Commemorating Anzac through engaging learning

Pages of a songbook, Australia answers to the call

This section identifies and provides some detail about a variety of war experiences. Each aspect includes some initial information to support teachers and their students for engagement with more detailed integrated learning opportunities.

Image (right):

Patriotic song, Australia answers to the call

© By permission, State Library of NSW

Young man in soldiers uniform

Studio portrait of James Charles (Jim) Martin

During the First World War, the Australian Army's enlistment age was 21 years, or 18 years with the permission of a parent or guardian. Although boys aged 14 to 17 could enlist as buglers, trumpeters and musicians, many boys gave false ages in order to join as soldiers. Their numbers are impossible to determine.

Enlistment of boys was normal practice for the Navy and several died on service during the First World War. Five of those who qualify for the Memorial's Roll of Honour were serving on the Sydney-based training ship HMAS Tingira.

A 12-year-old Perth boy, Reginald Garth, stowed away on the transport RMS Mooltan. His three brothers and father had enlisted for the First World War and he wanted be part of what he thought would be an adventure.

Private James Charles 'Jim' Martin is the best known boy soldier. He is believed to be the youngest soldier on the Roll of Honour. James (Jim) was 14 years and 9 months when he died from typhoid contracted at Gallipoli. He had spent four hours in the water off Lemnos after the troop ship Southland that he was on was torpedoed heading to Gallipoli.

For further research: Boy soldiers on the Roll of Honour for the First World War.

Framed portrait of a woman in repose.

Louise Mack, one of first women war correspondents.

The withdrawal of about half a million men from the workforce did not result in their direct replacement by women during the First World War.

Women’s pay was less than men’s for the same work, sometimes as low as a quarter of a man’s wage. Unions were unwilling to let women join the workforce in traditional male areas as they feared that this would lower men's wages.

Women’s participation in the workforce rose from 24% in 1914 to 37% in 1918. The increase was in traditional areas of women’s work, with some increase in the clerical, shop assistant and teaching areas. Married women generally were not allowed to fill paid work positions.

The diaries of Miles Franklin describe her volunteer work during the war, typifying the actions of many women’s war effort. View Franklin's diary from January 1917 to February 1918.

The Government of the time also did not allow women to become more involved in war-related activities such as cooks, stretcher bearers, drivers, interpreters, munitions workers. This work did not occur until the Second World War.

  • Woman in a nurses uniform with an umbrella, notebook and pencil at a camp.
  • A row of medals on ribbons; the first one, the Royal Red Cross, is identified and its red cross has the words 'faith', 'hope', 'charity' and '1883' inscribed on it.
  • Soldiers and nurses standing in front of many tents.
  • A nurse standing outside a tent in front of an empty landscape.
  • A nurse in a white apron stands in front of an open tent; some clothes are hanging inside.
  • Two nurses are seated in front of a tent smiling at the camera.
  • A large group of nurses arranged in tiered rows for a group photograph in front of a building.
  • Five smiling nurses stand on a footpath with their suitcases in front of a Red Cross truck.
  • A large auditorium style room with rows of beds on which men are lying and sitting.
  • A group of men and two nurses around a dining table and looking at the camera.
  • A studio portrait of a nurse in a starched white veil, cape and badges.

Women were able to serve in the Australian army as nurses and other medical workers, but only if they were already trained and unmarried. They served in places such as Egypt, Lemnos, England, France, Belgium, Greece, Palestine and India. About 2150 nurses served overseas between 1914 and 1919. Many worked in military hospitals in Australia.

Twenty five nurses died and nearly 400 were decorated during the war. Seven women received the Military Medal, including four nurses — Alice Ross-King, Dorothy Cawood, Mary Jane Derrer, and Clare Deacon — for their actions on the night of 22 July 1917 when their field hospital was bombed.

Read a detailed account of the attack in the diary of Sister Alice Ross-King or in a transcript of King's diary.

Many nurses kept diaries, such as Sister Alice Kitchen who left Australia in the first convoy of nurses in 1914 and Anne Donnell who embarked for Europe in 1915. View Anne’s diary from 29 December 1917–31 January 1919 while in Ypres, France. A transcript is also available.

Access additional information about Great War nurses.

Links to ‘Nurses’ image gallery sources.

  • Studio portrait of an Aboriginal man in uniform
  • Gage. In loving memory of my dear husband and our dear father, Corporal Christopher Henry Gage, who was killed in action in Belgium September 26, 1917.
  • Studio portrait of an Aboriginal man in uniform
  • Studio portrait of an Aboriginal man, a woman and young girl
  • Studio portrait of an Aboriginal man, a woman and two young boys
  • Studio portrait of an Aboriginal man holding a cane
  • Photo of an Aboriginal man in front of a tent holding a rifle
  • Seven soldiers, spattered with snow, pose in front of a tin barracks; centre front is an Indigenous serviceman

In recent times over 1300 Indigenous Australians have been verified as having fought in the First World War. Personnel records do not reference race or ethnicity other than the statement ‘natural born’ or the name of country of birth.

