Holy Trinity Branch of League of Soldiers’ Friends

On a chilly August night in 1917, three years into the Great War, a Mr Wray arrived in Port from the Melbourne headquarters of the League of Soldiers’ Friends to speak to a group of interested citizens gathered at the Holy Trinity Parish Hall. He had come to enlighten them on the work of the League, which existed to assist returned and wounded soldiers, both in camps at home and at the front.

As Wray’s key intention was to suggest establishment of a branch of the League in Port Melbourne, he must have been a persuasive speaker as this event was recorded as the inaugural meeting of the Holy Trinity Branch of League of Soldiers’ Friends.

The group’s first official meeting was held the following month with Vicar McKie in the Chair. Although thirty-four members attended, the Secretary John Moore reported that a total of 65 members had enrolled to date.
Attendees that night were divided into four committees that were established, each with specific responsibility:

The Visitation Committee comprising 28 women members including convenor Mrs Howe, was assigned to two wards at the Base Hospital where they were to visit wounded soldiers, taking gifts they were to organise for distribution.

The Corresponding Committee with eight women members including Convenor Mrs Pratt, would write letters to local soldiers at the front, to bereaved families who suffered loss in the War, and to donors of money, products, transport or work effort, expressing thanks.

The Hospitality Committee of just three women members – Mrs Moore, Mrs Heath and Mrs Pratt – undertook with their families to entertain returning soldiers.

We assume that the Employment Committee, which comprised all male members of the Branch, would be responsible for assisting returnees to find jobs.

Other business recorded by Secretary Moore at that first meeting was a determination to hold a Social for returned soldiers at the Parish Hall as soon as possible.

The minutes for that meeting, signed off with a flourish by ex-Mayor William Howe, are recorded in a book from the Holy Trinity archives held by PMH&PS. Apart from containing minutes of every meeting for the short period of branch existence, in the rear of the book are alphabetically listed members’ names and fees paid (three shillings sixpence per annum plus a shilling for a badge), and also the names and addresses of 38 local returned soldiers. The former list may explain the fourth Committee being all male, as it indicates that less than 20% of members were men, enrolments being predominantly wives and daughters. In turn, the enrolment of so many of the latter may have influenced the immediate enthusiasm for planning ‘Socials’ for the soldiers.

By the October meeting Mrs Howe reported that members from her Committee had accompanied her to the Base Hospital to distribute ‘books, newspapers, smokes, pastries, lollies and other good things’, which were much appreciated by the men. The Social was fixed in early November, to be planned by a committee of all those in attendance. The Secretary announced that membership stood now at 75.

And so it went, each monthly meeting reporting active committee achievements and seeking additional ways not only to be helpful but also to raise the funds needed to buy more gifts for the soldiers. The Secretary continued to report an escalating membership, which by January stood at 118.

It should be noted that most of these willing participants would have engaged in more than a few other home-front activities as well. Many of the women – constantly knitting, baking, stitching, soliciting funds – might also be active in the formidable Women’s Welcoming Committee and other patriotic organisations. It was an all-out effort for those left behind on the home front, with local business, industries, schools and other churches making their contribution to the war effort as well.

As Easter loomed, the women set to work making quantities of a gift that seems a bit freakish today: an Easter egg stuffed with cigarettes! However it seems that the ‘eggs’ were stitched of padded fabrics and ribbons – quite a popular craft in the 19th century. The suitably impressed patients found these fancyworks containing smokes and chocolates quite a welcome novelty.

Another Social was held in April, with all soldiers and sailors not on active service invited, and at the May meeting Mrs Howe reported 36 visits to the wards with a distribution of 200 packs of cigarettes and 114 magazines. A concert was planned for June that brought in 9 pounds 7 shillings to purchase more of the same.

At the July meeting it was proposed that Mrs Banton take charge of setting up a Strong Post on the church corner at Bay and Graham Streets, which indicates that a number of the returned were marching or riding up Bay Street on their way from the piers.

By August when Secretary Moore presented his annual report, there were 200 members. The detailed extent of activities contributed by the Holy Trinity Branch of League of Soldiers’ Friends was proudly written up in the press.

Not that optimistically, Moore’s report concluded with the ‘earnest hope and prayer that peace might be declared before the next anniversary of our League’. And yet it’s interesting to note that after the War did end just weeks later, the 25th November minutes contained no mention of this. Of course the Armistice would mean little when it came to caring for the wounded, for servicemen and nurses continued to return for many months. An additional Ward at Caulfield Hospital had been assigned to the Holy Trinity Branch, and efforts continued.

The November minutes planned a next meeting in January. However further minutes were recorded only for meetings in April, July and December of 1919. At the latter, a final meeting where few were in attendance, it was moved and carried that with a vote of thanks to all for their efforts, the Branch at that point would cease to be. The possibility of another Social was nevertheless discussed.

Pat Grainger

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