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Page history last edited by Lenore Frost 1 year, 1 month ago

Volunteers of Essendon and Flemington, 1914-1918


Continued on Mountain-Family-2






By Marilyn Kenny


When war came to Essendon in August 1914 the Mountain family of Buckley St Essendon was living the regular existence that attended their position in society. They were part of the Essendon elite, industrious though comfortably situated.  Julia Wallis and William John Mountain had married in South Melbourne in the Methodist Church in 1889. By 1890 they were living at Craiglea on the north side of Buckley St, a couple of lots up from the Lincoln Road corner. Other family lived nearby. Mountain’s maternal uncle Alexander Fraser and family were a few houses further along Buckley St. Brother Frederick came later to Kiora Street and Percy Mountain resided in Park St. The couple had five children Hilda, William, Reginald, Marjorie and Doris.


In his younger days William Mountain had been an active cyclist very involved with the League of Victorian Wheelmen and the North Suburban Cycling Club. They were foundation members of the Aberfeldie Bowls and Croquet Club in Scott St established in 1910, Julia Mountain being a particularly keen croquet player. The family attended St John’s Presbyterian Church in Buckley St. Holidays were spent at the family property near Macedon. The girls attended local private Ladies Colleges and William went on to Scotch College from the Essendon State School in Raleigh Street. He was the surviving son, Reginald having died in from fever at the age of six years in 1899. William J Mountain had for many years occupied senior positions in private companies developing Victoria’s embryonic electricity supply. In 1914 he was Secretary i.e. Commercial Manager of the Melbourne Electric Supply Company the foremost in this field. It held over one million pounds worth of assets including the Richmond and Geelong power stations and employed hundreds.


William John Mountain had been born into a political family. His father William John Mountain Senior had been a South Melbourne Councillor 1875 to 1885 and 1893-1906. He was also MLA for Melbourne South 1889 - 1892. Mountain Junior was elected to Essendon Council in 1896 and served until the end 1905. He was appointed Mayor of Essendon 1901-1902. His first term as Essendon’s Mayor was concurrent with his father’s second term as Mayor of South Melbourne. The two men were also concurrently their Councils’ representatives on the MMBW and this unusual situation was much noted. Mountain was re-elected to Essendon Council in 1909. The Mountain family socialized with the families of other Councillors. They were habitually at the same social occasions and sports events and holidayed together. The elder girls made their debuts at Essendon and their names frequently appeared as attending dances and balls. In 1914 Julia was 54 years and William 51. Daughters Hilda was 24 years, Marjorie 20 years, and Doris 14 years and still at school at Winstow Girls' Grammar.Twenty three year old William was a draughtsman in the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works. He, Marjorie and Doris were all were keen tennis players, the elders being members of the Essendon Tennis Club. All lived in the seven room brick Buckley St home.


Hilda seated second from right making her debut at the Essendon Spinsters Ball

June 1909


The Essendon Red Cross


The Red Cross had raised funds in the district prewar though this was mainly by way of specific appeals e.g. for hospitals. The first major fund raising in the district was for the Red Cross motor ambulances.


In November 1914 the Mayoress of Essendon, Mrs. J. Goldsworthy, called for an organized effort on the part of the citizens of Essendon to help the Red Cross in their work of caring for the wounded and sick. On 10 December 1914 a meeting was held at the Town Hall, to consider the establishment of a local committee. The large gathering agreed to form the Essendon Red Cross Other branches were later set up in Ascot Vale, North Essendon and Flemington.Essendon’s weekly meeting was held in the Town Hall and was reported in detail in the Essendon Gazette. The Mayor was President defacto and as a number of senior Councillors and wives were involved it held a little more weight than the other branches. The first Secretary was Alfred J May who enlisted in May 1915. After this the secretaryship was held jointly for the duration of the conflict by J J Connor and Mrs. Julia Mountain. John James Connor was a descendant of a pioneer Essendon family. Aged 54 years in 1914, he worked in a supervisory capacity for the Postmaster General’s Department and lived at 553 Mt Alexander Rd, Moonee Ponds.


