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Page history last edited by Lenore Frost 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Volunteers of Essendon and Flemington, 1914-1918




Pattie Deakin and the Anzac Buffet


Lenore Frost




Elizabeth Martha Anne Browne (but known as Pattie) Browne as born at Camp Hill, Tullamarine Victoria on 1 January 1863. She was the third of the eleven children of Hugh Junor Browne and his wife Elizabeth (née Turner).


Pattie Browne married Alfred Deakin in 1882.  Deakin was the Victorian Parliamentary Member for Essendon and Flemington from 1889 to 1901.  He became Prime Minister of Australia in the Federal Parliament from 1903 to 1910, though  consecutively.  From 1910 to 1913 he served as the Leader of the Opposition.


Throughout her married life, Pattie devoted herself to her family and charity work, especially in the area of child welfare.  She encouraged her three daughters to live a life of service to others.

For a listing of her philanthropic work, see the Australian Women's Register. https://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/IMP0054b.htm


  Jane McMillan and Pattie Deakin (in a hat) with the volunteers of the Soldiers’ Refreshment Stall.

Photo:  Voluntary War Workers Record, Australian Comforts Fund, 1918.


Vera Deakin and the Red Cross, by Carole Woods, was published by the Royal Historical Society of Victoria in 2020.  While reading this book I was interested in the reference to the Anzac Buffet, and most particularly just exactly where it was in St Kilda Road.  It required a little bit of digging, but now I know.


When the war began in 1914, the Australian Army put its efforts into equipping and training their recruits for war, but it was the women of Australia who threw themselves into providing comforts and morale boosting for young men separated from their friends and family.  Though the troops were surrounded by young men similar to themselves,  they could be lonely for their wives and girlfriends, mothers and sisters.   The women of Australia understood this and with a will they threw themselves into providing home comforts for the men. 


The women also excelled at seeing a need and working out a way of filling that need without the support of a huge organisation around them.   The Soldiers’ Refreshment Stall, later called the Anzac Buffet, is one example of a need met by a group of women without a formal organisation. Leadership was provided by older women, self-selected largely through class and status, and the rest generally formed a supportive group around them with no formal structure required, only a willingness to work hard and fill a need.




Soldiers being served by women volunteers at the Anzac Buffet at No 5 Australian General Hospital, Melbourne, circa 1916. The conditions are fairly rudimentary, with a canvas awning and the window hatches the only shelter in the event of rain. Australian War Memorial, H03343.


When men who had returned from overseas began congregating for appointments at the 5 Australian General Hospital (5AGH) in St Kilda Rd, often waiting for lengthy periods to be seen, the need was perceived for hot drinks and a meal to sustain them during their long waits and travel time at both ends of the appointment.  The men were highly appreciative of the services provided by the women, and all for the cost of only one penny. 

The 5AGH was located in the newly completed Police Hospital. Before ever having admitted a patient, the Police Hospital was taken over by the Army to provide for soldiers yet to embark and also by wounded returning from Gallipoli. The first patients were admitted in March 1915.



A news article described this drawing: “The Building elevation shown above is that of the new police hospital which is in course of erection upon a site on the corner of St Kilda road and Nolan-street, which was formerly part of the old Immigrants Home property.”  (Argus, 20 June 1914).



 No. 5 Australian General Hospital (Base Hospital) Melbourne. F C Hawker, p 6.


The hospital faced Nolan Street on the north side, now renamed Southbank Boulevard.  St Kilda Road passes in the foreground.  It reverted to a Police Hospital in 1920.  


The Police Hospital from a drawing of the entire Police Depot in St Kilda Rd.

See The Heritage-Listed Old Police Hospital is Born Again.


Former Prime Minister Alfred Deakin had accepted an invitation to form a delegation to visit the USA in January 1915, and despite his daughter Vera being anxious to find a way to serve the war effort, she was obliged to accompany her parents to California.  Pattie, his wife, and Vera Deakin had been original members of the British Red Cross organising committee in Melbourne in 1914, but left the committee when they travelled overseas with Alfred.   Both of the women were accustomed to leadership roles,  so on their return they had to find a new activity rather than appropriate their former positions, now occupied by other women.  The Australian Red Cross was providing workers in the kitchens at the 5 Australian General Hospital (5AGH), and  it might have been their suggestion that there was a need for a refreshment service for the men who had long waits to see doctors and other health professionals. 


