Pages from Hunter Region in the Great War


Play the tune an Australian army for Australia and they dance to any extent. Australia – not empire – is

then the string we must harp on. That is to say we must encourage them to do what they will do willingly

and lavishly, namely pay up for safeguarding a white Australia from the accursed Jap. Then, when the time

comes, and we are fighting for our lives in India or elsewhere, I for one am confident that the whole military

force of Australia will be freely at our disposal.

England knew there would be more wars, and it worked hard to ensure its dominions would send soldiers

whenever they were needed. After years of steadily mounting tension and diplomatic chess-playing, when

Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, it knew it could count on its former colonies.

(It should be noted that conscripted members of the CMF were able to be deployed on Australian soil

only, and could not be sent overseas. When the war broke out a new volunteer force, the AIF, was created

and the two armies functioned side-by-side throughout the war.)

Despite dissident voices, the majority of Australians – in parliaments and on the street – were in favour

of joining the war. The outbreak of war came while Australia was in the midst of a federal election, and both

the conservatives and the Labor Party vied with each other in jingoism and patriotic support for Britain.

Prime Minister Joseph Cook told the public: “If there is to be a war, you and I shall be in it. If the old

country is at war, so are we”.

Labor Opposition leader Andrew Fisher (soon to be Prime Minister) said Australia would fight “to the last

man and the last shilling”. So eager was the Government that it had already notified Britain by telegram, the

day before Britain declared war on Germany, that:

In the event of war Commonwealth of Australia prepared to place vessels of Australian Navy under control

of British Admiralty when desired. Further prepared to despatch expeditionary force 20,000 men of any

suggested composition to any destination desired by Home Government. Force to be at complete disposal Home

Government. Cost of despatch and maintenance would be borne by this Government. Australian press notified


The British “protected cruiser” HMS Challenger in Newcastle Harbour in May 1912. Launched in 1902,

the vessel was paid off a few months after its Newcastle visit, but pressed back into service when the war

broke out. The Royal Navy maintained a presence on its “Australia station”, flying the flag for the empire.

Photo:Maitland and District Historical Society


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