Camden CWA leads way in wartime


The Camden community was galvanised by the emergency created by the entry of Japan into the Pacific War on 7 December 1941 and the US declaration of war on 8 December. Stan Kelloway, Camden’s chief warden and mayor, called a public meeting which was held on Tuesday night at the town hall, 18 December 1941. He made an urgent appeal for wardens and volunteers for air raid precaution work in the town area.

Camden women held a joint emergency meeting on the same night at the Camden CWA Rooms in Murray Street. The meeting was chaired by Rita Tucker, with Grace Moore, the secretary of the WVS acting as the meeting’s secretary. The Camden District Hospital Women’s Auxiliary was represented by its president, Emma Furner, and the CWA Younger Set by Mary Sparkes and Anita Rapley. Apologies were received from Zoe Crookston, Mary Davies, Albine Terry and Hilda Moore. Mary Davies was the treasurer of the Camden Red Cross and the vice-president of the Camden Hospital Women’s Auxiliary, Albine Terry, Camden WVS treasurer and Camden Hospital Women’s Auxiliary vice-president, and Hilda Moore, the secretary of the Camden Red Cross.

There was much discussion at the meeting and a decision was taken to concentrate on making camouflage nets. The CWA and WVS, which were conducting separate camouflage netting meetings, decided to combine their separate netting efforts. The combined effort would be located at the CWA rooms on Monday and Tuesday nights, and Friday afternoons. These arrangements were organised so that they did not conflict with existing service commitments, particularly the WVS and Red Cross sewing circles at the town hall. Camden volunteers were requested to bring ‘a hank of string for practice’. The Camden press maintained in December 1941 that ‘anyone who possibl[y] can is urged to take this opportunity of rendering national service in a time of crisis’. The meeting also asked volunteers to fill out forms for the Women’s Voluntary National Register and to cooperate with local wardens of the National Emergency Services. The Camden press maintained in December that the ‘National Emergency Services can provide a job for practically every woman’, and forms for the Women’s Voluntary National Register were obtainable from Nancy Freestone, the assistant secretary of the WVS, at the town hall library.

The Women’s Voluntary National Register was established in New South Wales in early 1939. It was part of a federal government scheme to determine how many women would be able to provide ‘manpower’ and national service, if required, when the nation went to war. The most efficient means of doing this was to tap into the pre-existing network of women’s clubs and organizations, and call upon their membership to provide the information. Clubs that affiliated with the register would collect the details of (eligible) volunteers from within their membership base and forward that information to the central register. Women would then be classified according to the type of work available, and the type of work they were suited to do. Women, according to the Australian Women’s Register, who weren’t members of an organization could still volunteer through the state council headquarters, but clearly, ‘outsourcing’ much of the work to the organizations was a cost and time efficient method of operation.

From December 1941 the manufacture of netting in Camden turned into a CWA affair. Reports on netting production from the Camden centre were sent to the state CWA Handicrafts Committee in Sydney, which co-ordinated the state netting effort for the CWA and received all the completed nets from the Camden centre. The central CWA netting centre co-ordinated all organisational details, issued instructions to branches on the packing, despatched nets to Sydney and acted as a clearinghouse for the Army, which supplied all the twine and collected all the finished nets. The New South Wales CWA journal The Countrywoman in New South Wales reported that by January 1942 the handicraft committee was supplying 230 country branches and over 100 suburban circles with twine for making nets.

When compared to netting efforts in some other country towns Camden’s output was relatively small. Between February 1941 and February 1944 the Camden netting centre made 578 nets. Una Swan acted as netting secretary and roped all nets, while Mary Poole acted as demonstrator.

At Nowra netting centre, which was a joint effort between Nowra CWA and Red Cross, and made 1,320 nets in the 2½ years that their centre was operational from mid-1941 to December 1943. Camden netting centre was never able to sustain the same effort as Nowra. To the end of 1942 the Nowra centre had made 875 nets, while Camden’s centre had manufactured 489 nets. While at the Quirindi CWA local women made 14 camouflage nets in one week in March 1942 and by the end of the war had sent away 565 nets. Most country towns had similar voluntary patriotic projects.

The Camden centre was kept abreast of statewide netting activity by the Countrywoman, which issued monthly tallies of nets supplied to the Sydney CWA depot by netting centres, as well as reporting other related, netting information.

