Chocolate was Yass’ choice when it despatched the first comforts parcels to the local boys at the front. One can only imagine the condition it was in when it reached Sergeant Jack Thomson, serving with the Imperial Camel Corps in Egypt. This well-intended gesture was the first of many packages from home, intended to assure them that they had not been forgotten.
More than 130 different organisations and appeals contributed to the Yass district’s fundraising efforts during the war. Formed in September 1915, the Yass Boys’ Comforts Fund’s main aim was to provide comforts for local boys (and, later, nurses) serving with the Australian Imperial Force. Ladies who paid one shilling per annum were entitled to become a member. The surviving records tell us much about the organisation’s work and, indirectly, about the local soldiers whom it provided with support.
Margin notes in one surviving exercise book from 1916 record the comforts sent to individual soldiers and provide insights into the personal experiences of some men. Corporal RE Bowden returned to Australia on the Nestor in January 1919 and was placed in quarantine; John Diamond died homeward bound; Private CA Hill had his foot amputated in 1918; Private G Hemmett married in England; Private A Mitchell missed the boat on leave; and Private Herbert Grey was lonely.
The person most closely associated with this collection of records was Mary Ellen Thomson, the mother of two soldiers, who was crowned ‘Queen of the Allies’ in March 1916, in recognition of her fundraising efforts. With the cessation of hostilities in November 1918, the work of the Fund was far from over, as local women continued to provide whatever support they could to returning men. Mrs Thomson’s personal diary reveals the ongoing cost of war, as she noted the deaths of returned men and the difficulties their families faced.
Yass & District Historical Society