Divided sunburnt country: Australia 1916-18 (24): Soldiers’ farewells and welcomes 1917

The ‘Divided sunburnt country’ series

Phil Cashen shows in this post on the excellent Shire at War blog (‘Soldiers’ farewells and welcomes in the first half of 1917’) how intense agendas ran deep beneath the apparently simple gesture of farewelling soldiers’ bound for the war and welcoming them home again.

Looking at reports of eight such events, Cashen points out that the key members of the ‘Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee’

the likes of B P Johnson, Councillor C Barlow, E A Paige, H G Bodman, G F Sauer and Rev F Tamagno – were also the key players in the local recruiting committee, and they had also been the key backers of the Yes vote in the recent referendum. They belonged to the group identified as Imperial Loyalists, in that they backed the Empire completely and supported the national government in its every attempt to support Australia’s efforts as part of the Empire.

The need for – and praise of – volunteers were strong themes in these social gatherings. There were jibes at shirkers and calls for volunteers to step up. As for welcome homes to men who had come back wounded or ill, ‘the stage was set, literally, for speeches that contrasted, vividly and directly, the differences between those who still refused to do their duty and enlist, and those who had paid a terrible price for their loyalty’.

Another common theme has persisted to this day: ‘By early 1917 it was common practice to describe, unashamedly, the Australians fighting on the Western Front as the best soldiers in the world’. Yet, Father Sterling, the local Catholic priest, had some barbed remarks about one of the events which might have hinted at deeper currents.

The Shire at War blog tells Great War home front stories from down Gippsland way, specifically the Shire of Alberton, around Yarram. Search for them on the Honest History site, using the terms ‘Alberton’ and ‘Yarram’ in our search engine – or fossick around the site itself, which is up to post 120 and counting.

8 June 2017

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