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.