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Memento : Issue 36
MEMENTO ISSUE 36 9 'There are two sons already enlisted. This one is the only one left. The first one went on condition that this one stayed at home.' Parents frequently resisted pressure to allow their sons to enlist. At least one in three men between 18 and 21 years cited their parents withholding consent as the reason for non-enlistment. Women also occasionally emerged to encourage authorities in the pursuit of their men. Mrs AE Cooper of Albert Park, writing on behalf of her son, nevertheless pointed out: 'Theres nothing to prevent the Father from enlisting.' It is unclear what strained relations led to this indictment. Other wives left less to the imagination. Violet Johnson was irked that her husband had, in the year since their marriage, 'provided no home so far and no signs of any.' She informed the recruiting committee: 'He is over six feet in height, good teeth, also been used to country life all his life and good with the rifle also his wife has no objection of his going.' How many more? A significant number of men refused to enlist while Germans remained in Australia. Claude Peirson of Newmarket stated on his form: 'there are to many dam Germans here to leave behind.' John Webb of Portarlington also found it 'very hard ... to go away and Fight while there are hundreds of Germans and Austrians walking about reaping the Benefits.' It was very hard, too, for those of German ancestry. Otto Neuendorf of Royal Park was embittered by his father's treatment at the hands of his employers -- claiming he had been forced to resign after 25 years service -- and turned on the authorities: 'I ask you! who is going to provide for the dependents if I enlist?' Members of Parliament, formally exempted from compulsory service by the Defence Act, were also called upon to give reason why they should not enlist. One-time Victorian Premier and soon to be Acting Prime Minister, William Watt, said he would go if men of his age (44 years) were required. 'Meanwhile,' he wrote, 'I shall continue to serve on the Federal Parliamentary War Committee.' This was hardly enough for Watt's detractors, some of whom described him elsewhere as 'an eligible [who] squibbed going to the war he attempted to drive others to.' For a committed few, it was not the specific circumstances of this war that caused them to refuse service but, rather, the issue of all war. Conscientious and religious objectors reflected a strong sense among a section of the community that it was abhorrent to take any human life. Frederick Carton of Fitzroy was 'sorry to say at present I could not bring myself to bear arms against human life.' His was the more typical response among those who claimed to be unable to kill, though at least one declared more strongly that war 'is only wholesale murder of human life.' Taking his cue from his religious beliefs, John Thornton asserted that God did not intend men to kill each other. Rather, he wrote, 'It is for you and I to get down on our knees before God.' He would not enlist under any circumstances. For some men, the government's appeals for a greater contribution were simply too much. George McLay of South Melbourne, whose brother and father had already enlisted, demanded to know 'how many more of us do you want?' These are the voices of those who lived through World War I and, for a range of reasons, resisted increasing pressure to join the armed forces. They are rare voices, as so much of what passed in individual lives on the Australian homefront has been lost, or is hidden in the few surviving letters to loved ones at the front. In this unique collection of records, these voices speak directly and powerfully, and they tell us that the issues of World War I were fought and felt not just on the battlefields, but in the everyday lives of those who endured these terrible years. Dr Bart Ziino is a postdoctoral fellow at Deakin University. He is author of A Distant Grief: Australians, War Graves and the Great War (2007). [opposite page left] The Call to Arms form of writer CJ Dennis. [opposite page right] The Moods of Ginger Mick, by CJ Dennis, told of a larrikin's experience in the war, and featured illustrations by Hal Gye. [top] Bertram Gustave Bell attached a flyer for his vaudeville show to his Call to Arms form as evidence of his skill with a rifle. NAA: B6527, 26 SEP 1916/16 GRANT