The Dug-Out or, officially, the Allied Services Club, was a facility operated by the Australian Comforts Fund during World War II. Previously the location of the Ambassador Cafe and the Cozens Cafe, in the basement of Melbourne’s Capitol House building, the club was a gift to the fund from the Myer family, owners of the Myer Emporium department store. The Argus announced the opening, in May 1942, with the following article:
Brightness, cheerfulness, and the desire to make servicemen on leave feel at home are characteristics of the Dug Out, the new Allied Services Club at Capital House, Swanston st, which will be officially opened tomorrow. There will be no touch of charity about the club; the men will be made to feel that they are entitled to everything by being able to pay for it. The club will carry no profit, and prices will be nominal.
There will be 2 strict rules, Mr Norman Myer, who, on behalf of the Myer Emporium, has made the gift to the Australian Comforts Fund, said yesterday at a special Press inspection of the club. All servicemen must be on leave when they go to the club, and no liquor will be permitted. Servicemen will not be allowed to bring their own partners.
The club will cater for men of every Allied nationality, and special menus have been arranged. NEI Army officials have sent their best chef to teach the chefs at the Myer Emporium the correct way of making special Dutch dishes. There will be 3 types of service – cafeteria, buffet and fountain service. Dishes will be plain, but well cooked, and generously served.
The large white walled dining-room, with Allied flags hung at intervals, is furnished with blue tables with buff tops, and red and blue chairs. The cafeteria counter is at one end of it, while at the other are the buffet and fountain counters.
The high-backed, blue benches which are placed around the walls of the dancing floor, are attractively covered with red, white and blue striped material, emphasising the colour scheme of the club. Dancing will be held every night.
The Dug Out will open each day at 9.30am, and will close at 11pm. On Sundays it will open at 11, and on Sunday night, instead of dancing, there will be variety entertainment. One of the features will be a hospitality quiz, in which the prizes will be a weekend in a private home, car drives, or a night’s entertainment. About 18,000 people will be called on to voluntarily staff the club, with about 150 of them on duty each day.
As the article mentions, the club was staffed by volunteers, many of whom were Myer employees working in their own time. In addition to food and entertainment, the club provided a range of services designed to assist servicemen. These included haircuts, showers, chiropody, shoeshines, mending, and reading and writing materials. There were lockers for personal possessions and a room for reading or writing letters. There was also a free telephone service.
The club catered to both Australian and overseas servicemen and women. American troops, commanded by General Douglas MacArthur, were stationed in Melbourne during 1942 and again in 1943 so special efforts were made to cater for American tastes. Menu items included apple pie, American club sandwiches, waffles, hot dogs and “Boston beans on toast”. Ice cream and ice cream sundaes were a feature at the soda fountain. In addition to regular coffee, there was “American coffee”. It failed to hit the mark, according to at least one patron. The City of Melbourne holds a copy of the postcard depicted above, with the reverse inscribed:
Melbourne, Australia, July 19, (Sun) 1942. I was here and enjoyed their kind hospitality food with good beef the people are swell coffee simply stinks.
On the first Sunday after opening, according to the Portland Guardian, the club provided 15,250 meals, 20,000 drinks, 11,000 ice creams, 500 glasses of milk, and thousands of showers and baths, while 750 uniforms were cleaned and pressed. By 1944, it had served more than two million meals.
World War II officially ended on 2 September 1945 and the Dug-Out closed its doors on 21 December of that year.