The call was loud to fight and die for king and country | OPINION

Allied troops at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli Peninsula, during the Gallipoli campaign.
Allied troops at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli Peninsula, during the Gallipoli campaign.

IMAGINE the scene in a tiny bush school near Wodonga in April 1916.

Boys and girls stand stiffly to attention, salute the British flag and recite a pledge.

“I love God and my country, I honour the flag; I will serve the king and cheerfully obey my parents, teachers and the laws.”

Then they sang God Save the King and God Bless Our Splendid Men, gave three cheers and sat down to an afternoon tea to begin their Easter holiday.

The children were making history — it was the first Anzac Day commemoration at Wodonga West State School, a little timber shack on a spot now traversed by the Hume Freeway opposite Cochranes Road.

With the war 20 months old, most schools had former pupils fighting and dying on the Western Front, and some had been on Gallipoli, too.

Many already had created honour rolls, no doubt wondering whose name might appear on it.

In 1916, schools across Australia marked the first anniversary of the Anzac landings not on April 25, which was Easter Tuesday, but on the previous Thursday.

However, public Anzac Day services were held on the Tuesday in the capital cities and some country towns, including Albury.

All were religious in nature and patriotically British in outlook, while honouring the young Australians who gave their lives for the Empire in a distant war.

In Albury, the few Gallipoli veterans who had returned home shell-shocked, shot or otherwise injured played no formal part in the service.

Diggers paraded in Sydney but, on the Border, nothing like the present Anzac Day marches occurred until the mid-1920s.

Several local families in 1916 were mourning soldiers lost on Gallipoli or in Egypt.

It was the clergy’s duty, after receiving a telegram, to inform the family of bad news.

About 1000 people braved Albury’s service in Dean Square for a minute’s silence on a wet, blustery day, and sang hymns and God Save the King.

Extra verses were inserted, praying our men would be “victorious, patient and chivalrous”.

Army recruiting sergeants were always on hand to gather more men for the fields of Flanders.

Indeed, clergy spent a lot of time urging young men to join up and fight — for few pacifists were among them.

During recruiting campaigns, some Catholic priests supported calls for volunteers, although many opposed the government’s plans for compulsory conscription, which Australia twice rejected.

At the Albury service, Canon Bevan, of St Matthew’s, who had a soldier son, insisted Gallipoli was “not a failure” for “the greatest thing was to have fought and fought valiantly”.

“Australia’s noble response has knitted together the Empire by imperishable bonds,” he proclaimed.

“British blood has not become thinned beneath the southern skies; it still retains the iron of the great race from which we have sprung.”

Not quite true, as hundreds of Anzacs were of German heritage.

Thus it was that a former Albury lad, Private Bo Frauenfelder, who enlisted at 19 with the permission of his parents, Charlie and Martha, of David Street.

Private Frauenfelder, a fair-haired, blue-eyed ex-railway porter, never came home.

He was shot in the head at Ypres, Belgium, in 1917 and died from his wounds.

More than 60,000 Australians were killed in the war and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.

Howard Jones is writing a history of the City of Albury RSL sub-branch.