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Annie Margaret Laurie

The following is an extract from a newspaper article.

They called her “Mother of Anzacs”


 August always brings to the memory of a Middle Ridge resident, Mrs. P.J. Fox, the outbreak of the Great War of 1914…that shattering event which changed the map of Europe, and our way of life so drastically.

 Mrs. Annie Wheeler O.B.E. and her daughter Mrs. Fox, who was then a schoolgirl, were in England at the time and about to leave for a European tour of Germany, Hungary and Switzerland.  Fortunately the Queensland Agent-General, Sir Thomas Robinson, realising the serious situation developing in Austria, prevented them leaving. 

 Little Belgium was attacked by Germany and Great Britain was at war.  Australia rallied to her assistance “with the last man and the last shilling” as the Prime Minister of the day promised.

 In no time the first Australian Expeditionary Force had sailed “for destination unknown”.

 As Canadian and South African troop ships unloaded at Plymouth, they waited in vain for news of Australians.  Finally word of their disembarkation in Egypt leaked out, but nothing appeared in the Press. 

 Then the Gallipoli Campaign and the first seriously wounded and sick men from there arrived at the Third London General Hospital, Wandsworth, near London.

 Mrs. Wheeler and her daughter visited these men and found Central Queenslanders among them, from the Ninth and Fifteenth Battalions.

 Army Post Offices in those days were far from efficient and pay was low.  Man had had no letters from home and no money.

 Mrs. Wheeler and her daughter wrote to parents and friends in the Central District giving news of the boys.  And the word spread like a bushfire at Home: “Write to Mrs. Wheeler, she will get news of your boy”.

 Some letter from tiny bush townships or lonely stations came addressed to Mrs. Wheeler “Mother of Anzacs” London, England, and one to Mrs. Wheeler, Salisbury Plains, England.

 Office in London

 By the time the A.I.F. was fighting in France, Mrs. Wheeler and her daughter had a flat and office in Westminster Palace Gardens off Victoria Street station close to Australian Army Head Quarters, Horseferry Road, and the Anzac Buffet in Victoria Street.   

Central Queenslanders were sure of a welcome.  Their mail came there and was redirected to their unit, or to the hospital or the training battalions at Salisbury Plains.

 Mrs. Wheeler sent a weekly letter to the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin and the Capricornian newspapers giving news of men from Alpha, Longreach, Blackall, Springsure and other places…men in the Ninth, Fifteenth, Twenty-fifth, Forty-ninth, Thirty-first and other famous Queensland Battalions.   

This weekly despatch was eagerly read by those at home, who often had no other news of their dear ones.

 Finally with 2300 men on their books, when an Australian mail came in Mrs. Wheeler’s mail was delivered in a special van from the London G.P.O. in huge canvas bags, and tipped out on the floor of their small sitting-room, completely covering it with mail some three feet high.

 Any London policeman in the vicinity knew where Mrs. Wheeler lived and directed the uniformed slouch-hatted enquirer to Westminster Palaces Gardens, where a notice on the door, drawn by one of the boys, showed and Australian rising sun badge, a Kangaroo and a “Hop Right in Dig”.

 Special Fund

 A fund raised in Rockhampton and sent to Mrs. Wheeler to administer, provided money, comforts and food parcels for prisoners of war.

 Money was cabled by parents to Mrs. Wheeler and many a lad enjoyed his last leave in England or Paris before being killed in action, thanks to this service.

 Mrs. Fox thinks that the idea of sewing parcels in unbleached calico and printing the address on in ink was first institutioned by her and her mother in sending parcels to prisoners of war in Germany. 

 Mrs. Wheeler and her daughter returned to Rockhampton after the war, the grateful Australian Government insisting on paying their passage home.

 The returned soldiers met the train and dragged their car, cheering, to the hotel.

 At a civic reception tendered in Rockhampton illuminated address signed by the Mayor of Rockhampton and the chairman of the Livingstone and Fitzroy Shires were presented. 

 The country towns of the Central West held receptions in honour of Mrs. Wheeler and Mrs. Fox who met many grateful parents and soldiers.

 Honoured by King

 A home a Emu Park was presented to Mrs. Wheeler and furnished by the people of the central district and Rockhampton, and at their request she was honoured by the King, with the decoration of the O.B.E. becoming one of the first women in Queensland to receive the award.

 Mrs. Fox has in her possession a letter from General Birdwood, written in 1919 from Australian Imperial Forces H.Q. in appreciation of the work done “for us” during the past four years.

 The R.S.S.A.I.L.A of Rockhampton made Mrs. Wheeler and associate member of the league and presenter her with a badge.  Her portrait hangs in their building. 

 Mrs. Wheeler O.B.E. passed away in 1950 at the age of 82, loved and revered by all.

 Mrs. Fox recalls those busy days in London organising mail distribution, forwarding money to hospital or to France, keeping records, packing parcels of warm underwear, food and tobacco, eternally writing letters, and talking of home or mates to lonely diggers on leave, visiting hospitals or arranging theatre seats.

 It was a terrific job but very rewarding.

From a newspaper article, almost certainly the "Toowoomba Chronicle" in the early 1960's.



