The Red Cross Magazine
Guest blogger: Sarah Minty, University of Queensland
The year 2014 marks the centenary of not only the start of the First World War but also the establishment of the Red Cross Society in Australia. Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, the Australian Governor General’s wife, formed a branch of the British Red Cross in Australia mere days after the outbreak of war in August 1914.
The Red Cross Society had no difficulties with recruitment as 196 branches across Queensland sprung up rapidly within a few months. The Red Cross Magazine (later renamed the Red Cross Journal) was initiated as a means of communication between the widely spread Queensland district branches, which were located in every region of the state as far afield as Normanton in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Boulia in the central west and even Thursday Island in the Torres Strait. The magazine is a remarkable publication which documents the activities of the Red Cross and its volunteers in Queensland during the First World War.
The magazine was careful to remain apolitical and religiously non-denominational. Strict focus was given to the work of Red Cross volunteers at the branches and headquarters despite turbulent political and social debates of the time surrounding conscription. Considerable focus was also given to the destinations of donations and care parcels distributed to Australian soldiers and nurses in Europe and the Middle East. Monthly branch reports give detailed inventory of goods contained in these comfort parcels which also makes fascinating reading.
The front cover the magazine features the photo of Queensland nurse Matron Grace Wilson who was chief matron of the Third Australian General Field Hospital at Lemnos and recipient of the Royal Red Cross of First Class. She is one of the nurses depicted in the ABC Tele-series ANZAC Girls. Recognition of this important Queensland woman, instead of a male military figure, shows the pride with which the Red Cross Society had for the achievements of women during the war. Queensland Division President Lady Elsie Goold-Adams, wife of the State Governor, was clear in her praise for the women of Queensland.
“I am certain the men of Queensland will not hesitate to acknowledge the fact nor begrudge most of the credit being given to their wives and sisters for what has been done by the Red Cross.”
Unfortunately, this pride and recognition did not continue into the rest of the twentieth or even twenty-first centuries, as Matron Grace Wilson is not recognised or commemorated anywhere in her home state of Queensland.
The Red Cross Magazine is a significant and now rare publication which allows us to take a glimpse into the lives of Queensland Red Cross volunteers on the home front. Photographs inside the Adelaide Street headquarters in Brisbane’s city centre as well as the busy Red Cross branch kitchens depict a hive of activity and spirit of volunteerism. Those interested in social and cultural history will also be keen to view the advertisements placed in the magazine.
The John Oxley Library includes in its holdings an almost complete record from December 1915 to August 1919 of the Queensland Division Red Cross Magazine.
Oppenheimer, Melanie. “The Best PM for The Empire in War?: Lady Helen Munro Ferguson and the Australia Red Cross Society, 1914 – 1920.” Australian Historical Studies 33 (119) 2002
Lindsay, Joan. The Story of the Red Cross. Melbourne: Australian Red Cross Society, 1941.
Stubbings, Leon. ‘Look What You Started Henry!’: A History of the Australian Red Cross 1914-1991. Melbourne: Australian Red Cross Society, 1992.