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McPhillamy, Verania (1889–1961)

by Gillian Fulloon

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Verania McPhillamy (1889-1961), superintendent of soldiers' canteens, was born on 1 November 1889 at Croydon, Sydney, second child of Charles Smith McPhillamy, grazier, of Warroo, Forbes, and his wife Alice Kate, daughter of Henry Halloran. She was educated at Warroo Public School and as a boarder at Ascham School, Sydney, where she succeded academically and captained the cricket team. At 18 she visited Britain and France.

Joining a Voluntary Aid Detachment, Miss McPhillamy left for Egypt in October 1915. Next year she joined (Dame) Alice Chisholm at the newly opened soldiers' canteen at Kantara, on the Suez Canal. At their own expense and initially without official sanction, they soon catered for thousands of Empire troops. 'Trooper Bluegum' , described this 'refreshing oasis', where even showers were available and soldiers found 'rest and comfort, and a cheery Australian welcome'.

Mrs Chisholm and Rania, as she was affectionately known, cheerfully contended with heat, sand, wind, flies and scarcity of water. No man was ever refused a meal and wastage was minimal. For some time 'iced tongue and salad' appeared on the menu, when Rania cornered the Cairo tinned-tongue market. Profits were used to reduce prices and improve accommodation.

General Allenby considered their work 'heroic', and with his approval and assistance Rania opened a branch canteen in Jerusalem in summer 1918. Ignoring the sound of heavy artillery, she was soon providing many meals daily and, as at Kantara, refreshments were taken to hospital trains passing through. When she took over the next-door house of a wealthy German she created a 'home away from home', with curtains, tablecloths, comfortable chairs and a piano. She inspired great loyalty among her staff. After the Armistice she moved her canteen to the Anzac Mounted Division camped in the desert at Rafa; she found it 'heavy work', but also ran open-air picture shows. Two months later she was forced to leave at short notice when the Egyptians rebelled.

Slim, with large blue eyes, a lively expression and a quirkish sense of humour, Rania was beloved by the Australian desert troops, who presented her with a jade necklace; (Sir) Michael Bruxner, (Sir) Charles Bickerton Blackburn and (Sir) Henry Gullett became her friends for life. She was appointed M.B.E. in 1918 and O.B.E. in 1920.

In the troopship returning to Australia she met a physician, Lieutenant-Colonel Clive Vallack Single, D.S.O., of the 4th Light Horse Field Ambulance; they were married at Warroo on 21 June 1920. He became government medical officer at Moree, where two of their children were born. She was a founding member of the local branch of the Country Women's Association of New South Wales in 1922, and they both helped to establish a baby health centre in 1925. After visiting Europe together in 1927 Single practised in Macquarie Street, Sydney. Mrs Single was left with four children when he died at their Woollahra home in 1931. With her daughters attending Ascham, her friendship with the headmistress, Margaret Bailey, grew; she was a member of the first school council. She also served on the council of the Australian Mothercraft Society, worked for returned soldiers and in World War II entertained pilots on leave.

She inherited her father's love of horse-racing and entertained at the Queen's Club. She was an avid reader and, denied a university education herself, encouraged her children to acquire one. Survived by her son and three daughters, she died at Woollahra on 3 February 1961 and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • H. S. Gullett, The A.I.F. in Sinai and Palestine (Syd, 1923)
  • London Gazette, 12 Mar 1918, 1 June 1920
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 15 Aug 1931
  • Reveille (Sydney), 31 Aug 1931, 1 Mar 1961
  • Ascham Charivari, June 1961
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 July 1917, 5 Jan 1918, 4 Sept 1919, 3 Dec 1927, 6 Feb 1961
  • Bulletin, 11 Sept 1919
  • Moree Gwydir Examiner, 15 June 1922, 13 July 1931
  • private information.

Citation details

Gillian Fulloon, 'McPhillamy, Verania (1889–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcphillamy-verania-7441/text12955, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 28 September 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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