Australia in the Great War
Outbreak of war — The double dissolution — ‘The last man and the last shilling’ — Third Fisher Government — The A.I.F. — The Sydney–Emden fight — Defence of the Suez Canal — The Dardanelles — The Gallipoli campaign — ‘Anzac’ — On the Somme — Monash’s Army Corps — Battles in France — The Palestine campaign — The Australian soldier — The split in the Labour Party — Conscription Referenda — The cost in men and money — The mandates — The Bruce Government.
At midnight on August 4, 1914, messages were telegraphed from London to all parts of the British dominions announcing that a state of war with the German Empire existed from that hour. Australia was prepared for the news. Information from the Imperial Government had warned Commonwealth ministers, and the cablegrams in the newspapers had kept the public informed of the intense anxiety and breathless suspense existing in Europe during the interval between the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, at Sarajevo, on June 23, and the ultimatum presented by Austria to Serbia on July 23. The probability that if a war broke out, as a consequence of this crime in the Balkans, it would be a world war, was perhaps realized only by those who were close students of foreign politics. Day by day the news flashed through the cables that Serbia, though innocent of all official knowledge of the murder, which was committed in Austrian territory, had accepted practically all Austria’s demands, but that Austria nevertheless continued to mobilize her forces with a view to crushing Serbia; that Russia had intimated that she would be compelled to intervene if Serbia were attacked; that Germany would in that event hurl her huge army against Russia; and that France, faithful to her alliance with Russia, would then make war on Germany.
The British Foreign Office was exerting its utmost efforts to preserve the peace; and for a few hours, on July 30 and 31, a spark of hope flickered fitfully, flattering the optimism of those who thought that these exertions would be successful. Both Russia and France gave undertakings to Great Britain that they would not commit any aggressive acts against Germany, or do anything to spoil the negotiations that the Foreign Office was conducting, with the aim of holding back the deluge of war. But on July 31 Germany served Russia with an ultimatum demanding that she should countermand her military preparations within twelve hours; and on August 2 German troops invaded Luxemburg, a neutral state lying between her territory and France.
During these anxious days the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in London thrice warned the German Government that if Belgium were invaded, the treaty engagements under which Great Britain was bound to maintain the neutrality of that country would be honoured. But Germany, having declared war on Russia on August 1, and having planned to attack Russia’s ally, France, by an invasion through Flanders, demanded of Belgium on August 3 that permission should be given for German troops to march through. Permission was refused by the Belgian Government. The German Government thereupon threatened to compel Belgium by force of arms to permit her territory to be used for an attack on France. The King of the Belgians on August 4 appealed to Great Britain to safeguard the integrity of his country, and a promise that this would be done was promptly given. The British Foreign Office at the same time telegraphed to Berlin that unless satisfactory assurances were given by 12 o’clock that night, the British Government would feel bound to take all steps in its power to uphold the neutrality of Belgium. The German Chancellor expressed to the British ambassador his astonishment that Great Britain should be prepared to go to war to uphold her treaty engagements — ‘just for a scrap of paper.’ As the undertakings required were not given, war was declared. Of all the stages in the process of precipitating the civilized world into disaster, the Australian public was well informed.
When this calamity broke upon the nations, Australia was in the midst of a domestic political crisis. The Cook Government, which attained office after a general election in June 1913, submitted to Parliament two bills, which had been passed by the House of Representatives, but were rejected by the Senate. The Commonwealth Constitution (section 57) provides that if the Senate rejects a bill which has been passed by the House of Representatives, or makes amendments in it which the House will not accept, and if after an interval of three months the House of Representatives again passes the bill, and the Senate again refuses to accept it, the Governor-General may dissolve both Houses simultaneously. In the first half of 1914 bitter controversy raged over the two measures which the Cook Government, with its very fragile support, insisted on forcing through Parliament. Twice were the bills, which were submitted as ‘tests,’ driven through the House of Representatives, though the casting vote of the Speaker was the only nail on which the fate of the Government hung. Twice were the bills rejected by the Senate, where the Labour majority regarded the threat of a double dissolution as ‘bluff.’ On July 30 the Governor-General, on the advice of ministers, decided to use his power under section 57, and dissolved both Houses. Australia was, therefore, busily occupied with preparations for the general election, which took place on September 5, at the time when the great guns were thundering on two fronts in the deadly conflict in which the great Powers of the world were locked.
