Tuesday, August 12, 2014

THE UNEXPECTED WAR - Talk by historian Michael McKernan

One hundred years ago this month newspaper headlines were reporting on the political crisis surrounding the new nation’s first-ever double dissolution. A political assassination in the far-away Balkans in late June seemed barely worthy of mention.

The Prime Minister, Joseph Cook, and the leader of the Labour Opposition, Andrew Fisher, were busy preparing for a federal election. Neither they, nor other Australian politicians could foresee the terrible consequences of the diplomatic failures that were unfolding in Europe.

When Great Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August, Australia, like the rest of the Empire, was also at war. The news was greeted with nationalistic fervour by crowds in the streets of Australia’s major cities.

Australia’s reaction to news of the outbreak of hostilities is the subject of a talk to the Ku-ring-gai Historical Society this Saturday, 16 August, by eminent historian DR MICHAEL McKERNAN.  Michael is a former Deputy-Director of the Australian War Memorial, a radio commentator and author of many books charting the effects of war on Australian society.

Within a week of the outbreak of war, both of Australia’s political leaders having pledged immediate and unconditional support, recruitment was underway with a force of 20 000 men promised for the defence of the empire.

Thousands of young men enthusiastically rushed to enlist with, perhaps, little understanding of what was involved, and no foreboding that this conflict
would drag on for more than four years and cost millions of lives.

The first shot fired by Allied forces came from an artillery battery at Pt. Phillip heads to prevent the departure of the Norddeutscher Lloyd cargo ship SS Pfalz just after midnight on 5 August, 1914.

On 18 August a Naval and Military Expeditionary Force left Sydney to capture wireless stations used by the German East Asia Cruiser Squadron and which represented an urgent threat to merchant shipping. During the first fighting at Rabaul in German New Guinea four Australians were killed.

Among the casualties was Capt. Brian Pockley, a twenty-four year old medical doctor of Wahroonga and one of the more than 1300 men and women with links to the Ku-ring-gai municipality who served in what would become known as the Great War.

Ku-ring-gai Historical Society is commemorating the service of these men and women by researching and writing their stories to ensure that they will not be forgotten. Volume 1 of Rallying the Troops, containing the war stories of those beginning with names A to F, was recently launched by Dr Brendan Nelson, Director of the AWM.

Copies are now available from the Society (www.khs.org.au or 9499 4568)

Members of the public are cordially invited to attend the 16 August talk by Dr McKernan. It will be held in the Meeting Room, old Gordon Public School building adjacent to the Library, corner of the Pacific Highway and Park Avenue, Gordon. The meeting starts at 2pm and will be preceded by the AGM. Afternoon tea will be served.

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