Front Row.—Cr. E. H. Kinnear, Mrs. J. Goldsworthy (Mayoress), Cr. J. Goldsworthy, (Mayor,
President), Mrs. E. H. Kinnear. Back Row.—Mrs. W. J. Mountain (Hon. Secretary), Mrs. A. E.
Price, Mr. A. J. May (Hon. Secretary). Mrs. B. Gillies, Miss Butler, Mrs. W. M. Pullar.
ESSENDON BRANCH OF THE RED CROSS SOCIETY. (1915, September 16). Punch (Melbourne, Vic. : 1900 - 1918; 1925), p. 17.  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138701526


The work of the branch involved both raising funds and the manufacture of goods. Monies were either required for a specific purpose or later to enable the purchase of materials. Although early in the war blankets, sheets, towels, socks, shirts, pajamas, old linen, etc. were cheap and easily procurable, as the years progressed the Red Cross increasingly found it had to purchase the raw materials and sometimes the labour with which to make them. Officials made the point that with unemployment so high offering piece work to women to sew was also alleviating hardship. Funds came from a multitude of entertainments, many directly organized and staffed by the Red Cross Committee. These included fetes, concerts, button days, street and station stalls, military displays, church parades, carnivals, physical culture displays, art unions, sale of sweets at concerts, raffles, Juvenile fancy dress parties, patriotic gymkhanas, dances and  tournaments. Collections were often made at other public events such as race meetings.


From the beginning, house to house collections featured. Initially those involved simply collected in their own street. On average houses were visited every fortnight by the same lady collector. Each household was asked to contribute 3d as well donate practical items such as tinned goods and linen. Mrs Mountain was listed as doing a collection round from May 1915 onwards. As time progressed collectors were organized on a roster and all streets mapped and allocated. Residents were asked to make regular periodical contributions. In 1917 the house to house collection raised of £1148 nearly 50% of what was raised for the year.


The branch set up a workroom and depot at the Essendon Town Hall. Goods were sorted, examined and packed in accordance with instructions. Those requiring material could also collect it at stated times. Goods were then transported to Government House, the central depot for Victoria, and prepared for shipping. For example clothing was bundled and compressed via a wool press in order to conserve shipping space.


These two photos of the sorting and packing being done in the ballroom of the Federal Government House in Melbourne give an idea of the scale of the work undertaken by the Red Cross.  From the Australian War Memorial Collection.  See also Appendix 2 in Part 2.


By 1916 four sewing machines had been installed at the Essendon Town Hall and ladies were rostered for these as 'Thousands of underpants, shirts, dressing gowns etc. are asked for'. The workroom ladies also cut out garments for anyone wanting taking articles home to be made-up. Wool for socks, scarves, Balaclavas, caps, etc. was also supplied.


Essendon Red Cross Men’s Committee 


Initially most of the local Red Cross work was carried out by the ladies of the community. It was they who knitted, sewed, baked and collected. The gentlemen handled the financial affairs, the public presentations and the packing. In January 1916, however, local supporters were contemplating an expansion of their role. As reported by the Weekly Times, June 1916, at the outbreak of war many small firms had offered their premises for the manufacture of munitions. Small scale production was found to be impracticable, however this did not dampen the 'ardor' of Essendon locals who 'determined that something could be done'. Some local men banded together to make field ambulance stretchers, but felt that working on a larger scale was possible.


Inspired by the Brighton Red Cross and with the support of the Central Red Cross Branch it was decided to establish a Men’s Committee to make equipment that the Red Cross might otherwise have to purchase. Representatives from Brighton, the Central Committee, and the Men’s Section at Government House visited Essendon to speak about items required, standards of manufacture, organization of packing and transport. Various local men volunteered their workshops as Depots or places of manufacture. The number of these increased as the movement became more established. At the beginning it was agreed that the funds required 'should not be a burden on the Ladies' so independent fund raising was required. As there is no further reference to this,  it is presumed that the work was financed by the Branch.