Both the Prime Minister who was in office at the time of the commencement of the war, Cook, and the leader of the Opposition, Fisher, were agreed as to what the imperative duty of Australia was. Cook said on July 31: ‘whatever happens, Australia is a part of the Empire and is in the Empire to the full; when the Empire is at war, Australia is at war.’ Fisher was equally emphatic: ‘Should the worst happen after everything has been done that honour will permit, we Australians will help and defend the mother country to our last man and our last shilling.’
When the electors of Australia went to the poll, therefore, they had before them the plain assurances of both the party leaders that Australia would be faithful to her obligations. Some party leaders, including W. M. Hughes, urged that a way should be found for avoiding an election in such circumstances. What were the manoeuvrings of political groups in comparison with the magnitude of the issues at stake? Australia’s very existence as a free democracy was menaced; for it was keenly realized that the triumph of Germany in the war would mean a redistribution of territories such as, in past great wars, had transferred the sovereignty of vast dominions.
But the constitutional wheels had been set revolving, and they had to grind on till a new Parliament emerged. The result was that the strength of the Labour Party was increased from 37 to 42 in the House of Representatives, and from 29 to 31 in the Senate. The Cook Government fell, and Andrew Fisher became Prime Minister for the third time on September 14. It was under his administration, and particularly under the direction of his experienced Minister of Defence, G. F. Pearce, that the first contingents of the Australian Army steamed away to war. Within about a month of the declaration of war Australian and New Zealand ships and troops had lowered the German flag in every one of the possessions of that Empire in the Pacific. On August 31 Samoa was surrendered to the Australia. Early in September the Union Jack was hoisted at Rabaul, the capital of German New Guinea (Kaiser Wilhelm’s Land), and at Herbertshöhe, the administrative centre of the Bismarck Archipelago.
Within four days of the outbreak, the Inspector-General of the Australian military forces, Major-General Sir William Bridges, had, with his staff, worked out the details for the organization of the Australian Expeditionary Force — the A.I.F. The call for enlistment evoked an enthusiastic and eager response from every quarter of the continent. Training camps were established. All the resources the Government could command were strained to the utmost to produce equipment, uniforms, and all the immensely multiple requirements of an army. Steamships were chartered to transport men and horses. With marvellous rapidity an army nearly as large as the British part of the army commanded by Wellington at Waterloo, was fitted out for service, complete to the last button; and within eight weeks of the declaration of war it was ready to leave for the front. That its departure was delayed was due to the fact that the sea was not yet sufficiently secure for a large flotilla to be moved.
The transports were concentrated at King George’s Sound. Thither steamed from all the Australian States and from New Zealand the ships crowded with troops — thirty-eight ships, convoyed by the Australian cruisers Melbourne and Sydney, the British cruiser Minotaur, and the Japanese cruiser Ibuki. On the early morning of November 1 this great fleet, each unit in its appointed place in the long rank, the four protecting cruisers one ahead, one astern, and one on each flank, headed for the Indian Ocean on the voyage to Egypt, where the army was to undergo its last stages of war-training to prepare it for the desperate enterprises which lay ahead.
