Remembrance Day – Special Feature Radio Story – Brisbane Focus
Submitted as university assessment to be ‘aired’ November 10, 2018.
H: The combat of World War I was not exclusive to the battlefront.
H: On the home-front, war pitted citizens, migrants, the clergy and governments against each other.
H: The underlying conditions had been festering for some time.
H: Australia’s small population remote from its Mother Britain had cultivated fear of invasion from China, Japan and even Russia.
H: Thus, as Queensland historian Doctor Jack Ford explains, there was palpable distrust of Germany’s growing attention towards her Pacific Rim colonies.
F: Up until 1914, well the last few years before World War I, Britain and therefore Australia had identified Germany as a threat; and particularly in Queensland we had German New Guinea just above us, but just across the mountains, the Owen Stanleys was German New Guinea; so the Germans were very close to us in Queensland.
H: Then only suspicions, Germany’s cruiser ship visits to Australian ports prior to 1914 were in fact, dishonest.
H: Germany was gathering intel for her plans to cut Allied supply lines in the event of war.
H: Three months into the war, the Royal Australian Navy joined a convoy to hunt down Germany’s vessels.
H: Their first target was Emden, which in two months, had sunk or captured 25 allied steamers.
H: The wait was longer for Australian Imperial Force troops eager to kill the Germany enemy.
H: Men from across Queensland travelled to Brisbane to enlist.
H: Fourteen-hundred volunteers presented at Brisbane’s Town Hall on the first day of recruitment.
H: Recruiting officer Captain James Bean remarked on the many dare-devils’ relief to get in.
H: A makeshift camp was set up in Enoggera followed by another at the Exhibition Grounds to deal with the overflow.
H: The first Queenslanders embarked for war on the 24th of September, 1914.
H: At 12 noon, the 9th Battalion waved their loved ones goodbye from the wharf at Pinkenba in eastern Brisbane.
H: Dr Ford explained they were quickly disappointed.
F: Our blokes were all expecting to go to fight Germans, you know the dreaded Hun.
F: And all of a sudden, they get dumped in Egypt in January of 1915 and told we’re going to train you for fighting the Turks.
F: And they’re all going, “Turks? Why are we fighting the Turks?”
F: We saw Germany as the enemy.
F: Turkey was considered to be a second-rate power called the sick man of Europe.
F: Because by 1914, the Ottoman Empire had basically been cut in half and most of the countries around the mediterranean like Greece and Serbia had actually won their independence. So, Turkey wasn’t considered to be a threat.
F: They suddenly decided after war was declared, they would attack the Russian ports in the Black Sea because they shared the Black Sea with the Russians.
F: And no one expected them to do it. They were expected to stay out of the war, be neutral.
F: They just suddenly threw their lot in with the Germans and the Austro-Hungarians and then everyone went, “Oh, we’ve now got another fight to front on.
H: Sergeant Frank Page sits beside 29 other men mulling over drills they had rehearsed for months.
H: Back home, Mum and Dad in Noosa don’t know where he is … he’s not allowed to tell them.
H: But he’d written assuring them he was as happy as Larry and in the best of health.
H: Yesterday, he’d amended his will. The time is zero-three-hundred hours, the day … April 25, 1915.
H: His mates are shivering, silent, exhilarated. The air is still and it’s pitch-black where he is, two-and-a-half kilometres out-to-sea.
H: But the Turks near Anzac Cove know he’s out there.
H: Steamboats are pulling him and the rest of the 1500 men of the 9th, 10thand 11th Battalions towards the shore.
H: Ninety metres out … zero-four-fifteen.
H: His boat now rows towards the enemy, cloth helping to muffle the sound of the oars.
H: A funnel on one of the boats suddenly sends a plume of flames a metre into the air, exposing their cover.
H: Bullets start hailing down … many jumping overboard into the cold sea.
H: He’s made it to the pebbled beach … zero-four-thirty.
H: Bodies are drowning in the sea behind him, some hit, some from the weight of their gear, and the enemy is firing from the ridges above him.
H: Frank survived that first day and night of hellfire. But many in his Battalion, like 20-year-old Private William Payne from Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, would not.
H: Dr Ford said the Gallipoli campaign had grossly underestimated the enemy.
F: They thought that because Turkey was so weak that it wouldn’t take much to knock Turkey out of the war.
F: And the Black Sea would have opened up a supply line straight to Russia.
