World War One, the Great War, was given its name because it engulfed so many countries in direct conflict. This not only resulted in conflict and death on a scale not yet seen in the modern world, but it also resulted in a great redirecting of resources, with the results being felt in the lives of individuals at home. It was a total war, with everyone from the front lines to the home front being affected. The term home front refers broadly to the domestic, economic, social and political history of the countries involved in World War One.
Understanding life during the war is difficult to grasp for many people today because life and Australian society was so different even before the war. The Australian population was only 5 million, with most being of English, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh descent. Sue Johnston records that, “in 1910, with the outbreak of the First World War four years in the future, life for most Australians was slower, more isolated and simpler.” (Johnston, 1984). Although the occasional car could be seen in the street, most transportation in Camden was either with the Pansy tram or with horse drawn carriages.
Food was for sustenance with the foodie culture as we know it today unimaginable. Kathleen McArthur tells us that even in the 1920s, “stew was a stew and into it went anything lying around the kitchen or the kitchen garden or the ice-chest.” (McArthur, 1981). Breakfast dishes as simple as porridge required a great deal more diligence than tearing open a bag and adding milk. The oat flakes needing to be soaked overnight before being added to water and boiled in a saucepan the following morning.
Perhaps the most notable change was the combined focus the war gave people on the home front. The focus on the war is perhaps best illustrated by The Camden News, a weekly newspaper that was distributed in Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly, which began every issue during the war with a section called “The War Cables”. The segment provided residents with news of movements and offensives that had occurred the previous week. But this was not simply a preoccupation of the press. J0hnston recalls that children were “absorbed by the war: the parades, the songs, the uniforms, the battles, the heroes, the casualties.” (Johnston, 1984). She recalls the enthusiasm with which even school girls such as herself were involved in the war. Eagerly knitting socks for soldiers or insisting that money ordinarily set aside for prizes be sent to the Patriotic Fund. People from Camden held market stalls to raise funds, and soldiers parades down the main streets were a common although infrequent sight.
The next instalment will talk about social changes that occurred as a result of the war.
Johnston, Sue. (1984). Australia will be there : growing up in the First World War. Kenthurst: Kangaroo Press.
McArthur,Kathleen. (1981). Bread and dripping days: an Australian growing up in the ’20’s. Kenthurst: Kangaroo Press.
n.a. (n.d.) Australia During World War I: The Home Front. Department of Veteran Affairs.
The Camden Advertiser 1939 to 1945; Camden News, 1914 to 1918. [Sydney] W&F Pascoe 2012.