Pre War - Social Conditioning of Australians

Late 19th and Early 20th Century Chermside

Photo taken at the Q150 celebrations at Marchant Park in 2009. It shows something of the uniform worn on parade by a Scottish Regiment in the 19th Century British Army.

When war broke out in 1914 the then Australia Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, promised that Australia would "stand beside our own to help and defend Britain to the last man and the last shilling." Preceding this rhetoric lay a long period of preparation by the colonies and the new Australian nation.

People were condtioned to support the Mother Country in defending the British Empire since we benefited from that empire. We had to "do our bit". When Britain called for our help we had to be ready.

It took several forms including Cadets in the schools, Militia training for young men and participation in British Colonial wars.

Military Training in Schools

This image copied from a photo copy of Centenary Times 1975 published by the then Queensland Department of Education to commemorate the Education Act of 1875.

Cadets appeared in NSW schools as early as 1866 and remained till the early 1970s so it was a long tradition. Before 1918, membership in the school cadet corps was compulsory in most primary schools in Queensland. This would have included Chermside State School and the other State Schools in surrounding suburbs. The basic uniform was a standard khaki jacket and trousers, complete with long leggings and boots. The hat, of course, was the Digger's "slouch hat", with badge.

Rifles were issued to the boys, although they were obliged to buy their uniforms at "15/9d complete". From 1911, any three of five subjects - Drill, Rifle Practice, First Aid, Physical Education and Swimming, were to be taught.

Female teachers were expected to give cadet training. After 1918, Cadets as such disappeared from the primary school curriculum but continued in the secondary school till the 1970s.

Organised sport in Queensland primary schools really dates from the changes that took place in the Junior Cadet Corps in 1911. From that year the emphasis in cadets moved from military exercises for the boys to physical fitness for the whole school. Swimming, first aid and physical education were taught in a systematic way, not so much for the enjoyment, but to build up the male child as a future soldier of the King. It was a serious business and teachers in small schools where full facilities were not available were expected to improvise; school sport had come to stay.

General Male Military Training

Probably taken in the early 20th Century by the Vellnagel family. It might be on an annual camp of cadets and young men who are doing their Militia training. The drum indicates that they have a band of some sort. Some of the boys look very young. (Audry Twining nee Vellnagel)

In 1911 the Commonwealth Government introduced compulsory military training for males. This built on the cadet training already in the schools, including the primary where, in many schools, it was compulsory.

After primary school the Cadet training continued in secondary school and also for those who had left school. Notes in Alexander Hamilton's 1912 Service Booklet stipulate that "you are required by the defence Act to undergo training:
In the Senior Cadets, from 14 to 18 years (of age) and
In the Citizen Forces from 18 to 26 years (Militia)

The Annual Service consisted of Statutory Parades involving the following:
4 whole-day drills + 12 half-day drills + 24 night drills and a 3 week annual camp."

Most of this training took place in the Drill Sheds (Halls) that dotted the landscape and included the one in the Chermside Historical Precinct. It originally came from Sandgate but was transported to the Precinct when the land on which it stood was sold by the Commonwealth Government.

Drill Sheds or Halls for Military Training

Originally the Sandgate Drill Hall, built in 1916, but now located at Chermside Historical Precinct after the land at Sandgate was sold. It was the centre for Military training for many years leading up to World War II for the Sandgate area. The view is of the south side showing the large doors and ramp which enabled gun carriages and motor vehicles to be hauled into the building.

Drill Sheds were not uncommon in the Brisbane area in the period before World War II. They were used by the military in training civilian soldiers, the Militia and later the Citizens Militrary Forces.

The building measures 18.5m (61ft) long (East-West), 13.4m (44ft) wide (North-South) and the walls are 4.26m (14ft) high.

Thomas Hamilton mentions in his diary for 1918 that he went to the Valley Drill Shed looking for information on his son Eddie who was reported as being very ill in France. This seems to indicate that the Drill Sheds acted as some sort of administrative centre.

The interior of the Drill Hall basically a large room with a row of small rooms along the north side. These rooms are offices and the armoury; there no ceiling in the main hall. The model plane is a World War II fighter and the structure to the left is a large show case used by the 9th Battalions War Memorial Museum and Property Trust.

Inside the Drill Hall is the large main room which occupies most of the building. This room is well ventilated by opening the large number of pivot hung sashes at each end and two more sets on the south wall as well as the large double doors. Probably most of the training used to be done at night so mosquitoes could have been a problem.

