article also appeared in a range of regional papers round the same time, for example: The Bathurst Times (20 August p. 4); Gippsland Mercury, Sale (28 August, p.7); Preston Leader (29 August, p.4). Oddly, it does not appear that it ran in the large metro dailies at the time.

The article was written by Adam McCay who worked for the Sydney daily, the Sun. Adam Cairns McCay and his brother, Delamore William McCay, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, were well-known and successful journalists at the time. Both worked at the Sun after its establishment in 1910, and both in fact later served as editor of the paper. Adam McCay would become famous as the literary editor of Smith’s Weekly. However, what was most interesting in relation to the article written by Adam McCay in August 1914 was the fact that the oldest brother in the family was Sir James Whiteside McCay, who, amongst other positions, had been federal politician (1901-5), Minister for Defence (1905) and military censor at the outbreak of the War, and who had just been appointed as Commanding Officer of the 2nd Infantry Brigade of the AIF. At the time, the oldest McCay brother was regarded as one of the best military minds in Australia; although his actual military career through WW1 was dogged by controversy. It is reasonable to argue that the thesis expressed in the article reflected the thinking of, or was at least directly influenced by, the writer’s oldest brother.

The basic thesis presented in the article was that the current war in Europe was on a scale never seen before and the sheer scale of the conflict meant that it was unsustainable. The title – The Million Unit – emphasised that modern armies, where the basic unit of size was 1 million men, had never been seen before in history. Nor was it just the number of men in uniform because there were also the millions required to run the war industries to sustain the conflict; and all those either in uniform or in the war industries represented lost productive labour and lost economic wealth. Economically, war on this scale was unsustainable on anything but a very short-term basis and McCay gave a time frame of only two months, at a cost of £600,000,000 for Europe as a whole.

McCay argued that the notion of victory coming from overpowering the enemy in set piece battles was no longer tenable. Armies of this size could no longer be simply beaten in decisive battles. Supplying and managing the million-strong army was extraordinarily difficult: to then employ it strategically and dynamically within a complex and changing battle plan was almost impossible.

Great battles to-day cannot be won by swift tactics. Skilful moves in attack, clever out-flanking devices, brave charges and assaults will not suffice to drive out of position of advantage a vast force of a million men.

There was a natural tendency, in a conflict of this scale, for both sides to be forced to pull back and adopt defensive positions and strategies. McCay believed that, once this occurred, it would become obvious that there could be no military resolution. His was a prescient version of the 1950s doctrine of ‘mutually assured destruction’. It is interesting in the following how there is no reference to British strategy, interests or troops. Perhaps this was to avoid the censor’s attention. The conflict is being presented as essentially a European one:

The best hope for the world, if it is to be a world-condemning war, is that France and Germany may during the next few days or weeks fight a great battle which will be indecisive of the fate of the two nations in the war. If on the Russo-German frontier a similar deadlock should occur, there will be an obvious moral for the Continent which has for a generation devoted its vital energy to the task of preparing for this Titanic combat. It will then be shown that war is utterly futile. With two nations armed for mutual slaughter, the best result in the interests of future peace would be that they should realise that after all their huge preparations, they are both so well-prepared, and prepared on so vast a scale, that the exhaustion of their capacity for fighting must come before either can gain the decisive victory.

But McCay also hypothesised that even if the warring nations were forced into defensive warfare, exhaustion overtook them and each recognised that a military victory was not achievable, it was still possible that the war could be protracted. What he wrote in late August 1914 in a newspaper article, whose circulation appeared to be limited to regional centres, was stunningly accurate:

It is at the present moment hard to see how Germany and Austria can be defeated save by exhaustion. Placed by political boundaries in the dominant middle position between their two strong military opponents (France and Russia), and with other strategic advantages in their favor in the geography of the German frontiers, they present almost insuperable difficulties to conquest by invasion.