At the outbreak of the war Germany had in the Pacific two fast modern cruisers, the Gneisenau and the Scharnhorst, and two light cruisers, the Emden and the Koenigsberg. The Australia, the flagship of the Australian Navy, was a more powerful and a swifter ship than either of the German large cruisers, and either the Sydney or the Melbourne was capable of destroying the other two. But for some weeks after the commencement of hostilities the commodore of the German squadron, Von Spee, managed to conceal the whereabouts of his vessels. Occasionally fragments of wireless messages were picked up, but Von Spee, who probably knew that he must be annihilated some time by superior force, was resolved to do as much damage as he could before he went to the bottom. The Australia searched for him in the vicinity of the German Pacific possessions, but he was careful to keep far enough away from the range of her guns. The Emden, commanded by Karl von Müller, was known to be somewhere in the Indian Ocean when the first contingent left Australia. This vessel had been playing the part of the bull in the china shop among the British mercantile marine in eastern seas. In two months von Müller had sunk or captured seventeen ships. Only a day or two before the A.I.F. left King George’s Sound, the Emden, disguised by a dummy funnel and a neutral flag, dashed into Penang Roads, torpedoed a French destroyer and a Russian cruiser, and swiftly vanished again. If this busy little hornet of the sea could have got among the thirty-eight transports at night, it would have found fierce employment for its sting. As long as the Emden was afloat the ocean routes were not safe, and news of its whereabouts was eagerly desired.
On the morning of November 9 the fleet was about fifty miles from Cocos Island, a small coral atoll in the Indian Ocean, in latitude 12° 5′ S., longitude 90° 55′ E. The wireless station upon the island, before 7 o’clock, sent out the S.O.S. call for help, with the message that a strange ship of war was approaching. The message was repeated a few minutes later. After that the Cocos wireless station ceased to answer calls. It was conjectured that the Emden was the ship mentioned, and the Sydney (Captain Glossop) was ordered off at the top of her speed to investigate. By 11 o’clock the Emden was a shapeless heap of scrap-iron on the palm-fringed beach of North Cocos. It had fought a gallant running battle for more than an hour, but its 4 in. guns afforded no effective answer to the 6 in. guns of the Sydney.
The first phase of warfare in which Australian military forces were occupied was in beating off a Turkish attack upon the Suez Canal in February 1915. Turkey entered the war as an ally of the Germanic powers in the previous October, against the wishes of the Sultan and the Grand Vizier, whose hands were forced by a military party led by Enver Bey, who was manipulated by German officers. The objects of the Turkish move against the Suez Canal were, first, to deprive Great Britain of one of her most important maritime routes, and secondly to stimulate a Moslem rising in Egypt. The attack was made on February 2. It was met by a force of English, Indian, and Australian troops — these commanded by Brigadier-General McCay. After three days’ fighting the Turkish effort withered away, and no later attempt to capture the Suez Canal zone was dangerous.
The great movement in which the Australians and New Zealanders participated during the first year of the war was one wherein their valour won for them supreme renown and honour. It was the assault upon the Gallipoli Peninsula. The reasons why this enterprise was undertaken were as follow.
The gigantic military struggle on the western front, in Flanders, reached a deadlock. The first onrush of the German armies was stopped. The German commanders had counted on crumpling up all resistance and smashing their way through to Paris, where they would dictate terms to the defeated Allies. These plans failed. But though the Germans were held up by the French and British defences, they were strongly entrenched in their own positions. Two great armies dug themselves in. From their trenches and from the air they hurled at each other thousands of tons of shells, bombs, and rifle bullets. Attacks and counter-attacks at various points along the far-stretched lines were successful, or they failed, whether undertaken by the Allies or by the Germans; but ground gained one week was lost the next. The war had become one of attrition. It was desirable to develop an attack in some other direction, which might secure a successful conclusion. Further, it was desirable to force the Dardanelles, wrench Constantinople from Turkish control, cut off Turkey from the Germanic powers, and, by opening the Black Sea, place Russia in easy communication with her allies. Russia had great stores of wheat in her southern ports, which she could spare for Great Britain and France, and she needed supplies of war material, which the Allies could furnish. The clearing of the Dardanelles, if it could be effected, would, as was said by the author of the idea (Winston Churchill), mean ‘victory in the sense of a brilliant and formidable fact.’