F: So instead of hitting along the North Pole, along the Arctic, you could have gone straight through up the Mediterranean into the Black Sea if you had control of the entrance to the black sea which was the Dardanelles which was Gallipoli.
F: So, that’s what it was all about. Initially, they tried to do it with a naval bombardment, but the Turkish guns basically blew British, French navy ships apart.
F: And so, they decided on a landing. We now look it as sheer suicide and you look at the training and go, “What on Earth were they thinking?”
F: They underestimated the Turks because they were not white, and they didn’t think a non-whites like the Turks may actually want to fight bravely for their homeland, which Gallipoli was.
F: They also thought their plan was fool-proof if all the landings went to the right spot.
F: And they may have done it but no plan, military plan, ever ends up perfectly enacted.
F: And of course, it was a stuff-up, Turks recovered from the initial bombardment a lot quicker than anybody thought, the Turks fought harder than anybody would think.
F: We were landing on a beach going uphill trying to take the heights.
F: While we had our big battleships with their big guns, you can fire away and blow the hell out of something as much as you like, but the poor old infantry have got to take the position.
F: And of course, then it dragged on until Christmas.
H: After three months in Gallipoli, soldiers in the Queensland Battalion were cutting and shooting off their own fingers.
H: Their ploy failed … officers ordered the ambulance to keep them at ANZAC and not send them away on the hospital ship.
H: The next month, the Battalion had no fewer than 130 men in the sick bay.
H: Like most of the ANZACs, they were suffering from influenza, diarrhea and dysentery.
H: John Laffin describes ANZACs covered in flies, crawling on all fours and hunching over latrines, only to be hit by enemy fire and fall in.
H: Men were dying from loss of blood and intestines as units were ordered to burn all rubbish and liberally use disinfectants.
H: The Queenslanders finally left Gallipoli on the 16th of November, 1915 for the Greek Island of Lemnos.
H: New Years Eve, they sailed once more to Egypt, where they stayed until finally embarking for the Western Front in France on March 26, 1916.
H: The 8,000 Australians killed in the Gallipoli stale-mate had sent a torrent of harsh truths to those back home.
F: People started getting the dreaded telegram, “We wish to advise you that”. You know, and that’s when they found out their sons, husbands, brothers, whatever, had been killed at Gallipoli.
H: However, the true carnage of Gallipoli was kept hidden. Thanks to the War Protection Act, soldiers’ letters were censored or even withheld.
H: Thus, the realities of war wouldn’t reach home until the wounded did.
H: According to Doctor Ford, only significant injuries earnt you a ticket home.
F: Particularly in 1915 onwards when the troops got evacuated from Gallipoli to Britain and then to France to fight in the trenches … if you were wounded, you were sent to a field hospital in France or Belgium.
F: If you were particularly badly wounded and you were sent on a hospital ship to over to one of the British hospitals, the idea was to patch you up and then send you back to your unit to fight again.
F: But if you were very, very badly wounded as in you had one of your limbs blown off or you were blinded, or you suffered a gas attack or you’d gone mad from the shelling, they would stick you on a hospital ship and send you home to Australia.
F: And there were three military hospitals during World War I in Brisbane; Rosemount which still stands at Windsor; Yungaba at Kangaroo Point which still exists, I think it’s being turned into high-rise apartments and Fort Lytton which was an immigration depot and the fort still exists at the mouth of the Brisbane River.
F: So they were set up specifically for the returning soldiers who were basically invalids who could never recover.
F: Some of them would have come here and then died.
F: Most of the others ended up recovering to some extent and they had to make artificial limbs for them, deal with them psychiatrically if they were disturbed by the war.
H: Private Thomas Clarke, of Spring Hill, Brisbane was discharged from the 9th Battalion on September 16, 1916.
H: He’d gone missing during the action at Dardanelles, re-joining his unit with a wounded leg almost three weeks later.
H: Thomas was then in and out of hospitals for stricture, gastritis and anorexia.
H: In January 1916, he was punished after going AWOL for a week.
H: Hospitalised in Egypt later that month, he would never again return to combat.
H: Thomas was convinced he’d murdered his mate and in turn, was to be drowned in the Nile River.
H: He requested daily to be shot instead.
H: Deemed medically unfit from delusional insanity, he arrived back to Australia in April, 1916.
F: There was the impact on the families who got to see these people and the staff who got to work at the three hospitals.
F: They probably got to see the reality of the war, they and the poor people who got the “we regret to inform you” telegrams.
F: So much of our population went off to fight that everybody must have known somebody who was in the services fighting in the war.
