Tag Archives: 1920s

Christmas 1921

As many of you will be aware, I’ve been researching WWI rather intensively for the last two years in what has emerged as a series of research projects. Those of you who also research in a more intuitive fashion and allow yourselves the luxury of pursuing all those twists and turns others might dismiss as “distractions”, “rabbit warrens”, will be familiar with the joy of discovering new worlds and perspectives you never knew existed, rather than simply proving your own point. It was this seemingly random fossicking, which led me to Australian author, Ethel Turner from an entirely different angle finding a message of hope, human kindness and generosity we sorely need today.

To do this story justice, I’m going to straddle the story of Christmas 1921 across both my blogs here at Beyond the Flow, and over at Tea With Ethel Turner. Here I’ll provide more of the social and political background and context to Christmas 1921 and why it was special while over at Tea With Ethel Turner, I’ll share how she made a difference to Christmas 1921 with her band of Sunbeamers.

While the 1920s is often portrayed as a time of unrestrained celebration after the horrors of WWI, the reality was much more complex and certainly Christmas 1921 was a time of very mixed fortunes. Sure, the war was over. The Spanish Flu was also officially over as well. On the 6th December, 1921 the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed seeing independence for Southern Ireland and ending the Anglo-Irish War. The Washington Conference was also promising peace in the Pacific. Yet, following his speech on the 20th December, 1921 Mr Stanley Bruce (the 8th Prime Minister from 1923 to 1929) who was representing Australia at the League of Nations, was described as “a supreme pessimist: sees nothing but trouble” after these dire warnings :

Mr Stanley Bruce

“SYDNEY, Tuesday.—Mr. S. M. Bruce, speaking at a National Club luncheon, remarked: “When one comes, back to Australia one is a little horrified to see what is going on. The whole of Europe to-day is struggling in a morass and it is doubtful whether it will ever get out. It is recognised if nothing is done to restore the economic stability of the world a wave of Bolshevism may spread all over the earth. We in Australia have a land where everything is good. Our country is the soundest of any in the world, but it is going to be faced, with the same troubles as the rest. We do not seem to have recognised this. We are only squabbling amongst ourselves.1.”

Gee, does this sound strangely familiar?

Anyway, here’s “Christmas 1921” which was published in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph on Christmas Eve, 1921:

CHRISTMAS, 1921

For many thousands of people throughout the world this must be a “black” Christmas. Almost every country is suffering from the effects of those five years of war, during which production was stopped and the savings of decades were scattered. Thousands of families to-day will be clouded with anxiety because there is no longer a market for the goods the production of which has furnished them with a means of living and their breadwinners with employment. To other families Christmas brings back memories which, though they are colored with pride, arc memories of sadness. It seems impossible that in the lifetime of this generation Christmas shall ever be a season of unmixed rejoicing, except for the children, whose festival it is. Yet throughout the world it will be recognised that the Christmas of 1921 is more in accord with those universal ideals which it connotes than any that we have known for many years past. To-morrow men can take part in a festival of peace and hope without any reflection on the vanity of human effort or the insincerity of all professions of faith. The year has been one in which a genuine and fruitful attempt has been made to banish the dangers of war. For the first time for a hundred years the statesmen of the world have given a practical demonstration of their faith that peace should be the goal of their policy and is the greatest .of human blessings. The delegates to Washington have set aside personal ambition and national avarice in their work for the good of mankind. The delegates from Great Britain and Ireland have agreed that each nation may have failed to appreciate the point of view of the other, and that each must make sacrifices of its own beliefs for the sake of peace. And when these public achievements are noticed men will be driven back to remember the many private acts of beneficence that have been carried out during the past three years. “There is a budding to-morrow in midnight.” It may pass unnoticed while men are oppressed by the surrounding darkness, but it should be acknowledged when we have at last arrived at the dawning of an era of peace and goodwill. In almost every epoch there are lamentations at the incurable selfishness of mankind or at the degeneration of the human species, and invariably they are answered by convincing examples. Before the war we were told that the age of self sacrifice had passed, that men had degenerated physically and morally, that the virtue of patriotism would be practised only by barbarians. The last months of 1914 answered, that reproach. Never was there a clearer response to the appeal of idealism, never did men come forward more spontaneously to avenge and to rescue the oppressed. Every day of the blackest period of human history was illuminated by some act of devotion, when men sacrificed themselves for one another or for their cause, when the motive of self interest, conspicuous though it was, was less frequently exemplified than any other. Since attention has been concentrated on the struggle for the spoils of victory the nobility of hundreds of thousands of obscure lives has been forgotten, but to-day it can be remembered and can be acknowledged as of the same quality as the self-sacrifice which has been placed at the service of the famine-stricken peoples of Europe. To-day we may rejoice in the efforts made by statesmen to establish peace among nations. But while these same states men were manoeuvring other work more urgently and immediately needed was being carried on with even less regard for international boundaries. In Austria and Ger many citizens of the victorious countries have given their money and their services for the sake Of their former enemies. The war, though it has founded much hatred and bitterness, has produced the clearest practical recognition of the brotherhood of man. The period In which lamentations at the folly and avarice of men have be on most frequent, and apparently most abundantly justified, has again seen them answered by the most indisputable examples. “Man, what is this? And why are thou despairing? God shall forgive thee all but thy despair?” The same question might have been asked, and the same comment made at any time during the period which is now coming to an end. At no time has there been so much self-sacrifice; at no time have individual citizens been so ready to spend their lives in the service of their fellowmen, and, if necessary, to ignore the boundaries ‘between one nation and another. Was there ever a more heroic instance of such devotion than that given by Sir Arthur Pearson, who “turned his necessity to glorious gain,” and set himself to brighten-the lives of others stricken with the same infirmity as himself? In this last period the work of the individual has been -in contrast with that of the statesmen; but we cannot afford to forget it now that the statesmen are giving themselves to the furtherance of peace and concord. Rather the inference should be that the impulse towards peace and brotherhood is never dead, but moves forward continually until statesmen are compelled to reduce into the form of a. public document’ the desire of hundreds of thousands of their constituents. We cannot say to-day that these efforts towards pacification have been completely successful. Both at Washington – and In Ireland there are elements so blinded by tradition that they cannot obey the force of reason. But all the ‘omens for peace are good. Not since the reign of – Caesar Augustus have there been so many signs of unity among the nations that make up the civilised world, and not since the Great War ended has there been so good a prospect that the men who fought there will reap the fruit of their sacrifices In the elimination of one of the chief causes of future wars.”2.

