Women In World War 1

Women in World War 1
A Talk given at the Toowoomba RSL on 26th August 2006


I have very large files built up over the years about the Anzacs. Every year since the formation of the Healthy Hearty Historical Walking Group in 1988 we have had cemetery walks visiting known war graves. These walks are held as close to Anzac Day as possible.

As well as these walks, we have had many members of the Walking Group who have heard of Anzacs from this area. Most of these members were in the armed forces in World War 2 or are wives of those who were in the forces. Some of these are/were: Bernie & Maggie O'Shea, Kath Armstrong, Val Halliday, Nola & Keith Robinson, Charlie English and Jean & Jack New.

Bernie O'Shea told me the story about the first Anzac Dawn Service at Picnic Point. He also was heavily involved in negotiations to extend the size of the War Cemetery with the Jewish population agreeing to hand over a part of their section of the cemetery.

The Walking Group, in the early 1990's, listed every memorial at the cemetery where there was an indication that that person was a returned soldier. If the soldier had been an Anzac, in many cases, this was proudly recorded on the stone.

Known relatives were also contacted such as pharmacist Bob Sellers who was a mine of information about his ancestor. Other excellent sources of information included Bob Donnelly, the Toowoomba 'Chronicle' and .John Handley who was director of the Toowoomba Education Centre.

Toowoomba's growth in early 20th century

Strong political leadership is essential to the growth of any town or city in Australia. William Henry Groom provided such leadership in Toowoomba from being Mayor on many occasions as well as being local State member for decades. As any casual observer would realise, he was involved in every organisation involved with the town and supported those groups seeking land and buildings as well as encouraging government agencies to establish their offices in Toowoomba. Toowoomba was fortunate that his son, Ernest Littleton Groom, followed in his footsteps as Federal Member for this area. Littleton Groom rose to great heights in the Federal sphere. He undoubtedly wielded that influence to the benefit of the Darling Downs.

Toowoomba's population increased from 7007 in 1891 to 9137 in 1901 - a 30% increase. In 1911 the population had jumped to 13,119 people which was a 44% increase. At that time, Toowoomba was serviced by 8 banks, 41 hotels, 150 businesses, 2 newspapers, 4 trade journals, 7 major churches and several schools, as well as government offices. (See Maurice French book 'A Century Of Home-making' for more details)

Government enterprises are a good indicator of growth and state schools such as Harlaxton, Harristown and Rangeville were built. The Toowoomba School of Arts & Technical College was opened in 1912. St Saviours Convent's new building was in use in 1904 and Glennie School was founded by the Anglican Church in 1908. Westbrook Reformatory was commissioned during this period. The Town Hall was opened and the City of Toowoomba proclaimed on 20 October 1904. In the business world, a dairy cooperative, 2 major flour mills, stripper harvester factory, and Southern Cross Locomotives and Windmills came into existence. Piggots, rebuilt after a big fire, reopened in April 1910. By then, people could also ring one another and use electric light.

In the decade to 1911 Toowoomba emerged as a popular place to visit - many of the early Queensland governors had already discovered that Toowoomba was a 'Simla'- an escape from the heat and humidity of Brisbane especially in the summer months!

The town of Toowoomba had 1802 houses in 1901. This total had increased to 2,550 houses by 1911, an increase of 42 %. (Toowoomba became a city on 20 October 1904). In the same decade the city's rateable property value increased by 510%. Included in this expansion was the subdivision of large estates within the town boundaries into residential lots. Not included was the rapid suburban subdivision in the 15 years or so before the Great War of large holdings outside the boundaries such as Newtown, Harristown (175 Lots in July 1902) and Macdonaldtown to the west of West Street, Rockville to the north of Gowrie Road and numerous others. Toowoomba's population would undoubtedly also have increased when the city of Toowoomba took over the controls of the short lived Newtown Council in 1917.

The cultural life of Toowoomba was not ignored in the period before the Great War. Famous poet George Essex Evans founded the Austral Association in 1903 in the shell of the old Toowoomba jail. The Association's objectives were to promote music, art, literature, science and industry. Each year an Austral Festival was held which attracted thousands of people to Toowoomba. Unfortunately after Evans' death in 1909 the Association declined and closed due to financial problems in 1911. Eventually the land given to the Association was subdvided and sold. The Toowoomba Ladies Literary Society was founded in September 1913 by Lady Littleton Groom, wife of the Federal Member for the Darling Downs. It was originally conceived as a self-improvement society for young women. The original Empire Theatre was opened on 29 .June 1911.



