Doing their bit for the boys who did theirs.

Within days of the declaration of war in August 1914 a vast civilian “army” of voluntary workers began to mobilise to support the war effort.  The Australian Red Cross was first off the mark.  Soon hundreds of local groups were established across Australia to support particular causes.

In June 1916 the Local Government Office informed Concord Council that there would be no objection to them using a portion of the money allocated for promoting or assisting recruiting to defray the preliminary expenses in forming a local branch of the Voluntary Workers Association.  The object of the association would be to build houses for disabled soldiers and the widows of those killed in the war.

On 15th December, 1917, the first soldier’s cottage was handed to Sergeant Gordon Boyd and his wife.  Before enlisting, Sergeant Boyd had been a member of the police force.  According to one newspaper report:  “The home was built for one of the tallest policemen in the State – a perfect specimen of manhood who came back broken and shattered and was so badly injured that he could not even dress himself without assistance.  Despite his infirmity he has found the bravest type of women to share his lot.”  Sergeant Boyd sustained gunshot wounds to both hands at Lone Pine, Gallipoli.  He later named the cottage “Arolla” (from “arolla pinus” – meaning pine tree).

At a meeting of the newly formed Concord Voluntary Workers in July 1917 two of the local aldermen offered to lend ₤100 each to enable a start to be made in erecting the houses.  Mr. J. Dunkley gave a block of ground.  A local solicitor and a local surveyor, as well as plasterers and electricians, offered their services while Mr. Ponton promised to supply the first 1000 bricks.  Mr. Foxcroft agreed to put in the foundation of the first cottage and others promised furniture.

First Soldier’s Home Built

The erection of the first cottage on Lot 13 Mangrove Street (later changed to [No.28] Empire Avenue), was started at the latter end of October and a big band of workers, both men and women, had been engaged every Saturday afternoon and Sunday since, with the result that a fine substantial weatherboard cottage with a laid-out garden was soon ready to be handed over.

On 1st June, 1918, the Governor, Sir Walter Davidson, visited Concord for the purpose of handing over a “handsome cottage” to Private Patrick (Paddy) Curran, resident of Mortlake, who had returned with his left arm disabled and later amputated.

Second Home Built

The Mayor, Ald. Warbrick, mentioned that this was the second cottage that the Association had built and a third was nearing completion.  These homes cost over ₤500 each to build, but will be handed to the successful applicants at a total cost of ₤410.  Applicants must be returned married men.

They had sufficient ground to build two more soldiers’ homes in Empire Avenue and land had been acquired at Mortlake and Concord West.  Negotiations were also in progress for the acquisition of land at Rhodes.

At the association’s final meeting in September 1919 it was reported that “the Concord Voluntary Workers’ Association, formed a few years ago and later amalgamated with the local Soldiers’ Aid Association, has now a credit balance of ₤1,700, has built six cottages, and has three blocks of land”. 

Concord RS&SILA Memorial Hall

At this meeting it was unanimously resolved that out of the ₤1,700 credit balance a local hall be purchased and turned into a Soldiers’ Club with facilities for reading, writing, games, billiards, music.  etc.  This would be handed over to the soldiers without cost.

In October 1919 the sixth and last home, in Empire Avenue, was handed over to Sgt. Patrick McGovern.  After the handing-over ceremony the secretary invited all present to get into the motor cars provided and make a tour of inspection of the other homes that had been built.  Later the party went to the Concord Town Hall where refreshments were served.

The Burwood Voluntary Workers Association was also making a big effort to provide a number of soldiers’ homes.  To this end they had purchased a large block of land in Yaralla Street East (now Gloucester Street), Concord, on which two substantial brick cottages could be built.  One cottage was already in course of erection but had been considerably delayed owing to wet weather and the difficulty in procuring volunteer bricklayers.  A further setback was caused by the thefts of building material.  

Burwood First Soldier’s Home

The first home, opened by Alderman Whipp, Mayor of Burwood, was handed to Pte. F.W. Taylor in September 1919.  The newspaper caption read “Note the brave chap with his good wife and children.  Good luck to them.”

A second cottage to be built by the Burwood Association had been commenced by March 1918 on the Gracemere Estate, Concord

The Concord District Sub Branch (RSSILA) was formed in 1919 and granted its Charter on 1/1/22, making it one of the oldest continuous Sub Branches in the State.

On a block of land at 283 Concord Road, donated to the Sub Branch by Dame Eadith Walker, a building was erected and officially opened by her on 26th May 1928.  The original foundation stone is now set beside that laid by Sir William Yeo, CBE, on the present building site on 10 July 1065.

The original Sub Branch building was sold to Concord Council and became the Municipal Library until it was closed when the new library was built in Wellbank Street.

The site contained a fine tennis court, electrically lit for night tennis, whilst the Hall in the foreground besides having ample floor space, also contains a billiard table and library, and is a rendezvous for returned men of the district.  Contemplated additions will make this building one of the fines of its kind in the suburbs.   (Concord Jubilee book 1933)

(Our display, The Armistice & Beyond, can still be seen at our museum until mid-December)


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