“We are dying of exhaustion for want of a spell”


Location:Melbourne, Victoria

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“We are dying of exhaustion for want of a spell”

Year: 1917

Length: 1:28

Production Company: Australasian Films

Credits: The Sportman’s Thousand Band

Source: National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

Catalogue Reference: NFSA title no: 1112

People: The Sportman's Thousand Band

Location: Melbourne, Victoria

Tags: recruitment, parade, conscription

Subject: recruitment, parade, conscription

This recruiting parade through the streets of Melbourne is a ‘Fill-the-Gap’ appeal, urging volunteers to replace killed or exhausted frontline troops. It was probably filmed in August 1917, after the defeat of the first national plebiscite (or referendum) on conscription in October 1916. (A second plebiscite in December 1917 was also lost.)

The marchers are carrying placards to appeal to a sense of manhood, with slogans such as “Wanted: A man to fill this gap”; “Be a man, come and help”; “Fall in and prove your manhood”. Other placards appealed to a sense of mateship: “Who are your mates, fall in” and “We are dying of exhaustion for want of a spell”. A young sailor on one cart can be seen sitting astride a large model of a bulldog, a reference to the British Empire.

 On 2 August 1917 the Argus reported that over 1000 men marched, ‘with heads held proudly erect, conscious of having done their duty’. Despite their efforts, the Town Hall received a total of only 17 volunteers and not all were deemed suitable for recruitment. A further four men volunteered at other recruitment locations.

‘Fill-the-Gap’ appeals and calls for conscription were part of a response to British pressure for more troops. In 1916 it was argued that Australia needed to provide reinforcements of 5500 men per month to maintain its forces overseas at an operational level. The 1916 plebiscite asked “Are you in favour of the Government having, in this grave emergency, the same compulsory powers over citizens in regard to requiring their military service, for the term of this War, outside the Commonwealth, as it now has in regard to military service within the Commonwealth?”.  Votes in favour numbered 1.09 million, and those against 1.16 million. In 1917, the British sought a sixth Australian division for active service. Australia now needed to provide 7000 men a month to meet this request, but volunteer recruitment continued to lag. This time prime minister Billy Hughes asked “Are you in favour of the proposal of the Commonwealth Government for reinforcing the Commonwealth Forces overseas?”. It was more decisively defeated, was 1.015 million in favour and 1.18 million against. The issue of conscription remained closed for the rest of the war.



  • Melbourne, Australia

  • 0:00

    Intertitle: RETURNED ANZACS Make "Fill-the-gap" Appeal in March through the City

  • 0:08

    Parade of troops

  • 0:47

    Pretend armoured vehicle

  • 0:58

    Sailor rides on top of a 'British Bulldog' float

  • 1:13

    Men carrying placards

  • 1:20

    Truck carrying men and a banner, "We are dying of exhaustion for want of a spell"