Laverton Red Cross Sub-committee

‘Wherever they are,

our boys will have a reminder on Christmas Day

 that the thoughts and sympathy of their people

 in far-off Australia are with them’

Australian Red Cross Gazette No. 6, December 1917


The Australian Red Cross Society was formed just 9 days after the outbreak of the First World War on August 13, 1914, initially as a branch of the British Red Cross. Its first president was Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, wife of the then governor-general. Through an established network of state branches and divisions, the organisation extended its influence throughout the community of Australian women, both suburban and rural, to the point where women constituted much of its membership and featured prominently within its leadership. The Divisional Presidents, who were the wives of the State Governors, were instrumental in the creation and expansions of each of the Australian Red Cross State Divisions.

The Australian Red Cross Society is possibly best remembered for its success in mobilising volunteers to create the much appreciated and eagerly anticipated ‘comfort’ parcels that were sent to servicemen overseas. From the date of its inception until the armistice, the Australian Red Cross Society dispatched 395,695 food parcels and 36,339 clothing parcels. Thousands of women contributed their time and money to make this possible. In fact, between 1914 and 1918 more than £3,500,000 was collected and spent on Red Cross services to the Australian Forces and Empire Forces.

Volunteers contributed their time by making vast quantities of clothing: socks, vests, mittens, earmuffs, pyjamas and a variety of linen. Items were sent to headquarters located in the state capitals, often using government houses as depots, where after being sorted and packed by yet more volunteers, they were sent to England or the Western Front. As these Divisional Presidents traversed their states, and launched appeals through local organisations and the press, the Divisions soon had a vast number of rural and metropolitan branches.

Within days of the establishment of the Australian Red Cross Society, the people of Werribee rallied together to initiate their local branch under the guidance of many prominent residents, including local councillors and Mrs Annie Ida Chirnside. The Age newspaper (August 17, 1914) noted that the Werribee branch had been established by this date.  Shortly after, the Argus newspaper (August 29, 1914) reported that the Victorian Governor Sir Arthur Stanley and Lady Margaret Stanley had called upon Captain John Percy (Percy) Chirnside and Mrs Ethel Chirnside at Werribee Manor. It is not certain whether Mrs Annie Chirnside was present during this visit but given that Annie was known for being a ‘socialite’, it would seem too good an opportunity for her to not have been invited.

It would appear that having successfully commenced and expanded the Red Cross Society work across the township of Werribee, Mrs Chirnside and the Werribee Committee members began further r expansion across the district.  Within twelve months, new sub-committees had been established in Truganina, Metropolitan Farm, and Laverton. While some recognition for the establishment of the Laverton sub-branch must go to the charismatic Mrs Chirnside and her hardworking committee, one cannot undervalue the true patriotism of the township of Laverton and its residents. On June 12, 1915, a public meeting was held to form the Laverton sub-committee of this newly formed branch. The Werribee Shire Banner (June 17, 1915) reported in great detail on this meeting, including a list of many people who were in attendance.

Another article that appeared in the Werribee Shire Banner (August 12, 1915) had the headline ‘Laverton’s Patriotism’.  Its opening paragraph reads:

“Laverton has already claimed that for its male population it has sent more recruits than any other town of its size and the spirit that reigns in those heroes is shared by those they have left behind….”.

It must be remembered that by the date of the Laverton sub-committee being formed, past and present residents had already sent 13 of their sons and brothers halfway across the world. Within the next month, 5 more young men from the area had enlisted.

A quick scan of the list of principal contributors reveals the names of those proud and concerned parents – the Newland, Maher, Grant, Hyde, Peacock and Cameron families.  While Mrs A D Grant took up the role as the inaugural President, Miss Annie Zevenboom, the Laverton School teacher, and her assistant Miss Irene (Rene) Victoria Newland also took up the roles of assistant Secretaries. Additionally, resident Mrs Biles was elected treasurer.

Once again, the Laverton School building played a pivotal role as both a meeting place and a venue where working bees and fundraising functions could take place. By December 1915, much had been achieved by the Laverton Red Cross.   During the past six months, they had managed to raise the following: Australia Day collection, £55 16s 10d ($111.68)[1]; American Tea, £21 19s ($43.90), Subscriptions, raffles, etc., £15 17s 3d ($31.73). Additionally, the following articles had been consigned to Government House: 97 flannel shirts, 56 pyjama suits, 19 pyjama trousers. 1 coat, 79 washers, 138 handkerchiefs, 10 pair of slippers, 18 pairs of bed socks, 11 pairs of knitted socks, 8 scarves, 39 roll bandages, 7 T:bandages, 15 triangular bandages, 8 hospital bags, 21 pillow slips, 6 towels, 15 rolls of old linen, 3 packets of boracic acid, 1 tin of Benger’s, 1 tin of Allenbury’s, 2 packets of arrowroot, 2 bottles of coffee essence, 4 tins of cocoa, 1 tin of groats, 4 packets of cornflower, 3 packets of maizena[2], 1 tin of jam, 3 bags ground rice, 12 tins of Nestle’s milk, 4 cards of safety pins, 3 cards of buttons, 1 roll of lint, 2 pairs of mittens, 2 pairs of knee caps, 5 cakes soap, 6 writing pads, 2 packets of stationery, 1 tooth brush, 30 packets of cigarettes, 2 bundles of books, rabbit skins, and bags.

The committee and members of the Laverton Red Cross would have been thinking that 1916 would begin as the previous year had finished off.  A flourish of events and working bees would allow them to produce many required items that would be sent to the State Divisional Headquarters. After all, there appeared to be growing support across the district to support such a worthy cause. However, within the first few months of the new year, they found themselves embroiled in a verbal battle to defend their good name and work against a lone voice within the community.

