In early October 1916, The Commonwealth Government proclaimed that all unmarried able-bodied men between the ages of 21 and 35 were to undertake military training leading to the possibility of service within the Commonwealth.
All men meeting these criteria were to proceed to enrolment centres where they were assessed for suitability. There was, however, a procedure whereby men classified as suitable could appeal and be granted exception from service. The Defence Act allowed exemption from military service on religious grounds, and war service regulations allowed exemption:
Where it was in the national interest for a man to continue in his work, education or training;
If military service would cause serious financial hardship;
For the only son of a family;
If at least half of the sons in a family enlisted;
For sole support of aged parents, widowed mother or orphan siblings under 16 years of age or physically incapable of earning their own living.
Local exemption courts were established to hear applications for exemption. Men who sought exemption from military training were to fill out a form in duplicate, deliver it to the military registrar and present their case at the exemption court. More than 87,000 men actively sought exemption from military service through the exemption courts.
An exemption court opened at Orange Courthouse on 19 October 1916 and was operational until November 1916. During this time Orange Police Magistrate Hugh Malone presided over more than 150 local appeals for exception from military service.
Prior to 1975 Australian military decorations and service medals were awarded through the British Imperial system. There were a number of awards that an individual might receive for a conspicuous and gallant act of valour whilst serving in the armed forces during WWI. Awards were also issued for distinguished and meritorious service.
This is a summary of the British honours and decorations awarded to officers, nurses and other ranks of the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War.
Victoria Cross (VC) – 64
The highest award for acts of bravery in wartime.
Order of the Bath – Knight Commander (KCB) – 8
Awarded to senior military officers for services in action.
Order of the Bath – Companion (CB) – 47
Order of St Michael and St George – Knight Grand Cross (GCMG) – 2
To acknowledge military exploits.
Order of St Michael and St George – Knight Commander (KCMG) – 11
Order of St Michael and St George – Companion (CMG) – 150
Order of the British Empire – Knight Commander (KBE) – 3
To reward service to the British Empire in the United Kingdom and abroad.
Order of the British Empire – Commander (CBE) – 35
Order of the British Empire – Officer (OBE) – 157
Order of the British Empire – Member (MBE) – 114
Distinguished Service Order (DSO) – 620
To reward military officers for distinguished services under fire or under conditions equivalent to service in actual combat with the enemy.
Distinguished Service Order (DSO) 1 Bar – 41
Distinguished Service Order (DSO) 2 Bars – 1
Royal Red Cross (RRC) – 43
For exceptional devotion or competency in performance of nursing duties with the Army in the field, or an exceptional act of bravery or devotion to the post of duty. This was an award exclusively for women.
Royal Red Cross (RRC) 1 Bar – 1
Royal Red Cross (ARRC) – 143
Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) – 2
Awarded to naval officers below the rank of Lieutenant Commander for gallantry at sea in the presence of the enemy.
Military Cross (MC) – 2,366
For lower ranking Army officers (Captain or less) and Warrant Officers for distinguished and meritorious services.
Military Cross (MC) 1 Bar – 170
Military Cross (MC) 2 Bars – 4
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) – 59
Awarded to officers for acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty performed whilst flying in active operations against the enemy.
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) 1 Bar – 5
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) 2 Bars – 2
Air Force Cross (AFC) – 14
Awarded to officers for acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty performed whilst flying, though not in active operations against the enemy.
Air Force Cross (AFC) 1 Bar – 2
Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) – 1,767
Awarded to non-commissioned officers for distinguished conduct in action in the field.
Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) 1 Bar – 28
Military Medal (MM) – 9,926
Awarded to other ranks for acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire.
Military Medal (MM) 1 Bar – 472
Military Medal (MM) 2 Bars – 15
Military Medal (MM) 3 Bars – 1
Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) – 17
Awarded to ranks up to and including Chief Petty Officer.for bravery whilst on active service at sea.
Air Force Medal (AFM) 2
Awarded to for an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying though not in active operations against the enemy.
Air Force Medal (AFM) 1 Bar – 2
Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) – 1,237
For non-operational gallantry or meritorious service connected with the war effort.
Australian service men and women who served during the First World War were eligible for the following medals:
British War Medal
The British War Medal was instituted to mark the end of the First World War. It was awarded to officers, men and women of the British and Imperial Forces who left their native shore to serve overseas between 5th August 1914 and 11th November 1918 inclusive. It was not imperative for the recipient to have entered a theatre of war. There were 338,000 British War Medals awarded to Australians.
The Victory Medal commemorates the victory of the Allied Forces over the Central Powers. It was awarded to prescribed classes of persons who entered a theatre of war on duty between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918 inclusive. There were 336,000 Victory Medals awarded to Australians.
