Under suspicion! The enemy within

The reality of war isn’t only the conflict at the frontline, but the impact on life on the home front.

An essay written by Dr Murray Johnson, Treatment of Enemy Aliens in Queensland, notes that:

“the British Empire and its allies – including Australia – were faced by four major combatants: Germany, the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman (Turkish) Empires and Bulgaria …. While there were relatively few Turks, Bulgarians and Austro-Hungarians residing in Queensland, the same cannot be said for the Germans and their descendants, who constituted a major segment of the population. As such they were the most visible ‘enemy aliens’.”

Fear of ‘the enemy within’ led Australia to take severe precautionary measures, including internment. During the First World War, Australia interned almost 7,000 people, including 4,500 enemy aliens and British nationals of German ancestry already resident in Australia. For details on official records of internment, view the Australian War Memorial information sheet available here.

Records at Queensland State Archives show suspicion fell not only on potential enemy aliens but on respected and often long-time residents. In Queensland, Senior Assistant Censor Jeremiah Joseph Stable was responsible for drawing conclusions about questions of trust and loyalty, often relying on reports of the Criminal Investigation Branch. In a confidential memorandum Stable wrote to the Censor in Brisbane, he discreetly draws attention to the fact that these three public servants may have been “overlooked” for scrutiny:

  • Lionel Ainger Wiss, Justice of the Peace at Engelsburg
  • Ernest Augustus Frederick Wenck, state schoolmaster at Prenzlau
  • Albert Thomas Diete, state schoolmaster at Rosewood.

The memorandum is available as Digital Image ID 26891.

Other QSA records about these men include the following

Oath of allegiance for Lionel Ainger Wiss


Register for teacher – Ernest Augustus Frederick Wenck
enemy oath 3
Statistical return for Flinders State School, signed by Albert Thomas Diete

Interestingly, Dr Johnson discovered there are records which indicate “… there were occasions when police and the government itself sided with enemy aliens against vindictive loyalists. Demands to purge the Queensland public service of all enemy aliens were unsuccessful, largely owing to their sheer number of people involved. In January 1916, 65 ‘Germans’ were serving police officers, while another 192 were employed on the railways”.

Follow this link to find references cited by Dr Johnson in his essay. Additional information about suspicions raised about employees in the Queensland Harbours and Rivers during the First World War available here.


About Queensland State Archives

For more information about Queensland State Archives visit www.archives.qld.gov.au.

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