Indigenous men enlisted from the beginning of the war, despite a ruling technically banning them from doing so in 1914. As the war progressed enlistment did become easier as more and more recruits were required.

Once in the Army, a man became a soldier irrespective of the colour of his skin or country of birth, with no discrimination in pay rates. Soldiers forged friendships through their shared experiences, and survival in battle often came down to relying on your mates.

Some Indigenous men were decorated for outstanding actions. However, like most soldiers, they simply did what was necessary.

After the war, Indigenous veterans found that their war service counted for little, as discrimination remained or had worsened in areas such as education, employment and civil liberties. They were not given full citizenship rights and still had to live under the increasingly oppressive ‘Protection Acts’ that imposed strict control over their lives. They were also further displaced as the best farming land in Aboriginal reserves were confiscated for soldier settler blocks, to which they were not entitled.

In spite of this treatment, several Aboriginal families have a very significant history of service in the Armed Forces. This includes the Saunders and Lovett families.

Explore links to further information about Indigenous soldiers.

Links to ‘Indigenous soldiers’ image gallery sources.

  • A troopship with horses and men viewed from the top deck.
  • A man attends horses tethered along a long rope. In the background is an Egyptian pyramid.
  • A soldier on a horse pulling a cart with another man sitting inside. The ground around are flat and possibly covered in snow.
  • Soldiers ride their horses through shallow water.
  • Soldiers hold on to horses beside a canal as one is led onto a barge.
  • Several mules wearing harnesses with large parcels strapped to the frames. Soldiers can be also be seen.
  • A soldier standing on railway tracks holds on to three medium sized dogs by their chain leashes.
  • A soldier wearing a large hat holds a pigeon in his outstretched hand.
  • A soldier, facing side on to the camera, has a large rooster standing on his left shoulder.
  • Two camels, kneeling on sandy ground and with soldiers beside them. Men on horseback are in the background.

Horses were extensively used in the First World War. Australia sent over 136 000 horses for the war. Horses transported troops and carried or pulled ammunition, equipment and supplies. The Australian horses were known as Walers as they originally came from NSW. They were strong, resilient and able to survive with little water.

The 1st Light Horse Brigade was a mounted infantry brigade organised into three regiments. In Gallipoli, due to the terrain, only a few horses were landed and so the 1st Light Horsemen fought on foot. Their horses were sent back to Alexandria for later deployment. Read more about the 1st Light Horse Brigade.

Due to quarantine regulations, the only horse to return to Australia was Major General William Bridges’ horse, Sandy. Although sent to Gallipoli he did not land and was transferred to France in March 1916. Read more about Sandy.

Dogs had several official roles in the First World War. Messenger dogs were attached to divisional signal companies and carried messages in a metal tube on their collar. Other dogs were trained to find explosives whilst others located injured soldiers. Mascot dogs were also often kept by troops to provide comfort and companionship.

Carrier pigeons played a crucial role in communication as they flew fast, were difficult to shoot down and their homing instincts meant they returned to their lofts, even if they had been moved. Pigeons carried messages in a metal tube attached to a leg band.

The Australian Army Veterinary Corps (AAVC) was formed in 1909 to care for the horses, in particular. Nineteen veterinary officers embarked with the first Australian Imperial Force contingent of 20 000 men and 7 500 horses.

Links to ‘Animals in war’ image gallery sources.

On the home front women were involved in a wide range of volunteer activities including fund raising and providing care packs for soldiers. Much of this was coordinated by the Australian Red Cross, a division of the British Red Cross. A number of women joined the overseas branches of the Red Cross to be nearer to loved ones or to provide nursing support in the field.

  • Large group of people gathered on a veranda including men in soldiers uniforms with bandages and crutches; a sign says ' Cliveden Oxley Red Cross 27/4/18'
  • A group of women posing for a photo in front of a building; to one side are packages stacked on a table.
  • Four people in white gowns, caps and masks attend to a person lying under a white sheet on a table; surgical equipment, bottles and trays are nearby.
  • Six nurses peer out from a trench, only their heads and shoulders are visible; in the background are three large buildings.
  • A group of men and women, some seated some standing, drinking tea in a backyard garden.

The actions of the Red Cross assisted to build community at a time of need and to provide tangible support for those fighting, injured and captured as prisoners of war. This support was a way for those at home to make a positive contribution to the war effort and to engage personally with those away at war.

