Topic: Gen - St - Vic
General Items about Early 20th Century Victoria
Richmond Goes to War: 1914-1918
In a book written by Janet McCalman called Struggletown - Portrait of an Australian Working Class Community 1900-1965, (Melbourne 1984), the story of Richmond, a suburb located within the Melbourne metropolitan area, in one part of a chapter, she tells of the life faced by the ordinary Australians in response to the trials of the Great War. It makes compelling reading. Below is the extract.
Richmond Goes to War: 1914-1918
The declaration of war between Great Britain and Germany on 4 August 1914 marked the real end of the nineteenth century. The twentieth century has above all been the century of total wars and World War I was to drag an isolated human community like Richmond into a global theatre of shared suffering, dislocation and change. And the impact of war on a working-class community was necessarily different from that on the more affluent. Putting aside for a moment the private tragedies of lost lives and health, working-class people would have to do more than their fair share of the dirty work on the battlefield and in the factory: they lacked the cash to mitigate the inevitable hardships of war; working-class men were more likely to enlist because of unemployment; their death or incapacitation would inflict greater deprivation on their dependants. Even in those first months of heady patriotism, Richmond went to war with wariness and trepidation. 1
The war was a mixed blessing for the Richmond economy. The knitting mills, textile and boot factories flourished under war contracts, the engineering firm of Ruwolt's began threatening the residential charm of Burnley Street. On the Hill arose the Pelaco shirt factory, a rude and ungainly blot on the Richmond skyline. As the Burnley Progress Association argued in the autumn of 1916, war industry was to be applauded as long as its factories did not appear in the suburb's `ideal residential areas'.2 But a ratepayer from the Hill was to complain by 1918:
Living in Rowena Parade, at the back of the Clifton Joseph's Cap Factory, our neighbours and myself can vouch for the nuisance it is. Our property, inside and out, is being spoiled with the black smoke and flakes from the narrow spout chimney ... Sometimes we have to take the clothes off the line and rewash them.3
Yet despite the rush to enlist, the first months of the war saw an alarming rise in unemployment. War contracts took time to assign and implement. Export industries like the tanneries had to readjust quickly. Many small businesses, including home-building, that thrived on peace, floundered. And when the war contracts did come in, they favoured the skilled over the unskilled and often the female over the male. Only by the winter of 1916 did demands for relief on the Richmond Ladies' Benevolent Society fall significantly and the Town Hall have a mere eighteen men registered as unemployed. Yet by February 1917 Labor Call saw the problem as `terrible in the extreme', as returned soldiers swelled the ranks of those seeking work. Even in prospering industries, young single men found themselves laid off by employers who hoped they would enlist.4 The patriotic Richmond Guardian, which remained carefully neutral during the conscription crisis, paid this tribute to Richmond's first Victoria Cross winner, Private Thomas Cooke, a carpenter who left a widow and three children:
He was an ambitious young man, and, though a skilled tradesman, who would have been welcomed into permanent employment in normal times, he believed that he would ultimately do better by launching out for himself. But the bursting of the war-cloud upset his plans. The building trade became slack. For any little contracts that were going there was keen competition. None of the big firms wanted men. They were putting off even their oldest hands. Private Cooke obtained temporary employment in the fitting up of transports, but it did not last. He put prices in for several advertised `jobs', but without success. There was only one thing left. Private Cooke enlisted. That was in February 1915. The following day a letter was delivered at the Gardner Street house which offered him a contract, and which would have kept him going for at least six months. Private Cooke would have liked to stay near his wife and children. Private Cooke, our first Victoria Cross winner, was an industrial conscript. 5
Civilians also had to cope with a burgeoning cost of living. Food prices rose by 40 per cent between 1913 and 1919, and footwear and clothing by at least as much. Wages rose, too, but the increases were not uniform and working-class incomes lagged well behind prices. War and drought had a devastating effect on meat prices and consumption: in 1913 137,783 sheep were slaughtered at the Richmond Abattoirs and in 1916 only 71,408. Pork consumption rose to plug the gap but by September 1915 a number of Richmond butchers had closed and the Richmond Council unsuccessfully petitioned the State Government to legislate powers for the importation of frozen meat from Queensland to be sold at a Council shop. The Council, however, did award its employees a three-shilling bonus to offset the rise in food prices. War also brought taxation into working-class life. In 1915 the Government instituted the first federal income tax, an entertainment tax and a war-time profits tax.6
One Richmond business that did very well out of the war was the Richmond Guardian itself. Despite the loss of German and Swedish paper, it found enough to expand from a four-page local into a modern eight-page newspaper, replete with bold headlines, photographs and war news to rival the metropolitan dailies. But its greatest attraction lay in the letters home from Richmond boys at the front; and, in its eagerness to bring the war to Richmond, the paper ran foul of the War Precautions Act in early 1916. Censorship shielded civilians from many of the terrors of the war and Richmond read mostly of jaunty heroes: `Happy Times in Trenches and Hospitals' headed the report of Christmas 1916. Inevitably, war-shocked survivors returned to a community which had little conception of what they had endured. Some old soldiers, like Bill O'Reilly, are still unable to talk about their war. And for some, only the wives who nursed them through the nightmares, understood the anger, the drinking and the violence that their children found unforgivable. Many returned servicemen were only to feel truly comfortable in the company of their fellows, a shared emotional isolation that fortified the Returned Servicemen's League for decades to come.7
