Pakenham's First Volunteers

Left: The premiership winning Pakenham Football Team of 1914. Those known to have volunteered to serve  in WWI are in bold print. Back-row (LtoR): William Stephenson (in bowler hat), Len Cook, Andy Webster, William Webster, Bill Stone, Tim Halloran, William Slessar, Fred Stone, T. Jackson, Bert Stone, Artie Paternoster, unknown, Albert Nye & Patrick Halloran. Middle Row: Esca Gabbett, Frank Hornby, J. Cowell, Ben Taylor (Captain), N. Webster, Harry Cook &, H. Taylor. Front row: Billy Lewis, umpire & Bill Abrehart. Courtesy of Graham Treloar and the Berwick - Pakenham Historical Society.

Initially, one had to be between the ages of 19 and 38 and pass height, physical, dental and eyesight tests to enlist, although eligibility was later extended to those aged from 18 to 45. Those under 21 had to obtain parental consent to serve (https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/enlistment) Amongst the first to volunteer from Pakenham was Edward (Teddy) Cook, the president of the local Australian Natives‘ Association (ANA) lodge, and Harry Cook (seemingly no relation), who was one of the star players for the Pakenham Football Club. When Pakenham qualified in September 1914 for the District football final against Dandenong, Harry had to get special permission to return from the Broadmeadows Army Camp to help the team win the premiership (SBMJ 10/9/1914, p.2). Harry‘s example was said to demonstrate “the truth of the saying that England’s greatest battles were won on the field of sport, and our best wish is that he may return to us safe and sound, with the Kaiser’s scalp on his belt” (Ibid). Unfortunately Harry fades into history at this point as he is one of the Pakenham diggers whose service cannot be traced.

In those first heady days, weeks and months of the War, it was not simply the young and athletic who sought to enlist. Also amongst them was Harry Worship, a Pakenham South farmer who was 47 years old, but lowered his age to enlist in September 1914. No doubt because of his age, Harry’s enlistment surprised people: “Quite a surprise was sprung on our town when it was made known that Mr Harry Worship had gone into camp with the First Expeditionary Force. He is filling a position in the artillery ammunition division, and is just the one to serve it out quickly and lively. Good luck to old Harry, and may he come back with a V.C.”  (SBMJ 24/9/1914, p.3).

Volunteers from Pakenham generally travelled to Melbourne to enlist, rather than doing so at either Dandenong or Warragul. Perhaps this was because those going to enlist received free return railway tickets, which gave them the opportunity to visit the “big smoke”. Those who passed the medical examination and took the oath of allegiance to the King were enlisted for service until the end of the War, plus four months thereafter. Before the horrors of modern warfare became apparent, enlistment seemingly promised the adventure of a lifetime: an opportunity to see the world, serve your King and country, help your mates, be paid “six bob” (shillings) a day and return with a medal or two. Too often though, the adventure would end in personal tragedy. Women also had the opportunity to serve during WWI by joining the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS). At least two women with Pakenham connections did so: Sister Nora Rhoden, the grand daughter of David Connor who was one of Pakenham’s earliest pioneers, and Sister Muriel Instone who was working as a nurse on the IYU Estate when she enlisted in 1915.

Special farewell socials were organised at the local halls in Pakenham East, Pakenham South and Pakenham Upper for those who were about to leave for the Army. At these events, the volunteers would be entertained with musical and other performances, while local politicians, councillors and leading citizens gave rousing patriotic speeches intended to inspire others to join up too. A souvenir and memento was usually presented to the departing volunteers. Several Pakenham Upper volunteers, including Private Donald Black, were presented with wallets containing a photograph of a local scene, while Pakenham South volunteers received practical items such as wrist-watches, tin openers and “good tucker hampers” (DA 2/9/1915, p.2). 

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