Walcha history: Supporting the troops

A piece of the past: One of a great number of Red Cross Christmas gifts sent to Australian Forces in Europe 100 years ago.
A piece of the past: One of a great number of Red Cross Christmas gifts sent to Australian Forces in Europe 100 years ago.

The Sydney Morning Herald of August 22, 1914 said: “A well-attended meeting of the women of Walcha, convened by the Mayoress, Mrs Scott, was held in the council chambers on Wednesday to inaugurate a local branch of the Red Cross Society, with a view of assisting in the provision of hospital comforts for the departing volunteers. Mrs John Gill Snr was appointed president, Mrs W. Fletcher secretary and Mrs P. C. C. McKay treasurer together with a large committee.”

One of the early major projects was to raise money to buy a motorised ambulance for overseas. The society arranged meetings, concerts, dances, fetes and sporting events and had the necessary funds by mid-1915.

In December 1916, Prv. Spencer Steele, a son of the sergeant of police at Walcha, wrote that he had seen the ambulance conveying wounded soldiers in England fitted with a metal plate showing it had been presented by the ladies of the Walcha Red Cross.

An incredible amount of material was sent from Walcha including kit bags for hospitals and soldiers, sheets, pillows, pillowcases, bed shirts, day shirts, pyjamas, balaclavas, mufflers, mittens, dressing gowns, general purpose bandages, knitted eye bandages, knitted head bandages, socks, sheepskin vests, blankets, eggs, jams and dried fruit.

In addition to money raised for state and national campaigns, the ladies also collected old linen which was sent to Sydney where it was converted into absorbent pads, bandages, swabs and medical towels at a Red Cross workshop in the basement of Sydney Town Hall.

The Tamworth Daily Observer of June 18, 1918 in reporting on tearooms built for the society wrote: “Thirty willing volunteers, carpenters, builders and handymen, assembled in the council chambers yard to erect the building, which is 40 feet by 16 feet overall and has walls 10 feet high. The work commenced on Saturday morning and by 3pm on Sunday all but the chimney was completed.” The Red Cross ladies previously had free use of council chambers followed by free use of vacant premises where Mountain Motors office is now.

During May 1921, the society decided to close the branch and sell its possessions at public auction. Crockery and glassware brought satisfactory prices while the tearoom building was sold to the Walcha Boy Scouts for £50 and moved to a new location, perhaps South Street, where it was re-erected and used as a drill room.