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Thursday, 8 March 1928


Mr YATES (Adelaide) .- I much appreciate the action of the Prime Minister) in submitting the motion to whichthe House has just agreed,to enable the motion of which I had given noticeto receive the fullest consideration.

I feel sure that all honorable members will recognize the pressing need for the removal of the disabilities from which any section of our returned soldiers may be suffering. I move -

That all ex-members of the Australian Imperial Force who served overseas and have since developed tuberculosis shall be deemed to be suffering from a war disability and be eligible for pensions under the Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act.

I am confident that little argument is required to convince honorable members on both sides of the chamber of the justice of the complaint that I am about to ventilate. The war is now a memory. So far as the majority of the people of Australia are concerned, it is a matter of history; but little stretch of the imagination' is required to visualize the' conditions that obtained when the war broke out and during the period that preceded actual hostilities. A claim was made upon the flower of the manhood of Australia. Nobody then had any idea how dreadful' was the vortex into which our menwere askedtorush, but, notwithstanding' the lack of knowledge of the risks they were taking, and the dangers they would haveto face, they did their duty well. Having regard to the smallness of Australia's population, compared with that of the whole Empire, she contributed generously to the fighting, forces. The best and the youngest, those' whose physique madethem most capable of standing the rigours' of warfare, enlisted and went overseas. Their doings at the front are matters of history- history of which Australia is now more than' proud. I consider that the men, on whose behalf I am pleading, are entitled to everyconsideration, because the offer made by them at the outbreak of the war was greater than that of the soldiers of those' countries that had standing armies trained" to war, and with- previous experience- of actual hostilities. The call was answered in a manner which made us- all' feel proud, andourmen went overseas: No doubt honorable members will require 'some adequate' reason to be advanced-, why special' treatment- should bemeted out to acertainclassof men: It will be conceded that' the- hardships associated with an army existence- were capable of underminingeventhestoutestconstitutions.If a constitution had a weakness that weakness would probably be discovered by the arduous and different life that the former civilian was compelled to lead. I submit this motion on behalf of every soldier who contracted tuberculosis, whether he went overseas or not. Many men did not get as far as the front line, but they still had to undergo the rigours of active service. I admit that those who had followed vigorous callings in civil life, such as navvying and shearing, were somewhat inured to " roughing it," but many men who joined the Australian Imperial Force had never slept out prior to enlistment. Our expeditionary force was drawn from all classes of society, and every man had to suffer the inconveniences and dangers associated with active service abroad, which he cheerfully did on behalf of his . country. I shall give my own experience, which must have been similar to that of many who enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. My civil life did not impose many hardships upon me, but I was not afraid of "roughing it." Possibly my physique was more rugged than that of many men of similar appearance to myself. My first night in camp was spent in the old Exhibition grounds in Adelaide. I slept in a cattle stall in the open air, with only a thin tin fence about 6 feet high between me and the gardens. It was bad enough to have to lie on that hard ground and endeavour to sleep, but I was robust and slept successfully. The sparrows had me up at daybreak, and I had a nagging head as the result