Scholar Talk: Visiting Mother: Australian soldiers in London during World War I
With Elise Edmonds
‘I went along Victoria Street, where as an Australian I attracted a good deal of attention, some of it very unwelcome too on account of the gazers…’ Jim Marshall, November 1916
Diaries from the First World War reveal the horror, loneliness and the adventure of war. They also express the delight of visiting London on leave. This paper will explore London through the eyes of its Australian visitors. A city mobilised, yet offering respite, entertainments and a sense of home, albeit with London fog.
The State Library of NSW holds a significant collection of WWI diaries and letters. These personal voices reveal the horror, the loneliness and the adventure of war. These accounts also record the delight of visiting London on leave. The heart of the Empire and the ‘mother country’, London was a place Australians felt they knew, even when most had never visited.
Like tourists today, Australian soldiers and nurses made the most of their time in London. They walked the streets day and night, witnessing the jovial London police force, air raids and blacked out streets. Women, it was noted by many, were working everywhere — as bus conductors, lift operators, window cleaners: ‘Girls do everything. They are to be seen in all classes of work’ wrote George Horan to his father in 1916.
This paper will explore London through the eyes of its Australian visitors. A city mobilised, yet offering respite, entertainments and a sense of home, albeit with London fog.
Elise Edmonds is a senior curator at the Library. With a background in Australian history and Museum Studies, Elise has worked with the Library’s maps, pictures and manuscript collections. Elise was awarded a State Library of NSW Staff Fellowship to research the Library’s extensive collection of World War I correspondence and diaries.