In January 1915 the British War Council determined that the attack upon the Dardanelles should be made. But the Turks, anticipating trouble, had constructed strong fortifications upon the Gallipoli Peninsula; and though some of the most powerful battleships in the British Navy rained shell upon the works, the bombardment did little towards reaching the object in view. The naval attack was a failure. It became apparent that the goal would not even be in sight unless military forces were landed, who would drive the Turks out of their fortified positions. The mistake made from the beginning was in attempting to open the Dardanelles by naval warfare only. In March, therefore, it was determined to send an expeditionary force to the Gallipoli Peninsula, and endeavour to destroy the Turkish batteries, preparatory to sending ships through the Straits. The operations were placed under the command of General Sir Ian Hamilton.
The Australian Army in Egypt, commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir William Birdwood, was ordered at the beginning of April to embark for the island of Lemnos, which was selected as the base for the grand attack upon Gallipoli.
Some weeks before the troops left Egypt on ‘the great adventure,’ the name ‘Anzac’ had been coined. It was in the first instance simply a word of convenience; it became a name hallowed by a tragic and glorious history within that fatal year. A telegraphic code word was required. The initial letters of the words ‘Australian and New Zealand Army Corps,’ stencilled on cases of supplies, suggested to a clerk that Anzac would be a useful short name for telegraphic purposes, and, with General Birdwood’s approval, it was adopted.
English as well as Australian troops took part in the Gallipoli campaign. Here we are concerned only with the phases of the operations which are relevant to this narrative; and even these can be related only in outline. Any narrative which would do adequate justice to the superb, reckless courage with which the landings were effected, to the heroic fortitude with which every inch won from the Turks was held, to the stubborn valour which marked the incessant fighting throughout the occupation, would require not a few paragraphs, but more than one volume.
On April 25 landings were forced at two places. Feint attacks were simultaneously made at four other points, in order to occasion a dispersal of the Turkish forces, and to conceal from them the exact places which it was intended to hold. The 29th Division, consisting of British regiments, in co-operation with a naval division and a French contingent, landed at Cape Helles, the nose of the Gallipoli Peninsula. The Anzacs landed at a little cove to the north of a rugged promontory which the Turks called Gaba Tepe. By noon 10,000 men were ashore at Anzac Cove. All the morning since dawn the transports from Lemnos had been bringing up their freights of splendid men in the pink of condition. The sun shone from a cloudless blue sky upon the sparkling waters of the Aegean as the ships moved inshore. From the land batteries a hail of bullets spattered the sea, and shells from heavy howitzers screamed through the air, dealing out death to many of the men in the boats which dashed through the shallow waters from the transports to the shore. One boat full of dead men drifted aimlessly in the surf. Overhead, shells from the cruisers covering the landing poured upon the Turkish positions. Seaplanes floated above the storm, reconnoitring, and signalling messages to the officers.
Singing and shouting, the Anzacs scaled the cliffs, hundreds of them mown down by the Turkish fire; but the dauntless remainder pressed on, and dug themselves in on the top. The fighting was incessant from the early morning of the 25th, all through that day, all through the night, all through the following day. Not for a moment did the rattle of rifle fire and the boom of the big guns cease. The losses were terrific — but the landing was achieved; and that troops were able to gain a footing at all on that steep and rocky peninsula, under constant fire from concealed positions, was the result of a great feat of arms not eclipsed for daring and endurance by any during the war.
The purpose of this desperate attempt, the conquest of the peninsula, was never accomplished. Every phase of the campaign has been the subject of controversy, and it will be discussed, in respect to its origins, its probability of success had military effort accompanied naval work from the beginning, the strategy, the command, the tactics, and everything connected with it, as long as military history is studied. To describe the many battles which raged on that narrow strip of soil would be beyond the present purpose; merely to enumerate them would be to dispose in a few words of splendid deeds of heroism wasted on vain attempts. After the landing, and the failure of the Turks to dislodge their assailants, there was a period of three months during which the position was one of stalemate, resembling that on the western front. In August General Hamilton launched attacks on the mountain range of Sari Bair, and 12,000 men went down in five days in the fierce fights by which it was attempted to dislodge the Turks from that stronghold. In the same month endeavours to capture fresh positions by effecting a landing at Suvla Bay were defeated. The last battles were fought during August 21 to 27, when the Anzacs set themselves to hurl the Turks from an advanced post known as Hill 60. They gained the crest, and dug themselves in, but the enemy were still in control of the eastern slopes.
