State Library has been collecting First World War material for many decades, and in the years immediately following the War, all sorts of items found their way into the Library’s collection. One such item, donated in 1921 when the Library was still called the Public Library of Queensland, was the Report of the work done by the Queensland Soldiers‘ Comforts Fund, 1915-1919.
This useful publication has been digitised, and provides great insight into the activities of comforts fund organisations back home in Queensland, as they worked to support the troops overseas. The Report outlines the activities of both the Queensland Branch of the Australian Comforts’ Fund, and the Queensland Battalions’ Comforts Fund.
Comforts funds committees were formed very quickly all over Australia after the outbreak of war, as it quickly became evident that ‘the duty of keeping the well man well was as important as that of caring for the sick and wounded’. The object of these organisations was to provide comforts for the men at the Front which would help to preserve their health and spirits, and so maintain the effectiveness of the fighting force.
A narrative at the beginning of the Report explains that a variety of committees with very extensive organisations were gradually brought together as Australian Comforts Funds, with the Queensland Patriotic Fund being the Queensland Division. A small Committee, consisting principally of Queenslanders, had been established in Cairo in May 1915 under Colonel Hubert Harris, as these folk were ‘on the ground’ and could better assess and coordinate what the soldiers on the Gallipoli Peninsula really needed. This committee then cabled the Queensland Patriotic Fund asking for money to carry on this work, ‘which was immediately and generously supplied’.
After the evacuation of Gallipoli, a large depot was retained in Cairo to supply the troops in the Middle East, but most supplies were sent to France, where work continued – coffee stalls as close to the Front as possible – providing hot coffee or cocoa, biscuits, soup, or cigarettes free of charge. Throughout the war, comfort work was carried out with increasing enthusiasm and efficiency, made possible by the essential co-operation of the military authorities.
The Queensland Soldiers Comforts Fund, a working subdivision of the Australian Comforts Fund, was inaugurated at a public meeting convened by the Mayoress of Brisbane on September 21, 1915. Lady Goold Adams, wife of the Governor of Queensland was elected patroness, Lady Cowley was elected president, Mrs. W. S. Anderson honorary treasurer and Miss Dalrymple and Miss M. Roe honorary secretaries. Premises were secured in Parbury House, Eagle Street, and sewing machines and the other equipment were borrowed. Purchasing, cutting-out, and room committees were formed, and within a fortnight of moving in, 22 cases of goods had been packed and sent away.
The rooms were open from 10am to 5pm on week days, and from 10am to noon on Saturdays. Work undertaken comprised mainly cutting-out and making flannel and cotton shirts, waistcoats, Balaclavas, mufflers, and mittens of blanket, y-veils, underpants, antiseptic shirts, handkerchiefs, and kit bags. Items sent in by members of the wider community were inspected and altered if necessary, and workers often took shirts and large quantities of wool away to make them up at home. All finished garments were marked with the badge of the fund and sorted ready for packing. Sometimes, large sacks of unclaimed soldiers parcels were sent to the fund, and these too were all sorted and resent.
5010 cases, including 17,324 shirts and 37,983 pairs of socks, were sent between October 1915 and the end of the war.
The Queensland Patriotic Comforts Fund provided all the cases, and the services of a professional packer. At the Queensland Patriotic Fund Depot, cases were bound with hoop iron, stencilled, and loaded onto the first available transport. All kinds of supplementary clothing, foodstuffs, tobacco, games, musical instruments, and books and magazines were also supplied.
According to the Report, money (£7103 in total) was also cabled to London and Egypt from time to time, to be spent on gramophones, cinematographs, Tommy cookers, or to support the coffee stalls. The total value of goods sent away by the Queensland Soldiers Comforts Fund was £29,830.
Branches formed all over Queensland, providing regular support and generous contribution. ‘Some branches worked quite independently, raising their own funds and sending in their own contributions. Other branches purchased materials through the Queensland Soldiers Comforts Fund, and others received wool and cut out garments to be made up, and sent in what subscriptions they could collect’.
As an additional point of interest, the Report includes a letter addressed to the Curator of the Public Library, offering the volume as a donation to the Library’s collection. The letter was written and signed by the Honorary Secretary of the Comforts Reports Committee, Mrs Jane Elizabeth Bourne, mother of two notable Queenslanders who served in the War – George Herbert Bourne and Dr Eleanor Elizabeth Bourne, both of whom were featured in State Library’s recent Distant Lines exhibition.
Robyn Hamilton – QANZAC100 Content Curator, State Library of Queensland