Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 11, 2018

‘Our Schools and the War (2012), by Rosalie Triolo (Chapter One)

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the armistice on November 11th, 1918.  There will be solemn ceremonies in many places today, reflecting on four years of brutal warfare in the war that was thought to end all wars thereafter.

And although it seems fair to say that some of us feel a certain fatigue about the four long years of Anzac commemorations in Australia, (at a breathtaking cost of about $325 million), nevertheless I went last week to a talk by Dr Rosalie Triolo about the WW1 service of my own profession—the teaching profession. What stood out for me from her talk was the extent to which schools were impacted: the enlistment of the mostly male teachers meant the return of retired teachers and an influx of female staff.  The horrific casualty rates meant that many children lost a beloved teacher, and that teachers still in the classroom had to deal with their own grief from the loss of husbands, fathers, brothers, sons and boyfriends who never returned, while also caring for children who had suffered the same losses.  And for Australia, when the war was over, there was a catastrophic loss of so many of its educated professional class at a time when many people did not even finish secondary school.

Dr Triolo is the History Method lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Monash University, and this book, ‘Our Schools and the War’ is derived from her doctorate.  It is a scholarly book, and although the text is broken up with illustrations of one sort or another, it is dense in content and not always compelling in style. For this reason, I don’t expect to read the book from cover to cover; it’s more the sort of book that I will dip into and refer to for reference purposes.  For now, I’ve only read the first chapter, but I think it’s worth sharing on this occasion.

As Dr Triolo explained in her talk, her sources included The Education Gazette and Teacher’s Aid and The School Paper Grades III-VIII for the years 1914-1918. (I am old enough to remember reading The School Paper at school, and to have been required to read The Gazette in my first few years at work. Its most popular pages, I recall, were the notices about vacancies and promotions). But while there is some dispute about whether the Department’s publications were ‘militarist’ in the lead up to hostilities, during the war years, these publications were used for propaganda purposes, and they had their intended effect.  There were an extraordinary number of teachers and trainee teachers who enlisted, more than any other professional group, and if there were conscientious objectors, the records are silent, either because the objectors kept quiet about it or because the department destroyed any records.   And while by 1916 there were attempts to tone down the ‘glory of war’ and the uncritical loyalty to Britain in The School Paper (which was required to be used for teaching purposes), they failed to produce any discernible effect. 

[Frank] Tate, [Victoria’s first Director of Education, 1902-28], [Charles] Long [foundation editor of The School Paper and the Gazette] and most members of the Department’s community, especially at leadership levels, were imperialist.  They were products of their culture, educational background and era.  They were ‘militarist’ before and during the war in allowing a surfeit of war-related material in the Education Gazette and School Paper, especially on the Empire’s strength and successes.  They encouraged schoolboys to join the navy, and […] conveyed views to their community during the war that able-bodied men should enlist.  They gave three main reasons for believing that Australia should be involved in the war: the greatest Empire the world had known was protecting Australia from Asian and possibly other invaders; it ensured the continuation and development of trade between Australia and many countries; and, it ensured that Australians could continue to enjoy what they considered to be a morally, politically, economically and culturally superior standard of life grounded in British ways, systems and institutions.  And, once that war had started and millions of people were committed beyond anything the Department could control, there was no longer an issue of whether ‘war’ was right or wrong: the war had generated reasons to continue it. (p.14)


The School Paper devoted coverage to Britain’s allies, with articles stressing the noble qualities of people from Belgium and France, but there was nothing much about New Zealand. Children learned to sing the Marseillaise and God the All Terrible, the national anthem of Russia.  (But after the two Revolutions in Russia, they heard no more).  When it came to America’s belated entry to the war, nothing was said about its isolationism, neither was the possibility that it may be entering the war to secure a greater share of global trade.  Rather it was a case of quoting President Woodrow Wilson having ‘waited until she found a cause worthy of her traditions… to overthrow a sinister conspiracy against human liberty and human right.’ [Why he thought that this cause was worthy in 1917 but not earlier when the Allies had found it worthy and were fighting it alone, was presumably not up for discussion.]

