Ready for war

Chris Earl looks at Bendigo during the declaration of WWI

It was life as usual for Bendigo a century ago as miners quickly came up to the surface and rushed to football grounds around the city for Wednesday afternoon matches, unaware that war had been declared on the other side of the world.

Unknown Bendigo soldier.

Unknown Bendigo soldier.

Reigning Bendigo League premiers Bendigo City ran away with the match against South Bendigo in the final quarter ay Upper Reserve (now the QEO) to win by 34 points on August 5, 1914.

Special trams had been put on from Eaglehawk to bring in many of the large crowd enjoying a mid-week break from mines, offices and shops.

Unknown Bendigo soldiers

Unknown Bendigo soldiers

The Bendigo Advertiser headlined matches including included IXL taking on Kangaroo Flat, Bendigo East playing Albion and the battle of the Sunday school teams Buckley Street and Forest Street as “second rate”.

And horses were in action for what was billed as a record-entry Marong races with musical entertainment from the Marist Brothers Boys’ Band.

Other battles were also occupying the minds of many in the city – Prime Minister Joseph Cook had been granted a double dissolution election back in June with a poll date set for September 5 and Bendigo council election campaigning was also underway.

Cook had won the 1913 election by one seat and was frustrated in the senate. 

In the Bendigo election, John Arthur had defeated Sir John Quick and would become minister for external affairs. 

In the new Labor government Andrew Fisher was elected in September, 1914, but died suddenly three months later.

For more than a month the Bendigo Advertiser had been reporting news of the impending war following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

While advertisements adorned the front page, an increasing number of columns in the newspaper were devoted to news and photographs of country's preparations for the looming conflict.

There were local reports, too, of the local 67th Infantry and rifle clubs a waiting for news of their role in any call to arms for the Empire to support Britain.

It was a call that Bendigo would answer with patriotic fervour. Captain Herbert Hunter, president of the Bendigo Football League, was one of the first enlist.

He was farewelled on September 7 with a function at the City Club Hotel: in a room prettily decorated with bunting, the Union Jack and the French, Russian, and Belgian flags being in evidence”.

The local dentist had studied in Britain and the US before returning to Bendigo.

Hunter had been a champion Victorian athlete in the early 1900s and considered unlucky to have been pipped in many Australian and New Zealand title events. He also played football for Essendon.

A member of the 67th Infantry before the war, Hunter enlisted on August 28 in the 7th Battalion.

He was part of the landing on Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, and was killed in action during the assault of Krithia, less than two weeks later on May 8, 1915.

"In the 7th, advancing precisely as they had been trained to do ... Captain Hunter – a famous Victorian athlete – was wounded and then hit again and killed," war historian Charles Bean wrote.

Life in Bendigo was forever changed when citizens awoke on August 6, 1914, and over the next four years reports of young men like Captain Herbert Hunter paying the supreme sacrifice for thier country would be recorded in the Bendigo Advertiser.

A community re-enactment and commemoration of the centenary of Bendigo hearing news at Australia was at war in 1914 will take place  at noon on August 6 at the Civic Gardens.

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