Voices from the home front

This hook explores aspects of life experienced by people at home during the war.

Stratford school pupils presenting a patriotic display, by James McAllister.(external link)

Stratford school pupils presenting a patriotic display, by James McAllister, ca 1914 – 1918. Alexander Turnbull Library. 1/1-012483-G.

“Collecting bottles for the war effort”, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage).(external link)

“Collecting bottles for the war effort”, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 19-Dec-2014. Wharekahika Native School was on the East Coast of the North Island, above Gisborne, not the East Coast of Auckland as indicated in the caption here.

Context

These images show experiences of children during the First World War. The first image shows a patriotic tableau by students of Stratford School. The boys are forming “a defensive line to protect Britannia and the girls from an imagined enemy”. (School Patriotic Display bit.ly/1x9q3Do(external link)). The second image shows a group of boys from the Wharekahika Native School with the results of their bottle drive. A shortage of glass bottles occurred during the First World War, and collecting bottles and then selling them became a popular way to fund-raise for the war effort.

The experiences of men, women, and children who remained in New Zealand while others joined the war overseas can be found in images and writing of the period. In secondary school, boys were expected to train in the school cadet force. Many considered it “obvious that every boy at a secondary school will have to serve later on in the Territorial Forces, and …[it is] therefore extremely desirable to create a real military keenness and knowledge in secondary schools”. (Major Temperley, General Staff, quoted in Report of the Board of Governors, Wanganui Collegiate School, AJHR, 1914, E-6, page 32).

Supporting the war effort was considered very important by many people who were unable to fight. Patriotic societies fund-raised, sewed, cooked, and knitted for troops overseas or helped support the families of those away. Many women took on more prominent roles on farms to cover labour shortages caused by family members serving overseas.

I have done a little knitting for the soldiers, and must get some more wool. My first sock was not very elegant, but my third was lovely. I can keep even now. It’s such fun knitting one’s first sock. “Do you think its long enough mum?” “Is that heel alright?” “How do you taper off a toe?” until I’m sure mother must have been tired of her daughter’s industry. Guy, Westport (1.9.15) Dear Dot, I must tell you : a personal history of young New Zealanders, by Keith Scott. Activity Press, 2011. p 149

In 1886, the Otago Witness newspaper started a “Dear Dot” section for children, which gave them a voice and a way to discuss current issues, similar to social networking sites today. The newspaper section stated that “this little corner is for the children expressly – their stories, their poetry, their letters, and Dot will never find any matter that interests the children too trivial to attend to …” Otago Witness, 1886. (Stuff online article on “Dear Dot” bit.ly/1GzqAab(external link))

Possible discussion questions

  • Why do you think the tableau at Stratford School was created and photographed? What was the purpose of this image? How might creating this photo have made the students feel?
  • Why do you think the boys’ bottle drive was photographed? What was the purpose of this image? How might collecting these bottles have made the students feel?
  • What effect did the First World War have on education in New Zealand? What are the similarities and differences to education today?
  • What might be some challenges faced by children during the First World War?
  • What did the war mean for those left in New Zealand? How would being separated by the war have affected family and community members?
  • What were the roles and experiences of women during the First World War? What is the war’s influence on women today?
  • What were the roles and experiences of young people during the First World War, and how has the war influenced their role now?
  • What happened to those who chose not, or were unable, to fight? What would happen today?
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