1. WORKERS AT THE DEPOT. Back Row, left to right:  B. O. Livingston, A. J. Gray, A. P. Mitchell, W. F. Boadle, L H Barber, J Carter, W Mitchell, T Bitcon, E R Davis, G Clark(Depot Secretary), S. Jeram, E Grindal, E. McLeod.

Front Row (sitting).—A. Mitchell, R. Henderson, E. J. Barber (Committee), A P Mitchell, A C Fox (Flag),

Leon Barber, ("Mascot"), G Vin Davis (Committee), J G Ellis (Convenor), J. Connor.




The mascot Leonard Barber was born in 1911.Given his presence in two photos this depot is likely to have been at Mr Barber's in Marco Polo St. The items manufactured by this group are on display in front. Photos: Weekly Times Sat 3 Jun 1916.


Thomas William McDonough of 65 Primrose St was a member of the Committee. He was a manager with the large ironmongery firm of Harvey Shaw and Drake, and arranged to supply material required at landed cost. The North Melbourne Electric Light Company supplied workshop power free of charge. It was estimated that the group could manufacture some items at less than one fifth of the retail cost.  The Essendon Gazette published regular reviews and reports and it was hoped by this to interest local tradesmen to 'do their bit'. Items manufactured by the group were also displayed in Puckle Street and North Essendon shops.The major players, events and output are detailed in the attached Appendix.


Waste Not


By 1915 the value of waste goods was realized both in terms of the money received from the scrap merchants and for the savings in the manufacturing of these goods. Newspapers and bottles were the principal items collected on a fortnightly basis by volunteers including Boy Scouts. By late 1916 there was a serious shortage of raw material for the manufacture of paper. It was pointed out that the saving of paper and rags would, in addition to helping Red Cross funds, bring practical relief to the paper industry. As collectors were wanting, paper depots were established at St John's schoolroom, the North Melbourne Tram Company sheds and several sets of private premises in all parts of the district. Volunteers carted the waste to the mills. In July 1917 the sale of 80 lbs of newspapers realized 15s for Red Cross funds.


Strains and Stresses


The war work and tensions frequently meant that Councillors and other community leaders needed to take time off on doctors’ orders. This occurred with the Mountains who together with their friends Cr and Mrs A F Showers took a trip to Japan and the Philippines. Mountain was recovering from an illness and Julia was feeling the effects of her strenuous work as Secretary in the Essendon Red Cross. The couple left on 16 September 1915 and returned mid-January 1916. In Japan Mountain witnessed much activity in connection with the manufacture of munitions for Russia. The Gazette reported that Mrs Mountain 'upon arrival lost no time in resuming the Red Cross work'. On their return their son William enlisted and embarked in August 1916. He joined several other members of the extended Mountain family to serve in the AIF. These included Clarence Fraser, Mountain’s Senior’s first cousin who had enlisted in July 1915.


The Wider Contribution


Many groups worked together to raise funds, make items and then channeled their goods through Red Cross. These included Sewing Guilds at various churches, schools and clubs such as the Aberfeldie Bowls and Croquet Club. By 1916 this club was setting aside every Saturday afternoon for making socks and garments. With only one club sewing machine Mrs Mountain wrote to the newspapers asking for loan of another for the duration so that their efforts would not be hampered. This activity required the ladies to 'self-sacrifice in surrendering the enjoyment of their usual Saturday afternoon outdoor recreation'. Local tobacconists asked their customers to donate either some of their purchases or coins for cigarettes for soldiers. Some ladies such as Mrs Jessie Kinnear opened their homes for regular working bees or organized knitting clubs.