One of the smaller north side rooms was the Armoury in which all the arms, ammunition and other dangerous goods were kept. It was a strong room

The Armoury door was difficult to photograph as it is opposite a large room which was added at some time. The photo had to be taken at an angle but it does show the back or rather, side door which opens out on to a platform on the East end of the building.

The Sudan Contingent

The 1st Volunteer Rifles, taken in the late 1880s possibly in Marchant's Paddock (now Park) Chermside. Local men, who had to supply their own uniform, were at an annual training camp. The stacked rifles are probably the Martini-Henry model and the cannon on the right is a muzzle loader fired by a fuse in the breech. A group similar to this could well have gone to the Sudan campaign. (From the Kath Ballard collection)

The first of the Colonial wars in which the Australian colonies participated was in the Sudan when Muhammed Ahmed, known to his followers as the Mahdi rose up and defeated the British backed Egyptian forces who were trying to maintain control of the Sudan.

The British were soon involved and the colony of New South Wales sent a contingent of some 758 infantry and artillery to assist "the Mother country". They left Sydney on 3rd March 1885 and arrived back on 19th June 1885.

While the NSW government was keen to support the scheme the public was divided and, no doubt relieved, when the Contingent returned with the loss of very few men from disease; they did not engage in any battles only skirmishes.

While this expedition would not have affected the Chermside district directly, the people here would have read about it in the local newspapers. It thus entered their thinking and helped form their opinions regarding defence.

The Boer War

The Australian soldier was renowned as being able to " shoot and ride". This image shows a soldier mounted on a 'whaler' which was the name used for Australian horses. It came from the early ones which were bred mainly in New South Wales and largely exported to India. (Lyn Currie)

The second Colonial war, what Australian's call the Boer War, was the third Anglo-Boer war known in the British Empire as the South African War and called by the Boers, the Second War of Independence. It lasted from October 1899 to May 1902 when a negotiated peace was concluded after both sides were exhausted.

The Boers, who were largely Dutch civilian farmers numbering somewhere between 65 and 85,000 irregulars, faced the might of the British Empire, the 19th Century super power, in the form of some 450,000 trained troops, including between 12 and 16,000 Australian colonials. Not all of these troops were in the field at once but included reinforcements and withdrawals.

The Boers were very mobile being well mounted, armed with rifles, able to live off the land and highly motivated as they were fighting for their homeland. They fought a guerrilla war in groups of Commandos by ambushing the British and then disappearing quickly; they proved to be a formidable, but hard to find, foe; this was not the sort of enemy the British soldiers had been trained to fight. The Australians adapted to the Boer tactics and formed mobile, long range attacking forces. In the process they lost 251 men in battle and 267 from disease, especially typhoid.

Australian troops were valued for their ability to "shoot and ride", and they performed well in the open war on the veldt. Australians at home generally supported the war, but as it dragged on became disenchanted, especially as they became aware of its effects on Boer civilians, 20,000 of whom died in British concentration camps, and through cases such as the conviction and execution the Australian Lieutenants Morant and Hancock in 1902.

Boer War Memorial Plaque on WWI Memorial Gates, Chermside

This marble plaque on Marchant Park Gates records the names of the men who went to the Boer War from Kedron Shire.

Pte George Ridley No. 97 1st (Qld Mounted Infantry) Contingent

Pte Hugh McNeven No 94 1st (Qld Mounted Infantry) Contingent Invalided to Australia arriving 18/8/1900

Pte Harold A Reed No 71 1st (Qld Mounted Infantry) Contingent

R. G. Bridges - of the 8 Bridges listed in the Nominal Roll at the Aust War Memorial in Canberra there is only one from Queensland and he is Thomas George Pte No.365

Pte Timothy Hennessy No.63 5th (Qld Imperial Bushmen) Contingent.

There is no other list of Boer or African War veterans from Kedron Shire as far as I know.

Only the surnames and initials are listed on the Gates the remainder of the information came from the Boer War Nominal Roll in the Australian War Museum, Canberra.

Boxer Rebellion March 1900-March 1901

China which was, and is, one of the most ancient and continuous civilisations on earth was being exploited by European powers. Around the end of the 19th Century the "Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists", dubbed the "Boxers" by western correspondents, decided to rid China of foreign domination by the European powers and set about attacking the foreigners in their enclaves.

Since the government of China sided with the Boxers then it became a War of Independence not a mere rebellion.

Earlier there had been the opium wars in which Britain forced China to buy the opium that they, the British, were growing in India.