In the next paragraph he surmised that, equally, Germany could not overcome France and it would therefore eventually have to fail by ‘exhaustion’.

But there was no definite time frame for the ‘exhaustion’ to take effect. McCay argued it would be inevitable; but he conceded that his belief that it must be soon – principally because of the economic cost of war on such a scale – could be wrong:

When the first grandiose assault of arms has worn out the strength of the nations, supposing neither the Alliance nor the entente to have decisively won, what is to follow? A frightful possibility is that war may continue on a scale less in its devastation, with the impoverished nations struggling on for years in the midst of their misery. But surely human wisdom and mercy could not tolerate this iniquity; nor would the nations which bear the awful cost persist in the futile horror.

As the European conflict moved to its entrenched, defensive phase, McCay underestimated the power of industrial-scale war first to maintain and then surpass the level of casualties of the first phase. He also overplayed the powers of wisdom and mercy, and underestimated the resolution of nations to persist in the futile horror. Nor did economic drivers force the cessation of hostilities. However, for those who at least read it – and no doubt some in the Shire of Alberton, thousands of miles from Europe, did read it – McCay’s article demonstrated that amidst all the censorship and confused and uncritical reporting of the opening phase of the European war there was at least the beginning of an understanding of just how different the current war was to be. But Australia in late 1914, both in terms of distance and time, was still a very long way from the new reality of industrial war.

References

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

Strachan, H 2001, The First World War. Vol 1. To Arms, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Hochschild, A 2011, To End All Wars: A Story Of Protest And Patriotism In The First World War, Pan Books, London.

Australian Dictionary of Biography

McCay, Adam Cairns (1874-1947)
McCay, Sir James Whiteside (1864-1930)

16. Righteous war and religious renewal, September-October 1914

The last post examined how the narrative covering the invasion and occupation of Belgium dominated newspapers from August 1914 and was used to prove to readers that the Empire’s declaration of war with Germany had been justified. This post pursues the theme of the righteousness of the Empire’s position by looking at the unqualified support offered by the Church. While there was broad support from all faiths, including (Roman) Catholicism, it was the Protestant Churches that took on, and were expected to take on, the formal role of justifying the Empire’s involvement. It was Protestantism that presented itself as the religion of the Empire.This arrangement was reflected at the local level in Alberton Shire where the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, during August and September 1914, devoted considerable copy to pronouncements made by clergy from both the Church of England and the Presbyterian Church.

On 4 September (p.2) the local paper published the pastoral letter from the Church of England Bishops of Victoria that outlined the Christian response to the War. This was followed immediately by the sermon delivered by Rev. George Cox of Yarram on the same theme. Neither the pastoral letter nor the sermon expressed any doubt about the righteousness of the Empire’s position. There were numerous references to ‘imperial duty’ and the ‘justice of the Empire’s cause’. The basic line was that the Empire, because of what it was, had to be supported: The Empire, which is the home of freeborn citizens and fosters throughout the world the spirit of righteousness, calls for our help. The enemy, by contrast, was driven by …the spirit of aggressive military despotism.

While there was absolute conviction in the righteousness of the cause and total determination to support the Empire there was also a sombre tone. In the pastoral letter, the bishops called for a Christian response to the fighting:

The time of war is a challenge to the Christian Church to use her faith and influence to the uttermost extent, so as to minimise the evils of war and render assistance to its victims. … We trust that the clergy will, in their sermons, never forget how unfitting is all boastfulness of power or pride. … we cannot forget the untold misery which, from the very first, must accompany this great conflict of nations.

For his part, the prescient Rev. Cox was clearly challenged by the apparent incomprehensibility of the situation:

When we consider that the nations now engaged in this awful strife are the foremost in civilisation, enlightenment and religion; when we realise that both sides claim that their forces are engaged as the instruments of God for the overthrow of the other; when we think of all the fiendish inventions of mankind that are being used in the slaughter of his fellow-man in the cause of righteousness; when we ponder upon the untold and unthinkable suffering and misery and wretchedness and waste which the whole civilised world will be called upon to face for many a year, we may well stand appalled.

