CENTURY OF SERVICE: The Red Cross was never busier than in 1955 when many households across the city had to be evacuated.The Red Cross has seen it all – from the devastation of bushfires and floods, to loading bedpans and urinals when help is needed. This week it celebrates 100 years of sterling service.
REBECCA BERRY reports.
Floods, bushfires, blood donor drives and drought.
The women and one man behind Maitland Districts Red Cross branch have seen it all and celebrated the Australian Red Cross 100th anniversary this week.
Maitland’s commitment to helping the Australian Red Cross started in 1916 when the East Maitland branch was formed.
The branch came together under the leadership of president Mrs Gordon Cliff, who led the branch for 40 years.
The branch re-formed in 1934 after an inactive period in the 1920s and meetings were held at 20 Banks Street, East Maitland.
Floods in Maitland in 1949 destroyed the branch records but it continued to function and provided aid during the 1949, 1951 and 1955 floods.
After the 1955 flood, Con Phillips, who owned a block of land in Melbourne Street, East Maitland, decided not to build a home on it because it was in a flood zone.
He donated the land to the Red Cross and members raised money to have a hall moved onto the site.
The branch moved into the new premises on May 13, 1963 and in 1968 extended the hall and increased its amenities and was debt free.
Apex and Rotary helped the branch to maintain the building.
The branch helped for years at Maitland Hospital’s blood bank.
Members organised a medical loans service, op-shops, coffee mornings, games mornings, street stalls, helped with Red Cross calling and sold art union tickets to raise money for Red Cross.
The branch was particularly proud of its medical loans service which loaned equipment for home nursing, such as wheelchairs, crutches, bed pans and urinals.
There was no charge for the service but Red Cross welcomed small donations.
The East Maitland hall was sold in 1995 and the last meeting was held there on August 21 of that year.
A room was offered to the branch at the Literary Institute (formerly known as the Mechanics Institute) and the first meeting was held there on September 18, 1995, and the branch attracted four new members.
The last meeting of East Maitland branch was held on June 17, 1996 and it was the end of an era.
The West Maitland branch of Red Cross started in 1926, while Largs branch of Red Cross started after the 1955 Maitland flood, which had isolated the village.
On the second day of the flood, the Red Cross arrived by helicopter with food and blankets and for several days came daily with supplies.
In September, 1955, a meeting was called to gauge interest in starting a branch and Largs received its charter in December that year and functioned successfully until 1996.
The three branches amalgamated on July 1, 1996, to become Maitland Districts Branch.
Amalgamating three branches (West Maitland, East Maitland and Largs) came about because of ageing membership and difficulty attracting more members.
The first meeting for the new group was held on July 2, 1996, at East Maitland Community Centre (formerly known as the Literary Institute) and the first president was the late Mavis Deaves.
Branch members have been active with fund-raising activities and services including distributing clothing and food parcels (about 6000 in total) including kitchen utensils and linen after the 1955 flood.
Other services included the loan of medical equipment, wheelchairs, crutches and walking sticks; Christmas gifts to ex-servicemen and women in Maitland Hospital and aged care homes; coal to families in need; patients sent to convalescent homes for recuperation; hospital library established for patients; tracing family members separated by time and distance; obtaining a talking book for a blind ex-serviceman; voluntary assistance at the Red Cross blood bank; taking part in Anzac Day services; parcels and medical kits sent to soldiers an active service overseas; blood donor presentation nights and Red Cross calling.
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