Penshurst Recruitment WW1

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For Australia, as for many nations, the First World War remains the most costly conflict in terms of deaths and casualties. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of which over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.

To put this in today's context that is more than the population of Mildura killed twice over. (The population of Mildura in the 2011 census was 33,434). Imagine that population of that town gone -TWICE OVER!! 156,000 wounded are more than the population of Geelong. (The population of Geelong in the 2011 census was 143,921) When you see today's responses to natural disasters where agencies have trouble coping with 6000 to 10000 casualties, can you imagine the logistical nightmare of treating and moving so many wounded from the battlefields in 1914 to 1919.

Nevertheless the outbreak of war was greeted in Australia, as in many other places, with great public enthusiasm. In response to the overwhelming number of volunteers, the authorities set exacting physical standards for recruits, but as the war went on these standards were relaxed. Many boys joined from as young as 16 year old by putting their age up. Older men put their age down. Others changed their name after being rejected in their home towns and enlisted in other states or cities.

Penshurst was no different as this newspaper article shows.

There were some very distinguished men at this meeting.

Sir John Forrest MHR, 1st Baron Forrest of Bunbury (1847-1918), surveyor, explorer and Federal politician,

Arthur Stanislaus Rodgers (1876-1936), farmer, stock and station agent and politician, Federal politician.

Edward James White State parliament.

Hamilton Spectator Monday 12 July 1915.


Meeting at Penshurst.

(From our own Correspondent)

Penshurst, Friday.


A crowded and enthusiastic audience filled the, mechanics hall last evening, when stirring recruiting speeches were delivered by Sir John Forrest, M.H.R, Hon. E. J. White, M.L.C, Mr. A. S. Rodgers, M.H.R., and the Rev. R. A. Giles, The hall was nicely decorated with flags, wattle and recruiting posters. Mr. D Grieg who presided apologised for the absence of the Honourable W. Manifold and Mr. H. S. Bailey, M.L.A.

After the singing of the National Anthem and the rendering of a piano duet, "No Surrender," by Misses Eales and Olle, the chairman said that he desired, on behalf of the recruiting committee, to extend a hearty welcome to Sir John Forrest and Messrs. Rodgers and White. (Applause) It was the first visit of Sir John Forrest to Penshurst and district, and they were heartily glad to see him. He was one of the oldest politicians and leaders, and one of the early pioneers who made this land fit to live in. At this time there should be no parties nor party politics, which should be laid aside for a more convenient season. He was glad to see such a number, of young men present, and hoped that the ranks of the volunteers would be considerably added to. The roll of honour consisted of 40 names.

They were doing their duty, and some had paid the great sacrifice. They were proud of the boys who had gone out to do their duty. (Applause) An attempt was being made to tear the Union Jack down, but they were not going to allow it. (Cheers) They had a proud, imperious, unscrupulous foe to fight, a foe that stood at nothing to gain his ends. We were going to win through, and peace would be declared, with Great Britain and the Allies as victors. (Applause) However, they must do more than they were doing at present, and the call was for more recruits, and he hoped that many would respond to the great call. (Applause)

Sir John Forrest, who was received with applause, said he was glad to be present, and desired to thank, the people for coming forward in such large numbers to listen to the speakers. He wished to place the condition of affairs before them so that they would realise how they stood in regard to the terrible war that was now raging. They had done well up to the present time. (Applause) but they had not realised the very serious nature of the war they had entered upon. Everything had been going along well, but a change had come over affairs, and the people in the old country had now taken a different view than they had taken at first.

They were now devoting all their energies and abilities to bringing the war to a speedy termination. In England all party questions and political differences had been sunk for the time being, and all sections had come together to devote all their time to the war. Home Rule was a part of the Irishman's life (hear, hear) but the Irishmen had been willing to sink that question, for the safety of the Empire to which they belonged was a greater item to them. (Applause)

He did not believe in coercing men to go, but would show them the gravity of the situation and the seriousness of the position. There was an idea that they were fighting only for the old country. That was taking rather a narrow view of it. In addition to fighting for the old country they were fighting for themselves and for their own country. The Imperial power would defend us as she defended herself. (Applause) It was not always that people got what they ought to get, and if they were not successful in the war, they would be in greater jeopardy than the people in the United Kingdom. They were fighting for their hearths and homes in this island of Australia (applause,) and self interest were the best interest. They did not get Australia through any warlike act of their own. Their forefathers had come from the old country after it had been secured by the British nation, and by the power of the British navy which has always been, and was now, mistress of the seas. (Applause) They had built up the Empire without hindrance or interference from any foreign nation.

They knew that the British fleet was superior to any other fleet in the world. They had built up a grateful nation which was proud to belong to the British Empire.


