The Great War, although oceans away in Europe, impacted Australia. Not only were there the changes to everyday life and the obvious change that saw many young men enlist and go overseas for the duration of the War, but the social preoccupations of those at home changed as well. As Sue Johnston reported, the absorption of the war meant that all aspects of life, including social, economic, and political, were focused towards the war.
Australian society’s enthusiasm for the war was generated through heavily patriotic schooling developed to encourage a sense of loyalty for Britain and the Empire (McLean, 1995). Johnston confirms that learning history “was mostly the history of Britain and her Empire”, and Ian Willis provides a detailed description of the process of education that resulted in support for the war effort (Willis, 1994). But, despite this, it was at times difficult to encourage support for the war.
As a result, many activities to support the war effort revolved around social events. Musical events were organised to raise money for support of the troops. One of these reported in The Camden News reveals that proceeds from a concert at The Oaks School of Arts went to the Patriotic Fund (Willis, 2007). The entertainment was provided by men, women, and school children from the area. These were by no means dreary affairs for a sombre war effort, but were long, celebratory events, starting at 8pm and continuing with dancing until the early hours of the following morning.
Other social events included hosting visits to the area by servicemen. A 1917 visit of French troops to Camden was recorded in a series of photographs, with a lunch held behind what is now the National Bank of Australia. This was also a large social event with many people from the area participating (Willis, 2013).
Christmas in particular was very different during the war. As Johnston remembers, the absence of family members who had gone overseas to fight created a “more subdued atmosphere.” As the war continued and casualty lists grew the reason for celebration became less clear, with Christmas too having “a shadow of war weariness” (Johnston, 1984).
Joy returned with the largest celebration that came on 11 November, 1918, when the armistice was declared. “City streets were jammed with enthusiastic crowds and celebrations continued late into the night” (Johnston, 1984). The war was over, and the celebrations that came were glimpses of the joy and enthusiasm originally expressed towards the prospect of war, with peace processions occurring in Camden in the years following the war.
As a way of commemorating the terrible years of the war and the sacrifices of many Australians, Anzac Day celebrations became a tradition following the war. Willis tells us that the celebration of Anzac Day as a national holiday was not whole heartily supported by all individuals, as many felt that it should be a private, sacred observance (1994). When the day was commemorated, McArthur recalls that these were the ‘less pleasant celebrations’ during the decade following the war, with men re-fighting the war, women weeping over a lost relative, and all round little celebration (1981).
The Great War was over, but it left great changes in the world, great changes in society and great changes in the people.
Johnston, Sue. (1984). Australia will be there : growing up in the First World War. Kenthurst: Kangaroo Press.
Maclean, Pam. (1995). War and Australian Society. Australia’s War: 1914-18. St Leonards, N.S.W : Allen & Unwin.
McArthur,Kathleen. (1981). Bread and dripping days: an Australian growing up in the ’20’s. Kenthurst: Kangaroo Press.
Willis, Ian. (1994). Patriotism and Education in New South Wales. Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society. June 1994. Vol. 80.
Willis, Ian. (2007). Camden’s Rich Musical Heritage. The District Reporter.
Willis, Ian. (2013). French Troops welcomed in Camden. The District Reporter.