By the middle of August the purpose for which this deadly campaign was undertaken, the capture of the Dardanelles, became regarded as too costly and too little likely to be successful with the strength that could be spared from the main theatre of war. General Sir Charles Munro, who was sent out to take command in succession to General Hamilton, reported that the position so far won on Gallipoli ‘possessed every possible military defect.’ Lord Kitchener, the Minister of War, visited the peninsula to form an opinion on the prospects. Munro recommended withdrawal; Kitchener confirmed his judgment. The decision to evacuate was arrived at on December 8. By the 20th, 80,000 men, 5,000 horses, and all guns and stores were removed. But 35,000 brave men were left buried on that war-mangled piece of ground, of whom 8,500 were Australians.
Meanwhile fresh Australian contingents had been raised, equipped, and trained; and from March 1916 until the close of the war these men took part in the titanic military operations in France. They distinguished themselves nobly in a series of great battles from July 1-31 on the Somme. The capture of Pozières on the 24th, and the holding of the place against wave after wave of fierce German counter-attacks, was a singularly fine achievement. General Birdwood’s Anzac corps, too, played a valiant part in the holding of Bullecourt (May 1917), an advanced salient against which the Germans hurled every weapon of attack they possessed. For this work warm congratulations were won from the Commander-in-Chief, Haig.
The capture of Messines Ridge (June 1917), the share taken in the third battle of Ypres (November 1917), the defence of Amiens (March and April 1918), and the defeat of the Germans at Villers Bretonneux (April 1918) were the most memorable and distinguished pieces of fighting by Australians on the western front before the crowning glory of August.
During 1918 the Australian divisions had been reorganized and placed for the first time under the command of an Australian general. Lieutenant-General Sir John Monash was an engineer by profession, a graduate of the University of Melbourne in the three faculties of arts, laws, and engineering. He was a man who was accustomed to undertaking extensive and difficult enterprises. The tasks of the day, large or small, presented themselves to his mind as problems to be solved; and he brought to bear upon the military perplexities which confronted him in war, exactly the same kind of rapid and devising intelligence as he had been in the habit of exercising upon his professional work. Since his youth he had served in the Victorian militia, and he had a flair for soldiering. He was one of the earliest of those who presented themselves for service in the A.I.F., and had endured the agonies and disappointments at Gallipoli. Now, in the second half of 1918, he found himself at the summit of his ambition as a soldier, in command of an army corps of seasoned veterans, his own countrymen, men already famous for their achievements and still eager for distinction. The troops and officers serving in his command had a profound respect for his intellect, and no general ever had more complete confidence in his staff and men than Monash felt. That mutual trust was sorely tried and completely justified during the great days of the third battle of the Somme.
The task which the Australian Army Corps had before it was to break through the German defences in the centre of a line which was to be assaulted by the 4th British Army, commanded by General Rawlinson. The Australians had the Canadians on their right, and English corps on their left. The battle commenced shortly after 4 o’clock in the morning on August 8. Before 6 o’clock the Australians had achieved the task entrusted to them, and advanced, the Canadians keeping pace with them, driving the Germans six miles beyond the line which they were holding on the previous day. The highest tribute to the effectiveness of this day’s fighting that could be paid came from General Ludendorff, the chief of the German staff, in the book which he wrote after the war, that after August 8 he gave up the last vestige of hope.
From that date the Germans were kept ‘on the run.’ The Australians, elated with victory, had a full share in keeping them moving eastward. Day after day, following that wonderful beginning on the 8th, more and more ground was won from the enemy. There was no looking back. By September 18 the Allied Armies had advanced to the formidable Hindenburg line, an immensely strong complication of trenches, three deep, protected by machine guns, heavy artillery, barbed-wire entanglements, and every device that science and ingenuity could suggest to a resourceful enemy. The Australian Army Corps shared with French, British, Canadian, and American troops the assault upon this last outwork of the German defences, on September 18. The fighting was severe, as indeed it had been since the beginning of these operations. Between August 8 and October 5 the Australians had lost 8,700 men killed and 24,000 wounded. But by the latter date the Hindenburg line had been smashed and the Germans were in retreat. The Australians had been fighting continuously for six months, and had earned the rest which was granted to them. By that time the war was virtually over; for though an armistice was not granted to Germany till November 11, her war leaders knew that they were beaten long before that date. There was no longer any doubt about the result.