The press did help break down some of the cultural isolation of the Australian working class. The war stimulated newspaper reading among people-especially women-who had not previously incorporated newspapers into daily life. By January 1915 the Richmond libraries reported a rush on their reading rooms as people scoured the press, especially the still uncensored American publications, for war news. Once the war became locked in stalemate, however, attendances returned to pre-war levels; but borrowing remained high, as people sought escape in books as well as in the new excitements of the cinema. 8 Above all, the soldiers' letters in papers like the Guardian were the first testimonies of working-class tourists. Only a 'handful of the Richmond elite had travelled abroad before the war and their travellers' tales had all the relevance of going to the moon. Now ordinary Richmond lads were seeing the world and their observations were absorbed into the national sense of identity. Private C. S. Penn remarked:
If ever I was glad to have been a white man it was in Ceylon, when I saw the natives loading coal. They had to lift it up the ship's side, a bag at a time, and the wages are Is. a day. Our wharf labourers do not know what work is.9
Private R. W. Young wrote from Mena of the fate that befell one Australian who lifted the veil of an Arab woman:
He paid for it with his life. His throat was cut from ear to ear. The Arabs are handy with the knife, and some of our fellows will find it out to their sorrow if they don't watch out ...10
Private Walter Hutchings, formerly a compositor on the Richmond Guardian, reported friendlier receptions after he was invalided from Gallipoli to England:
The Australians seem to be looked up to here more than the English "Tommy". One only has to let visitors know he is an Australian and he has everything that is going and dozens of offers to call here with a car and show him around, treat him to tea, cigarettes, stamps, fun, etc. I have been offered money by several, but, of course, would not take it.11
The Anzacs' welcome was eventually to wear thin in England, but in these honeymoon days as colonial exotics they benefited from social intimacies the upper class could not risk with working-class British soldiers. But if the Guardian brought vignettes of foreign parts to Richmond, it also brought something of Richmond to the trenches. Corporal F. J. Maher wrote on behalf of ten `Richmond lads' who were being sent the Guardian in Gallipoli: `I can assure you it is real good to get your paper here, and although it is a month old when we get it, the news is quite fresh to us'.12
The Richmond Guardian certainly played its part along with the clergy, the schools and community leaders, in the 'manufacturing' of patriotism; but it reported as much as exhorted, and it now provides a valuable record of the impact of World War I on an Australian working-class community. And the story it reveals of Richmond at war is not one of unremitting patriotic enthusiasm, furious knitting bees, white feathers and Hun fever which was then split asunder by sectarian and class bitterness over conscription. Rather, it describes all these well-documented phenomena of the war operating over a mass of somewhat confused but decent people, in conflict between a simple sense of national duty and wariness as to what price they would really have to pay. And Richmond certainly did do its duty and paid an outrageous price in lives lost and maimed, a community sacrifice still visible on the Honour Boards of Richmond's schools. Will Parker, who served in France, saw something lost for ever:
Oh, it was the pick of the country who went and all young men. And if you had false teeth you were no good; if you had glasses you were no good. It worried me to think that such fine and physically able and in character strong-so many to be killed, crippled, maimed.
At the beginning Richmond went to war with a vengeance. War was a godsend to community opportunists-politicians, charity workers, clergy, businessmen, teachers and the self-important. Within a fortnight of the declaration of war the Richmond Progress Association saw a chance of toppling Mayor Gordon Webber in the Council elections by impugning his loyalty. Webber trimmed his republican sails, began standing for the National Anthem and chaired a meeting of patriotic citizens to raise money for war victims. He was returned with a solid majority. The vicar of St Stephen's, the Reverend George Lamble, by early September was `much impressed during the last few weeks by what he regards as signs of a growing seriousness in the life of the people'. Many Protestant clergy would be caught by their hopes that the war would inspire a religious revival and their efforts to justify the appalling losses in the name of God. Lamble himself did well out of the war, serving as an army captain-chaplain and busying himself on return with a soldiers' social club at Richmond House that later provided the nucleus for the R.S.L. in Richmond. The battle-hungry flocked to enlist and at Richmond's official farewell to its first 284 volunteers, a Boer War veteran, Corporal Gainge, promised that they would be 'proud of their soldier boys' for this was 'real war' whereas the Boer War 'was only bushranging'.13 By late March 1915 nearly 1500 Richmond men had volunteered; yet, amidst all the enthusiasm before Gallipoli, a Red Cross function gave ominous warning of how working-class civilians really felt. The Ladies' Committee of the Richmond Red Cross was inspired to use George Coppin's former mansion, 'Pine Lodge', as the setting for a gala fete and, at night, a palais de danse reminiscent of the house's former glories. Respectful of Richmond's poverty, admission was set at sixpence, with threepence per dance and supper. Weeks of preparation and lavish publicity promised a splendid evening and hundreds of dancers were expected. They sold four tickets. Rather than see the food rot and the drinks go down the drain, they declared the dance free and only then did the crowds come. The Richmond Guardian was shattered:
It was evidently sheer meanness and reluctance to part with a small coin. Trouble did not end there. Some unprincipled persons annexed four of the Oriental Lanterns that had been hired to illuminate the grounds, and on top of this some urchins forced their way in on Sunday and finished up all the unsold soft drinks and refreshments. 14
Somehow, £25 was raised for the Belgian Relief Fund.