For Cox, the fundamental dilemma of two Christian nations going to war against each other was resolved by the conviction that one of them – Germany – while still claiming to be Christian, had in fact betrayed the very principles of Christianity:

Christianity stands for three things, amongst others – righteousness, justice and truth. But a great and powerful nation, professedly Christian, has substituted in place of righteousness military despotism, for justice arrogance, and for truth hypocrisy and blasphemy.

Importantly, both the pastoral letter and Cox’s sermon called for religious renewal. The view was that at such a time of crisis people had to turn again to God in prayer, and renew their religious life. For the Empire to prevail everyone had to take their religious obligations more seriously. As the bishops put it, penitence was the moral order of the day:

To all, in every Parish of the Province, we make our solemn appeal for repentance from past sins and for a whole-hearted surrender of our lives to the care and providence of the Eternal Father, through our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Cox gave a practical illustration of just how skewed people’s current priorities had become, and how far they had strayed from God’s true path and were testing His goodness. Cox noted:

How little we, as a nation, recognise this duty [our duty to God] so far may be judged by a comparison of the attendances at our football matches and the interests taken in them, and the attendance to our churches, and the recognition of our duty of praying for our troops.

Football was being set up to become the whipping boy of WW1.

This call for religious renewal was to take two very important directions over the course of WW1. One was the conviction that the War called for a moral as much as a military response, and that long-term social causes such as temperance had to be pursued with renewed vigour. Australian society had to become more religious, more morally pure and less vulgar. Hopefully, the defence of the Empire and the attendant turning to God could be employed to force people to confront the spiritual poverty of their lives. The other direction, even more extreme, was the attempt to portray those who answered the call of the Empire as, literally, soldiers of Christ. This latter direction was always going to be a big ask with the AIF but, as we will see in future posts, clergymen like Cox certainly did pursue it. Cox certainly saw his own enlistment as an extension of his Christian life.

Like the Rev. Cox, the Rev. F Tamagno of the local Presbyterian church was another Protestant preacher who had sermons published in the local paper at this time. His first sermon was reproduced on 4 September 1914 (p.2). As was common at the time, he employed the text, Render unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.The conventional treatment of this text highlighted the difference between duty owed to the divine as opposed to any temporal power. However, in Tamagno’s sermon there could be no conflict and therefore patriotism and religion were fused in the interests of the Empire. For Tamagno, it was inconceivable that the British King could ever be an unbelieving, despotic Caesar. Nor could the glorious history  and achievements of the Empire ever be challenged. There was therefore no conflict of duty and the Empire was in the right:

Patriotism is upon our lips. Once more in the history of our Empire, and its King, we are being called upon to manifest that spirit of patriotism, so characteristic of our race. We all realise how momentous shall be issues of this war of the nations. It will not do for us to lean upon our forces only, but upon God. I believe that at heart our Empire and King are depending upon God for an honorable and triumphant victory. The nation that tries to conquer Britain, has before it a Herculean task – so great and so bloody, that one would think that Germany, even now would pause, and honorably decide to go no further. Tennyson has well said – “This England never did, and never shall, lie at the proud foot of a conqueror.” The stirring memories of our past are sufficient to awaken throughout our Empire that spirit of indomitable courage so characteristics of Britishers. The path by which we have come has been stained with the blood of heroes and heroines. We hoped that the nations had learnt to settle international disputes no longer by trained brute force, but by the calm and light of reason. Our Empire’s duty is plain; our conscience is clear; out hands are clear of the blood of thousands.

It is also interesting to note Tamagno’s Empire-centric view of the War. World events were only seen through the filter of the British Empire and so for him the War was fundamentally a conflict between the British Empire and Germany. The reality, particularly at that point, in the first few months of the War, was that the conflict was decidedly a European one, and British involvement in this unprecedented European upheaval, at this stage at least, was only an expeditionary force.

