War Service

 Public Administrators and war service.

The WA Lands and Surveys Department WW1 Honour Board - photograph courtesy of LandgateAccording to the 1919 Annual Report of the Public Service Commissioner “there had been 921 Civil Servants (permanent staff) eligible by age for military service; of these 468 (over 50 per cent) were accepted for ‘active service’; of these 77 were killed in action or died of wounds; of the number maimed or otherwise injured we have no record. Authorities tell us that since the war the proportion of deaths among returned soldiers is about five times as great as the average of the population.”[i]

Like all sections of Western Australian society, a very high proportion of eligible civil servants enlisted and were ultimately killed or wounded in the conflict. 100 years on, even in a changing working world where public administrators and civil servants are encouraged to consider “increasingly transnational forces … repositioning the public service to deliver better value", the ultimate sacrifice of these government employees is acknowledged, for example the prominent place given to World War 1 honour boards in some Western Australian government offices.

Will of Eric Surrey Wynter FordhamThe SRO has the probate files of those soldiers who were killed in action in the First World War including those of the civil servants who never returned home. For example Eric Surrey Wynter Fordham (Cons 3403, 1918/0196) had been a civil servant and draftsman in WA's Lands and Surveys Department before enlisting in the 11th Battalion and sailing to Europe at the end of January 1917. The National Archives of Australia holds his digitised war service record and this shows that while stationed in England his leadership abilities were recognised and he became a 2nd Lieutenant before being sent to France in August of that year. 28 years old, he died less than a month later at the Battle of Polygon Wood, Ypres, Belgium on 20 September leaving a young widow and extended family in Perth. Two of his brothers, who also experienced trench warfare in France and Belgium, survived the war. 

In addition to participating in armed action, the administrative skills enlisted civil servants brought from their professional lives served the Australian military well. Public administrators who remained at home had a far less dangerous but still important contribution supporting the war effort. A story seldom told is how they enabled the social, political and economic fabric of the State to continue to function cohesively.


[i]  The Civil Service Journal : the official organ of the Civil Service Association of Western Australia. Centenary number, vol. xix, no. 217, July 20, 1929. [Perth] : Civil Service Association of Western Australia, 1929.