Saturday, March 2, 2013

Soldier Pay in WWI

The Australian men who signed up to fight in the Great War had many reasons. Patriotism, a sense of adventure, a sense of duty to King, country and family- and pay.

My novel hinges on one critical point of believability- that one of my farming brothers, Bill, despite having moral objections to the war, nonetheless signs up.

Why? There are other factors at play, including the need to chase down his brother, who's done the family a terrible wrong. But he could just as easily wait for his brother's return to have their reckoning. For Bill to make such a big shift, it has to be a matter of money- not the option of bringing home pay, but the absolute necessity, and the impossibility of getting the same pay anywhere else. Without it, the family will lose everything they've worked for.

As I run through the final draft of the story, I'm pinning down details that have for a long time been left blank. One of those was the assumption that serving in the Australian Infantry Forces would be an attractive source of income for a family whose farm was on the brink of disaster due to years of drought. But to prove that, I needed to find out first what the income was like for a soldier in the Great War, and second, to determine whether men had indeed sent their pay on to family, or whether it had all remained with them (or with the Army).

I'm willing to guess that anyone who knows their Australian First World War research might have been ahead of me on this, because I found the answers fast.

Australian soldier pay rates in WWI

Australian troops were known to their Commonwealth counterparts as "six bob a day tourists", which tells you almost all you need to know right there- the men, at Private rank, were paid six shillings a day, which is apparently nearly three times as much as their UK counterparts. One shilling was held over as "deferred" pay, to be paid out at the end of their service. Soldiers higher in rank were paid more.

Of the 5s they received each day after their deferred pay, the men could choose how much was allocated to Australia and their family, and how much they received on the Front.

The answer had indeed been in front of me for years, on the Embarkation Roll of soldiers departing for war. I've been using the 11th Battalion's embarkation roll to choose soldiers to research for a long time now, and sure enough, there are multiple columns on the right of every page listing the pay in detail.

My character needs to be particularly desperate to warrant a complete reversal of everything he stands for, and I have all the reasons why- I just needed to know how realistic it would be for him to allocate nearly every pence of his pay back to his family.

So, I hunted down the list until I found a man in the ranks who did just that.

Edward Lindsey

Private Edward James Lindsey was a 21 year old mechanic when he signed up for war in 1914. He shipped out with the 11th Battalion in November, leaving behind wife Hilda, who he'd married on August 22nd, just two and half months earlier- and 18 days after war was declared. In his pay, he allocated nearly everything to be sent home to his family- 4 shillings and 6 pence a week, leaving him just sixpence for his needs overseas.

There's something about that allocation that makes me think Edward must have been a determined and selfless young man- and I could only hope like hell, as I scrambled to dig up his record, that he had made it home to his wife.

I'm happy to say, he did. He was invalided out of Gallipoli with influenza, and went into an administrative role for the rest of the war, first in England and then in France. He rose up the ranks, and his pay increased. Hilda moved to London. And in 1919, she gave birth to their first child. Edward, Hilda and their baby returned to Australia together in 1919, and in the decades after, Edward's military correspondence lists him as a successful small businessman with a service station in the Western Australian country town of Lake Yealering.

I plan to look more closely at Edward Lindsey's service and life in a later post, but for now he was exactly the example I needed of a young soldier living for his family.


  1. Great post!
    And I had exactly the same reaction to Edward Lindsey like you. I hoped he made it though the war alive and am very happy to hear he did it :).