Based on what I'd been taught about Gallipoli, mateship and the 'ANZAC tradition', I made some assumptions about the impact of the ANZAC experience on Australian society. When I began to research its impact on my local community I uncovered quite a different perspective.
A single hour spent browsing through the books in my Nanna's library brought about a profound change in my perception of my family's history and my 'identity' as an Australian:
"Nanna, who was Billy Kaiser?" I asked. "His name is in this
old History Reader."
"Billy was your great-grandfather." Nanna replied. "The Kaiser brothers - Wilhelm August and Wilhelm Berhold were old soldiers in The Great War. Bert died at Gallipoli, and August returned, shell shocked."
"But, how could that be? Kaiser's a German name. Our name is King!"
The 'Kaiser boys' were young who felt the importance of proving their loyalty to the country of their birth. They were great-great grandchildren of German-Lutheran immigrants who came to South Australia in 1838 from Prussia, , seeking religious freedom. Their forefathers were naturalised in 1847 after eight years of lobbying for citizenship in order to cease being 'aliens' and become landowners. Although these Australians spoke German at home, school and church, they considered themselves as 'Australian' as other British subjects. While their British-born neighbours spoke of England as 'home', these Australians considered the soil of South Australia their only home.
The Kaiser brothers, along with many of their fourth-generation German-Lutheran neighbours believed they had earned the right to be called Australians. During the past sixty-five years, successive generations had pioneered South Australian farming districts and built prosperous communities.
With the outbreak of war they were deeply wounded when their loyalty was questioned. Because of their German heritage, they were referred to as 'enemy aliens' by those who 'could not understand the difference between religious and political loyalties.'
As Aussies and subjects of the British Empire, the Kaiser brothers gladly answered the call to enlist, pledging their loyalty to 'King and Country'. Friedrich Wilhelm proudly signed the enlistment papers for his two eldest sons, with the blessing of their Pastor. In September 1914 the boys joined the 10th South Australian Battalion - 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade. They were shipped to Egypt for training, and were then assigned to the battleship London prior to landing at Gallipoli. Early on the morning of April 25 1915, August, Berthold and 1,500 fellow Australians landed at ANZAC Cove.
The Kaiser brothers fought through it all. For seven months they endured the lack the food and water, rugged terrain, bad weather, loss of comrades and constant enemy fire. The brothers had earned their place in the elite group, the 'first ANZACS'. On November 28th Berthold died from bronchitis. August was pulled out of the trenches on December 16th with minor bullet wounds and shell shock. Near the end of the war August was sent home. During the long sea journey he thought constantly about what to tell his father about Berthold's death.
When August returned to 'Blumberg' in 1918 he was disturbed to find his home-town changed: the Lutheran Parish School had been closed, the Pastor interned and the local German paper silenced. Even the name of the town had been anglicised to Birdwood. August found that his youngest brother had assumed responsibility for the farm and his mentally distressed sister in his father's absence.
In May of 1915, his father, Friedrich Wilhelm Kaiser had been arrested as an 'enemy alien'. His sister had pleaded with authorities, "How can he be an enemy of the Empire, when he allowed his two eldest sons to fight for Her!" Despite her pleas, he was interned on Torrens Island until August of 1915, when he was transferred to another camp at Liverpool NSW, August knew none of this until he returned home.
In spite of his brother's sacrifice and their contributions to the Empire at Gallipoli, authorities in the community still held the Kaiser family in suspicion because of their German-Lutheran background.
Despite the disappointments in his local community, August's experiences at Gallipoli were a turning point in his life. His new-found confidence with people, career training, English competency and relationships outside the traditional German-Lutheran circles were positive outcomes. When his younger brother was old enough to manage the farm, August became assistant manager of the flour-mill. His army training in personnel management gave him a firm foundation for this new career away from the farm. August married outside his community and faith, choosing an Anglican woman he had met in Sydney as his wife. As soon as South Australian laws permitted, August changed his name to 'King' to avoid further persecution fuelled by his 'German' name.
World War 1 was a turning point for German-Lutheran communities. It was their first opportunity to express their loyalty by encouraging their young men to enlist. The honour rolls and public war memorials in many communities bear witness to this fact.
The prohibition of the use of German in schools , newspapers and in public was the catalyst for the change from German to English in German-Lutheran communities. Although the schools and newspapers re-opened after the war, German-Lutheran communities never returned to speaking solely German. As their English competency grew, people assimilated more fully into the community, while still treasuring their German-Lutheran heritage.
The ANZAC tradition, founded at Gallipoli, gave Australia heroes and a history of her own which all of her people could share for the first time. The ANZAC spirit and grief for sons sacrificed, forged a common bond between people from diverse backgrounds and contributed to the building of a multicultural Australia.
In all these ways the ANZAC experience brought to an end German-Lutheran 'cultural insularity' in South Australia and had a profound impact on the lives of individuals and communities.
I would like to acknowledge the help that I received from the following people. I am very grateful that they were willing to share their memories with me.
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