of my first night in camp. I had spent one of the most unhappy and uncomfortable nights of my life, and that sort of thing went on for a week. Then, came the terrors of long route marches, with heavy boots, and subsequent sore feet. That sort of experience, thrust unexpectedly upon a civilian, is likely to reduce his powers of resistance, and did so in many cases. Many men had to " go sick" after they had been in camp only two or three days, and I am confident that the tubercular germ discovered weaknesses in the constitution of a number of those men, even though they did not go .overseas. I have in mind a case which I hope will come within the purview of this motion. This man had not the fortune to reach France. He got as far as England, served there in a useful capacity, and was returned to Australia when hostilities ceased. After his return he developed tuberculosis and is now in the Angorachina Hospital in South Australia. The distressful part is that his wife and little girl are forced to go to work to maintain the family. Undoubtedly the hardships of active service ruined that man's constitution. Even when I was shifted from the Exhibition camp in Adelaide to Mitcham, and then to Maribyrnong, in the cold months from May to November, I still felt the rigorous training that I had to undergo. One was compelled to leave his bed at daylight and to go through the daily routine whether he liked it or not. Certainly he could "go sick"; but that would merely bring him a "number 9," or a gargle, according to the diagnosis of the medical officer. It is logical to conclude that every man who was accepted for active service was fit and well when he enlisted, and so must have acquired the tubercular germ subsequently if suffering since from tuberculosis. There are many men who cannot show any war injury; but I hope honorable members will realize that those who enlisted and are now suffering from tuberculosis must have acquired it on active service. I shall put' a suggestion that may be challenged by the medical fraternity. It is that inoculation did not suit every system. Perhaps the medical fraternity was right in insisting upon compulsory inoculation; but it is very likely that many men were adversely affected thereby. Again I shall instance my own case. I was particularly unfortunate in the army, in that my name began with "Y," and I came practically last in every queue. If anything was being served out, I usually received the remnants. I went to Francein size 8 boots, because there were nosize Vs. Frequently I was compelled to wear oversize underpants, because stocks of my proper size were depleted, when it came to my turn to draw my issue. The members of my draft were-, inoculated at Heytesbury on the night, prior to embarkation for. Le Havre. Nodoubt honorable members are aware that, inoculations were entered in the- soldier's. pay-book. Again I came last, and probably the clerk had become tired when my turn came. At any rate my inoculation was not entered in my paybook. On the morning following our arrival at Le Havre we were lined up in the snow and my name was called out, among others. Upon questioning the sergeant I was informed that I had to be inoculated. I told him that I had been inoculated the previous day. He replied that it was not entered in my pay-book. I drew his attention to my punctured and inflamed arm ; but " red tape " regulations prevailed, and I had to suffer a second inoculation. Fortunately I Was a fairly robust person; but I often wonder what would have happened had a person with a weak constitution received that- double inoculation within a period of two days. It might have undermined his health. Many others must have experienced treatment similar to mine. T do not wish to debate the efficacy of vaccination; but it must be conceded that the practice is harmful to some constitutions, and may even render them susceptible to a tubercular germ. I feel confident that many returned men who are now suffering from tuberculosis contracted that disease as the result of inoculation or vaccination.

