With the outbreak of war in August 1914 Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, wife of the Governor General, wrote to The Register newspaper, "The best field of activity for non-combatants, and especially for women, lies in providing for the needs of the sick and wounded.... in all countries this work is undertaken by national Red Cross societies. It is therefore proposed to form an Australian branch of the British Red Cross Society, and a central council is being established on which Lady Galway and the wives of the Governors of the other States have already agreed to serve." (The Register newspaper 10 August 1914, page 9)
Four days after the publication of Lady Helen Munro Ferguson's letter to the Register, "A large and fashionable audience responded to the invitation of Lady Galway and the Mayoress of Adelaide (Mrs. A.A. Simpson) to assemble at the Town Hall on Friday afternoon for the purpose of forming a branch of the Red Cross Society." (The Register 15 August 1914, page 11)
At the meeting Dr. J.C. Verco proposed "That a section of the Australian branch of the British Red Cross Society be established in South Australia", the proposal was seconded by the Mayoress of Adelaide Mrs Janet Simpson and carried with applause.
At a later meeting held at Government House a general committee was formed. The members were Lady Galway (President), Mrs Janet Simpson (vice-President), Dr. Robert Brummitt (Hon. Treasurer), Major Bentley S. Connor (Hon. Secretary), Lady Butler and Mrs G.H. Dean (Assistant Secretaries), Dr. Verco, Dr. Morris, Dr. Newland, Dr. Todd, Miss Anderson, Mrs. C.H. Angas, Mrs. T.E. Barr Smith, Miss Bidmead, Mr. Gill, Miss Graham, Mrs. Irving, Mr. Maughan, Mrs Peake, Mrs. Nutter Thomas, Miss. Vaughan, and Mr. Wheeler.
Once established the urgency of creating an organisation capable of meeting the many requirements of the military forces saw the rapid growth of the Red Cross in South Australia.
To this end Lady Mayoresses from across South Australia called meetings with the aim of establishing a branch of the South Australian Division in their towns. Kensington and Norwood Mayoress, Mrs H.J. Holden, called a meeting for the 20th of August and the Unley Mayoress, Flora Dollman, called one for the 24th of August.
By the end of 1915 300 Red Cross Circles had been established across South Australia and in Broken Hill which came under the South Australian Division. Initially the circles were established to provide goods such as food, clothing, linen and reading material and a Central Packing Depot was established at Government House. The Central Packing Depot received goods from the Circles, sorted and repacked them before dispatching them to London and Egypt.
As the war progressed the need for large garments and bed linen was replaced by a need for socks and money for foodstuffs. A Produce Department was opened in August 1916 in Caius Chambers on North Terrace. The Norwood Circle took charge of the Depot and advertised for "gifts of produce, eggs, butter, cakes, groceries of all kinds, vegetables, fruit or cash donations are gratefully received and forwarded to local military hospitals. Ladies are in attendance daily from 10 am till 4 pm., Saturdays from 10 am until 12 noon."
For the first 18 months of the war the Red Cross was able to employ the press to keep in touch with the public and the Circles, but with time it became necessary to establish a dedicated monthly paper. In July 1916 the first 'Red Cross Record' was published with 32 pages of 'Notes from the Circles', and more general articles such as 'Women at the front' and 'Finance for women'. The Red Cross Record was published throughout the war and into the years after, the last edition being published in June 1920. From July 1920 the Woman's Record Company, Ltd., took over publication and the name changed to 'The Woman's Record'. Information about the South Australian Red Cross was maintained along with that of other associations such as the National Council of Women and the Women's Non-Party Association. The Woman"s Record ceased publication in March 1923.
Voluntary Aid Detachments or VADS were first established in England in 1909 to provide nursing and associated services to wounded and unwell soldiers. With the formation of an Australian branch of the British Red Cross Society in 1914 Helen Munro Ferguson proposed "to enrol men and women having first aid and nursing certificates to be allotted to recognised voluntary aid detachments, and transferred to the A.A.M.C. for service in Australia". The Register 10 August 1914, page 9.
