Life on the home front
Life on the home front
Australians responded to the declaration of war in August 1914 with enthusiasm. Volunteers rushed to enlist, eager to share in the action and adventure, many believing it would be over by Christmas. Others formed committees to raise funds for the troops.
This collection portrays life on the home front. In between fundraising efforts and the manufacture of bullet cartridges are images of distractions from the war like shopping, weddings and sporting events. You can see the first Anzac Day, a propaganda cartoon and a pro-conscription film featuring Prime Minister Billy Hughes.
This collection also reflects a society in transition - notably with expanded opportunities for women while the men were fighting overseas.
This film from c1916 features various wartime fundraising and recruitment activities.
It was shot from outside the General Post Office in Martin Place, Sydney, after rain.
In pavilion-style tent stalls, Red Cross workers sell ribbons, flowers and other produce. The top-hatted Governor of New South Wales, Sir Gerald Strickland, walks among the crowds.
Many AIF (Australian Imperial Force) troops feature in this clip. Their humour is evident in a shot of a young male civilian being ‘accosted’ and compelled to enlist, while others pretend to take his measurements for a uniform.
The scenes of open horse-drawn carriages, motor vehicles, civilian dignitaries and high-ranking soldiers, and the signage on stalls, donation boxes and armbands, suggest this film may have been shot on or around the first officially named Anzac Day in April 1916.
In February 1916 the Sydney City Council began discussing a commemoration of the landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 25 April 1915. In 1916, the first official Anzac Day, a year after the landings, was marked by a wide variety of ceremonies and services throughout Australia and New Zealand.
For the remaining years of the First World War, Anzac Day was an occasion for patriotic rallies and recruiting campaigns. Marches of serving members of the AIF were held in most cities.
This charity bazaar footage indicates the sterling work undertaken by the Australian Red Cross Society (ARCS) which, during the war, provided humanitarian relief for troops, including care parcels for sick and wounded soldiers serving overseas, and funds for hospital services.
Women occupied senior positions in the ARCS, enabling them to take on jobs and a degree of responsibility not open to them in peacetime. Red Cross volunteers were also involved in the repatriation of soldiers and helped families trace soldiers who were missing or had been taken prisoner.
Many of the factory’s workers are women, symbolising a community united in the war effort and highlighting women’s vital contributions on the home front. They are seen making .303 cartridges, packing them in cases, and filling a soldier’s bandolier (ammunition belt). This is an extract from an hour-long documentary showing how Australia ‘made and equipped the expeditionary forces’ to contribute to the Allied cause during the Great War.
Until the release of the documentary Australia Prepared, military authorities thought it unwise to reveal to the public any aspect of ‘what an immense part the Commonwealth [had] been playing in the mighty struggle of man and munitions’. But by 1916 it was obviously felt that such a film might assist recruitment for Australia’s war effort, and help maintain morale in the wider community. The film was also prepared for exhibition in Europe and for screening to Australian troops. The publicity campaign for Australia Prepared described it as ‘a revelation of our hitherto unknown industrial and military powers’. The film premiered at Sydney’s Crystal Palace on 10 July 1916 and at the Melba Theatre in Melbourne a week later.
While a bitter war raged on the other side of the world, some wealthy Melbourne residents carried on with their lives just as usual. This 1915 newsreel item shows women modelling expensive fur coats, stoles, muffs and hats for Georges Department Store in Collins Street, Melbourne. Georges was a 'favoured spot with most of the smartest people in Melbourne'. The furs shown here would have been beyond the reach of most Melbourne residents at that time. As the war progressed, public condemnation of excessive or wasteful fashion became more prominent in the press.
Georges Department Store was established in 1880, and owners William and Arthur George enjoyed great success as it became one of Melbourne's elite shops. As business continued to grow, the store moved in 1889 to the ‘Paris’ end of Collins Street, into what is now one of the most iconic buildings in the city precinct. By 1901 Georges was advertised as the 'Universal Provider'. It sold everything from drapery and laces to carpets and coal, with a philosophy of providing exclusive goods and meticulous service. It was probably one of the first Australian department stores to have one of its product lines promoted through the cinema under the guise of news, in what would now be termed ‘advertorial’. This newsreel clip shows Georges’ new winter fashions depicted in a series of 12 scenes, including two final hand-drawn illustrations animated by stop-motion technology.
Originally silent, this footage has had the 1911 song 'Every Girl is a Fisher Girl' added.
