Australian recruitment statistics for World War I

This printed document, entitled The Great War 1914–1919, shows the number of men in Australia who enlisted for military service during World War I. Under a cameo image of King George V flanked by the crossed flags of Australia and the United Kingdom, the three major dates for the start and end of the war are listed. This is followed by the total number of enlistments from Australia as a whole and Western Australia in particular. A table presents the enlistments for each of the states (Western Australia at the top) by total and as a percentage of the total populations of the states.

Educational value

  • Produced after World War I, probably by a Western Australian newspaper, this printed document shows the extent of voluntary enlistments in that state during the war and the proportion of the Western Australian population they represented. Of the total 416,809 enlistments from Australia, 32,231 came from Western Australia. While the Western Australian enlistment was only 7.7 per cent of the whole, it represented a remarkable 9.9 per cent of the state's total population. As the table makes clear, this was the highest of any state. 
  • The significance of the Australian human contribution to the war effort is indicated by the number of enlisted men who died or were injured. Australia's total population at the time was about 4 million, and the 416,809 who enlisted for service represent 38.7 per cent of the total male population aged between 18 and 44. Of these, an estimated 58,961 died, 166,811 were wounded, 4098 went missing or were made prisoners of war and 87,865 suffered sickness.
  • The motivations of Australians who enlisted were varied. Most probably believed it was their patriotic duty to Australia, the British Empire and the King. Many regarded war as a great adventure. Many went to be with their mates in the same battalion. Some saw it as a chance to see 'home' (Britain) at the government's expense. Others felt they would never live down the shame of not going. Still others were caught up in the enthusiasm of recruitment drives.
  • Although enlistments were high soon after war was declared on 4 August 1914 – 52,561 enlisted in 1914 – once the extent and horror of the conflict became known it became much more difficult to attract recruits. Posters appealing to men's patriotism or their consciences began to appear and became widespread. Politicians and returned heroes stumped the country holding recruitment meetings. Recruiting marches paraded through cities and country towns.
  • Some of the men listed in these statistics would have been able to enlist only after the initial minimum standards were lowered. In 1914 recruits had to be 18–35 years with a height of 167.6 centimetres and a chest measurement of 86.3 centimetres. In June 1915 the age and height standards were changed to 18–45 years and 157.5 centimetres. The minimum height was lowered again, to 152.4 centimetres, in April 1917. The standard of medical fitness required from recruits was also lowered.
  • All the enlistments referred to in the document were voluntary. Voluntary enlistment remained throughout the war despite the efforts of the Australian Government to introduce conscription to make up continuing shortfalls in reinforcements. This was remarkable because all the other major combatants introduced some form of compulsory service. A bitterly fought referendum on conscription was held in 1916 and a second one in 1917, with both being defeated.