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The sport of German-baiting during World War I

  • 25 September 2014
There should be a section in any guide to fighting war on the home front about Harry Paech’s Great War, for it shows why Australians have been reluctant to give government the authority to arrest on suspicion, even in times of peril.

In August 1914, Harry Paech, President of Hume Shire, north of Albury in regional NSW, organised several meetings to raise patriotic funds. That was a praiseworthy show of loyalty from a district that had been closely settled by Germans.

German-baiting was already underway, and Harry’s friend Jacob Wenke was not convinced that such displays of Australian patriotism would have any effect. To Wenke, it seemed the future was ‘awfully dark’.

It did not take long for reports to appear of atrocities committed by the fiendish Huns against Belgian nuns and babies. Local Germans were shamed by association, even more so when some expressed sympathy for the enemy. 

The worst shaming was at the ballot box.

At the referendum into hotel hours in June 1916, electoral officials were given the discretion to set aside the votes of people of enemy origin and their children. Even tighter restrictions on the vote were put in place for the conscription referenda.

In 1917 postmen were asked to identify people of enemy origin. They were paid a penny halfpenny for each name that was, as a result, deleted from the electoral roll. That exercise cost government £20 in Hume Shire.

Harry Paech protested loudly against disenfranchisement, which in effect banished people, including the naturalised, from the community. He protested just as loudly against conscription.

Both protests caught the attention of the police. 

Paech was one of several people of interest investigated by officers from a military intelligence unit in 1918. On the basis of their reports, Paech and three of his friends were interned at Holsworthy.

No charges were made or tested in open court. No explanation was ever given, although the local Border Morning Mail newspaper thought authorities reckoned on Germany using its emigrants as an advanced guard of the German conquest.

Official files reveal that Paech was considered dangerously influential. His opposition to conscription may have lowered the rate of recruitment, though no specific action was cited. The files also show a bank manager labelling Walla Walla, Paech’s town, a ‘Berlin’ and a ‘hotbed of disloyalty’. 

Under the guise of religion, the Lutheran Church, insisted on using German. Consequently it had germanised the whole town, including its youth. Some people had pictures of