Tamagno also saw the potential of the War to turn people back to God. In a sermon reported in the local paper on 7 October 1914 (p. 4) he made much of the recent reports of how the French – infamous for their hardline separation of Church and State, secularist tendencies and socially radical intellectual tradition – were turning back to God: They are becoming devout once again, filling the church, and valuing the ordinances of the religious life.

For all the sermons – set within the particular theological boundaries imposed by the British Empire – on the righteousness of the Allies’ cause in WW1, there was much additional evidence published in the press that pointed to German guilt and perfidy. As indicated in the last post, the brutal invasion of Belgium, and the subsequent repression and exploitation, certainly made it easier to promote the righteousness of the Empire’s stance and convince people that this was a conflict between forces of good and evil. This was a dominant narrative in the local press. At the same time, there was also a wealth of contemporary German political writing that could easily be employed to cast that nation as the aggressor. In the sermons of both Cox and Tamagno referred to above, references to the spirit of aggressive military despotism and trained brute force were code for what was seen as incontrovertible proof of German militarism. The commonly held view was that by the early twentieth century  Germany had created a new form of political state and civil society, committed to the ruthless and scientific application of military power to achieve political ends. It had become a military state. Proof for views such as these was there in abundance. For example, in the local paper on 28 August 1914 (p.6) under the headline, Modern German Ethics. Bernhardi’s Famous Chapter. A Cry For Bloodshed readers were treated to an extensive extract from General Friedrich von Bernhardi’s book Germany and the Next War (1911). The text had been published widely and well publicised. People reading the material published in the local paper would have learned that Germany, far from being reluctant to go to war actually saw war as a scientific necessity and moral duty:

War is a biological necessity of the first importance, a regulative element in the life of mankind which cannot be dispensed with, since without it an unhealthy development will follow, which excludes every advancement of the race, and therefore all real civilisation. “War is the father of all things.” The sages of antiquity long before Darwin recognised this.

Without war, inferior or decaying races would easily choke the growth of healthy budding elements, and a universal decadence would follow.

They would also have read of Germany’s determination, and assumed right, to acquire new territories. Ironically, there was nothing here that British Imperialists could have faulted:

Strong, healthy and flourishing nations increase in numbers. From a given moment they require a continual expansion of their frontiers, they require new territory for the accommodation of their surplus population. Since almost every part of the globe is inhabited, new territory must, as a rule, be obtained at the cost of its possessors, which thus becomes a law of necessity.

War, they were also informed, served to replenish and renew:

All petty and personal interests force their way to the front during long periods of peace. Selfishness and intrigue run riot, and luxury obliterates idealism. … Wars are terrible, but necessary, for they save the State from social petrification and stagnation.

They would have also picked up that Germany had no commitment to international bodies set up to promote world peace, and was inherently suspicious of nations, such as the United States, that promoted this approach.

The German position even presented Christianity itself as a religion that promoted war: Christ himself said: “I am not come to send peace on earth but a sword.” His teaching can never be adduced as an argument against the universal law of struggle.

‘National character’ and ‘military tradition’ had to come together to create the optimum society, one geared for war.

Overall, readers would have been confronted with the inescapable reality that Germany was committed to war:

Reflection thus shows not only that war is an unqualified necessity, but that it is justifiable from every point of view.

Taken at face value, all such claims – made within the formal context of German military and strategic planning, and reflective of Germany’s determination to assert its rightful position in Europe and the World – could not but cast Germany as a ruthless, aggressive and almost super-human foe.

For those reading newspapers and going to church over the first few months of the War there would have been little doubt that the very existence of the British Empire was threatened. Fortunately, God was most definitely on the side of the Empire; even if He was calling for significant religious renewal.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

15. The Belgian Narrative. Part 1: to the end of September 1914

This is the first in a series of posts that looks at the development and dissemination of the narrative of events in Belgium through August and September 1914. Later posts will look closely at the impact of the narrative on the local community of Alberton Shire, in Gippsland.

