In October 1915, during WWI, it was suggested by the Karrakatta Club in Perth that they adopt a Melbourne club’s idea and organise to send Christmas cheer to the soldiers overseas. They decided to utilise billies and aimed to include in them “something to eat, something to smoke, something to use and something to amuse.” Despite their limited time, the scheme was successful and very popular with the soldiers. They decided to continue it in the following year.
The idea of the Christmas billies reached the women living at Day Dawn, a small town several kilometres southwest of Cue. A few women had donated billies in 1915, but in early July 1916, a group of women decided to contribute on a larger scale. Along with fundraising for goods to place in the billies, the women started knitting. However, seeing as though there were some women and children who did not know how to knit, Mrs Mary Threadgold decided to establish the Day Dawn Patriotic Knitting Club.
Mrs Threadgold was the President of the Club, and Mrs Georgina Morris was the instructor. Over 20 women and girls of various ages soon joined, and they were provided with wool and knitting needles. After learning how to knit, they began knitting socks and other items for the troops. Along with knitting, they also organised community social nights.
Their first social night took place on the evening of 26 July. A concert was held at the Institute Hall in Day Dawn to raise money. Local Day Dawn artists, as well as visitors from Cue, sang songs and gave recitations. They held a dance, and members of the Club provided refreshments. They raised a total of £10 18s.
Two months later, in September, another social and dance was held at Campbell’s Hall in Day Dawn. The purpose was to raise money and accept donations of gifts to place in the Christmas billies. Once again, there was singing, recitations, and musical numbers. There was a song performed by Mr Maurice Fienberg, a duet by Mrs Eliza Donaldson and Mr Walter Cann, a quartet sung by girls, a cornet solo by Mr McDonald, and performances by the town band. Miss Lillian Jeffries gave a recitation, and Mrs McDonald, with a group of girls, ended the performances by singing the British patriotic song, ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning.’ In between all the numbers, there was dancing, which continued until the evening ended.
It was considered to be a highly successful evening. The Club raised £8 11s worth of silver coins that were donated at the door and received gifts valued at £10. It was also noted that the members had knitted 50 pairs of socks to send to the soldiers. Indicating that their work for the Christmas billies was at an end, a thank you present was given to Mrs Morris, which consisted of a framed photograph of the members of the club. The frame was inscribed to show her the “mark of esteem” the members felt towards her and to illustrate their thanks at being taught “the useful art of knitting socks.“
It’s not known if the framed photo remained with the Morris family throughout the years, however, it was printed in the newspaper ‘Western Mail’ as a tribute to the Club’s success. It’s a lovely photo of the members, most of whom were young women or girls. The women at the front are posing with their knitting and, positioned on the floor, in front of the seated girls, are examples of the socks they knitted.
The socks, along with other articles of comfort, were placed in the billies. They were then loaded onto the ship Argyllshire, to be delivered to troops stationed in Egypt. However, because the ship did not reach England before Christmas, the billies were instead distributed on Christmas morning amongst the 2,000 soldiers on board.
Grateful to the people who had donated, many soldiers wrote letters expressing their thanks. In March 1917, Mrs Threadgold received a letter from George Newby, of the 16th Battalion. When he received the billy, the Argyllshire was anchored in an allied port off the coast of Africa, but they were unable to go ashore. After being at sea for eight weeks and five days, the billies were a welcome distraction. George went on to describe the scene.
The billies absolutely made the festive season for us, and made us forget our little troubles for three or four hours. The excitement was very intense, and questions such as, “What did you get? Did you get any shaving soap? Yes, I did, I was just out of it.The Murchison Times and Day Dawn Gazette (Cue, WA : 1894 – 1925); 16 March 1917; Page 1; Soldiers Letters
He closed his letter with “very many thanks” for the billy and its contents. Sadly, six months after the letter was received in Day Dawn, George was killed in action in Belgium.
Eleven year old Dorothy Nichols (most likely a member of the Club) also received a letter from Harry Penter, late of Albany. He thanked her for the billy and specifically for the pipe (he had lost his several days before), the shaving stick (he was nearly out), and the tea. Thanks to her gift, he had had the best cup of tea since leaving W.A. and declared that the billy had cheered him up.
He ended his letter by saying, “I must not forget the sender of my first Xmas billy abroad, but I hope you won’t have to send any more billies to any one next year, as I hope the war will be over.” Harry was wounded in France but thankfully was not killed. His words to Dorothy, unfortunately, did not ring true. The war continued in 1917, and the people of Day Dawn once again filled Christmas boxes and knitted socks. The war did not end until 11 November 1918. The Day Dawn Patriotic Knitting Club also came to an end, but I’m sure the skills they learned in 1916 remained with them.
This story originally featured on ABC Mid West and Wheatbelt’s Saturday Breakfast with Nat on 25 July 2020. You can listen to that episode via the following link: https://ab.co/2C67gqO
- 1915 ‘BILLIES FOR THE BRAVE.’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 5 October, p. 5. (THIRD EDITION), viewed 19 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article84713781
- 1916 ‘Day Dawn Notes.’, The Murchison Times and Day Dawn Gazette (Cue, WA : 1894 – 1925), 14 July, p. 3. , viewed 19 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article233259340
- 1916 ‘Day Dawn Notes.’, The Murchison Times and Day Dawn Gazette (Cue, WA : 1894 – 1925), 28 July, p. 3. , viewed 19 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article233259482
- 1916 ‘KNITTING CLUB SOCIAL’, The Murchison Times and Day Dawn Gazette (Cue, WA : 1894 – 1925), 22 September, p. 3. , viewed 19 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article233259825
- 1916 ‘THE DAY DAWN PATRIOTIC KNITTING CLUB.’, Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954), 24 November, p. 28. , viewed 19 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37985228
- 1917 ‘SOLDERS LETTERS.’, The Murchison Times and Day Dawn Gazette (Cue, WA : 1894 – 1925), 16 March, p. 1. , viewed 19 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article233261348
- 1916 ‘DISTRIBUTING CHRISTMAS BILLIES TO THE SOLDIERS IN EGYPT.’, Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954), 3 March, p. 23. , viewed 19 Jul 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37596373