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Waley Convalescent Home at Mowbray Park

Waley Home for Returned Soldiers

In 1919 Mowbray Park, five kilometres west of Picton, was handed over to the Commonwealth Government to be converted to a convalescent home for invalided soldiers from the First World War. The home was called Waley after its philanthropic benefactors. 

From 1915 the Red Cross established a network of hospitals and convalescent homes due to the shortcomings of the Australian military medical authorities.  

By the end of the World War One hundreds of invalided soldiers were returning to Australia, and they passed through medical facilities managed by the Red Cross, and Waley was one of them.

Local Red Cross branches and state-wide campaigns organised by New South Wales Red Cross divisional headquarters in Sydney provided funding for these efforts. The Commonwealth Department of Repatriation paid a fee of six shillings a day for each patient to cover running expenses. (Stubbings, ‘Look what you started Henry!’ 1992. pp. 13-14.)

Foundation

The Waley Convalescent Home was created when Englishman FG Waley and his wife Ethel presented Mowbray Park and 180 acres (73 ha), to the Commonwealth Government as a “permanent home for shell-shocked and permanently incapacitated sailors and soldiers”. (SMH, 4 March 1920)  These days it is called posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Waleys had originally purchased Mowbray Park (800 acres, 324 ha) in 1905 from WM Barker, who had had the main house built in 1884. (Mowbray Pk History). Mowbray Park had been the Waley family country retreat – a gentleman’s country estate.

FG Waley was an executive member of the New South Wales Red Cross in 1919 when the family donated the farm to the Commonwealth. Several wealthy landowners donated homes and buildings for Red Cross use as convalescent homes, a philanthropic practice adopted in the United Kingdom.

(Courtesy Mowbray Park)

The Farm

Waley was a farm hospital with about 60 acres under cultivation and the main house supplied with vegetables, eggs, milk and butter from the farms 21 cows and 26 pigs.

Most patients at Waley Hospital stayed at the home between one and three months, with some up to 8 months for those suffering from neurasthenia or hysteria. It was reported that “the quiet, regular life, under good discipline, with a regular work period each day, is the best way of endeavouring to the fit these men for occupation again”.

Activities were general farm work to return the men “to their own occupation”. Major-General GM Macarthur Onslow chaired the farm committee. (Annual Report 1923-24, ARCS (NSW), p. 19.)

The main entrance to Waley Convalescent Home in the early 1920s with some of the Red Cross staff in the background. (Mowbray Park)

Opening in 1920

The home was officially opened in March 1920. The Waley donation of the house was expressed in noble terms as an act of patriotic nationalism. The Sydney Morning Herald stated that

As the cars swung through the broad entrance gates and traversed the winding drive through an avenue of pines to the beautifully situated homestead one realised the noble sentiment which prompted the owners – Mr. and Mrs. F. G. Waley – to hand over to the nation this rich possession. In order that those men whose nerves had suffered from the shock of Year might be given an opportunity of recuperating their health. (SMH, 4 March 1920)

The opening ceremony attracted a list of Sydney notables and the Australian Governor Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson and Lady Helen Munro-Ferguson, the founder of the British Red Cross in Australia. His Excellency accepted the house and land on behalf of the country. The press report stated:

The Governor-General expressed pleasure at being present to transfer the property from their host and hostess to the nation. “It is,” he added, a noble gift, and I am indeed glad to find myself under this Hospitable roof tree.” (SMH 4 March 1920)

Plaque commemorating the hand-over to the Commonwealth of Australian by the Waley family in 1920 (Courtesy Mowbray Park)

Entertainment

The home received considerable support from local Red Cross volunteers who provided entertainment in concerts, picnics, and library services from its inception. 

For example, in November 1919, the Camden Red Cross organised a basket picnic and an outing for the soldiers from Waley ‘on the banks of the [Nepean] river at the weir’ at Camden. Red Cross voluntary workers provided cakes, scones and afternoon teas for soldiers. (Camden News, 4 September 1919, 6 November 1919)

 In March 1920, the Camden News reported that the Narellan Red Cross donated three bookcases with over 600 books to fill them (Camden News, 18 March 1920)

(Courtesy Mowbray Park)

Staffing

The Red Cross staffed convalescent hospitals with voluntary aids (VAs) from detachments in localities adjacent to the home. In the Camden district, Waley’s opening triggered the foundation of voluntary aid detachments at Camden and The Oaks.

