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Before Sunset: The Bank and World War I

‘Before Sunset’ is a new exhibition concerning the role of the Bank during the critical years of World War I (1914–1918). Soon after the Commonwealth Bank of Australia opened in 1912, it was required to develop quickly its capacity as the nation's central bank, as the Australian government called on it to manage the raising of funds for the war effort, and to develop its role as a national institution.

Detail from James Northfield (Australia, 1887–1973), His Future is in Your hands! Buy Peace Bonds, colour lithograph, circa 1918 14/2310. James Northfield Heritage Art Trust ©

The Bank employed inventive ways of promoting the sale of War Loan Bonds, and its results surpassed the government's financial goals. The exhibition showcases original documents, photographs, posters and ephemera that dramatically depict the Bank's involvement with the war effort.

Many of the Bank's employees enlisted in the armed forces, and wrote from the battlefield to the Bank's Governor, Sir Denison Miller. One of Miller's correspondents was Ernest Hilmer Smith, previously Superintendent of the Commonwealth Bank's Hobart branch. His remarkable letters, describing first-hand experience from the frontline at Gallipoli and in France, had remained undisturbed on his personnel file until they were rediscovered during research for the war's centenary. Visitors to the exhibition will have the opportunity to view selected letters for the first time since they were received by Denison Miller.

Videos

Film excerpts from the National Film and Sound Archive, and Film Australia have been edited especially for the exhibition to portray these themes with vivid film footage of the period.

At 11am on 11th November 1918, the armistice came into effect, marking the end of hostilities on the Western Front. With the arrival of peace, the Bank was required to raise funds to assist the re-settlement of ex-servicemen. The sale of Peace Loan Bonds proved to be as successful as the Bank's previous promotions, and assisted in the construction of war service homes and the training of ex-servicemen for employment.


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