Playing and watching sport became contentious issues in Australian society during the First World War. The middle and upper classes believed that, although sporting activities taught useful social values, sport was less important than the ‘greater game’ being played in Europe. However, the working class saw sport more as entertainment and a way to escape the daily grind of work. These opposing viewpoints often came into conflict.
Sport’s (and especially football’s) ability to attract spectators who were eligible for military service meant that the football codes were often accused of lacking in patriotism and subverting the war effort. Once it became apparent that the war would not be over quickly, and as the casualties of the Gallipoli campaign became known, the middle and upper classes saw sport as frivolous. As a result competitions associated with these classes, such as rugby, cricket, tennis and hockey, were suspended for the duration of the war.
In contrast, working class sports such as rugby league continued, and the Victorian Football League (VFL) maintained a reduced competition from 1915. This match between the 1915 VFL premiers Carlton and an Army Camp side at the Melbourne Cricket Ground was part of the patriotic war effort. The Camp team, wearing the Collingwood strip, was made up of current and former AFL players who had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and were drawn from various military camps around Melbourne. A number of reserves played for Carlton as some members of their premiership team elected to play for the Army Camp team. Carlton won this exhibition match 13.11.89 to 10.9.69
The match raised 248 pounds for the Wounded Soldiers Fund and attracted 6000 spectators. In contrast the Grand Final a week before had gate takings of 1469 pounds and attracted 39,211 spectators.
The sombre 1915 funeral procession of Major-General Sir William Bridges, killed in action at the Dardenelles. Filmed in Melbourne after Bridges’ body arrived home months after his death.
Australians would have been shocked when Major-General Sir William Bridges lost his life at the Dardanelles. This was, after all, one of the founders of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, a highly trained officer selected by the government to pull together and train the first contingent of Australians to fight overseas. At AnzacCove, he was the commander of the first troops to land.
Major-General Bridges’ career was filled with clashes with military colleagues, but he nevertheless won the admiration of his troops by personally visiting the firing line every day. On one of these daily inspections, a sniper’s deadly bullet found its target.
This newsreel reveals the draped coffin topped with Bridges’ helmet and sword. It shows, too, the Swanston Street crowds and pall-bearers including Admiral Sir William Cresswell, Defence Minister George Foster Pearce, Opposition Leader Mr Joseph Cook, Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, Colonel RE Williams, Colonel GGH Irving and Colonel J Stanley.
The Melbourne Age adds details of the day’s sounds, saying the service 'was deeply impressive' and its conclusion moving, 'the Last Post was sounded from somewhere near the altar by an invisible trumpeter. This was perhaps the most intense moment … many men and women were moved to tears.' A 13-gun salute was given as the cortege departed.
Bridges is the only identified Australian killed in the First World War whose body was repatriated and buried on Australian soil. He was buried on 3 September 1915 at Duntroon on the slopes of Mount Pleasant, Canberra. His monument was designed by Walter Burley Griffin.
This rare example of amateur or home movie footage provides a glimpse of a society wedding about 1914, probably in an eastern suburb of Sydney.
Prior to the invention of 16mm film in 1923, amateur and home movie making was an expensive hobby and confined to a small sector of Australian society. Surviving footage from home movies filmed on 35mm nitrate film at this time is rarer still.
The 35mm format was usually reserved for professional filmmakers, suggesting that the camera operator for this film may have had a formal connection to the nascent film industry in Australia. This would also explain the relatively sophisticated filming technique.
It was carefully filmed in a series of shots, each deliberately framed. The shot from inside the bridal car of the couple walking out of the church was clearly planned to be edited with the next shot – a reverse from outside the car looking in at the bride.
Each shot is formally framed – the opening is composed so that two brick pillars on either side of the path leading into the church frame the guests. This symmetry is repeated in the shot filmed from inside the car, with its door forming a dark frame-within-the-frame as the married couple walk towards the camera and step into the car.
This brief clip from around 1914 is one of few surviving film records of Australian beach scenes from this period. Beachgoers of both sexes are seen strolling along the sand of an unidentified beach in their Sunday best. A small group playing in the shallows is all male since ‘open bathing’ (swimming outdoors) was still considered somewhat improper at this time. A glimpse of a lone skiff indicates that Australians were quick to embrace all aquatic sports, not just swimming.