All donations from groups and individuals were itemized and acknowledged in the Gazette. These seem to have been carefully perused as there were regular corrections and apologies for non-acknowledgement. Different groups often marked their donations. Pillow cases might be stamped or notes placed in pajamas pockets, slippers or socks. The Gazette frequently highlighted letters of thanks from those who received such bounty, both those from the district and without. Those involved must have received a special boost to learn that an Essendon boy had slept on a pillowslip made in Essendon. However, as more soldiers were taken as Prisoners of War it became a requirement that goods not be marked as they would be rejected, 'as serious troubles might ensue if communications were found in these parcels on arrival in Germany'. More general letters of appreciation continued to be published, including that from Jeffrey Barry who stressed how much wounded Diggers received from their Red Cross compared to others and how much it was needed.


'4 Jan 1917 On arrival at hospital you have only what you stand up in; your pack is somewhere behind the firing line; and as for money, it depends on how much you have saved from your last pay. Consequently, you are dependent on the Red Cross as no pay is allowed to patients while they are in British hospitals'.


Snapshots From Home League


Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial, ARTV05498.


One specialist group attracted particular support from Marjorie Mountain. The Snapshots League was established in Britain and came to Australia in 1916 under the sponsorship of the YMCA. The object of this league was to:


'organize the professional and amateur photographers of Australia to take snap shot photographs free of charge of the homes, wives, mothers, sisters, sweet hearts and babies of our brave soldiers and send such pictures to the men on active service. The moral influence and happiness resulting from the strengthening of the ties between the homes, with loved ones and the men who are fighting for those homes abroad is incalculable'.


DEBUTANTES OF THE SEASON. (1913, June 12). Punch

(Melbourne, Vic. : 1900 - 1918; 1925), p. 26.  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article176035358



The League aimed to maintain morale at the front by supplying photographs to fight...'the invisible enemy of men at the front, hearthunger, loneliness, isolation, homesickness'. The scheme had the support of the relevant Ministers with the Postmaster General and Minister for Customs gave permission for the posters of the league to be exhibited at every post office and Customs House. Those in Australia connected to men abroad who desire to be "snapped" had to make their request by collecting the relevant form at the Post Office giving their address and the name and address of the soldier abroad. This was forwarded to the local YMCA and 'effect will be given to the wish'. Amateur or professional photographers throughout the country were asked to register with nearest YMCA.


A branch of the League was established in the Essendon district by 1917. Essendon Council granted the use of a room at the Town Hall for the monthly League meeting. The organizer of the local branch was Richard George Hayter Harris, Te-Aroha, 30 Elizabeth Street, Moonee Ponds, and the Secretary and photographer was Marjorie Mountain. Richard George Hayter Harris was then a 43 year old a clerk in the public service. His son Charles Harris, one of the first to attend Essendon High school, joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1917, aged 18 years. The Snapshots League publicized the service through notices in the Gazette.


Snapshots from Home League. 'Think of the soldiers. Send them all snapshots from home. Photos taken absolutely free of charge by efficient amateurs. Obtain application form from nearest post office. Amateur photographers join the League without delay'.


The lantern slide of the poster was also shown gratis on the screen at the Moonee Ponds Theatre in Puckle Street. The taking of the photograph was not the totality of the task. The development of the snapshot also seems to have been the responsibility of the photographer as well as forms to be completed and a monthly return sent to YMCA Headquarters. The Australian War Memorial notes that 'During the First World War over 6000 amateur Australian photographers working for 800 local leagues sent a total of 150,000 photographs to serving men. The Snapshots from Home League of Australia was also active during the Second World War'.