Then we come to the war itself. Every man who was there must admit that it was one of the most trying experiences that one could pass through, or that any constitution could undergo. "We know well that many men suffered from trench feet. . I do not know what the complaint was, because I did not see it myself, but I was taught in camp how to soak my socks so that I should not get sore feet, and, I presume, render myself liable to suffer from trench feet. We know that it was a very distressing, complaint and, no doubt it contributed towards weakening the sufferers so as to render them susceptible to more serious diseases. The year 1917 was a record in France for the severity qf its winter. It was found impossible to shift the guns in the ordinary way, and we had to get pickaxes to clear them. The diggers from sunny Australia, used all their lives to warm and temperate climates, had to endure one of the most severe winters experienced for years. Men who were on guard had to get up from their warm rugs or overcoats and trapse up and down in. the cold for two hours; then in another four hours' time they had to get up again. When a man was out on S.O.S.i guard, half a mile from the battery, he had to wait in the rain and slush with nothing to do but to watch and wait, biting his lips and smoking his pipe. During the winter there was as much wet weather experienced as fine. It was possible for a man to get wet through, have his clothes dry on him, and then get wet again several times during the same day. Any one who remembers the Malincourt " stunt " can tell tales of this kind. We were in a place called Reilly. near Mericourt. We got out at 1 o'clock in the morning, and went back to Blangy Tronville, where there was an old brewery. There was no shelter for us, and we slept under the guns in the rain. At 5 o'clock in the morning I was one of the unfortunate ones called up to go to VaUx, behind Amiens, and I sat on the gun in the cold and rain for hours. There was a further delay while the gun was being calibrated, and then we had to change the buffer on the gun because it was wrong. We stayed "outside Amiens to change the buffer, and we did not get back to the wagon lines until 9 o'clock at night. When we arrived back the Sergeant told me that I ought to be up at the pits. I told him that I had been on the pits the previous week, but he said that that made no difference. I asked the No. 1 on the gun whether I should go, and he told me to get back to bed. The next morning I was on the " mat ", and I was told that I had to get ready for the pits that evening. When I reached there my battery was already in line, and I asked my superior, McDonald, where my dug-out was. He told me that it was over in a certain direction. It was an old Boche position, and I found the dug-out to be a hole about 6 feet long, with a sheet of iron on top, which did not cover it properly, and there were 4 inches of water at the bottom. I told McDonald that I could not sleep there on account of the water, and he informed me that I could bale it out, although it was still raining, and so continued throughout the night. I asked him where he was' sleeping, and he pointed out his dug-out, a shelter covered by a tent, where they proposed to sit up all night. I said that I would sit up with them, and there I passed the night. The next day I spent helping to get the guns ready, and the following morning was the hop-over of the 8th. That was only one patch of my experience of conditions in Prance, and my experience was not very extensive. Conditions must have been much worse for those men who were there for two, three) or four years, and who had not, perhaps, the comforts provided for those in the artillery. Such conditions placed a greater strain on the constitutions of the men than they could stand, and many of them are feeling the effects of it now. I hope I have demonstrated .to the members of this House that these men when they become ill, have a fair and just claim to be considered as war. casualties, even though there is . no concrete evidence that they picked up the germ of their complaint in France. They are entitled to be considered war casualties, because the strain to which they were subjected while on active service undoubtedly contributed towards their contracting the disease at a later time. Very severe and painful casualties were suffered by soldiers during the war, such as double amputation, the loss of an arm, a leg or an eye, and these men will carry the mark of their sacrifice upon them for the remainder of their lives ; but while we sympathize with them, and recognize their claims upon us, it is nevertheless true that the extent of their sacrifice is already known, and their disability can be gauged. They know the full effect of the burden they have to carry, and can prepare themselves for it. When a man contracts tuberculosis, however, he is, in effect, under sentence of death, and his medical advisers can tell him, within a few months how long he will live. It is the worst complaint, outside of cancer, from which a man can suffer. I am not suggesting that we should be parsimonious towards those who have suffered ordinary war injuries, but I say that, whatever we give to them, we cannot give too much to the man who is under sentence of death from his complaint, and who, in some cases, has to support a' family. This complaint is one of the most distressing 'known to the human race; consequently I hope that honorable members will give every consideration to the representations that we are making. It is deplorable that in some cases the \rives and children of ex-soldiers who are suffering from tubercular trouble have had to take over the burden of' maintaining the family, because their husband0 and fathers have been denied pensions. I have already mentioned one case of that description. Was that intended when we made such definite promises to the men of Australia to induce them to enlist? I do not think so. May I say in passing that I learnt to admire beyond all expression the wonderful courage of the men of the A.I.F. Nothing that we could do for these men would be too generous. I have seen men laugh and joke when they have been surounded by death. I have heard them say, as a shell whizzed over their heads, "I wonder whether mine will come tomorrow I " ; or, " I wonder when the one with my number on it is coming across ? " I have seen them bob down to avoid shells, and the next moment bob up again with a joke on their lips. I did not think it possible for human beings to preserve such nonchalance in the presence of such grave and incessant danger. The people of Australia generally have shown some appreciation of the dangers through which their soldiers passed, but I feel sure that if they were made aware of the need to do more than they have done to meet necessitous cases, they would- gladly da it. They recognize that the nation is under an obligation to care for every man who served it in its hour of extremity. I have received from the secretary of the South Australian Tubercular Soldiers' Aid Society a copy of a letter which is issued annually with the object of raising funds to carry on the work of the society. It stings me to the quick to receive such communications. These men and their dependants should, not have to rely upon charity. The first paragraph in this letter reads: -