There were three dedicated staff positions for voluntary aids (VAs) at the home drawn from Camden, Picton, The Oaks, Menangle and Narellan voluntary aid detachments (VAD).

During 1919 six VAs from The Oaks VAD volunteered at Waley Hospital, and by 1921 this had increased to 10, with a further 10 VAs from the Camden VAD, who included Mary McIntosh, Miss Hall and Miss Gardiner.

In 1920 Narellan VAs Eileen Cross and Cory Wheeler were volunteering at the home. The Camden VAs put in 117 days in 1921 and 116 days in 1922 at the hospital. In 1922 the VAs relieved the cook and the ‘Blue Aids’ for their days off.

By 1923 there were 13 VAs, with one VA from Narellan Red Cross, who collectively worked 65 days. (NSW RC Annual Reports 1918-19 to 1923-24; Minutes, Camden Red Cross, 1915-1924.)

By 1924 the number of voluntary aids had dropped to only a ‘few’ making monthly visits to the patients.

Ward Waley Home which was managed by the Red Cross (Courtesy Mowbray Park)

Disposal of home

Waley was closed by 1925 and sold off at auction. The home operated from March 1920 to April 1925. Under the Waley deed of gift funds from the sale of the home by the Commonwealth of Australia were distributed to Royal Naval House in Sydney, the Rawson Institute for Seamen and the Sydney Mission for Seamen. (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 April 1925)

Groundbreaking medical care

Waley Convalescent Home was one of Red Cross medical activities that broke new ground in medical care and convalescence for ‘shell-shock’ now called PTSD.

By 1920 the New South Wales Red Cross managed 26 homes and rehabilitation centres, five field and camp hospitals, including Waley at Mowbray Park. (NSW RC AR) There were similar medical facilities in other states.

The Red Cross pioneered this area of clinical practice by providing a level of care and soldier welfare activities never seen before in Australia.

Red Cross duty room with staffing by Voluntary Aids from the Camden District Detachments (Courtesy Mowbray Park)
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History is nice, but…

What is the value of history?

A group of American historians asked this question in 2012. They were concerned about the profile of history in the USA and its branding.

Camp Admin block Narellan Military Camp 1942
Camp Admin block Narellan Military Camp 1942 (A Bailey)

 

What resulted was the Value of History statement which is a statement of 7 principles on how history is essential to contemporary life. It provides a common language for making the argument that history should be part of contemporary life. They are seeking the support of US historical institutions and provide a tool kit for the implementation of the statement.

The American campaign is centred around this impact statement: “People will value history for its relevance to modern life and use historical thinking skills to actively engage with and address contemporary issues.”  They are convinced that history is relevant to contemporary communities.

I would argue that the 7 principles are just as relevant in Australia as they are in the USA. The principles are centred around 3 themes.

  1. To ourselves (a) identity (b) critical skills
  2. To our communities (a) vital places to live and work (b) economic development
  3. To our future (a) engaged citizens (b) leadership (c) legacy.

While the Value of History statement is written for an American audience it has just as much relevance in Australia.

Princess Mary Christmas Gift Tin 1914
A Princess Mary Christmas Gift Tin 1914 that was on loan at Camden Museum in 2015 (I Wills)

 

The supporters of the US campaign want to change the perception that while history is nice is not essential.

There is certainly support for history in Australia as Dr Anna Clark has shown in her book Private Lives Public History that there is general support for history in Australia. But as American historians have found history is ‘nice but not essential’.

 Value of History statement

The Americans who are leading this campaign are seeking the development of a ‘set of metrics’ for assessing the impact of historical projects and thus prove their worth. It is their view that ‘funders ought to view history, historical thinking, and history organizations as critical to nearly all contemporary conversations’.

The US promoters of ‘Advancing the History Relevance Campaign’ maintain that the disparate nature of historical work means that there is the lack of a unified voice for the value of history.

Australian historians need to similarly speak with one voice from the many corners of the discipline. From local community history, to scholarly work in academia, to commissioned work, to work in archives, museums and galleries as well the heritage industry.

Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images
Camelot House early 1900s at Kirkham NSW (Camden Images)

 

Australian historian could learn a thing or two from their American colleagues. The statement of 7 principles of the Value of History statement has as much relevance in Australia as the US. Similarly the US desire for a set of assessible metrics would be a useful part of the Australian toolkit for historians of all ilks and backgrounds.

History is consumed on a vast scale in Australia. The American Relevance of History project has much merit and would be very useful in Australia.