Case 8: Home Front Services

The Australian Comforts Fund was formed after a 9th January 1940 Melbourne meeting of delegates of various State funds to provide better coordination than during World War I.

The function of the Fund was to provide services to fit and well members of the Australian Forces, men and women, within and outside Australia. The function of the Red Cross was care of wounded, sick and POWs. Both were officially accredited to the Forces. Three other bodies came to be officially recognised - the YMCA, the Salvation Army and the YWCA (the last a bit later, when increasing numbers of women in the Forces called for a separate organisation to care specifically for their needs).

Generally, the ACF was accepted as the coordinating collecting body in most States, and the other accredited bodies agreed to make no separate public appeals except by mutual agreement.

Many functions were for the joint benefit of a combination of bodies.

The conjunction of the six-pointed ACF Red Star with other organisations' emblems became a feature of letterheads, posters and programmes.


The YWCA embraced the war effort on a number of fronts, affiliating with the Australian Comforts Fund, forming linkages with the Land Army and Garden Army, and establishing a network of 'Leave Houses' in Australia and beyond.

  • Photographs of leave house, Plympton, South Australia.
  • Samples of YWCA Welfare Officer's epaulettes.
  • Victor Harbour Leave House guest register 1942-1946.
  • Documents of late 1941 and early 1942 concerning a request to the Prime Minister for accreditation for National Service and other matters, and the draft position description for a secretary for extension and war time service.
  • YWCA newscuttings book showing press coverage of the Association's Garden Army, April/June 1942.
  • Photographs of Magnetic Island leave house.
  • Dorothy Powell's combined log-diary-scrapbooks from Townsville YWCA, 1943 and 1944.
  • Photographs of YWCA Transit and Services Club at Kure during Allied Occupation in Japan after the War.
  • YWCA Australian War Services Photograph album.
  • Association News April 1943 with text of Mrs R.G. Casey's 'Broadcast of the YWCA Services' Clubs'.
  • Association News Souvenir Issue, January 1947: YWCA War Services.

Some other services and surveys

Another organization connected with the ACF was the Conservatorium of Music at the University, which also had strong linkages with the Victorian Symphony Orchestra through conductor Bernard Heinze and many of the other members who taught at the Conservatorium.

Heinze conducted performances of Coleridge-Taylor's 'Hiawatha' in Aid of War Charities in October and November 1939.

  • Programme for production of 'Hiawatha'.

By early 1940, the University Conservatorium Group of the Red Cross and Comforts Fund had been established, and it continued to contribute to the Australian Comforts Fund - Victorian Division and the Lord Mayor's Red Cross Appeal Fund into the postwar period.

  • Group bank passbook, in account with the University Branch of the National Bank, May 1940-January 1946; receipts for transfers in January 1946: Group financial statement for year ended 31 December 1941.

Conservatorium Collection

Other groups at the University to engage in Forces entertainment and fund-raising included the Committee of Melbourne University Women. For instance, a dance was held on 30 August 1940 for interstate and country soldiers doing a course at the Officer's Training School stationed in the M.U.R. hut. The University Women's Ball of 1941 was in aid of the Women of the University Patriotic Appeal. A picture night on 12 September 1941 was in aid of the Women of the University Patriotic Appeal, who would pass the money to the Red Cross Ambulance Appeal.

  • This report of a May 1941 dance for interstate Naval Men recommends stricter scrutiny of the type of women being allowed entry!

Committee of Melbourne University Women Collection

Many other groups were involved in fund-raising or providing facilities for Service personnel, for instance a Fund with illustrious patronage (and Professor Crawford as a Vice-President) opened an Appeal to provide Australian Sheepskins for Russian Sick and Wounded.

  • Letter from Secretary, Clothing Trades Union, to a member seeking a donation to the fund.
  • Letter of thanks from President of the Fund to the Secretary, Clothing Trades Union 19 February 1943.
  • Report and Balance Sheet of Fund, August 1942-June 1943.
  • Invitation to Union Secretary to Russian Ball 1942, organised to raise funds by the Russian Group of the Australian Red Cross Society.