Vera Deakin worked with her mother and Jane McMillan in the establishment of the Soldiers Refreshment Stall, but on 21 December 1915, Vera and her friend Winifred Johnston left Melbourne on a ship bound for Cairo, to begin her important war work with the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau


The Deakins arrived home in early July 1915.  On 29 August 1916 The Argus reported that the first birthday of the Soldiers’ Refreshment Stall had taken place on the previous day, implying that the Deakin women had taken less than two months to set up and commence their work in 1915.   There were formalities to go through  – permission from the authorities at the 5AGH, a tent to work in, some basic equipment to assemble and the first donations of tea, coffee, cocoa and bread, cake and appropriate provisions for soup, and a team of volunteers to operate the stall seven days a week.  They kept this up for four solid years, with the work building from 4,000 per week in 1916  to an average of 1,000 “serves” per day in 1919. (The Herald, 11 Nov 1919, p 1).


The Stall served hospital  outpatients, drivers, men from the camps, orderlies and all soldiers who had a need of it.    Ten and later 15 volunteers turned up each day to run the stall. The group photographs show thirty-six and forty-eight volunteers respectively, and thirty-five are listed individually in the Voluntary War Workers Record, Australian Comforts Fund, 1918.   Between 400 and 500 volunteers assisted throughout the period of its operation, and 130 names were on the roll in 1919. (The Herald, 11 Nov 1919, p 1).


From the Ladies Letter, Punch, 4 May 1916:


“The Base Hospital Soldiers' Refreshment Stall celebrated Anzac Day by entertaining over two

hundred overseas "Anzac" men, presenting each guest with packets of  cigarettes, sweets, and

matches. There was no speechifying or boresome formality about the affair—just a homely,

cheery greeting characteristic of this pleasant "corner" run by the "Serve You Right Sisters,"

as the volunteer- caterers at the S.R.S. are affectionately dubbed by their khaki customers. Each arrival was just enjoined, in greeting to "remember the day, and what it commemorates” and, indeed, the majority, of those present, with limp, hanging, empty sleeves, shaded eyes and pathetic bandages, had every reason to remember.


This "corner," by the way, is kept so busy now that it requires  an average "of ten helpers a day. There is no committee, no board, no red tape. Practically every suburb is represented among the helpers, among whom exists a wonderful esprit de corps and absence of friction. Over 900 men per day are fed and "mothered" very often, or a mean average of 4000 per week. Supplies and cheques just flow in without any necessity for canvassing or pleading on the part of the organisers — not in huge, spasmodic lumps and amounts, mind  you. There is just that knowledge among the S.R.S. that they know where to turn for support ; a regular fifty pounds of tea, for instance, keeps the caddy replenished from one firm ; so many pounds of cake per week arrive from another ; and so on. A leading Prahran emporium the other day handed in a cheque for £25, saying that was only the beginning of what the employes intended to do as a recognition of the fine work being done.


"By their works ye shall know them," and the gratitude of the soldiers who have been administered to, and of their relatives and friends, is constantly being signified in a variety of ways. One soldier—a baker by trade—sends along his "thank you" every week in the form of a trayful of pastry cook's goodies. The mother of one soldier who was shown kindness by these volunteers tried to express her gratitude by offering little gifts to the chief ministering angel. This was gently declined, with the explanation that other soldiers who were not able to afford such presents might be made to feel unhappy; but if "Mum" liked to send along some scones or something they would be very welcome. Now, with frequent regularity, a package of home-made cakes, scones, etc., arrive at the buffet from this grateful "Mum." In addition to the hundred-and-one little services which the workers in this "corner" are able to do, such as sewing on buttons, writing letters (for those, alas ! incapacitated), interceding with authority, helping through inquiries, comforting relatives, etc., a regular "Returned Soldiers' Aid Fund" has become established.


Temporary loans for small amounts are advanced to those who need them. Poor Billy Khaki is so often "stoney," awaiting pay  arrears—goodness knows why and how ! This temporary accommodation is given, with discretion, with common-sense judgment, but without cold official inquiry, without red tape, without even hesitation" as to its being "deserving." And how it is appreciated ! In nine cases out of ten all such advances are returned in due course. And as for the tenth—well, what are we all supposed to be doing, and thinking, and talking of, and bragging about, if it is not helping soldiers in need?  Another excellent movement instituted is for the provision of suits of civilian clothes for discharged invalids. A soldier is given one outfit by the Government when he doffs his khaki. If that gets wet or damaged he can very seldom afford to buy another. Husbands and friends of this helpful sisterhood are only too glad to contribute suits for this, purpose,  particularly duck and linen, outfits for on board ship for those discharged men who have to return to England”.

