OUR SAY: Romantic approach to war far from the reality of the times

ENLISTING in World War I has long been described romantically in history books. The men who left our shores, too often to their deaths, were described as seeking adventure, driven by fierce loyalty to their young nation. 

Dr Julie Kimber’s thesis on attitudes to WWI in Orange could not be further from that view, with gaping divisions between those who supported the war and those who opposed it.

Perhaps most surprising was the hard line approach Australia’s first Victoria Cross recipient Sir Neville Howse took on men who did not volunteer. 

The notion of sterilising and ostracising any man who did not go to war is confronting in today’s society, but so is the broader attitude towards recruitment at that time - readers today would have trouble imagining a reality where the gates at Wade Park are locked.

This newspaper could hardly contemplate shaming people who choose not to join the armed forces in contemporary conflicts as The Leader did back then.

Broader still, this was a time when former prime minister Billy Hughes dominated the political stage lobbying for conscription, even though the Australian public ultimately voted it down twice.

Like the realisation our troops came to when they arrived on the shores of Gallipoli - that war was not an adventure, but a bloody struggle - the realisation for society now is that attitudes to war on the home front were not as romantic as we might have expected.

Whether people think less of the man widely regarded in Orange as a hero after the opinions he voiced, knowing the truth now about conflicting attitudes and the pressures of society back then can only make us wiser.

And it could make us even more appreciative of the sacrifices our troops made all those years ago because they endured not only a violent war overseas, but a moral war at home.


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