‘Why did Australians volunteer to fight so readily in 1914?’
The outbreak of The Great War in 1914 was the first battle The Commonwealth of Australia fought in as a separate nation. Having been an extremely young nation, federating in 1901, the country of Australia was still very much tied to their true ‘mother country’, Great Britain. Britain was in charge of Australia’s defence in that point in time and had certain obligations to Britain, particularly in times of war and conflict. Australians during this period were eager to help Britain any way they could and did so by calling for volunteers. Initially, entry was strict, however once replacements were needed these restrictions, such as height and level of experience, were lifted. A multitude of reasons existed as to the motivation Australian men, in particular enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F). The 13 year old nation of Australia in 1914 expressed a higher sense of patriotism as opposed to the level shown today, which needs to be taken into account as Australia did not have conscription. However a very patriotic young nation, eager to gain a sense of nationalism is a part of the reason masses of Australian men, were eager to be involved in the A.I.F.
By August 10, 1914, recruiting began nationwide. By November 1914, ‘20,000 members of an infantry division and a light horse brigade…were on their way to Egypt This quick gathering of volunteering men to fight overseas in an unforeseen, brutal battle, raises interesting points of discussion as to the reasons these men made themselves available.
An assortment of various motivations for joining up with the A.I.F, which include duty, honor, peer pressure, influential propaganda, the seeking of adventure, the overgrowing sense of nationalism and also the fact that the lack of wars in the European area since the 1870’s diminished any recent notion of danger and loss of life that participating in the war can attribute to.
Nobody foresaw the horrors of participating in the First World War would bring. Being a new, recently independent nation, the outbreak of war provided the opportunity not only to fulfill their obligations to Britain, but also for Australia to establish itself as a country that has the manpower and support behind them to exhibit the traits of an established nation. ‘There was also a belief in society that war was a testing ground for individual and national character’ Australia was a product of the successful British military quests and here was the chance to prove themselves worthy on a world stage.’ What the war represented was an opportunity to say, ‘here we are right, look at us fighting’10. If society believed that war was a testing ground for individual and national character, this was certainly achieved at Gallipoli in 1915. Despite being a failed battle with ‘7823 Australians being killed and 19441 wounded with a further 70 becoming prisoners of war’, the ANZACS represented the values and qualities of the whole society which is still reflected in our nationalism today. Welborn (2002), describes the historic event as ‘the proving of a nations soul’.In essence, the failed landing at Gallipoli evoked at least the sense of nationalism many young men were inspired to enlist as a result of.
Many people in Australia in 1914 had little if any perspective of what the world looked like outside of their country, this brought about the opportunity for free travel. Unless you were particularly financially comfortable, a majority of Australian men had the first opportunity to leave their home towns. This sense of adventure drove prospective recruits to their local recruitment offices. Particularly in the time of 1914, the offer to fight for your country in an unknown land and receive food and a paycheck would have been enticing. ‘Workers in urban environments looked forward to finding in it an exciting and, they hoped, a brief respite from the tedium of their everyday lives’6...
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