During WWI approximately 160,000 Australians had been wounded, some of them permanently incapacitated. They would need to be restored to health and those unable to resume their former occupations needed to be re-trained and supported. Many needed assistance for the rest of their lives.
During that time Eadith Walker formed a close relationship with soldiers returning from overseas. She was conscious that many repatriated troops were suffering from tuberculosis, the disease that had taken the life of her mother and she became a benefactor of the forces.
With the first wounded and sick AIF soldiers began arriving back in Sydney at the end of 1915, all tubercular cases were quarantined at the North Head Quarantine Station. Scarcely a day passed that her big black sedan did not drive into the station packed to the roof with gifts for the troops.
Not content with mere visits, she decided she would establish a place for them in the grounds of her home, “Yaralla” in Concord West, which she did in 1917. That simple settlement, known as “The Camp”, sheltered up to 32 soldiers at any one time. All costs were borne by Eadith Walker
She lavished every luxury and necessity on the sick men. For three years she maintained the camp’s staff of doctors and nurses without a penny cost to the government.
In 1915 the government passed a bill to turn the Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children into a military hospital. The children were fostered out or sent to other homes and in 1916 the building was officially handed over to the military. It became known as the Coast Hospital. Eadith Walker regularly visited the hospital, again taking baskets of delicacies and gifts for the soldiers. She also established and maintained a library there.
In 1917 she loaned her Leura home, Shuna, to the Red Cross as a convalescent hospital for soldiers returning with tuberculosis. She again undertook the maintenance and staffing of the unit. Shuna did not close until 1922 when she made it available to the Red Cross as a children’s home.
Her compassion extended far beyond caring for the sick soldiers. She formed friendships with many of the returned soldiers and occasionally established them in small business.
In 1919, for her contribution to the war effort, Eadith Walker was made a Commander of the British Empire and, ten years later, she became a Dame of the British Empire, the highest Royal Order available for women.
To find out more please visit our museum at 1 Bent Street, Concord, any Wednesday or Saturday from 10:00 to 3:30 to explore the current display – “Armistice and Beyond”