Kandos and Rylstone History P.17
Who’s side is God on?
Presentation to Kandos High School Year 9 students by Rev Carla Archer
Women in War
Generally speaking, Australian women were much more passive than their British counterpart. Australian women had had the vote for many years, since 1894 in South Australia, and by 1902 every woman who was a citizen had the vote.
In those days, we were 20,000 kms away from the firing line. A woman’s place was thought to be in the home; women were not expected to do anything else.
In England, they had a whole range of posters. Women in England had a range of jobs. They could be with the Red Cross, a nursing sister, or a VAD—a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment. On this poster we have women who were gas company workers lumping a great big bag of coal, and here part of the land army, because of the blockade by the Uboats, Britain had to produce more food, so you had women on the land army, you had women bus conductors and ticket collectors, you had women in the air force. You had women who made garments and ammunition, women in the army and navy.
None of these occupations, except a nurse, was available for Australian women. Australian women actually did try and form an army corps, and the defence force said ‘go away little women, we don’t want you’. Australian women were encouraged to stay home and make babies for the country, make some more soldiers. And so they stayed at home. There was fierce competition for places to go nursing. On the roll of honour at Kandos, there are three nurses.
The women’s war effort in Australia, apart from nursing, was concentrated in two places generally. There was the Australian Branch of the British Red Cross. The other effort was the Australian Comforts Fund.
These were the two organisations in which women participated in World War I in Australia. But we have to note that all the ‘difficult’ parts of these organisations, such as president, secretary, treasurer and so on were filled by men. Women were thought to not be able to ‘cope’ with figures and things like that. At these meetings, the women all wore hats and gloves, because they were at a public meeting. By Nov 1914 there were 88 city and suburban and 249 country branches of the Red Cross. Women knitted socks, vests, jumpers, mittens and for soldiers in hospital, made shirts, pyjamas and linen and specially designed medical aids. But there were many who thought the women’s work was not particularly useful, because it was unpaid work, and therefore, not worth anything.
Soldiers with legs or arms shot off had to have specially designed socks to cover their wound. One 13-year-old girl near Muswellbrook made 100 pairs of full length men’s socks, 80 pairs of booties for people in hospital, 2 bonnets (berets), 3balaclava hats, 4 vests, 30 pairs of mittens in one year.
The socks were very important, because some soldiers suffered from ‘trench foot’. If anyone has had tinea, imagine it almost splitting your bit toe off your foot so that your whole foot was swelled up with fungi. The only thing you could do was keep your socks and shoes on. In Australia there were 1,354,228 pairs of socks knitted, taking 10 hours a piece.
During the war, women in NSW alone knitted 600,000 pairs of socks. They also sent tobacco, cakes, puddings, condensed milk, biscuits, newspaper to the soldiers. And in 1916 this was all coordinated by the Australian Comforts Fund. Sometimes girls put notes in the socks, and sometimes that ended up with them marrying when they came home.
The author of this site, Diane Simmonds, tells a beautiful story of a romance that started with a message thrown to soldiers during World War II.
An Australian friend used to cook cakes, knit socks and other items, and the girls used to take the items out to meet the trains carrying the troops to war. Often the girls put notes in the items and the men wrote to them, but also, sometimes the troops themselves wrote their names and unit number on a piece of paper and threw them at the girls.
One English soldier had somehow ended up in the Australian Army and was on one of these trains and threw his name and number on a scrap of paper out to the girls and our friend picked it up. She decided to write to him and over time, a romance started. During the correspondence, the soldier asked our friend to marry him and she agreed. When the war ended and the troops came home, our friend went to meet him. They were with other friends and bounded into a taxi on their way out to dinner, our friend ending up in the back of the taxi and her intended in the front. She sat in the back, wondering what he thought of her, because until that time they had not met in person. She was getting quite anxious and at last said to her soldier sitting in the front seat, “Well, what do you think?”
“You’ll do,” he said, grinning over the seat.
The two married and had a son and were a loving, happy, family.
And they have left a humorous reminder of ‘true love’ that we, as friends, carry on for them.
Any time my husband and I, and now indeed our children as well, ask how we look the answer always comes back, a loving, smiling, “You’ll do.”
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