Clothing Trades Union, Victorian Branch Collection

Another organization to establish an Allied Services Canteen was the Allied Services Patriotic Fund of Australia-Soviet House (of which Professor Crawford was President, and several other Professors were Vice-Presidents).

  • Brochure listing attractions at Canteen in Flinders Lane.
  • Notice of raffle and covering letter from Secretary of the Fund to the Secretary of the Clothing Trades Union, 24 September 1945.

Clothing Trades Union, Victorian Branch Collection

Miscellaneous items:

  • Lord Mayor Frank Beaurepaire shows two US servicemen the portrait of John Batman in the Town Hall, and chats with US and Australian servicemen on the roof of the Town Hall.

Olympic Consolidated Industries Collection

  • University Unit of the Lord Mayor's Mobile A.R.P. Canteen serving in Collins Street, copy of a cutting from The Argus 28 December 1943.

University Newscutting Collection

As well as organizations raising funds or providing services to the Forces, there were others that looked after the civilian needy, whether individuals or families, many of whom had their life circumstances exacerbated by the contingencies and disruptive effects of war.

The case-files of the Charity Organization Society during these years often reflect the exigencies of life in a decade beset by the Depression and extended unemployment, followed by a decade uniquely affected by defence and wartime circumstances.

In this case, a Melbourne artilleryman stationed in Queensland in 1943 (who had been unemployed for four years during the 1930s) has on the advice of his C.O. written to the A.I.F. Women's Association Welfare Branch asking if they could help his family in Melbourne. A covering letter from the C.O. related that the man has several times gone A.W.L. in order to go to Melbourne.

The Women's Association has forwarded the letter to the Charity Organisation Society, and the ensuing case report reveals that his 25-year old wife, with six children under the age of 8, has to regularly take one child to hospital, during which times her husband had looked after the other five children. After his posting interstate, this task was sometimes performed by the next-door neighbour. But now this woman, her husband in the Navy and a son on Active Service, has herself been called up by Manpower for laundry service.

  • Case report and associated correspondence, August 1943.

Citizens' Welfare Service of Victoria Collection [now the Drummond Street Relationship Centre]

The University of Melbourne Archives also contains valuable data in the Wilfred Prest Collection relating to 'normal' suburban families in wartime Melbourne. The creation of this material originated with the postponement of the 1941 census because of the War, whereupon a grouping of the University, the Department of Postwar Reconstruction and local businesses financed a survey of 1 in 30 households across Melbourne, with a follow-up to households in the industrial west, the latter being the subject of the monograph by Prest, Housing, Income and Saving in War-Time: A Local Survey (1952).

  • The original questionnaire was a fairly closed one, on the back of one page of which the interviewer would sometimes note her own or her informant's observations where pertinent. In the follow-up survey, an open-ended page of headings was included on which were recorded the informants' information and impressions of such matters as the effect of the war on the cost of living, opinions about rationing, the extent of savings and of insurance cover, and expectations of the postwar period. These returns, of which samples are shown, reveal a widespread experience of a higher cost of living, a high rate of participation in war savings and war loans, fears of postwar depression with the scaling down of wartime production and the return of demobilized personnel to the workforce, though most felt that things would be better than after World War I, and others thought there would only be a short-lived slump.
  • Comments noted allude to the 'shocking' rise in the price of fruit, and of meat and butter; a perception that rationing is good for savings; one couple are 'great admirers of Prof. Crawford'; another expects the 'workers to be downtrodden once more' after the war; one hopes to take her grandmother home to Scotland to die in the family home 'if the Germans have left it alone'; a head of household 'thinks married women should be put off after the war, thought [to be] doing a good job now and providing for future, men must have jobs back', believes that Australia will have a good opportunity to export more wheat and wool to 'knocked about' European countries, while his wife believes that bottled liquor should be rationed - at the moment, hotels get it all, and one 'can't get any in shops for husbands coming home from long day's work'.

Prest Collection; note: Wilfred Prest, who had come from Britain with knowledge of urban social surveys there, was Senior Lecturer in Economics from 1938, becoming Professor in 1946.

