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World War 1

11th Battalion, c1914

When Great Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, Australia found itself automatically at war too. Thousands of young Western Australian men volunteered for service in the Australian Imperial Force.

It is important to remember that Australian troops were sent to be part of an Imperial army. Most Australians believed that they were a part of the British Empire and wanted to do all they could to protect it. It was popularly believed that participation in the war would also 'prove' Australia as a new nation.

Soldiers of the Australian Imperial Force were usually recruited, trained and organised along regional lines. Western Australians fought in Western Australian battalions, although by the end of the war this had changed through necessity, due in part to the high rate of casualties.

PostcardThe First World War helped to foster a sense of Australian nationalism, even though national feeling was expressed within an Imperial framework. Western Australian troops identified with their fellow Australians, taking pride in their achievements and sharing a sense of common identity distinct from that of British soldiers. Australian troops compared very favourably in physique and stature to the average English soldier, showing initiative and a disrespect for authority which the British High Command often found difficult to accept.

Pride in Australia's military exploits in war, and a chilling indication of the toll it exacted, are evident in George Heppingstone's letter to his mother from Gallipoli, dated 11 September 1915:

"... Poor little Phil Fry was killed. I am sorry as he was very brave and a good officer and a splendid man. Charlie was with Philip Turnbull for a time before he died and he promised to look after his mother for him and he was quite satisfied then but all thoughts were for his mother. He was a splendid young fellow and was one of our Rhodes scholars. The grand chaps that I know that have crossed the Great Divide has [sic] been awful but I am quite certain the Great Creator will give them their reward for such gallantry. The Australian name is spoken of in the most glowing terms here when one has actually seen what the Australians have done and are now doing it is most inspiring. We can certainly claim to have accomplished the most difficult task that has ever been set to soldiers and that without the slightest flinching. There have been some very gallant acts that would have received very high praise in an English regiment, but they are so common among the Australian Army that they pass unnoticed." [Battye Library, Acc 3560A.]

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