In the course of four years of relief work among soldiers suffering, from tuberculosis and their dependants, the Committee of the Tubercular Soldiers' Aid Society has been faced with a steady increase ' in the number of children of these men. This increase is due -to the newly developed .. cases . with families; - for instance, a man who has recently been declared tubercular'^ has ti family of ' eight children.;

The newly developed cases have brought up the number of children of tubercular soldiers to something like 350.

I submit with all earnestness that our tubercular soldiers and their dependants should be granted the full pension by the Repatriation Department. In reply to a request which I sent to the secretary of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers' Imperial League of South Australia for particulars of the tubercular cases among its membership, I have received the following particulars - I shall give the number but not the names of the men concerned - ' 1978, Private, 10th Battalion, A.I.F., enlisted December, 1914, discharged November, 1916. Service abroad 1 year; married man, 1 child. 178, Private, 43rd Battalion, A.I.F., enlisted 17th January. 1916; discharged July, 1919. Service abroad 3 years 21 days; married man, 2 children. 6072, Private, 27th Battalion, A.I.F., enlisted 27th September, 1916; discharged 26th March, 1919. Service abroad 2 years 110 days; married man, 7 children. 2456, Sergeant, 11th Battalion, A.I.F., enlisted 15th April, 1915; discharged 27th June, 1919. Service abroad 3 years 315 days; single man. 4813, Private, 50th Battalion, A.I.F., enlisted 2nd November, 1915; discharged September, 1917. Service abroad 1 year 197 days; single man. 7112, Private, 10th Battalion, A.I.F., enlisted 4th October, 1916; discharged 25th December, 1919. Service abroad 2 years 328 days; married man: 4475, Private, 27th Battalion, A.I.F., enlisted 4th January, 1916; discharged 18th February, 1917. Service abroad 219 days; married man, 1 child. 15389, Private, Home Service, enlisted 13th August, 1918; discharged cessation of hostilities. Married man (widower)., 3 children. 2357. Private, -3rd Light Horse, A.I.F., particulars not available. Married man. 4861, Private, 32nd . Battalion, A.I.F., enlisted 11th February, 1917; discharged 11th October, 1918. Service abroad, l1/2 years; single man. 1660, Private. 3rd Light Horse, A.I.F., enlisted 29th July, 1915; discharged 12th June, 1916. Service abroad 114 days; married man, 5 children. 9621. Sapper, 11th Field Company Engineers, enlisted 31st January, 1916; discharged 22nd March, 1918. Service abroad 1 year 258 days; married man. 606, Private, 27th Battalion, A.I.F., enlisted January, 1916; discharged December., 1917. Service abroad approximately 14 months; married man, 2 children. 20535, Private, A.M.C., A.I.F., enlisted 26th December, 1917; discharged 11th February, 1920. Service abroad 1 year 166 days; married man, 2 children. 6976, Private, 10th Battalion, A.I.F enlisted 1916; discharge not known. Service abroad not known ; do not know if married or Bingie. 10388, Private, 19/27th Battalion, A.I.F., enlisted January, 1917; on account of contracting meningitis in camp at Mitcham he ' was. discharged from A.I.F.; married man, 2 children.

The last-mentioned case is that of a man who did not even get away from South Australia. Probably the Minister in charge of Repatriation (Sir Neville Howse) will remember the outbreak of meningitis which occurred at the Mitcham camp.


Mr Gregory - If this motion is agreed to, that man would not be -eligible for a pension.


