The League of Loyal Women was formed in South Australia on the 20 July 1915 in response to desire of many Australians to aid the troops on the front lines in any way they could. The League of Loyal Women was primarily designed to mobilise the domestic skills of women to provide men fighting overseas with 'homely comforts'. Founded by Lady Galway, volunteers consisted mostly of middle class women who helped host fundraisers, organise donations and hold sewing circles. In 1916 the League of Loyal Women helped to found the Australian Comforts Fund (ACF), which was designed to combine the fundraising efforts of numerous groups across the country. The ACF provided soldiers on the front lines with home made goods, 'comforts' and hot coffee or cocoa, free of charge. The efforts of the ACF were greatly appreciated by Australian soldiers who enjoyed the free access to hot drinks and food, as well as cigarettes and socks, which resulted in Australian soldiers being among the least likely to suffer from ‘trench foot’. The League of Loyal Women ceased its operations at the end of the First World War and despite the ACF being reconstituted for the Second World War; the League of Loyal Women was not.
Beginnings of the League
The League of Loyal Women was officially formed in South Australia on the 20 July 1915 and was one of the hundreds of organisations that formed in the early years of the Great War led by members of the social and political elite and composed primarily of middle-class women volunteers. Organisations similar to the League formed across Australia including the Lady Mayoress’ Patriotic League (Victoria), the Citizens’ War Chest (New South Wales), the Queensland Patriotic Fund, the 'On Active Service' Fund (Tasmania) and the 'Victorian League' of Western Australia. These organisations were established to 'Unite all women engaged in furthering British Imperial ideals and national welfare and to support and benefit all associations and institutions with this end of view.' This was to be achieved through fundraising and despatching comforts along with the provision of social events for soldiers and their families.
The first preliminary meeting discussing the formation of the League of Loyal Women took place on 9 June 1915 under the presidency of Lady Galway. This meeting outlined the purpose of the League to be uniting the women of South Australia in order to advance British Imperial Ideals, ‘keep the home fire burning’ and support the men overseas fighting. “Just as men unite in large bodies and train for warfare, so will it be necessary for women to unite in an endeavour to make themselves more capable and efficient in that work of the world which is theirs”. Unlike Great Britain, where many women sought to fill the jobs left by men in industrial employment, Australian women and the organisations they volunteered with emphasised the improvement and advancement of domestic work. “Domestic inefficiency is a great hamper to the nation as is military inefficiency; and the results are far more lasting and far-reaching. The recovery of a nation, bereft of thousands of its most patriotic citizens, depends greatly on the spirit with which the women prepare themselves to take up the struggle – to keep the nation true to its best ideals.
Lady Galway was the wife of Sir Henry Galway, the Governor of South Australia, who took office on 18 April 1914. She was admired by the state and was appreciated for her new ideas, enthusiasm, friendly manner and willingness to shoulder some of the burdens. Lady Galway was the founding president of the League of Loyal Women and despite promoting women’s roles in domestic duties, she also advocated for the expansion of ‘women’s duties’ during wartime. This included persuading the Institute of Accountants in South Australia to train and employ sixty female bookkeepers as temporary replacements for men who had enlisted to fight overseas.
Although some South Australian women were able to work in traditionally male employment, most female volunteers for the League of Loyal Women and other organisations stuck to familiar domestic duties, which included hosting fundraisers, organising donations, sewing circles and aiding local charities. This included running the Trench Comfort’s Shop in Bowman’s Arcade to raise money for the troops and maintaining the Exhibition Sewing Circle, which was formed on 21 May 1915. This organisation made articles of clothing for military hospitals and camps, and military personnel leaving Adelaide for the war. Based in the Exhibition Building on North Terrace, the over 7000 volunteers from the League of Loyal Women and Exhibition Sewing Circle met regularly to make socks and other clothing comforts for Australian troops, resulting in Australian soldiers being among the least likely to suffer from ‘trench foot’ and other related physical conditions.
