Small state paid a big price

23 Apr, 2015 07:36 AM
Digger represented in a Tasmanian local war memorial.
The impact would have been absolutely enormous on a small, isolated society
Digger represented in a Tasmanian local war memorial.

OF all the Australian states, Tasmania was probably the most directly affected by World War I, leading historian Reg Watson says.

"When you consider the population was only 190,000, every family would have felt the impact," Mr Watson said.

"We reckon 2700 Tasmanians died and you have to double the figure for those who were wounded.

"The impact would have been absolutely enormous on a small, isolated society; I don't think we can fathom that."

And while farming families were not particularly over-represented, there were areas of the State where a high number of men enlisted.

"There does seem to be a preponderance of soldiers from the Huon, the North West coast and Launceston," Mr Watson said.

Certain exemptions did apply to farm families but were often ignored.

"If there were four boys in a family, the fourth one would have been exempt to help the father," he said.

"There was a lot of social pressure on people to join, and actually it came from the mothers - they would say: 'My son is over there, under threat - why aren't you?'."

But after Gallipoli, when the first casualties were reported, Tasmanians' appetite for the war waned.

"The casualties started to come in straight after Anzac Day. Wounded soldiers began to arrive back and the reality started to set in.

"When the newspapers started to publish the names of those who were killed, the enormity sank in - this wasn't just an adventure any more."

The war effort drew in the whole society: when the soldiers went away they were given socks or supplied with tobacco or clothes by the general public through the Red Cross.

The number of memorials in even the smallest of Tasmanian towns shows the huge impact the war had.

"Lindisfarne (near Hobart) had a population of 65.

"Eighty-seven enlisted and 12-15 died, so in such a small little community - and there were smaller - they had an enormous number of people go; it's just mind boggling."

Tasmania's isolation also fostered a great sense of fighting for 'king and country', Mr Watson said.

"Tasmania has long been regarded as another England, if you like. You go out in the country and think you are in England.

"Growing up in the 1950s and '60s people used to talk about England as 'home' yet they had never been outside the State."

Tasmania's contribution to Australia's fighting history should never be underestimated, with its soldiers now having earned 14 Victoria Cross medals out of an Australian total of 100.

These medals were earned in the Boer War, World War I and Afghanistan.

"It shows our bravery," Mr Watson said.



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