Year

2004

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of History and Politics - Faculty of Arts

Abstract

Camden is a country town whose history and development has been influenced by war. The town was part of Australias homefront war effort, and from the time of the Boer War the most important part of this for Camden was volunteering. The Second World War was no exception, and the most influential voluntary organisation that contributed to the town�s war effort was the Womens Voluntary Services [WVS]. The Camden WVS was part of the close cultural and emotional links that existed between Camden and Great Britain that began with the Macarthur family in the early nineteenth century. Camden saw itself as a little England and the WVS used this feeling to great effect during the war, stressing notions of home and a shared sense of identity and place with Britain. The Camden WVS was part of a strong tradition of Victorian female philanthropy in the town, which attracted, and depended on, middle class women socialised in Victorian notions of service, ideals of dependence, a separatedness of spheres, patriarchy, the status quo, and by the inter-war period, modernity. Although the WVS was created specifically to meet the needs generated by the Second World War, it shared the characteristics of a number of British organisations that were established within Camdens female philanthropy by the female elite after 1900. These organisations did not compete with each other, and were characterised by overlapping membership, inter-organisational co-operation, conservatism, Protestantism, leadership by the Camden elite and a decentralised branch network. All of which was underpinned by parochialism. The women who founded these voluntary organisations gained valuable wartime experience from their efforts during the Boer and First World Wars, and this contributed to the eventual success of WVS in the town. In essence, the Camden WVS was a war-specific British voluntary organisation that connected with Camdens Anglo-centric heritage and cultural origins. The central doctrine of the WVS was an ethos of service, which was based on altruism, imperial patriotism and British nationalism. Volunteering for the WVS, which involved self-sacrifice and dedication to duty, directed Camdens tradition of female philanthropy towards the moral imperative of a righteous war. Camden women willingly undertook voluntary service for the WVS in the belief that they gave their time and effort to help their boys, and in doing so, did their bit for the war effort. Its influence was great enough to spill over into many other aspects of Camdens war effort, including those run by the men of the town. This study of the WVS has allowed the teasing out of some of the main threads of Camdens wartime experience. In the process it has also illustrated that wartime philanthropy was bound up with class, gender expectations, intimacy, conservatism, patriarchy, parochialism (localism) and Camdens rural ideology. Deeply embedded in Camden, the WVS reflected its community.

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