Australian Screen

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Red Cross Activities During and After WWI (c.1919)

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clip Serving the troops education content clip 3

This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

This clip shows a range of assistance and relief activities that the Red Cross undertook around the First World War including: preparing linen; serving tea and biscuits to troops; providing relief to convalescing soldiers; and packing and loading supply bundles.

Curator’s notes

The scene of the Red Cross in the linen room is in fast-motion. This effect would have been achieved at the time the material was filmed, by cranking the camera at a rate lower than 16 frames per second, which was the speed at which the rest of the footage was filmed.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows silent, black-and-white footage of activities carried out by the Australian Red Cross Society during and immediately after the First World War. Female volunteers in a Red Cross depot bind bandages and sort, check, fold and pack goods such as shirts, pyjamas and surgical dressings. Red Cross volunteers serve tea and scones to soldiers and perform office work. The clip concludes with two horse-drawn wagons loaded with bundles of Red Cross goods.

Educational value points

  • The Australian Red Cross Society (ARCS), which was initially a branch of the British Red Cross, was formed 9 days after the outbreak of the First World War by Lady Helen Munro-Ferguson, wife of the governor-general, to help provide relief services to Australian troops. Six state divisions were formed, headed by the wives of the state governors, who travelled across the country promoting the Society and making appeals through the media and local organisations. As a result the ARCS quickly expanded, with women, mainly from the middle classes, making up the majority of its membership, some in leadership roles.
  • In the First World War the ARCS primarily provided 'care’ parcels for sick and wounded soldiers serving overseas. The parcels included clothing, food, soap and other toiletries, cigarettes, and games such as draughts or dominoes. Thousands of volunteers were mobilised to make clothing such as flannel shirts, cardigans, socks and gloves, but were also involved in fundraising to finance the purchase of goods. The ARCS collected and spent more than £3.5 million, dispatched 395,695 food parcels and 36,339 clothing parcels and sent medical supplies and equipment to Australia’s defence forces.
  • According to Women, Class and History: Feminist Perspectives on Australia, 1788–1978 (E Windschuttle, ed, Fontana, 1980), during the War, voluntary work, which was taken up most enthusiastically by the middle and lower-middle classes, acquired a new social significance. The ideology of voluntarism 'was to play a crucial role in bolstering the traditional sexual division of labour’, helping 'to set the parameters in which the battles for equal pay, conditions and opportunity were waged, especially in the later years of the war’.
  • Parts of the clip may have been filmed at Government House in Melbourne, which was then the official residence of the governor-general, and which Lady Munro-Ferguson made the headquarters of the ARCS. The ballroom was appropriated as a warehouse and factory where goods were received, made, assessed for quality and dispatched by volunteers, while the stables were converted into a workshop for making furniture and crutches. The scenes of Red Cross volunteers serving tea and scones to soldiers may have taken place in the grounds of Government House.
  • Red Cross volunteers trained as Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) who provided basic nursing and domestic services such as cooking, cleaning, laundry and serving meals in military and general hospitals as well as in Red Cross convalescent homes. They also worked on troop trains and in canteens. VADs, in their distinctive white aprons with a red cross emblazoned across the front, were the public face of the ARCS and proved a valuable auxiliary to civilian and military medical services. After 1916 VADs were permitted to serve overseas and many worked in army field hospitals.
  • Red Cross voluntary work provided Australian women with a means of supporting Australian troops fighting in campaigns on the other side of the world, and made a valuable contribution to the war effort. Women occupied senior positions in the ARCS, enabling them to take on jobs and a degree of responsibility that were not open to women in peacetime. Red Cross volunteers were also involved in the repatriation of soldiers and set up a service to help families trace soldiers who were missing or had been taken prisoner.
  • Before 1929 films were silent and black and white and, because of the size and weight of the cameras, tended to use long static shots such as those in this clip, and few close-ups. Cameras were hand cranked, which could produce variations in the speed at which the film was shot with the result that the projected film appeared to be jerky or to have been slowed down or sped up in places, as is the case here.

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All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

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  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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