H: Public morale spurred Queensland to create the first Anzac Day commemoration for April 25, 1916.
H: It would offer the public a chance to honour their fallen and bolster loyalty to the Empire.
H: Though for many, Anzac Day was a grim affair. In Brisbane, about 50,000 people, close to 1 in 10 Queenslanders, filled the crowd.
H: They watched the parade of more than 6,000 marching soldiers and maimed veterans having to be carried from their cars.
H: It served as a haunting reminder of those still lost across the sea.
H: Meanwhile, in France, to mark the anniversary, the troops were given prize money for an afternoon of sport.
H: The Anzac Day commemorations were criticised by many as a thinly-veiled attempt to bolster recruitments.
H: Dr Ford said numbers had become desperate.
F: In 1916, we were running out of troops for our existing units.
F: Now, up until that time, every person that went over to fight, be they male or female, volunteered.
F: And we were very proud of that. We were one of the few nations who actually started the war with volunteers.
F: And we were the only nation at the end of the war in 1918 that still only had volunteers.
F: Everybody else had a conscription. In 1916, Billy Hughes, our Prime Minister went, “everybody else has got conscription, let’s have it too”.
F: Our constitution said you could not send any of our people overseas to fight unless they were volunteers so it had to be changed by referendum.
F: They had a referendum and it was bitter.
F: In 1914, everybody went, “Yay, war, wow, yahoo. It’ll all be over by Christmas”.
F: By 1916, they didn’t believe it was gonna be over by Christmas. Any Christmas.
F: The country split along lines of those who had supported conscription, the yes vote and those who didn’t, the no vote.
F: And often the people who voted no were people who’d actually experienced the war through having one of those telegrams or going to visit one of their rellies in one of those hospitals.
H: The Australian Trade Union slammed conscription as seizing bodies for slaughter.
H: They implored hard-working Australians to act before the hour of doom.
H: Citizens, soldiers and police found themselves embroiled in riot mobs, violence and shootings as empire loyalists clashed with anti-conscriptionists.
H: Many Catholics and members of the clergy were in support of the draft.
H: Dr Ford said some women took to bullying the shirkers by post.
F: Men who were eligible often didn’t appear to have any reason why they weren’t enlisting suffered from the 1914, 1915 equivalent of today’s trolls.
F: Instead of getting a nasty email, they’d get a white feather mailed to them.
H: Throughout the war, firing squads shot 361 deserting British soldiers.
H: Australian court martials sentenced 121 deserters to death, although legislation barred their executions from being carried out.
H: As Dianne de Bellis’s research reveals, Hughes declined front-line calls to amend the law for he wanted to maximise his chances of success in the referendum.
H: Queensland wasn’t alone in voting no to conscription.
H: Yet, Dr Ford said it was no secret Hughes took a particular disliking to Queensland’s premier, T.J. Ryan, during the second conscription referendum in 1917.
F: Queensland was the only state to actively campaign for no conscription.
F: Every other state supported the Commonwealth, Billy Hughe’s government and said, “Yeh, you should vote yes”.
H: Just as letters were censored, so too was the press.
H: News critical of the Commonwealth’s war agenda was banned.
H: Thus, Hughes forbade the press publishing Ryan’s anti-conscription speech.
H: In a gutsy move, the Queensland premier re-delivered his speech in parliament, so it could be published in the minutes.
H: The State’s printing press was to print 10,000 copies of the Hansard Press while Queensland police stood guard outside.
H: In a remarkable standoff between commonwealth and state forces, the PM ordered soldiers to raid the building and seize the copies.
H: Queensland’s obstinance also extended to alcohol.
H: The temperance movement believed indulgent drinking hampered our Australians on the battlefront, even calling it pro-German.
H: Queensland was the only state refusing to legislate shortened liquor trading hours.
H: Ryan was accosted by 600 angry citizens when they stormed into parliament past security and police.
H: Yet for the diggers, the daily rum issue was their entitlemen – at least if you weren’t Aboriginal.
H: Colonial Australia ruled it illegal to serve alcohol to Aboriginal people.
H: Dr Ford explains they were considered among Australia’s flora and fauna.
F: Of course until the 1969 referendum, Aborigines and Torres-Strait Islanders didn’t exist. They were invisible. So they weren’t permitted to enlist.
F: Having said that, certainly by in 1915, by 1916, 17, 18, you know, if you were young and you were male and you were fit, your colour suddenly changed.