As predominantly coastal dwellers of the world’s only island continent, most Australians unsurprisingly came to regard the beach experience as a natural birthright. This brief clip from circa-1914 comprises a slow pan across a rocky foreshore to a nearby headland. It also reveals the transition from an essentially passive to a more robust beach culture. Until the early years of the twentieth century, strict moral codes ensured that daylight bathing was confined to those few enthusiasts willing to bathe in the very early mornings or at less popular beaches. In Sydney in 1902, Randwick Council allowed daytime bathing on selected portions of local beaches for the first time. Other councils soon followed suit and, over the next decade, ‘surf-bathing’ gained in popularity around the Australian coastline.
This silent footage has had the 1910 composition, 'By the Brook: Idyll' added by the NFSA.
Conscription was introduced by law in New Zealand. However, Australians were able to vote on introducing conscription in a referendum in October 1916. This film was made as part of the Vote Yes campaign. It shows Prime Minister William Hughes presenting the pro-conscription case, followed by messages to vote 'Yes' from well known figures such as the martyred Nurse Cavell, King George V and France’s General Joffre. Despite these efforts, however, the campaign for conscription was narrowly defeated.
Military training for Australian men over 18 years of age had been compulsory since 1911, but there was no compulsion to enlist for duty when the First World War broke out in 1914. At that heady time, the rush to volunteer for the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was so intense that recruitment officers were forced to turn people away. However, as the war dragged on, casualty rates increased and the number of volunteers declined. By 1916 the AIF faced a shortage of men and extensive advertising campaigns failed to change the trend.
Prime Minister William ‘Billy’ Hughes was a strong proponent of Australia’s participation in the war and became convinced that conscription was necessary. Despite opposition from his own ranks in the Labor Party, and furious debate in the Australian community, Hughes decided to take the issue to the people in a referendum, held on 28 October 1916.
This film is part of the official campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote. Like many politicians of his time, Hughes began his career speaking on soapboxes and street corners. Mass media communication was still very new and Hughes’s style sits rather uneasily in the motion picture format. The film nevertheless provides a valuable insight into political propaganda at the dawn of new media technology.
After the proposal for conscription was narrowly defeated, enlistment for the war continued to decline and Hughes held another referendum. On 20 December 1917 the nation again voted ‘No’, this time with a slightly larger majority. Australia and South Africa were the only participating countries not to introduce conscription during the First World War. This film is one of a collection of historical campaign films held at the NFSA on behalf of the Australian Labor Party.
When sick and wounded soldiers left the battlefield they were out of immediate danger, but were not entirely safe until they reached their final destination. It was not uncommon for hospital ships to be attacked, whether because of mistaken identity or intentionally.
The Australian hospital ship HMAT Warilda was sunk on 3 August 1918 with the loss of 123 lives. The greatest disaster of this kind was in February 1916 when a German U-boat torpedoed the Canadian hospital ship HMHS Llandovery Castle, with the loss of 234 lives. After the war the U-boat’s captain and two of his lieutenants were charged with war crimes.
In this clip, more than 150 sick and wounded men return to Australia on the S.S Karoola which was fitted as a hospital ship in England. Soldiers suffering severe injuries are transported from the ship to waiting vehicles. They disembark on stretchers and, rather unconventionally, by piggy-back.
The very first Anzac Day was held on 13 October 1915.
This claim may be controversial, especially as it was not the anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, but evidence confirms that the citizens of Adelaide designated 13 October 1915 to be 'Anzac Day'.
It was planned to coincide with ‘Eight Hour Day’, also known as Labour Day, as it allowed more people to participate during a public holiday.
From 1916, Australia officially commemorated Anzac Day on 25 April each year.
This first Anzac Day, or the 'Patriotic Procession and Carnival' as it was also known, was more a fete – as the title card suggests – rather than the solemn commemoration it is today.
Many of the buildings in Burra seen in this film, including the rotunda, still stand today.
The Great War did not succeed in killing interest in horseracing in Australia. The 1915 Melbourne Cup was filmed and screened less than 24 hours after the race.
Since 1896 the Melbourne Cup was filmed annually and screened shortly afterwards. In 1915 the tradition continued with the filming of the same scenes Marius Sestier had originally filmed in 1896. This Australasian Films newsreel reveals how far filmmaking had come in just those nine years. Camera techniques had become more dynamic and creative, and the film industry was a crucial element in the circulation of news.
