In November 1916 Burra broke with tradition when it formed a ladies’ brass band, possibly the first of its kind.
After the majority of the local bandsmen enlisted for overseas service and the district was unable to muster sufficient men to fill their places, the women of Burra stepped forward. They took on the challenge of learning at least two tunes to welcome every returning soldier at the local railway station, and became known as the Burra Cheer Up Ladies’ Band. Their conductor, James Bentley, was pleased with the women’s progress despite the fact that the poor state of some of the instruments stalled their efforts. With new instruments and just a month’s practice, they made their first public appearance at the Exhibition Camp Concert Party with a performance of ‘Templemore’.
Gaining confidence, expertise and a wider repertoire, the band was soon in demand, playing at all the local events and in surrounding towns. Their ability earned them the honour of leading an Adelaide march in 1917, and being capable horsewomen they could also, if required, perform as a mounted band.
Such was their reputation that, in July 1920, the band was asked to take part in the celebrations attended by the Prince of Wales and the War Workers' Welcome Demonstration at the Exhibition Building in Adelaide. The band's final performance was at the annual Violet Day fundraiser later that month.
Burra had a proud record of fundraising and community participation during the Great War. Foremost in the various organisations was the Cheer Up Society and their incredible ‘all-in’ efforts to provide comforts and support for service men and women. Local men and women worked tirelessly, war loans were oversubscribed and even small items raised huge sums. A bunch of violets sold for £384. A gold button raised £978. A framed copy of the King’s Declaration of Peace raised £1140. Collectively these three items raised today’s equivalent of approximately $219,540.
But perhaps Burra’s unique contribution to the war effort was its Cheer Up Ladies’ Band.
Market Square Museum
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