Wait, weep & be worthy: women, the home front & war

Hawkesbury Regional Gallery



Wait, weep & be worthy: women, the home front & war

Hawkesbury Regional Gallery, Windsor
1 April-22 May 2016

Group Exhibition curated by Elissa Blair – Catherine O’Donnell, Katy Mutton, Penny Byrne, Freya Jobbins, Lada Dedic and Susan O’Doherty

Contemporary artists reflect on the role women played on ‘the home front’ during WW1.  Many woman were involved as nurses, and in other service duties whilst shouldering the invisible burden domestic life presented in the face of shortages and loss of loved ones.  This exhibition includes historical artworks and objects and looks into the role of the Red Cross and the Country Women’s Association.

About the Work 

The Gascon
Built as an ocean liner in 1897, the Gascon was fitted out as a hospital ship for the war years.  She was the only well equipped hospital ship present off Anzac Cove on April 25th.  There were 8 women on board – 7 Australian nurses and a matron.  Sister Muriel Wakeford’s diary entry bears witness to the slaughter of the day.  She stood on the deck and watched the landing and was horrified when unexpected enemy fire rained down on the ANZACS. Within minutes, the dead and dying were piling up on the beach and in the water.  From 9am onwards, a surge of wounded soldiers began to fill the decks until the wounded spilled from the wards to all available deck space. By the end of the day the ship was filled to capacity.  Over the course of the Gallipoli campaign the Gascon ferried over 8000 wounded and sick soldiers from Gallipoli to the various hospitals around the Mediterranean and England.

Nurse of the Mediterranean  
Malta was described as the ‘Nurse of the Mediterranean’ during WW1.  In all 27 hospitals and camps were set up.  The first batch of 600 casualties from the Gallipoli landings arrived on 4th May 1915.  With expansion of camps and huts, by August 1915 there was accommodation for about 7,000 patients.

This work includes the feeding cups the nurses would have used for the wounded.   Two of the cups have the Commonwealth Red Cross emblem and one has the Maltese Red Cross.  Incorporated into the work is a brass tap to signify the importance of clean water for drinking and bathing.

Home/Front marks the contrast between the comforts of home and the harsh conditions on the Gallipoli Peninsula.  The area occupied by the Anzacs was tiny – less than 6 square kilometres.   Sanitation was poor and there were constant water shortages due to no natural drinking water source available.  Exacerbating their thirst, troops lived on a staple salty diet of tinned bully beef, army biscuits and jam.   Fresh fruit and vegetables were non-existent.

It can be argued that the intent of the Gallipoli campaign was a strategy devised by Winston Churchill to hasten the course of the war, or that it was an ill devised botched series of moves that was ultimately unsuccessful.  Either way, it cost 131,000 lives on both sides.  Fodder, with it’s punctured cow skull, symbolises the young men who were sent in like chess pieces to lose their lives for reasons they had little idea about.  They were treated as dispensable units to be immediately replaced as soon as they were killed – numbers and statistics.

The Red Cross
This work celebrates the importance of the Australian Red Cross, formed at the beginning of the First World War as an off shoot of the British Red Cross Society.  Apart from their duties on the front line, much of the Red Cross home front support was provided by a majority of unemployed married women volunteers.  Knitting and sewing socks, towels,  clothes and rolling bandages, they also provided assistance to the sick, maimed, wounded and their dependents.

In my work, the lead-light window symbolises home, whilst the call button and the wagon with it’s medical bottles, portray the humanitarian and compassionate work of the women who gave their time, enthusiasm and dedication at home and abroad.