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Think Piece: Telling home front stories is important

Thursday 31 March, 2016

ASB1032_HI_035-Mrs-Lan-Le-4web-300x450The Cheer-Up Hut Club is a wonderful way to encourage South Australians to share their Anzac stories. It encourages us all to reflect on what the Anzac Centenary means, and why these stories are important to record now for future generations.

The experiences of soldiers on the battlefront are perhaps better known to us than the stories of what happened when they came home. What strikes me about the first national Anzac Day in 1916 is the sheer number of returned servicemen who attended the commemorations; they had been injured and sent home to recover.

As we know now, not much thought had been put into what would become of the injured and returned soldiers who fought in the Great War. There really was no plan for their repatriation. No-one could have anticipated the scale of the challenge.

As soldiers arrived home in larger and larger numbers, there was a concerted effort by politicians and welfare groups to advocate for veterans. Many support organisations of various kinds were formed. Mostly, they provided support of a physical kind. The psychological impacts of war – known then as ‘shell-shock’ and now as ‘post-traumatic stress’ – were little understood.

The Cheer-Up Hut was a home-grown initiative that provided both practical and emotional support for soldiers. It helped soldiers to feel like part of a community and to re-integrate into civilian life, by providing good meals, company and conversation.

The volunteers of the Cheer-Up Society were predominantly women, and they were the unsung heroes of their time. They kept our communities going, despite the loss and grief that threatened to engulf them. They rallied together in typical South Australian style, volunteering their time and energy to assist veterans and their families, wherever and whenever they could.

In South Australia during the First World War, Lady Marie Carola Galway, the wife of Governor Henry Galway, played a significant leadership role on the South Australian home front. She was a remarkable woman. She founded the South Australian division of the Red Cross Society, and the Belgian Relief Fund. She was the Founding President of the League of Loyal Women, an organisation that provided support for servicemen. She also persuaded the Institute of Accountants in South Australia to train 60 female bookkeepers as temporary replacements for males who had enlisted.

Lady Galway herself had German heritage, as did and do many South Australians who fought for our country. However, many people of German descent in South Australia were regarded with suspicion. Lady Galway, however, was not deterred. She spent the war years travelling widely, speaking at hundreds of meetings, writing thousands of letters, and helping to raise many thousands of pounds for patriotic causes.

Along with other women, such as Mrs Alexandrina Seager, who founded the Cheer-Up Society with William Sowden (Editor of The Register), there was a veritable army of women who assembled to raise funds, to prepare packages to be sent overseas, to feed and entertain the recruits in camp, to care for those who returned injured and, of course, to support one another through what were terrible times.

These are the stories that are still to be told – stories about our grandmothers, our mothers, our daughters, sisters, aunties and wives and the older men who remained at home, some of whom had fought in earlier conflicts in which Australia had participated, including survivors of the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902), who knew the impact of war on humanity but not on the scale that the Great War presented.

During the Anzac Centenary the Government of South Australia, in collaboration with the community, is recreating Cheer-Up Huts at key locations throughout regional South Australia. These Cheer-Up Huts will be created as close to the original huts as possible. They will be used as a focal point for community storytelling – a place where regional communities can meet, exchange and record their Anzac stories; as well as those of their family and friends, both from the battlefield and the home front.

In addition, you can share your story at any time or from anywhere by logging on to our website at

I hope that we can bring many remarkable stories to light through the Cheer-Up Hut Club, both in person and online. If you have a story, please don’t hesitate to share it – it will be a wonderful tribute to some of South Australian history’s most deserving men and women.

Mrs Lan Le arrived in Adelaide with her husband His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le AO, Governor of South Australia, in 1977. She graduated with a Bachelor of Social Work from the South Australian Institute of Technology in 1985, working as a Senior Social Worker and Senior Rehabilitation Consultant for various Commonwealth Government departments. In 1997, Mrs Le was the recipient of the Australia Day Achievement Award for her outstanding and consistent contribution to Commonwealth Rehabilitation Services (CRS) Australia client services. In 2000, Mrs Le was presented with a CRS Australia National Award for Excellence for her contribution to quality service delivery and team leadership over 28 years. With a strong interest in Mental Health and Disability Management within the workplace, Mrs Le has developed and implemented innovative practices in client service delivery and staff training/supervision through effective mentoring and coaching processes. Mrs Le is the Patron of the Anzac Centenary Cheer-Up Hut Club for South Australia.

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