Fill the Billy for the boys: Anzac Day 2021

It has become a tradition for Australian and New Zealand bloggers to write a post each year to commemorate Anzac Day and honour all the men and women who served during our two countries’ wars.

Over the years I’ve written about family members or other servicemen. This year I thought I’d continue my theme of food and apply it to the ANZACs war service, especially during World War I.

Civilians at home made it a patriotic and family task to send parcels, not just to their own families, but also to men on service overseas. This was coordinated in World Wars I and II through the Australian Comforts Fund.

The Sun (Sydney) 22 Sept 1918, p16

The Diggers History website quotes: “Christmas morning saw the distribution of 34,299 billies and 31,196 Christmas boxes specially provided by the local committee of the A.C.F. [Australian Comforts Fund) to our men in the camps around Cairo.

Everyone is talking about the splendid generosity of Australia in supplying her soldiers with such splendid Christmas gifts. Mr William Beit had arranged for the gifts to be distributed at the different camps by the ladies of the local committee assisted by other well known ladies from Australia who are
(sic) such splendid work over here, and they vied with one another in making the occasion as gay as possible”.

Australian War Memorial Accession J02506. Copyright expired. Distributing billies at Heliopolis, Egypt, 1915.

People were encouraged to send a variety of items especially one to eat, one to smoke, and one to amuse. Guidelines were included in local newspapers. Without a doubt the men must have felt cared for when receiving these treats and very often they would reply to the sender and the letters were published in the relevant newspapers. Not only would it provide them with cigarettes to calm their nerves or use as currency exchange, but also packs of cards, or food treats that were vastly better than their hard rations.

Prisoners of War were not always so fortunate, not always receiving their family’s parcels or even the Red Cross Parcels. My mother’s cousin, Hugh Moran, stated on his release documents that he received none during his time in Germany in World War II, possibly because he was sent to a distant Arbeitskommand. For the men who were on the Long March from the various POW camps towards the end of WWII, food was all they could think about, surviving on what they could scrounge or steal along the way, as they were either not provided with rations, or the barest minimum.

It was common for the recipients of the treats to respond to those who sent them. This letter is from Edward Charles TORBITT who enlisted with the 3/29 Bn on 6 July 1915 with his brother Francis Albert (who was KIA).
SOLDIERS’ LETTERS. (1917, September 20). Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved April 22, 2021, from

Even the men who were behind the Front were sometimes lucky enough to celebrate Christmas with a special dinner, concert and sports. You can sometimes find these references in the Unit Diaries like this one from the Railway Unit, with which my grandfather served.

Australian War Memorial. 5th Australian Broad Gauge Railway Operating Unit, December 1918. The names
of the menu items are interesting. It’s quite likely my grandfather was at this meal.

To this day, one tradition that’s carried forward, is making Anzac Biscuits (don’t even think about calling them cookies!!)  to honour the day and the men’s and women’s service. This is my mother’s recipe.

Lest We Forget

20 thoughts on “Fill the Billy for the boys: Anzac Day 2021

  1. Shrapnel cakes and Howitzer biscuits….hmmmm….I wonder what’s in those. Don’t you wish you knew what the music program sounded like? I tried to lazily google some of the song titles to no avail but I rather like this rendition which was the closest I could find to Clouds and Sunshine.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Food, or specifically the lack of it was a major part of the lives of our servicemen. My ancestor writes constantly in his diary about food and hunger. This is a lovely post and I’m happy you didn’t call our Anzac Biscuits cookies!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hell will freeze before I call biscuits cookies Jennifer, let alone ANZAC Biscuits. Yes, our servicemen did it tough and those who were POWs even more so in terms of food. Where was your ancestor serving?


  3. I have a container of Anzac biscuits at the ready…😄
    My Aunts made so many fruit cakes and puddings to send to the troops that the local postmaster called them the Pudding sisters. They sent scarves, socks, chocolates, cough lozenges, soap, combs, underwear, bandaids, tubes of disinfectant cream (forgotten what is was called) and clippings from newspapers. The latter were articles that praised the troops. Somewhere in my ‘must keep’ folder (wherever I put it for safekeeping) is a list written for me by one of my Aunts of what they sent in just one month.. it was a long list.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What an interesting post, thanks Pauleen. As someone who uses the technology we now use to communicate, I’m in awe of these people and how they organised so much support over such long distances when they only had newspapers, mail and radio.

    Liked by 1 person

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