In February 1916, one local resident and his wife felt disengaged enough from the community to begin writing ‘letters to the editor’ of the Werribee Shire Banner. They voiced their disdain towards the organisation, saying that they felt it was a ‘clique’ and did not look to include all residents, and in fact had snubbed himself and his wife.  These ‘letters to the editor’ went on for about two months before things appeared to settle down and the work at hand got back to normal for the members and committee of the Laverton Red Cross.

During the months of April and May, they despatched the following to the Central Depot: 55 flannel shirts, 38 pairs of socks, 13 pairs of bed socks, 34 washers, 8 eye bandages, 2 pillows, 1 tin of cocoa, 3 tins of milk, and a roll of old linen. Further events during the year continued to raise funds needed to purchase items and material.  A number of these events were now being supported by the ‘non-eligible’ men who wished to assist the war effort at home, given they could not ‘do their bit’ overseas at the front. One such concert was held at the Laverton State School in mid-July where quite a multitude witnessed an excellent showcase of the best local talent, raising £12 ($24) for the fund. The organisation continued to be ably co-ordinated by Mesdames J George, J Lohse, J J Biles, Peacock, Hyde, D Grant, Cameron and Misses McDonald, Zevenboom, I V Newland and Grant.

The members of the Laverton Red Cross settled into a steady rhythm of organising fundraising events and activities. They also continued making all manner of items to send to the Australian troops on the front, in Europe, as well as those convalescing in hospitals in France and England. These items and parcels containing an assortment of ‘luxuries’ for the soldiers gave them a treasured glimpse of home and that those back in Australia were thinking of them very much. In a letter to family and friends, a young soldier from Werribee named, Norman Alexander Taylor wrote:

“I received the parcel that you packed at the Red Cross, and it was a “bonzer.” I must thank all you dear Red Cross people for it, through the secretary, I suppose. I was telling the other boys with me about the parcel, as well as giving them samples, and they remarked that the idea was splendid. They are all praise for the Red Cross and Comfort Funds.”

Whilst fighting in Belgium, Private Leslie G. Morris wrote: “After coming out of the line, the first thing that caught my eye was a nice parcel from the Werribee Red Cross Society. It couldn’t have arrived in a more welcome time and it contained the most useful things that could be sent over here. Please thank the Society on my behalf.” Nine months after penning his thankyou note, Private Morris sustained a minor chest wound during a battle at the Hindenburg Line with the 15th Machine Gun Battalion. Whilst he recovered and returned to his unit, he was hospitalised again suffering with pneumonia and succumbed to the disease on 21 October 1918, just 21 days before the war finally drew to a close.

Letters like these were being received by families and friends right across the Werribee district, encouraging all the Red Cross branches to continue their work and fundraising efforts knowing that they meant so much. It seemed that whenever members of the district or individual townships met, a collection, raffle, or sale of items was conducted to raise funds for the cause. Any events organised across the Werribee district were well supported by all the other Red Cross branches.

Life and efforts continued within the various branches of the Red Cross Society as they organised many events and working bees to produce further items for the men on the front line.  In the later years of the war, the membership numbers within all branches across the states unfortunately began to dwindle, with the work being left to the conscientious ones. Laverton was no exception, with the Secretary and President often advertising for new members.

As peace was declared in November of 1918, the efforts of the Red Cross Society did not wane. I Items continued to be made, with the parcels being sent across to those still at the front line or recovering in hospitals in England. Everyone realised that it would be many months, or possibly even years, before all returned to the shores of Australia, so the Red Cross’ hard work continued.

On September 29, 1919, the Laverton Red Cross Society held its annual final meeting. The committee reported a healthy balance of £32 2s 6d ($64.25), which was decided to be donated to the Convalescent Home for soldiers and sailors. Since its inception back in June 1915, it was proud to report that it had despatched the following items to the Central Depot: 774 flannel shirts, 574 pairs of socks, 106 pairs of bed socks, 33 pairs of mittens, 208 handkerchiefs, 91 pairs of pyjamas, 47 pyjama trousers, 191 face washers, 54 scarfs, 44 hospital bags, 101 hospital bandages plus other smaller items, making a grand total of 2,421 articles. An achievement that the members and the residents of the Laverton area should take great pride in.

As their soldiers and sailors returned from the battle, welcome home events were held in the Laverton School building to show their appreciation of the sacrifices made and to give thanks for their return.

[1] £10 in 1918 is approximately worth $949 in 2021, £50 in 1918 is approximately worth $4,747 in 2021

[2] Maizena is a brand of corn flour, corn starch or maize starch.


  • Werribee Shire Banner: 17 June 1915 p 2, 24 June 1915 p3, 15 July 1915 p 3, 12 August 1915 p3, 30 September 1915 p3, 7 October 1915 p3, 21 October 1915 p3, 23 December 1915 p 2-3, 2 March 1916 p1, 9 March 1916 p3, 23 March 1916 p3, 30 march 1916 p3, 13 July 1916 p2, 19 July 1917 p3, 10 January 1918 p2, 17 January 1918 p2, 9 May 1918 p2, 16 May 1918 p2, 30 May 1918 p2, 4 July 1918 p2, 22 August 1918 p2, 21 November 1918 p2, 11 September 1919 p2, 9 October 1919 p3
  • Argus: 13 August 1915 p10, 14 February p12,
  • Independent (Footscray): 30 October 1915 p3, 4 March 1916 p4, 18 March 1916 p2,
  • Australian Red Cross Gazette, No 6, December 1917
  • Australian War Memorial, accessed June 2019



Research: Graeme Reilly (ALHS 2020)

Edited: Adam Virgona


  1. Archives – Altona Laverton Historical Society Inc.
  2. Publication – Altona Baptist Church, 100 Years On – Enjoying God’s Blessing, 2015