Maud Butler’s Anzac Day

The first official Anzac Day Commemoration held on Tuesday, 25 April 1916, attracted enormous crowds in Sydney, as returned soldiers paraded through the city streets, and an open-air memorial service was attended by a vast throng. St Andrew’s and St Mary’s Cathedrals hosted impressive memorial services, and a civic luncheon held at the Town Hall provided entertainment for over 3000 soldiers. Collections were also taken up in the streets throughout the day and evening with over £5000 reportedly raised.

First Anzac Day Celebration

Amidst all the frenetic patriotism, Maud Butler once again attracted attention. This time, however, she wasn’t on board a troopship. Instead, Maud was arrested in Martin Place, in the heart of the city.


Collecting in uniform prohibited

The Garrison Military Policeman who spotted her took her at first to be a real soldier. Dressed in the full uniform of an AIF soldier and holding a collection bag in her hand, she was approached by the policeman who demanded to know what unit she belonged to. There was an order in place against persons in uniform collecting.

Maud at once told him that she was a girl, upon which she was taken into custody to Victoria Barracks.Maud Butler - with Star

In court the next day, it transpired that Maud had actually been trying to raise money for the Returned Soldiers’ Association (the forerunner of the RSL).

Maud had become something of a popular heroine after her two failed attempts to get to the front, and it seems that some people in the RSA thought she could help promote their cause.


“She has earned the respect of every true Australian for her efforts…” Mirror of Australia, May 13, 1916.


Lieutenant Thomas Bathurst, Assistant Secretary of the Returned Soldiers’ Association, spoke in Maud’s defence. He told the magistrate that the Association had sent Maud to Newcastle the day before Anzac Day to collect for the fund, dressed in military uniform. No objections had been raised towards her wearing the military uniform there, the RSA Lieutenant said. In fact, over 200 female collectors there had been similarly attired, and Maud had managed to raise £200 for the fund.

The Police Prosecutor explained that the military authorities didn’t want to see Maud sent to gaol: but they did want to prevent a recurrence of the offence. This wasn’t the first time, or even the second time, but the third time Maud had been found in uniform, he stressed.

To us today, the military’s insistence on punishing Maud seems rather bloody-minded. The government certainly was concerned by the now growing problem of men in uniform (sometimes discharged servicemen and sometimes not) begging for money or otherwise importuning on people’s sympathies, but Maud clearly wasn’t doing that. Many people were worried about the effects of the war and its upheaval on young women’s behaviour and outlook. But perhaps it was the discomforting idea that a young woman could pass for a Digger, that was the real problem.

Ladies farewelling soldiers - Blog 3 with caption

The Magistrate, Mr MacFarlane, expressed his sympathy for the girl’s  “misguided” actions. It “seemed that the wearing of the uniform had been suggested to her, and it was rather a pity that she had been proceeded against,” he said.

Maud gave an undertaking that she would not offend again “even for the purposes of collecting.” Maud was, once again, imprisoned until the rising of the court.

Plenty of girls wear khaki and nothing is thought of it!

Maud’s exploits had certainly attracted publicity.  This last incident, occurring as it did on the first official Anzac Day, ignited considerable public debate concerning women’s contributions to the war effort and the broader issue of patriotism.

Soon after the news of her Anzac Day arrest, and in response to letters coming in from readers about Maud, the Mirror of Australia featured a page headlined “Are women physically fitted to compete with men in the industrial and business world?”  The feature included responses to a previous article about the roles played by women during the war.  Correspondents asserted that women could (and should) take on men’s roles in industry and business during the war, but should step aside for the men when they returned, and go back to their homes to raise healthy children.

Nobody proposed that Maud should be a soldier. But some suggested that the RSA was on the right track, suggesting that she would make an outstanding recruiting agent for the AIF.  A letter on the same page as the Mirror article, written by an enthusiastic supporter, remarked that Maud’s “attempts to get to the front should shame some of those ‘stay-at-homes’ and make them discard the cue and race-book for the rifle. All honor to this noble Australian girl.”

In response to this letter, “F.G.K” of Rushcutter’s Bay endorsed that view, which, the writer claimed, expressed the views of “many people…concerning Miss Maud Butler.”

“She has earned the respect of every true Australian for her efforts to shame some of our street-corner  citizens into serving their country in the fighting line. I am sure an appeal by her for recruits would touch a responsive chord and bring some of those young men who are holding back. I should like to see her take part in a recruiting campaign, dressed in the uniform which she has so often tried to wear.

Plenty of girls wear khaki at fancy dress carnivals, and nothing is thought of it.”

“I can’t go to the Front but perhaps I can do a little good here attending the boys” The Soldier, January 5, 1917.

Maud edit 2

But this first Anzac Day would mark Maud’s last public appearance in military uniform.

Instead, the RSA gave her a waitressing job in the RSA Club rooms, serving tea and cakes to the soldiers. “I can’t go to the front,” she told a reporter who interviewed her for the RSA magazine The Soldier in January 1917, “but perhaps I can do a little good here attending the boys.”

One hundred years later – this year in fact – the Australian armed services finally opened combat roles to women who want to enlist.

I wonder what Maud would think…


  1. My grandmother would be impressed. Maud was quietly determined to become a nurse and she did this by being a midwife in the 1930s and 1940 s and helping woman and children survive the dangers of childbirth. She was greatly respected in the Canterbury and Campsie area of Sydney in the 1960 and 1970s. People greeted her in the street as Matron Hulme. She had a great sense of service through hard work.


    1. Hello Julie! How exciting you read my blog! I will be certainly emailing you soon to get in touch 🙂
      I would like to write a follow-up blog on Maud’s later life and will talk about it with you.


    2. Hi Julie,
      You must be very proud of your grandmother, although as a parent of a teenage daughter who recently snuck out with a friend simply to go to the beach with a group of friends, I could imagine how her parents felt about her stowing away and did come across a reference.
      My Great Great Uncle , John Quealy no. 4276, was onboard the Suevic with your grandmother. His grandson recently contacted me for family information and I realized I knew nothing about him or his war service and have almost been buried alive researching WWI initially just trying to flesh out his service records, which didn’t say much at all. Unfortunately, as far as I’m aware, all he left was a photograph and it would’ve been wonderful if he was one of the men who sent a message home in a bottle. He left a wife and a 2 year old and baby at home. He survived the war but wasn’t himself.
      It is interesting to consider why you’re grandmother felt such a burning need to go. From what I’ve read, she wanted to be a nurse and not a soldier. That the uniform was her means of getting to the front to be a nurse and she wasn’t trying to challenge gender roles to that extent. My grandmother was concert pianist Eunice Gardiner and her desire to pursue her career as a pianist was a very strong flame which wasn’t dulled by marriage and seven children. She also challenged gender stereotypes but not with a view challenging a woman’s role. That was a byproduct of pursuing her talent, passion. It seems like your grandmother had a real passion and calling for nursing. I would love to hear from you via Victoria. Best wishes, Rowena


      1. That’s very interesting Rowena. I recall that there was another stowaway who was allowed to continue on. It wasn’t uncommon for young boys to stowaway (if their parents wouldn’t let them sign on) but nobody that I know of has done much research on that history. I’ll let Julie know you’ve been in touch. Thanks for reading and commenting, Victoria


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *