Friday, 10 January 2014

Loyal citizens, all

Loyal Australia. Officers of the 3rd Infantry Battalion, Egypt, 1916. 
Image courtesy AWM. Image P03788.001.

Patriotic tableau, Public Hall, Coburg, taken during World War One. 
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Recently I’ve been thinking about ways in which the First World War might have influenced Australia’s development as a nation. Everywhere I come across references to loyalty to England. It is referred to as our Motherland, a term redolent of a nurturing, protective entity. Soldiers referred to going ‘Home’ when they visited England on leave (possibly also referring to it as ‘dear old Blighty’, a slang term of endearment made popular in the hit tune ‘Take me back to dear old Blighty’). 

Fred Godfrey’s 1916 hit tune, Take me back to dear old Blighty

Yet many Australian volunteers came from non-British backgrounds, as can be seen in the surnames of the following men with Coburg connections: Aicher, Batt, Bergstrom, Buzaglo, DeMedici, Dolling, Draeger, Dyring, Feddersen, Fleiner, Freudenthal, Frusher, Georgelin, Giraud, Harder, Hurtig, Louchard, Maag, Mahlsted, Mecking, Mikkelsen, Montefiore, Mitz, Nilsson, Ramm, Rudrum, Schultz, Selkrig, Wattz, Werner, Ziegler.

There must have been others whose non-British heritage came through their maternal lines and as my research continues, I will no doubt discover more men who came from French, German, Italian, Norwegian and Swedish backgrounds, as these men did. (Apart from the Buzaglo brothers, who came from a Serphadic Jewish background, although their grandfather had converted to Christianity many years before.)

WW1 patriotic button of a fighting kangaroo. 
Image courtesy AWM. Image REL23902.100.

Questions about the loyalty of non-British citizens led to some men being rejected by the AIF. Many rushed to be naturalised.  An Alien Registration Act was introduced in 1916 for civilians. There were some internments, although I’ve yet to discover whether this affected any of the wider families of these Coburg men. Some citizens, such as Coburg’s Otto Neuendorf, felt it necessary to take out newspaper advertisements declaring their loyalty. Many attestation papers include references to the naturalisation of parents. And of course, as I’ve noted before, the very name of the suburb Coburg was called into question.

As my research continues, I’m discovering that many of these men were at least third generation Australians, so their connection to Germany went back to the 1850s and 1860s. It’s unlikely that they or their parents spoke German or had anything to do with relatives in Germany (which had not even been unified when their ancestors arrived in what was then the colony of Victoria).

The men listed here who had Germanic heritage were not alone in the AIF. John F. Williams, in his book German Anzacs and the First World War estimates that about 18,000 men with German backgrounds enlisted. He found 23 with the prefix ‘Von’, suggestive of an aristocratic background, and at least one family of a soldier with Coburg connections, Ferdinand Mark Ziegler used the prefix ‘von’. Williams also found 650 names beginning with the letters ‘Sch’ and one Coburg man, John Henry Schultz of Kendall Street, shared those first three letters.

German Anzacs and the First World War, John F. Williams, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2003.

Over the next few weeks, I intend to explore the backgrounds and war experiences of volunteers with non-English backgrounds to see if it’s possible to discover whether their heritage affected their lives in Australia and on the battlefield. Is it possible to know, for example, whether their experience of war was different from those with British backgrounds?


  1. Did you have an Anti-German League in Coburg? Stories of shop windows of people with 'foreign names" being broken won't always appear in the newspapers. You have to take into account that any people speaking against the war were not given space in newspapers, or even able to rent halls to speak (eg, the anti-Conscription campaign). Maybe if you do a search on the term "unpatriotic" you might find or "pro-German", or "sympathisers" you might find some of these things.

  2. Thanks for the suggestions, Lenore. I'll do a wider search. I have found a number of other instances of so-called 'unpatriotic' utterances, just haven't listed them here. I'll use your suggested search terms though as see what else I find!