The CWA and A Song of Peace

The CWA and A Song of Peace
Discovering the story
29 August 2016

In my last blog post Hidden evidence, I described how taking a close look at library material can help us discover more details about the history of an item. After writing the blog, the catalogue record for the book Melbourne's armageddon: and other verses by M. Sweeney was changed to display the additional information.

Recently, another question our Ask a Librarian team received also resulted in a catalogue change, although this time the new evidence was not found in the item itself:

I have been researching A Song of Peace, a pamphlet produced by the Dowlingville branch of the South Australian Country Women's Association (CWA), found through Trove. I understand that this pamphlet was left on public transport during WW1. I have since received some information about the song itself from SA CWA, referring to a 1981 recording. Apparently the song is sung still. The information suggests that the lyrics are of more recent origin, possibly 1942. Can you shed any light on this please?

The National Library’s copy of A Song of Peace has been digitised, but I also wanted to take a look at our physical copy.

A Song of Peace cover of music card

A Song of Peace, [Dowlingville, S. Aust.?] : South Australian Country Women's Association?

This item is a small card showing the words of a patriotic verse. Unfortunately there is no indication of the origin of the verse, but particularly with the addition of ‘Please leave this card on seat,’ it might seem like wartime literature produced by a CWA branch.

1918 tram

A tram with St Kilda Road on its side and Glenferrie Road on the front bearing a Buy war bonds billboard, Melbourne  1918 nla.obj-152952879

In our Anzac anniversary years it is tempting to conclude that the verse was used during WW1. However the South Australian CWA tells us that it is still sung, and the origins are likely to be later.

We know from the card itself that it was produced by the Dowlingville CWA, and the only Dowlingville is in South Australia. The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia gives a short history of the CWA in different States, and has the information that the South Australian Branch was formed in 1929.

  'C.W.A. on Yorke Peninsula'

CWA on Yorke Peninsula (1947, June 18). Recorder (Port Pirie, SA : 1919 - 1954),

This Port Pirie Recorder article from June 1947 includes the news that Dowlingville was one of the ‘recent branches formed,’ so the pamphlet itself must have been produced after June 1947.

There were several newspaper articles referring to the Song of Peace as a ‘signature tune of CWA broadcasts,’ one of the earliest in the 29 November 1951 Chronicle (Adelaide, SA: 1895 - 1954). No doubt there are many South Australian CWA members who would be able to give us the full story of the signature tune if only we could ask, however it was nice to be able to confirm this much via Trove. Perhaps rather than a 1918 tram, the card was left on seat in a train carriage something like this:

South Australian train carriage

Railway transport: Commonwealth Railways. CR composite coach at Port Pirie, 7 March 1951, State Library of South Australia, B 58892/543

Looking for the origins of the song itself I used online searches. It appears that it was also known by the first line ‘This is my song.’ The poet was Lloyd Stone and it was published in a book of poetry, Sing a Tune (1934). The music was from Finlandia by Sibelius. This information is online in several places; the most authoritative appears to be from the United Methodist Church. This means that the earliest date we can give this verse is 1934, while the earliest date for the CWA card would be about 1951.

So the National Library has been able to update another record. The original Catalogue record had many question marks, including the date [19--], as seen here:

Catalogue record

National Library Catalogue record for A Song of Peace. Retrieved 6 July, 2016

In addition, the record indicated that this was a ‘leaf of music’, although the notes specified ‘words only.’ This may have been an oversight if the item was part of a larger collection of music. The new record shows dates [between 1951 and 1954?] and it is now clear that the music is not included.

With over 10 million items in the collection, there must be many records which are incomplete or incorrect and these may not be found unless someone asks us about a particular item. It was also pleasing to receive some positive feedback from the enquirer, who has since obtained a 1981 recording of The Song of Peace by the massed SA CWA choirs.

Not sure where to start your research? Stuck somewhere along the way? Ask a Librarian

As a member of the Queensland Country Women's Association, I hear this beautiful song sung at many branch and division Annual General Meetings. It is always the closing song sung at our State Conferences. Brings a lump to my throat every time.
My understanding is that the CWA was formed after WW1 in the early 1920's.
Hi Sandra, you are right; according to the Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership, the CWA started in NSW and Queensland in 1922, Western Australia in 1924, Victoria in 1928, South Australia in 1929 and Tasmania in 1936.
Could not the instruction to "Please Leave this Card on Seat" have just been an austerity measure? Especially given the printing of anything in years gone by was expensive. Assuming that the singing of the song at gatherings was becoming part of a national practice, the local Branch could have printed copies for local use. (Also taking and sharing them at Divisional gatherings - the Branch name directing where each copy was to be returned to?) Growing up we used the same booklet of hymns for ANZAC Day Services year after year and I seem to recall an instruction to "Please Leave" adorning them too.
Hi Su, I think your suggestion is reasonable, and that this may have been the case. Perhaps I will find other examples of "Please leave" in the Library stacks!