When war commenced there was a desperate need for news. Some sense of the desperation is evident in this account taken from The Argus of 7 August 1914 (p.6). It describes the scene in Collins Street, Melbourne on the night of Thursday 6 August. The previous night – the day on which news of the British declaration of war had reached Australia – there had been ‘rowdyism’ and riots in the streets of Melbourne as people’s emotions had run out of control. As a consequence, on this night – 6 August – the police were out in force.

For a long time it looked as if they [the police] were going to have the street [Collins Street] to themselves. Suddenly a board appeared on the front of The Argus office bearing the news of the German repulse in Belgium. As if by magic a seething crowd sprang from nowhere, and in five minutes’ time Collins street was packed from kerb to kerb with a surging throng thirsting for news.

As desperate as people were for news of what was happening in Britain and Europe, the actual flow of news from that part of the world was drying up. Censorship had been introduced even before the formal declaration of war. Printed in The Argus on Wednesday 5 August (p.10), the official notice from E D Millen, Minister of State for Defence, declared that 2 days earlier, on 3 August … censorship of all cable and wireless telegraph communications throughout the Commonwealth had come into effect. In the same edition, the editor of The Argus (p.9) noted:

The strictest censorship of all cable messages, both press and private, received in and sent from the Commonwealth was exercised by the Military Authorities throughout yesterday.
This fact, taken in conjunction with others, indicates that Great Britain has become so seriously involved in the great European conflict that war with Germany, if it has not already broken out, certainly appears to be inevitable.
The establishment of censorship explains the comparative brevity of our cable messages in this edition. A considerable number of our telegrams from England have been detained by the Censor.

In addition to the limits imposed by censorship, the reality was that the military situation in Europe over the period August – September 1914, was hard to track and comprehend. Even if there had been no censorship it would have been difficult for news agencies to report accurately on what was happening. The period from early August to the aftermath of the Battle of the Marne saw massive troop movements as the armies of Germany and France, supported by the BEF and Belgian forces, attempted a rolling series of flanking and envelopment manoeuvres across vast areas. Even today, with all the history written on this period, there is still ongoing debate over interpretations of what happened. The sheer scale – and horror – of the military conflict that convulsed western Europe in the first 2-3 months of WW1, is evident in figures taken from Strachan (Chapt 3). He gives French casualties (dead, wounded, missing) to 10 September, after one month of war, as 385,00 and notes that by the end of 1914 France had lost 265,000 dead. The twenty-second of August 1914 saw the highest level of French casualties in a single day for the whole of WW1 – 27,000 dead. The equivalent figure for total German casualties to 9 September was 265,000. Casualties for the British Expeditionary Force to the end of November were 89,964 and by the same point the Belgian armed forces had been reduced by half. Casualties at these levels were unsustainable, for any army.

Strachan’s account demonstrates the size and complexity of the military operations in the first few months of the fighting. It highlights that even those directly involved – including the field and overall commanders – were often unsure of what was unfolding. Occasional news despatches, from one or other battlefield, were therefore always going to be of doubtful value, assuming in the first place that they were even passed by the censors. Impartial, accurate, meaningful and timely news was a seriously limited commodity.

It was against this background of confusion and censorship that the narrative of events that unfolded in Belgium became so powerful over the first few months of WW1. It dominated news services in the Empire and came to define the purpose and nature of the War. It was an unfolding news story with simple characterisation and plot, and it was set within the context of high principles and moral absolutes.

The narrative commenced with the declaration of war. Britain’s obligation to guarantee Belgian neutrality was presented as the pre-eminent reason for the declaration. In the edition of The Argus of 5 August (p.9) Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Minister, was reported thus:

It has been said that we might stand aside and husband our resources, and intervene in the end to put things right, but if we ran away from our obligations of honour and interest regarding the Belgian treaty, I doubt whether any material forces would be of much value, in face of the respect that we should have lost.

