Compiled for Darebin Heritage by Brian Membrey

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The Great War : Education Department : War Relief Fund

On August 11, just a week after war broke out, two hundred women teachers representing metropolitan schools met at the State Public Offices and formed themselves into an organization - the Women Teacher's Patriotic League - with the objective of assisting the Empire war effort.

Subsequent to the formation, the Minister of Public Instruction (the Hon. Thomas Livingston, M.L.A) recognized the women's example and called another meeting four days later of men and women teachers of all ranks which resulted in the formation of the War Relief Organization to assist Australian servicemen, those who would become unemployed because of the war, and those civilians in Belgium, France and Britain that would be most distressed by the upcoming conflict.

One of the central planks of the Organization became the War Relief Fund, from December, 1914 directly linked into the nation-wide Australian Comforts Fund; the following week, a depot for the receipt and dispatch of material for special garments and other comforts for soldiers was established in the Montague Street School in South Melbourne with four teachers in charge.

"We had to evolve," said Miss Lillian Horner, "our own scheme of book-keeping, to design suitable labels for parcels, to secure the kindly co-operation of the Railway Commissioners, and to organize the eager group of small boys who regularly carried to the Montague Railway Station our parcels for dispatch all over Victoria".

The Montague Street school had two links with Darebin - Frank Jubilee Olle, listed on the South Preston Honor Board as a casualty, was teaching at Montague when he enlisted, having spent several years at Hotham street, and one of the four organising teachers, Mr. (Later Major) Andrew Dwyer, D.S.O. (pictured right) had a brother, Lieutenant Albert Valentine Dwyer from Bartlett Street, Preston who died of wounds at Gallipoli - both Olle and Abbert Dwyer are included in our In Memoriam Roll for Darebin.

The Fund by the end of 1920 had raised £422,470.15s.8d (although this was just a part of the Organization's overall effort which produced clothing, foodstuffs and equipment of inestimable value as well as raising money).

Remarkably, Elsternwick State School, rated in the third bracket population-wise at "over 600 pupils" raised £2,287.7s.6d, over £560 more than any other school in Victoria, while in Metropolitan District No.4 which covered the northern areas of Melbourne, Fairfield Park (over 1,000 pupils) at £1,253 18s 1d narrowly pipped Northcote (over 800) on £1246 1s 7d.

Both of the Preston schools held a number of bazaars, fetes, flower days and concerts to raise money for the Education Department's War Fund as well as for their own school amenities.


"The bazaar, which was in aid of theEducation Department's War ReliefFund, was held in the shire hall, Preston, on Friday, 21st, and Saturday, 22ndSeptember ... the Hon.J. G. Membrey, M.L.A., who performed the opening ceremony, was introduced by the president of the shire, Cr. Allchin. Mr. Membrey, in a short speech, stated the school children of the State schools of Victoria had collected no less than £214,000 up to date, besides supplying thousands of articles for the Red Cross use and assisting in the supply ofgoods to the hospitals". 

The particular bazaar in question appears to have become an annual event, in this case raising just over £120 - to put that into perspective, at Joe Private's standard six shillings a day, the amount raised was a fraction over a year's pay.

Much of the war effort locally was channelled through the local branches of the Red Cross with two purposes in mind - to raise money for the various patriotic funds, and secondly to provide extra comforts for troops in the front line or those unfortunate enough to have been wounded.

On 2 September, 1916, the Leader reported on the Northcote Red Cross's efforts for the previous twelve months :

LADIES' SECTION : 1833 pairs socks, 1125 suits of pyjamas, 718 shirts, 2050 face washers, 6bed covers, 144 bags, 10 knee caps,5 cushions, 96 flannels, 534 pillow slips,96 pairs of mittens, 293 pairs of slippers,59 pillows, 223 milk jug covers, 288 towels, 29 pairs of bed socks, 40 handkerchiefs, 18 pairs of cuffs, 19 hospitalcoats, 136 fly nets, 2 mufflers, 44 bed rugs, 254 scarves, 140 bandages, 240serviettes. 269 eye bandages, 12 cushions, 43 tray cloths, 132 pairs of underpants, 15 sheets, 30 balaclavas, 2 caps,541 bundles of old linen, 50 bundles ofbinders, 60 finger pads, 442 absorbentpads, 70 swabs and 50 dusters. Value £1179.17.

MENS' SECTION : 95 folding tables, 100 footstools, 18soap trays, 36 knife boxes, 21 breadboards, 31 bath mats, 4000 mops, 14nets, 34 deck chairs, 62 pairs of crutches, 6 square tables, 13 rocker deck chairs, 112 arm slings, 12 extension deck chairs, 2 verandah seats, 2000boot laces, 75 folding camp stools. Value £2512s 6d,

METAL WORK  : 571 water bottles, 661 bed slippers,210 arm baths, 70 bed bottles, 10 breadbins, 4 chest warmers, 21 spittoons, 1medical tray. Value £498 6s. Total value £749 8s 6d.

It was also noted that after the cost of materials and several donations, there was a credit balance to the branch’s account of just over £1000.  Whilst most of the women's contributions were made at home, the heavier work of the men was done in a work-room at Northcote Town Hall lent by the Council.

The Preston branch, significantly smaller in number (although considerably larger in area, the Shire of Preston had just on a third of the population of Northcote), dedicated much of its efforts towards providing comforts and assistance to the patients at Mont Park and later the adjoining Macleod Sanatorium.



Sir,-On behalf of the Preston branch Red Cross Society, will you grant space in your columns for us to appeal to the generous public for a gramophone and records, comforts, and games for the returned wounded soldiers who will arrive at the Mont Park military home. Donations may be sent to the Preston Shire Hall, or to-Yours, &c.,

(Mrs.) C. STANLAKE, Bell street, president

(Mrs.) E. ALLCHIN, Plenty road, treasurer;

(Mrs.) F. SHEPPARD, hon. secretary, 247 High street, Preston.  (The Argus, 10 September, 1915)

One report in October, 1918 revealed that the annual Preston Red Cross Egg Day for Macleod Military Hospital and Sanatorium brought in 141 dozen eggs (a binding contract!) and the branch’s 1918 report revealed 1,326 flannel garments, 154 kit bags, 1,400 pairs socks, 426 pairs bed socks, 53 pairs mittens, scarves and caps, 124 tins condensed milk, preserved fruit,jam, cocoa, coffee, tobacco and cigarettes, 136 packets of cigarettes, 11 handkerchiefs, 9 towels,and 26 sundry articles (which included a gramophone and records for Mont Park, also a large number of bandages and a quantity of linen, a total value of over £700.  

(The Leader’s report on the Egg Day added that the “north” (Preston), south and west State schools contributed 70 dozen between them.

The author well remembers while at South Preston in the early 1950s a door-to-door collection of eggs on behalf of the Royal Women’s Hospital; although frowned upon these days because of possible health concerns, many families of those days kept a few hens in the backyard to help with the supply).


More on Preston’s Schools