The Australian colonies rallied to the support of Great Britain and, since the soldiers were fighting in South Africa, they sent a naval contingent of sailors who could also fight as soldiers.

The war followed the usual one sided conflict with the Europeans getting their way and the Chinese paying the price in blood and treasure.

Like the Sudan expedition the Boxer Rebellion probably did not impinge directly on the local area but it did highlight the responsibilities of the local British citizens to the Empire. They depended on it to protect them so they had to support it and 'keep the Chinese in their place'.

What War Means

The following is an excerpt from a speech, delivered by the prominent German Socialist, Herr August Bebel (1840-1913) a member of the German Reichstag and one of the founders of the German Social Democratic Party. It appeared in the Brisbane Courier of Saturday 11-11-1911 p. 12 and was a dose of reality.


The Report reads:
Her Bebel, leader of the German Socialists, in a recent speech (probably in Germany) described what a war would mean to Germany. He said "There would be a revolution in all social relationships. Millions of workmen would be called away from their families, who would have nothing to eat and to live upon.

Hundreds of thousands of small manufacturers would be rendered bankrupt, stocks and shares would fall and thousands of families in comfortable circumstances would be reduced to beggars. The enormous export trade with the outside world would be interrupted; innumerable factories and industrial undertakings would stand still.

The import of foodstuffs would cease completely; prices would reach a height that would mean famine. The masses would cry for work and bread, and no one could find them work and bread outside the few industries interested in war

In conclusion Her Bebel addressed an eloquent warning to those who were prepared light-heartedly to plunge their countrymen into the horrors and uncertainties of modern war. "There are many" he said, "who talk lightly of a war with France and think we should soon finish it. Capable military judges have, however, assured me that we should certainly not find France so easy to deal with today as in 1870.

Our history books tell us not a word about the misery, the want, and the lack of work during the terrible winter of 1870-71. Yet what we should have to face in a new war would be infinitely greater and incomparably more terrible than the experience of 1870."

Did many take such a warning seriously in 1911?

The arms race was in full swing and alliances were already drawn up among the countries of Europe which would divide them on the two sides in the coming conflict. All that was needed was a spark to light the gunpowder; it happened in Sarajevo when a young student thought he could solve his country's problems by shooting a Crown Prince.

World War I - The Great War

There had been talk of war for years before 1914 and many regarded it as just talk, but there had been an arms race between the major European powers with Germany building a High Seas Fleet and Britain building more Dreadnaughts (Battleships). France, still smarting from the defeat by Germany in 1871, was also arming.

These countries had conscription and could field large well trained, armies equipped with the latest weapons. In addition Britain 'ruled the waves' with its very large battle fleet.

For most people in Chermside it was all a long way off and the Boer War, which was a localised war, was long settled, the British Empire had won it, we had supported Britain and the British navy would protect Australia. There was nothing to really worry about.

There was great excitement at the announcement of war on the 3rd August, probably because people thought we would win and it would soon be over, maybe by Christmas. The public had been educated to think in terms of glorious deeds and the overcoming of dastardly enemies by the might of the British Empire.

Hon W M Kelly (Minister in the Federal Cabinet), addressing a public meeting in the Albert Hall in Brisbane city at the start of the Great War:

"We are bone of Britain's Bone and Blood of Britain's Blood. And in view of the great disturbances across the seas, let us sweep aside all petty differences and party bitterness, and stand shoulder to shoulder in our determination to consider the welfare of Australians and the great British Empire". (Cheers)

A public meeting was to be held in Brisbane Town Hall but it proved too small to hold the crowd so they adjourned to Market Square which could hold the 4 - 5,000 people. The meeting was very patriotic and very enthusiastic, flags waved while the National Anthem, God Save the King, was sung and cheered. The crowd was exhorted to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Mother Country.

The Mayor of North Brisbane exhorted the gathering: "Be calm, you came from the calm British stock and I am quite satisfied that you will conduct yourselves in a manner befitting the race, the nationality and the stock from which you have sprung." (Cheers)


CDHS Inc Archives - Interviews with descendents of Diggers - Local Honour Boards - Photos and memorabilia donated by descendents

World War I Memorial Gates, Marchant Park

Australian War Museum, Canberra - Nominal Rolls - War Histories - Roll of Honour

National Library of Australia - Australian Newspapers - Brisbane Courier - Queenslander

John Oxley Library, Brisbane

National Archives of Australia

Internet - Numerous websites checking for details.