Against this principled position, Germany was the blatant aggressor, prepared to invade Belgium if its ultimatum for free movement of its troops through the country was not immediately met. The developing themes in the basic narrative were simple: Germany was the aggressor; Belgium was the victim facing overwhelming Germany forces; and Britain was the reluctant but principled major power that was forced to intervene.

Once the German assault on Belgium began, another key theme was added to the narrative: Belgian heroism. Belgium’s refusal to accede to German demands and its willingness to mount uncompromising and deadly resistance to the vastly superior invading forces cast it immediately as the heroic small nation. Headlines in The Argus on 6 August (p.7) declared: Germans in Belgium. Neutrality Violated and “We Will Not Submit.” Belgians’ Cry “To Arms.” The next day, 7 August (p.7) the paper was full of stories of how the heroic Belgians had stopped the German advance. The headlines proclaimed: German Reverse. Enormous Losses Sustained. Victory for Belgians and the report claimed: The Belgian War Office announces that the German invading army has been repulsed near Liege with enormous losses. … The heroism of the Belgians is described as “superb.”

There were other reports quoted in the same edition that claimed, “The general situation in Belgium is excellent.”

The reality was that the situation in Belgium was anything but excellent and by 11 August, readers in Australia should have picked up that the plight of Belgium was dire. The headlines in The Argus that day, Germans Outside Liege and Forts Held By Belgium, were supported by claims from Brussels that the Belgians continued to hold the forts. However, the same article also reported the German version: “We hold Liege fast in our hands. The losses of the enemy are considerable.” The German forces first broke the Belgian line at Liege on 7 August but it was not until 16 August that the siege of Liege was over. It had taken the German Army far longer than the scheduled 2 days; and the siege had highlighted the heroic – but doomed – struggle of the Belgian resistance.

The next theme in the Belgian Narrative – German atrocities – also seems to have first appeared in Australian papers at this point round 11 August. The same edition of The Argus featured accounts of the punishment handed out to the civilian population when it resisted the German forces. At this point, the German reprisals were set within some sort of context. It was not random violence. For example, under the headline Prisoners in Firing Line (p.7) there was an account of how

the Germans were fired at from windows by numbers of the inhabitants of Liege. They were all caught instantly and shot. The Germans hold the Governor of the province of Liege (Lieut-General Heimburger) and the Bishop of Liege as a hostage, and threaten them with death if the forts continue to fire. A number of railway men and 25 others were accused of firing at Germans and driven at the point of the bayonet into the firing line before the forts. Three of them were killed, and the rest, pretending that they were dead, fell and lay on the ground.

There are other reports in the same edition of how the Germans threatened severe reprisals if their troops were fired on.

Reporting that continued to acknowledge the context for German reprisals in Belgium lasted for another couple of weeks. For example, in The Argus on 24 August (p.9), under the headline Germans Fire on Civilians, readers were informed:

The position of civilians in Liege is critical. The “Daily News” correspondent at Rotterdam states that shots were fired by the troops from a house. On Thursday the Germans bombarded 20 houses, killing many inhabitants. … The “Daily Chronicle’s” Amsterdam correspondent says that the situation of the citizens of Liege is very unfavourable. A shot was fired from a house on Friday. The Germans immediately opened fire with their machine guns, destroying 20 houses, and killing the inmates, and setting fire to 10 other houses.

However, just a few days later, on 27 August, the emphasis shifted dramatically to the reporting of German ‘atrocities’. The context was no longer that important. Rather, the focus was the appalling nature and ferocity of the reprisals. Under the headline Atrocities in Belgium (p.7) the following appeared:

The Belgian Minister has published a startling statement, giving a long list of outrages committed by German troops. These are vouched for by a committee of inquiry. While Belgian troops were resisting an attack by German cavalry they killed a German officer. No civilian took part, yet the village of Linsmeau was invaded by German artillery, cavalry and machine guns, notwithstanding assurances by the burgomaster that no recently fired guns had been found. Houses were burned, and the peasants were divided into groups. Afterwards were found in ditches skulls apparently fractured by rifle butts.

