The winters during World War I were bitterly cold. The trenches did not provide any warmth. Everything froze from clothing to blankets to food. Many soldiers died from pneumonia or froze to death in the flooded and muddy trenches.
When the Australian troops went off to war, they had no idea what was to await them. Not only were they a long way from home, they had to fight in extremely difficult circumstances.
One Australian woman wanted to help them keep warm and had an idea to make sheepskin vests. Eleanor MacKinnon managed to rally Australians for money and bought sheepskins to be turned into vests for the Australian, British and Canadian troops.
Wool brokers collected the skins and tanned them, while the Red Cross co-ordinated an army of volunteers to stitch the ‘Digger’s Vest’, as they became known, together. By 1916 over 75,000 vests and 61,000 insoles had been sent to soldiers at the front. The vests helped to save thousands of lives.
One of these historical vests is now on display at the Henry Parkes Museum. Rosemary Prior of the Parkes and District Historical Society came across the 100-year-old vest when she was sorting out the archives during the COVID-19 lock-down.
Rosemary was so stirred by the discovery that she decided to expand the display to honour local troops from the Parkes Shire who went to war and recognise what they went through.
She tapped into the army records of John Daniel McGee and Frederick Packham to detail their experiences during World War I and John Turner in World War II.
The display also include many other items including army uniforms, a gas mask, tobacco pouch, RAAF sewing kit, army dixie and even a pattern book to knit socks, gloves, vests, balaclavas, scarves and knee caps for soldiers.