The Great War 1914 1918
WA railway employees serving in Australia's military forces
The First World War erupted in 1914 and involved unprecedented numbers of soldiers.
The 'Allies' Russia, the UK and British empire countries, France, Italy and the USA mobilised over 43 million men. Germany, Austria/Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and their partners mobilised more than 23 Million. The sad result was more than 10 million soldiers killed. The number of civilian dead will never be known.
Allegiances were different then Russia, Italy and Japan fought with the western Allies while Austria, Germany and Hungary were the major protagonists in the enemy, the 'Central Powers'.
After initial landings and battles, most Australian soldiers were involved, and died, on the 'Western Front' a 600 kilometre line of trenches through Belgium and northern France where men spent many men spent months without the line moving significantly.
In Western Australia, the railways needed to keep operating, however the traffic had diminished, especially the annual grain haulage because enemy naval action had made shipping very dangerous. Passenger traffic had also decreased many men who would have journeyed to and from work daily by train, were away in the military.
WA railwaymen were involved throughout several died on the first day of the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, whilst others survived the fighting but died in the 'Spanish flu' pandemic while still in Europe or on ships making the return journey. Many are remembered only in lists of names on large monuments, as their bodies have never been found.
Most were relatively young men one was only 17 when killed, others 18 they had been so keen to join the fight that they probably falsified their age to enlist. Others left young families and sadly, some left a wife expecting a child, who would never see their father.
A table of WA railway employees whom we have found to have enlisted and died, in a form which you may sort or search in various ways, has been prepared and posted here.
WAGR Western Australian Government Railways & Tramways
Before the War started, the WA Government Railways and Tramways employed a total of 7993 staff at 30 June 1914.
Railwaymen responded as willingly as any other citizens, and over the next four years a total of 2184 men were given leave to enlist.
In this era, the "government railways" included "tramways". The tramways of Perth and adjoining suburbs were compulsorily purchased by the WA Government in 1913 and were placed in the management and responsibility of the WA Government Railways. The records of employees, including Honour Rolls published after the war, reflected this combined operation and our researches include tramway employees.
An "Honour Roll" of those killed was compiled by the government rail authorities and published in the 1919 annual report. This listing has been digitised by Rail Heritage WA researchers and may be viewed here.
The railway between Midland and Walkaway (near Geraldton) was then privately owned by the Midland Railway Company of Western Australia Limited. Whilst their individual employee records have not been located, an old honour board preserved by Rail Heritage WA has enabled us to identify employees who served and fell in this War. Information on the men from both government and private railways who lost their lives in the Great War has been researched and the results were launched on this website on 12 November 2022.
AIF Australian Imperial Force
When the Defence Act (1903) was drafted after the federation of Australia in 1901, it was imagined that the various colonial forces would gradually be amalgamated into a single force. The Defence Act imagined that any "Army" would be used only for home defence and would consist mostly of part time volunteers. The problem came to light in a big way 19141918 so a special force was raised specifically for overseas service, this was the Australian Imperial Force and it vanished from the Order of Battle around 1922. The AIF was specifically created for overseas service and their terms of enlistment (at least for 191419) were the "Duration of the conflict and Four months thereafter."
If you have additional information on railway employees who served in wars, Rail Heritage WA would like to hear from you contact soldier at railheritagewa.
Further information on individual railwaymen who served in the war may be available from railway personnel records. Information on their military records is normally available from the Australian War memorial: https://www.awm.gov.au/advanced-search/people------------------------------------------