By 31 August (p.10), after the destruction of Louvain, the German forces in Belgium were being described as ‘barbarous’. The headlines that day proclaimed: Barbarous Germans. Beautiful City Burnt. “An Unpardonable Act”. In the commentary was the following statement, which had been released by the British Government Press Bureau. It ran under the headline, Residents Shot:

The destruction of Louvain was an unpardonable act of barbarity and vandalism. … Louvain is miles from the real fighting. International law recognises that the only legitimate aim of war is the weakening of the enemy’s army, and the rules forbid the destruction and seizure of property not imperatively called for by military necessities. By destroying Louvain, the Germans committed a crime for which there can be no atonement. Humanity has suffered a loss which can never be repaired.

Similarly, the edition of The Argus on 2 September (p.9) featured the headlines Ruthless Germans. The Tragedy of Louvain. Dead Litter Streets. It related the eye-witness account of an Oxford undergraduate who was present at the sacking of the beautiful Belgian town of Louvain by the Germans. The eye witness described how Gutted houses were tumbling into the streets, and German soldiers were looting the ruins. … Bodies of the murdered townspeople littered the streets.

Finally, the string of headlines in The Argus of 17 September (p.9) illustrate just how dominant the theme of German barbarity in the Belgian narrative had become by this point: Germany’s Shame. The Belgian Atrocities. Fiendish Outrages Related. An Orgy of Blood. German Abomination. Civilians Slaughtered. German Atrocities. Ten Priests Murdered. Drunken Men’s Orgy. Women Stabbed. Beyond the shocking headlines, the examples of brutality highlighted in the reports left little to the imagination:

The body of a man was found with arms and legs cut off, and that of another with the legs amputated. The hands of a child, 15 years of age, were tied behind its back and then the body was torn open.
A woman was stabbed with a bayonet, petroleum was next poured over her, and she was thrown alive into her burning home. The corpse of another woman was burnt in a similar manner.
An old man was suspended by his arms from a rafter and burnt alive.

The Belgian narrative – with its themes of British integrity, Belgian heroism, and German arrogance and barbarity – dominated the metropolitan press in the large cities by the end of September. The same narrative was presented in the local paper in the Shire of Alberton, albeit in a scaled down manner.

At the start of the German invasion of Belgium the local paper presented the same confusion and false hope. On 12 August (p.2) the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative was reporting that German morale at Liege was low because of the withering Belgian fire … which mowed them down like corn. The German supply train was said to be in chaos, the troops starving and and men surrendering just to get food. In one report the Germans had been repulsed: A telegram from Brussels states that 40,000 Belgians have repulsed 43,000 Germans near Liege. But even in the same edition there were other more alarming reports: The Belgians displayed heroic courage in the defence of Liege, but they declared that they were too fatigued to repel the perpetual onsets of an overpowering number of Germans. Reporting by the end of August is far more sombre and it is clear that the German onslaught cannot be stopped. On 28 August the headline reports Heavy Belgian Losses, which a Belgian officer gives as 10,000 men.

By September the locals in the Shire of Alberton were also reading the claims about German atrocities. For example, the edition of 18 September (p.3) reported that various committees had been set up to investigate German outrages in Belgium. In terms of the atrocities themselves there were many accounts. In the same edition, locals read of how the German troops even set about the desecration of churches. The headline was Horrors in Aerschott Cathedral. Deeds by Drunken Soldiers:

The Antwerp correspondent of the “Evening News” describes horrors in the Aerschott Cathedral on the high altar, on which there were many empty wine and beer bottles. In the confessional were champagne and brandy bottles. The offertory box was stolen and replaced by beer bottles. Bottles were stuck in the pews, and everywhere were bottles and filth. The Madonnas Head and a large crucifix were burnt on the altar, brocades were slashed, pictures chopped from the frames, and a dead pig was found on one side of the chapel. This is the work of drunken German soldiery.