Mr YATES - I am aware of that; although I think that the Minister would be able to find a way to make a pension available to him. The point is that these tubercular men are entitled not only to the nation's sympathy but to its practical support. I am aware that Australia has done far more to repatriate and care for the men who fought her battles than probably any other country in the world; but some circumstances have not been met, and this is one of them. The men who are suffering from tubercular affliction are indisputably under sentence of death, and we should do everything that we can to help them. It may be said that the war has been over so long that it is hardly reasonable to provide at this stage a new class of military pension. The Minister, being a medical man, knows as well as anybody that not even the greatest experts can dogmatize as to what will happen to a man who underwent the arduous experiences and hardships of the war. I have in mind one case which illustrates this - I have mentioned it on previous discussions when speaking about war pensions. Upon my return from Rabaul about eighteen months ago, I was interviewed one Saturday morning by a young fellow whom I had last seen in France. He had grown, and was a very fine specimen of manhood. He told me that he returned from the front fit and well,- required nothing of the Repatriation Department, and resumed his . trade as a carpenter. Some time prior to interviewing me he began -to feel ill; . but an Adelaide doctor was unable to diagnose his complaint. Dr. Vercoe, who stands very high in the medical profession, was called into consultation, and, after an exhaustive examination of the patient and inquiry as to his previous life, he asked him whether he had been gassed at the front. The young fellow replied, "Not to the extent to having to report sick; but, like every other digger over there, I got my issue." Dr. Vercoe thereupon declared that this fellow was suffering from a tumour of the stomach, originally caused by poison gas. The patient being unable to pay the expenses of the operation that was ordered, applied to the Repatriation Department, but without success. However, I place it on record to the credit of the department that, after I had put the circumstances before the Minister, I was advised that the young man had been accepted as a war liability, and would be treated at Keswick Hospital, and placed on the pension list. I am satisfied that medical men would declare that many of the cases of tuberculosis which have developed since the war are the after effects of war service. If a man has been a soldier, and subsequently develops lung trouble, it is only fair to conclude that the rigours of war undermined his constitution and made him susceptible to pulmonary disease. In this regard I quote our most eminent soldier - a man who distinguished himself in the field and understood thoroughly the privations which the diggers had to suffer. In Christmas greetings to the diggers published in the' Duckboard of 1st December, 1924, Senator BrigadierGeneral "Pompey" Elliott made this statement -

Your country will, I believe, prove more generous still when the knowledge shall have penetrated to the minds and hearts of the people that the sufferings and exposure to the elements and horrors of warfare for such a long period have insidiously undermined many constitutions, and that many men, apparently sound upon discharge, are rapidly failing in mind or body directly or indirectly as a consequence of their war service.

That is the opinion of a brigadiergeneral, and generals, so far as my knowledge of the fare of officers goes, certainly had the best of the deal - rightly so, because, when the leaders are knocked over an army becomes merely a rabble. Brigadier-General Elliott knew and understood the conditions under which his men served. I quote also from the Perth Sunday Times, which published an article under these captions - "Repatriation Red Tape, Doing the Diggers out of their Rights, A Tragic Position which must be Altered." In that article this Parliament and the Repatriation Department are severely censured for not doing a fair thing by the soldiers. Such things should not be said of this nation's treatment of those who proved themselves heroes in the hour of trial.


Sir Neville Howse - It -should not be possible to say them truthfully, I admit.


Mr YATES - The criticism is based upon what the writer evidently considered a good foundation. I quote the passage which dealt particularly with the possibility of returned men developing tuberculosis as the result of the rigours of war -

Several men, slightly gassed, did not realize at the time that it was serious, and never reported for medical attention. As we write we have before us a case of the kind. A man returning to Australia apparently in the best of health has developed T.B. He has no proof of treatment for gas while in the army, but that he was in a gas area, and inhaled the poison is shown in sworn declarations made by those who were comrades with him in the war. One is signed by his O.C., and it makes most interesting reading.

Commenting on the splendid physique of the man (a one-time famous footballer), -which was a factor in his selection for non-commissioned rank, and whose health and conduct in France were excellent, the O.C. takes oath that the man went through some severe gas bombardments - six in particular behind Villers Bretonneux, the company at the time suffering a great number of casualties through the gas. He suffered all the usual soaking and hardship of the campaign in France, and was evacuated, at one time with trench fever, and on recovering contracted influenza. The Repatriation Department refuses to listen to any argument respecting the probability of the man's present T.B. condition being attributable to the war - because there is no official proof that he was ever gassed.

