Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

Ellis Silas letter and notes relating to the Anzac Buffet in London, 19 December 1921

[Page 1]
"Whancliffe" Lower Bay View St.
Mc Mahon`s Point Sydney

Mr Wright
I should think that this record of the Anzac Buffet would be of particular interest to the Mitchell Collection, inasmuch as although this Buffet was quite an important feature in the lives of the A.I.F. in London, it is the only illustration extant for this place and although I frequented this rendezvous a great deal no photo of it was ever brought to my notice.

I would further mention that this particular work was made as a record, one of the illustrations to part 2 of my diary which latter (when completed) I hope to submit to you, consequently if the Mitchell library acquire this work and later my completed diary, may I suggest that it might be found expedient to keep all the illustrations together in Post-folio form, but naturally this is a matter the trustees will decide for themselves to may I ask for to forgive my seeming impertinance as to the historic value of this illustration in question this I think is a matter that perhaps the trustees would be in a better position to define, but I should think its present value is about ten pounds.
Enclosed is a description of the Buffet pieced together from part 2 of my diary.
Your friend
Ellis Silas 16Bn. A.I.F.

[Page 2]
Who shall say to what excellent [indecipherable] this Anzac Buffet was organised? Only those of us (and our numbers are many) could quite realise how much this little spot meant. Thousands of miles of heaving ocean separating us from the Homeland. It seems aeons since we left the sunny coasts of Australia. There has been hard training in Egypt followed by the stress, privations and brutality of the battlefield, and now we find ourselves dumped into the murk and gloom of war ridden London. But the doors of the Buffet open and so after a long period we are enabled to once more get in touch with matters Australian. The Anzac Buffet is situated within a stones throw of the Terminus Victoria, which hourly is sending off trainloads of troops to the battlefields, and with equal rapidity vomits forth its sick and wounded, and not quite so frequently leave trains arrive, with war worn men seeking a brief respite from the horrors and fatiguesl of the Front line.

The Tommies they have relatives to meet them they know where to go but we are not of these, for our home is thousands of miles distant and we wot not of the world`s greatest metropolis but are marched off to H.Q. at Horseferry Rd, but this is anything but home, it is still the trying but necessary army regulations to which we are subjected. We leave our kit and pack in the cloakrooms- and with leave pass in hand, for the nonce are free men; but what to do? Where to go? We wander out thro a slum, into the dimness of

[Page 3]
Victoria Street, still cogitating how to put in these most precious hours of freedom. Wondering wither to wend our way? This question is answered, for there upon a door is a mystic sign ANZAC Buffet, we push open the door and look in, and lo ! London is forgotten for there around us are Australian faces, womenfolk from our own shores, the red cover of the good old "Bulletin" and other Australian papers blink back at us, there are numerous tables whereon a plentiful supply of sandwiches and cakes and cups of steaming tea and coffee, one of these kindly women attired in green overalls addresses "will we have something to eat" will we have something to eat! Mon dieu ! ,my word rather. "Where would we like to go afterwards, a theatre? Scotland, Ireland, or what part of the British Isles would we like to visit?" Have I been polishing up some forgotten lamp? Once the property of one, Aladin by name? "Perhaps we would like to write a line home?" on green baize tables is all the necessary equipment for those of us who feel so disposed.

I think a brief description of the work carried out in this one little patch of Australia will not be without interest. The Buffet first had temporary premises in a basement in Victoria St. from thence more commodious quarters were found at H.Q. Horseferry Rd, eventually

[Page 4]
a permanent position was found in Victoria Street on the left hand side going citywards, and here it remained for the duration of the war, it is this place I have depicted in my illustrations. All the work of this enterprise was carried out by an indefatigable band of Australian women. How hard the work must have been only time can tell you, on some days they served refreshment to some 1000 men, it was not merely a question of just handing out a sandwich and cup of tea. It was served at tables, which meant much carrying of heavy trays.

For those of us who were attached to H.Q. staff it was quite a home not to say an allurement for the strict path of duty, at least I know I found it so, for many a time and oft did I slip away from my official duties and partake of a cup of tea or read the Aussie news but I digress concerts, dances and theatre parties and tours of the metropolis were arranged. The visiting Bureau put us in touch with people in different parts of the British Isles , who had been kind enough to offer us their hospitality during the period of our leave. On a green board near the door (shown in illustration) all the latest news and shows, or anything that was going that would be of interest to us. The comfort and interests of each individual man were studied as far as was humanly possible so to do. For all there was always a cheery welcome, a ready hand. And now the war being over, the

[Page 5]
hospitable doors of this caravanserai are closed and this little band of splendid women have gone their several ways, to those many of us who came under their benign influence the memory of this little patch of Australia (an oasis in the vast wilderness of buildings, which is London) will forever remain; at least one pleasant vignette in the dark patch of those years 1914-1918

Ellis Silas
Late 16B. A.I.F.

[Transcribed by Rex Minter for the State Library of New South Wales]