I can’t help looking back at these precious people of Christmas 1921 with their varying degrees of pessimism and hope, but still probably largely believing something could be done. That the Wall Street Crash, The Depression along and WWII weren’t just around the corner, although the writing was already on the wall.

Those babies born at Christmas 1921 would be 19 years old in 1939. It is unthinkable that so many of them went on to fight on the very same battlefields as their fathers, and that Australia’s sons would also find themselves fighting the Japanese and defending home soil. Our women weren’t immune either.

Yikes, sometimes time travel isn’t much fun after all, is it?!!

Meanwhile, while I’m tapping away here about Christmas 1921, we’re watching the movie: Don’t Look Up. A comet is threatening to collide with the Earth and the response of Americans is let’s just say “a concern”. I know that while we’re focusing on covid, climate change is our big threat and most of us don’t see it coming either. I hope this movie isn’t too prophetic!

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this. Hauled up at home on a wet and overcast day with covid spreading like wildfire all around us, I feel like I’m talking to myself. However, I know you’re out there and I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin

References

  1. Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), Wednesday 21 December 1921, page 13
  2. Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), Saturday 24 December 1921, page 10

Tales from University 1929…The Lad Paying for the Girl on the Tram.

What goes around comes around. While our kids are still a way off leaving school, quite a few of my friends’ kids are currently doing their HSCs or final exams at the moment. While they’re currently fully immersed in their exams and seizing hold of current friendships, they’re all about to embark into the great unknown of new beginnings.

Who knows whether any of these kids will find themselves walking along the same old path we trod into Sydney University. Catching the train to Redfern Station and then walking down Lawson Street, onto Abercrombie and into campus…albeit clutching a map and potentially loads of trepidation.

Starting anything new is such a melting pot of horrid anxiety and exhilarated excitement that it’s surprising any of us can actually put one foot in front of the other and actually emerge from the other end with that precious piece of paper in hand. All I can say to the new ones is that the paths well trod, but there have also been a lot of casualties and not to take anything for granted. That you need to carpe diem seize the day but also make sure you don’t burn up along the way. Light all your matches at once and have no story to tell.

Anyway, while some people waste their lives hunting down the mighty dollar, I live in pursuit of the story. Consequently, as soon as I found out that the archives of Sydney University’s newspaper, Honi Soit were online, I dived in and I haven’t come out. What’s added zest and excitement to this journey, is that I’m a third generation Sydney University Graduate and I also have aunts, uncles, brother, cousins who’ve also been through the place. While our names mightn’t be etched in stone in the Main Quad, we’ve definitely been part of the action. Some of us more than others.

It was only natural to want to check out the very first edition of Honi Soit and see what it was about. Then, I realized that my grandfather had been studying dentistry at the time and that he would’ve held that paper in his hands all those years ago. Been a part of the action. Born in 1910, he would’ve been 19 in 1929 and possibly in second year. I’ve got to try and nut that out.

So, when I found this fabulous letter to the editor written by a Fresher, I had to think of him. I didn’t think of him as the Fresher, but more as one of the wise owls offering this hapless young man a bit of advice.

Here it goes:

Trams 1920s

Letters to the Editor May 3, 1929.

Dear Sir,—

Now I am only a Fresher, Mr. Editor, and consequently am  not very well up in ‘Varsity ways and this is what’s worrying me. Every morning I meet one of the women of my year at the tram—she’s always there first and so I can’t dodge her—and we ride in together and I pay her fare.

