Was Grandma a member of the Wagga Wagga Voluntary Aid Detachment?
My grandmother, known to most of her friends as Rita, was born Margaret Edith Jacka in the year 1900 to parents Edwin Knight Jacka and Elizabeth Ebbott.[i] Margaret married John (aka Jack) Williamson at the age of 22 (he was eight years her senior) in 1922 at The Methodist Church in Hamilton, New South Wales.[ii] By 1937 the couple were living in Wagga Wagga, NSW.[iii]
World War II began in 1939, and although not confirmed, it is thought that the couple were still residing in Wagga Wagga with their 3 children, John, Margaret and Dorothy who ranged in age from 7 to 14.
She “was active in the Methodist Church, despite her husband’s protestations. In fact, a lot of what she did seemed to be in spite of Jack. In the Second World War she joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment, and he wasn’t too keen on that.”[iv] Maybe the call is what inspired Rita join the VAD. It was certainly reported and advertised widely in the press.
Did she answer the call for volunteers in 1939 to support the local war effort?
|Figure 2 Excerpt from the Daily Advertiser, 1939|
The photo below shows a street parade of marching women that includes my grandmother. The photo indicates that she might have been a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) in 1939 as not all the women are in strict uniform.
|Figure 1 Photographer Unknown, Street Parade, possibly in Wagga Wagga, c1940, scanned image|
What was the Wagga Wagga VAD?
“The Wagga Wagga VAD was strong and valuable with 143 members in total over the World War II period. It was a military based organisation carrying out medical assistance at the various military camps and bases as well as Wagga Wagga hospitals (including the public Wagga Base Hospital and the private hospitals, Welwyn and Lewisham). They were also active in non-medical voluntary activities and in fundraising, with most proceeds going to the Australian Red Cross Society.”[v] “The Wagga Wagga VAD also raised funds for the Mayor’s Patriotic and War Fund and the Australian Comforts Fund, along with other local organisations.”[vi]
What was Grandma’s role in the Wagga Wagga VAD?
Often we think of war as being at the battle fronts, and perhaps this is why it is so difficult to find out what Rita’s role was in the VAD. But she, along with other volunteers2, made a world of difference to those training and preparing to leave, and those away or returning.
It is these unsung heroes and heroines that I admire, the ones whose stories we struggle to tell. It is their strong steadfast support that makes everything else possible.
This story is part of the NFHM Blogging Challenge - Week 3
Figure 1 Photographer Unknown, Street Parade, possibly in Wagga Wagga, c1940, scanned image
Figure 2 Excerpt from STRIKING RESPONSE BY WOMEN OF WAGGA (1939, September 19). Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, NSW : 1911 - 1954), p. 2. Retrieved August 21, 2016, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article144244315
[i] Victorian Birth Certificate, District of Brunswick, 1900/1238, Margaret Edith Jacka
[ii] NSW Marriage Certificate, district of Sydney, 1922/11616, John Aaron Palmer Williamson & Margaret Edith Jacka
[iii] Ancestry.com. Australia, Electoral Rolls, 1903-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010. Subdistrict: Wagga Wagga, Year 1937 Entries #8241 John Palmer Williamson & #8245 Margaret Edith Williamson Citing Original data: Australian Electoral Commission. [Electoral roll].
[iv] Christine Filliamundi, Memories of Grandma Williamson 20150108v2, unpublished essay, 2015; Helen Condon, personal communication with the author, 2006
[v] Kathleen Linder, 'Serving our King and Country' VAs in Wagga Wagga 1939-1946, Charles Sturt University Regional Archives Summer Scholarship Report 2006-2007
[vi] Kathleen Linder, 'Serving our King and Country' VAs in Wagga Wagga 1939-1946, Charles Sturt University Regional Archives Summer Scholarship Report 2006-2007