Labour History

Shaping the Legend: The Role of the Australian Red Cross and Anzac

Labour History (2014), 106, (1), 123–142.


Established to assist the sick and wounded in war in August 1914, the Australian Red Cross became one of Australia’s largest and most important voluntary organisations of the twentieth century. Both creations of World War I, the Anzac Legend and the Australian Red Cross appear at first glance to be the antithesis of each other. Yet the humanitarianism of the Australian Red Cross and the militarism of the Anzac Legend are inextricably linked and provide us with a unique perspective with which to evaluate the contested terrain of Anzac. Taking as its starting point the small booklet, Australia at the Dardanelles, 25 April 1915, sold as a fundraiser for the Australian Red Cross during Australia Day, 30 July 1915, this article examines the Australian Red Cross and its connections with the origins of the Anzac Legend during World War I.

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1.Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, Australians in Action: The Story of Gallipoli(:W. A. Gullick, Government Printer, 1915). Google Scholar

2.Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, Australia at the Dardanelles(:W. A. Gullick, Government Printer, 1915). On the inside of the cover it states: “This edition has been printed for the Red Cross Association by courtesy of the Hon. Arthur Griffith, Minister for Education, for sale on behalf of the Australia Day Funds.” See alsoMarilyn Lake, “What Have You Done for Your Country?”inWhat’s Wrong with Anzac?, ed.Marilyn LakeandHenry Reynolds et al.. (:New South Books, 2010), 2. Google Scholar

3.The book contains Dunant’s detailed eyewitness accounts of the horrors of the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino in June 1859 but it was only in the final pages of the original 95-page memoir that he sketched out his proposal for a society powered by volunteers to assist the wounded in war.J. Henri Dunant, A Memory of Solferino, preface byNorman H. Davis, translated from the French 1st edition, published in 1862 (:American National Red Cross, 1939). Google Scholar

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5.The historiography is extensive. Charles Bean’s key texts include the official histories,C. E. W. Bean et al., Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, 12 volumes(:Angus and Robertson, 1921–42);C. E. W. Bean, Gallipoli Mission(:Australian War Memorial, 1948); andC. E. W. Bean, Anzac to Amiens, 4th ed.(:Australian War Memorial, 1961). In analysing Bean’s role, seeKen Inglis, “The Australians at Gallipoli,”part 1, Historical Studies 14, no. 54(April1970):219–30and part 2, Historical Studies 14, no. 55(October1970):361–75;Kevin Fewster, ed., Gallipoli Correspondent: The Frontline Diary of C. E. W. Bean(:George, Allen and Unwin, 1983);David Kent, “The Anzac Book and the Anzac Legend: C. E. W. Bean as Editor and Image Maker,” Historical Studies 21, no. 84(April1985):376–90;John Barrett, “No Straw Man: C. E. W. Bean and Some Critics,” Australian Historical Studies 23, no. 90(April1988):102–14;Alistair Thomson, “‘Steadfast until Death’? C. E. W. Bean and the Representation of Australian Manhood,” Australian Historical Studies 23, no. 93(October1989):462–78;Dennis Winter, Making the Legend: The War Writings of CEW Bean(:UQP, 1992);Martin Ball, “Re-Reading Bean’s Last Paragraph,” Australian Historical Studies 34, no. 122(October2003):231–47. For the role of Anzac, seeMarilyn Lake, “The Power of Anzac,”inAustralia: Two Centuries of War and Peace, ed.M. McKernanandM. Browne(:Australian War Memorial, 1988), 194–222;Alistair Thompson, Anzac Memories: Living with the Legend(:Oxford University Press, 1994), esp. ch. 8; andLakeandReynolds, What’s Wrong with Anzac?Recently scholars have focused on the after-effects of war: see especiallyMarina Larsson, Shattered Anzacs: Living with the Scars of War(:University of New South Wales Press, 2009); andMartin CrottyandMarina Larsson, ed., Anzac Legacies: Australian and the Aftermath of War(:Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2010). Google Scholar

