Changing Attitudes of Australians About Wwi from 1914-1916 Using Personal Correspondance
Yr. 9 2010
From 1914 (the beginning of the war) until just after 1915 and the failure of the Gallipoli campaign, the attitudes of Australians towards the war changed remarkably. We can identify these changing attitudes through letters to and from home and diary extracts from soldiers on the war front that revealed the terrible conditions, horrible nature of trench warfare and poor leadership by the incompetent generals. Other pieces of evidence displaying these changes in attitudes can be shown from the evidence on the home front in Australia. These pieces of evidence include enlistment statistics and the voice of the opposition during the conscription campaign.
When WWI began and young men were asked to consider enlistment, enthusiasm and excitement spread throughout the country. The daily newspapers were soon full of war news and descriptions of wild enthusiasm displayed by crowds that gathered outside newspaper offices. Men who enlisted sought adventure in a foreign land and the glory that would come hand in hand with saying they had fought in a war and had proved themselves in battle. A worker??™s wages were small due to workers rights and treatments at the time, but a soldier would be paid good money. If they fought in this war women would think them brave and not a coward. Australians also felt they had a duty to the motherland and they too, like the British, had a hatred of the ???Hun??™ that drove them to enlist. ???We are ready, fit and well, and with God??™s help will punish the Bosh for his cruelty to the weaker races??¦ I am sure the Hun will be sorry for the day when Australia sent her sons to France???. (Letter, July 1916, Lt. E. Malpas) Men often feared that if they didn??™t sign up quickly the opportunity for stardom and adventure would pass them by. They worried so much that boys under the legal enlistment age of 18 convinced their parents to give them consent. They then went on to lie about their age. Mary Tilton wrote about her brother Jack who at the age of 17 enlisted with parental consent. ??????Age 17??™ I exclaimed. ???How did you do it??™ ???Easy, no trouble at all. Army age 19.??™??? Older men who fought in past wars, told stories of the glorious battles, the pride they felt about winning, the comradeship and bonds they had built with their fellow soldiers. However many things during these first couple of years were not taken into account. Many men that told the stories only experienced one side of war, Open Warfare; they had not seen or experienced the horror of trench warfare which the men going to battle in this war would endure. Young men that wished to enlist only ever thought of the glory and pride, they did not think of the terror they would see, the death, destruction, guns, noise, cold, mud, diseases, they looked forward to the bonds they would build alongside their fellow soldiers, but they never thought of how it would feel to stand there and watch them be brutally and heartlessly killed. Their only concern was to get into action before the war was over. They were given such an opportunity when the Gallipoli campaign was formulated.
The Gallipoli campaign of 1915 was the Australians first chance to really prove themselves. The soldiers had trained for months on end in Egypt and they were fully prepared to show the enemy troops just what they could do. A.B Facey showed a positive attitude toward the campaign while writing this ???This was it. We were scared stiff- I know I was- but keyed up and eager to be on our way. We thought we could tear right through the Turks and keep going onto Constantinople???. When news of this new campaign reached the home front more and more men began to want to enlist and more and more people wanted to become part of the war effort. Newspaper articles began to talk about Gallipoli and war correspondents, such as Ashmead Bartlett, began to bring news of how Australian troops were bringing glory to Australia. The Gallipoli campaign sparked interest throughout the whole country and news of how they were fighting was eagerly awaited. Australian troops were just as eager to get onto the battlefield and prove themselves not only to the enemy, but also to their British superiors and their country.
After the news of the failure of the Gallipoli campaign had reached the home front, the enthusiasm and that had been shown at the beginning of the war was no longer evident among Australians. Even though war correspondents and journalists continued to try to make the war seem exciting and that the Gallipoli campaign still showed the courage and fighting spirit of the Australian troops, it was too late. The truth had leaked through, soldiers now wrote of the horror and terror of war instead of the glorious status they wished to achieve. Lieutenant John Raw wrote these letters from the Front to home. There is a dramatic change in attitude from when he arrived in France, May 1916 to his death in August of the same year. In a letter to his father after his arrival in France he wrote ???We whistled and sang the Marseillaise as we tramped???, shortly after he wrote a letter to his brother, in this letter he spoke of a ???stupendous??™ battle that both sides were prepared for. This demonstrates the renewed enthusiasm of the soldiers after the Gallipoli Campaign which was due to them finally getting to face the ???Hun??™ (Germans). This is supported by enlistment statistics that saw a sharp rise in January of 1916 of 22,000. However, these numbers declined quickly to see only 3,000 enlisting in the month of December and that is where it stayed for the remainder of the war. This was despite the standards required for enlistment were lowered (i.e. height lowered and age increased). In just over a month of being at the front, Lt. Raw wrote to a friend. ???I am no longer in love with war and soldiering and if any of you lucky fellow ??“ forgive me, but you are lucky ??“ find yourself longing to change you humdrum existence for the heroics of battle, you would find plenty of us willing to swop jobs.??? In this letter he also spoke of the terrible living conditions. ???I am wet, and the ground on which I rest is wet. My feet are cold; in fact, I??™m all cold, with my two skimp blankets. I am covered with cold, clotting sweat and sometimes my person is foul.??? As you can clearly see the change was dramatic and many young men wrote home telling loved ones to expect never to see them again. This letter was titled ???In Hell??™s Trenches??™ and was written in the July of 1916 ???Here I have given up hope of life??¦ to my last moment I will think of you. There is really no possibility that we will see each other again. Should I fall ??“ farewell??¦??? The letters of these men reached home, along with the severely wounded who were also returning. This greatly affected the attitudes of Australians on the home front and led to bitter division during the conscription campaigns of 1916 and 1917.
In 1916, Australia??™s Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, wanted to introduce conscription, which forced young men to join the army. Hughes was determined to boost the enlistment numbers. He fought so hard that it caused a division not only in Australia but it also caused debated between Hughes and his own party (labor). Hughes tried twice to pass the referendum and both times the majority said ???no??™. These referendums were an indication of the way Australians had a change in attitudes towards the war. No-one really wanted to be forced to fight, and those who voted ???yes??™ had valid reasons, but there was always a reason not to go to war. At the end of 1914 , when the war hadn??™t finished like it was supposed too everyone started to have doubts and worry, but then the Gallipoli campaign sparked interest in the hearts of Australians and everyone forgot their worries. However when news of the failure of Gallipoli reached home those fears began to come back and now with the war seeming to have no end disillusionment had occurred by the end of 1916 to 1918 on the home front and the battlefield. Attitudes towards the war had well and truly changed for most people.
When WWI began, Australians were thrilled and excited that they would have the opportunity to fight in a war. They rose to the occasion and supported the ???mother country??™, but by the midway point, in 1916, attitudes began to change. The personal correspondence of soldiers, such as Lt. Raw, clearly demonstrates the dramatic change. The war took its toll on young men, mentally and physically, but they were not the only ones to see the war in a different light. The attitudes of Australians on the home front also changed and this was reflected in the bitter division caused by the conscription referendum of 1916 and 1917. So, when the war came to a close, the positive attitudes of Australians everywhere had changed to despair and horror, that no-one wanted to go through again.