Mrs Wheeler’s Home Coming



 The arrival of Mrs. H.G. Wheeler at Rockhampton on Saturday, the 15th November after her absence of nearly six years in England, engaged in almost daily heroic and self-sacrificing services for the comfort of Australian soldiers in the greatest of world wars which have been recorded of her from time to time in these columns, was marked by a public reception and welcome unrivalled warmth, enthusiasm and in the number of those who participated.  Long before the arrival of the train at Stanley Street railway station, the public came along in crowds until the platforms, lobbies, station yards and street approaches were all more or less packed with people.  A posse of police under Acting-sergeant Carew regulated the orderliness of the occasion.  The Reception Committee, consisted of the Mayor (Alderman, T.W. Kingel – Chairman), Messrs J.R. Gair, C.W. Snelling, J.J. Macaulay, J. Edminstone, W.H. Rogers, and F.W. Hutton (President of the Rockhampton centre of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia), with the Ladies’ Reception Committee consisting of the Mayoress (Mrs. T.W. Kingel), Mesdames J.H. Goldsmith, W. Dunbar, C.E. Crocker, E. Thompson, W. Davey, W.H. Flowers, N. Allen, Ralph Woolcock, A. Woolcock, H.F. Lamberton, W.N. Jaggard (Secretary of the Rockhampton Soldiers’ Rest and Recreation Rooms), Coxon, Tucker, and McLaughlin, and Miss Spilsbury (Secretary).  The Secretary of the Mayor’s Reception Committee, Mr. P.E. Parker, was unable to be present owing to the death of his father.  Among others in that closely packed assemblage were Dr. and Mrs. F.H.V. Voss, Lieutenant-colonel R.A. Woolcock, Lieutenant-colonel D.D. Dawson (President of the District Branch of  the Soldiers’ Imperial League), and a number of leading townsmen and their wives and daughters.  As the train drew into the platform a double line of returned soldiers was formed from the entrance and through to the gates of the platform right up to the door of the carriage containing Mrs. Wheeler and her party.  The Reception Committee had a number of motor cars in waiting outside for the party, but the City Council’s motor car had been reserved for the personal use of Mrs Wheeler, and the Mayor had bought his own for the occasion.  There was a large number of private automobiles and public conveyances in the station yard. 

As the train drew in and Mrs. Wheeler and her daughter, Miss Wheeler (Portia) were recognised, cheers were given with an enthusiasm and unanimity that was deafening.  When Mrs. Wheeler, costumed in a travelling tussore silk coat and dress, came on to the platform of the carriage the Mayor met her and on behalf of the City of Rockhampton welcomed her home.  Then Miss Voss, on behalf of the ladies of the Returned Soldiers’ Appreciation Committee of which Mrs F.W. Hutton is President, presented Mrs. Wheeler with a large and charming bouquet of flowers.  From that out the proceedings became for a time, indescribable.  People tried to reach over each other’s shoulders in endeavouring to shake hands in welcoming the lady.  After order had regained sway it was then seen that Mrs. Wheeler was accompanied by Captain F. Fox, and the ladies and gentlemen who had to gone to Raglan by the midday mail to meed and welcome her, namely, Miss M.S. Trotman, Mrs. Jean Laurie, Mrs W.E. Bell and Mr. W. White (Mrs. Wheelers step-father).  The party moved down through the returned soldiers’ lines to the motor cars, each two soldiers falling in behind as they were passed.  As soon as Mrs. Wheeler, accompanied by Miss Wheeler and the Mayoress and taken their seats in the Council’s car, the sixty returned soldiers, including Mr. W. Carr Boyd and Lieutenant E.A. Jolly (Longreach Soldiers’ League), seized the ropes attached to the car, and headed by the Rockhampton Municipal Band playing that lively march, “The first little army,” started a procession to the Leichhardt Hotel where three months ago rooms had been thoughtfully engaged for her use.  It has been carefully calculated that about 5000 people in cars, cabs, and on foot, took part in that memorable procession, and the verandas and balconies en route were occupied with cheering welcomers.  The procession went via Denison-street to William-street, via William-street to East-street, via East-street to Denham-street and via Denham-street to the hotel.  The band was then playing “Colonel Bogey,” and at its conclusion, Mrs. Wheeler accompanied by the Mayor approached the Leichardt Hotel and the crowd (?) repeated welcoming cheers.  The lady appeared to be quite touched with her reception.  She certainly was unable to speak and requested the Mayor to say something on her behalf.  The Mayor said: “Ladies and gentlemen, I wish, on behalf of Mrs. Wheeler, to say that she is glad to be home after her long absence and that she thanks you most sincerely for your right royal welcome.  She would like to shake hands with you all, but she is very tired and I have told here that an opportunity will be given to everybody to meet her for that purpose on Monday night, when the official public welcome will take place at the School of Arts.  You are all welcome to come here as there are no special invitations in connection with it” (Applause.)

Printed in "The Capricornian" 20 December 1920



The Mother of Queenslanders

(Contributed by “Digger”)

The rousing reception to Mrs. H.G. Wheeler and her daughter Portia on Saturday was typical of Rockhampton.  It was intense in its fervour and spontaneous in its conception, and a true resume of the work carried out by that lady must be interesting at this time.  It was on the 17th of March 1913 that Mrs Wheeler left Australia to go to Europe for the purpose of finishing the education of her daughter – her only child.  For many years previous to this, Mrs. Wheeler had identified herself with the succouring of the poor and needy and the uplifting of the lowly.  Her work had been long recognised as work that no words or action could adequately express the value of, and her departure from Queensland, where she had been born and reared was a distinct loss to the community.  On arriving in England Mrs. Wheeler first resided with her late husband’s relatives at Eastbourne and just at the outbreak of the war she had made arrangements to spend a year in Switzerland for the purpose of further adding to the education of her girl.  But the war intervened and acting under the advice of Sir Thomas Robinson the Agent-General for Queensland, it was decided to relinquish the intention of leaving England.  Then the loving sympathy that had so long characterised her actions took charge and Mrs. Wheeler could not remain idle while the world suffered.  She instantly offered her services, and although her knowledge of nursing was above the average, she was soon found in harness doing night duty as a probationer in a hospital near Eastbourne.  Soon Australia took a bound and the “Mother of Queenslanders” found her true vocation – that of ministering to the wants of the soldiers.