Then came Gallipoli and the first Australian life lost was that of Captain J. P. Lalor, the 'frank faced son' of Richmond's Dr Peter Lalor and grandson of the hero of the Eureka Stockade. He died valiantly from shrapnel wounds and by his corpse lay six Turks shot to death and a seventh killed by the sword.15 Five other Richmond men were on that first casualty list and the community armoured its innocence with defiance: the Guardian titled its first photograph of the landing as 'The Most Famous Feat of Arms in History'; later feats in France would bring only grief. 16
Gallipoli invigorated the persecution of Germans in Richmond. Since the first days of the war the press and local patriots had taken it upon themselves to investigate the loyalties of prominent local Germans like Hugo Wertheim of Wertheim's piano factory. Like communities all around Australia, Richmond had early purged its street names of Hun associations but, with Gallipoli, Hun Fever really took off. In one sitting alone of the Richmond Court, two cases were cited as examples of inherent Hun brutality: one was a drunken Swede, and the other charges against two brothers, Edward and Albert Dennert, who had ordered a man out of a paddock behind their father's pub in Victoria Street. The Guardian headlined the Dennert case: 'The Huns at Home: Brutal attack on Peaceful Citizen' and the brothers were sentenced to three months gaol. A month later the Dennerts appealed and the judge quashed their conviction, finding no evidence of undue violence in their actions. In May one Richmond girl preferred patriotism to respectability and was applauded for refusing to marry the German father of her illegitimate baby. 17 German businesses were boycotted and German workers sacked, but for Friedrich Smith the consequence were lifelong:
Being of German descent, I doubt if I did three years schooling of the eight I was supposed to do. The coming of the First World War changed everything as far as I was concerned and one thing I did learn was to defend myself. Even some of the teachers would come into the class and ask how your grandmother was in Germany-well we had no way of answering those sorts of questions. And kids would call you a 'dirty German' and one thing and another, and of course one would take a poke at you and another one would. So I carried the few books I'd need in those days and I had a wooden pencil case tied together with a long strap. Well if the kids got daring and there was more than I could handle, I'd swing the strap. And one kid, I cut his lip and knocked two teeth out. And his father came over to have a go at me but he didn't realize that my father was home and my father just picked him up over the front fence and said: 'If you come in here, you knock on the door like anybody else'.
People who really knew us, they were damned sorry, but a lot of people were very bitter. My father had difficulty in getting local work. He used to go on the wharf, but being a naturalized subject, he couldn't continue working there, so he got a job in the Victorian Railways and he was working on the railway lines up round Bright and Rutherglen and he'd come home only occasionally.
There were to be some unexpected benefits from the war for workingclass civilians. The medical rejection rate among Australian volunteers, and reports of the British Army where soldiers were unable to masticate coarse rations, alarmed the general public about the physical and dental health of the working class. Then in July 1915 the St Stephen's Harriers Club announced ashamedly: 'Quite a number of members have tried to enlist during the last few months, but in every case dental troubles have arisen'. A public meeting was convened at once and the Richmond Council made a deputation to the Minister for Education for funds to establish a dental clinic for Richmond State school pupils. The Minister was sympathetic but unable to help; the Council started its own fund but failed to raise enough for the clinic to open. 18
Muscles fared better than teeth, however, especially female muscles. And the scene for the health and fitness campaign for the youth of Richmond was the municipal baths. (Not that these fresh-water baths were all that salubrious. In 1911 Annie Morcombe, aged thirteen, drowned in six feet of water, but the bathkeeper had to clear the 150 women and girls from the water, count them besides their bundles of clothes and then dive repeatedly before he could find her body.) The bathkeeper, Mr W. I. Bennett, had organized a life-saving club and in May 1916 photographs of the female members of the club appeared in the Guardian and the Melbourne Herald. The papers were besieged with letters from young men proposing rendezvous and marriage; and on meeting nights the 'girls gather round and the letters are read aloud'. The Richmond Council then launched what it claimed to be Australia's first Municipal Gymnasium to build a 'fit future Army for Australia' at the cost of only £1 per man. The gymnasium was for both sexes but the girls stole the limelight, and if the Army reaped little benefit from it, female emancipation did. Now respectable girls could publicly pursue and display physical excellence, an opportunity hitherto allowed only on the stage. Prudes, of course, wasted no time and Father Brennan banned a performance by the girls in St Ignatius' hall. Mr Bennett and his girls were undeterred and in January 1918 staged a swimming carnival at the baths to raise funds for a forthcoming Patriotic Carnival. A susceptible reporter from the Guardian was quite overcome by the vision of the 'new freedom' inspired by Annette Kellermann and Richmond's own Grace Buller, 'in the use and display of the female body'. Here were nice girls a chap could marry 'in skin-tight costumes which allowed a liberal display of leg, neck and arm, [who] looked the embodiment of physical perfection'. The 'new freedom' had still a long way to go, however. At the end of the carnival boys and girls jumped into the water together, and when Mr Bennett applied to the Council the following week for permission to run mixed bathing one day a week to promote attendances, the councillors unanimously refused. They had been disgusted by the way the carnival had 'degenerated' at the end, and feared for the moral welfare of the young people of Richmond.19
