An Australian First World War recruitment poster.
An Australian First World War recruitment poster. Courtesy of Australian War Memor

The call to arms is answered

WITH Britain's entry into the First World War and Australia's pledge to defend the empire of which it was part, the fledgling nation now had to come up with a force of troops to send to battle.

Britain had accepted outgoing Australian Prime Minister Joseph Cook's offer of 20,000 troops, and the volunteer Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was soon created with British-born Australian General William Throsby Bridges appointed commander.

Australia was to provide one infantry division, one lighthorse brigade and support units at this stage and, with many British-born citizens and first-generation Anglo-Australians among the population, there was a general air of expectation the "colonials" would comply. And comply they did.

On August 10, 1914, recruitment offices opened around the country - and were bombarded with young men eager to take up arms.

In New South Wales, the 1st Battalion AIF was the first to be raised, in Randwick, Sydney. It opened for recruiting on August 17, and by August 20 it was estimated more than 10,000 men had enlisted.

In Queensland, the momentum for enlistment was similar and the 9th Battalion, raised at Enoggera, Brisbane, would set sail within a couple of months with a full complement of troops who would make up the 3rd Brigade, part of Australia's 1st Division.

It was estimated up to a fifth had military experience either with previous Australian militias or the British Army.

In the early stages of enlistment, the influx of men was so high that recruiters could afford to be picky, and there were specific standards in place relating to age, height, chest measurement, eyesight, dental health and physical fitness. Indigenous troops were also accepted if their skin was considered "white" enough.

By the end of 1914, more than 52,000 volunteer troops had been accepted. It was estimated up to a third of prospective Australian soldiers were rejected in the first year of the war.

But as time went on and death and casualty numbers piled up abroad, it became harder to fill the quotas of men needed as Australia promised more and more troops to a war that was dragging on beyond anyone's initial expectations.

The enlistment standards were relaxed over time and recruiting officers became more creative with their propaganda, appealing to men's sense of guilt, honour and pride in a bid to encourage them to sign up.

An Australian AIF. First World War recruitment poster, which appeals to the viewer's sense of filial duty as an encouragement to enlist.
An Australian AIF. First World War recruitment poster, which appeals to the viewer's sense of filial duty as an encouragement to enlist. Courtesy of Australian War Memor

One NSW Recruiting Committee poster featured the question, "Which picture would your father like to show his friends?", and two images - of a young man in military uniform doing his duty or a privileged poser in sporting whites, leaning back in his deck chair reading a book.

Other campaigns tried to convince young men they would lose out to their braver rivals in love if they did not enlist for war, because women rewarded those whose military efforts deserved it.

By 1916, the AIF faced a shortage of men.

Despite opposition from his own party, Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes decided to take conscription to the Australian people in a referendum - up until that point the Defence Act allowed conscripts to fight only on Australian soil and not overseas.

The referendum, held on October 28, 1916, provoked furious debate within the Australian community and the proposal was narrowly defeated.

After the referendum's failure, Hughes was expelled from the Labor Party and formed the breakaway National Labor Party with his remaining supporters from the Labor caucus. He was re-elected Prime Minister after merging the National Labor Party with the opposition Liberal Party to form a coalition government.

But enlistment for the war continued to fall, and in 1917 Hughes called for another referendum on the conscription issue.

On December 20, 1917, the nation again voted "No" to conscription, this time with a slightly larger majority. Australia and South Africa would remain the only participating countries not to introduce conscription during the First World War.

By the end of the war, almost 417,000 Australian men would enlist - and 60,000 of those would never come home.



Age: 18-35 years

Height: 5ft 6ins (168cm)

Chest: 34ins (86cm)

Eyesight, dental health and physical fitness taken into account, as well as the whiteness of skin for indigenous soldiers.

Recruits also examined for BC or D tattoos, which were British Army marks meaning "Bad Character" or "Deserter".

The physical standards were eventually relaxed to 18-45 years (and sometimes 50 for certain support corps) and a height of 5ft (152cm). Minor eye, dental and health defects were also accepted, as were indigenous troops with darker skin.  



IT WASN'T just the Australian Imperial Force that was born in the aftermath of the outbreak of war - so too was the Australian Red Cross.

