State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 18 October 1976


A Soldier Explains The Conscription Votes

Sergeant W. H. Serle, M.M., a 44-year old infantryman, to his brother, Percival Serle, 20 May 1918 (Serle Papers).
You are like others wondering why soldiers vote against conscription. Excuses are made such as they don't want Australia to be a Military Nation, they think they are doing more than their share, they are tired of the war and so on. I think if you take the view that their minds are civilian and they took on the Army for adventure, beause of public opinion, because they thought it was up to them, for the six shillings a day, because a wife died, at the back of all patriotism somewhat at times indistinct, you will agree there must be different opinions. Can you imagine civilians in two hostile factories mobbing each other, killing wounding gassing each other for years? How long would they believe their heads that it was necessary and how long would they answer to the control of the foremen — not long. You can imagine them calling in help at first, asking for it but gradually some would say we are caught, I don't blame others for keeping out and would look with longing eyes to their own back yards as a place where they could put up a better fight if it came to it.
Granting love of country keeps them to their work, how much is it to be expected from men brought up with ordinary views of life — difficult enough to some without spending their time in thinking much.
Men get to know that they stay in danger or close to danger. Each time they march into the line they know what may occur. Killed gassed or wounded. If the latter two they go in again some time if they become fit enough. The Machine keeps bringing them around in a circle, the only escape is to be made useless. A soft job in the rear is delay only. Liberty of movement is restricted, there are fines or imprisonment for those who evade military law and discipline, courts martial sometimes for men who have done their best, life is uncertain and none the less sweet on that account. The great majority evade the above troubles of fines etc but they are whips against any individuality making itself felt. And to get back to some more of the talk. They are not getting a fair deal, Australia wants all the men she can get and enough have been killed, why should they believe all that the papers say are going to happen if the war stops, they are doing a very fair share and if reinforcements come quickly it means they will be oftener in the line instead of getting a spell as they do sometimes now (never mind if these examples are good or not) (also
consider Australia is too far away to bring the fact home that they are fighting for it and existence) and so some write home to tell someone or other not to enlist. Crude as they may be these arguments sound well to weary men. High ideals are apt to crash in a war like this, the earthy is too close to us.
Many voted for conscription, they see clearly certain dangers, see men standing aside who should be helping, but don't be puzzled that so many different minds should settle into two opposing parties, you may not see very plainly what I am trying to point out, if so mine the blame.
I think conscription would be turned down again by the lads but they are fine. Their orders are to stand and to the last if it is absolutely neessary. They will stand. They advance splendidly. If they retire they will reform with others they meet, you don't have to take them out of the line and nurse them back to pluck. Always of course there are weak men and some are scamps but the big majority are fine.
I am told my Battn arc about finished, that means casualties will be drifting out of hospitals and camps back to it for months to come.
Do you know the one thing common to nearly all soldiers, a thing women notice also? It is the look in the eyes as if they had seen some unbelievable thing — very marked in hospital before they have become fit again …
Issue No. 1 (April, 1968) of this Journal has been reprinted and is available for $2 (plus 30c postage). Copies of numbers 2–15 are available at $1 (plus postage). Recent issues are $1.50 (including postage).