Australia: The Initial Hurdles

In spite of its isolated position Australia became involved in Europe's war when Great Britain found itself embroiled in that conflict in 1914. Most Australians felt that it was their loyal duty to support the Empire and almost half a million volunteered to fight for the Crown. Many of these saw active service on the fronts and left a lasting impression of their bravery. The heroic action of the Anzacs at Gallipoli in 1915 is now part of the saga of that war.

Many Australian soldiers wounded during the Gallipoli campaign were transferred to Malta to be tended at local hospitals. Others succumbed to their wounds and were buried in military cemeteries where 1276 Anzacs still rest. A few of the survivors married Maltese girls. These Maltese-Australian farnilies and the memories of those who had found rest and hospitality among the Maltese helped to forge lasting links between ,the Matte-se- and the Australians,

Mr. William (Billy) Hughes was the Prime Minister of Australia during much of the time of the War. He wanted to introduce conscription throughout the States but that idea was vigorously opposed by many, including the influential Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr. Daniel Mannix. Mr. Hughes put conscription to a referendum in 1916 and again in 1917, but the majority of the voters did not support him.

Although conscription was a domestic issue, that divisive argument had echoes which resounded on Maltese ears. Australian Labour leaders had nourished suspicion against aliens who were considered as competitors forjobs and a threat to Australian standards. Conscription made these suspicions darker still because it was rumoured that, while Mr. Hughes wanted to ship Australian boys to the war fronts in Europe, foreigners were being brought in to replace them. As the war dragged on the ideal of loyalty to the Empire lost a little of its lustre. The trade unions kept their hostility to conscription and to the introduction of cheap labour.

Source: The Great Exodus by Fr Lawrence E. Attard. (C) P.E.G. Ltd - 1989.

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