The First World War Essay Example

The First World War began in 1914 and continued until 1918. Great Britain and Germany were the main hostilities, and with Australia’s alliance with the British empire, it was a duty to get involved in the conflict. Likewise, as Australia had only been federated for 13 years, most of the population had no prior experience in war. Consequently, Australian attitudes changed very drastically over the course of World War 1 from positive to negative. This is because of the facile influence propaganda had, the expectation versus the reality and the argument over conscription.

Propaganda played a key role on the home-front as it led to shifting attitudes among Australian men and women. It was a common way to spread ideas and information to boost enlistment numbers. The government and alternative publishers took advantage of Australia’s inexperience in warfare to develop stereotypes and preconceptions for an idyllic and romanticised outlook on war with varying motives. A somewhat reliable poster, as it is primary, but subjective and by an unknown artist, with a motive to persuade women to encourage men to enlist was created in c. 1914-1915. Depicted is a mother and daughter kissing with a hung, gold portrait of a soldier in the background, presumably the father. The closed eyes and subtle smiles constitute to hopeful and proud facial expressions, as well as the text “God bless” (“God Bless Daddy”, as cited in Brasch, 2009, p.10) to demonstrate faith and phrase “fathers are fighting” which represents war in a heroic manner. Further, the golden hair and portrait displays glory, courage and strength. Similarly, another somewhat reliable poster, as it is primary but subjective and by an unknown author, has related text and imagery. However, conversely, it was created towards the end of the war in 1918 from a pro-conscription perspective and depicts a dark, gloomy background and a more desperate tone with the daughter begging the mother to help her father. The frightened expression and curled toes of the bare feet emit loss, worry and despair and the use of “dear” (“God bless dear Daddy”, as cited in Ryebuck Media, 2008, p.35) evokes distress through sincerity. Despite the purpose and subjectivity of this source, it is clear that the war had switched to being seen as frightening, costly and harmful. Overall, these sources are very useful as they challenge each other to highlight the shift in attitudes during the war, proving that propaganda played a key role.


Due to the high number of enlistments, this facade and expectation were soon shattered by the true reality and nature of the war. The State Library of Victoria (n.d) states that “most Australians thought the war would be over quickly and that soldiering would be a chance to see the world and make England proud of her colony”. Corroboratively, Joseph Cook, a previous member of the liberal party and Andrew Fisher, the labor party opposition leader both publicly announced their reactions to the declaration of war. Cook stated that “Australia is part of the Empire to the full” (Politician’s reactions, as cited in Tuball, 1991, p. 275) while Fisher affirmed that “Australians will.. defend her to our last man.. last shilling”. These unreliable, through subjective and emotive language, but authoritative and political perspectives of both mainstream parties would have been extremely influential towards the public, despite the bias they entail and would have fuelled the nonsensical enthusiasm swept over the country. These speeches can be contrasted with Albert Facey’s very reliable, firsthand experience as a war veteran, written in his autobiography after the war. He recalled the Gallipoli landing in 1915 to 1916, being “keyed up and eager” (“Albert Facey.. described the landing thus” as cited in Odgers, 1999, p. 49 to 50), thinking that they would “tear right through the Turks” but then “suddenly all hell broke loose” and he was “terribly frightened” as “bodies.. lying all along the beach wounded and screaming for help”. This alarming depiction of his traumatic experience outlines the shock, panic and confusion faced by Australian soldiers due to their ignorance as they thought the war would be in resemblance to a game or adventure, harmless and fun. This also would have affected many soldiers’ families back home through written communication. While challenging each other and corroborating with the previous propaganda posters, these extracts provide extremely useful and reliable insight through valuable perspectives into the attitudes during wartime on the home-front and abroad. Therefore, the expectation versus the reality of war was impactful for Australians on both fronts of the war.


Back on the home-front and further into the war, the concept of conscription was proposed. “Prime Minister.. made two attempts to introduce conscription.. in 1916 and 1917 but both lost to the 'no' vote.. it was strongly opposed by many” (SLV, 2019). Relatively, out of the “416,809 men enlisted... 60,000.. killed, 156,000 wounded..” etc. (SLV, 2019). Likewise, a somewhat reliable anti-conscription leaflet with subjective language and a purpose to persuade, created between the time of the conscription referendums represents these views. The emotive poem forms a metaphor, “they put the dagger into my grasp, it seemed like a pencil then” (“The Blood Vote” as cited in Simmelhaig, 1984, p. 160) to describe the reality realised by a woman and trickery undertaken by thinking sending more men to war would be helpful. Additionally, regret and despair are expressed in the poem from the quote “Pray God for your Mother’s soul.. scarlet stain may be white again”. Corroboratively, another somewhat reliable leaflet issued by the Australian Labour Party shows a similar attitude with the large text “vote no” (“Australian Labour Party” as cited in Ryebuck Media, 2008, p. 38) and can be contrasted with Fisher’s election speech to show a shift from wanting to sacrifice and then preserve the country. Thirdly, an extremely reliable extract with objective language and a purpose to educate from an Australian war correspondent and historian’s firsthand account of his experience written in 1929 states that the troops “desired.. sufficient number of Australians.. left after the war to develop their empty country” (“History of Australia in the War”, as cited in Stewart, D., Fitzgerald, J. & Picard, A, 1949, p.161). They “would not, by their voices force any other man in those trials”. This source introduces a new perspective that corroborates with the ones on the home-front later in the war. Therefore, these sources on conscription usefully corroborate together to distinguish a shift in attitudes when compared with the first propaganda posters and conclude the final, adverse but aware, outlook on war.

In summary, the influence of propaganda, the expectation versus the reality and the debate over conscription helped portray and influence Australian attitudes changing drastically from positive to negative over the course of World War 1. This war was an unexpectedly costly and traumatic event which both men and women of Australia were affected by.