Article by Sara Hilder
World War I related material is held in Rare Books and Special Collections, as well as other Library collections. The photo of two young soldiers is from the Cosme Colony Collection, an archive relating to a utopian colony established in Paraguay in the 1890s by William Lane and others. The collection also includes the manuscript of Gavin Souter’s book, A Peculiar People, The Australians in Paraguay, an extract of which is reproduced below.
A joint exhibition with the University Archives will be held in 2015 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing.
Cosme Colony Collection
Rare Books and Special Collections.
Extract from: Gavin Souter, A Peculiar People, The Australians in Paraguay. Sydney, Sydney University Press, 1981.
…’ For many of the Australians who had grown up in Paraguay, World War I was a pot of gold that would easily have bought tickets to Australia. When the bugles sounded, young men from Cosme and New Australia enlisted in the British Army. All but one came through the war, and when offered the choice of repatriation to Australia or Paraguay they all chose Paraguay. “There is a claw in this country all right, which drags people back,” wrote Mrs Minnie Jacks to Mary Gilmore in 1916. “Ten have gone from Cosme, and, strange to say, they all want to come back. To read their letters one would think there was only one country in the world, and that was Paraguay.”
Ten went from Cosme, and six from New Australia. The people of Cosme flew the Union Jack and cheered as each volunteer who had come of age rode off into the monte on his way to Caazapá, Maciel railway station, Asunción, and finally, after a five day river trip, Buenos Aires, where the British Army had a recruiting office.
The only Paraguayan Australian who did not return from the war was Allan McLeod’s eldest son Dave. He served in France with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and was killed by a German shell behind the lines. William Wood, who had often worked with Dave McLeod in the canefields at Cosme was a signaller in the Royal Engineers. He went to Gallipoli for a while, and was sometimes sent on errands to Anzac headquarter. Bill had been born in Sydney a year before his parents went to Cosme, and this was his first experience of Australians outside Paraguay. “I couldn’t tell who were the officers,” he recalled in later years. “It was all first names – Harry, Dick, Bill – and everyone was telling jokes all the time.” In 1919 he met his twenty two year old brother Alex in Jerusalem; Alex had served with the Black Watch in Mesopotamia, and by seeing Baghdad he had satisfied an ambition he had harboured ever since reading The Thousand and One Nights at Cosme.
Baghdad, Jerusalem and Gallipoli were romance enough for the Wood boys. … ‘
Photo: Alex (left) and Bill (right) Wood, sons of William and Lillian Wood, in Jerusalem, 1919. Both returned to Cosme Colony after World War I.
Cosme Colony Collection, Rare Books and Special Collections.