But the most significant effect of the war on Richmond was in the growing maturity of working-class politics. Gallipoli hastened the demise of unthinking jingoism. Now that war was real and awful, and the magnitude of the losses in the Dardanelles had weakened the Australian commitment to the Empire, serious appeals for volunteers had to be made for the first time; and in July 1915 the minimum height for recruits was lowered to five feet two inches.20 In the first week in July, Prime Minister Billy Hughes addressed a recruitment meeting at the Richmond Town Hall. The people `crowded liked packed sardines around the passageways and the corridors'; Hughes was magnificent:
No man need hesitate ... They were in a life and death struggle. They had to kill or be killed. They had to crumple the despot that was now threatening to reduce all Europe to a shambles--a foe that put its forces against civilization and Christianity ... They lived here in Australia under a glorious charter of liberty and that had been won for them by the British race through years of perpetual struggle.21
The military mission for civilization and Christianity quite overwhelmed Richmond public life. The August Council elections passed almost unnoticed - 'the war overshadows everything'.22 Even John Wren was keen to do his bit and on 11 September the Guardian published a collage of photographs of 'Private Wren's First Day in Camp' - getting up, eating, digging and washing. Private Wren was also applying his singular talents to the Imperial cause: he was hon. sec. of the camp sports committee and was 'building an entertainment stadium' to keep the troops 'away from the lures of the city'.23 On 21 July 1915 the working-class clubs in the Victorian Football League outvoted the middle-class clubs who wanted all football suspended for the duration of the war, but once the Grand Final was over, seven of Richmond's players, including the legendary 'Checker' Hughes, succumbed to the pressure to enlist. Most of the patriotic condemnation of spectator sport was aimed at working-class pleasures rather than cricket and racing, but in October 1915 the Richmond Methodists added their small voice and called for the cancellation of the Melbourne Cup.24
Yet, by the end of 1915, as the toll of dead, wounded and sick rose, evidence of war strain began to mount. Repatriated wounded and sick troops appeared in the streets and the public became alarmed by delinquency from soldiers on leave. Christmas saw a brutal riot erupt among four hundred people outside a hotel on the corner of Burnley Street and Bridge Road. Two men were given heavy sentences for bashing a soldier over the head with a bottle and a handkerchief full of broken glass. New Year brought news of the evacuation from Gallipoli and Richmond counted its cost: sixty-three dead, sixteen missing, two hundred and thirty-two wounded or ill.25
In January 1916 the country was in the thick of a recruitment drive for the new army of 50,000. Richmond was assessed to have 8,000 men of military age and was set a quota of 428. By mid-January 4,200 men had replied to the 8,000 enlistment cards sent out. The Guardian published the results to date, hoping to shame shirkers into facing up to their duty. It was never to go into such detail again; for the responses only gave heart to the unwilling. Of the 1,739 replies classified - 113 were declared ready for immediate enlistment; 63 were prepared to enlist at a later date; 171 volunteered but were medically unfit; and 1,168 refused outright; 708 of these were married and 459 single. The Guardian then cited some of the disgraceful replies of those who had refused:
One man who has a wife and five children declared: 'Any man who is in such a position as me is always at war'. Several replies were received to the effect: `I will enlist when all the Germans are discharged from Newport Workshops'. One man said: 'I refuse to leave my mother to the tender mercies of the Commonwealth' and others offered to go 'when all the Germans in Australia are interned'. Alleged conscientious objectors to the war are plentiful. The most concise, most original, and probably the most truthful reason given is expressed in one word only 'frightened'.26
In the midst of a heatwave in the last week of January, recruiting sergeants pounded Richmond's 'well scorched streets' only to find most men at work and many employers barring them from speaking to their workers. A massive rally at the Town Hall addressed by Senator Pearce yielded only twelve volunteers. When the new recruits marched through the streets a week later, only one hundred and twenty were to be counted. By March the final replies were in. Nearly eight hundred had not bothered to reply at all despite the severe penalties for not doing so. And Richmond had failed to fill its quota--defeated by lack of commitment to a middle-class war and by the poor standard of working-class health. The final statistics were never published and the campaign boded ill for the chances of raising the one hundred and sixty-six reinforcements needed from Richmond each month to keep the A.I.F. up to strength. Nationally the prospect of conscription loomed.27
In its last meeting for February, the Richmond Council reluctantly debated conscription. Councillor Strahan won over a majority vote for giving the voluntary system a fair trial: 'It is only a matter of wages', he argued. 'Pay the men £1 a day and you will soon get as many soldiers as you require.' Councillor Kemp, the Independent for prosperous West Ward, was shocked that pay was a 'disincentive ... patriotism should be enough'. Six weeks later Councillors Strahan and Kemp were again at loggerheads over the war-this time in response to the Shire of Ripon's call for the banning of all sport for the duration of the war. And as debate over the war began to fall into class lines, the Army recruitment campaign descended to the plain macabre. Sergeant Pulford and his armless, eyeless 'sweetheart for life', Sergeant Ball V.C., began holding recruitment meetings in the streets of Richmond. Ball had won the V.C. at Gallipoli for bringing wounded mates in from the firing line and ended with seventy bullet wounds. With Pulford holding him up in the back of a lorry he made 'a pathetic appeal' while Pulford told `the truth about Gallipoli': 'We didn't have to leave because we were beaten. We had to leave because we didn't have enough men to avenge the deaths of all of those brave comrades of ours who fell'. The ghastly pair did better than the politicians, though, and at their Victoria Street meeting won fourteen recruits. 28
The gradual class polarization of the conscription debate was revealed by the struggles within the Australian Natives Association. In May the Richmond branch refused to endorse the A.N.A. Conference's policy on the grounds that the voluntary system had not yet proved a failure. A week later the branch president, Mr H. Palling, addressed the Richmond Council. Councillor Burgess, as a member of the Home Defence Forces, demanded to know why Palling himself had not enlisted. Palling exploded:
