Described as ‘the new War Memorial’ in Julie-Ann Ellis’s history of the South Australian town of Yacka, a stone soldier stands beside the former State Bank of South Australia, now housing a collection of local history materials. The collection includes photographs associated with the war, the town’s history suggesting a strong spirit of support. Those who enlisted, for example, were presented with a wrist watch with a button-down leather cover, as a powerful reminder of home and a serviceable item for a man ‘at the front’.
The 1915–1916 photographic record for Yacka is particularly strong and includes group portraits of newly enlisted soldiers, on some of whose wrists presentation watches can clearly be seen. A patriotic spirit was also expressed in the town’s 1915 Australia Day procession, caught by a photographer in front of the impressive, elegant stone institute – the local equivalent of a Mechanics Institute or School of Arts in other towns but which was also a dance hall, library, theatre and non-denominational place of worship. This carefully posed image includes a group of women in the right foreground with the institute proudly prominent behind, and a small crowd observing the procession. The Red Cross determined that Australia Day would be on 30 July, honouring Australian troops. Women make up a large part of the Australia Day audience, on both sides of the road, and it was the Ladies Patriotic Society that operated a comfort fund (the Cheer-Up Society), out of the institute, gathering materials into boxes to be sent to their boys at the front.
These women, some of whom are probably recorded in this photograph of ‘Mothers of Soldiers Who Went to War’, convey a feeling of tough reliability, their hats and stoles making them appear business-like in their Sunday best. The various Honour Rolls record that at least sixty-three Yacka men enlisted, fifteen of whom did not return. These ‘mothers of soldiers’ are unidentified, but it is likely that they include women such as Mrs Harvey, who lost her sons William and Lawrence, and Mrs Gale, whose sons James and Samuel died in the war. Towards the end of 1916 the local paper reported that ‘people are beginning to realise more seriously the meaning of … goodbyes, and partly because in several cases of late it means that the last son of the family has gone’. (Stanley Herald, 28 September 1916)
Julie-Ann Ellis, Hard Yacka: The Story of a Mid-North Town in South Australia, Yacka Historical Group, 1995
Film & Sound
‘I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier’ (Morton Harvey, 8 January 1915, Victor 17716): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQwEqhtGcW0