Alice Chisholm (1856-1954) and Rania MacPhillamy (1886-nd)
During the First World War Alice Chisholm and Rania MacPhillamy were prominent among the Australian women volunteers working in Egypt. The two in partnership ran canteens for the men of the Light Horse, in the malarial heat and dust of Cairo, Suez and Rafa from 1916 to 1919.
Alice Chisholm was 59 when she left Australia in June 1915 to go to Egypt as a volunteer with the Red Cross and the Australian Comforts Fund. There she met Rania MacPhillamy who at 29 also worked on the committee of the Fund, after she arrived that December in the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD). In August 1916 after Rania’s sweetheart was killed in Sinai she travelled to Port Said with Alice Chisholm and set up the Empire Soldiers Club there. The success of this venture led to a new club at Kantara, a big railway junction on the Suez Canal.
A New Zealand woman, Ettie Rout, had set up a canteen here in 1916. Ettie was a vocal and committed champion of the welfare of the Anzac troops but when her recurrent attacks of malaria forced her to leave she sold the Kantara canteen to Alice Chisholm.
In a marquee pitched on the sand, Alice and Rania provided hot cups of tea and a simple meal for the troops passing through the junction. Such was the success of this facility that the military establishment began to take an interest and provided more permanent quarters and ‘B class’ soldiers to help the two women. Between January 1917 and January 1918 the Empire Soldiers Club at Kantara was never closed, and for thousands of Light Horse men it became their chief contact with Australian women and the comforts of home.
After Rania persuaded General Allenby in June 1918 to allow her to set up a new club in Jerusalem she ran this till the end of the war, supporting the Light Horse men serving in the Jordan Valley that summer. Alice stayed on to manage the Kantara club.
During demobilisation at the end of the war, the two women set up a new camp in the desert at Rafa. Included in the homely facilities of this desert canteen was an open-air picture show to entertain the troops in the evenings.
Both women returned to Australia on the Morvada in July 1919. On board was Lieutenant Colonel Clive Single, who had served as a medical officer with the 4th Light Horse Ambulance Brigade. He and Rania married in 1920 and set up a family medical practice in Moree, establishing the state’s first Baby Health Centre.
Contributed by Caroline Jones
Jennifer Horsfield Rainbow: the story of Rania MacPhillamy Canberra, Ginninderra Press, Canberra, 2007