A sketch from the war album of Sister Elizabeth Kenny shows a common scene.

The war memorial at the RSL building includes a list of women who served as nurses in both World Wars. The information below has been mainly obtained from Rupert Goodman's outstanding book, Queensland Nurses- Boer War to Vietnam.


CUSKELLY A. (Annie) [Born 29 September 1887- trained Toowoomba General Hospital- served AANS France & England 1915-1918. in 1985 was the oldest surviving member of the AANS in Qld.]
HEFFERNAN A.M. [left Brisbane on the 'Kyarra' on 21 November 1914 as a staff nurse- No1 AGH- eventually went to Heliopolis near Cairo.]
HOGG E.S. [Born 19 April 1888. Daughter of James Hogg, medical superintendent of Goodna mental hospital. Employed by the British Red Cross in 1915 but enlisted AANS in 1918. Sister Hogg went to Salonica before returning to Australia where she nursed flu victims at Woodmans Point Quarantine Station. Contracted disease there. Sister Hogg died in Toowoomba in 1943.]
ESSUP E.(Elizabeth) [AANS 1915. Service with 6 AGH at Kangaroo Point. Embarked 1917 for Plymouth then 3 AGH at Abbeyville and Wimereux.]
MORETON Lady B. [known to have served as a Sister in-India in WW1.]
NICHOLLS R. (Ruby) [Daughter of Charles & Marie Nicholls of' Trelawney', Stuart St, Toowoomba. Born Ipswich but educated Toowoomba. Embarked July 1915 for Egypt for service No.2 AGH as well as transport duty to Australia. Also served in British hospitals towards end of 1916? and Boulogne, France.
PEARCE I. (Ida Elizabeth Horton) [Born Crows Nest. At Rosemount hospital in 1917 then 12 months in Victoria War Hospital in Bombay. Matron in WW2 at No.116 Charters Towers in 1942. After war Brisbane then St Dennis Hospital in Toowoomba.]
TOLMIE E.(Ella) [ Former Matron of Toowoomba General Hospital when at age of 53 she transferred to military nursing with No.6 AGH Hospital at Kangaroo Point. After WW1 she opened a private hospital, St Andrews, in Toowoomba. Two of her sisters were also nurses- Agnes and Sarah.]
WARNER I.(lsabel Annabell [Born in 1876 at Gympie. One of 13 children. Trained Toowoomba Gen.Hospital. AANS 1914-1918 in England.

MOWBRAY N.V. (Norma Violet ) [Died in service.] Grand daughter of Rev.Thomas Mowbray, first resident Prebyterian minister in Brisbane. Sister Mowbray was born in St George Qld and served in the AANS at Heliopolis with No.1 AGH. Conditions were poor at the Hospital. Staff worked long hours, wards were cold and draughty and sleeping quarters were bleak and cheerless. Colds were frequent and many staff developed pneumonia. Sister Mowbray died on 21January 1916 and was buried in the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery in Egypt.

The British Red Cross advised that in June 1923 a subscription had been opened for purpose of raising a monument to the glory of French and Allied nurses. On it were inscribed Allied nurses names including that of Norma Mowbray. The memorial is located at Esplanade Ceres in Reims.

Not Named On Roll
KENNY Elizabeth. Born at Warialda in NSW Renowned for her treatment of polio victims. Sisterr Kenny enlisted in the Army Nursing Service on 30 May 1915. She was appointed Staff Nurse and allotted for duty with No 1 Sea Transport Section. She is believed to have made 12 round trips to the Middle East. She also spent time at Enoggera Military Hospital. She was promoted to Sister in 1918 and left the service in 1919. From all the evidence, says Rupert Goodman, she was a good nurse who served.

As the above article says, at least 20 nurses went from Toowoomba Hospital to the Great War. Therefore the list at the RSL Memorial is short of some names.

Start Of War, Recruiting And Some 1915 Prices

War was declared on Germany in early August, 1914. Within a few days many men joined the Army to serve their country. The first contingent to leave Toowoomba were treated as heroes with huge support given by the general public. After a period of time enthusiasm waned especially when this short (1) war turned out to be a very long war and casualties started to mount. I do not propose to continue with this particular theme as the actvities of the soldiers are very well documented in newspapers.

