Irish conscription push met with resistance

By Benalla Ensign

This week, in 1918, the Lord Mayor of Dublin called a meeting of trade unions and Irish nationalists to fight Irish conscription under the recent Manpower Act enacted by the British Government.

Members of all Irish parliamentary parties in Westminster, nationalists and unionists, had returned to Ireland and begun organising opposition to conscription.

The Irish bishops’ conference agreed with Dublin’s Mayor and called on all Catholics to resist ‘‘by the most effective means’’.

In desperate need of reinforcements, Lloyd George directed the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to arrest 73 notable Sinn Féin leaders, seen as ringleaders of unrest.

They were arrested for treason arising from a bogus German plot.

Strikes, rallies and civil unrest increased until June when it became clear that American troop numbers were winning the war on the Western Front.

Irish conscription was suddenly abandoned.

Three-hundred thousand Protestant and Catholic Irishmen served as volunteers with British forces during the War.

However, British insistence on Irish conscription united all nationalist groups and made inevitable the Anglo-Irish war that began in 1919.

Today, in the early hours of Anzac Day, the Australians recaptured Villiers-Bretonneux for the second time.

This time Australians attacked over unknown ground at night without artillery support.

A witness, British Brigadier-General Grogan, later wrote that it was ‘‘perhaps the greatest individual feat of the war’’.

Other Australian units had captured the town previously, but had been withdrawn. British troops had replaced them.

The Germans then pushed the British out.

The town was not fully secured until April 27. It remained in Allied hands from then on.

Casualties in fighting around Villiers-Bretonneux totalled 25902.

Of these, 2473 were Australians.

In this, the world’s first tank battle, three British Mark IV tanks fought off three German A7V tanks.

Then seven British Whippet tanks arrived and machine-gunned German infantry forming up to attack.

However, artillery was the real winner, destroying most of the tanks.

Meanwhile, Benalla commemorated Anzac Day.

At Benalla East school Lieutenant Morgans claimed that it was fortunate that the Anzacs had landed in the wrong place.

He told the children that it was better to be dead than under German rule.

A teacher pointed out that Anzac Day celebrated a defeat that was more important than victory.

An Anzac Ball was held. It scandalised many who were still mourning sons.

John Elliot was charged with cutting wood without permission for two kilometres along the road from Baddaginnie to Reef Hills.

The theft of wood was to supply timber for Hanson’s mill in Benalla.

A tank had been travelling between Melbourne and Benalla to raise war loans.

Six-thousand and eight-hundred dollars was raised at Seymour; $6000 at Euroa; and $1800 at Violet Town.

Three-thousand and six-hundred dollars was raised in Benalla. One person in Benalla subscribed $2000.

— John Barry, ANZAC Commemorative Working Party, Coo-ee — Honouring our WWI heroes