Hans Jutton Normanhurst Boys High School New South Wales
2018 Simpsons Prize
Question: Some historians have described 1917 as “the worst year of the Great War” for Australia and Australians. To what extent is this an accurate statement?
21,000 dead, a nation divided, all marked by strings of useless battles of attrition. 1917 was truly the worst year for Australians and Australia in the Great War. It had impacted Australia on a National, Global and Individual scale, both positively but predominately negatively. A small developing nation had lost a large number of people within one year, a nation divided as debates turn into violent rallies and protests. But a boost in the economy had helped salvage some good out of the disastrous year. 1917 was truly a terrible year.
For a small developing country, the large casualties acquired from the world war was devastating, with almost every community and family suffering a loss of some kind. 1917 had brought with it 21,000 deaths; one third of all deaths in the Great War and 20% of all Australian casualties from all wars. 2% of the male population’s lives aged 18-44 were cut short in only a single year. Source 1 is a table adapted from The Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-1918. It shows the deaths accumulated from the great war year by year. 1917 shows 21,736 casualties, almost equal to the total deaths of the previous three years. The amount of deaths in 1917 are mainly due to Australia’s involvement in the third battle of Ypres, in which there were 500,000 casualties from all sides. These deaths had affected families where the soldier sent overseas had been the breadwinner, sending many families into poverty. For a small nation of 5 million people, the drastic loss of men had proved overwhelming for families and communities.
A single vote had left the whole nation divided. After Russia’s resignation in the war in 1917, there was added pressure for Australia to provide more troops. This had led to the second conscription vote of 1917, sparking many influential and famous people to speak out on their opinions. Nellie Melba, the most famous Australian living at the time, told women that anyone who had opposed the conscription vote was therefore Germany’s Ally. Magazines such as ‘Ross’s Monthly’ had warned that conscription would lead to Australian women marrying men of other colour one day. Leaflets such as ‘The blood Vote’ by E.J. Dempsey, Claude Marquet and W.R. Winspear and ‘A Mother’s Lament’ by Fred P. Morris were common ways of campaigning both for and against. ‘The Blood Vote’, a leaflet campaigning in favour of ‘no’, talks of a mother’s guilt for voting ‘yes’ in the referendum. It was made to persuade the Australian public to vote no in the Conscription referendum. The poem talks of a mother telling her son about voting ‘yes’ in the referendum as she ‘doomed a man to death’. A picture is also seen on the leaflet, with the mother in the foreground unsurely placing her vote i...