... as a married man, I do not as yet consider it my bounden duty to volunteer when thousands of parasites, more eligible than myself, with no intention of ever realizing their responsibilities, are loafing round Melbourne today. (Hear, hear) I am a conscriptionist. That system is the most equitable and democratic. By conscription I do not mean merely the conscribing of the manhood of this country, but also its wealth. I believe it is unfair to conscribe the eligible manhood of this country to fight, and to allow ineligibles, whether individual, firm or organization, to make exorbitant profits as a result of conditions arising from this war while others are giving life and limb for our country. Further, in my opinion, thousands of those who volunteered were conscripts in its worst and most deplorable form-men who were forced to enlist to provide the necessities of life for their dependants.. They did not volunteer-they were conscripted.29
Community tension was rising. A curious case came before the Richmond Court in late July when three women alleged that a group of youths had insulted them outside the Richmond station the previous Sunday. The youths had teasingly called out 'Taylors' because the women were wearing the colours of the Taylors jam factory football team. But the women were also wearing their husbands' battalion colours and when they accused the youths of disrespect to the colours and of shirking their duty, they were hooted and abused .30
In the first week in August the Richmond Council passed a resolution opposing conscription, but at the same time called a meeting in the Town Hall to mark the beginning of the third year of the war. The attendance was pitiful and [the] Mayor had to explain that Friday was a bad night for such a gathering: `The women folk are all out shopping' he said, `and most of the men have to stay at home to mind the house, if not the baby'. Then on 19 August the Guardian recorded 'Richmond's darkest hour'-the casualty lists from the slaughter at Pozieres. In contrast to the 1915 municipal elections, voters all over Melbourne seemed galvanized into a new political awareness. Poll turnouts were astounding and in Richmond class lines hardened: in West Ward the Progressive Association's anti-Labor candidate and in South Ward Labor's Maurice Joyce both won with record majorities. And Palling entered the Richmond Council uncontested .31
A fortnight later Frank Tudor, the Minister for Customs, resigned from Cabinet and announced that he would campaign against conscription. Tudor had prevaricated for weeks, claiming he could not come out in the open until Cabinet had made up its mind. But his hand was finally forced by the Richmond branch of the P.L.C. who had committed themselves to the campaign and virtually presented their M.H.R. with an ultimatum. That weekend the news from France was even worse. The Richmond dead outnumbered the wounded; two brothers had been killed side by side; another two were missing.32
Tudor soon assumed the federal leadership of the Anti Conscription campaign. It helped that he was a teetotal Congregationalist, albeit one who had enraged militant Protestants in Richmond by supporting Irish Home Rule.33 But he also presided over a P.L.C. that was fighting for its life. The Richmond P.L.C. came late to the conscription debate because it was preoccupied with defending the integrity of the party against assaults on two fronts-from the Catholic Federation and the Drink interest. Parallel with the evolution of war politics in Richmond ran a story of sectarian tensions within the Labor Party and of conflict over the role of the state in the regulation of morals. The result was a highly complex reaction to the war and conscription: the formation of a broad non-sectarian alliance against conscription and a split within the Catholic community over State Aid to church schools and the nature and role of the Labor Party. Ted Sullivan, whose family were in the thick of these battles within the P.L.C., sees the seeds of the 1955 Split as being sown during World War I. Alliances and prejudices were formed then, that in the family dynasties of Richmond Labor politics were passed from generation to generation-and still endure.
In 1914 the public leadership of the Richmond branch of the Catholic Federation had come from the elite-men like Councillor G. R. Admans and Dr M. P. Macgillicuddy. Then, Ted Cotter, although a Catholic, refused to support State Aid in the 1914 State election and attracted enough Protestant votes to win by a record majority. The failure to win Catholic votes away from the Labor Party in the election persuaded the Catholic Federation that they should use Catholic Laborites to capture the party from within. In Richmond 'Jack' Brady, secretary of the Richmond Hibernians and a former secretary of the Richmond branch of the P.L.C., was promoted to leadership of the Federation branch. In November 1914 the Victorian Central Executive of the P.L.C. had proscribed members of the Catholic Federation, the Licensed Victuallers' Association, the Loyal Orange Lodge and the Women's Political Association as being within Rule 38 (g) which forbade membership of the P.L.C. The Catholic Federation and Dr Mannix campaigned furiously to have the ruling overturned at the 1915 State Conference, and in Richmond Brady threatened to stand as a Catholic candidate if 'Cohen and Co. do not mend their attitude'. But the State President, Laurie Cohen, won a resounding victory at Conference and the Federation was further thwarted by the resolution that any members of the party known to have worked or voted against endorsed candidates at the State election were to be expelled. The result was the founding of the Catholic Workers' Association, formed to educate the Labor movement from within in the merits of the Catholic cause. Hot on the heels of the Catholic Federation came the Liquor Lobby. In July and August 1916 the Richmond branches of the P.L.C. found themselves swamped with new members. George Vesper, secretary of the Richmond branch, was dismayed as over a hundred new members, 'nearly all of them employed at malt houses, breweries, bottle works and yards', were attending in force. A week later the conscription campaign began.34