The 'Chronicle' of 4 Jan 1915 records large ads by McPhie & Co. seeking all types of horses. At that time horses were desperately needed for Army duty. Quality bikes could be purchased from as little as 7 pounds ten shillings. “Handy little farm on 26 acres, 3 and a half miles from Toowoomba for 900 pounds - includes bore and pump”. Pigott & Co had one-piece maid's frocks for 7/11d. Annand & Booth were having a boot department sale “caused from the disastrous storm yesterday which flooded this department.”

Red Cross Formation
The first branch of the Toowoomba Red Cross was formed at a public meeting on August 7 1914. Its first President was Miss Eugenie Boland, Lady Mayoress at the time. In 1908 it was reported that Miss Boland made her London singing debut at Steinway Hall. The 'Times' of May 26 said that she could be successful as a singer if she could add variety and vivaciousness to her singing!

Miss Boland's brother David was Mayor at the time as was her father and a grandfather was a Mayor of Drayton. Vice presidents of the inaugural Red Cross included Hospital Matron Helen Tolmie and Mrs H.Hatton The first meeting was held at Council chambers on August 11th,1914. It was decided to provide the requirements for the sick and wounded of the battlefield. The group was also offered assistance by Drs Freshney, Bridgman and Marie Barlow. They offered to conduct first aid classes for any interested people. The ambulance also offered similar classes. Miss Tolmie also invited people to attend anatomy and physiology classes held at the Hospital.

Three sewing guilds were formed- one at the Town Hall, another at Newtown and the third on the Range. A fund was started to purchase material. The WCTU contributed 10 pounds to the fund. It is known that 'Coulston' the home of Dr and Mrs Faulkner in Margaret Street, was used as a sewing centre where workers worked for a full day.


Workers combined to make garments for soldiers in all theatres of the war. They worked in an upstairs room at City Hall. As well as providing Toowoomba ladies with working material, the Red Cross supplied from 12-18 country branches with wool, knitting needles, cut-out garments and instruction books. All the garments made were sent directly to the London Branch of the Society.

In 1915 the branch moved to a building in Ruthven Street (cnr Russell) where the Commonwealth Bank until recently was situated. It later moved to Russell Street and again in April 1918 into Ruthven Street where the Cafe Sorrento stood. Other moves were made before a new Centre was built in the CML building in Margaret Street. Members of the Red Cross, at the end of the War, met all soldiers returning by train and gave them gifts of fresh fruit, sweets and cigarettes. During the War the Red Cross had also sent food parcels to prisoners of war.
In 1916, at the height of the war, wounded, convalescent soldiers were returning to Toowoomba and the Red Cross was asked to find a suitable home for them. Finchley', the home of Dr Edwin Roberts, was granted free of charge to the Red Cross for this purpose.


Later, 'Finchley' reverted to its private hospital status and 'Simla' became available for the soldiers. It was rented from the owners for many years and vacated in the late 1930's. Visitors to 'Simla' included the Prince of Wales, Governor General of Australia, State Governors and Generals Birdwood, Robertson and Grant. It is interesting to read in Voluntary Aid Detachments in Peace and War' that the work at 'Simla' was carried on by VA's from Brisbane. It was said 'It is surprising that more VA's are not forthcoming in the Toowoomba district'. From about 1917 Mrs Mayes, wife of the Mayor became President of the Red Cross and led it for at least 6 years. Alexander Mayes, as well as being Mayor, was a Toowoomba builder who built many public buildings including the Town Hall. Miss Agnes Tolmie OBE and Mrs Wonderley OBE were wonderful workers over many years for the Red Cross. I have attached a separate document about Miss Tolmie and her remarkable family but time did not permit me to further research Isabella Wonderley.

Women In Paid Employment In World War 1

Generally speaking women were not encouraged to take on the tasks that were strictly regarded pre war as men's jobs. The women's numbers in the work force increased but mainly in traditional female jobs such as clothing, cooking, cleaning, etc. The unions did not encourage women because they feared they would have to pay these women men's wages and also that men would not have jobs on their return from war.

Two referendums were held in 1916 and 1917 because of the need for troop reinforcements overseas. The War had dragged on far longer than thought with the resultant deaths and injuries amongst the troops. Both referendums were narrowly defeated with the result that young men could not be conscripted for war. Amongst the most vocal opponents of conscription was Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Mannix
And feminists such as Emma Miller, the grand old woman of Queensland labor. She was quoted as saying that, “those who made the quarrel should be the only ones to fight.”

