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Portarlington Red Cross

Like many small country towns during World War One, Portarlington contributed to the war effort in various ways. While many young men left family farms, some never to return, the women of Portarlington were united in contributing to ease the reality of war.

The Red Cross relied heavily on donations to purchase materials for the war effort and despite a call for subscriptions very few donations were forthcoming. A well-known Portarlington businessman, and considered a pillar of the community, Mr PM Browne, financially supported the activities of the Red Cross.

The Geelong Branch supplied cut-out material for pyjama suits and supplied wool for socks, while the Portarlington Group raised funds and knitted and sewed items. All of the goods made were transported free of charge to Geelong by Woolnough’s Bus Company of Portarlington. Demand was so great they had to obtain an additional three sewing machines to cope with the work. As well as sewing pyjamas the group produced socks, scarves, balaclavas, washers and mittens. In the first six months of 1915 the numbers of items sent to Geelong from Portarlington were: 313 sets of pyjamas, 28 Cardigan Jackets, 44 cakes of soap, 78 pairs of socks, 61 bandages and 12 packets of cigarettes.

In May of 1915, the Portarlington branch of the Red Cross held a meeting to consider celebrating Empire Day as a means of raising funds to assist with the work. The entire surrounding district was asked to participate under the auspices of the Geelong Office. The Secretary of the Geelong Branch, Miss Blakiston visited Portarlington and brought with her badges, flags and buttons to be sold. An afternoon tea was prepared in her honour presided over by Mrs. G F Woolnough and Mrs. PM Browne.

Following this the members of the Portarlington Red Cross canvassed all parts of the district from Portarlington to St Leonard’s, to sell British and Australian flags, patriotic ties, brooches, stationery and hatpins. Each member was assigned to a particular area and they approached men working in paddocks, and those walking along the road, asking them to buy items. Some men tried to shy away from purchasing items, one sought shelter under the pier, while another escaped through a side window and ran to the rear of the hotel, only to give himself up and donate to the cause.

Mrs. PM Browne established a younger version of the Portarlington Red Cross, called the ‘Young Women’s Guild of Service’, encouraging Girls over the age of fourteen to join. The groups were located at the Temperance Hall (Masonic Lodge, Portarlington) and after three weeks had a membership of twenty seven. Mrs. Browne continued to raise funds, obtaining permission from the Shire to use Eastern Park for a carnival for a Red Cross fundraiser. So supportive was the Shire that they announced a public and bank holiday from midday so everyone could attend. The carnival was a huge success and total of 136 pounds was raised.

A Mrs George Brown took on the role of President in 1917. It wasn’t until the influenza outbreak of 1919 that the Portarlington Red Cross were acknowledged