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Scotch’s contribution to the first contingent of the AIF

On Tuesday 1 September 1914 – only 34 days after the start of World War I – the Old Scotch Collegians’ Club and the Old Scotch Collegians’ Association combined to hold a ‘Send-Off Dinner’ for ‘Old Scotchies’ at Melbourne’s Grand (later to be known as Windsor) Hotel. The men being feted were Old Boys and staff members known to be Victorian members of the First Australian Expeditionary Force. Other names were subsequently advised, and names in the Second Contingent had begun to become available,

The menu card named 71 men, two of whom were staff members. Most of the men in the list attended the dinner, filling the room with ‘great enthusiasm’. School songs with topical words were interspersed among the speeches, with singing – a Scotch hallmark – being a feature of the evening.

Club President George Allen Moir (SC 1890-94) said Australians had been noted for their athletic prowess, and he was sure they would show the same prowess on the battlefield.

Old Boy and teacher Frank Shew (SC 1860-66) observed that it was said Australia would never be a great country until it was faced with the horrors of war, and now that it was, he had no doubt Scotch boys would do honour to Australia. His former student and 1880 Dux, James Whiteside McCay (SC 1878-80), spoke rationally in saying that they faced a ‘reasonably difficult task’ as ‘the great majority of us have had no experience of war’, that ‘we go to face a brave and skilful foe’ and that ‘this titanic struggle cannot end early, or easily.’

Principal William Still Littlejohn quoted the belief that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, and said that ‘the victory for peace and honour would be won on the playing fields of the Empire.’ He said the public schools had recently been criticised, but that criticism had been answered by the enlistments of Australian public school boys. Littlejohn’s words were also prophetic, as Scotch boys above all other public school boys were to ‘answer the call’ and provide service in an extraordinary measure.

At the dinner’s end the attendees marched down Collins Street in fours to the Old Scotch Collegians’ Club, headed by pipers, singing the Marseillaise and other ‘patriotic and topical songs’.

Of the 71 enthusiastic and patriotic men named in the dinner menu, 21 failed to return from World War I. Two who survived World War I fought in, and failed to return from, World War II.

Over the next four years, Great Scot will commemorate the centenaries of the deaths of the Old Boys and staff members who are known to have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war that was sadly thought to be the ‘war to end all wars’.

ABOVE: The 1914 Prefects from left, back row: William Beaumont Shaw, Norman Edward Beaumont, Joseph Mackay, Robert Stanley Rodgerson, Gilmour Frost Warburton, Leslie Francis Edmunds, Alexander Leslie Duncan McMeekin and Henry Douglas Gordon Melville. Middle row: Clifford Craig, Frank Gladstone Stephens, Principal William Still Littlejohn, James Drummond Burns and Clark Maxwell Gray. Front: Thomas MacFarland Cherry and Esmond Macdonald Higgins.

Updated: 31 December 2014