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An unusual tribute

Posted by on 22/07/2019

In memory of those who could not serve: This Kelvin honour board commemorates those who wanted to fight but were declared medically unfit.
Nanjing Night Net

When war first broke out in 1914, the Australian Army had very strict medical guidelines for enlistment.

The Australian Imperial Force sought 20,000 primarily Anglo men from a subset of 820,000 men of fighting age (19 to 38 years).

Recruits had to be 5ft 6in or above in height and have chest measurements of at least 34 inches. They also had to have sound teeth, no eyesight problems and no venereal disease.

By 1915, criteria changed (due mainly to the shortage of available young men), which meant that previously ineligible men were now considered eligible for enlistment. However, many recruits were still turned away.

Given the patriotic fervour at the time (according to historian Bill Gammage) these rejected men “stumbled away from the tables in tears, unable to answer sons or mates left to the fortunes of war”. Certainly, among families, it would have been hard for those rejected by the army to look their “accepted”sibling, or comrade in the eye knowing that they were going forth to be shot at – while their companion at the enlistment booth was not.

So harshly were many of these men judged, by both themselves and by the communities they lived in, that they formed the “Rejected Volunteers Association”and took to wearing a badge so that people would know that they had tried to do their bit.

Locally, this manifested itself in a rather unusual honour board found in the Kelvin Hall – the Kelvin Honour Board for Unaccepted Volunteers. On it there are eight names: A. Bridges,W. Campbell,W. Gardner,E. Mercer,P. McKenzie,F. O’Brien,J. Sleightholme and E. Smith.

Many of this eight had brothers who had enlisted, the names are easily observed on the other honour board in the same room.

Perhaps why the residents created this board can best be answered by the question: How would William Campbell from Kelvin have felt knowing that he was at home and safe whereas his brothers Harold and Thomas were fighting in a “foreign field”? Bluntly speaking, the community thought that he would have felt “rubbish”– and this was their way of rallying behind him, and the other seven young men, who never made it overseas despite their best efforts.

Perhaps William was one of those who turned up on November 21, 1916 at the Medical Board Examination in the Court House premises in Gunnedah with a certificate saying he was medically unfit?

Had his dream of service ended with this declaration, with William having to be checked again by Major H. Gordon, Military Registrar, when the army next did a head check of those that it had on its books as enlisting but had not turned up?

Did William wear a badge to prevent judgment? Did his parents advocate for him to be on the Honour Board of Unaccepted Volunteers in Kelvin so the world, and William, would always remember that he had tried?

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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