Mother of the ANZACs

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… In the darkened world of warfare, a bright and shining flame, She was mother, sister, sweetheart to them all.”

 These words were in a song Dermot sang at our local folkclub recently. He’d written it about an Australian, Annie Wheeler during World War 1. I was drawn to the story. Who was this woman?

During the Great War, a century ago, any mail simply addressed to “Mrs Wheeler, Mother of the ANZACs, London” was delivered to her door in Westminster Gardens. One Xmas her daughter recalled, the mail that had arrived from Australia was 3 feet deep all through their flat!

A widow in her 40s, she had sailed from Australia with her daughter in 1913, in order to finish Portia’s education in England. When the war broke out in 1914 they couldn’t return, so Annie Wheeler worked as a nurse and then took the initiative to become a ‘hub’ of news and support for Australian soldiers, between England and Central Queensland where she’d lived.

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All through the war, Annie gleaned what she could from the nearby Army Headquarters and wrote fortnightly bulletins, which were published in Queensland provincial newspapers, giving many families the only news they ever got of what was happening to ‘their boys’ with the Australian Imperial Force in France … Egypt … Palestine …
 She and her daughter organised letters and gifts from Australia,  between brothers, and family in different battalions, to be forwarded to wherever those ‘ boys’ had been posted or were in hospital. They sent off supplies of extra clothing & food etc, wrote countless letters, visited hospitals and were kind to anyone who need to talk about home or the mates they missed. By 1918 she had the contact details of 2300 soldiers in a card file.
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One soldier drew a sign and stuck it on their front door showing the distinctive AIF Rising sun hat badge, a kangaroo and the words “Hop Right In, Dig”
AnnieW_3When Annie and her daughter arrived back in Rockhampton in 1919, over 5000 people met her train and cheering soldiers (Diggers) pulled her car through the streets to a public reception.
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[State Library of Queensland Image no 69293. Out of copyright]
Here in 1920, she sits in one of the grandest cars in Springsure, a Studebaker Big Six decked with bunting. Annie Wheeler is about to unveil a Memorial Fountain at the school.
She was presented with an O.B.E that same year, in recognition of her contribution as a ‘military welfare worker.’
For kindness itself.
Text adapted by Meg
Sources:
Dermot Dorgan. Conversation. 13 March 2014.
See also
Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
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9 thoughts on “Mother of the ANZACs

  1. Funny just put one together about my uncle and Robs grandad based on bicuit tin will send les

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  2. Dear Meg,
    I love this story! It’s amazing what a difference one determined, dedicated, and goodhearted person can do. I am so happy that she had a chance to see that for herself. What a homecoming! Thanks again for another great post.
    Love,
    Naomi

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  3. Dear Meg,
    Beautifully told. Thank you. Today we are going to ANZAC Day dinner and celebration at Military College in Toronto. I hope to share your storytelling.
    Halina

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  4. My grandfather was from Springsure and in the AIF, his cousins lived lived beside some of the Wheelers about 10km from the town. After he was wounded at Bullecourt he visited London. He must have known about her but does not mention her in his war diary, of which I have a “fair copy” but not the original. Perhaps his family and the Wheelers didn’t get on!

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    • Could be! Great that you have your Grandfather’s war diary. I heard today that the Australian War Museum in Canberra is busy transcribing such war diaries for their collection!

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      • By the way, do not take the accuracy of captions on Queensland State Library photographs for granted. The last photo 69293 was said to be in front of the Springsure Railway Station, Unlikely for two reasons, looks like a private house at the left and the building at right has the name “Jones” over the door with advertising on the front, which railway stations didn’t have. I’d say it was taken in Eclipse Street, Springsure. I’ve seen other errors in their captions as well.
        See http://www.pinterest.com/tryphinia/w-h-mclaughlin-9051-7th-field-ambulance-australian/

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    • Actually, I’m mistaken. I had the opportunity of visiting Springsure recently and the building is indeed the railway station, I made a point of checking. Sorry about that. Perhaps they dropped the advertising later.

      However it remains true that some other captions from the QSL are not quite right.

      Ken

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      • Thanks for the feedback, Ken. I find getting the facts can be tricky. Sometimes, it’s good to actually go see for yourself. I’ve never been to Springsure! Meg

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