Red Cross centenary in Bega

The Australian Red Cross is celebrating its centenary and so is the Bega branch, one of the first to be formed in NSW.

Bega branch members marked the milestone at their last meeting with a special birthday cake and afternoon tea.

Members from the Wolumla Red Cross branch also attended to appreciate the wonderful display of memorabilia in the Church St Red Cross rooms.

At the recent annual general meeting of the branch, Val Eaton was elected president, Judy Sims secretary, Martin Sims treasurer, Virginia Deacon and Daphne Sweeney vice-presidents and patrons Betty Britton and the Bega Valley Shire Mayor Bill Taylor.

The Bega Red Cross branch is joining the Wolumla branch to host a centenary lunch on September 17 for the South Coast Red Cross area.

They are inviting members of the public to attend to enjoy guest speakers, entertainment and a delicious two-course lunch at Club Sapphire Merimbula.

Tickets are available at the Bega Red Cross rooms on Tuesdays or at Club Sapphire. 

Bega Red Cross history

The Australian Red Cross is celebrating its centenary and so is the Bega branch, one of the first to be formed in NSW.

Val Eaton, president of the Bega Branch, has compiled the following history.

ON AUGUST 25, 1914, 21 days after the declaration of the Great War, Mrs Boardman, the Bega Municipal Council Mayoress, convened a meeting in the Bega School of 

Arts which was attended by over 50 ladies and several gentlemen.

It was decided to form the Bega Red Cross League, as it was known then.

The Bega League raised hundreds of pounds and sent it to Red Cross headquarters for wounded soldiers.

They raised the money for the Great War soldiers by holding stalls, concerts, afternoon teas and selling calves and bulls at the cattle sales in Bega on a Tuesday.

On function on November 10, 1914, was a Grand Entertainment Concert held in the Star Theatre in Carp Street.

The theatre had a dirt floor and open fires to keep the patrons warm.

A copy of the program is in the display window at the Red Cross tea rooms in Church Street.

The coin table, the last one still operating in Australia, was started during the Great War and, together with the help of the Wolumla Red Cross, has become part of Bega history.

In 1937 the building in Church Street was purchased by the Bega branch of the Red Cross for 1700 pounds with a loan from headquarters which the branch paid back 

over 17 years with 100 pounds raised annually by local fund raising.

The building was named Red Cross House.

The Red Cross ladies excelled themselves in World War II.

They set up a VAD (Volunteer Aid Attachment) in October 1938.

In accordance with the rules, Bega VAD attended first aid nursing clinics to qualify to work in hospitals if called upon, and to assist fire fighters and held rest tents at the Bega Annual Show.

They also went to Sydney to march.

The VAD officers had military titles and military style uniforms.

Members assisted doctors and nurses in the clinic of immunisations and blood tests.

A list of blood transfusion donors was posted at the fighting forces rest rooms neat the Commercial Hotel.

This was open day and night to provide tea, food, a bed, pen and paper and anything a soldier would need while travelling to and from camps preparing to go overseas.

In November 1944 a grand Gymkhana, Rodeo and Dance was held in aid of the Red Cross and prisoner of war fund.

It was organised by Mrs Paul D’arcy and was a huge success with 2000 people coming through the gates of the Bega Showgrounds and 50 horses and riders participated.

It was reported in the District News that the “Red Cross ladies did a marvelous job”.

“They were hard at it from early morning till late at night.”

They served 600 lunches, 1472 afternoon teas and 366 dinners.

Then, of course, there was the re-settings and washing up.

In addition to the lunches etc, 12 pounds of boiling water was sold to picnic parties.    

How times have changed!

The funds of the Red Cross benefited by well over 1000 pounds on the day.

In 1970 Miss Muriel Blacker and a group of ladies started catering for the cattle sales.

This still continues today with every Tuesday and every fourth Thursday, members of the Bega Red Cross and volunteers serve lunches at the sale yards.

This is one of many ways funds are raised by the Bega branch.

In 1989 the Bega branch celebrated its 75th anniversary.

Nearly 250 people turned up for the occasion at a luncheon at the Beag RSL.

Mrs Mary Rogers was the speaker and said that when the Red Cross celebrated its 50th year a golden ash tree was planted by patron, Mrs Zingel and Phillip Otton, a junior Red Cross member.

We are not sure if the tree still exists today.

Through the years the honour of the Golden Rose for 60 years service was presented to Mrs Zingel, Miss Ethel Stiles and Mrs Cunningham.

On April 6, 1948, the first meeting of the Bega Red Cross was held in Red Cross House in Church Street.

It was decided that members would open the rooms and serve lunches and tea etc.

From April 13, 1948, the Red Cross tea rooms started opening each Tuesday of the week.

It is still functioning today with the help of many district organisations and Red Cross members – all volunteers.

During the years of the Red Cross use of the building very little had been spent in the way of maintenance and repairs so the building was looking very sad.

In 1991-1992 Kay Rogers (president), the committee and members fought hard for funding and received financial assistance from the Heritage Assistance program.

The restoration was on a dollar for dollar basis from Red Cross headquarters matching the State Government funding with the Bega branch members providing the extra funds.

The grand opening of the restored Red Cross House was in November 1992.

It is registered with the National Historic Society and there is a permanent conservation order on the building which ensures it cannot be demolished.

Mrs Betty Rixon was presented with life membership of the Red Cross Society on that day in honour of her dedicated service.

There are many more stories that could be told over the 100 years.

The members of today would like to congratulate all the wonderful women and men on the dedication and hard work they have contributed to the Bega branch.

Hopefully we and future generations can continue in their footsteps and the Red Cross will go on from strength to strength helping people in Australia and all over the world.  


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