Compiled for Darebin Heritage by Brian Membrey

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... Preston’s First Contingent ...

Recruiting offices opened throughout Australia on 11 August, and by 21 August, the first 750 volunteers were settled in Broadmeadows Camp.

On 5 September, 1914, the Leader published its first list of Preston men that enlisted, suggesting most of them had been honoured at a function in the Shire Hall after entering camp at Broadmeadows.  The exception “… Mr. G. Carson was unable to attend, already having had leave for the purpose of visiting his parents (Rev. Carson, late of Preston), but he forwarded a letter in recognition of the honour done him and his comrades”.

This was a group of young men typical of many small areas of population; they had trudged off to school together, chosen sides for a “Test match” after the bell went (or Collingwood versus Fitzroy in winter months), courted girls together, in other words, they were all mates.

Whether it was a sense of patriotism, the potential adventure of a trip to Europe (although many local commentators believed the war would be over before the Australians arrived) or a rebellion against the humdrum of day-to-day life that prompted the men to enlist we will never know.  Or again, perhaps it was because “my mate” had joined up.

Certainly none would have any idea of the horror to be unleashed over the next four years; we may not know why they enlisted, but we can reveal what the future was to hold for this small, but typical group of young Australians that were first to take up the colours.

(The first list from Northcote was not published until around five weeks later, by then close to 80 volunteers and too large a sample to investigate).

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

This was a special six month leave for servicemen that enlisted in 1914 and had been in service for around four years. Like many of the local servicemen listed below, hundreds of the first volunteers were actually back in Australia on Special Leave when the war ended.  

Special ANZAC rosettes (right) 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. 

Rather strangely, the first serviceman reported in the Leader to be welcomed home on the six-month Special Leave awarded to soldiers who had four years of continuous service was not was not one of the “First Contingent”.

Rigby Fluister Edmonds did not enlist until 15 October, 1914 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 had a brother Alfred John who enlisted in July, 1915 with his mother as next of kin at the dairy.

Two or three of those listed do not seem to have had a direct residential connection to Preston, but their early enlistment allows a relatively simple identification of who they probably were.