In recognition of that debt to the motherland, Australia had sent troops to South Africa previously. Where there was no thought that the Empire was in danger, but no less than 20,000 men were sent to show that we were at one with the Empire. (Applause) There was a different feeling now when the nation was in jeopardy, and it was their duty to the old country and to their own country to keep it inviolate and in union with the British nation. No one could tell what the finish of the war would be. They were engaged with a strong virile race, a race as determined as Australians were themselves. They should do their best in the interests of those who were nearest and dearest to them, and in the interests of their home and country. He had received a telegram, prior to the meeting, that one of his kin had died on the way to the Dardanelles, consequently he did not feel in a laughing mood. The people in Australia were as eager to do their duty as well as any other people in the world. They would all have to buckle on the armour and do their best, and devote all their energy, time and thoughts to the war. At this time party politics should cease. It was not a time for that kind of thing when this terrible danger was hanging over their heads. He wanted the Ministry of the day to be free so that it could give its full attention to these matters. If they were engaged in making hostile speeches they could not give their attention to the prosecution and control of this Great War. (Applause) It was the duty of every man to support the Government of the day while the war was on. Although they (the politicians) fought hard in times of peace, they should sheath the political sword in time of difficulties. (Applause)

There was no question of party feeling in the days of ancient Rome, when the enemy were at the gates, and he hoped it would that way with Australia. (Applause) The voice of the people was wonderfully accurate on many occasions, and on this occasion he hoped that people would guide them in a right direction. They must have peace at home in order to send our forces to fight in the interests of our homes and Country. (Applause) To every young man he would say "In this great crisis, play the game." (Applause)

He believed they would play it. (Applause) It was a time that they should volunteer and go to the front, for every day they hear the words "Come along and help us." Not many would say "No, I won't go" he had no fear of that. (Applause) Their sons at the Dardanelles were fighting for the safety of Australia and for the honour of Australia. (Applause) By their prowess mid valour on the bloody fields of battle, they had placed Australia on a higher plane than ever it was before. (Cheers and applause.) As long as the Government, to which he was opposed, would give its attention to the war and refrain from other business, it would have his support, and they would hear no criticism from him. (Applause) Surely the referenda could wait until the war is over. What, would to the use of it and all our squabbling if they were unsuccessful? To him the whole thing was unreasonable, and there was no urgency for it. He took an exception to a remark made by the Prime Minister. “A Voice: leave politics alone, this is a recruiting meeting”. (Hear hear.)

Sir John Forrest: it was said we were, at peace.

The Voice: The Prime Minister stands out.

Sir John Forrest: We are not at peace, but engaged in a stern war, and no one can tell what the end will be.

A Voice: More politics now. (Laughter)

Sir John Forrest: It had been said that some people had nothing, to defend and that only the rich people should go. That was not a good sentiment. They had their country, their nation, their freedom, their mothers, sisters, wives, and homes to fight for. (Applause) They lived under a free Government (applause) and that freedom was not equalled anywhere else in the world. Sentiments like the one he alluded to were ignoble, and should not he uttered. A man with those ideas must have a poor opinion of his fellow citizens. "He would rather be a dog and bay the moon than an Australian such as that." (Applause) He prayed to God that they would be successful in this war, that the Union Jack would float over them forever, and that they would forever be united in the bonds of affection with their kinsmen in the old country. (Applause) They were not the aggressors, and were not out after more possessions, but were out to maintain the honour of a great nation (Applause.) Australia had done well, and he hoped they would to on doing their duty. (Long and continued applause.) At this stage, Mr. W. W. Rose rendered "For England" and "Tipperary" the audience joining in the chorus.

Mr. A. S. Rodgers asked the audience to rise in honour of the boys of Penshurst who had given their lives. On resuming, Mr. Rodgers said; that twelve months ago the world was at peace, each nation working out its destiny in its own way. Suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, came a declaration of war, and a few days sufficed to show us that our Empire was in it up to the neck. Australia signed on, and the Government of the day immediately cabled that they were prepared to send 20,000 men. The boys came forward, and were sent, and the name of Australia stands emblazoned, by the gallant deeds of her sons. They had been put to one of the hardest tasks and their names are indelibly engraved on the scroll of heroes of the world. (Applause) They were proud of the boys who had left Penshurst and mourned with the relatives of those whose lives were lost in the service of their country. It behoved Australia to put its house in order. Over half a century ago Germany had adopted a system by which every able-bodied man was a soldier. We had a different system of civilisation. Within six hours Germany could mobilise one million on any part of territory.

He was delighted to come to Penshurst and find that there was not one vacant seat in the hall. This was not a time for party feeling, and he hoped he would not have one opponent in this hall as far as the prosecution of this war was concerned. (Applause) He had not the heart at this time for politics his Political mind was closed. They should rise to the occasion, and remember if they did not do their duty the dictation of such duty might come from Berlin. With the exception of their fleet they were a defenceless nation. The response to the compulsory training had been good, a higher sense of patriotism and duty had arisen in their bosoms, and 80,000 had enrolled to fight for their country. (Applause) It was regrettable to think the system had only been in operation five years when war was declared. To-day there was too many onlookers, and they should set to work and adopt the principle of compulsory training.

Who knew when the battle would be fought on their own soil? They should go in for training, and make arrangements for the part that perhaps they would have to play someday. Australia had done well. One of her ships had sunk the Emden, enemy subjects had been interned.

