Every Man A Volunteer

The exhortations and inducements used in Australia to persuade men to enlist were as old as the oldest society- the community’s safety is at stake; your families are in peril; your religion is being derided, and so on. There was the added spur of mockery, overt or implied-a child asking, “What did you do in the War, Daddy?”; a strong-featured woman asking her man, “Will you go or must I?” By 1915 the art of poster propaganda was very well developed and worldwide, and outside the pornography of painted violence the themes were much the same whatever the nation. “Our” men were always firm-jawed and heroic, “Theirs” were fiercely evil and generally unshaven. The summarily pointing or beckoning finger was a universal symbol.

Perhaps it was because the battlefields of Europe were so distant, perhaps because the lure of England as “Home” was so strong that there entered into the early phase of recruitment in Australia an element of huckstering. It was as though a cheapjack travel agent was at work to persuade young men to seize their chance. The long casualty lists from the Dardanelles and the disasters of France and Flanders were yet to come; in the days before the end at Gallipoli, there was a fairground atmosphere about the urging to join for The Greatest Show on Earth.

To some extent it was true. It was exciting. The bands filling the streets with colour and cadence, the sense of swagger about the men already in uniform all laid the groundwork for a widespread and very successful advertising campaign, certainly the best of its time. The campaign’s theme was elemental and almost irresistible; the product offered free travel, excitement and a spice of danger and implied a just and rightful victory and the rewards that would follow. To ignore such a campaign could mean ostracism; to accept the challenge was to snatch at the chance of a lifetime.