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Great Southern Line | Research Report Part Two: NSWGR - Wartime and repatriation
Dr Mary Hutchison
By admin Posted in The Great Southern Line on February 21, 2018 0 Comments
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Great Southern Line Anzac Story

Part Two

Southern Tablelands Arts

Research Report

Historical background and stories 1914 -1920

Dr Mary Hutchison

Part Two: NSWGR – Wartime and Repatriation

From the collection of Garry White

NSWGR contribution to the war effort

NSWGR’s contributions to the war effort included the provision of recruitment trains to support enlistment, transportation of leaving and returning troops and the and the refitting of 25 suburban carriages as ambulance trains to take wounded soldiers from ports to hospitals and home towns (McKillop 78).

NSWGR also raised two railway companies from amongst its employees whose commanders and a number of members had connections with the Goulburn District of the Great Southern Line.  One was the First Railway Supply Detachment (originally known as the Railway Transport Corps) formed at the end of 1914. It numbered 61 men who were largely picked by District Superintendent (later Commissioner) E. Milne and commanded by his son E.O. Milne, Traffic Inspector, Goulburn and member of Goulburn Ambulance Rifle Club (well documented NSW Transport Heritage website).  Commissioner Milne was a collector of Aboriginal artefacts and he presented the company with two silver boomerangs mounted on a stand as a farewell gift. (photo Railway and Tramway Budget 1 Nov. 1914 p75).  (Where is this object?  Not in the National Museum’s Milne collection).  The Railway Supply Detachment served at Gallipoli and in France.

The second company was one of what became six companies formed by Australian railwaymen for service in France.  Amongst these were three light railway operating companies and three ‘broad gauge’.  The NSW Vompany was the 6th (broad gauge) Railway Operating Company (ROC).  It was commanded by Captain William James, a member of Goulburn Ambulance Rifle Club who started his career at Goulburn and returned there to work after the War.  It consisted of around 269 men and included a number from Goulburn district (Edmonds, Australian Railway History Dec. 2010).

Overall, NSWGR’s greatest contribution was railway worker servicemen. Of the 45,000 strong workforce, 8,447 enlisted. In the general divisions of the First Australian Imperial force (AIF), their particular work skills often led to positions in transport units including Field Ambulance, and in specialist services such as Signals. NSWGR paid the difference between military pay and the servicemen’s railway pay (including pay rises due in the normal course of events).  (A number also served in home defence – this may be in addition to the number of those who enlisted)

NSWGR Enlistment and repatriation policies

There were no reserved occupations as such during the First World War – those who wanted to enlist had to get permission from their employer.  NSWGR policy was to grant leave of absence to their permanent employees, to pay them the difference between military and railway wages and as far as possible keep their former jobs open for them if they were capable of taking them up (Chief Mechanical Engineer’s Circular 2962, 1914).

The Chief Mechanical Engineer’s (CME) Circulars regarding policy and administration show how NSWGR addressed the management of this policy as soldiers returned from the front and the War came to an end (appendix iv):

  • Employees returning during the War with satisfactory discharges to be re-employed with priority to those with dependents. Those rejected or exempted from war service also eligible (CME Circular 3712, 1917)
  • Employees invalided home through war injuries and unable to resume former position will be paid difference between former remuneration and re-employed rate plus any military pension received (CME Circular,3858 1917)
  • Temporary employees who enlisted, although not on the same wartime footing as permanent employees, were to be kept on the books for any vacancies that arose. ‘Sympathetic consideration will be given to each case’ (CME circular 4055, 1918)
  • Returned employees leaving work for further medical treatment – payment while absent (CME circular, 4056 1918)
  • Permanent and temporary employees unable to take up former positions: every effort to find position for returnees across all branches of work; lower salary to be made up to old; if possible retain seniority for previously temporary employees. In addition, ‘If to find him employment it is necessary to dispense with the services of another person who is his junior [and has not served], then such a course is to be followed’. (CME circular, 4119 1918)
  • Special leave for returned workers to welcome home returned Anzacs and holidays in connection with peace celebrations (CME circular, 4256 1919)
  • Returned soldiers not previously employed by NSWGR. Must pass vision, colour vision and hearing tests but may be exempted from other usual fitness tests subject to further examination. Certificates to be issued concerning what employment fit for. (CME circular 4491, 1919)

(policy details appendix iv. NSWGR wartime policies, CME Circulars and Annual Reports)


Impact of war period on NSWGR employees

Of the 45,000 employed by NSWGR at the beginning of the First World War, 8,447 men enlisted and 1,210 died as a result of their service.  Hundreds of those who enlisted were working on the Great Southern Line in what are now the Goulburn-Mulwaree, Wingecarribee and Wollondilly Local Government Areas.

The impact of war on railway business and the contribution to employees’ military pay, as well as drought, had a serious impact on NSWGR finances 1914-1919.  The Commissioner’s annual report of 1919 shows the total expenditure on the difference between military and railway pay as expected in June 1919 to be 918,137 pounds.  The Chief Mechanical Engineers’ policy circulars during the war show the measures taken for economic stringency including restricting employees’ hours and setting priorities on support for enlisting workers (examples appendix iv NSWGR wartime policies, CME Circulars and Annual Reports).

 The 1917 strike

During the first part of the 20th century there was considerable industrial unrest.  The strike of 1917, which started at the Eveleigh railway workshops and spread to other divisions and departments as well as to other industries, had a long term impact on NSWGR and its workers – particularly the more industrial and unionised workplaces such as Loco.  The workforce was divided between strikers, many of whom were initially dismissed and ‘loyalists’ – both existing and new employees taken on during the strike.  The particular impact on the three hub stations is not known but the reverberations of the strike and the government and management’s response to it would have been felt across the organisation.  Many of those who went out on strike, even if allowed to return to work, were punished by losing seniority (see example of Chifley in Gunn 287).  The impact of this wide scale of loss of seniority had a negative impact on relationships between workers, particularly with employees returning to work from the War who, provided they were fit enough, were placed in the highest position for which they were eligible (CME Lucy, evidence to Royal Commission into the management of NSW railways, 1920).


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