Group portrait of members of the Y.M.C.A. 'Snapshots from home' League, photographed outside the Tennyson Lawn Rest House, Royal Botanic Gardens, circa 1917-18. Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria Collection, H99.122/2.    Note the presence of the tripods  difficult items to easily transport


Equality of Burden


As the years of conflict drew on many of those involved with the Red Cross and other movements came to believe that all were not equally bearing the burden. Daily the work became more onerous and there were appeals for everyone to take on a portion of the duties. In particular there were calls from early 1916 onwards for an imposed scheme of giving. Cr Mountain supported the view that while Essendon had 'responded nobly', an analysis of the movement would show that while there was a section of the people who gave every day, there was a very much larger section which contributed little or nothing. He proposed a graduated scale of payments on weekly wages, to be deducted by employers. The following report from March 1917 indicates the magnitude of the house to house task. There were 7123 Essendon households. Written requests were sent to 6238 homes, and after follow up 940 agreed to subscribe, yielding about £1300 per annum. However a shortage of lady collectors meant that only about one third of the streets were canvassed. An appeal was made for more helpers, hoping in this way to raise over £4000 pa. By 1917 the Essendon Branch had receipts of just over £2000 pa.  By mid-1918 Councillors were stating that:


'the Government was taking advantage of municipal and other public voluntary effort, instead of introducing some system of equitable taxation to meet patriotic requirements. Voluntary effort should still be encouraged but a tax that would take in every wage earner would give satisfaction. The system of begging for money and raffling was most undesirable'.


Issues Arising


Working for the Red Cross was not the only way citizens could support the war effort. As the years wore on many causes, local and international, were established. There were War Bonds, subscriptions to finance the cost of the war. French, Italian and other Red Cross movements, all had their appeals in Australia on the grounds that they were assisting Australian soldiers. The YMCA, canteens and clubs and special appeals such as Belgian Children's Christmas appeal all had their need for funds, workers and supplies. As soldiers returned from the front repatriation causes also made their appeals. Some preferred to work for the Patriotic League and like groups that assisted the fighting soldier for the Red Cross restricted itself to those sick and wounded. Others found it suited them better to offer direct support rather than deal what was called 'Red Cross tapeism'. This term was used by Mrs Eliza Barker, mother of Harold Barker, who held monthly at homes in Waratah Street, Ascot Vale to which ladies were asked to bring a gift for sick or wounded soldiers. These were packed and transported directly to hospital and distributed by matron to the most needy soldiers at the Base Hospital in St Kilda Road. 'No trouble and no worry--direct from the donor to the one in most need of the article'.


The question of the missing or stolen supper cloth arose in 1917, and consumed a few column inches and undoubtedly ruffled feelings. Eventually it was established that Red Cross was not involved and a retraction made. However the opening salvo in the public correspondence, 'Allow me to express my disgust at the way things are carried on by the people of the Red Cross', probably remained longer in the collective memory.


As the organization grew the Red Cross Central Depot made it clear what was required both as to items and standards. For example, in 1917 Essendon Branch was asked for 'a regular and continuous supply of flannel underpants and blanket dressing gowns, these, with any knitted work done, to be the main items sent in from your branch. We know we can rely on you for big supplies in the future, and thus we look confidently forward'. This instruction from the 1917 Red Cross book of patterns made it clear what was and wasn’t acceptable. Workers were 'Instructed to cast on loosely and finish the toe with darning needle. The combination of three colours--red, white and blue is condemned. These will not be sent to the front. Double heels are disapproved of'.


One way of encouraging volunteers was to give publicity to their efforts. In July 1918 a dozen ladies from the Red Cross work room at the Town Hall were cinematographed at the machines. The workers machined, cut out and packed for the benefit of the photographer, and proceedings were 'given a businesslike appearance'. [i]


Continued on Mountain-Family-2



[i] The Essendon ladies probably appear on the newsreel showing Red Cross Activities During and After WWI (c.1919) which is available on the ACMI website Clip 1 from 1 min 15 sec on. The footage provides a snapshot of the daily tasks Female Red Cross volunteers performed during and after the First World War. This clip also shows women spinning. http://aso.gov.au/titles/historical/red-cross-first-world-war/clip1/


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