(Punch, 4 May 1916, p 32.)


The soldiers', new refreshment stall at the base hospital, St. Kilda road, was

opened on November 30 by the acting State Commandant, Brigadier-General R. E.

Williams. The pavilion was built at the expense of the Defence department in order

to provide better accommodation for carrying on the work than the old structure

afforded. The new stall has been christened the "Anzac Buffet," and in it returned

soldiers are provided with refreshments at a nominal cost. The buffet is conducted

by a number of patriotic sympathetic ladies, who give their services, voluntarily. After

Brigadier-General Williams had explained the launching of the movement two and a

half years ago by women eager to serve their country in any capacity, Mrs Alfred

Deakin (directress) responded, thanking the Defence department for the gift of the

pavilion, which would greatly assist in the work they were devoted to, at which

announcement the soldiers cheered enthusiastically. Luncheon was subsequently

served, and amongst those present were Brigadier-General and Mrs  Sellheim, Mr.

Alfred Deakin, Colonel F. D. Bird, Major and Mrs. Courtney, Colonel G. Cuscaden,

Lieut.-Colonel Pleasants, Matron C. Milne, Mr. T Trumble, Mr. F. Gates, and others.

(The Australasian, 8 Dec 1917, p 41)


At the same time as the improvement in accommodation and name change for the buffet came also some smart uniforms for the women.


The large band of voluntary workers, for they number over a hundred, who help at the

soldiers' refreshment stall on St. Kilda road, have blossomed out in smart uniforms of

dark brown covert coating coats and skirts piped with red. They are very proud of their

new pavilion, which Brigadier-General Williams described as "being quite ornate," and

it is in comparison with the little building in which they first started. Fourteen women

with a matron attend every day, and serve refreshments to returned soldiers and men on

final leave only, and they have carried on their work without ostentation or desire for publicity

for two and a quarter years. As this is, I believe, the first group of women to don a set style

of dress, no doubt others will follow suit, and so we may have for all voluntary workers a

recognised uniform like the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps in England. (Table Talk, 20 Dec 1917, p 31.)


The ANZAC Buffet, circa 1917.  The boys had to put up with cramped accommodations, but it would

not have been the first time.  Source: Vera Deakin and the Red Cross, by Carole Woods. 


On 1 August 1918 the Punch featured the Anzac Buffet in a page of photographs, by F W Tolra:



1 A group of buffet workers. (Looking very smart in their new dark brown tops and skirts with red piping.)



2 Watching the recruits pass. (Outside their new tin pavilion.)



3 The Army and Navy Meet.



4 Sandwich cutters hard at work.



5  A corner at lunchtime – Anzacs all!  (Rather more spacious than the original refreshment stall)



6 Some of the boys. (“Our four years' service here has been the greatest privilege of our lives.”

 Pattie  Deakin and Jane McMillan. )


In 1918 the Australian Comforts Fund published a small book entitled Voluntary  

War Workers'  Record to raise money for the Comforts Fund.  In this is a very engaging article from Philip Ray (most likely a pseudonym for Ray Philips, who appears in the list of Buffet volunteers included) describing the activities and atmosphere in the Anzac Buffet on the average day. 


The closing of the Anzac Buffet was announced in August 1919, and many were the tributes from the diggers for the kindness and hard work of Mrs Deakin, Mrs McMillan and the volunteers of the Buffet.   A typical farewell speech was made by a returned Sergeant:





After four years of useful service the Anzac Buffet at the Base Hospital

closed today, and the speeches which were delivered at a brief ceremony

indicated the high place which the institution has won in the hearts of the

diggers. '


"I am just out of hospital and I have nine kids, who are growing up now,

thank goodness," declared a burly sergeant, wearing the Anzac rosette. "The

humble little 'browns' which I pushed across the counter here were a great

help to me, until I got my settlement. It has been wonderful to the boys."

His impromptu speech won more applause than any of the more formal

expressions of approval.


Brigadier-General Brand, the State Commandant, sketched the story of the

buffet from its inauguration in a bell tent, through the stage when it was

housed in a shack, to its work in its present building. He paid a tribute to

"those devoted ladies," Mrs A. Deakin, Mrs McMillan and their co-workers,

and mentioned that the average number of meals served in a day was 1000.

