ANZAC Day (25 April) is one of the days on which Australians commemorate the sacrifice made during war. Many still acknowledge this day by marching, attending a service or buying a fundraising badge. There are ESA members with terrific collections of these buttons and badges. A search of the National Library of Australia’s research tool Trove brings up some fascinating contemporary reports about the part these buttons played in fundraising and the early appearance of collectors of this ephemeral material.
The first anniversary of ANZAC Day in 1916 saw button selling marking the day:
BUTTONS-ANZAC DAY. The Mayoress of Brighton (Mrs. T. B. Grout) will be glad to have the assistance of ladies on Anzac Day Friday, 28th April–when Anzac buttons will be sold.”. Mrs. Grout will be pleased to meet collectors at the Town Hall on Wednesday, 26th inst. afternoon tea in the Council Chamber and allot districts and distribute buttons. Meanwhile if names of ladies willing to assist in the movement are left at the Town Hall, the preliminary work will be greatly facilitated. Complete sets of buttons may be purchased at the Town Hall. Brighton Southern Cross, 15 April 1916.
By July 1916, the craze of collecting patriotic buttons was identified:
PATRIOTIC BUTTONS The advent of the patriotic button as a means of raising funds for national movements has created quite a craze amongst some collectors, who seek to accumulate as big a variety as possible of all the designs issued in commemoration of this or that event. Already in Albury there are quite a number of citizens who are collecting buttons, and one lady, the wife of a well known bookmaker, is said to have a fine collection of these mementoes. Another resident, a young saddler, has perhaps a bigger collection than any other local citizen, and when the Y.M.C.A. Committee recently had a fine assortment of buttons sent from a Sydney manufacturing firm, he offered a price for the lot, and his offer was accepted. These buttons will naturally be looked upon in the years to come, as being possessed of more historical interest ‘ than they are to-day. The Border Morning Mail and Riverina Times, 25 July 1916.
WAR SOUVENIR BUTTONS An advertisement in this issue announces that a souvenir of 57 war buttons to be disposed of by art union, is on view in a window of Mr J. T. McMahon’s shop, John-street. The buttons comprise an interesting and handsome collection, and in the years to come will he a valuable and unique memento of the great war and Australia’s share in it. Tickets are one shilling each. Singleton Argus, 14 December 1918.
COLLECTION OF 717 PATRIOTIC BUTTONS Remarkable device [map of Australia made out of buttons] arranged by Miss Gwen Fuller, of Unley-road, Malvern, S.A. The map is about 5ft. long, and. Miss Fuller, who has been, one of Adelaide’s enthusiastic war workers accumulated no fewer than 717 buttons, having collecting since the outbreak of the war. Barrier miner (Broken Hill), 25 January 1919.
Buttons, fundraising, the home front
Once Australia sent forces to the First World War, those at home looked for ways to support the war effort. This was through the auspices of the Red Cross, the Australian Comforts Fund and smaller local groups, for example, the Busy Bees who were a group of female employees at the Swallows & Ariell’s Biscuit Factory in Melbourne.
Historian, Michael McKernan describes this home front war effort as the development of a new sector of the economy providing comforts for troops and victims of the war. It was ‘all voluntary, unpaid and unnoticed’. Initially fundraising was for war victims, the emphasis then moved to collecting money and goods for Australian servicemen.
In theory Australian servicemen were well paid and provided for, so the home front effort focused on providing the luxuries of home – tobacco, cakes and puddings, biscuits, condensed milk.
Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, the Governor-General’s wife, set up the Australian branch of the British Red Cross Society in Australia two days after the outbreak of war. She was the ex-officio president and the wives of state and territory governors presided over state and territory activities. Red Cross branches were formed all over Australia to raise money and collect goods for sick and wounded soldiers.
Australian Comforts Fund
One of our members, John Y’s collection includes ephemera documenting the work of the Australian Comforts Fund. He writes – “in 1916 various state fund-raising bodies were established to supply goods for the ‘comfort and well-being of all members of the Australian Forces on active service’. The bodies in Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria were named the Australian Comforts Funds (ACF). The bodies in other states had different names, in New South Wales it was the War Chest.”
The ACF’s activities included: house to house door knocks, garden fetes, buttons days, street stalls and a flower shop and cake shop. Statistics were kept about the scale of activities: 1,354,328 pairs of socks were knitted and sent to the troops to prevent ‘trench foot‘; 12,000,000 cups of coffee were provided to the front line; Victoria shipped goods worth 328,444 pounds to England and France which included Christmas boxes and billies containing tobacco, cigarettes, wallets, chewing gum, handkerchiefs, writing paper kits, pate and sausages.
The coffee drinking is captured in a photograph published in ANZAC: an illustrated history, at page 104, which shows infantrymen enjoying a hot coffee at an ACF stall immediately behind enemy lines at Longueval, France, December 1916. The Christmas packages are shown at page 241, where members of the 1st Wireless Signal Squadron open tins of Christmas comforts at Es Sinn, Mesopotamia.
Like the Red Cross, the ACF was firmly established in the middle class; for example the Melbourne chapter began as the Lady Mayoress’s Patriotic League.
Most funds were dissolved after the WW1 armistice in the expectation that there would be no more wars and so no more need for comforts.
World War 2
The ACF reformed following the outbreak of WW2.
John Y’s selection of ephemera shows some of the ways in which the ACF thought would help servicemen. This included entertainment and guides to life back in Australia.
The Guide to Brisbane included directories for tram travel and lists of places of interest. Among another list, places to eat, there were three ACF venues in central Brisbane and the Defence Canteen Services in Adelaide Street.
The ACF was disbanded again at the end of WW2 and briefly restarted during the Vietnam War.
There are many more treasures and stories about collecting home front ephemera.
Did you know that two brothers, Vivian and Robert McMillan of the 18th Battalion and originally from Forbes, NSW, collected and kept labels from tins and bottles sent from home? The Australian War Memorial: treasures from a century of collecting shows part of their collection which included: HP sauce; W.D. Peacock (Tasmanian jam); Swallows & Ariell’s tin lid with a note on top saying ‘To our boys in the trenches’.
Many of our members have fine collections of buttons that mark a great range of activities on the home front. We plan to publish a longer article in the next issue of the Ephemera Society Journal (formerly Ephemera News). The Journal is sent to members of the Ephemera Society of Australia Inc.
If you would like to contribute to the article about the home front, please let us know by contacting us via the comments box.
The Anzac Centenary, marking 100 years since Australia’s involvement in the First World War, is a major commemorative and celebratory event.The centenary will take place from 2015 but there is already a fascinating array of ephemera in circulation.
The postcard advertising the 5000 Poppies community craft project is but one example. What other Anzac Centenary ephemera have members seen or collected?
Anderson, Nola, Australian War Memorial: treasures from a century of collecting. Canberra: AWM, 2012.
Bassett, Jane, Home front. Melbourne: OUP, 1983.
McKernan, Michael, The Australian people and the Great War. West Melbourne: Thomas Nelson, 1980.
Pelvin, Richard (ed), ANZAC: an illustrated history. South Yarra: Hardie Grant Books, 2004.
Proud story, Sydney 1949 is the official history of the ACF. It has many black and white photo plates.