The- three eminent medical men of the Eastern States to whom final appeal has to be made, apparently have no conception of the farreaching effects of the poisonous gases thrown by the enemy at our troops in France. Back in 1920 The Sunday Times published the opinion of a leading overseas medical man that it would take years for the poison to work through some men to the extent of permanently impairing their health. It is interesting to recount a supporting opinion voiced by Sir Donald Ross, Director of Medical Services in Canada.

Dr. Eosshas pronounced the opinion that the cases of T.B. directly attributable to the war, and particularly, enemy gas, will yet become apparent up to ten or twelve years of the cessation of hostilities. This high medical authority is also reported to have said that the constituents of gases used by the enemy being unknown to medical science, may produce or provoke ailments which the medical people were yet unaware of. That is the point which the Australian Repatriation authorities decline to grasp.

The Minister will see that the criticism of the Sunday Times is not without foundation. There we have an instanceof an athlete who was gassed in France; but, so far as he knew at the time, was unaffected. The Minister has stated that the department is prepared to accept such cases as war liabilities; but I am not satisfied that a man should be required to prove his claim by sworn evidence. I doubt whether I could find one man in my battery who would remember the occasion when I lost my voice for a week through gas. I did not report to the doctor; but I was allowed to remain in my dug-out for a day and resumed duty next morning; but for fully a week I was voiceless. So far as I know there is no lung trouble in my family; no man could feel fitter than I feel to-day, but if I were to develop tuberculosis later, what origin would be more likely than my war service ? I have stated the position of the tubercular soldier as I see it. I propose to. read now extracts from the report of the Repatriation Commission for the year ended the 30th June, 1927. If members will read that report they will endorse the view of Dr. Ross, the Canadian specialist, that we may never know the full effects of gassing, and that the majority of postwar tubercular developments are due to that cause. Upon the subject of pulmonary tuberculosis the Repatriation Commission says -

In several of the commission's annual reports space has been devoted to the subject of pulmonary tuberculosis and much important data has been recorded.

This year an effort has been made in Victoria to produce a comparison between pulmonary tuberculosis as affecting the civil population and that following war services in men of military age under active service conditions. Considerable difficulties were experienced mainly because statistical records did not admit of a direct comparison, and it was necessary to evolve some means to over come this initial difficulty. Records of military cases, particularly during the early stages of the war, are unfortunately incomplete and absolute accuracy was difficult to obtain. However, even though a certain amount of estimation was unavoidable, no effort was spared to eliminate sources of error, and the following statement may be accepted as a reliable and representative attempt at comparison between these two groups of cases in Victoria.

Enlistments from Victoria in the Australian Imperial Forces were 112,399. From these the immediate casualties totalled 1G,8C3, leaving as exposed to risk of contracting pulmonary tuberculosis, 95,536 men. From a representative batch of 1,000 enlistments age grouping was obtained and' applied proportionately to the total number "at risk." This gave an estimate of the total numbers in the various age groups throughout the military forces as follows : -

I have quoted that to show how thorough was the medical test applied to members of the A'.I.F. The report reads: -

The number of deaths amongst soldiers and ex-soldiers from phthisis over a period of eleven years from July, 1916, to July, 1927, was 757. Accurate details as to age grouping could be had in 467 cases only, and this was again applied proportionately to the total number of deaths.

The age groups are then given, and the report continues -

From the Victorian Year-Book, 1925-26, was obtained the mortality per 10,000 of each sex in age groups at the last two census periods, i.e., 1910-12, and 1920-1922. These figures wore used as a basis of comparison, and resulted as shown in the following table: -

 


Dr Nott - Are those figures based on tubercular mortality only?


Mr YATES - Yes. The Repatriation Commission has been fairly just in its report, because it says : -

For the purpose of -comparison, the 15 to 20 and the 45 to 55 groups were neglected as being incomplete and non-representative, and, therefore, it was found necessary to work from the middle groups from 20 to 46. These groups gave a death rate per annum of 27.20 for the military, as against 30.01 for the civilian figures at the latest census period.

It will be noticed that the Repatriation Commission, in making its comparisons, left out the 45 to 55 group, and had this been included, the figures for the military would have shown, an increase of ten.







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