The Higgins brothers were acknowledged as the leading cinematographers of their day. They placed ten cameras in strategic locations around the racecourse, filming the start of the race from behind the horses, then from a high vantage point, and carefully panned to follow the action.
Patrobas triumphed on the course and Australasian Films triumphed in the theatres. Their representatives took the camera negative back to Sydney on the train, developed it, edited it, duplicated the 35mm prints and got them into theatres less than 24 hours after the race.
However, the newsreel could not capture the emotions that the Argus reported the day after the race, ‘Everywhere one heard muttered griefs exchanged with mutual greetings […] there was the khaki that streaked the many-hued multitude so plentifully—the khaki of the recruit who still had to prove himself, and the khaki of the returned hero […] some of them lame, some of them with their arms in slings, and, saddest of all, one of them actually blind’. Profits of the day went to war relief funds.
Rain poured and cold winds blustered, but that didn’t dampen Tamworth’s annual 8 hour day festivities and patriotic parade on 23 October 1916.
The street parade included elaborate banners and war-related displays such as a mounted soldier in a slouch hat, and a fruiterer’s pony cart paying tribute to ‘Little Belgium’. A motor vehicle towed a large model boat labelled Emden, named after the German light cruiser that was sunk by HMAS Sydney on November 9, 1914. The Sydney had sunk the notorious German vessel as it attacked a British wireless station on the Cocos Islands.
Local cinema managers, siblings Henry Ison and Rose Thompson, hired a cameraman from Australasian Films, the country’s largest film producer, to film the parade.
The presence of the NSW Governor, Sir George Strickland, was one reason for filming events, but the celebrations were especially significant in 1916 because the NSW State government had passed the Eight Hours Act in April.
For the war effort to be successful, it was not only men who needed to be recruited. The women on the home front also had to show their commitment, so they were also the target of propaganda campaigns. 'Brave Women Who Wait' reminds the general population that while the men may be dying on the battlefields, the women were also making sacrifices at home.
'Brave Women Who Wait' was recorded by Ernest Pike, an English tenor who became the ‘house vocalist’ for the HMV recording company. He recorded more than 500 records in a career that spanned over 20 years, and was known as ‘England’s most recorded tenor’. Like many singers of the day, Pike also recorded under numerous pseudonyms with other companies, in particular with Zonophone.
For the war effort to be successful, it was not only men who needed to be recruited. The women on the home front also had to show their commitment, so they were also the target of propaganda campaigns. They were encouraged to farewell their husbands, sons, brothers and boyfriends off to war, but they also made to feel that they had a noble duty. 'Brave Women Who Wait' aims to remind the general population that while the men may be dying on the battlefields, the women were also making sacrifices at home. This is brought home in the second verse of the song:
For the men there’s the danger and peril of war
A shot may soon settle their fate
But what of the anguish and sorrow and care
That come to the women who wait?
However, the women on the home front were doing far more than ‘waiting’. The song fails to acknowledge that women filled many roles previously undertaken by men in agriculture and manufacturing, including the manufacture of armaments.
The Australian Gazette was typical of multi-part silent newsreels, with a mix of serious and lighter news coverage, that kept people at home informed during the First World War. Sheepdogs trials like the one seen in the first segment had been held in Australia from as early as the 1870s. The British steel barque Inverness-Shire, seen in the second segment, lost three of her four masts in a storm off Tasmania before being towed by a tug into the port of Hobart. The Melbourne parade in the third segment records the strong association Australians have had with the French Red Cross, particularly during this period when Australia fought with the Allied Powers, including France, against the German, Austro–Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. Many of the costumes in this procession depict identities or scenes from French history such as crusaders, medieval knights and the Emperor Napoleon. The final segment shows the funeral procession for Victor Trumper, a popular cricketer renowned for his stylish batting technique. He died at the age of 37 and 20,000 mourners lined the route of his funeral procession, the largest ever seen in Sydney to that time.
On 31 July 1915 Darcy defended his world middleweight title against American Eddie McGoorty. This was filmed and used in the recruitment campaign. First, a number of returned soldiers from Gallipoli encouraged the spectators to ‘do their bit’. Then it was the politicians’ turn. However, they were unable to speak as they were ‘counted out’ by the crowd, which managed to drown out their efforts. Although the first conscription referendum was still a long way off, this opposition to recruitment was already expressed very publicly in 1915.