In another theatre of war, meanwhile, in Palestine, Australian light horse and camel corps, under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Chauvel, were engaged in important operations against the Turks. The defeat of the enemy at Romani, and again at E1 Arish, in June 1916, were the preludes to a series of battles fought on ground rich with the history of three thousand years. The military map shows thirty-six sites of battles between the Suez Canal zone and Damascus where these splendid troops fought during 1916-18. Three battles were fought at Gaza. Places famed in antiquity and modern times for their connexion with great events — Beer-sheba, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Jericho, Joppa, the Jordan Valley, Galilee, and Tiberius — had fresh chapters in their long and chequered history written during these campaigns in which the bronzed men in brown uniforms from the southern continent swept the Turks before them till Palestine was cleared. In the final offensive of September 18, in which the whole operations were commanded by General Allenby, with the Australian cavalry and camel corps as his swift and terribly efficient thrusting weapon, Damascus was wrenched from the Turks after a sovereignty of four centuries. The campaign ended its unbroken spell of victory on October 30. It had been fought in great heat and discomfort, and the supplying of a large mounted army fighting in such difficult country was in itself a triumph of skilful organization. No more brilliant military work was achieved anywhere during the war than during the Palestine campaign; and throughout the country’s thousands of years of history no more splendid spectacle was witnessed in it than the advance of Chauvel’s massed squadrons of camels and cavalry, ever victorious where Napoleon sustained defeat.
The Australian soldier established for himself on these campaigns on Gallipoli, in Flanders, and in Palestine a reputation for courage, resource, endurance, and intelligent initiative which filled his countrymen with pride and experienced soldiers with admiration. Marshal Foch, summing up their qualities after the war, said of them: ‘From start to finish they distinguished themselves by their endurance and boldness. By their initiative, their fighting spirit, their magnificent ardour, they proved themselves to be shock troops of the first order.’
We turn now to the occurrences in Australia during the war. In October 1915 Andrew Fisher resigned the Prime Ministership on accepting the post of High Commissioner in London. His successor at the head of the Government, William Morris Hughes, held that office during the most anxious and eventful period in the history of Australia, from October 1915 to February 1923. It is the fate of politicians who attain to high rank to endure violent alternations of popularity and disfavour, and Hughes experienced both in uncommon measure. He evoked enmities by his policy and by his methods. But only a churlish and rancid opponent would deny that his fervent Celtic temperament was deeply stirred by the war, and that, realizing its fateful significance for Australia, he devoted himself unsparingly to stimulating the spirit of her people and maintaining the effectiveness of her armies.
In 1916, after a visit to Great Britain and to the battlefields of France, Hughes came to the conclusion that the need for reinforcements was so serious that every capable man of military age in Australia ought to be pressed into service. His Government and his parliamentary party were sharply divided on the issue. One of the members of the Cabinet resigned as soon as the question of conscription was raised. Hughes agreed that if during a stipulated period voluntary enlistment proved sufficient to keep the army up to strength, he would not press conscription upon the country. But the numbers required were not realized. There was also the difficulty that he could not count upon sufficient votes in the Senate to carry a bill enacting conscription. It was therefore determined to take a referendum of the people on the question: ‘Are you in favour of the Government having in this grave emergency the same compulsory powers over citizens in regard to requiring their military service for the term of this war, outside the Commonwealth, as it now has in regard to military service within the Commonwealth?’ The voting took place on October 28, 1916. There were affirmative majorities in three States, Victoria, Western Australia, and Tasmania. The total number of affirmative votes was 1,087,557; but the negative votes numbered 1,160,033.