F: So lots of Aborigines enlisted; the recruitment officers just went, “Yeh, um, has a dark complexion but is caucasian”.
H: One such man was 25th Battalion’s 19-year-old Acting Corporal Charles Blackman from Biggenden, one of three brothers who enlisted.
H: He wrote while on leave in England that he was having a glorious time as the people there thought the world of them.
H: The Australian Imperial Force refused to extend the alcohol ban overseas for recruitment rolls didn’t acknowledge Aboriginal diggers.
H: Three years after the war ended, Charles was denied repatriation aid under the Soldier Settlement Act. He was still a ward of the state under the 1909 Aborigines Protection Act.
H: Aboriginal serviceman, 9th Battalion’s Private Jack McAlister from Charters Towers, was made exempt from the Aborigines Protection Act in 1920.
H: He had listed his nationality as British-born half-caste.
H: The moral issues troops faced on the battlefront were remarkably different from home including Christmas Day, remarks Dr Ford.
F: Christmas 1914, one part of the front line, there was British and the French and the Germans and there was nothing happening.
F: Somebody put a white flag and went out and negotiated a truce for Christmas Day. So there would be no one would fire on anybody else.
F: So next thing you know soldiers started getting out of their trenches because they knew that a sniper wasn’t going to shoot em’ dead and then they went out across and they started meeting each other in no-man’s-land.
F: And they swapped cigarettes, and they swapped food. Next thing you know, there was an impromptu soccer match.
F: That wasn’t an official truce. That was just something that happened between particular units one part of the front line.
F: And, my understanding is that the officers involved in that all got their arses kicked because they were under no orders to stop the fighting for Jesus Christ’s birthday. They had to keep it going.
H: Also defying the logic of war, Dr Ford said there were ceasefire truces to save lives.
F: They’d often have truces because nobody on either side could stand the stench of the rotting dead and also you had wounded mates out there, German or allied crying for help and you’d go, “Let’s have a truce and let’s rescue our wounded. You can take your wounded and we can take our wounded”.
F: That happened at Gallipoli as well.
F: The condition of those truces was that you had to wear an armband, you couldn’t carry a weapon obviously – an armband that identified you as a stretcher bearer.
F: If you found an enemy soldier close to your trench, then you would mark and yell out to the enemy, you know, “here’s one of your blokes”.
F: You could take no weapons off anybody; any of the weapons that the soldiers had fallen with stayed there.
F: They weren’t to be taken because the truce was about recovering the wounded, it wasn’t about trying to get a military advantage.
H: Diaries have since revealed other accounts of soldiers defying orders including ignoring an instruction to shoot Germans on sight.
H: There was even a second Christmas truce between British and German units in 1915, as they mingled and cheered each other’s singing.
H: Moments of compassion like these came to greatly challenge Aussie troops.
F: The Australians when they went to France and Belgium was that by 1918, they realised that the Germans across the lines who they knew wanted to kill them, because it was a war, were just ordinary people, just like them.
F: It doesn’t stop them from being the enemy that you wanted to kill but they didn’t see them as the Hun anymore.
H: The Germans had been friends of Australia merely years before they were killing each other.
H: Research shows that post-federation the Queensland Government actively encouraged German migration.
H: By 1911, a third of Australia’s German-born residents called Queensland home.
H: War turned them into enemies. People of German origin were stripped of their civil liberties.
H: They were thrust under surveillance, sacked, ransacked, violently attacked, accused of outlandish plots and imprisoned.
H: Some urged the government to seize their farmlands for soldiers.
H: Dr Ford explained the government issued land to veterans as a strategy to absorb them back into society.
F: Brisbane had two land settlements, one at Sunnybank and the other at Bald Hills – where the river flooded the crops.
F: It was a Commonwealth Government scheme based on the national delusion that we were a land of rural citizens, you know, Dad and Dave, the bushy.
F: What you did is you went into a ballot, they drew your name out of a box, you know, out of a ballet and you were given a block of land and you could farm that.
F: And I think they gave, you know, a bit of start-up money to buy, you know, a couple of tools and some things like that.
F: But you basically had to build your own house, build your fences, but you basically had to start from scratch.
F: And the idea was that the soldier veteran would be able to use all the skills they’d learnt fighting in the trenches to become farmers.
H: Captain Frank Page of the 9th Battalion might have made an excellent fruit-grower.
H: Before the war, he’d spent years learning wheat, fruit, cane and dairy farming at Biggenden, Roma and Gin Gin.