Lady Helen Munro-Ferguson, wife of Governor-General Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson, was a council member of the British Red Cross and had floated the idea of starting an Australian branch in her discussions with women's groups since her arrival in Australia in May 2014.

A 1918 portrait of Vera Deakin, daughter of the former Australian Prime Minister Alfred Deakin, who established the Wounded and Missing Bureau in Egypt in 1915.
A 1918 portrait of Vera Deakin, daughter of the former Australian Prime Minister Alfred Deakin, who established the Wounded and Missing Bureau in Egypt in 1915. Courtesy of Australian War Memor

At the outbreak of war, she sought permission from the British Red Cross to proceed and then sent telegrams to all the wives of the state governors to support the creation of state divisions. All agreed.

On August 10, a letter to the editor she had written was published in newspapers across Australia.

"The best field of activity for non-combatants, and especially for women, lies in providing for the needs of the sick and wounded," she wrote.

"But … such assistance must be organised."

Lady Helen encouraged women around Australia to become involved in forming strong local Red Cross branches, and organised a meeting in Melbourne on August 13, 1914, at which the Australian branch was officially established.

The Australian Red Cross has grown in the past century to become the nation's largest humanitarian organisation, with more than a million volunteers, members, staff, donors, aid workers and supporters across the country. It is part of a worldwide movement operating in 189 countries.

As well as medical help and the support from home given to troops, the Red Cross operated another important function during the First World War - its Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau.

The bureau, which was established in October 1915 by former Prime Minister Alfred Deakin's daughter Vera, sought to identify, investigate and respond to inquiries made about the fate of Australian personnel.

It investigated the majority of personnel posted as wounded and missing on official army lists, as well as written inquiries from concerned relatives and friends.

In 2002, the bureau's reports - which hold the case files of about 32,000 people - were digitised to preserve the fragile original documents and provide greater public access to the information. They are available through the Australian War Memorial website,



WHEN Australia promised 20,000 troops to Britain, authorities in 1914 were faced with the enormous task of recruiting, clothing, equipping and training a force for war almost from scratch.

Three members of the AIF in First World War uniform.
Three members of the AIF in First World War uniform. Courtesy of Australian War Memor

In such a short time, there was little opportunity to design a special uniform and distinctive insignia for the new Australian Imperial Force. The slouch hat, breeches and puttees were already used by Australia's home-service citizens' forces and these would remain, with alterations.

The basic items of clothing worn by the Australian infantryman during the First World War were:

*A uniform tunic worn with khaki cord breeches

*A soft grey flannel shirt without collar

*Underclothes consisting of a vest and drawers. These were regarded as a major defence against skin disease

*Puttees, which covered the leg from ankle to knee with a spiral of woollen cloth

*Pair of tan ankle boots

*Pair of socks, either woollen or cotton

*Khaki woollen greatcoat, the soldier's chief protection against cold and wet, and often his only bedding

*The khaki felt slouch hat or service cap.

With its tunic, breeches and slouch hat, the Australian uniform had a distinctive silhouette compared to British and other Commonwealth uniforms.

The khaki tunic was made from Australian wool and was devised as a result of consultation between medical and physiological advisers and officers of the Department of Defence.

Source: Australian War Memorial



A 1931 portrait of artist Norman Lindsay, who penned several recruitment posters for the AIF volunteer enlistment campaign.
A 1931 portrait of artist Norman Lindsay, who penned several recruitment posters for the AIF volunteer enlistment campaign. Harold Cazneaux

NORMAN Lindsay (1879-1970) was an Australian painter, draughtsman, illustrator, cartoonist, printmaker, writer and sculptor.

He is perhaps best known for the children's illustrated classic, The Magic Pudding - a comic fantasy about a bad-tempered pudding called Albert who regenerated no matter how much he was eaten - published in 1918, as well as a range of controversial nude artworks.

Lindsay joined the Bulletin magazine as a staff artist in a series of long stints between 1901 and 1958 and, during the First World War, he produced a series of jingoistic cartoons and pro-conscription posters.

He was commissioned by Australian authorities to produce six recruitment posters in 1918, including one saying "Quick!", depicting two Australian soldiers under attack from the Germans and imploring men back home to join the war effort before it was too late.

The last two of Lindsay's commissioned posters had not been used by the time the Armistice was signed in November 1918.