Tudor spoke first to a record attendance at the P.L.C. branch meeting: the conscription campaign had fatally weakened the voluntary system, he told them, and `as far as Richmond was concerned, it had given three thousand recruits-a record surpassed by no other city in Australia'. A committee was formed to collaborate with the Abbotsford and Collingwood branches to arrange meetings in Yarra. Prime Minister Hughes then called for the Mayor of Richmond to organize a pro-conscription meeting. Councillor Fear did not reply. In the next fortnight Richmond men attended in force for the Home Service call-up. Eventually 1,503 were examined: 604 were declared fit; 329 were rejected; 510 were doubtful; 60 were found to be temporarily unfit. Exemptions were claimed by a further 885-mostly on grounds of being only sons, or of having to support parents or of working in war industry.35
On 11 July Tudor addressed a public meeting in the Town Hall. Even the Richmond Guardian, which Tudor accused of not reporting Anti meetings, could not ignore this one, for `It was easily the biggest crowd that has ever gathered in or about the municipal building'. Mayor Fear led the procession of official Laborites. Tudor declared that being anti-compulsion was not being anti-war and spoke proudly of Richmond's contribution of volunteers. But also he told them that this was the most important meeting ever held in Richmond:
The people were asked to decide a question that not only had an important bearing on their own history, but on the history of all nations. It was the first time in history that a question had been submitted to the people of a country as to whether they should adopt a system which until a very short time ago was absolutely unknown in any British country.36
The next evening T. Ryan, a South Australian Labor M.H.R., gave a pro-conscription address. He was abused and ridiculed with parodies of Salvation Army refrains until he was forced to flee under police escort out the back of the Town Hall through a ‘howling mob of five hundred men'. When it came to the vote a fortnight later, 72.64 per cent of the civilian voters of Yarra said 'No' to conscription.37
The referendum over, the Richmond P.L.C. returned to its battle with the Liquor Lobby. The vote in State Parliament on six o'clock closing was imminent and the Guardian noted one of Richmond's political ironies:
Richmond's parliamentary representatives are an enigma if not a conundrum. Tudor is a teetotaller who was present at the Liquor Trades' picnic. 'Gor Save' Webber now the M.L.A. for Abbotsford is also a teetotaller, but voted against six o'clock closing and Ted Cotter who will enjoy a drink with either a lord or a labourer voted for the Bill.
Cotter's opposition to the Liquor Lobby - intriguing in view of his alleged later attachment to John Wren - provoked a furious attempt to dump him as Richmond's M.L.A. The branch's new members, whose admission fees had been paid by their liquor trade employers, overturned all the rules of procedure, but Cotter managed to hang on. Snide suggestions that the Catholic Federation had collaborated with the Liquor Lobby to remove Cotter led to angry denials. The Guardian was unrepentant and alleged that the Federation and the Liquor Lobby shared a ‘secret agent' - a certain Horatio Phelan. Phelan had come in 'as a silent worker in the last State elections', had subsequently associated himself closely with the Catholic Federation, and now reigned as a 'dictator' over the branch membership which had recently been 'so incontinently inflated'. The Guardian continued: 'In everyday life Mr Phelan is associated with the firm of bacon curers that have made such a feature of the shrewd and clever trade mark "Don't Argue". Mr Phelan does not act up to it at Labor League meetings'.38 A fortnight later Phelan got himself made a delegate to Annual Conference and pledged himself-in order-to (1) seeing that Catholic schools got a fair deal for the payment of teachers (2) advocating the rights of the Liquor trade and (3) improving the Labor platform. The meeting exploded and the Guardian commented:
What a mundane world it is, to be sure! Twelve months ago almost to a day, Messrs L. Kenny and McMahon were permitted to put the case for the Catholic Federation before the annual conference of the P.L.C. Mr Kenny stigmatized the delegates he was addressing as `godless socialists'. The meeting fell upon him in indignation. Mr Kenny was proposed and accepted as one 6f the `godless' at the last Richmond branch meeting of the P.L.C.39
The old guard of the Richmond P.L.C. took the only course open and walked out. George Vesper, Dr David Rosenberg and old Catholic Laborites like Richard Loughnan who refused to be drawn into sectarian politics, set up a rival branch of the P.L.C., producing Richmond's first Labor split. The new branch became known as Vesper's League and it would take two years for the P.L.C. Central Executive's call for re-amalgamation to be heeded. (In February 1916 George Vesper had been appointed assistant rate collector for the Richmond Council amidst cries of `jobs for the boys'. Then in early 1919 the rate collector, Mr C. R. Syle, was dismissed for alleged incompetence and for corruptly favouring certain ratepayers. Syle claimed that a vendetta had been conducted against him ever since he had successfully sued Gordon Webber for libel five years before. His protestations were ignored and Vesper became Richmond's rate collector, a position he held until his retirement in 1938. On retirement Vesper immediately stood for Council and died in office in 1943.)40
Simultaneously in these early months of 1917, the Left critique of the war was strengthening. Dr Mannix's deprecation of the conflict as an 'ordinary trade war' earned him the respect and gratitude of Labor Call and the Victorian Socialist Party, and the continuing resentment of loyalist Protestants. If Mannix's stand drove away as many Protestant votes against conscription as it won from Catholics, then certainly in Richmond Tudor's Protestantism seems to have fortified the non-Catholic Anti cause. And Tudor shared some of Mannix's doubts about the moral justification for the war. Certainly recruiting in Richmond was becoming ever more difficult. People still turned out for recruitment meetings-three thousand packed the Cinema Theatre in Richmond in early February when a young girl broke down after reciting 'Kitchener's Call'. Yet few replied to the invitations sent to every eligible man in the suburb and only an old man and a handful of boys offered themselves that night.41 Recruitment meetings were by now no more than free theatre. A few days later Tudor spoke at a recruitment meeting at the Melbourne Town Hall. Of the war that two years before had been hailed as the means to a moral and religious regeneration of the nation, he now despaired.
