A few days ago Australians commemorated Anzac Day. It is a time to remember those who have sacrificed their lives and their physical health and mental wellbeing in the pursuit of peace and freedom. There are numerous books, both fiction and non-fiction, that pay tribute to the soldiers and medical staff on the frontline, as well as the horrific experiences of those caught in a war torn continent. Today, though I want to tell a story much closer to home.
My Dad will be 85 this year but as a young school boy in country South Australia he received this medal for his participation in the Schools’ Patriotic Fund (SPF) during World War Two.
The SPF was first set up in 1915 as a way for the home front to assist those on the front line during World War One. Initially it involved giving donations to a variety of organisations, but in the exuberance to help, some organisations ended up being swamped by donations while others missed out. So apparently the South Australian teachers approached the State Government about setting up a scheme which would be a bit more organised. One of the most noteworthy fundraising events for the First World War was the Children’s Wonderland Fair held in December 1916. Children dressed up as Nursery Rhyme characters and home made fares were sold at stalls. At the end of the war the SPF was wound down as it was no longer needed.
And then the next World War happened. In 1940 the SPF was resurrected and children were encouraged to collect all sorts of scraps, such as newspapers, cardboard, silver foil, even rubber and old bones. Each type of scrap had its own value and when the children brought the scraps to school their individual tally was recorded, earning them bars on their SPF medal. By 1946 around £400,000 (equal to about A$26, 850,000 in 2015) had been raised. According to the SA History Hub, South Australia was the only Australian state to have organised such an effort from its school children, but I’d love to hear if there were similar schemes elsewhere in Australia.
Now, you might be asking – Why Old Bones?
When Japan captured some islands north of Australia, the phosphate supply was cut off. Phosphate is an important ingredient in organic manure and in order to grow the food to feed the troops Australian farmers needed phosphate. One fertiliser company even launched an appeal for old bones, although this didn’t seem to go down too well with the general public. Perhaps adults thought it was in poor taste to go around collecting old bones. Fortunately the children weren’t that squeamish, and as luck would have it, South Australia had just experienced a recent drought, so there were plenty of old bones scattered across the countryside to collect. By the end of the war about 2,433 tonnes of old bones had been collected – worth about £10,000!
The SPF wasn’t without its critics. Some didn’t think it was very appropriate for children to be involved in a “war effort”, but once the full horror of the Second World War became known, I think the criticism paled considerably. Self sacrifice and selflessness are important values to be learned wherever you are, both on the battle field and on the home front.
Dad was still pretty young during the Second World War but he remembers collecting odd bits of wire, nuts and bolts, and old bones. And he remembers receiving his medal and wearing it to school for Anzac Day. It was just a small country school with just one teacher but he still remembers how he had to ride his bike 5 miles in the morning and 5 miles back home in the afternoon.
If you would like to read more about the SPF check out this article written by South Australian historian, Jack Evans on the SA History Hub.