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Much has been written about the contribution of South Australian men and women who served in the First World War. Rightly so, as their courage and sacrifice helped the British Empire successfully defend itself and its allies.
Far less has been written about the contribution made by the women, men and even children who remained in SA. While their efforts are little known, they were invaluable in supporting those fighting at the front. They provided comfort for the wounded who needed to return home, raised funds for the war effort, and provided much needed moral support.
The Cheer Up Hut Adelaide 1919 (Image: State Library SA B-5505)
The lives of families in SA was radically changed by the impact of the war. There was a groundswell of support all about South Australia for 'Our Boys', and from country towns to individual suburbs in Adelaide people worked hard to underpin the war effort. Badges were issued to commemorate and celebrate these activities, such as a 1917 badge from Burra proudly proclaiming 20,200 pounds raised 'for King and Empire'.
Shortly after the start of World War 1, Mrs Alexandrine Seager (a real estate agent) and William Sowden (editor of the Register newspaper) formed the Cheer Up Society. They had been shocked by the lack of public support for troops awaiting embarkation at the Morphettville camp, and sought ways to entertain, comfort and provide for the welfare of our troops. The movement soon spread, with branches from Gawler to Terowie, and Mount Gambier to Murray Bridge.
For more of the story of the Cheer Up Society, see this article on History SA's Adelaidia website.
April 1915 brought the shattering news that the ANZAC's had suffered terrible losses at Gallipoli. In May 1915 the Cheer Up Society began to discuss holding a Violet Day. Its purpose was to honour the brave men of Australian birth who have fallen on the Gallipoli Peninsula, or died a no less glorious death beneath the shadow of the Pyramids in Egypt. But also important was to raise funds to find a permanent home for the Cheer Up Society in Adelaide which was then temporarily located in Bentham St.
The violet was to become a symbol of 'perpetual remembrance for those gallant dead who gave their lives for their country'.
The first Violet Day was held in Adelaide on July 2 1915, with scores of young ladies selling tiny bouquets of violets. A purple ribbon was attached with the words "in memory". Speeches were delivered at the Soldiers' War Memorial (now called the South African War memorial) by the Governor, Premier, State Military Commandant, and the Vice President of the Cheer Up Society.
Ironically, no women are recorded as speaking publicly on this day which so potently demonstrated women's courageous commitment to their menfolk.
Loading Wool Near Mount Pleasnt 1912 (Image: State Library SA PRG-280-1-7-288)
Violet Day became an annual event and was celebrated all about South Australia although the date later changed to August. Many country towns had been hard hit by war casualties and the day held great significance for communities who had lost friends and relatives. Mount Pleasant was one town that followed the tradition with Violet Day observation continuing after the war ended.
The Naracoorte Cheer Up Society was still celebrating Violet Memory Day in 1946, and the last recorded Violet Memory Day was held in Adelaide Town Hall in 1970.
To commemorate the centenary of Violet Day in 2015, Mount Pleasant is holding a special free event - the Veiling of the Hall. Throughout the month of July a colourful display of crocheted and knitted violets will veil the front fašade of the Mount Pleasant Soldiers Memorial Hall. The violets have been hand made by the local community to celebrate the centenary of Violet Day and inspired by Alexandrine Seager. Appropriately Mrs Seager's grandson lives in Mount Pleasant and is local Councillor for the Barossa Council.
Mount Pleasant Soldiers Memorial Hall Veiled in Poppies for About Time History Festival
Paula from the Mount Pleasant District History Room says of the Veiling of the Hall: I became enamoured with Mrs Seager, for her ability to involve so many people with the setting up of the Cheer Up Hut; she saw there was a need to send the soldiers off to World War 1 with a happy farewell, and within a week of establishing a committee the first of many dinners was held, initially for the 10th Battalion of which her son, Harold, was one.
Despite losing her 17 year old son in Gallipoli in 1915, Alexandrine Seager continued her tireless efforts to give servicemen the best possible experience while in Adelaide. I can't think of a better way to honour this kindly and motivated woman than by Veiling of the Hall on the centenary of Violet Day!
Why not take a drive through the scenic Adelaide Hills to view this colourful transformation of the Mount Pleasant Soldiers Memorial Hall?
Another celebration of the centenary of Violet Day is being held in Adelaide by Illuminart and History SA. The Violet Verses Sound and Light Spectacular. Don't miss this brilliant free display at the Torrens Parade Ground held from July 2-4 2015.