Act aims to protect recruiting

By Benalla Ensign

The Great War was not a time to speak out against the Government.

In Australia, the Federal Parliament enacted the War Precautions Act 1914.

Among many other matters, the Act criminalised any statement defeatist in tone or likely to prejudice recruiting.

The Act also gave cabinet power to make regulations.

There were more than 3000 prosecutions under the Act.

Almost all were successful.

In Britain, the government enacted the Defence of the Realm Act (known as DORA) one week after the war’s outbreak.

The Act also gave cabinet the power to make regulations.

These were draconian.

They criminalised the spreading of reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm.

Thus, war news in any newspapers of the time is not to be relied upon.

The DORA Regulations also went much further.

Flying kites, starting bonfires, buying binoculars, feeding wild animals bread, discussing naval and military matters or buying alcohol on public transport were all made criminal offences.

Ten people were executed under DORA or its Regulations during the Great War.

The first Amendment to the American Constitution states that ‘‘Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech’’.

Despite that, 100 years ago, the US Sedition Act 1918 came into effect today.

It outlawed any utterance or expression of opinion that cast the government, its flag, constitution, military or war effort in a negative light.

In 1917 the US had criminalised interference with the war effort or military recruitment.

Now it went much further.

One-thousand people were sentenced from 10 to 20 years in prison — for merely passing out leaflets, engaging in discussion on street corners, or attending a meeting.

A socialist presidential candidate who ran unsuccessfully against Woodrow Wilson remarked: ‘‘It is extremely dangerous to exercise the constitutional right of free speech in a country fighting to make Democracy safe in the world.’’

That remark cost him 10 years in prison.

Meanwhile, today in France, police arrested Emile-Joseph Duval, editor of the anarchist newspaper Le Bonnet Rouge, the Red Bonnet (of Liberty), on charges of complicity with the Germans.

His real offence was that his newspaper did not support the war.

Two months later, he was executed by firing squad.

Meanwhile, trains from Benalla to Yarrawonga were not getting through and 135.5mm of rain had recently fallen amid violent windstorms.

Boosey Creek had overrun its banks. This made its new bridge dangerous to cross.

In addition, there had been a washaway of the line at Chesney.

Because the line was impassable for 3km, mail was being delivered by tricycle.

All traffic had been diverted via Tungamah.

The Benalla-Shepparton Rd has also been cut at Nalinga.

According to a motoring magazine, electric cars were the coming thing. They would replace motor cars.

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