Read more about the CWA and other conservative women’s organisations in wartime Camden @ UOW research

Image Australian women making camouflage nets (AWM007671) cc


Community gets behind CWA net making during war

Llewella Davies CHS0614

During the Second World War the Camden Country Women’s Association were not the only community organisation to make camouflage nets in Camden.

In May 1941 the Camden Women’s Voluntary Services established a separate netting centre on the suggestion of Sibella Macarthur Onslow, to supply nets to the National Defence League. On one of the few occasions she attended a WVS meeting, Macarthur Onslow outlined a variety of war work that could be undertaken by the women and suggested forming a netting class. She had an immediate response from ten volunteers who were members of the Camden WVS, Camden CWA, the Camden Red Cross and the Camden District Hospital Women’s Auxiliary. The WVS volunteers were Kathleen Clifton, Annie Dickenson, Elsie Gibson, Eleanor Macdonald, Mrs Mackie, Leah McLeod, Harriet Outterside, Martha Poole, Alice Pope and Amy Porter. Typical of wartime volunteering and women of her social rank Macarthur Onslow left it to lower class women to undertake the tedious manual work involved in the dreary task of camouflage making nets.

The WVS camouflage netting class was also joined by two men, Fred Franklin (ironmonger, Camden) and Ted Smith (gardener, Narellan). In July they made two nets, 30ft x 14ft, which were delivered to the National Defence League in Sydney by Albine Terry, the WVS secretary. Each net for the NDL was destined for England, unlike nets made by the Camden CWA which for the Australian Army. Each net contained over 20,000 knots and was considered ‘excellent work’ by the League. By September 1941 ‘good progress’ by the netting volunteers instructed by Franklin meant that another fourteen nets had been sent, while another five were ready for despatch. Franklin was the principal instructor and was assisted by two other men, Ted Smith and Robert McIntosh, a dairyfarmer of Glenmore, as well as Llewella Davies. The nets had included 2 large and 2 small nets, as well 10 khaki nets. Franklin professed his willingness to continue giving instruction in ‘this important work’ and thanked all those who helped him. The contribution of the men to netting was short lived, and there is no other mention made of any Camden men assisting the netting effort at any other time during the war.

The first attempt at creating a joint CWA-WVS netting effort occurred in June 1941, when Rita Tucker addressed the WVS. Despite a directive reported in The Countrywoman in May 1941 from the state CWA discouraging joint netting activities by its branches, Tucker explained that the CWA had the necessary string supplied by the Army, and instructors who were prepared to conduct lessons ‘in this national work’ at the CWA rooms. While Tucker was a member of the WVS, the other women were not impressed enough to take up her offer. Not to be put off Tucker extended an invitation, on behalf of the CWA, to ‘all citizens’ of Camden who wished ‘to assist the War Effort’ by attending netting classes on Thursday nights and Friday afternoons in the CWA rooms in Broughton Street Camden.

Some Camden women including Mary Poole and Llewella Davies, volunteered for both the CWA and NDL netting efforts. Davies was a member of Camden’s elite and proved the exception that was the rule: that while most of the Camden elite did not volunteer for net making, she did. Davies (1901-2000), who never married and was tutored at home then went to Sydney Church of England Grammar School at Darlinghurst. She mixed freely with the Macarthur Onslows, Inglises, Downes, McIntoshes and other members of the Camden gentry. Davies was a ‘tireless’ volunteer who thought it was ‘good to work for the community’. She was a member of a number of women’s voluntary organisations in Camden, including the Red Cross, Camden Hospital Auxiliary, Camden Voluntary Aid Detachment, but not the CWA. In the post-war years she was a member of Meals on Wheels, assistant secretary of Camden AH&I Society, treasurer of Camden Garden Club, research officer of Camden Historical Society and secretary of Camden branch of United Australia Party. Davies took paid work as a clerk in the office of the Camden News which was located next door to the post office. Lewella played golf, and was a representative tennis player and member of the Camden Tennis Club. Davies was awarded an OAM in 1981 for community service, and was made Freeman of the Municipality of Camden in 1992, a life member of the Camden Historical Society in 1994 and given the key to Camden in 1999.
Llewella Davies was one of many local women who volunteered for wartime community service and her conservatism was driven by her family, her faith and her community.


