12 Nov

Women of the home front during & after World War 1

‘The unprecedented scale of the trauma of loss and sorrow left an enduring legacy on those who remained to absorb the impact of individual and national tragedy’. – Joy Damousi

What follows is a brief portrait of the women who reared, sustained and supported the ten soldiers from our book, before and after the Great War. These women remained on the home front during the war however there were many women who went abroad to act as nurses in world war 1’s major theatres of conflict such as Gallipoli, France & Belgium. In the wake of the monumental changes which swept society during the war, women were able to take up professions such as teaching, from which they’d previously been excluded.

Some of the women in this portrait were mothers or wives, others were the daughters, sisters or girlfriends of the soldiers at the front. After the anxiety and dread experienced by these women during the war years, the overwhelming sense of grief, loss and sorrow suffered by these women can only be imagined. Most were touched in some way by personal tragedy, their husbands and sons, brothers, relatives and friends, either lost or left permanently scarred by the war.

At the war’s end, all eight of the men who returned married women from home. Some were their wartime sweethearts, others were from the close network of friends in their local area. As the years past, many of these women who had married WW1 veterans, became carers who faced ongoing challenges in their relationships as their husbands continued to endure great suffering and privation from the physical and mental wounds of war. Sometimes the women received support from the Repatriation service but sometimes they had to endure these hardships on their own. Some of the soldiers died not so long after their return to Australia and their widows then existed on a small service pension if they could get one and reared their children alone.

Mothers whose sons fought overseas.

Mary Couzner Family [50 percent]

Mary Jane Couzner with her family, prior to World War 1.

Mary Jane Couzner (Mrs J. A. Couzner) was the wife of a farmer from Yellangip North and she reared a family of eleven children. The Couzner family had come to the district after many years living at Minlaton on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. Mary’s youngest son John James (Jack) Couzner was killed on the Western Front at the Second Battle of Bullecourt. His body was buried at the time but after the war it was not found. Mary’s grief at the loss of her son must have been profound.

Ellen Kelly and her husband Charles Maginness and their son Charles

Ellen Kelly (Mrs C. Maginness) was the daughter of Irish emigrants Eleanor and Michael Kelly from Tipperary who first settled in Koroit. She was the wife of Charles Maginness of Bangerang and Warracknabeal and a returned soldier’s mother. Charles Maginness was her only surviving child and only son. Her only other child, a daughter had died at a young age.
Margaret Kelly (Mrs J. T. Murphy) was Ellen Kelly’s older sister. She was the wife of John Thomas Murphy a farmer from Willenabrina. She was the mother of a decorated stretcher bearer, her eldest son, Frank Murphy, who was also a teacher before and after the war. She had a daughter, Nell, and two other sons, Michael and Daniel, who remained on the home front. Michael stayed to work on the family farm while Daniel attended college.

Ellen Kelly and her husband Charles Maginness and their son Charles.
Margaret Kelly (pictured below) with her husband J.T. Murphy

Margaret Kelly and husband John Thomas MurphyJane Murphy (Mrs J. Shine) was the daughter of Irish emigrants Jane Sheridan and John Murphy and the sister of John Thomas Murphy whose parents were from Newmarket, County Cork, Ireland. Jane was the wife of James Shine from Balmoral and mother of two sons who served in the Great War. Jack Shine, a returned soldier lost an arm in the war. His brother Dan Shine returned but had been badly gassed during the war.

Jane Murphy and her Husband

Jane Murphy with her family, her husband James Shine is pictured far left.

Mary Chandler

Mary Chandler.

Mary Shine (Mrs C. Chandler) was the daughter of Irish emigrants James Shine and Johanna O’Connor of Balmoral and the sister of James Shine Junior. She was the wife of Charles Chandler from Long Gully, Healesville who’d seen two sons depart for the Great War. One son, also called Charles, was killed on the Western Front near Bapaume and buried in Adanac Cemetery. Her other son, James was a returned soldier who suffered from shell-shock. Her sorrow and grief must have been overwhelming when Charles was killed as it was reported that he had been ‘his mother’s right hand’.

Margaret Shine (Mrs B. Chandler) was Mary Shine’s sister and the brother of James Shine. The three Shine children and their parents came to Australia from Newmarket, County Cork, Ireland. Margaret was the widow of Benjamin Chandler. Her husband died tragically crossing a flooded river at Healesville. She was the mother of a son called Ben who was a returned soldier and a decorated war hero.