The Red Cross was largely run and supported by women. The first Australian branch of the British Red Cross was formed in NSW by Mrs Langer Owner under the patronage of Lady Helen Munro-Ferguson. Within days of war being declared the Red Cross was setting up volunteer support networks. Initially the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) saw no role for a voluntary organisation. This changed in 1915 as the ill and wounded began returning to Australia where there was no support. The Red Cross provided comfort packs, transport, convalescent homes and rehabilitation support for the wounded.

View archival film clips, including Serving the troops at Screen Australia’s Red Cross Activities during and after WWI.

Links to ‘Red Cross’ image gallery sources.

  • Young woman in a uniform with a Red Cross badge on the lapel.
  • Typed letter with hand written signature at the bottom.
  • Small newspaper clipping beginning with a heading.
  • Small newspaper clipping beginning with a heading.
  • Small newspaper clipping beginning with a heading.
  • large white sheet with words (see caption) and a barcode.

Vera Deakin set up the Missing Enquiry Bureau, initially in Cairo, then moved to London and was helped there by Winifred Johnston. This bureau collected and recorded information about those wounded, missing, killed or captured and held as prisoners of war. This information was often sent back to families, at times arriving before official notifications. Many women volunteered for this work which also extended to include the Hospital Visiting Service.

The archival records of the Bureau are now held by the Red Cross. These records can be searched using Australian Red Cross Society, Red Cross Information Bureau, South Australia, WWI, and Prisoners of the First World War ICRC archives, part of the International Committee of the Red Cross Archives, Geneva.

Links to ‘Missing Enquiry Bureau’ image gallery sources.

  • A.C.F.: Give to the comforts fund: The Fund that looks after all the men and women of Australia's Fighting Services.
  • Three women stack food cans in a box.
  • A dozen women in a room, some sewing, some packing boxes. At the front, crates are marked for the 30th Battalion.
  • A woman sits on a chair knitting. A fleece is beside her and bales of socks are stacked on the left.
  • Cover page of Grey socks instruction book and one page of instructions.
  • More than one hundred students knitting socks in front of a school. A pile of socks is in the centre.
  • War Chest Cake shop, A.C.F., 327 George St., Sydney
  • On behalf of the Citizens' war chest fund, The Australian Bank of Commerce Lady Clerks' Fete, Saturday 2 March 1918, 3 to 10 p.m. Tickets six pence each.
  • Old, brown cloth covered book with words 'The Australian Comforts Funds gift diary 1918. Underneath is the emblem of Australian Commonwealth Military forces. Inside page repeats the title and then 'Containing Useful Information for Australian Soldiers.' This page also includes the Funds' objectives and publishing details and handwritten across the top is 'Hutton, J.T. 17th Batl'.

The Australian Army provided men with very limited clothing and few comforts. Basics items including socks and warm clothing were sent over by a well organised network of volunteers. Jam, baked goods, musical instruments and Christmas parcels were just some of the additional items also provided by volunteer networks.

Volunteer support continued after the war for refugees, widows and children and the victims of war.

Links to ‘ACF’ image gallery sources.

  • Soldiers stand around eating, holding tea cups, while women are serving out food.
  • A group of people stand on the footpath in front of a house that has a row of flags and a sign 'Welcome home' strung in front of it.
  • Large hall, flags hanging along the side, men are seated on either side of 9 rows of very long tables.
  • Two young children with long white aprons and caps marked with red crosses.
  • A procession of children walk down a house lined street behind a horse and cart. Some hold flags. It is raining and people on the street have umbrellas up.
  • Tins of jam stacked in 12 tiers with a Union Jack flag hanging behind them.
  • Group of men, women, boys and one girl pose for a photograph in a park. On the left of the group, the Mayor holds a shovel and stands behind a small planted tree.
  • A woman stands behind a seated man holding two children seated on his knees.
  • Photograph of a man in military uniform on the left and a women in a white blouse on the right.

On the home front there was strong community support for the troops fighting overseas. Women were encouraged to raise money, join voluntary organisations and make comfort items for the soldiers. These were coordinated by a large number of voluntary organisations including the Red Cross, Australian Comforts Fund, War Chest Fund and the Country Women’s Association. Comfort items included knitted socks, balaclavas, mittens and sheepskin vests.

School children were also encouraged to contribute to the home front and their efforts were publicised through school magazines and education gazettes. One school girl, thirteen year old Ruby Wallace from Edinglassie Provisional School, knitted 237 articles, including 100 pairs of socks.

Further information: Patriotic Fundraising in NSW, Public School Children Help Out and Australians in World War I: Home Front.

Links to ‘Home front’ image gallery sources.