Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Townsville Soldiers' Rest Room - a "home-like refuge"

On 10 May 1916, a meeting was held at the Town Hall in Townsville to establish a "Soldier's Rest Room League". The object of the League was to set up a dedicated place where soldiers (either leaving or returning) could spend the day in comfort while waiting for transport to their destinations. Only 9 men attended the meeting, but it must have been an important issue for the women of the city, because 50 women attended the meeting. Discussion centred around a suitable venue for the proposed rest room, and the need to appeal to the public for donations of crockery, chairs, literature etc.

The Townsville Soldiers' Rest Room is pictured on the left of this photograph.
This photo dates to around 1918. 
Photo: James Cook University Library North Queensland Photographic Collection, 
NQID 2201.

Within a few days, the executive of the Soldiers' Rest Room League had secured the rooms at one time occupied by the YMCA, above the offices of the gasworks, at the corner of Flinders and Stanley Streets. The rooms were described as "commodious, cool and central". It was anticipated that ladies from the Red Cross would provide afternoon and morning tea for the soliders, all at no cost. And all soldiers, from all centres, were welcome to visit.

On 30 May 1916, the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported on the unofficial opening of the new Soldiers' Rest Room:

"On Monday the soldiers’ rest rooms on Stanley-street were unofficially opened. The rooms took on a military character as soon as they were opened, one young soldier who had been given a card of invitation on landing from the Bingera following the secretary up the stairs as she opened up in the morning. Others followed until by 11 o’clock eleven men, mostly from Cairns and the west, were present, and all through the day others came and went. Morning and afternoon tea was dispensed and the men filled in the time reading, playing games, writing letters, and talking. It was noticed that the men who took walks about the town soon returned and evidently looked upon the room as what it was, a home-like refuge from the streets. The appreciation shown was very keen. One of the visitors, only 19 now, had served at Gallipoli and been invalided home for good with a bullet wound behind his ear and enteric fever. His three brothers are still in the firing line and he was anxious to return, but was refused by the medical authorities. He spent the whole stay at the rooms and left by train for the west at night, and had the room not been open would have had to walk the streets all day. The rooms, which are very suitable for the purpose, include a large reading room, writing room, room for soldiers to leave their luggage for the day, a large bathroom, games room, broad verandah, and kitchen, etc., for the workers. The ladies’ committee, Mesdames W. E. Blackwell, H. Schmidt, G. F. Williams, Ranwell, Christian and Miss Goss, were in attendance for the day, and, other ladies will be in attendance during the week. As the rooms will be opened all the week, including Sunday, from 7 o’clock in the morning until 10 o’clock at night, it will need a lot of helpers to prevent it becoming a tax on the few, so it is hoped that ladies who can give a day or part of a day will send their names in to the secretary, Mrs Christian, or any member of the committee. Those doing so are requested to state what day and hours will suit them. Each lady is expected to bring in a cake and some scones or sandwiches. In all 32 men were present at the rooms through the day."

Soldiers obviously found the facility useful, as more than 100 attended the Soldiers' Rest Room in its first week of operation. According to one of the League's executive members:

"It means a good deal to many of them who are entire strangers to know that they have such a place to go where they can spend the day in comfort instead of having to wander idly about the town".