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Balaclava Corps Hall (former)

17 Camden Street, Balaclava

The Balaclava Corps of the Salvation Army began in 1889. A hall (citadel) was built in Camden Street, Balaclava in 1892. The land was bought on 17 June that year for £298 and the building cost £603. Only a small number of nineteenth century churches were built by the Salvation Army in Melbourne. This one is a simple, gabled building with a symmetrical facade and a central entrance. Two memorial stones were laid on 16 November 1892, one by Peter Cousin and the other by Staff Captain Saunders, which are now painted over. The Primary Hall was opened on 27 April 1929 by Colonel Burton. Large crowds were present and in the evening the Hawthorn Band and Songsters gave a ‘splendid’ program.[1]

Balaclava Corps held annual harvest festivals, which lasted more than a week with several services on Sundays, open air meetings, Home League rallies and musical programs. Some of the latter were held outdoors with members in uniform, and hundreds of people gathered to listen and watch. There were also annual fairs and the self-denial drives. It was noted in 1931 that it was ‘very hard this year’ to raise funds as the impact of the economic depression began to take hold. The following year the result was halved but this was attributed to the opening of the Elsternwick Corps. From October 1950, it was ‘worked from Balaclava’.

A ‘Drunks’ Raid’ was held on 25 June 1932 with the assistance of the Staff Band but the ‘History Book’ records: ‘An enthusiastic effort but not enough of drunks’. The first mention of Christmas carolling was in 1937. It was described as a ‘splendid success’. By 1964 they were entertaining people with a cornet and accordion player backed by records, the performance being ‘appreciated by the public’.

In 1935 a house at 52 Blessington Street, St Kilda, was left to the corps by a Mr Lyons. It was used as officers quarters. The hall was remodelled and renovated in 1939 and re-opened by Councillor Maroney from St Kilda City Council.

In 1938 the Young People work was handicapped by the polio epidemic. The program closed for three months but the workers kept in touch with the children by visiting their homes on Sunday afternoons to hear their lessons.

Celebrating the Jubilee with Adjutant Oakley

When Balaclava Corps celebrated its jubilee in 1939 the Corps Officer was Adjutant Oakley. The War Cry carried photographs of various groups, including the Corps Band, the Young People’s Singing Company, the Sunbeam Brigade, the Home League, the Corps Cadet Brigade and the Timbrel Brigade.

In February 1951 permission was granted for the first time in St Kilda for Salvation Army bands to hold an afternoon program on the beach. The Springvale and Hawthorn bands were well received.

Numbers gradually declined because of the ageing membership. On Christmas morning 1964 fourteen people were present and this was described as ‘well attended’. In December 1974 twenty-one adults and nine children attended the Christmas Corps Tea. The Balaclava Corps of the Salvation Army held its final meeting on 4 January 1976 with sixty people in attendance. It was conducted by Colonel H. Preston and Colonel Allen Sharp spoke about earlier days. He had been sworn in at the corps when his parents were stationed there. A corps flag was given to Sister Lois Mangalsinghe for use by the corps in Sri Lanka. Colonel Preston closed the door of the hall for the last time as a citadel. Ethel Clark, a former soldier, fondly recalled her association with the corps from 1918-32. She wrote of:

Pa Florey & his flute, Tom Burt & Eric Langley with their lovely solos & Annie Dewar singing Sunday afternoons “His eye is on the sparrow”.
Dear old white headed Mrs Woodford, I thought she was a saint.
Bro. Green on the drum who always prayed with his eyes open.
Faithful consistent Charlie Brown.
Blind Tom Wells ...
The Corps Officers — what an impact they made on our young lives ...
Kneedrill, three open airs, three meetings and Sunday School on a Sunday, & something else on every night in the week. We were kept busy but we loved it.
The open airs were held after very long distances from the Hall & we marched back from them (no cars in those days).[2]

The building was sold to the local Ukrainian Orthodox parish but the Salvation Army maintains a crisis centre at 29-31 Grey Street, which does significant work, including helping victims of domestic violence, conducting a needle-exchange program and providing crisis accommodation, and a Bridge Program at 12 Chapel Street, which assists those seeking drug withdrawal. It also conducts weekly services in the former Free Presbyterian Church at 12B Chapel Street, St Kilda.

[1]     This account is based on the ‘Balaclava History Book’ and Balaclava Corps file, both at the Salvation Army Territorial Archives & Museum, Melbourne.

[2]     Ethel Clark (née Craig), letter describing her childhood, 1918-32.