The Home Front

While daily life back home in Pakenham continued more or less as usual, the War inevitably had an effect on the life and spirit of the community. As the Pakenham  correspondent for the South Bourke and Mornington Journal noted in August 1915: “In a farming community such as ours, the usual topics of conversation are the seasons, the weather, the crops and prices ... Although we are still compelled to think along these lines to a certain extent, the one great subject that overshadows and envelops all is “The War”. When and how will it end. Our thoughts turn instinctively to where our own brave lads have gone and are doing so well. Any scrap of news concerning them is eagerly read ..." (SBMJ 5/8/1915 p. 2). The War also influenced the tone of otherwise ordinary community activities. The topic for one of the local Mutual Improvement Society’s public debates was whether public sports should be cancelled for the duration of the war (SBMJ 15/7/1915, p. 2). Young ladies competing in carnival queen competitions (a popular form of fund-raising) did so under titles such as “Queen of Soldiers”, “Queen of Victory” and “Queen of Peace” (Ferry 2016, p. 50). Even the sermons of local ministers of religion (especially of the Protestant persuasion) took on a patriotic, sometimes martial tone. In this regard, John Armour, the local Presbyterian Missioner was particularly known for his patriotic fervour (SBMJ 4/11/1915, p. 3).

 

For the families left behind, having their loved ones away at the War was a source of both great pride and anxiety. As Arthur Greenwood (one of the local JPs) noted, at the start of the war, “the father, the mother, the wife, the sweetheart, and even the little children seemed pleased to see them going away to fight for home and glory”. They then eagerly awaited letters from their loved ones at the Front: “Every letter was read with interest and the contents told with pride to relative and friend. The news that a soldier had received promotion or had done well  ... gave great joy”. However, as Mr Greenwood noted, “the news contained in a red telegram caused sorrow all round”  (PG, 7/6/1918, p.3). Some families “felt the pinch” too because their sole breadwinner had enlisted, even though dependent wives, children and widowed mothers received part of their army pay. The soldiers themselves had a great respect for the way the women held the families together and kept the farms and businesses going while they were away (Information from Robyn Ellett Tassoni). The enlistment of so many young men was felt in other ways too. The Berwick District football competition was abandoned part way through the 1915 season because the local teams were weakened by the number of players who had enlisted (BSN 21/7/1915, p. 2). The subsequent cancellation of the 1916 season, whilst patriotic, was perhaps not too popular in Pakenham, since a junior (under 21s) team was fielded in the Dandenong and Oakleigh League, although the absence of key players still precluded fielding a senior team (BSN 4/5/1916, p. 2). There were also noticeable economic impacts caused by enlistments, including a shortage of labour, which at times affected both farmers and the Berwick Shire itself (NAA B73, M15344). Although some may have regarded those who stayed behind as “slackers” or even “cowards”, others recognised the contribution they were nonetheless making to the War effort. As Corporal Ted Appleton wrote to his younger brother Percy: “I suppose [you are] wishing you were a soldier. What does your girl say? if she says anything, you tell her that you are doing something for your country in making the apples grow ...” (undated post card from Ted Appleton to Percy Appleton).

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