|Robert Herman Herweg, enlisted in December 1914.|
A few weeks ago I gave a talk at the Flemington Library which was obscurely called 'Diversity in the AIF'. This title was not of my choosing, and I won't make any further reference to it. The talk contained some background of events that had implications for Australian families with foreign surnames. This introduction was followed by a Powerpoint presentation with some examples of young men in the AIF with foreign surnames. I spoke to the Powerpoint without notes. I have since edited it to make it more self-explanatory. At the bottom of this post I have included the links to the soldiers' pages in The Empire Called and I Answered if you wish to follow them further. When I have more time I will try and write it up more coherently. In the meantime, the Powerpoint can be found here: Stories of the Home Front.
From 1916, German and Austro-Hungarian residents of Australia were forced to register with the police. A fear of possible German-Australian 'conflicted loyalties' led to several regulations under the War Precautions Act 1914, such as forbidding German-Australians to leave Australia or send money overseas. These immigrants, naturalised subjects and Australian-born people, rapidly moved in the Australian consciousness to 'enemy aliens'.
German clubs and Lutheran schools were closed, German place names were changed and community leaders were interned in order to deprive German–Australians of their spokesmen in the mainstream public sphere of Australian society. Honorary German Consuls (as opposed to official members of the German diplomatic mission), usually prominent German–Australian businessmen residing in the capital cities of the different states, were all interned. The government firmly believed they were working in alliance with the Lutheran clergy on behalf of the Imperial German government.
Correspondence in the National Archives makes it plain that while the government could not possibly intern every person of German ancestry, they could arrest some prominent Germans to make an example and appease the general population.
In South Australia, Consul Hermann Mücke, was briefly interned during April 1916 and subsequently detained in his home in Adelaide under military guard. At the same time, his youngest son, Francis Frederick, was serving with the Australian Imperial Forces in France after being wounded at Gallipoli.
It is worth mentioning that numbers of Irish ‘Home Rule’ proponents were also interned.
British law specified that a married woman's nationality was always that of her husband, and accordingly, a woman acquired her husband's civic status and lost her own upon marriage. If her husband at any time altered his nationality by naturalisation, her civic status also changed. The Naturalization Bill 1903 was consistent with British law on this point, and it included a prohibition on the naturalisation of married women.
While the internment process was to a large extent improvised and capricious, there were nevertheless distinct policy objectives. The Commonwealth government had announced early in the war that destitute enemy alien males could volunteer for internment if lacking any prospect of being able to pay for their livelihood. Their families, after being means-tested, were granted a small allowance.
The internment system thus developed into a tool of social control. It was used to segregate and, after the war, to exclude undesirable residents not only because of their ethnic origin but also because of their poor socioeconomic status. Internees who had been imprisoned because they were considered mentally weak were similarly singled out.
So how did citizens with 'foreign' names get on during the war?
Henry was named in a supplementary list of men of German birth or descent working in Defence positions, which was then published in the newspapers.
The remarks of the investigators were “Adjutant-General's Branch — Warrant Officer [Class 2] H. Kaufman, military staff clerk, pay £210 per year. Returned soldier A.I.F.. gained rank of captain in field. Father born in Germany and arrived in Australia 1852, died in 1911; mother, English woman, born in London”.
Naturalised Huns in High Places
Whose is the Hidden Hand Which Protects Them ?
(For "THE GRAPHIC")
The determined interrogation of Mr. Finlayson, a Queensland Labour M.P., regarding persons of enemy descent in the Defence Department, has borne fruit. Mr. Finlayson last week drew attention to the fact that the official return, published in "The Graphic, of persons of enemy association in the Defence Department, was confined to the lower paid officials, while the higher salaried men were not mentioned.
Mr. Finlayson added that he knew of several men in the higher grades of the service whose names didn't appear in the list, and who had lately received promotion. The Assistant Minister of Defence (Mr. G. H. Wise) has since laid upon the table of the House a supplementary return, which embraces the following cases: —
With regard to enemy descent, the replies were: —
Military Board of Administration: Brigadier-General V. C. M. Sellheim, C.B., C.M.G., A.D.C., to the Governor-General. Adjutant General, pay £725 a year, allowances £100 a year, returned soldier, served in both this and South African wars. His father, who is understood to have been an Austrian, was Under-Secretary for Mines in Queensland, arrived in Australia nearly 70 years ago, and was naturalised; he died in October, 1899. His mother was English, having been the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Morisset, of the 48th Regiment.
Adjutant General's Branch — Warrant-Officer (class 2), H. Kaufman, military staff clerk, pay £210 a year, returned soldier A.I.F., gained the rank of captain in the field, father born in Germany, and arrived in Australia 1852; died in 1911; mother English, born in London.
