January 1917 – Annie Wheeler needed to lend money to soldiers on leave from France because the money their mothers had cabled hadn’t arrived and by the time they received their pay they would be back in France. While Annie didn’t mind lending money to her boys, money was tight and she refused to be the victim of bureaucratic incompetence.
The soldiers needed money on leave, in hospital, recovering from wounds or illness, even as prisoners of war. While privates were paid six shillings a day, they only received five with one shilling paid on discharge or death. If the soldier was married, two shillings a day were deducted for his dependents. According to the Reserve Bank’s Pre-Decimal Inflation Calculator, six shillings in 1917 equates to around thirty dollars today. If this doesn’t seem very much, it wasn’t, the amount was slightly below the basic wage, but more than the British or New Zealand soldiers received. Additionally, a soldier’s pay was docked if he was found guilty of even a small misdemeanour such as drunkenness, returning late from leave, disobeying an officer, going AWOL or contracting VD.
When Rockhampton mother, Clara Hutton’s twenty-year-old son Falconer needed money after he was wounded (a bullet ricocheted off his rifle onto his face, forcing fragments of his cheek bone and eye socket into his eye) she had no idea what to do, so wrote to the AIF who told her the safest method of transmitting money was through the Commonwealth Bank. “This institution has full information as to the addressing of cables.”
The Commonwealth Bank, only a couple of years old when war broke out played a crucial role in making sure soldiers received money from Australia. The bank established agencies aboard naval ships and opened branches in Australia and abroad. They also formed relationships with may overseas agents so soldiers could cash Australian notes and coins at a pre-negotiated rate. At branches in London and training camps in the UK, staff helped soldiers transfer and receive money as quickly as possible with all charges borne by the bank. With the help of the Red Cross the bank was able to ensure POWs had access to funds to purchase food and comforts – see my previous post for more information about the conditions for POWs.
The problem Annie Wheeler faced in 1917 was the same problem we face today if we need information about a bank account that is not our own. Soldiers wrote to Annie from France asking her to cable their parents for money so it would be there when they had leave. Mothers wrote to Annie telling her they had cabled money but sometimes when the soldier was on leave the money hadn’t arrived. Annie tried to sort it out but bank staff refused to give Annie any information about the accounts. Frustrated, Annie approached Mr Elliot at the Queensland Agent-General’s office to find a solution. Elliot introduced Annie to the Commonwealth Bank manager, Mr Campion who “promised anything in his power to help”. He suggested Annie mark her letters to him “personal” and “he would see himself that I received the information I required.” Annie was delighted and told him “his kindness would be much appreciated by the mothers of Central Queensland.”
More information about the Commonwealth Bank during the first world war – http://museum.rba.gov.au/exhibitions/from-bank-to-battlefield/challenges-of-war/
Mrs Clara Hutton’s letter to the AIF is on her son’s file and can be accessed via the NAA website – naa.gov.au.
Annie’s letter, 3 March 1917, published by “The Capricornian” is available via Trove – trove.nla.gov.au