Ellen Cameron (nee McKillop) was the wife of Daniel Twomey of Penshurst, whose parents were John Twomey and Margaret O’Connor, emigrants from Banemore and Newmarket, County Cork, Ireland. They were among the few Western District squatters who were Irish. Ellen was the mother of Captain Francis O’Connor Twomey of Kolor, Langulac and Banemore Stations near Penshurst. Francis was in the 5th Battalion A.I.F. was killed and buried in France on October 1st 1918. The Twomey’s former homestead, Kolor, Penshurst is one of the great heritage houses of Victoria. After Francis died the Western District stations were sold by his manager Francis Murphy (Frank Murphy’s uncle) as Francis Twomey was the sole remaining heir. The two Shine brothers and the three Chandler soldiers were related to the Twomeys because their grandmother, Johanna O’Connor, was Mrs John Twomey’s sister.

Annie Connell (Mrs H. O’Rorke) was the wife of Hugh O’Rorke of Lake Bolac. Hugh and Annie were the guardians of four orphaned boys, all of whom would eventually enlist and go to war. Jack, Hugh, Charles and Harry Foott were reared by the O’Rorke family after their mother and father had died. Annie was the sister in law of the Foott boys and took to raising them after this tragedy. All four of her nephews returned from the war. Her own son Hugh Michael also enlisted and survived the war.

Sisters, girlfriends & wives of the men who left for the war.

Mary CouznerMillicent Chandler was from Long Gully Healesville, the sister of two Great War soldiers. One of her brothers Charles Chandler was killed and another, James Chandler, returned with shell shock. She married Frank Murphy after the war, their romance having developed when Frank was appointed Head Teacher at Long Gully Rural School near where Millicent’s family lived. They had three children.

Mary Couzner was a soldier’s sister from Yellangip North. Her brother Jack Couzner was killed at Bullecourt on the Western Front. All her life Mary preserved her treasured correspondence and mementos of her brother in the bottom of a trunk. She also corresponded with a soldier, her secret love, Jack Foott. He returned a decorated hero, however her romance with Jack Foott did not endure after the war. Mary kept the letters and mementos of her relationship with Jack all her life and stored them in the bottom of a trunk.

Nell Murphy

Nell Murphy.

Nell Murphy was the sister of Frank Murphy, a former teacher from Willenabrina, who was a stretcher-bearer and was gassed on the Western Front. She wrote to her brother regularly and he saved some of her letters. Nell was believed to have contracted meningitis during the war and it affected her for the rest of her life. There was a meningitis epidemic that was rampant in the military camps at that time and many trainee soldiers died.

Margaret Hourigan was a young woman from Coleraine who married Jack Shine returned soldier and a gunner who lost an arm. They had two children. Her husband died from his war injuries when the children were still very young and she was left to rear them on her own. She never let the children forget their father.

Stella Jury was a young woman from Long Gully, Healesville who married James Chandler a returned soldier who suffered from shell-shock. They went to live in New South Wales after their marriage.

Annie Bickley

Annie Bickley & Dan Shine.

Annie Bickley was a young woman from Coleraine who married Dan Shine a returned soldier injured by gas. They had no children. Later in life they lived in Warrnambool.

Mary Kelly (Min) was the daughter of John Kelly and Mary Reynolds from Warracknabeal. She married an injured war hero, Jack Foott, who lost a leg. They had two children. Mary was very musical and was a member of the Kelly Orchestra.

Rita Murphy (M.M.) was the daughter of Daniel Murphy and Rose McLachlan She was a young woman from Willenabrina and married a returned soldier Hugh Foott who suffered from trench feet. They had a large family.

Ruby Owen was a young woman from Melbourne who was employed at Beulah Bush Nursing Hospital when she met and married Charles Maginness, a returned bombardier with injured hands. They had five children. Ruby died when her children were still young and her husband Charles and her mother in law Ellen reared her children.

Mary Shine was the daughter of James Shine and Jane Murphy of Balmoral, Victoria. She married Ben Chandler a decorated war hero. They had two children. In the Second World War their son Con was captured and as a Prisoner of War POW survived the slavery and deprivation of the brutal Burma Railway in Thailand.


Murphy, Gabrielle, Moving Women to the Frontline of Military History, ‘Voice’, Melbourne University, Vol10, No.5 12 May 2014.
Damousi, Joy, Mourning Practices, in The Cambridge History of the First World War, Cambridge University Press, 2014
Triolo, Rosalie, Our Schools and the War, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2012.