A voice: Not in Penshurst, though. (Laughter)

Mr. Rodgers: They had taken German possessions in the Pacific and they had every right to be proud. (Applause)

Solo, "As a Mother loves her son," Master Robin Chesswas.

Mr. E. J. White said that recruiting was dear to the hearts of all. The movement had been initiated by both Houses of Parliament, and it was the first time in eight years that he had seen all the members unanimous. (Applause)

In other wars and in this war, brave young spirits had volunteered to assist the Mothers land, but this was the first, time that England had called for men, and the first time in history that the request has been made to Australia. They were fighting for their land, their homes, their womankind, and to keep German savagery out of Australia. He had seen the report of the atrocities in Belgium. It showed what would happen if the Germans took Australia, he would rather shoot his womankind dead at his feet than see them fall into the hands of Germany. Every man who was able to go should go, and asked every man to face matter fairly and squarely. The well-to-do must contribute to a greater extent than they have in the past for the relief of our wounded soldiers, and their dependents. It was only right for them to give and if they did not do so, legislation should be brought in to compel them to give. (Applause)

He had never doubted the patriotism of Australian born sons of German parents, and had always said they would be found fighting shoulder to shoulder with the sons of British and Australian parents. They would not, he hoped, be found wanting, and said to them "If you are not with us, you are against us." (Applause) He felt certain that the German-Australians would rise to the occasion and enlist in great numbers.


Australia looked on football as a great sport.

Voices: Oh, what about golf?

Mr. White: One at a time. He did not pick out any special kind of sport. Every kind of sport should be stopped during the war. In his young days he had ridden 50 miles to a football match.

A Voice: You're a "has-been!" now. (Laughter)

Mr. White: Yes; if not, I would have been in, the war now. (Applause) In fact if the age limit was raised one year I could enlist. He was an ardent footballer, but when he saw 50,000 or 60,000 barrackers howling around the ground while, their brothers were calling for assistance, he felt disgusted. It was a crime to go in for sport at a time like this and Parliament should take steps to prevent it. It was an honour for any woman to send her son to fight for such a noble cause, and he appealed to mothers to allow their sons to go so that they could enjoy the liberty they had enjoyed in Australia in the past. To the young men of Penshurst he would say "Do you think your liberty is worth fighting for, or will you be satisfied under German rule? If you desire the British flag to remain flying do your duty and play the game." (Applause)

Rev. H. A. Giles said he modestly disclaimed a paragraph appearing in a district paper. It was perfectly true that he had volunteered, but according to the laws of the church he was forbidden to serve as a combatant. He was afraid; however, if he got there and saw a spare rifle kicking about that he would grab it. (Hear, hear.)

He had enlisted as a chaplain, and hoped to get away shortly. The time had come to speak of a spade as a spade. They found themselves, for the first time in history, engaged in a great recruiting campaign. They must remember that after eleven months of war they were almost forced to admit that the German nation had the best of it so far. He hoped they would say he was wrong, but it so appeared to him. The Australians were out to protect everything that belonged to him. They had to win so us to teach an arrogant nation that we would not put up with barbarism and savagery.

They were out to civilize a nation who allowed a materialistic spirit to run away with loftier and higher ideals. They lived in worse days than the days of Nero. They were, out to teach a diabolical military machine that they must recognise, that we had our ideals, and that they must respect them if they had not any themselves. (Applause) They were out to" punish the outrages in Belgium and the murderers in the village of Dinant, and to teach barbarians what civilisation meant.

There was not a lad in the hall who was a "cocktail," and he was sure they would respond to the call. He asked every mother to try and distinguish between duty and parental affection. When it seemed hard, "Do thy duty, and that is best, leave unto thy God the rest."

It was no one's right to say that they should go, but he urged them to volunteer before it was too late. Later on, they would find that the sunshine and the good days would come again, and they would say "Thank God, I went too." The making of the nation was with them, and they should be Empire builders. The older people were proud of them because they were the Empire builders and because they were going to stand by their country in the hour of need. He advised them to "buck up," and join the ranks and fight for "the cause that lacks assistance, the wrongs that need resistance." (Applause)

Mr. Rodgers moved a hearty vote of thanks to the chairman, and to Sir John Forrest, the votes being carried by acclamation. On behalf of the citizens of Penshurst, we offer Sir John-Forrest the most sympathy in his recent sad bereavement.

Mr. Grieg asked for volunteers, and three stepped forward, and were heartily cheered. They were:- Desmond Kelly, Albert Phelps, and A. Down. At a later stage, D Bamford, J. Doherty and A. Clark enrolled.

Proceedings were brought to a close by the singing of "God Save the King," and cheers being given for Great Britain, the Allies, and the Australians.

Note: Of the six people mentioned in the newspaper report, we have reported what happened to Desmond Kelly and A Clark.

It would also be interesting to know how the speakers at the recruiting meeting felt a few years later as the thousands of young Australians were being slaughtered on the battle fields. It must have been a heavy burden to carry".


Trove Newspapers. (Hamilton Spectator and Penshurst Free Press) 

Compiled by Ron Heffernan.

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