The Autograph Book© Glenda Bone-Gault
World War 2 brought many changes to Australian households. On a practical level it brought shortages that affected normal domestic life. These shortages had to be worked around and great imagination had to be used in order to cope with the lack of food, clothes, petrol and so on. The role of women in the home became much harder, their usual routine had to be contoured to the changes War brought. The lack of manpower was felt in many ways and women had to make up for this shortfall. Some women coped better than others. This is the story about one such woman and how she dealt with the changes that War brought to her home.
Edith Williams, born in 1893, was my great aunt. At the time of WW2 she was unmarried and living with her widowed Mother, Emma Williams (nee Brownlow b. 1856). Edith nursed her mother at home right up to her death in 1946. As Edith never married it meant she was used to running her own household, so in that respect she was probably better off than other women as she did not have to adjust to a life now minus a husband, as they did. Edith owned 5 acres of land which she had totally cultivated with crops of pineapples, corn, citrus trees, grapevines and so on.
She also had poultry and of course her beloved horse, Dolly, used to pull Edith's buggy, her mode of transport in those days. In today's terms she had her own cottage industry, which provided a home and its comforts for her and her mother. Her life was extremely full and War was to bring an even fuller life to her doorstep, quite literally.
The suburb where Edith lived became one of the main camps for the American troops. In those days the Pine Rivers Shire consisted of approximately 4,500 residents and by War's end 15,000 soldiers would have been bivouacked there. Australian soldiers were also camped there but not in such great numbers as the Americans. This camp was not more than half a mile from Edith's home, so she looked for a way to make this influx of activity in her community work to her advantage. This she did by making the decision to set herself up to do laundry for the soldiers. Comparing how we do laundry now to how it was done back then, it makes you wonder where she got the time and the strength as she already had a very full life.
The following has been formed mainly from my Mother's memories of this time, and from information taken from her autograph book, which I will elaborate on shortly.
Edith Williams' home was modest. She had a very small laundry room detached from the rear of the house, not nearly big enough to do large amounts of laundry in, so she set up a tent in her back yard and this became the center of her laundry activities. Inside the tent she set up trestle tables to sort, iron and fold the clothes on. Once done they were parcelled ready for pickup.
As Edith would certainly not have been allowed on to the actual camp grounds, the soldiers would have to ask for permission to leave the camp to take the laundry to her home. The camp was not more than half a mile away. Once the clothes were dropped off she would put some sort of identifying mark on them so that she knew what belonged to whom. The clothes would then be sorted, uniforms, woollens and whites - colour did not figure highly, as you can imagine. War is a drab and colourless thing.
Woollens would be soaked gently in warm water, given a gentle rub then put through the mangle, rinsed, and mangled again before going on the line. A 'mangle' was two rollers that you fed the clothes between while turning a handle that worked on a cog which turned the rollers. The clothes compressed as they went through the rollers and the water was squeezed out.
The uniforms were a different matter. They would first be wetted and soaped using either Velvet or Sunlight soap, (the soap would also be broken up into smaller pieces or grated to be used in the boiler). Stains and marks would be attended to by either using a scrubbing brush or rubbing them up and down on a wooden washboard. Once this was done they were put in a laundry trolley to drain, the water collected to be used again. A boiler was set up. It was a large round tub on a metal stand set over an open fire with a metal windbreaker around it to stop any wind from blowing the fire out, and also to help prevent the fire blowing elsewhere and starting an unwanted fire. There was no water on tap in her back yard in those days so Edith would bucket the water from her watertank.
Once the uniforms had been boiled they would be taken out of the tub using a copper-stick and they would be put in the trolley again to drain. Once again the water was saved and if too dirty it would be used for the produce that she grew. Once they came through the mangle they would be rinsed then mangled again, (when the whites went through this final rinse 'blue from a Ricketts blue bag' was put in the water to ensure their whiteness). All water that could be saved was, and then recycled.
When they were ready for the line the clothes would be hung out on the old t-section clothes line and once full it would be propped up with a stick, with a notch cut in the top. This supported the line which could collapse from the sheer weight of the washing. Even though the clothes had been "mangled" they would still retain a fair amount of water making them very heavy to handle.