The League of Loyal Women in addition to helping the troops overseas sought to hold events for the children of soldiers’ to help them overlook the callousness of the Great War. In December 1916, the League of Loyal Women hosted a Christmas event for the children of South Australia at Adelaide Oval to remember the men who were fighting overseas and provide the children with entertainment, food and presents. Over 1000 mothers and 3200 children attended the event where fourteen Christmas trees had been placed and decorated with the colours of the fourteen regiments that had departed South Australia. At the begging of the war when work for women was being sought for, “and munitions work and car conducting was then unthought of “ ‘cuddle-some’ toys were suggested as suitable and saleable, and the result of a lot of the hard work League of Loyal Women’s work parties invested. Every child at the event was provided with a hand made Christmas present with tea and cake being sold to raise money for the Australian Comforts Fund.
Australian Comforts Fund
The Australian Comforts Fund (ACF) was established in August 1916 to coordinate the state based activities of the state run patriotic funds, of which the League of Loyal Women was a member. The ACF was primarily run by women and provided Australian fighting men with free comforts including clothes, hot coffee and cocoa, and cigarettes. The Fund was comprised of representatives from every state, two from New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland and one from Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. The executive headquarters was located in Sydney and operated from 1916 until 10 April 1920.
Aims and Activities
The Australian Comforts Fund is notable because the services and goods they provided fighting men with were entirely free and were paid for through generous donations and the work volunteers of patriotic funds, like the League of Loyal Women, performed. The aims and objectives of the ACF were “to provide for our fighting forces such gifts of supplemental food and clothing as may help to preserve their health and spirits, and thus maintain the efficiency of our forces… the most we can do is the least we should do.
The ACF requested that members of the public donate anything they could to help with the war effort, but specifically asked for half crowns to buy Tommy’s Cookers and pennies, with each penny providing a cup of hot soup or coffee for fighting men. Tommy’s Cookers were portable stoves that burnt with a smokeless flame, allowing men on the front lines where fires were forbidden to keep positions concealed, the opportunity to eat hot food. Between July 1917 and 1918 the League of Loyal women provided the ACF with the following items – 41000 tins of milk, 2800 tins of coffee and milk, 10600 tins of fruit, 19600 tins of cigarettes, 5800 shirts and 14500 socks. The ACF operated ‘cooking stations’, also known as ‘coffee stalls’, on the front lines where these items were given out to soldiers who were provided with hot cups of coffee or cocoa and soup, all free of charge. The Trench Comforts Shop in Bowman’s Arcade surpassed the League of Loyal Women expectations, with profit between 1916-1917 exceeding £3200 allowing the League to continue to operate coffee stalls and continue to provide troops with Tommy’s Cookers.
End of the League
The League of Loyal Women and the ACF ceased their operations follwoing the end of the First World War, officialy closing 19 April 1920. Although the Australian Comforts Fund was reconstituted during the Second World War, the League was not, and South Australia was represented within the ACF at this time by the Fighting Forces Comfort Fund South Australia. In the second report into the Australian Comforts Fund published by the League of Loyal Women in 1917, numerous letters of appreciation from the front lines were included.
I would like to convey to the people of Australia who subscribe to the Comforts Fund the appreciation of all members of my battalion… the generosity and kindness of your Fund to give every man a hot drink of coffee or cocoa, a piece of chocolate and cigarettes as he came off the working parties. It is hard to imagine, unless one can see the men receiving these refreshments, how grateful we all are. Raymond L Leane, Lieut. Col OC 48th Battalion
Oh, never was a drink of steaming hot soup or cocoa with a biscuit, so welcome, and a seat by a fire to warm the feet and hands, caked hard with clay… and it was grand, when told they were not allowed to pay for it, that it was FREE, and it was grand to hear the fine things these men said about the Australian women. Sgt. H Richardson, 43rd Battalion, AIF, France