H: In a letter to his mother while in Egypt, he wrote may God help the fruit in Boreen upon his return.
H: But like eight of his cousins, Captain Frank Page never made it home.
H: He was awarded the Military Cross four months before he was struck by a burst shell at the Battle of Passchendaele Ridge on October 17, 1917.
H: They amputated his leg behind the front-line, but it had gangrene by the time he arrived in hospital.
H: Also presenting with septic wounds on his arm, back and buttock, he would then suffer uncontrollable diarrhoea and bronchopneumonia.
H: He was buried at a cemetery in Calais in northern France on October 29, aged 27.
H: In a cruel twist of irony, Frank had written a letter to his mother in May the year before while on leave in London.
H: He wrote the only chance he was coming home before the war ended was minus one leg or some fever or other.
H: By May 1918, the Allies on the Western Front were pushing Germany towards her limits.
F: By November 1918, the German people were starving because of the allied blockade.
F: Absolutely everything had gone into the war and it had been a total war of four years, so the Germans basically had nothing more to give.
F: The Kaiser and his military advice was saying let’s continue the war but the people were going, “Nuh, we’ve had it”.
F: And the German army, their morale was shattered after the Hindenburg Line fell and they’re going, “We need to do something now while we’re still here on the outer reaches of France and Belgium before these troops get into our homeland and do to us what we’ve been accused of doing to the French and the Belgians”.
F: So basically, everyone had had a gutful of the war.
H: On the morning of the 8th of November, 1918, Allied supreme commander, Ferdinand Foch waited inside his private train within France’s Compiegne Forest.
H: Also inside was British delegate, Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss.
H: They were joined by a German delegation led by politician, Matthias Erzberger. He quickly learned the Allies weren’t negotiating.
H: Through teary eyes, the German delegation signed the Armistice three days later on the 11th of November at 5.30 am.
H: Waving the Germans off, Foch, whose son was killed in the first month of war, said, “Very well gentlemen, it’s over. Go.”
H: The armies set about ordering their troops to stop fighting at 11am. Dr Ford said this meant up to the very last minute.
F: The fighting was still going on, on the 11th of November until 10.59am.
F: The minute the clock struck 11, all the guns went silent.
F: There was no celebration initially because all our troops and the Germans were the same, just went, “What the hell?”
F: So initially they just walked around smoking cigarettes going, “Whats it mean? What’s happening?”
H: About 10,000 soldiers died from those last-ditch hours of fighting.
H: The war, however, wouldn’t officially end until June 28, 1919 with the Treaty of Versailles.
F: In 1914, Germany was an empire so it wasn’t just Germany in Europe.
F: They had colonies in Africa, colonies in the far east. Turkey had colonies like Syria and Lebanon.
F: And it was all about carving up the colonial possessions of the Germans and the Turks amongst the victorious powers.
F: And, that was the French-British position but the American position – and America of course, had become a world power by then under Woodrow Wilson was, “Nah, colonialism contributed to World War I. We don’t believe in this carving up the colonies”.
F: There was two positions and it took them until June of 1919 to come to a position where they could actually say to the Germans, “Here’s the deal”.
H: History has portrayed Germany’s punishment as the trigger for World War II. But perhaps this isn’t entirely accurate as the BBC reports.
H: Historian Dan Snow says Germany was still the richest and largest nation of central Europe, the allies confiscating just 10 per cent of her territory.
H: Nevertheless, following Germany’s defeat of France in World War II, Hitler made France sign a humiliating armistice in that very same train carriage in that very same location inside the Compiegne Forest.
H: Men who’d survived gassing, imprisonment, gunfire, and shelling later died from their wounds or being unable to live with the trauma.
H: Up to one in eight New Zealand World War One veterans committed suicide says research from the University of Minnesota.
H: Nowadays, ex-service men aged 18-24 are twice as likely as other Australians their age to commit suicide.
H: And in the 15 years to 2016, 373 ex- Australian Defence Force members took their own lives.
F: Remembrance Day isn’t about pacifism. Remembrance Day isn’t saying we should never ever have another war even though that’s a great ideal.
F: People should think about the fact that at the end of World War I, pacifism was rife because people said, “Look we’ve seen what war is all about. We don’t like it. We’re never going to believe anything Rudyard Kipling or any of these other people wrote about how spiffy and heroic it is and all the rest of it. We’re putting up memorials with our sons and our husbands names on it, the people who don’t come home”.