Category Archives: World War I

‘Six-Bob-a-Day Tourist’ by Janet Morice

morice

1985,  86p.

It didn’t take long for Thomas Gardner of  117 George Street East Melbourne to enlist in what was to become  the Great War. Due to the time difference, news of Britain’s declaration of war reached Australia on the same day that it was made (5 August 1914). Just three weeks later, Thomas Gardner, aged 33, had joined the AIF, E Company, 7th battalion as one of the ‘Six Bob-a-Day Tourists’, the deprecating term given to the highly paid Australian soldier, whose generous pay outstripped that of many working men at home and the soldiers of allied countries.  Without wanting to diminish it in any way,  Tom’s story ticks all the WWI narrative features that have come to be associated with ‘our ANZACs’ : sent out to the Training Camp in Broadmeadows; the sea voyage; waiting around in Egypt; Gallipoli; Lone Pine; France; hospital in England; back to France; sent home; discharged on grounds of ill-health; dead.  You can read about Thomas Gardner’s war and see pictures of him at the National Anzac Centre website.

I was attracted to reading this book not so much for Tom’s story on the front, but for the interactions with his family back home.  Tom had been rather peripatetic in the years leading up to the war, travelling from town to town as a wood-turner, but he returned often to 117 George Street to visit his mother, sisters Mabel, Adeline and Edith, and niece Cecily and nephew Guy.  His widowed sister Mabel re-married in June 1914, just before war was declared.  She had matriculated from PLC, and after returning to Melbourne following her first husband’s death after just four years of marriage, worked as a secretary, learned Esperanto, and was involved in debating and literary societies.

As Morice notes:

Two months after their wedding, war was declared, and at home the verbal battles raged. Tom was a volunteer and his mother and two of his sisters took the patriotic stance. Mabel and [husband] Will, however, took the opposite view. Will did not volunteer partly because he had just married, but mainly because he and Mabel were both pacifists (p.45)

Mabel and Will were drawn to the lectures and anti-war stance of Dr Charles Strong of the Australian Church.  Mabel, and her childhood friend Eleanor Moore, were present at the inaugural meeting of the Sisterhood for International Peace at the Russell Street Australian Church, and became the correspondence secretaries for the Sisterhood. She also joined the Free Religious Fellowship, an organization with a literary base that included Vance and Nettie Palmer, Louis Essen, Frank Wilmot (Furnley Maurice) and Alan Villiers.  It was headed by Mr Frederick Sinclaire, the former minister of the Unitarian church in East Melbourne.  She used her elocution skills by lecturing on pacifism for the Peace Movement, and hosted sewing groups and letter-writing and pamphlet-printing sessions at her home in East Melbourne. During the conscription debates she attended meetings and marches for anti-conscription.

Her mother and sisters, as strong patriots, disapproved of her political activism but how did her brother Tom – serving in the same way that she was protesting-  feel about this anti-war political involvement? In a letter from November 1916, after the conscription proposal had been defeated, he wrote that he was sorry that politics had led to tension between Mabel and her sister Adeline:

I was very glad to see Hughes’s proposal ousted….If conscription had been carried, goodness knows where it would have stopped.  And you can tell Addie this- that were I a married man in Australia (I am not speaking of Belgium or France) and had children who were depended on me, I would not deem it my duty to enlist until every eligible single male had gone… Re your conscription remarks.  You are very violent, my dear, peace-loving sister.  Well, let me lower “me breff” while I tell you that a fellow named Tom who lived at 117 George Street, East Melbourne, also voted ‘No’. And he knew a lot of other fellows, who knew a couple of thousand other fellows who voted ‘No.’ So I’m blest if I know.  (p. 55)

This book features only Tom’s letters, not those sent by his family.  The book is organized chronologically, with the focus on Tom’s war, intersected by Mabel’s peace activities back home. Through Tom’s letters, we see him becoming increasingly disillusioned by the war, until by June 1918, at the age of 38 he described himself as “so nervy I can’t bother about anything.”  You just know that this is not going to end well.

At only 85 pages, this is not a long book, and it rattles along at a pace.  It combines imagined scenes with excerpts from Tom’s letters, illustrations, and contextual information.  The author,  the grand-daughter of Mabel, has rather delicately omitted the details of Tom’s encounter with venereal disease which is mentioned on the National Anzac page, and as a reader you can sense her sympathy for both Tom and Mabel.