Read more about the CWA and other conservative women’s organisations in wartime Camden  @  UOW research

Image: Llewella Davies in Voluntary Aid Detachment uniform 1942 (Camden Images)


Camden CWA Starts Wartime Net Making

Camouflage net making_UK_1941_EMDunbar_cc

The main wartime activity undertaken by the Camden CWA during the Second World War was making camouflage nets for the Australian Army.

Rita Tucker, Camden CWA president, established the CWA netting effort in 1941. Mrs Tucker felt that camouflage netting provided an opportunity for Camden women to express their patriotic citizenship and service commitment to support Australia’s military effort.

The art of camouflage net making was brought to Australia from Great Britain by William Dakin, who taught net making to a group of women in the Department of Zoology at the University of Sydney. The National Defence League, whose instructors taught members of the CWA and Women’s Voluntary Services, subsequently took it up in Sydney. The New South Wales CWA Handicraft Committee established a net making school in April 1941 at 26 Grosvenor Street, Sydney. During the April 1941 CWA Conference 300 delegates received net making instruction at the school. (SMH 6/5/41) In Great Britain the Women’s Voluntary Services garnished camouflage nets with coloured fabric, or scrim, on to a net background for the military authorities from 1940.

The Camden CWA followed the example set by New South Wales CWA and made netting its major wartime priority. The first confirmed netting activity in Camden was conducted by the CWA in May 1941, after the state CWA Handicrafts Committee requested branches to start netting and then issued detailed instructions in the Countrywoman. Rita Tucker had attended the state CWA conference in April and witnessed netting demonstrations by instructors from the National Defence League. She reported on the conference at the May meeting of the Camden CWA, and arranged classes and stands for net making in the CWA rooms at the following meeting. Timber for one netting stand was donated by Rupert Tucker, her husband, and made up by Percy Butler, a local carpenter. Alva George, a local builder, donated two completed stands and Wesley Clifton, a storekeeper, donated practice string.

In August, the Camden Advertiser reported that the CWA netting centre had completed a number of nets and more were being made by a number of female volunteers. Four brown camouflage nets were completed. An additional five nets were under completion. The members of the group were Mrs Davies, May Downes, Mary Evans, Martha Poole, Una Swan, Rita Tucker. These women were all members of the Camden CWA, Camden WVS, the Camden Red Cross and the Camden District Hospital Women’s Auxiliary.

Tucker was an enthusiastic supporter of the Camden CWA’s netting effort, and constantly encouraged local women to take up the activity. She maintained that the CWA netters were ‘very efficient’ and very ‘interested’ in what they did when they made the nets. She stated in the Camden press in November 1941 that: The importance [to] this branch of war work cannot be over-estimated. [Camouflage nets] are used so extensively by our troops overseas, and all we can make are urgently needed… We will remember in our prayers the mothers, wives and children of our soldiers who fight and give them our active interest, and sympathetic understanding.

On her own initiative Tucker learnt how to rope the nets. She brought them from CWA headquarters in Sydney to complete at Camden. This was significant, because up to November 1941, the state CWA Handicrafts Committee demanded that all roping of nets for the Camden CWA be conducted at the CWA netting centre at David Jones in Sydney. After November CWA the branches were allowed to do their own roping of camouflage nets. Mrs Tucker’s effort were important given the attitude of the state CWA and the activity at the Camden CWA netting centre was an important local wartime effort.

In November 1941 Mrs Tucker stated in the Camden press that she was gratified that the helpers at the CWA netting centre were making nets of ‘a very high standard’, and encouraged other members to join the netting group. Rita Tucker was encouraged by the chairman of the CWA Handicrafts Committee, Joan Coghlan, who stated in the CWA’s journal The Countrywoman in New South Wales that there was an ‘urgent’ need for nets by the military authorities because ‘they save lives!’

Mrs Tucker took it upon herself to introduce net making at Camden and felt that it was her wartime patriotic duty. She had the financial means to attend the Sydney CWA conference in April 1941 when other Camden women who did not. For women like Mrs Tucker their voluntary effort on the Camden homefront was part of their patriotic responsibility and part of the responsibility that came with their station in life. She would have felt her social status and conservatism demanded a certain level of social responsibility which included to service to her family, her church and her community.

