Conscription was too late for Private Albert Blackmore
Name: Albert Robert Blackmore
Unit: 12th Battalion AIF
Private Albert Robert Blackmore almost survived World War I. He died on 2 November 1918 in an English hospital of pneumonia, after surviving two years of hell.
He was an educated man who was working as a teacher in Tasmania when he enlisted. He had published a book of poems called Shade & Echo and was deeply interested in politics.
His sister Suzannah was married to Senator John Earle, who for a short time was Premier of Tasmania, so politics was very much a part of his life.
Conscription was a subject that split families throughout Australia. A referendum on 28 October 1916 voted by 72,476 votes against conscription. The majority of overseas troops voted for conscription. The following year the numbers enlisting voluntarily for overseas war service were again dangerously low so it was decided to hold a second referendum.
Senator Earle supported conscription and was so incensed by the debate that he resigned from the Labor Party to join the Nationalist Party (along with the Prime Minister W M Hughes and Liberal members of the House of Representatives).
It was not surprising that when writing to Suzannah, as he did on a regular basis, Albert Blackmore had forthright views on the topic.
On 29 November 1917 he poured out his feelings about conscription to Suzannah declaring that the whole things was too late. He referred to the previous referendum which had failed.
"Then America was neutral and Russia an active ally and we had reason to believe that if the Empire mustered its utmost force we could completely smash Germany's military machine," he wrote. "Today there are not, I think, many soldiers who believe that the war will end by crushing defeats in the field. The view now commonly expressed is that war in the air and the shrinkage of food supplies will be the decisive factor. As the enclosed slip shows, military experts are openly questioning the ability of our battering ram tactics. There are, at least, were, sound reasons for conscription but I do not think true the assertion that it will make our lot lighter. The more quickly our battalions are filled the more stunts [battles] we shall do.
"As for the argument that we must do our utmost while America is getting ready, I confess I don't understand it. Troops can reach here from America in a few days; it took us several weeks. Or is it supposed that an unwilling Australian conscript needs less training than a Yankee? It is all too true, I fear, that the next three or four months will be a period to test our endurance and power more severely perhaps than they have even yet been tested. It seems reasonable to suppose that Germany will make one great final effort before America can throw her full weight into the balance. "Well, what can the referendum do? Can it give us a single man more in the trenches within that period? Later? Yes, later there are America's millions. Do you think a few paltry thousand unwarlike Australians will really matter then? Conscription is too late. If I should end by voting for it, it will be purely for its moral effect - now that the beastly question has been raised again. But it is my present judgement that if Australia makes this sacrifice now she will make it to little purpose. And she has done well. Already we have lost more men than the whole Empire did in the South African War - when according to the Jingoes "all the world wondered" at our mighty army. I would vote gladly enough for conscription if it would end the war by a day or send back to Australia the men who have been in it all through; but it will do neither.
"Again, the more one sees of militarism the more one hates, fears and distrusts it. Voluntary as it is, our army is steadily and surely undergoing the process of Tommification. I confess the idea of being confused with conscripts is much more repugnant than it was a year ago. It is something to retain - not liberty, we lost that when we enlisted - but the last faint rays of its halo. Defeat is the one curse worse than conscription.
"Well, I've inflicted an awful lot of stuff on you. My apologies; but writing helps one untangle one's ideas. When I began to think about the matter the other day I was surprised to discover my own attitude.
"Yes one's birthday sets one thinking as the years increase behind. What a beautiful thing youth should be and how it is starved and marred. I'm ever so much more in love with life than I was ten years ago. Don't want Heaven and all its dazzling spiritualities a bit; just the dear old Earth and youth eternal. The miserable, blasphemous slanders of the pious with their "gross matter" and "vile flesh". If they ever get to Heaven they would end by finding it unworthy of their "higher selves". Ah well! My love and good night."
The second referendum on 20 December 1917 also failed with an increased "no" vote. The majority of soldiers serving overseas were again in favour of conscription but by a smaller margin.
Like so many of his countrymen, Private Albert Blackmore succumbed to pneumonia and died on 2 November 1918, just a few days before the war ended. He was buried at Melcombe Regis Cemetery in Dorset, England.