Allies’ Day 1915
On Friday 19 November 1915 a huge crowd gathered in Sydney’s Martin Place for a carnival, styled the ‘Festival of the Allied nations’, aimed at raising money for the relief of Britain’s allies in the war.
Pavilions were erected along either side of the street, each flying the flag of one of the allied nations – Belgium, France, Britain, Canada, Russia, India, Montenegro, Serbia, Poland and Japan – each in the charge of ‘an energetic corps of ladies’.
A great triumphal arch at the George Street entrance to Martin Place proclaimed ‘Remember Our Allies’. A sign on the General Post Office colonnade exhorted young men to ‘ENLIST NOW’, and an army of 6000 collectors, mostly female, were authorised to work the crowds throughout the city. A hundred and forty stands were erected on city corners, each with a woman in charge supported by 10 to 20 assistants. Each collector wore an official badge depicting the flags of the allied nations superimposed on a Union Jack.
A procession made up of mounted police, a ‘Queen of the day’ and her six maids, a detachment of NSW lancers, boys of the Australian Navy Reserve and a number of decorated motor cars made a ‘triumphal progress’ through the streets. Street urchins dodged horses’ hooves, marching boots and wheels to collect coins thrown into the procession by enthusiastic onlookers. They raced after authorised collectors to deposit the coins in their boxes, according to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald. ‘And then’, as the crowds cheered, ‘there was the first grim touch of real war – a military ambulance, containing a number of our wounded men, back from the Dardanelles, but still unable to walk. There were none in those crowds who did not feel their pulses throb as this ambulance, stripped of all adornment, but laden with precious freight, passed on'.1
A keen young amateur photographer named Robert Barnet captured this moment from a high vantage point in one of the city buildings. In Barnet’s photo we see children hoisted on adult shoulders for a better view, a lone figure wearing a pro-conscription placard, a soldier reaching out to his wounded comrades. On 4 January 1916, less than two months after he took this photograph, Robert Barnet enlisted in the AIF. In August 1916 he died of wounds accidentally received in the field.
Martin Place, Sydney, on Allies’ Day, 19 November 1915, photograph Robert Barnet. Private collection.
- The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 November 1915, p18.