The majority of our residents were not alive when the Great War was being fought and it is often difficult for residents (including myself) in our modern society to fully understand the implications of World War I on Australia’s early history.
To gain some understanding of the impact of the War, I looked at some statistics. As Andrew Lang famously said, I shall try not to use statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts, for support rather than for illumination.
In the First World War, a total of 416,809 Australians enlisted for service, representing 38.7 per cent of the male population aged between 18 and 44. Most of these enlistments were in 1915. It is hard to think of the impact on society of such a large group of men being removed from their normal duties in a burgeoning society. If you think it is hard to get a tradesman today, think back one hundred years. 112,452 of those enlisted were tradesmen and 99,252 were labourers with an additional 57,430 with an official occupation of ‘country callings’ which I assume meant they were employed in the agricultural sector. There were still jobs to be performed in a very young country and suddenly great swathes of those able to perform those jobs were removed.
Obviously many of these never returned – 59,357 Australians died during the years of the war and the Roll of Honour records the number of deaths through to the formal disbandment of the AIF on 31 March 1921 as 61,514. Some would argue that these were the lucky ones. The soldiers that returned had to live with the atrocities forever etched into their minds. We had 4,044 Australians as Prisoners of War and 155,133 who were officially wounded in action but that doesn’t begin to tell the full story with many returned servicemen impacted by PTSD (before the term existed) and memories of the atrocities they experienced. It is little wonder that many felt depressed or turned to alcohol and drugs. I am not sure that even today we fully realise the impact that the First World War had on Australia.
Unfortunately the war to end all wars was not the last conflict Australians were involved in. Remembrance Day is celebrated on the anniversary of Armistice Day in 1918 but it is really to thank all 102,815 soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. While days like today are not held to ‘celebrate’ war, they are held to commemorate the sacrifice so many brave men and women have made to allow us to live in this wonderful nation.
Lest we forget.
Councillor Mathew Dickerson
Mayor of the City of Dubbo