The buffet had been supported entirely by private subscription, and would,

in future, continue as a canteen for patients in the hospital.


Senator Russell, Acting Minister for Defence, said that the four years of

hard work which had been carried out by the workers at the buffet showed

a spirit which would, in the male gender, have found expression at the

front.  Mr Groom, Acting Attorney-General,  said that the name borne by Mrs

Deakin would live for ever in Australia, because it stood for all that was

best in Australian national life. The name of Deakin was one of the greatest

not only in the history of the Commonwealth but of the British Empire.

The lady who had stood by Mr Deakin through it all was with them today,

and he had heard that when the statesman was in England she had been

called the "Queen of Australia." It had been her pleasure to work for the

soldiers who had made Australia the nation of which her husband had

always dreamed. (Applause.)


Mr Herbert Brookes, in responding on behalf of Mrs Deakin and her co-

workers, said that it was one of the “greatest distinctions” of his life that

he was her son-in-law. The ladies had felt it was a privilege to wait upon the

diggers, and, as most of them had relatives at the front, it was heart-ease

to them. (Cheers.)


In response to repeated calls, Mrs Deakin said that they had felt it a

privilege to wait upon the soldiers. She and Mrs McMillen had learnt to love

their workers in a way they would not have thought possible. The Diggers had

set a splendid example, and they had tried to live up to it. (The Herald, 4 Aug 1919.)


Although Herbert Brookes waxed lyrical about it being one of the greatest distinctions of his life that he was Pattie Deakin’s son-in-law, he rewarded her by implacably opposing her daughter Vera’s marriage to Tom White, as if it was his right to choose Vera’s life partner.   He had supported Vera in her decision to travel to Cairo to help in the war effort, and supported her with funds to help with her living expenses,  but apparently felt this gave him rights as to her deciding about her marriage.  Vera married Tom White anyway, but  his opposition caused great distress at the same time as her father was dying.


In 1923  The  Herald noticed the final passing of the old Anzac Buffet:


End of Anzac Buffet

THE little Iron shed on the St. Kilda road, next to the police hospital,

where for the past two years a band of kind-hearted women have provided

a free mid-day meal to any Digger who cared to come along, has gone, and

with it despair will re-enter the hearts of some distressed ex-soldiers this

winter, when they are right "up against it" once more. It was only with the

utmost difficulty that the organisers were able to carry on this Anzac Buffet

in its later existence. Funds became lower and lower, and every week, despite

the good work which the buffet was doing, public apathy increased in direct ratio

to the decrease in its monetary support. Finally the land on which the shed stood

was required for rebuilding, and now only a fence marks the site.

(The Herald, 5 Feb 1923, p6)


After  the Anzac Buffet closed, equipment was donated to the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League (RSSIL) for their clubrooms.


The two women who were most synonymous with the Anzac Buffet in Melbourne, Pattie Deakin and Jane McMillan had, however, bowed out in 1919, thanking the Diggers:




Sir,  In closing the Anzac Buffet we should like to take the opportunity of

thanking the "diggers" who have visited us since we opened in 1915 for their

chivalrous behaviour in all circumstances. Our four years' service here has

been the greatest privilege of our lives. We wish them all the best of good

fortune in the years to come on behalf of the women of the Anzac Buffet



(The Argus, 10 Nov 1919, p 7)


Pattie’s  husband Alfred Deakin, former Prime Minister of Australia, had died on 7 October 1919, just a month before this gracious farewell from the two ladies.   Jane had lost her only child in September 1917, but somehow had drawn herself together and returned to work at the Anzac Buffet.


Most diggers understood that the women of Australia had their own burdens to carry – sorrow, grief, anxiety, and often found on their return to Australia, that their families had been badly affected, with their parents or grandparents carried off by the constant stress of having their sons away, or the death of cousins and nephews, or deaths of sons of their close friends.  The war left a shadow on Australia for many decades.




Punch, Melbourne, 1 Aug 1918  https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/16459308 .

Voluntary War Workers Record, Australian Comforts Fund, 1918;  Melbourne, “The S.R.S”  ed C Drake Brockman, pp 122-125.   

Vera Deakin and the Red Cross, by Carole Woods. Royal Historical Society of Victoria: Melbourne, 2020.

No. 5 Australian General Hospital (Base Hospital) Melbourne. Hawker, F. C., Melbourne : Speciality Press, 1918.


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