Our theme for today is groups of three. These three girls were prizewinners at Mrs Burnell’s garden party.in Castlemaine, Central Victoria, on Nov 16th, 1940 . It was part of the way into World War II, when raising money for war effort charities such as the Comfort Fund, Red Cross or Bundles for Britain was the usual reason for holding a money-raising event. It was such a patriotic time, not so long after the last coronation and a new king, with the country at war. Best dresses and hats were brought out for this special occasion, and the pram reflects the feeling at the time with its crown, its Australian flags and red, white and blue bunting.. Crepe paper was the standard material for these creations, willingly constructed by parents. . And the special doll Elizabeth was named ,of course, after Princess Elizabeth.
A typical pretty, peaceful, family album picture of the time. But it is what the picture doesn’t show which makes it interesting to me. When the two girls on the right got out of bed that morning they had probably been primed to wish their mother a happy birthday. It was her forty-first birthday. But they would have been blissfully unaware of the reaction of their parents when they opened their morning newspaper of choice, the Argus, from Melbourne, and its news of the war from England. .Two nights before the worst bombing raid on the city of Coventry was carried out. Over 4000 homes were destroyed and over 500 people killed. Coventry was the home of the children’s 90 year old maternal great grandmother. I don’t know long it was to be before the Australian family found out that she was alive and well and was to live for another two years. Then on the night of the garden party the Royal Air Force retaliated by bombing Hamburg.
But the children weren’t aware of this.
Also on the other side of the world and on that same day the Warsaw ghetto was closed to the outside world by the Nazis. In the previous month the Jewish people of Warsaw, about one third of the total population , had been rounded up by the Nazis and confined to a small are of the city, These 400,000 people were held behind three metre high walls topped with barbed wire. And on this fatal day the gap was closed. Thirty percent of the population crowded into two and a half percent of the area.
But the children in Castlemaine weren’t aware of this
or of a group of three chikdren in the ghetto in Warsaw,
The garden party was held at the home of Mr and Mrs Burnell, a beautiful home with a large front lawn suitable for all the stalls and competitions that go with a fund-raising garden party. It was directly across the road from Thompson’s Englineering & Pipe Works, established in 1875, where Mr Burnell was the General Manager. He had won the MC during WorldWar I. Thompson’s was the most important business in Castlemaine, commonly known as Thompson’s Foundry and was spread out alongside the main railway line from Melbourne to Bendigo, an ideal position for transporting the heavy goods which it made, a wide range of steam-engines, boilers, mining machinery, railway equipment and centrifugal pumps. But during World War II they made artillery and tank guns, marine engines, circulating pumps and other heavy forging and foundry work.
Making guns for war, what the children didn’t know.
The eldest girl in the photos remembers the workmen on their pushbikes, four and five abreast, sweeping up and down the Main Street on their way to and from work. With such a large work force the foundry had a piercing whistle which screamed out at 7.00am, 7.20am and 7.30am. There was no excuse for being late for work and the whole town and beyond had its own non-negotiable alarm clock.
Small towns are such a web of people and places. The mother of the two girls on the right had originally come to Castlemaine with her parents as from 1923 to 1928 her father worked in the office at Thompson’s and was Bandmaster of Thompson’s Foundry Band. This is the same man who brought a book on Shakespeare with him when he came to Australia. The man really did have itchy feet and jumped as bandmaster from one small country town to another several times. The Foundry has had its own brass band since 1887 and 24 members of the band served in World War I, six of whom were killed. I have no figures for the Second World War.
When is the world going to learn .
And for more interesting stories about groups of three, click on the links in Sepia Saturday.