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8.For an assessment of the role of the Australian Red Cross and other wartime patriotic funds during World War I, see, for example,Melanie Oppenheimer, All Work, No Pay: Australian Civilian Volunteers in War(:Ohio Productions, 2002), esp. chs 3 and 4;Melanie Oppenheimer, “‘The Best PM for the Empire in War’?: Lady Helen Munro Ferguson and the Australian Red Cross Society, 1914–1920,” Australian Historical Studies 33, no. 119(April2002):108–24;Melanie Oppenheimer, “Gifts for France: Australian Red Cross Nurses in France, 1916–1919,” Journal of Australian Studies, no. 39 (December1993):65–78;Annie Campbell, “‘Thousands of Tiny Fingers Moving’: The Beginning of the Junior Red Cross Movement in NSW, 1914–1925,” Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society 90, part 2 (December2004):184–200. Philadelphia Robertson provides a contemporary account inRed Cross Yesterdays(:J. C. Stephens, 1950). Google Scholar

9.The Anzac Bookpublished in 1916 was edited byC. E. W. Bean with material from Australian soldiers on Gallipoli and sold as a patriotic funds fundraiser. It was republished in 2010 by the Australian War Memorial and University of New South Wales Press with new material.Australian War Memorial, ed., The Anzac Book(:UNSW Press, 2010). Google Scholar

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13.For a detailed assessment and history of Graythwaite and the role of the Australian Red Cross, seeMelanie Oppenheimer, “‘Fated to a Life of Suffering’: Graythwaite, the Australian Red Cross and Returned Soldiers, 1916–39,”inCrottyandLarsson, Anzac Legacies, 18–38. Google Scholar

14.This area is only now beginning to gain serious attention from historians. See, for example,Scates, “Voluntary Work”;Beaumont, “Whatever Happened to Patriotic Women”;Linda J. Quiney, “‘Bravely and Loyally They Answered the Call’: St. John Ambulance, the Red Cross and the Patriotic Service of Canadian Women during the Great War,” History of Intellectual Culture 5, no. 1(2005), accessed March 2014,;Sarah Glassford, “Volunteering in the First and Second World War,” Wartime Canada, accessed 27 March 2013, Historypublished a thematic on voluntary work in 2001 but there have been few articles since on unpaid labour. In 1909, Queen Alexandra called on “all the women of the Empire to assist me in carrying out this great scheme, which is essentially a women’s work.” Lady Helen Munro Ferguson responded, bringing a detailed knowledge of the Scottish Red Cross with her to Australia in 1914. See Oppenheimer, “The Best PM,” 115. Google Scholar

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16.For a detailed history, seeMelanie Oppenheimer, Red Cross VAs(:Ohio Productions, 1999). Google Scholar

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19. Sydney Morning Herald, 15 July1915. Google Scholar

20.Compiled from NSW Patriotic and War Funds, 1914–1918 and Contribution to War Relief Funds in NSW to 30 June 1920, A2487/1 21/19359, National Archives of Australia, Canberra. For more information, seeMelanie Oppenheimer, “Volunteers in Action: Voluntary Work in Australia, 1939–1945”(PhD diss.,Macquarie University, 1997), Appendix 1, “Patriotic and War Funds in NSW, 1914–1920,”390–96. Google Scholar

21.See, for example, newspaper articles such as“Originator of Australia Day,” Barrier Miner, 31 July1915; andMildura Cultivator, 21 August 1915. There is also memorabilia located in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra such as an Australia Day gold commemorative Gallipoli medalet given to Mrs Wharton-Kirke, RELAWM12438.001. Google Scholar

22.For a detailed account of Belgian Day in Sydney, seeVeronica Kelly, “Australia’s First Belgian Day (1915): History on Stage and Street,”inA World of Popular Entertainments: An Edited Volume of Critical Essays, ed.Gillian ArrighiandVictor Emeljanow(:Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012), 137–49. Google Scholar

23.Minutes of Meeting of the Central Council of Australian Branch of British Red Cross Society (BRCS), 9 June1915, ARCS Archives. Google Scholar

24.“Appeal of the Red Cross by Professor TG Tucker,” Age, 12 July1915. Google Scholar

25. NSW Red Cross Record 3, no. 9(September1917), 21. Google Scholar

26.Ernest Scott, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, Volume 11: Australia during the War(:UQP, 1989), 729–32;Advertiser, 3 August 1915. Google Scholar