Now that’s it—should I pay her fare seeing that I only met her a few weeks ago? You see it makes quite a big difference in this way: When I ride with her I don’t like to use my cram pass and as it is a three section journey that means 3d. extra plus 5d. for her—making 8d. extra altogether.

This means 3/4 a week in the morning and there’s also one afternoon which brings it up to 4/- a week. This is £ 2 a term and means £ 6 a year.

As we are both doing MED. we will travel together for six years and that means £36. Further since everyone fails in Third Year we will have to stay seven years at the ‘Varsity and that makes it £42.

It doesn’t seem a bit fair to me that this girl should cost me so much money, but as I am only a Fresher and don’t know much I would like to have your opinion as I am certain it will be a good one.

Hoping that I haven’t caused you too much bother.

I am.

Yours Very Truly,

M.T. Honi Soit, May 3, 1929 pg 3.

The Replies

Honi Soit, May 10, 1929

To the Editor,— The touching plea of a Med. Fresher in the shape of an extremely ingenuous letter to your paper, must surely have touched all hearts. Even the Women Undergraduates must have been moved to pity ere they passed judgment. My first feeling was one of intense astonishment. That a Med. Fresher would actually consider the possibility of paying someone else’s tram fare was a possibility not dreamt of in my philosophy.

The puzzled fresher would have us believe the following facts:

(a) He is very worried. (I would suggest nerve nuts at stated intervals —notably during lectures).

(b) It is impossible for him to dodge the “woman.’ (I’ve heard that one before).

(c) He has calculated expenses over a period of seven years with terrifying results. (At last we are on familiar ground).

Naturally enough the Age of Reason has little time for the Age of Chivalry.

It would seem on the face of things that the question, ”Should Men pay Women Students* tram fares?” is as fruitless as “Should women stand in trams?” But there are a few considerations which make the former question a matter for controversy.

In the first place we find it difficult to believe that the puzzled fresher catches the same tram—literally speaking—as the troublesome “woman” on every occasion. Apart from the sheer miracle of a Med. student paying someone else’s fare, the misfortune must be on the fresher’s own head. Either he is organically lazy, or he is proving that even in the tram a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. We are thus faced with an interesting psychological contretemps. As yet the innocent fresher cannot analyse the strange force which compels him to seat himself by the “woman” and bravely ignoring his shameful tram pass, to drag forth the sum of eight-pence. On the other hand the financial instinct struggles fiercely.

No wonder then the poor fresher is worried.

I think that if the fresher continually meets the “woman” in the tram, she should hand forth the plebeian coppers as naturally as she might stroll in minutes late for a nine o’clock lecture. The whole question really hinges on the problem of to show or not to show the humble pass, and my opinion is that it should be treated as an academic privilege to be taken advantage of on every occasion. And so, let the “woman” take the initiative and keep her tram pass as she does her powder puff—

within easy access. Surely then the fresher will be worried no longer when he sees “the treasured” privilege—-her

pass—”come sliding out of her sacred glove.”

A SYMPATHETIC WOMAN UNDERGRADUATE.

Honi Soit, May 10, 1929 pg 4.

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Those Tramfares

(To the Editor.)

I read with amazement the piteous appeal for guidance from M.T.G. (“H.S.,” May 3). That he should even consider, let alone worry over, paying a woman student’s fare is quite beyond my comprehension. His blunder for to my mind it is an egregious mistake is all the more apparent when the reason why women come to the ‘Varsity in general, and do Medicine in particular, is taken into consideration.

Of course it is well known that women only come to the ‘Varsity to “catch” a husband. As “Med.” has the best “catches” and is the longest course, they have greater opportunities to carry out their nefarious schemes.

If, however, M.T.G. finds that, having commenced, he cannot cease paying the siren’s fare, I would suggest the adoption of any or all of the following:—

1.—Buy (a) a car; (b) a motorcycle (with pillion) ; (c) a bicycle.

2.—Miss the first lecture.

3.—Make a certain proposal to the woman.

4.—Have a row-with her.

5.—Leave the suburb.

6.—Leave the ‘Varsity.

Hoping this may clear the air for  him,

ARTS III.

Honi Soit, May 22, 1929 pg 4.

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Reading this letter 90 years later, what would I advise the young man?

Probably, my greatest piece of advice to that young man is that you should only give what you feel comfortable giving. As it stands, paying for the young woman’s fare seems like more of a tax and all he’s really concerned about is how much it’s going to cost him. He hasn’t mentioned whether he likes the girl, finds her attractive, it’s just about how much she’s costing him and that’s counter to the real spirit of giving. You should give with a full heart, without building resentment. Yet, at the same time, I also feel for him because once he paid for her a second time, he’d established a pattern which would be very difficult for anyone to get out of. I’d really love to hear how the story panned out. Was there ever romance with this girl on the tram? Or, perhaps she read his letter and decided to pay her own way. After all, it was a fairly pointed letter. Indeed, that makes me question whether the letter was genuine or just a story line devised by the editors? I guess we’ll never know. However, it all made for an entertaining read and a huge sense of relief, that my fresher days are well and truly in the past.

Best wishes,

Rowena