  • Melbourne graduate Jock Reeves in 1944 produced for the Church of England Men's Society and the Brotherhood of St Laurence the tract, Housing the Forgotten Tenth, in effect a plea that provision for the welfare of the 'problem tenant' be factored into the prevailing debate about the best means of addressing the question of postwar housing. Reeves subsequently worked as a lecturer and administrator in the Faculty of Economics and Commerce, and was prominent in the Fabian Society and in ALP economic policy development.

J.H. Reeves Collection

Young Men's Christian Association

The Y.M.C.A. was one of the organizations accredited to the Forces as a provider of services to members of the Australian Forces, in Australia and elsewhere.

The first meeting of the Victorian Y.M.C.A. Military Service Committee occurred within three weeks of the declaration of war - but as the statement 'The War and the Y.M.C.A.' recalls, negotiations between the National Committee and the Defence Department had begun as early as 1936 against the possibility of such an eventuality.

  • Minute Book, Victorian Y.M.C.A. Military Service Committee, 22 September 1939- 11 June 1943.
  • Copy of statement, ' The War and the Y.M.C.A.'
  • Copy of Report and Proceedings...of the Eighteenth National (Centenary) Convention of the Young Men's Christian Associations of Australia..., 18-20 November 1944 (cover title being Three More War Years 1941-1944).
  • Y.M.C.A Defence Services newscuttings scrapbook.
  • Selected photographs from Y.M.C.A. Defence Forces Committee 1939-1947 album.

The Myer Emporium

Even before the War had started, Chairman and Managing Director of Myer's, Norman Myer had been commissioned by Prime Minister Lyons to visit the United States to seek information about military clothing.

The day after the declaration of war, Myer had written to Menzies offering the services of his business empire. Myer was soon appointed Honorary Business Consultant to the Defence Department, and the manager of Myer's Ballarat Woollen Mills advisor to the Department of Supply and Development, one task being to advise on the clothing requirements of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

However, Myer in January 1942 resigned from the Board of Business Administration amid allegations in the House and the Senate of price-fixing and profiteering by the firm. This matter hung over the reputation of the firm for some months. A letter from W. Massy-Greene soon after his resignation suggested that Professor Copland was the one 'out of step' in the interpretation and implementation of price control measures and had made 'horrible examples' of some firms in order to create a climate of fear. Though he resigned, Myer offered to serve in some other capacity. And he would soon found a services club under the aegis of the Australian Comforts Fund.

As a protected industry, the Ballarat Mill retained sufficient staff to work double shifts. In the Melbourne store, many younger staff enlisted, their placed being taken by 'those Grey Haired Girls at Myer's'. As the War progressed, many goods became unobtainable, especially imports. With petrol rationing, delivery fleets were pooled, and the familiar badges of Myer's, Foy's and so on were painted over.

A Norman Myer initiative for servicemen was to pay for the establishment of the 'Dug-Out', two cafes joined together beneath the Capitol Theatre in Swanston Street, providing bathrooms and a clothes mending room as well as food and entertainment. It was opened by General Blamey in May 1942, a representative of General MacArthur also being present. It was open daily from 9.30 a.m. to 11 p.m., staffed by 150 volunteers from Myer's during the evenings.

Linkages between Myer's and wartime production facilities continued into the peace, the company leasing the munitions plant at Maribyrnong as a furniture factory, and also marketing cheap prefabricated houses made for them by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation.

  • Certificate of introduction to Norman Myer, signed by J.A. Lyons, 24 March 1939.
  • Exchange of correspondence between Norman Myer and R.G. Menzies, John Curtin and W. Massy-Greene, 1939-42.
  • Copy of Store News around the time that war was declared.
  • Photographs at the 'Dug-Out', including the opening by General Blamey, 8 May 1942, and a July 4 dance 1942.
  • Sample pages of the 'Dug-Out' visitors' book.
  • Sample page of Myer 1942 scrap book which included a time-line of events in the War and in local regulations, their implications for the business, and an account of other activities such as the 'Dug-Out'.