A lasting legacy

Tilly Thompson

Described as a woman with “boundless and terrifying energy”, Matilda ‘Tilly’ Thompson was the driving force behind the Lucas Girls and building Ballarat’s Avenue of Honour and Arch of Victory.

Thompson was a senior manager at the textile company E. Lucas & Co in Ballarat during the First World War. She began her charity work on the home front by bringing together more than 500 women in the company to raise much needed funds. They became known as the Lucas Girls.

In their spare time, the girls made everything from underwear to parachutes for Australian servicemen and women. They raised money to support a worker on the front lines and sold souvenirs for the Red Cross and the Australian Comforts Fund. But, their lasting legacy would be building one of the largest tributes in Australia for the people from Ballarat who had enlisted during the First World War.

Ballarat’s Avenue of Honour spans more than 22 kilometres and consists of 3,771 trees. In 1917, locals helped to plant 1000 trees. Two years later, in 1919, the community returned to plant more. At the entrance to the avenue stands the Arch of Victory – a 16.5 metre tall memorial commemorating the Allied victory of the First World War. Both the Avenue of Honour and the Arch of Victory were officially opened on 2 June 1920 by Prince Edward, Prince of Wales.

Avenue of Honour arch, Ballarat, supplied by Victorian Collections

In 1933, Thompson created the Sunways, which provided refuge for any ex-serviceman who was “down on his luck”. For her efforts supporting the community, Thompson was awarded the gold medal of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia in 1939 and appointed M.B.E. in 1941.

Today, the Avenue of Honour stands as a reminder of a community that achieved great things during hard times. It is a symbol of remembrance for those who served in the First World War and represents a powerful act of love and devotion on the home front.

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