Australia's Enthusiasm for War
Australia and World War I
Recruitment Posters and Propaganda

To the last man and the last shilling
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A photograph of men queuing outside a recruiting office in Melbourne, March 1916

As Britain readied itself to declare war on Germany in August 1914, future Australian Prime Minister Andrew Fisher promised: ‘Australia will stand behind our Mother Country to help and defend her to our last man and our last shilling.’
Great Britain's war became Australia's war too. This conflict was called the 'Great War'. It also became known as 'The War to End All Wars', 'The World War' and much later 'World War I'.

Fisher's comment reflected the attitudes of many Australians, who assumed Britain's war to be a just and noble cause in which Australians could demonstrate their loyalty to the ‘mother country’. Like people of all nations, they believed that the war would be short, with the victorious troops home by Christmas, recounting tales of their glorious exploits.

Enthusiasm for war

Pro-British war fever was the dominant emotion in most Australian cities following Britain's declaration of war on Germany on 4 August 1914. Newspapers, competing with one another to demonstrate their loyalty to the mother country, forecast countless heroic deeds against the hated enemy. This enthusiasm was especially significant because the Defence Act 1903 (Cwlth) limited the Australian Army to service in defence of Australia and only on Australian territory. Australia needed to attract volunteers to serve in an army outside Australia.
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Satirical cartoon showing some of the reasons men enlisted

This restriction did not apply to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), which participated in war under the command of Britain's Royal Navy.

Recruitment began on 10 August 1914. Within days, 40 thousand men had volunteered. This was double the number the government had offered to send to Britain. By November, the first group of volunteers, including a large group of the Light Horse, had left for training in Egypt.

By December 1914, 52 000 men had volunteered to serve in the army, to be known as the Australian Imperial Force (the AIF) which, when combined with New Zealanders, would form the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (the Anzacs). Three thousand men served with the Australian Flying Corps (AFC).

About 500 Aboriginal Australians, out of a population of about 80 000, served in World War I. This was despite their poor treatment under British-inspired law and culture and despite the fact that officially the government did not allow them to enlist. They received equal pay and generally equality of treatment with their white counterparts.

With troops off to the battlefront, the Australian Government reinforced its commitment to compulsory military training for all males between the ages of 12 and 25.

Reasons for enlistment

R poster 6.PNGSupport for the ‘mother country’ was not the only reason Australian men rushed to enlist. Other reasons included:
  • boredom and a fear that the opportunity for ‘adventure’ would pass them by if they did not enlist quickly
  • the feeling that it was their ‘duty’ to enlist
  • desire to 'help their mates'
  • unemployment
  • the chance to earn higher wages (6 shillings a day compared with 1 shilling a day for British soldiers)
  • the desire to avoid the disapproval of peers and young women; some women showed their disapproval of men who were not in uniform by giving them a white feather, a symbol of cowardice
  • hatred of the ‘Hun’ (insulting name for Germans)
  • pure patriotism (a love, often irrational. of one's own country above all others)

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Recruitment Posters and Propaganda

Coo-ee marches in the news

A famous march occurred in Australia in 1915 at a time when the numbers of new recruits were dwindling after the heavy losses at Gallipoli. A group of about 20 new recruits, led by WT Hitchen, began a march from Gilgandra, New South Wales, to other country towns to influence men to join up. It became known as the Coo-ee march, and it continued for about 500 kilometres. By the time it reached Sydney, its numbers had grown to over 260 recruits.
Similar marches occurred in other country towns. You can find more information on these at the Australian War Memorial website. AWM Recruiting Marches

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The Coo-ee march passes through Katoomba, New South Wales.

Opposition to war

A minority of Australians opposed the war. These included conscientious objectors from religious groups such as the Society of Friends (Quakers) and pacifists who were against the taking of human life (see source 2.6). Some trade unionists were against the war because they believed its burden would be carried by working-class people in every country rather than by the middle and upper classes who had more influence in the decision to go to war.

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