The book is not easily available today, and you’ll need to turn to secondhand sellers if you want to find it.  It puts a very human face on WWI, and it complicates the image we have of the family left ‘at home’.  Family members could love and grieve for their ‘boy’ overseas, and they could campaign for peace back home as well. Some family members expressed their love through patriotism; others through fighting to put an end to war.

AWW-2018-badge-rose-199x300

This is my first review for 2018 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

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‘In the Shadow of Gallipoli’ by Robert Bollard

bollard

2013, 224 p.

I know that historians often get railroaded into a title for their book by marketing-oriented publishers, and I can’t help thinking that the title of this 2013 book was chosen with one eye on the then-upcoming centenary of Gallipoli in April 2015. There is, in fact, very little about Gallipoli in it at all. The content is far better conveyed by the sub-title ‘The hidden history of Australia in World War I’.  Although even that isn’t particularly accurate either, because much of what is written in this book is not ‘hidden’ at all: Jauncey covered much of it in 1935 and Ernest Scott (available online) covered the rest the following year in his Volume 11 of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918.

Nonetheless, given the hoopla which surrounded Gallipoli in 2015,  it was important that there be a corrective to the view that the whole of Australia wanted to rush off to fight on foreign fields and the equally erroneous idea that Gallipoli was the ‘birth of a nation’.  This book is an eminently readable counter-balance, aimed at a general audience, that examines the division and acrimony at home in Australia during the war.

There are eight chapters, titled with a quote and descriptor.

  1. ‘To the last man and the last shilling’: Patriotism triumphant
  2. ‘If you want the 44-hour week, take it!’: The strike wave begins
  3. ‘Wherever green is worn’: Irish discontent
  4. ‘I will curse the British Empire with my dying breath’: The first conscription referendum
  5. ‘Fifteen years for fifteen words’: The empire strikes back
  6. ‘Solidarity for ever’: The Great Strike of 1917
  7. ‘We’ll burn the town down!’: The second referendum
  8. ‘Plunge this city into darkness’: The peace turns ugly.

It seems to me that historians write about Australia during the war through a prism which, while recognizing other contemporaneous influences, hones in on one particular focus.  Judith Smart focuses on women; Jauncey focuses on pacifists; McKernan on mainstream churches, and here Bollard picks up on the unions in particular. Chapter 2 takes readers back to the ‘working man’s paradise’, the Harvester judgment and arbitration. He refers in many places to the Broken Hill – or as he terms it the ‘Barrier’ -miners, and his chapter on the Great Strike is probably the strongest in the book. I liked the final chapter, too, where he examines the role of returned soldiers in the strikes that exploded during the wars immediately following the war.

With the focus on unions and resistance, this is a very political book, with few individuals (other than politicians) stepping forward to centre stage.  It is a book of organizations more than people, drawn from newspaper reports and government files.  His reference list is fairly dated, and women don’t get that much of a look-in here, other than as part of a crowd, and there are no families.

But what he does really well is tell a good story. The narrative is chronological, it is very clearly written, and it’s a seductively easy read. It’s a good antidote to the hefty, celebratory WWI books with big single-word titles that have burdened the nation’s bookshelves over the past few years.

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library (e-book)

Read because: in preparation for my talk to Heidelberg Historical Society on the conscription referendums of 1916 and 1917.

 

‘Australian Churches at War: Attitudes and Activities of the Major Churches 1914-1918’ by Michael McKernan

Independent Church Melbourne Vic.

Independent Church, Melbourne (now St Michaels). The Burke and Wills statue to the right of the church is in the middle of the intersection, its original location.. It’s a well-travelled statue. SLV image

Churches tend to sprout exhortations of “Peace!” especially at Christmas time, and it’s quite a jolt to read of the bellicose and jingoistic approach taken by the major Christian (and especially Protestant) churches during the First World War.  Michael McKernan’s book Australian Churches at War published in 1980, is based on his PhD thesis and is probably not easy to find today. However, there’s a (relatively) more recent transcript of an interview with McKernan on the now-defunct ABCRN program ‘The Religion Report’ that you might be interested in here.

The 1911 census which was the closest one to the outbreak of WWI showed that 98% of white Australians claimed to be Christians at the time. Only .24% of the population claimed to have ‘no religion’.  One of the immediate responses of the declaration of Australian’s ready involvement in WWI was a call to prayer, and to the churches the people flocked. What they heard there in those early weeks of war was to become the stance of the major Protestant churches throughout the war: the view that the war was God’s way of calling people to the churches for a moral awakening.