The 1914-15 Star was awarded to those who served in specified theatres of war between 5th August 1914 and 31st December 1915 inclusive. The 1914-15 Star was not awarded alone. The recipient had to have received the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. There were 82,000 1914-15 Stars issued to Australians, mostly to troops who served in New Guinea, Gallipoli and Egypt.
These three medals were sometimes referred to as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, with Pip representing the 1914-15 Star, Squeak the British War Medal; and Wilfred the Victory Medal.
* Williams, Reginald David 2000, Medals to Australia from 1858-1999, with valuations, Downie’s, Melbourne.
Total enlistments: 416,809
Total embarkations: 331,946
Total deaths: 59,341
Killed in action: 39,908
Died of wounds: 13,601
Died of other causes: 5,832
Prisoners of war: 4,057
Total sick and wounded: 88,170
Died prior to embarkation: 936
Total casualties: 316,387
416,809 Australians enlisted for service in the First World War, representing 38.7% of the total male population aged between 18 and 44. At the outbreak of the First World War, the number of people volunteering to enlist for the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was so high that recruitment officers were forced to turn people away. Approximately 33% of all volunteers were rejected during the first year of the war.
However, as the war went on, casualty rates increased and the number of volunteers declined, so that by 1916 the AIF faced a shortage of men. Despite opposition from his own party, Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes decided to take the issue to the people in a referendum. The nation was asked to grant the government the power to compel citizens to serve overseas during the current war, ie. conscription. The referendum was held on 28 October 1916, provoking furious debate. It was narrowly defeated. Read the rest of this entry »
Soldiers suffered from a variety of illnesses and injuries during the course of the war, and many soldiers were hospitalised on more than one occasion. Medical services were relatively primitive, and many of today’s life-saving antibiotics were yet to be discovered. Minor injuries, therefore, could prove lethal.
Vaccination in the early 20th century was not as prevalent as it is today, hence communicable diseases such as mumps, dysentery, typhus, and cholera were very common. The occurrence of such illnesses was exacerbated by poor sanitation in the trenches, and many more soldiers died of illness than of gunshot wounds, gas attacks or shell fire.
Respiratory diseases such as influenza, tuberculosis, pleurisy and pneumonia were rife, as were scabies, pediculosis (lice) and other parasites. Body lice caused trench fever, resulting in headaches, aching muscles, skin sores and a high fever. Read the rest of this entry »
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New recruits were required to record their occupation when completing attestation papers. The occupations recorded by service men from Orange are predominantly rural ones. They include Farmer, Drover, Grazier, Orchardist, Nurseryman, Stockman, Horse trainer, Stationhand, Jackaroo, Shearer and Fencer.
The Railway features prominently as an employer. Many men recorded occupations such as Railway worker, Railway employee, Engine driver, Shunter, Porter, Carter and Locomotive fireman.
Building and other trades are also popular, including Builder, Plasterer, Carpenter, Blind maker, Labourer, Blacksmith’s striker, Miner, Mechanic, Marine engineer, Rubber worker, Bootmaker and Book binder.
The sense of humour played a major part in maintaining the morale of both troops and civilians during WWI.
Humour was a response to fear, boredom, isolation and adversity. Humour fostered solidarity and helped shape a group identity against a common enemy. It nurtured resilience and helped men cope together with fear, hardship, deprivation and loss.
In 1916 some British officers in Ypres discovered an intact printing press in the ruins of a bombed out building. They decided to use the press to create a satirical newspaper to entertain the soldiers and to raise their spirits. The Wipers Times was named after Tommy slang for Ypres. The paper consisted of poems, reflections, wry in-jokes and lampoons of the military situation. In 2013 the BBC broadcast a dramatization of the story of The Wipers Times.
‘Are You A Victim Of Optimism?’ appeared in The Wipers Times in July 1916 in response to the Battle of the Somme, where 19,240 British men died in the first day of fighting. It is a typical example of the magazine’s gallows humour.
The language used in the WWI trenches combined humour and understatement. Many of the words are still in use today, and have become part of the Aussie lingo eg: Kip: to sleep Clobber: clothing (from Yiddish) Cold feet: fear Cakehole: mouth Dead soldier: empty beer bottle Kaput: finished, broken (from German) Thunderbox: toilet Howler: a big mistake Read the rest of this entry »
Men enlisting in WWI were issued with a regimental number by the AIF. Exceptions were officers and nurses, who were not issued a regimental number.
Numbers, while sequential, were rarely unique. The number “1‟ was allocated to the first man in every infantry battalion and light horse regiment. Therefore, a minimum of 20 men could share the regimental number “1‟ – one for each of the 16 infantry battalions and four light horse regiments.
When a soldier was transferred to another unit which already had that regimental number his number was appended with a letter. The numbers of re-enlisting soldiers often included the letter R.
With the formation of the General Service Reinforcements (GSR) in 1917, the numbering system changed; general reinforcement soldiers were allocated a unique number between 50,000 and 80,000.