Saturday, May 1, 2010

Soldier Settlement.

On 11/11/1918 World War One ground to a halt in Europe.

Of the 330,000 Aussies who had volunteered for service overseas 61,928 lay dead and 152,171 had been wounded.
Australian War Cemetery Villers-Bretonneux, France (Wikimedia Commons)

Aussies had fought with distinction in every major campaign.
Yet, what happened to many of our veterans on their return is one of the saddest episodes of our history.

The Australia Diggers returned to in 1919 was facing recession. Many of the Diggers were discharged directly into unemployment.

Not surprisingly, the young soldiers became extremely embittered by the failure of their country to do more for them after they had given so much.

There were no less than 20 serious riots around the country when veterans voiced their displeasure. In a world that was still reeling from the aftermath of the War and the Russian Revolution the State and Federal Governments finally acted to correct their oversight.

Some veterans benefited from training programs to teach them new skills and trades.

Others would be compensated by a shiny new scheme called “Soldier Settlement”. Diggers would be settled on farms around the various states for a “nominal” fee that they could repay over time and they would be given low interest loans to help them get established.

Not surprisingly, thousands of Diggers leapt at the chance to build themselves a future.
Soldier Settler Temporary camp (NSW State Records Office)

Most of them were doomed before they started.

Firstly, most were city slickers with no understanding of farming. Australia had a proud history of “bushmen” and the outback, but in fact by 1900 Australia was the most urbanised nation in the world.
Soldier Settlers clearing land near Mullumbimby (NSW State Records Office)

Then the land that was distributed to the Diggers was either: poor quality land that had been largely ignored by earlier settlers; or going concerns that were split up to provide farms for multiple Soldier Settlers. In almost every case this meant that the veterans were given parcels of land that were never likely to be practicable farms.
Soldier Settler farm Texas, NSW (NSW State Records Office)

Finally, the Australian climate is extremely variable. The normal farming cycle is several good years followed by several years of drought. Experienced farmers could (and still do) make a go of it by preparing for bad years during the good years. In most cases the Diggers had neither the skills or resources to survive the first period of drought which began by 1922.

Soldier Settler Fertilizer Co-operative (NSW State Records Office)

A couple of quotes from NSW state records are typical of the experience of Soldier Settlers.

“We cannot carry on to make enough to keep our wives and family.” Stan Walker 1923.

“As it has been a very dry year here, the water has given out and the cattle are dying. Clarence Faulkner 1922.

On 13 November 1924, the Police Constable at Ashford reported that Faulkner’s whereabouts were unknown. Clarence Faulkner was one of hundreds of soldier settlers who in the end deserted their holdings.

By 1939 in each state of Australia between 60 and 70% of soldier settlers had left the land, many leaving with debts they could never repay.

These men had in most cases been through unbelievable hardship during the war. More than half of those who returned had been wounded.

Australia repaid many of these men with years more of toil, ending in heartbreak and poverty.


Jaydee Morgan said...

I feel like I learn something everytime I visit - and that is a very good thing. This was so interesting in a heartbreaking kind of way. Thanks for sharing.

Old Kitty said...


Thanks for showing archive pics of that era - treasures to be kept for posterity.

Glad that the Diggers finally got the justice they richly deserved.

Take care

Jemi Fraser said...

It's so sad how many countries have been truly negilgent in the way they treat their veterans. I'm glad things eventually worked out. Thanks for sharing.

Christine said...

I have learned so much from this post. Thank you!

Alyssa Ast said...

Wow thank you for sharing this. Great post!

Piedmont Writer said...

What a sad sad story. Thank you for sharing it.

Palindrome said...

Great post. I love learning something new.

arlee bird said...

The issue of veterans is one that has been faced by many countries. Off hand I don't have an answer, but some serious study should be given to how to best help the citizens who gave so much to their countries. This was a well researched article.

I have now become a follower of your blog.

May 3rd A to Z Challenge Reflections Mega Post

Al said...

Hi Jaydee,
I am happy you appreciated my post. It was a real tragedy, yet a story that should be told.

Hi Kitty,
The piccies are great. I love historical photos.
Things were so hard for the Diggers, they deserved much better.

Hi Jemi,
It is so sad. At least here we learnt from our mistakes (to a point). The veterans who returned from subsequent wars were much better supported (except maybe the Vietnam vets, although they are finally receiving what the should have from the start).

Hi Christine,
You are most welcome, pleased you valued my tale.

Hi Alyssa,
Thank you! Pleased you liked it.

Hi Anne,
It is so sad, they all deserved far more. I love sharing.

Hi Hannah,
Thank you!

Hi Lee,
We are doing much better here than we did then. The Diggers who came back from WWII were much better supported, as have been those from subsequent conflicts. The Vietnam vets had a hard time for some time because that wasn’t “officially” recognised as a war, but it was sorted in the end.

Myrna Foster said...

What a sad story. Thanks for answering my question so thoroughly. Farming really is hard. I bet the people who came up with Soldier Settlement had little practical farming experience - they probably thought they were giving the soldiers and their families a wonderful gift.

Kathleen Jones said...

This is really moving Al. They were all betrayed.

Al said...

Hi Myrna,
It is such a sad tale. I was only too happy to post on this topic. So much harm was caused,and it was not really until the 1950s and 60s that the Government began to make amends.

Hi Kathleen,
Moving is right. You are right, the poor devils were betrayed at almost every turn. Incompetent generalship and political leadership during the war, topped off by equal incompetence when they returned.

Lisa said...

Awful! Imagine that the countries that were vanquished were given more help after the war than a country that helped win the war and which suffered a great than 50% casualty rate. Shameful.