Today there was a bloodlust among the people. We saw red and thought red and were unable to reason as we did two and a half years ago. When we read of a number of enemies being `wiped out' and sent to their Maker, we rejoiced. We did not think as we used to think.42
By April the country was in the thick of a Federal election campaign. Tudor was then leader of the fractured Federal Labor Party and at his first Richmond meeting on Sunday afternoon, 22 April, three thousand people crammed into Barrett's Cinema. But it was Adela Pankhurst, not Tudor, who captured the meeting:
The landlords of England believed in war, and were responsible for its declaration. They should see that the people at home belonging to those whom they were compelling to fight, did not starve ... The war was being waged in the interests of the wealthy, and the poor would suffer for it for generations to come. Peace could never be obtained until the mass of the people in the belligerent nations desired it. For the sake of women, for the sake of international peace, the only people to govern the Commonwealth were those chosen by the Labor Party.43
The audience listened with rare attention and gave her 'prolonged applause'. News of the meeting inspired four thousand to attend the next one and when, the following week, the Director-General of Recruiting spoke in Richmond, he was howled down. Despite the national defeat for the Labor Party, Tudor's majority in Yarra was untarnished.44
Vesper's Labor League now formulated a radical position on the war and in June resolved that the Labor movement must safeguard and defend `the industrial, civic and conscientious rights of the workers, which have been achieved through many years of toil and suffering, lest these be swept away by the rising torrent of conscription and capitalism which is gathering universal momentum'. Their fears were well founded in their own suburb alone. The following week a report on Richmond industry revealed an unprecedented 'high tide of prosperity'. Nearly all local manufacturers reported a higher turnover than before the war, even industries without war contracts were sharing in the boom. But the boom in capitalism was not being shared by labour. Adela Pankhurst spoke again to a full Town Hall in August on the deterioration of the working-class standard of living: since the outbreak of war wages had risen only 39½ per cent compared with the cost of living's 50 per cent. None the less, the recruitment campaign had dried up even the economic conscripts and by the end of July the Guardian was forced to admit that recruitment in Richmond was `like flogging a dead horse'. The Victorian Socialist Party seized the chance to arouse public indignation at the unfair economic burden of the war. They engaged the Richmond Town Hall for a rally on 24 September and organized for a crowd to march from the Yarra bank to Richmond. Mrs Jenny Baines counselled the marchers before they set off: 'She did not tell them to break windows, but she advised them to do what they thought best. She said that if people wanted food they should go to the cool stores or to the bakers and the butchers and the other places and take it'. Under banners like 'Arrest the Profiteers' and 'Why starve when Mice and Rats grow Fat', they marched through Richmond. Curiously, the police were stationed on the wrong route and the demonstrators had free rein along Swan Street. Among the first plate-glass windows to go were those of William Angliss, the meat king. The furniture stores of Tye and Co. and Maples incurred £160 and, £125 worth of damage and Dimmey's £55. Only three people were arrested and the four hundred marchers joined a mere two hundred in the crowning Town Hall meeting. 45
Dr Mannix succeeded better at becoming the figurehead for the Anti cause. His Anti-Compulsory Service League welded Catholic conservatives and Laborites tinder a common banner and his extraordinary rally on the Richmond Racecourse propelled leading St Ignatius' laymen from the Catholic Federation into the campaign. The role of Irish patriotism is hard to determine. Dr Brendan Ryan's family, within the privacy of the home, were still very Irish: 'Thomas Fitzgerald and Wolf Tone were household names; the romantic elixir of the brave was very much with us'; and the family remained unmoved by the general English patriotism of war-time Richmond. Yet when Brendan went to Xavier, even though the school's Jesuits were an Irish province, he found that few boys shared his loyalties. The civilian Anti vote in Yarra in the second Conscription referendum reached 73.27 per cent and even if every single Richmond Catholic followed Dr Mannix's call, twice as many Richmond Protestants voted 'No' to conscription. For Richmond it was a class, not a sectarian, cause.46
1918 was to be a year of healing. With the conscription crisis over, public feeling returned to honouring and supporting the men at the front. Richmond's Patriotic Carnival raised £1,605 for the blind soldiers in May.47 Then in August a Civic Welcome was mounted for Richmond's returning soldiers, and a lone Richmond caterer, Mr J. Carmichael, prepared an extraordinary tribute to the working-class addiction to refined carbohydrates. While an Imperial Orchestra of thirty played all night in the Library Hall, Richmond's heroes faced:
chicken and ham, egg and lettuce, ham, tongue, cress, roast beef, salmon, lettuce and ham, anchovy and sardine. Chicken and oyster patties
fruit meringues, amazons, spanish meringues, snow balls, Alexandrias, Othellos, Desdemonas, chocolate fingers, fan chousettes, Genoisse cakes, sponges, queens, halfmoons, Vienna pastry, assorted almond pastry, Pretoria shells, dice, macaroons, shortbread squares, French pastry ornamented in various shapes, pears and apples meringued, plain and fancy biscuits, assorted sponge fingers, plain seed and currant cake, ornamented French cakes-orange, nut, rose chocolate.