27. Mercury, 30 October1915. Google Scholar

28. West Australian, 27 July1915. I would like to thank Peter Hopper, who attended the September 2012 Labour and Anzac conference in Canberra, for his interest and assistance. Google Scholar

29.See, for example, Brisbane Courier, 25 August1915; 10 September1915. Google Scholar

30.Letter from Ronald Munro Ferguson to A. Bonar Law, 13 July 1915, Novar Papers, MS696/727–732, National Library of Australia, Canberra, and quoted in Oppenheimer, “The Best PM,”117. Google Scholar

31.SeeOppenheimer, All Work, No Pay. Google Scholar

33.SeeBarrettandDeane, The Australian Army Medical Corps in Egypt, 161–65. Google Scholar

34.For a detailed description of the AIF medical experiences in Gallipoli, seeA. G. Butler, Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services, 1914–1918, Volume 1: Gallipoli, Palestine and New Guinea, 2nd ed. (:Australian War Memorial, 1938), accessed March 2014, However perhaps the most insightful text isMichael Tyquin, Gallipoli: The Medical War: The Australian Army Medical Services in the Dardanelles Campaign of 1915(:University of New South Wales Press, 1993). See alsoMichael Tyquin, “Doctors and Nurses: Gender Relations, Jealousy and Maladministration in Wartime,” Health and History 13, no. 1(2011):26–43. For a nurse’s perspective of Malta, seeMelanie Oppenheimer, Oceans of Love(:ABC Books, 2006). There are multiple histories of the Gallipoli campaign. See, for example, seeC. E. W. Bean, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, Volume 2: The Story of ANZAC(:Queensland University Press, 1981);Robert Rhodes James, Gallipoli(:Angus and Robertson, 1965);Denis Winter, 25 April 1915: The Inevitable Tragedy(:University of Queensland Press, 1994);Peter Cochrane, Simpson and His Donkey: The Making of a Legend(:Melbourne University Press, 1992); andBruce Scates, Return to Gallipoli: Walking the Battlefields of the Great War(:Cambridge University Press, 2006). Google Scholar

35.ARCS, Resolution passed at meeting of the Central Council, 13 July1915, Central Council Minutes, ARCS Archives. Google Scholar

36.For an overview of Australian Red Cross work with the wounded and missing and POW, seeOppenheimer, The Power of Humanity(:HarperCollins Australia, 2014). See also the digitized Australian Red Cross, Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau files, 1DRL/0428, Australian War Memorial (AWM), Canberra. There is also a good collection in the State Library of South Australia (SRG 76). Google Scholar

37.“Nettles in the Path,” Advertiser, 9 September1915. Google Scholar

38.See, for example, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 September1915;Argus, 24 September1915;Queenslander, 25 September1915;Register(Adelaide), 15 October1915;Argus, 15 October1915. Google Scholar

40.Letter to Secretary, ACRS, Government House, Melbourne, 12 December 1915, Box 4, WWI, ARCS Archives. The Red Cross controversy was connected to another unfolding drama, the one engulfing the 1stAGH that had at its roots the same problems of personalities and structural weakness highlighted by the intensity of Gallipoli. This controversy involved the recall of the commanding medical officer and principal matron to Australia. SeeTyquin, “Doctors and Nurses.”It is possible that Springthorpe was galvanised into writing his original damning critique of Barrett about the Australian Red Cross situation on the back of this episode. Google Scholar

41.SeeBarrettandDeane, The Australian Army Medical Corps in Egypt. Google Scholar

43.Clara E. Barron, President, WA Division, August 24 1916, Report of the West Australian Division, ARCS, Second Annual Report, 1915–16, 87, ARCS Archives. Google Scholar

44.Larsson, Shattered Anzacs. Google Scholar

45. Sun, 5 February1923. Google Scholar

46.Oppenheimer, “Fated to a Life of Suffering,” 18–38. Google Scholar

47.National Executive Meeting, March1971, Agenda Item No. 6 (b), Basis of Priorities for Red Cross Service, Newman-Morris, 10 March 1971, Australia Reports, 1969, Box 16703, Federation of Red Cross Society archives, Geneva. Google Scholar

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Author details

Oppenheimer, Melanie