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Compiled for Darebin Heritage by Brian Membrey

The Great War : Preston : 1914 Special Leave

Preston's First Contingent

Several of the history snapshots refer to “1914 Special Leave”.

In September 1918, after negotiations with the Imperial War Office, Prime Minister Hughes (who was visiting London) granted a special six-month home leave from military duty to soldiers who had enlisted in 1914 and were still on active service.

It was estimated that some 7,000 servicemen would be immediately eligible and that plans were already in place for the first 800 to embark almost immediately; after a few minor delays, the first group arrived back in Melbourne on 23 November.

Hughes (in London at the time) later modified the scheme to allow the option of 75 day's furlough to be taken in Britain, with an additional daily subsistence allowance of 3/, and servicemen allowed to draw 20 per cent, of their deferred pay (the same bonuses available to those returning to Australia).

The additional arrangement apparently came after Hughes visited troops in the front line and met an Australian soldier who told him 'I married an English girl, and don't want to go to Australia without her'.  On his return to London, Hughes found others, mostly English born who also expressed a preference to spend time with relatives in “the Olde Country” rather than making the voyage back to Australia.

It was noted at the time that Australia was the only Allied country who had yet to introduce a home-leave system - Melbourne in October, 1917 played host to 500 French servicemen - many of them dark-skinned -  who had volunteered from colonial outposts in the Pacific (mostly Noumea). French Army regulations allowed soldiers four weeks leave after they had completed two-and-a-half years' service with the period commencing only after they had arrived back at their normal place of residence.

After negotiations with British authorities, Hughes also managed to secure the same rights for Australians that had served in the British forces.

Special ANZAC rosettes (above) were given to men returning on this special leave to wear on each sleeve so that members of the Australian public would recognise their previous early service and not accuse able bodied men of shirking service when recruits were still being sought to bolster the badly depleted fighting units of the AIF. They were also issued with special Leave passes to emphasise the service that they had rendered.

Rather strangely, the first serviceman reported in the Leader to be welcomed home on 1914 Leave was not one of the group that had been noted in September, 1914.

Rigby Fluister Edmonds did not enlist until 15 October, his parents running the Rona Dairy in Spring Street where he was a driver. He was wounded twice at Gallipoli and spent time in hospital in England suffering from trench feet and later V.D. - his history is a little clouded, but somehow he managed to embark for return 16 October, 1918, just two days after his fourth "birthday" in the A.I.F. - most others had to wait anywhere between four and six weeks, many not arriving home much before Christmas. Edmonds disembarked in Melbourne on 23 November and was officially welcomed by councillors at a public meeting at the Shire Hall on 2 December. He was noted as dying in Preston on 6 September, 1948 at 56 years and was interred in Preston Cemetery.  He had a brother Alfred John who enlisted in July, 1915 and served as a Driver with the 2nd Field Ambulance; he died September 26, at Caulfield … “dearly beloved husband of Ida M. Edmonds, of 32 Collins street. Preston, and loved father of Bruce and Robert, aged 47 years. (Interred Coburg Cemetery, September 28)”