First World War Centenary: A Time Line
by Dr John Weste, Director, South Australian Parliament Research Library
For Australia, 1915 proved to be a significant year: Ottoman Turkey joined the war on the side of the Central Powers; Australian troops embarked for the fighting in Europe but were diverted to Egypt to protect British interests in the region. In March, Australian troops were committed to the British effort to force a naval passage through the Dardanelles and shell Constantinople (now Istanbul) from the sea in an attempt to knock Turkey out of the war. The plan also envisaged opening a supply passage through to Russia via the Black Sea. Following the failure of British and French warship to penetrate the Dardanelles, land forces were committed to try and gain control of the series of forts that protected the straights. On 25 April 1915, British, Australian and New Zealand troops were landed on a series of beaches along the Gallipoli peninsula, however their tenuous foothold gained in the first days of fighting quickly bogged down in stalemate and the front lines little changed in the eight month campaign. By the time the British Army evacuated the Gallipoli peninsula in December 1915, the AIF has suffered some 28,000 casualties that included 8,000 deaths.
Within South Australia some of the basic rhythms of wartime were also being set for the next few years. Recruitment continued and the first wounded servicemen were repatriated to the State. Both new and old servicemen required entertaining and support, and these were roles patriotic groups such as the Cheer-Up Society viewed with the utmost seriousness. One of the Cheer-Up Society’s more enduring legacies was Violet Day, first launched in 1915, where members of the public were encouraged to purchase posies of violets, buttons featuring the flower and, later, patriotic verse, to raise funds for the War. This South Australian custom spread nation-wide and lasted for 65 years with the final Violet Day being commemorated in 1970.
The matter of German South Australians occupied ever-growing importance within State (and national) affairs. The first Bill to remove their right to vote was introduced into State parliament in November 1915 and almost annually thereafter. An equally symbolic strike was made against the State’s Attorney-General, Herman Homburg, whose State office was raided by armed officers of the military searching for correspondence he had undertaken with a German South Australian. Incensed, Homburg wrote to the federal Minister for Defence representing to him “that either the King’s Legal Adviser (Attorney-General) or the Military conducted the King’s legal business, but not both.” The Federal minister was asked to confirm there would be no such repeat of the raid, but he declined to do so. Homburg resigned his office and did not stand in the 1915 election. Despite being born in Norwood, Homburg was painfully aware his German lineage stood strongly against him. In 1940, having returned to public life as a Member of the Legislative Council, Homburg’s home and private office were again searched and he was interned.
The Torrens Island Internment Camp closed in August 1915. It first opened in October 1914 to house several hundred enemy aliens which, in South Australia’s case, predominantly meant those with a German background. Conditions at the Camp declined over 1915 with reports emerging, eventually reaching German and American ears, that internees were being publicly flogged and pricked with bayonets. A military Court of Enquiry was held in early 1916 and many of the internees were either released or moved to camps in New South Wales. Knowledge of the Internment Camp was not made public until after the War.
In Europe, 1915 saw the development of trench warfare although, on the Eastern Front, German troops captured Warsaw. The Germans also launched the first Zepplin raid on Britain, and used chemical weapons and poison gas on the field of battle. Submarine warfare, symbolised by the sinking of the Lusitania attracted yet more international opprobrium for Germany. Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary on 23 May. Serbia’s army collapsed and retreated to the Adriatic Sea to be evacuated by the Italian and French navies.