Brothers - but not in arms
Recruitment officers for the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) were instructed to enlist 'Only British subjects substantially of European origin or descent'.
Physical requirements also had to be met. The enlistment guidelines meant that young men were profiled and acceptance was at the discretion of the attending medical officer. As a result, it was more difficult for young men who had non-European ancestry or mixed heritage to successfully enlist. Once they were in the AIF, however, they were treated as equals. Changes to the physical requirements and an easing of restrictions in 1915 and 1917 saw many more young men from Chinese families successfully enlisting.
George and Herbert Kong Meng were sons of the Chinese-Malayan merchant and community leader, Lowe Kong Meng who arrived in Victoria in 1853. George was denied the opportunity to serve while Herbert was accepted into service and held the rank of Sergeant with the 7th Battalion.
George’s rejection came as a surprise to him as he had received earlier military training. Upon his second rejection, George wrote a passionate letter to The Argus expressing his disappointment. The public response that followed demonstrated unwavering support for George and called for a review of enlistment criteria. Regardless, George was not allowed to serve.
Letter from George Kong Meng
Extract from The Argus Newspaper, Monday 24 January 1916
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ARGUS.
Sir, - Having answered the Prime Minister’s appeal for recruits, I journeyed to Melbourne to offer my services to my country. I attended the recruiting depot at the Melbourne Town Hall on Friday, the 14th inst. and after giving my name, age, and religion to the recruiting sergeant I was sent in with some others to the examining room and told to undress, preparatory to the medical officer examining me as to my physical fitness. After my height, weight, and chest measurement had been taken by one of the officials there I was sent to the medical officer. Upon going before him I was told to get dressed again, and when I asked if I had failed to pass the medical officer said he would not swear me in. When leaving the depot, I received a certificate with “not substantially of European origin” written on it, and signed by the medical officer, Captain N. J. Gerrard. With the exception of being asked where I came from, I was not asked one question whilst before the medical officer. Now, sir for your own guidance, I might state that my father was a British subject born at Penang, S S, and arrived in Australia in 1854. My mother was born in Tasmania in 1842 and I myself was born in this state in 1877. I have had six years’ military training in the old Victorian Mounted Rifles and 8th Australian Light Horse Regiment. My brother is at the front serving his King and country, having gone with the 1st Australian Division, and holds the rank of sergeant, but evidently the authorities at the Melbourne Town Hall depot seem to think I am not worthy of helping to defend the Empire. The Prime Minister has appealed to everyman of military age to join the colours; but, if this is the treatment the native-born are to receive, I am afraid the appeal will fall on deaf ears. England and France deem it is fit to use coloured troops to defend their shores, but the great Australian democracy denies its own subjects the same opportunities. I might state that I have gone to Melbourne on two occasions to offer my services to my King and country and after paying all travelling expenses, to be treated like this does not give one any encouragement to go again. –
Yours, &c., GEORGE KONG-MENG.
Longwood, Jan. 20.
Chinese Anzacs: Making Connections
Searching for Chinese Anzacs
Brothers - but not in arms
Benjamin 'Ben' Moy Ling
Dead Man's Penny
Missing in Action
Henry Langtip's Diary
Chinese Anzacs' Military Honours
The Langtip Brothers
Returning to Civilian Life: Thomas William “Bill” Ah Chow
Chinese-Australians who enlisted in World War I
Story education resources
Education Chinese Anzacs Education Kit
Created by the History Teachers' Association of Victoria and the Chinese Museum, this education resource links to relevant learning outcomes in the year 9 Australian History Curriculum. It contains a range of primary sources including images, objects and documents; interviews with historians, researchers and descendants of Chinese Anzacs; inquiry and research-based activities; and assignment tasks and an assessment rubric.