THE pressure to serve for king and country at the outbreak of World War I and in the years of the conflict that followed had a devastating effect on many Orange families who didn’t want their sons and brothers to go to war, according to a Melbourne academic.
Among the strongest urgers for Orange men to sign up was war hero Sir Neville Howse, who sent a cable back to Orange from the war front telling the community to “ostracise every healthy young man who does not volunteer immediately”.
Swinburne University lecturer Dr Julie Kimber, who uncovered the cable, has written a definitive account of life in Orange during the war in her 300-page PhD thesis A Bush Christening - Orange and the Great War. It gives harrowing firsthand accounts through extensive research of the to-date largely untold story of the opposition to the war in the town.
“I don’t want to take away from the sacrifices of so many young men, but the reality is it was an awful and terrifying time for many people who didn’t agree with the war and found it abhorrent,” Dr Kimber said.
Orange-based writer and producer Michael Caulfield, whose interest in military history spawned the award-winning Australians at War television series and the Australians at War Film Archive project told the Central Western Daily it was important to tell all sides of the story when recording Australia’s involvement in war.
“I have talked to thousands of veterans over the years and they’ve always told me what they want is the whole truth told,” he said.
“They told me they were not interested in myths that encourage young men to go to war and expressed a fervent desire their story would not encourage young men to go to war.”
Among the many examples in Dr Kimber’s thesis is the urging of young men to put their lives on the line by the local clergy, newspaper, politicians and council.
“One of the local protestant ministers preached from his pulpit it was a righteous war and Orange’s young men needed to be blooded,” she said.
In an another excerpt from her thesis Dr Kimber outlines the public humiliation of young men who did not sign up to fight in the newspaper of the time, The Leader.
Dr Kimber said she recognised the statements of the venerated war hero Sir Neville Howse pressuring young men to enlist would be confronting for some.
“The over-riding message is that for many people in Orange it was an awful time and many of the accounts of people who didn’t want to go to war are very moving,” she said.
“There was very much a sense you had to dob in anyone who hadn’t signed up and this pressure came right from the top from the federal government, filtering down to the local state member and the council.
“I don’t want to diminish the bravery of Sir Neville Howse, particularly in the Boer War when he won his Victoria Cross, but the reality is in the days that followed his cablegram many young men who hadn’t signed up were sent white feathers or were pressured to sign up.
“School teachers were forced to hand over their rolls from previous years to authorities so all young men between 18 and 21 could be pressured to sign up if they hadn’t already done so.”
Dr Kimber came to Orange to research the history of Email (now Electrolux) after initially deciding to undertake the history of the Labor Party in Orange as the subject of her thesis, however her change of heart has left behind a story that resonates on the anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.