Read more about the CWA and other conservative women’s organisations in wartime Camden  @  UOW research

Image Painting Camouflage Net Making EM Dunbar, UK, 1941. cc.


Camden CWA wartime president, Rita Tucker


The Camden Country Women’s Association, formed in 1930, played an important role in wartime Camden between 1939 and 1945. The branch undertook a number of roles under the direction of its wartime president Mrs MS (Rita) Tucker. Mrs Tucker was a lifelong member of the CWA and its president from 1939 until her death in 1961. She was driven by community service as were most of the Camden women that worked for the homefront war effort.
Mrs Tucker was a foundation member of the Camden CWA. She was an active member of the Camden Presbyterian church and played the organ on Sundays. She was a member of the Camden female elite and moved in influential circles in Sydney. She was very determined, intelligent and forthright. She did not suffer fools and said so, which could rub people up the wrong way. She was outspoken and a straight talker.
Mrs Marguerita Tucker was born in 1894 in Finley NSW and attended Goulburn Presbyterian College. Her parents were William and Flora Blair, and she was one of three children, brother Douglas and sister Doreen. Her family moved to Narrabri in 1910, where she later worked as a journalist and part-time editor for the North West Courier as well as supporting her family’s pastoral interests in the area. She married Rupert Tucker in 1915, whose family owned Merila, a wheat and sheep property, between Narrabri and Boggabri. Rita and Rupert had a daughter Joanna (1920) and a son John (1938), after losing their first child. They moved their family to the Camden area in 1929 and purchased Nelgowrie near Macquarie Grove. They later purchased The Woodlands at Theresa Park, made some additions to the house, then moved the family there in 1935.
Rita Tucker joined the Camden CWA on its foundation in 1930. She was a modern independent woman at a time where there was changing aspirations for rural women. Tucker was vice-president of the Nepean Group of the CWA in 1931, worked tirelessly for the organisation and was New South Wales CWA treasurer in 1937. She took advantage of the groundbreaking role of the Camden Red Cross which had empowered Camden women within the strict social confines of the town’s closed social order. She exercised her agency as a Camden conservative and carved out a space within Camden’s female voluntary landscape.
Rita Tucker was part of the New South Wales CWA which was founded in 1922 by the conservative wives of the rural gentry. The foundation president was Mrs Grace Munro from the New England area of New South Wales and was in the same mould as Tucker. Mrs Munro proceeded to implement policies that were aimed at empowering rural women who were confined by isolation, marriage, poor education, rural poverty, poor services and a lack of mothercraft support in the bush. Munro was born at Gragin near Warialda NSW and educated at Kambala in Sydney. She lost a child in 1911 while away from home attending to medical matters for another of her children in Sydney. She had gained valuable experience during the First World War in the country Red Cross. Helen Townsend’s Serving the Country, the history of the New South Wales CWA, has described Grace Munro as a formidable energetic women who was totally dedicated to the CWA. Tucker and Munro were active agents of change for country women.
The conservatism of the NSW CWA founders was reflected in the women who established the Camden CWA. These women put matters of family, church and community at the forefront of their voluntarism and implemented policies within the CWA that reflected these values. The CWA founders in Camden and at a state level supported the status quo where patriarchy and class ruled daily interactions in country towns.
During the Second World War the women of the New South Wales and Camden CWA saw their role as a support organisations as part of the Australian family on the homefront. Townsend’s history states that in 1939 member’s patriotism was stirred by the promise of ‘action, excitement, purpose and drama’. The CWA’s The Countrywoman stated in 1942 that:

A woman’s part in this heroic struggle is to inspire our men, to cheer and to comfort and to sustain them through good and evil report, until we shall reach the Pisgah’s heights of victory and guarantee to our children and our children’s children that they may pursue honourable lives as free men and women along the paths of peace in the years to come.

During the war years the most important wartime activity undertaken by the CWA in Camden and across the state was making camouflage nets for the army. In Camden making camouflage nets was based at the CWA’s Murray Street headquarters, while the branch regularly sent finished camouflage nets to Sydney from 1940.
Over 70 years later the Camden CWA is still serving the local community and is part of Australia’s most powerful women’s organisation.


Read more about the CWA and other conservative women’s organisations in wartime Camden  @  UOW research

Image courtesy J Tucker