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.