At the initial 1916 referendum the local voters were slightly in favour of conscription but voted against on the second occasion- again very narrowly. It should also be mentioned that any naturalised citizen who was born in a foreign country was not allowed to vote. This was aimed at those of German descent in the community.

Anti German Feeling
This feeling was strong in Toowoomba. People who had Building Fund shares, and were of German descent, had their shares removed and paid to the Collector of Public Moneys. Many Toowoomba street names were changed and damage occurred to 2 Lutheran churches. It is of interest to comment on the large number of German names in the War Cemetery who fought on the side of the Allies in both World Wars!

Church Involvement At Home
The Protestant churches supported the troops and backed conscription whilst the Catholic church with its Irish background was mixed in its views. Some priests were in fact chaplains to various Army groups. The priests included Archbishop Duhig of Brisbane who was chaplain to an Army group. Priests and ministers generally were given the task of notifying relatives of the death of a loved one- a job which they naturally found very distressing. Raft Street Methodist church commented on the shortage of male Sunday School teachers.

Many churches erected war memorial boards as well as other memorials to those killed or wounded in the Wars. In March 1917 St Stephens Church arranged a social
evening. The opportunity was taken to welcome home a group of returned soldiers and to give friends the opportunity to hear what was happening at the front. Dainty refreshments were served at the end of the evening by the Ladies Guild and the Soldiers Help Society.

Human Cost Of World War 1
According to Maurice French in, 'The Darling Downs- A Pictorial History 1850-1950', the casualties of the local 25th Battalion in World War 1 amounted to 47 officers and 918 men killed in action. Besides fighting in Gallipoli, the 25th Battalion fought at Pozieres, Bullecourt, Ypres and Mont St Quentin. Maurice French described these figures as 'horrific'.

Toowomba Sub-Branch Of The RSL
The charter of this Branch was granted on 1 September 1919 making it one of the oldest branches in Queensland. The foundation President was Captain L.W.Kimber who served with the 31st Battalion. He served for 2 years as President. Prior to the charter being issued an informal group of soldiers met on the site where the hall now stands. A tent was erected and despite the absence of a liquor licence, drinks were supplied to the soldiers.

Following the war, the land was bought and presented to the soldiers as a perpetual monument to those who returned from war as well as those who were killed. The Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall was opened by the Governor on 5 September 1924.


Mothers Memorial
A historic meeting was held on 26 February 1920. It had occurred as a result of a petition from the mothers of Toowoomba:
“Mothers of fallen soldiers request you to call a public meeting for the purpose of forming a committee to forward the erection of a memorial to perpetuate the the names of our dead heroes”. The Mayor, Alderman Godsall, was ill so was unable to attend the meeting. He sent a letter expressing his views however. He wanted to buy the land at the corner of Ruthven & Herries Streets, beautify it and erect a band rotunda and memorial there. An honour board could be put in the Town Hall.

The Deputy Mayor said that the Returned Soldiers favoured a Memorial Hall. However in spite of expectations, not enough money was raised for the Hall. Mrs Paterson said that the mothers had taken the matter in hand to see whether they could fix it up! Something should be done to keep the soldiers' deeds in perpetuity. There was no conflict in erecting both a Hall and Memorial. Brigadier General Robertson saw no conflict in supporting both proposals.

The President of the RSL did not agree. He felt that the hall should come first. After much discussion it was agreed to form committees with equal numbers of men and women to consider the sites as well as the memorial. Much fund raising was carried out by the ladies. Funds were raised by holding regular street stalls and raffles. These were held on what is now Bailey's corner. In mid October it was reported that a tender had been let for erection of the memorial. The total cost was to be 1656 pounds.

The monument was unveiled on 28 January 1922. Wreaths were laid by the Governor on behalf of the Memorial Committee, for the RSL by Miss Hopkins, for the Red Cross by Mrs McWaters, and for the Fathers Association by Aldermna T.S.Burstow. At the ceremony, a document was handed to the Mayor which, in part, expressed the expectation that the memorial would never be moved from its site. The Mayor gave an assurance that the Council would respect that wish.


War Sites Of Interest Around Toowoomba
These are listed on the attached document

JOHN CLEMENTS (Assoc. Dip. Local & Applied History) With many thanks to Mrs Nola Robinson for checking the script as well as Jim Creighton (Red Cross) and the Council.

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