Formation of the Cheer-Up Society
Friday 13 November, 2015
In November 1914, a young Alexandrine Seager, farewelled her eldest son Harold as he, along with other young South Australian men, embarked for service following Australia’s entry into the Great War. The first wave of troops to leave were farewelled with much delight from the South Australian public.
The second contingent, of whom Mrs Seager’s son Harold was a part, was met with indifference much to the regret and dismay of Alexandrine Seager.
A prominent businesswoman, Alexandrine wanted to do more for the servicemen departing and decided to appeal through the press for South Australian women to give greater support to the war effort. Her plea was heard by William Sowden, the editor of the Register, with whom she established the Cheer-Up Society. While initially set up to provide ‘general comfort, welfare, and entertainment’ for the soldiers, the Cheer-Up Society soon developed the Cheer-Up Hut, a uniquely South Australian home-front response to the war effort.
As organiser and secretary of the Society, Alexandrine assembled a group of volunteer women helpers of ‘high moral character’, most with loved ones serving overseas. They visited army camps and hospitals, befriended lonely recruits, arranged luncheons, concerts and spirited farewells; they sent small gifts and comforts to the men at the front; they welcomed the wounded from Gallipoli and encouraged recruiting and fund-raising wherever they went.
From 1915 the Society offered refreshments and recreation to soldiers in a large tent behind the Adelaide Railway Station. This was soon replaced by the Cheer-Up Hut, which the Society erected with the help of local businesses in nearby Elder Park. The hut opened on 4th November 1915 and for the next four years over 200,000 servicemen enjoyed cheap meals and free entertainment, courtesy of Mrs Seager and her dedicated band of women volunteers, all dressed in their long, gleaming white dress and apron. By the end of 1915 volunteers were serving about 10, 000 meals per month.
With three sons in the AIF and her husband a recruiting officer, Alexandrine Seager said she felt duty bound to play her part in providing for the welfare of the enlisted men. Despite losing her youngest son George at Gallipoli, she continued to work full-time with the movement, recruiting volunteers and organizing activities. She co-ordinated the Society’s eighty country branches and its fund-raising, including the annual Violet Day Appeal, first held on 2nd July 1915, which became a local remembrance day for the fallen. She also wrote stirring war verses, which were published in pamphlets in 1915 and 1918 and sung by South Australian soldiers at the front.
The hut closed on 24 December 1919 after the bulk of the servicemen had returned following the end of the war. However, it reopened as required to cater for later arrivals and provided a venue for returned soldier activities and associations.
The Cheer-Up Hut was revived on a much larger scale in 1939 for the Second World War. The facilities built during the First World War were improved and a large accommodation hostel erected at the rear. The Schools’ Patriotic Fund (SPF) Hostel offered accommodation from 1941 for servicemen on leave. The large number of servicemen coming through Adelaide in 1942–43 led to a Cheer-Up Hut No 2 being established in the Palais Royal dance venue on North Terrace. The original hut was renamed Cheer-Up Hut No 1.
After the Second World War Hut No 1 and the SPF Hostel were sold to the state government, which converted them to the Elder Park Migrant Hostel, providing initial accommodation for newly arrived migrants from Europe. The Cheer-Up Society disbanded in 1964 and its funds and assets were distributed to welfare and service groups. A Cheer-Up Association succeeded the society but the gatherings of these former members of the society fell away in 1970.
The hostel was later demolished to make way for the construction of the Adelaide Festival Centre.
Read Christeen Schoepf’s Think Piece – Before the Poppy: Violets of Remembrance
Read more about the re-creation of the Cheer-Up Hut in South Australian in 2016.
Read more about the Cheer-Up Hut club on-line membership and how to research, reflect and write your won Anzac story.
View photos of the Cheer-Up Hut from the State Library South Australia collection
The Cheer-Up Society: South Australian women’s patriotic groups in World War One, Dr John Weste, South Australian Parliament Research Library.
SA’s Greats: The men and women of the North Terrace plaques, edited by John Healey (Adelaide: Historical Society of South Australia Inc., 2001).
The Wakefield Companion to South Australian History edited by Wilfrid Prest, Kerrie Round and Carol Fort (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2001). Revised by Bernard O’Neil.