Hughes’s action in this matter destroyed him as leader of the Labour Party. There had been signs of revolt against his leadership before the conscription issue was raised, but this policy brought the movement against him to a crux. His parliamentary party held a meeting (November 16) at which a motion was submitted expressing the party’s lack of confidence in him. He met it by leaving the room, followed by twenty-four members who approved of his policy. His Government was at once reconstructed, four ministers being among the opponents of his war policy. The Labour Party as it had existed before the emergence of this crucial issue, which was canvassed with an intensity of bitterness exceeding anything known in Australian politics hitherto, went to pieces.
Hughes now depended for his parliamentary support upon a party consisting of the former Opposition, strengthened by those former members of the Labour Party who had followed him in November. Another reconstruction of the Ministry was necessitated. The Australian National War Government, which commenced in February 1917, consisted of Hughes himself, still Prime Minister, and four of his old colleagues, with five others recruited from the ranks of the old Opposition — including Sir Joseph Cook and Sir John Forrest (who was created a peer with the title of Lord Forrest of Bunbury in 1918, but continued to sit as a member of the House of Representatives.) The new Government faced a general election in May 1917, and was returned with strong majorities in both houses of the Parliament.
This Government was impressed with the need for obtaining recruits in greater numbers than were coming forward for voluntary enlistment. Moreover, conscription had been adopted in Great Britain, in New Zealand, and in the United States, which had entered the war in 1917. It was believed by ministers, and by many in the country, that the Australian people would now be prepared to consent to compulsory service being made the rule for the purpose of maintaining the strength of the contingents which had been winning such fame in the war. The Government explained, in a proclamation published throughout the country, that they desired to ensure recruiting to the extent of 7,000 men per month, and that they proposed to ask for authority to call up by ballot single men between the ages of 20 and 44, only to the extent that voluntary enlistment did not provide the numbers required. To attain this definite purpose the question was submitted to the electors at the second referendum, on December 20, 1917: ‘Are you in favour of the proposal of the Commonwealth Government for reinforcing the A.I.F. oversea?’ Majorities against the proposal were recorded in four States, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia. The number voting in the negative was 1,181,747; the affirmative votes numbered 1,015,159. Soldiers on service voted at both referenda, their votes being included in the totals of the States to which they belonged. The majority of the soldier votes was only slightly in favour of the conscription proposal. At the first referendum they recorded 72,399 affirmative and 58,894 negative votes; and at the second referendum 103,789 affirmative and 93,910 negative votes.
During the war Australia despatched 329,883 soldiers abroad. Of these, 59,342 were killed and 166,818 were wounded or ‘gassed.’ The cost of Australian war services from 1914 to the end of 1919 was £265,800,433. Up to 1923 the total had mounted to over £519,000,000.
After the important part that Australia had taken in the war, it was but fitting that her statesmen should be consulted as to the terms of peace. A delegation from this country, headed by Hughes, participated in the discussions which determined the terms imposed upon Germany and the Germanic powers; and the treaty of Versailles, signed June 28, 1919, contained the signatures of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence, Senator Pearce, as well as of the representatives of the other British Dominions, and of the Great Powers which had formed the Alliance during the war. Australia also accepted from the League of Nations — which was established under the treaty of Versailles — mandates for the administration of what had been German New Guinea and the island of Nauru. The mandate made Australia responsible to the League of Nations for the proper administration of these territories, and for promotion of the material and moral well-being of the natives.
The Hughes Government continued till after a general election in December 1922; but when the new Parliament met in February 1923 the party which had hitherto supported the Prime Minister desired that a change should be made. Hughes therefore retired, and the Prime Ministership was attained by Stanley Melbourne Bruce, who had served as a soldier in the war and was wounded on service. Bruce had found a seat in Parliament, and was soon promoted to ministerial rank, entering the Hughes ministry as Treasurer in 1921. His rise to the chief place in Australian politics was without precedent for rapidity.
Ernest Scott, A Short History of Australia, London: Oxford University Press, 6th edition, 1936, pages 340-357
[Editor: Added a comma after “(Winston Churchill)” (page 347).]