What was noteworthy was that the Department exalted the Empire rather than demonising the enemy.  [Although surely children were exposed to the propaganda barrage out in the community], it was thought that it was confusing for children if the enemy were named.  It had only been a few years since The School Paper had featured appealing views of Germany and its children, in editions from 1910 and 1912.  Indeed in the very month that war was declared, Grade III-VI readers learned that:

Germany is a great land and a busy one; and, when you grow older, you will have to learn a great deal about it… Germany has a big army … The Germans need many soldiers for they have a big country to look after, and nations around them with whom a quarrel might easily arise. (p.25)

Well, yes…

And that was not the only positive portrayal of Germans during the war!  In fact, Grade III-IV readers didn’t even learn the names of four enemy nations — Germany, Austria, Turkey and Bulgaria — until April 1918.  But there were some bellicose articles for older children, and Triolo suggests that the writers were given more leeway by Long, Wallace and Tate than may have been advisable. 

But it never called on children to hate or hurt the enemy, including civilians of enemy nationalities living in Australia. (p.27)

Records offering a rationale for these decisions have not survived, but there is evidence that because these education bureaucrats had admired German educational methods and encouraged the adoption of some of them, they made distinctions rare for their time.  And perhaps, like many, they expected the war to be short-lived and that there would soon be a return to the status-quo.

What did the teachers, pupils and readers make of it?  The evidence is limited and mixed.  There were some instances of fostering hatred of Germans and Turks, but fears were already rife in the community.  Don Charlwood (who wrote All the Green Year) was only a very small boy during the war but remembers fearing that the noise and smoke of Melbourne’s factories was the ‘Germans’.  John Hetherington (born 1907, who later wrote a biography of Blamey) thought that German attacks would come from the bay, and his fears were made credible when two Belgian refugees arrived at Sandringham.

The rest of the chapters are titled:

  • Going without
  • Doing good for others
  • Our teachers gone away
  • From blackboard to battlefield
  • War is not glorious
  • Our grief and obligations
  • Our Anzacs.

For a review of the book in its entirety, see Yvonne’s at Stumbling Through the Past. 

Author: Rosalie Triolo
Title: ‘Our Schools and the War’
Publisher: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2012, 364 pages (of which 70 pages are the bibliography, index and notes).
ISBN: 9781921875564
Source: Personal copy, purchased from the author

Available direct from the publisher.


  1. We are on holidays in Far North Queensland so I finally got a chance to read your review. I agree with your assessment. It is a good history and I refer to it professionally. I agree that it is a dip in and out of book. Triolo highlights what a valuable historical resource the School Papers are on this and any other topic. It would be great if they and the Education Gazette were digitised.


    • Hi Yvonne, good to hear from you:)
      So the Papers and Gazette are not yet digitised? That does surprise me, though I suppose it must a mammoth task given their longevity.
      I do plan to read the next chapters about Going Without and Doing Good for Others, I expect them to be fascinating.

      It was interesting at Triolo’s presentation that she was almost immediately tackled about the prominence given to the service of teachers. She had stressed the disproportionate level of enlistments compared to other professional groups, of whom (inevitably) there were some in the audience. It’s true of course, (and probably still true now?) that teachers would have been the largest professional group, even without taking student teachers into account. And it’s probably also true that some professions would have been exempt because of the important work to be done on the home front. *chuckle* It’s also quite possible that ‘the adventure’ appealed more to teachers professionally marooned in one-teacher schools. I’d need to read the whole book to see how this issue is handled in depth.

      But I have to say, for all that I feel that WW1 was a tragic mistake and a stupid war that ruined millions of lives for no valid reason, it did make me that my profession did the nation proud…


  2. I certainly remember the Gazette, Dad was for ever telling us what schools were available and who had moved where. And of course, where he stood in relation to promotion. It may even have been the main reason I never considered teaching as a profession. Interesting that the Department was restrained considering the anti-German sentiment fostered in the community by politicians and as seen in the detention of Australians of German descent.


    • Ah yes, whatever the department may have thought about it, by the time I was reading the Gazette it was the norm for everyone to turn to vacancies and promotions first. I suppose my name and number (from the days when promotion was by seniority) is in there somewhere too.
      Some time, maybe the 1980s, it was changed (or supplemented by?) a glossy, which was actually quite good. It had articles about the kind of illnesses and disabilities we might encounter and what strategies to use, which turned out to be useful as my career progressed and we had more and more children with disabilities. It was years later that I taught a child with cystic fibrosis, but I’d kept the article (I was a great hoarder) and found it helpful. I think that disappeared with Kennett came along…


  3. […] (It’s been three years since I shared my initial thoughts about this book, so you may wish to visit my review of Chapter One.) […]


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