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Home arrow Political science arrow Australians and the First World War : Local-Global Connections and Contexts
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Experience at Attestation

The first real insight we have of the foreign-born soldier’s experience of the AIF is at attestation. Ability to volunteer was initially dependent on the migrant’s status as a friendly, neutral or enemy alien; however, as previously indicated, this was open to interpretation. Acceptance of enlistment was also influenced by the agreements Britain and Australia had made with foreign governments such as Russia, which called its citizens in Australia to serve in the AIF in January 1916, and, in the case of Italians, the role of the Italian Consul in Australia, Emilio Eles.20

For many of the foreign-born the greatest impediment to enlistment was the rule that only British subjects substantially of European origin were to be accepted for service with the Expeditionary Forces.21 The interpretation and application of this policy in the recruitment process resulted in the rejection of many foreign-born soldiers who did not fit the generally accepted image of white Australia and certainly in the early months of the war, as the number of volunteers was high, it was difficult for non-British/Australian-born to enlist. As a result, there are numerous cases of applications for naturalisation in order to enlist and of multiple attempts at enlistment as the war progressed.

There was also seemingly an element of chance associated with successful enlistment. Perhaps if the recruiting officer knew a particular enlistee the path was easier, and frequently attestations were marked as naturalised or natural born when there is no evidence the soldier was either. In line with the enlistment experiences of volunteers of Indigenous heritage (see Furphy’s chapter), there was also variability in the interpretation of the ‘rules’ related to acceptability of foreign-born in the AIF.22 As the following examples illustrate, various factors, including religion, influenced decisions. When Judah saleh Younes declared he was born in Bethlehem and stated his nationality as Assyrian, for example, the question that determined the success of his attestation was whether he could prove he was a Christian.23 Indian-born Gurbachan Singh successfully managed to attest in sydney in 1914, but was removed from his ship at Albany, Western Australia, and discharged on the basis of colour—despite previous service with the Indian Army and in the Boer War.24 Singh continued to protest his case and pleaded to be allowed to serve, explaining that his brother was in the British Indian forces, and that he had a history of military service himself. He even offered to go as a servant to an officer, and was eventually accepted in 1916, notably having changed his religion from Hindu (as listed on his 1914 attestation) to Church of England. Interestingly, after his initial failure to serve and after his discharge in 1917 for being overage, Singh gained some notoriety with the press as the “fighting Sikh”!25

For volunteers born in enemy nations the recruitment process was particularly variable. Of the twenty-three men who gave their place of birth as Germany, twelve saw service, seven were discharged as enemy aliens—despite being naturalised British subjects—and three were discharged for other reasons.26 The inconsistency of approach by authorities is perhaps best shown in the following two examples. German- born Paul Ludwig John Radatz attested in September 1914. Afterwards he was investigated closely; mail he received while in camp (which was found to be personal correspondence of a domestic nature that he exchanged with his wife) was opened and examined, and enquiries were made as to the whereabouts and loyalties of his siblings and parents.27 Radatz was ultimately rejected for “being of German descent.” In contrast, Max Alfred Scholz (who enlisted in June 1916) was accepted without question, served overseas, and died of his wounds in April 1918.28 Both men were naturalised, both had lived many years in Australia, and both gave their next of kin as resident in Australia.

 
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