It is the argument of this study…that churchmen had synthesised war and Christianity so that support for the war effort became an act of high Christian virtue … churchmen accepted the war as part of God’s providence for the world; through sacrifice, suffering and devotion to duty men would be renewed, lifted to a higher, more thoroughly Christian plane. Their concern was not, primarily, for the welfare of the Empire; rather they hoped that war would transform Australian society. (Ch. 8)

It was this hope for moral transformation through sacrifice that brought the major churches to the forefront in encouraging enlistment, and later conscription.

The Catholic Church, at the start of the war, also encouraged enlistments amongst their parishioners in what they saw, along with the Protestant churches, as a ‘just war’, and as a way of proving their loyalty as part of Australian society.  During the first conscription referendum in October 1916, the Catholic Church hierarchy advised that it was a political matter, and one in which the church would not be involved.  Mannix, still under the authority of Archbishop Carr, spoke out only twice.  One was a three minute speech where after congratulating Prime Minister Hughes for allowing the referendum, he said that Australia had suffered enough. The other occasion was at a fete in Preston on 22 October, where he defended his right to speak, at a secular place, at a secular function and in his personal capacity. This, he said, contrasted with the Protestant laity who spoke from the pulpit, week after week.

However, Catholic opinion hardened against the war by the time of the second conscription referendum on 20 December 1917. This is generally attributed to the influence of the newly ordained Archbishop Mannix, and as a response to the Irish rebellion, but McKernan suggests an additional theological motivation. Once  the Allies had shifted from a position of checking Germany’s aggression to one of  jockeying for economic advantage by destroying Germany’s economy and industry, Mannix no longer considered it a ‘just war’. Moreover, Mannix was enormously popular amongst working-class Catholics, and the laity pushed the church into a stronger anti-war and anti-conscription position.

Chaplains were appointed in accordance with the religious affiliations reported in the 1911 Census. They only had to serve for one year, which gave them a different perspective to that of the troops they served. Some chaplains accompanied soldiers on the ‘voyage only’, others were embedded with ‘their men’, especially in Egypt.  Catholic chaplains maintained their focus on providing the sacrament by ensuring that there was a chaplain available at each point of an injured soldier’s progress through ambulance station and hospital.  Among Protestant chaplains, sectarian lines often became blurred, and instead of  insisting on ‘moral regeneration’ as was the stance ‘at home’, many chaplains came to realize a man, outwardly irreligious, could do good things. Such chaplains were welcomed by their troops and the army hierarchy: those who wanted to maintain the sectarian divisions that were rife back in Australia were given short shrift.

There were exceptions to this generally pro-war stance amongst Protestant churches, but not many.  One of them was Rev Leyton Richards, of the Collins Street Independent Church shown above, who argued for the role of conscience.  Congregationalists, a small number of Methodists, one or two Baptists, Rev Charles Strong from the Australian Church and Rev. F. Sinclaire from the Free Religious Fellowship were among those who spoke out.  The Unitarian congregation, from whom Sinclaire had split, was pro-war (a stance I did not expect).  McKernan notes that pacifists with an appeal to conscience won the tolerance and respect of their fellow-ministers, but not those whose opposition sprang from the political realm, outside the church.  They tended to be ostracized and demoted.

Even when peace was declared, the major Protestant churches had not moved on from the ‘moral regeneration’ stance that they had adopted during the first weeks of the war. The sectarian rigidities that had emerged during the war were to grow even firmer and last for the next fifty-odd years.

McKernan concludes his study thus:

It has been the argument of this book that clergymen never broke themselves clear of the events, never gave themselves the opportunity to see events in perspective so that they were ever reacting rather than acting. Their initial response to the war determined their position until peace was declared… In 1917 and 1918 Australian clergymen took no part in the growing worldwide discussion about a negotiated peace; instead they merely repeated their belief that peace would not come until the nation had reformed. And so they concentrated on reform, personal and national. They were always spectators of the course of the war, fussing with the side issues but refusing to come to terms with the main drama. (p 172-3)

It’s impossible to know, of course, how Christian churches would respond to a world war today, especially one where the ‘enemy’ was not Christian.  As Judith Smart has noted in relation to the pro-conscription women’s movement, it’s not particularly fashionable to look at the conservative, establishment view of WWI. Probably as a reflection of my own politics, while reading this book I found myself bristling at the patronizing moral stance of the major Protestant churches, and cheering those courageous enough to really grapple intellectually and spiritually with the question of war and peace. McKernan does us a service, however sobering, in highlighting just how rare this was.

