The Local Red Cross
One of the main ways in which local women contributed to the war effort was through the British Red Cross Society. The Red Cross’s primary role was to provide assistance to the sick and wounded in the military hospitals overseas, and “comforts” such as woollen socks, scarves and food parcels to the soldiers serving at the Front. A local branch was established in Pakenham in November 1915 to coordinate the various Red Cross fund-raising efforts and material drives already underway in the district. Mrs Alice Greenwood of “Mount Bourke” served as President, assisted by Mrs H. J. Wilson as Secretary and Louise (“Cissie”) Hagens (the sewing mistress at Pakenham State School) as Treasurer (SBMJ 9/12/1915 p. 3). The local medical officer, Dr Douglas White acted as chair of the Advisory Board. According to the South Bourke and Mornington Journal, “the office bearers and committee give promise of good things to come, and it is anticipated that much good work will result from their efforts” (SBMJ 2/12/1916, p. 2). Many of the women who served on the committee or volunteered as “patriotic workers” had loved ones at the Front.
Within months, the Pakenham Red Cross had raised £100, plus a large quantity of goods in “various shapes and sizes” to be sent overseas, which was attributed in large part to the “untiring efforts of Mrs H. J. Wilson, the Hon. Sec.” (DA 13/4/1916, p. 2). Amongst the special fund-raising events were special “American Teas” hosted at the Pakenham Mechanics’ Institute (DA 20/1/1916, p. 2 & 8/2/1917 p. 2 ). Other fund raising efforts included the sale of cards, badges, pins, cards and raffle tickets. In terms of material drives, the local Red Cross went from strength to strength. In 1917, it was reported that the following items had been sent to Red Cross Headquarters: 482 pairs of socks, 230 under flannel shirts, 78 scarves, 40 pairs of slippers, 39 pairs of mittens, two pairs of gloves, one cholera belt, 16 cushions, 9 pairs of knee caps, 57 balaclava helmets, 12 pairs of bed socks, 24 linen pockets, 30 kit bags, 12 washers, 1 quilt, 380 packs, 18 rolls of bandages, 54 surgical caps, and quantities of old linen, magazines and books (PG 7/12/1917, p. 3).
A significant source of funds for the local Red Cross was the weekly dances organised by William Stephenson at “Stephenson’s Hall” in Old Pakenham. These raised around £5 per week for the Red Cross. In 1917, Bill was presented with a beautifully illuminated certificate in appreciation of “the splendid efforts rendered ... to augment the funds for Red Cross Work during this awful and devastating War”. Not everyone though approved of Bill’s fund-raising methods on the grounds that the young men should be enlisting for service, not attending dances. Cr Stephenson pointed out though, that over thirty of the men who patronised the dances had actually gone to the War (PG 25/5/1917, p. 3).
There were also an active Red Cross committee at Pakenham Upper, with Janet Ramage as Secretary. One of the novel ways this committee engaged with local women was to organise a knitting competition, with prizes donated by Mrs (later Lady) Adeline Mann of “Goronga” for the best knitted balaclava and cardigan (PG 15/3/1918, p. 3). There were also Red Cross committee at Army Road, Pakenham South and Nar Nar Goon North. The assistance provided by the local Red Cross committees was greatly appreciated by the soldiers at the Front. In 1918, a Lieutenant Colonel G.H. Knox wrote to express his appreciation for their work: “While in the field and in the hospital we learned to appreciate what your efforts really meant. By your work and energy you are bringing cheer and comfort to the hundreds of our gallant men who are in the great hospitals in France and England” (PG 9/8/1918, p.2).