Red Cross Circles to collect goods and to raise funds were established in towns and suburbs across South Australia.
This list of some of the South Australian Circles indicate their ubiquitous nature:
Adelaide (Mayoress's Circle), Aldgate, Alma, Angaston, Alford, Allandale East, Arwakurra, Balaklava, Belair, Bendleby, Berri, Blyth, Binnum, Blumberg, Booboorowie, Brentwood, Brighton, Bordertown, Bridgewater, Burnside, Cherry Gardens, Clare, Clements' Gap, Coonalpyn, Cowell, Cromer, Croydon, Currency Creek, Curramulka, Dawson, Echunga, Ellimatta, Eudunda, Everard Central, Freeling, Forest Range, Frances, Gawler, Gilberton, Giles' Corner, Glen Osmond, Glenelg, Golden Grove, Goodwood, Grange, Grunthal, Hallett, Hahndorf, Harrogate, Henley Beach, Hergott Springs, Hindmarsh, Hornsdale, Hummock Hill, Hyde Park, Hynam, Julia, Kadina, Keyneton, Kilkenny, Koolunga, Kybybolite, Laura, Leigh's Creek, Lipson, Longwood, Loxton, Lucindale, Lyndoch, Malvern, Manoora, Mintaro, Mitcham, Modbury, Monarto, Morchard, Morgan, Mount Gambier, Mount Pleasant, Mundoora, Murraytown, Mylor, Narracoorte, Narridy, Noarlunga, North Adelaide, Norwood, Oodnadatta, Orroroo, Parrakie, Paskeville, Payneham, Petersburg, Piccadilly, Pinery, Pinnaroo, Point Pass, Port Adelaide, Port Augusta, Port Pirie, Port Victoria, Prospect, Reynella, Rhynie, Rose Park, Roseworthy, Saddleworth, Sheaok Log, Skilly, Smithfield, South Kilkerran, Southwark, Spalding, St. Peters, Stansbury, Tantanoola, Tarlee, Thebarton, Tea Tree Gully, Terowie, Tarcowie, Tickera, Truro, Tumby Bay, Two Wells, Unley, Victor Harbor, Walkerville, Wallaroo, Wallaroo Mines, Waratta, Warooka, Wasleys, Watervale, Wayville, Westbourne Park, Whyte Yarcowie, Willamulka, Williamstown, Willowie, Willunga, Wilmington, Wolseley, Woodville, Wool Bay, Yahl, Yankalilla, Yorketown,
Hindmarsh Congregational Women, Jewish Women, Methodist Manse Mintaro, Morphett Vale Girls, Mount Gambier Girls, North Adelaide Baptist, Portrush Road Marryatville, Presbyterian Branch, Semaphore Methodist, Soldiers' Aid society, Spicer Memorial Girls' Society, Westbourne Park Methodist Girls' Guild, YWCA Thrift Club.
Reports on that activities of many of these Circles are to be found in the Red Cross Record.
Certificate awarded to Mrs. Williams in recognition of 5 years devoted service under the Australian Red Cross Society during the Great War 1914 1919.
"This Circle was founded in August, 1915, with twelve members. Since that time the number has increased to twenty-two. Eighteen meetings have been held during the year, and gifts received from members have enabled the society to forward three large boxes of goods and also £15 in cash to the head of the Red Cross Society." The Red Cross Record, January 1917.
"Since our last report we have had exciting and joyful times, the good news that fighting in Europe has actually ceased. Of course, we had some celebrations in honour of the event, flags flying everywhere, the local band playing national airs, children marching through the streets, being treated to sweets, &c., and on Thursday following an impromptu picnic was organised, to take place on the recreation park grounds, in which our Red Cross members were as usual to the fore helping ..." The Red Cross Record, December 1918.