The LaTrobe Journal No. 96 Sept. 2015

Ah…Number 96.  The September 2015 (No. 96) edition of the State Library of Victoria’s La Trobe Journal was a special edition focusing on Victoria and the Great War.  It is edited by John Lack and Judith Smart, both noted scholars in the field of social history of World War I. The very good news is that is is available for free online at the SLV site!

https://www.slv.vic.gov.au/about-us/our-publications/la-trobe-journal/la-trobe-journal-no-96-september-2015

Fittingly, the collection starts  right at the beginning of the war with Douglas Newton’s article ‘”We have sprung at a bound”: Australia’s leap into the Great War July-August 1914’. He argues that rather than Australia being requested to assist the Mother Country,  it was the dominions, including Australia, who rushed with their offers of assistance to a Britain that had not yet conclusively made up its mind to embark on the war. The volume closes with Bronwyn Hughes discussing the stained glass windows found in many of Victoria’s churches.

These two articles form the chronological bookends for a number of chapters discussing different aspects of World War One as experienced in Victoria.  Judith Smart’s chapter ‘A Divided national capital: Melbourne in the Great War’ focuses on Melbourne as the capital city of Australia at the time, as the Federal Government was not transferred to  Canberra until 1927. Kate Laing’s chapter discussed two women’s organizations that emerged during the war: the Women’s Peace Army which, as the name suggests, undertook a more militant approach and the Sisterhood of International Peace, which set its sights on the desire for peace after the war had concluded. Rosalie Triolo traces through the attitude towards Germany that was promulgated through the School Paper, the monthly publication distributed to children as supplementary reading material by the Education Department.  Bart Ziino’s chapter picks up on the current interest in emotions as a historiographical approach as he examines ‘War and private sentiment in Australia during 1915’, a year that saw families confronting the deaths from Gallipoli and the Western Front that sobered the initial euphoria over the declaration of war. Jillian Durance looked at the military band and its use in the military funeral for Major General Bridges. It was a first for many reasons: he was Australia’s first military commander to die on ‘active service’; his body was returned for a State funeral in Melbourne as capital city and final re-burial at Duntroon (a very rare occurrence, despite the wishes of many bereaved families); and it was the first time that an Australian cathedral was the scene of a national funeral service for an Australian general killed in war. In her chapter, she hones in on Ray Membrey, a member of the Showgrounds Camp Band, which performed not only at the funeral, but also as entertainment for the first wounded soldiers repatriated to Australia.

My favourite chapters were those that looked at the war through individuals. Joy Damousi chose John Springthorpe as her focal point, the prominent physical, reformer and public intellectual, whose memorial to his wife I wrote about here.  She discusses three instances where Springthorpe stepped into the public limelight to publicize aspects of the war. The first was his denunciation of the Red Cross’ handling of supplies to Egypt in 1915, drawn from his own eyewitness experience and for which he was himself criticized for publicizing. The second was his commentary on the medical treatment of soldiers on the battlefield and his early recognition of shell-shock, and the third was his vocal campaign for conscription.

I enjoyed Catherine Tiernan’s chapter ‘In Search of Stroud Langford’, a man whose family home – remarkably- was the very house that the author had purchased the previous year.  Starting from the war service records, the chapter does have some family history hallmarks, but in the absence of any personally written narrative, she has had to research his story through the experience of other men who did leave records.

The absolute stand-out chapter for me was John Lack’s ‘The great madness of 1914-1918: families at war on Melbourne’s eastern and western fronts’.  Here the author takes two families: James and Edith Lewis from 41 Kooyong Rd Armadale, and Tom and Eliza Purcell from 21 Berry Street Yarraville.  The Lewis’ war is told through a number of memoirs written by Brian Lewis more than 60 years later, and the Purcell’s story is told through the diary of Thomas Purcell, written between 1915 and 1920, now kept at the State Library of Victoria.  Between these two families, Lack explores issues of class and religion in the response to the war.  It’s a terrific chapter: human and insightful.

Many of the contributors have appeared in different fora over the past few years. So, if you’d like to attend a seminar on World War I in Victoria without moving from your computer chair, find the journal online at the State Library’s site!