The Graphic, published in Melbourne, went on in this article to vilify people of German descent, even where a parent had been naturalised many decades ago, and accuse them of disloyalty, citing a handful of British cases where person of German birth or descent had been tried and found guilty of providing information to the enemy. Whether those cases would stand up to scrutiny now is a question that might be asked. Many of the other newspapers which published the supplementary list including Henry’s name made no further commentary, perhaps believing that Henry’s war record made any further comment unnecessary. The Graphic commented that “It is usually forgotten that 'loyalty' is the favourite camouflage of the naturalised Hun.” No amount of service to Australia would fool them, it would seem.
It is interesting to note that none of the men named in this supplementary list were accused of changing their names to hide their German origins. It is in fact notable how many men with German origins served faithfully in the AIF without attempting to obscure their origins. It was not until 1917, under the War Precautions Act, that people “of enemy descent” were prevented from changing their names. It wasn’t unusual for families with German surnames to suffer from verbal or physical attacks on the home front, no matter how accepted they might be in the AIF. Sometimes just a “foreign” name would suffice.
The hurt and anxiety caused to the Kaufmans at this time must have been considerable, and probably frightening for May caring for young children. The newspaper story indicates that the report was not the end of the matter. The list of names had been referred to a Commissioner who would enquire into the matter. Henry may have been required to appear before a panel, perhaps. Several reports on his war service appear in his file from May 1918. There is nothing in his file to indicate the outcome of the enquiry, nor did any statement exonerating Henry from the implication of disloyalty get published in the Melbourne newspapers. The Kaufmans had to wear the opprobrium.
Henry’s job doesn’t appear to have been in question from the Department's point of view, and he remained working for the Commonwealth government until the further outbreak of war in 1939. Henry (and his brother John) volunteered again at the age of 55.
John Vosti’s daughter Nan Lee told me of an incident when the family arose one morning to find a placard nailed to the front fence reading “These people are Germans”. The family was very upset by the incident. Nan also recalled that her sister Beatrice Vosti was picked on at school by pupils who believed that she was German, a belief which originated with her teacher who announced this “fact” to the class. Allan Vosti recalled being told that stones were sometimes throw on the roof, accompanied by yells from the street.
Nance Vosti’s sister, Adeline Keating, had begun to work for Myer during the war, and moved into the toy department when there was a huge movement to stop trading with German companies. German dolls and other toys had been hugely popular before the war, and in the end Addie benefitted from this anti-German sentiment by being sent to Japan, the first woman buyer to travel overseas, to buy Japanese toys. There was an active branch of the Anti-German League in Moonee Ponds. Throughout the war. Some local identities refused to have anything to do with this organisation. Another cause for division.
[See Bandsman Vosti’s Diaries: War and peace in Essendon, 1917 -1920, by Lenore Frost, the author: Essendon, 2012.
Otto was not a soldier but a Moonee Ponds businessman. Otto Plarre had emigrated in 1909 with three other German pastrycooks – they aimed at getting as far away from Germany as they could. They became naturalised in 1912 and 1913. Otto married Leisl Gabsch, born in Melbourne to German parents, and over the next few years they had three children, and established a thriving business in Puckle Street.
“Otto and Liesl Plarre found themselves the target of considerable anti-German sentiment. This negative reaction from the community grew steadily as the war progressed with many customers refusing to buy Otto’s cakes. Those who continued to shop at Plarre’s were often harassed outside the store, even accosted and dragged out once they were inside. Otto was beginning to fear for his young family and considered packing the horse and dray and ‘going bush’ until the war was over. … Tensions escalated to the point where, in 1918, just after the November Armistice, the cake shop in Puckle Street was vandalised. A brick was hurled through the window, smashing into the shop.”
However, I note that throughout the war Otto and his business was mentioned in the Essendon Gazette from time to time, generally expressing approval of his catering, and both Otto and Liesl were mentioned in connection with patriotic fundraising donations, including the Welcome Home committees. He couldn’t have stayed in business without support from the local community. The Plarres are still active members of our community.
[See Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses: a recipe for success. Four generations of baking excellence, Ari Unglik. Wilder Ghostwriters: Toorak, 1997.]
A short film about the people of German descent at Westgarthtown near Epping in Victoria. It encapsulates the problems caused by xenophobia during WW1. It is narrated by Adam Zwar. It runs for 16 minutes and is well worth the time spent.
The examples I have given of families with German or ‘foreign’ surnames illustrates the dangers of making blanket assumptions about individuals about whom nothing is known, but based merely upon their name. In current times there are those who make blanket assumptions about other folk people based upon their religion, or their place of birth, or their colour. If anyone offers any threat to Australia, that threat needs to be taken seriously, and dealt with on an individual basis, but it does our country no service to condemn a whole people without enquiry, without trial.
Governments are only too willing to remove people’s rights, and we had best be careful in case they are our rights. We should be vigilant to preserve what vestiges of freedom and democracy remain to us, and not be willing to give them up because of fear-mongering. We lost a lot back in 1914 to 1918, not the least of which was the vibrant German community which had so much to offer in culture and hard work. We need to learn those lessons and not forever repeat them.
These young men were mentioned in the Powerpoint.
John Patrick Lundmark
Louis Gilbert Hahn
There were many others.