golden jelly, champagne jelly, madeira jelly, Montpellier cream, charlotte russe, Italian cream, tutti-frutti, trifles en caramelle, fruit salads.
passion fruit, vanilla, strawberry, Fresh fruits in season, dried fruits, nuts, confectionery.
tea, coffee, aerated waters; Wine cups--claret, chablis, pineapple. (No intoxicating liquors were served, the claret cups and punch being the nearest suggestion to strong liquid refreshment.)48
As rumours of the impending Armistice spread, a last-minute rush of volunteers sought to save face. Then on the 11th of the 11th it was all over. Richmond's street celebrations were hosted by Mr Sid Gibb, `well known in sporting circles' and dressed in a frock coat and silk hat. The crowd sang patriotic songs until up Church Street and into Swan Street came a tin band of 'Matchie girls' from Bryant & May, led by a bagpiper. And behind them, bashing away on normally scarce kerosene tins, came a gigantic tin band of all the children of South Richmond.49 In Burnley Rose Saddler, whose father worked hard to provide Burnley State School with an Honour Board of its war dead, was to remember that night as one of the biggest of her life:
My brother came out from the city with the news and my father said, 'We'll ring the school bell', and of course people came out to see why it was ringing-it was about nine o'clock at night. So they marched around the streets and sang and got tins of boiled lollies and they scattered them round.
The next morning my father got up and the school bell was rung again when we were to go to school, but he'd been round the shops and there was to be a picnic down at the Survey Park. We all went down there and our mothers were back getting lunch for us and Dad was at the school. And Emma Murphy said to me: `I won a race that day and got two shillings', and I said: `You're a pro now, Emma'.50
Richmond's first war was over.
1. Richmond Guardian, 8 August 1914.
2. Ibid., 13 February 1915, 7 September 1918, 18 March 1916; Labor Call, 11 February 1915.
3. Richmond Guardian, 11 May 1918.
4. Ibid., 8 July 1916; Labor Call, 1 February 1917.
5. Richmond Guardian, 16 September 1916.
6. Royal Commission on High Prices, VPP, 1919 (v. 2), Final Report p. 6; Richmond Guardian, 6 January 1917, 10 July, 18 September 1915.
7. Richmond Guardian, 15 January 1915, 6 January 1917; George Johnston, My Brother Jack, (London, 1964).
8. Richmond Guardian, 23 January 1915, 6 January 1917.
9. Ibid., 4 April 1916.
10. Ibid., 23 January 1915.
11. Ibid., 8 January 1916.
12. Michael McKernan, The Australian People and the Great War (Melbourne, 1980), pp. 116-49; Richmond Guardian, 21 August 1915.
13. Richmond Guardian, 22, 29 August, 10 September 1914, 28 September 1918, 27 March 1915; McKernan, op. cit., pp. 14-42.
14. Richmond Guardian, 27, March 1915.
15. G. M. Dening, Xavier - A Centenary Portrait, (Melbourne, 1978), p. 109.
16. Richmond Guardian, 8 May, 17 July 1915.
17. Ibid., 17 October 1914, 15 May, 5, 19 June 1915.
18. Ibid., 13 March 1915, 3, 10 July, 16 October 1915, 29 January 1916.
19. Ibid., 2 February 1911, 27 May 1916, 6, 13 January 1917, 26 January, 2 February 1918.
20. Bill Gammage, The Broken Years (Melbourne, 1975), p. 14.
21. Richmond Guardian, 10 July 1915.
22. Ibid., 21 August 1915.
23. Ibid., 11 September 1915.
24. Ibid., 25 September 1915; McKernan, op. cit., pp. 98-105; Richmond Guardian, 9 October 1915.
25. Richmond Guardian, 30 October, 24 December 1915, 8 January 1916.
26. Ibid., 15 January 1916.
27. Ibid., 29 January, 12 February, 11 March 1916.
28. Ibid., 4 March, I S April, 6 May 1916.
29. Ibid., 20, 27 May 1916.
30. Ibid., 29 July 1916.
31. Ibid., 12, 19, 26 August 1916.
32. Ibid., 16 September 1916.
33. Ibid., 17 November 1906.
34. Ibid., 14 June 1913, 21, 28 November 1914, 1 May 1915, 9 September 1916; Celia Hamilton, 'Catholic Interests and the Labor Party, 1910-1916', Historical Studies, No. 33, November 1959, pp. 68-70.
35. Richmond Guardian, 23, 30 September, 14 October 1916.
36. Ibid., 14 October 1916.
37. Ibid., 4 November 1916.
38. Ibid., 6, 27 January, 3, 24 February 1917.
39. Ibid., 10 March 1917.
40. Ibid., 8 February 1917, 5 February 1916, 18 January 1919; Richmond Chronicle, 1 October 1943.
41. Labor Call, 8 February 1917; Richmond Guardian, 10 February 1917.
42. Labor Call, 15 February 1917.
43. Richmond Guardian, 28 April 1917.
44. Ibid., 12 May 1917.
45. Ibid., 9, 16 June, 25 August, 28 July, 29 September 1917.
46. Ibid., 24 November, 22 December 1917.
47. Ibid., 8 June 1918.
48. Ibid., 17 August 1918.
49. Ibid., 9, 16 November 1918.
50. Rose Saddler (pseudonym) spinster, interviewed with her brother Jim by author 29 January 1981.
Further Reading:11 November 1918
Citation: Richmond Goes to War: 1914-1918