In September 1915 Australian women campaigned to send billy cans to soldiers serving overseas. Billy cans were an essential utensil for boiling water and heating food and were a useful addition to a soldier’s kit. The contents were to be something to eat, something to smoke and something to use. Small plum puddings, cakes, biscuits, sweets, candied and dried fruits and tinned articles such as sardines were typical food items, while tins of tobacco, cigarettes (also in tins), pipes, toothbrushes and paste, pencils, tin openers and pen-knives were useful inclusions. A letter or greeting card was added by the donor. Within six days more than 1000 cans had been sold. In all, some 21,000 billies were distributed to Australian troops for Christmas in 1915.
Private Charlie Ward of the 25th Battalion wrote to Mrs Tyrell, who had packed his billy:
I was on Lemnos Island and received your billy on Xmas Eve and I must thank you and all kind friends who helped fill it. I can tell you that it caused quite a lot of excitement amongst us opening them to see what each had received. I might say that with a pudding between every two men what was in the billies was all that we had for Xmas so you can tell that they were very much appreciated.
Rockhampton-born Charlie Ward had enlisted in the AIF in March 1915 and embarked for Egypt and further training in late June. His unit arrived at Anzac Cove on 4 September and remained there until the night of 19–20 December 1915, when the Anzacs were evacuated to Lemnos, a Greek island which served as a base for Australian troops close to Gallipoli. In March 1916 his unit joined the British Expeditionary Force in France. Charlie suffered a gunshot wound to his arm at Pozières in August and was evacuated to England to recuperate. He returned to the front in March 1917 and was attached to the Officers Cadet Battalion at Oxford, then transferred to the 26th Battalion as a Lieutenant. He and his wife Bertha, whom he had married the previous year, returned in 1919.
Service Record for Lieutenant Charles Herbert Ward: http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/scripts/Imagine.asp?B=8347354
Adopt a Digger Project, Charles Herbert Ward: http://www.adoptadigger.org/search-for-a-ww1-digger/search-for-a-ww1-digger/item/3-diggers-database/1315-ward-charles
‘Letter to the Editor: Christmas Billies’, Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser, 24 September 1915: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/150952455
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