In the early stages of the war sport was seen as a fertile site for recruitment, and this film shows 17,000 spectators crammed into the Sydney Stadium to witness Les Darcy defend his world middleweight title against American Eddie McGoorty in 1915. An intense affair, Police ended the fight in the 15th round after McGoorty was knocked down for the fourth time. Beforehand the Premier of NSW, William Holman, and the opposition leader, Charles Wade, were scheduled to give a recruitment speech.
However, as it became obvious that the war would not be over quickly, and as casualties from Gallipoli mounted, sport was condemned as a distraction from fighting and the home front war effort.
The arrival of a shipment of US films in Sydney in 1916 confirmed that Hollywood had won Australian hearts. But some commentators were already concerned about the impact on Australian film production. On 16 March 1916, ‘Kinema’ of the Melbourne Argus asked, 'Why should Australia be mainly dependent upon other countries' for its motion pictures? The article explored costs and marketplace realities that forced the closure of Australian film-producing companies, 'one after the other'. In a conclusion that resonates even today, Kinema says, 'whilst the successful Australian productions can be counted upon the fingers of the two hands, the number of those which have entailed serious financial loss is unfortunately considerable'.
In this clip the Oceanic liner SS Sierra arrives in Sydney with a shipping crate filled with Hollywood movies from the US studio Triangle, ‘the most valuable shipment of films yet shipped to Australia’. The cargo is offloaded at Circular Quay, delighting wartime audiences and creating despair for Australian filmmakers.
This film clip item appeared in the newsreel Australasian Gazette (No 277). The newsreel was made by Australasian Films, which happened to have the exclusive rights to distribute Triangle Films productions in Australia and New Zealand. Their publicity efforts are understandable - the company had paid £40,000 for its Triangle contract. The investment paid off when, after an introductory screening of the new films, picture-show managers pronounced Triangle productions ‘as fine as anything yet seen here, and the photography is well-nigh perfect’.
Triangle Film Corporation was a prestigious Hollywood studio with high-profile film directors Thomas Ince, DW Griffith and Mack Sennett. It was 'incorporated for a million pounds', said the Sydney Sunday Times, and each director earned £20,000 per year. Among its stars were the up-and-coming Douglas Fairbanks as well as established theatre celebrities such as Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree.
Scenes of surf, sun and swimming at Coogee Beach, Sydney, played upon the sea as a place of recreation in stark contrast to the suffering at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. This film clip from 1915 shows the local surf lifesaving club practising with a surf reel. The foreshore is teeming with swimmers and sunbathers, as well as a good number of beach visitors dressed to the nines and content to promenade.
Coogee is a beachside suburb of the city of Randwick, eight kilometres southeast of central Sydney. Coogee Beach has increased in popularity from a destination for daytrippers in the early 1800s to one of Sydney's most frequented surf beaches. The local surf lifesaving club was established in 1907.
Australians in general have an abiding connection to the ocean and a respect for surf lifesavers. Enlistment posters sometimes used these Australian values to attract recruits by shaming young men into joining the armed forces. Posters such as, "It is nice in the surf, but what about the men in the trenches? Go and help" (Artist: David Henry Souter, 1917) played upon the sea as a place of recreation in stark contrast to the suffering of the troops overseas.
After the outbreak of war there was a growing public opinion that all Germans in Australia were a threat to security and should be interned. In this cartoon, this attitude appears as a fear that employees of German origin are protected in government jobs.
News items about public servants with Teutonic names appeared from January 1916 onwards, but it is unclear in which month this cartoon by Harry Julius was created. Julius shows a fortress-like building labelled a government department. A balding and bespectacled public servant pops his head out of the building and says, 'It’s very nice of these Australians. They go and fight to keep me in a nice fat job – Yes.' He produces a sack of money and looks around in a shifty manner. The words 'Better than being interned – Yes' appear.
Despite the war raging in Europe, communities still congregated to celebrate and enjoy themselves. This actuality footage shows a parade of people on horseback, cars and motor-cycles in streets - plus a stubborn donkey - making their way to the local swimming pool for a day of frivolity. Young men, those that Prime Minister Billy Hughes would have rather seen enlisting or being conscripted into the AIF, compete in a footrace, pillow fights on a greasy pole over water, diving, racing in the the Men's 50 yards Handicap swim and participating in a bobbing cork hunt. The clip also shows unrelated footage of tomato bush tending, dairy cows, a truck carrying milk churns near a Peters Icecream sign, and a road sign saying Trafalgar (Vic).