There was an even more sordid report in the same edition: Awful Outrage. Death of a Nurse:

On Wednesday, a daring German attack was made on Vilvorde. The Germans cut off the breast of Grace Hume, of Dumfries, a Red Cross nurse engaged in the Vilvorde hospital. The nurse died in great agony.

The reports of German brutality continued to multiply. On 23 September (p.2) there were more accounts of German perfidy and Belgian suffering under the headline, More Plundering By The Germans:

A large number of places situated at the triangle of Vilvorde, Malines and Louvain, are given over to plunder by the Germans, and partially destroyed.
The inhabitants were shot without trial, and women unable to escape were exposed to the brutal instincts of the Germans.
The Germans allege that the Belgian Government has distributed arms amongst the inhabitants; that the Catholic clergy has preached a sort of holy war; and that the women are as ferocious as the men. These are a tissue of lies.

The true extent and nature of German atrocities in Belgium from August 1914 have been the focus of historical debate for the past 100 years. There is no doubt that Belgium’s neutrality was violated, the German invasion was ruthless and the subsequent occupation of Belgium was harsh and exploitative. There were atrocities against the civilian population. Against this, many of the sensational, lurid and macabre stories – written in part to fashion public opinion in the then neutral United States – that filled newspapers at the time were fabrications. For example, the report above about the British Red Cross nurse murdered by the German soldiers was a complete fabrication. While nurse Hume was a real person, she was not in Belgium – she was living in Huddersfield – and the story had been concocted by her sister. The sister, Kate Hume, was subsequently prosecuted. The story itself had been disproved by late September 1914. Yet for the entire duration of the War similar stories about the mutilation of Belgian civilians remained common.

The Belgian narrative, in all its themes, was very powerfully presented and it was very effective in shaping people’s attitudes and beliefs. It reinforced for people the righteousness of the Imperial cause. The war had been forced on Britain and the Empire. They had been compelled to act to protect Belgian’s neutrality. Germany was the aggressor. The narrative also underscored the ideal of sacrifice: Belgium was doomed. It could never withstand the onslaught of the German forces; yet it resisted – stubbornly, forcefully and heroically. And, undeniably, Germany was a ruthless and determined enemy. Within just weeks Germany had shifted from being one of Australia’s major trading partners, and a nation recognised for its advanced technology, industrial output, training and education, arts and culture, as well as the original homeplace of so many highly successful and well-regarded immigrants – and whole communities – to a pariah state, given over to the most extreme form of militarism, that threatened the very basis of Western Civilisation.

The locals, like people all across Australia, were deeply affected by the Belgian narrative and enthusiastically supported major relief programs for Belgium. By the end of September advertisements were appearing for all kinds of activities. As an example, the local paper of 30 September (p.3) advertised a Handkerchief Afternoon Tea to be held at Aylesbury, Yarram on 7 October, with proceeds to the Belgium Fund. Everyone was cordially invited and admission was handkerchiefs for wounded soldiers. All such sympathy, support and fund raising became an extension to the Belgian narrative. A later post will show the practical effects in the local community of the outpouring of sympathy for the poor, oppressed people of Belgium.

References

Strachan, H 2001, The First World War. Vol1. To Arms, Oxford University Press

The Argus

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

For those interested in following up pictorial depictions employed at the time, the cartoons by Louis Raemaekers on the invasion and occupation of Belgium are available on Project Gutenberg. See:

Cammaerts, E 1917, Through the Iron Bars: Two years of German occupation in Belgium

Raemaekers’ Cartoon History of the War. Volume 1: The First Twelve Months of War