The Women's War

Thousands of people across Canterbury donated money, goods and time to support the war effort.

Leaflet calling for the women of Christchurch to do their share and knit socks and other garments for the men at the front

Courtesy of Barry O'Sullivan

Patriotic societies formed to co‑ordinate fundraising for soldiers and their families and relief projects were organised to assist civilians living in the war zones.

By 1920, almost £5.7 million ($520 million today) had been raised and another £550,000 in goods ($50 million today) had been sent to soldiers overseas.

Women contributed enormously to the support efforts by running fundraising activities, assembling care packages and knitting socks and other items for soldiers.

WW074 180801

Queen Carnival Programme, 1916

Canterbury Museum Lib 19353

Miss Mabel Rutherford, Queen of the Hills

The Weekly Press, 16 May 1916

Mabel Rutherford

Queen of the Hills

In 1916, the Canterbury Patriotic Society ran a Queen Carnival contest to raise £100,000 (almost $14 million today) for the relief of soldiers and their dependants. Nine queens were nominated representing various Canterbury societies and districts.

For 3 pence each, the public could cast their vote for their favourite queen and the queen who raised the most money won.

Miss Mabel Rutherford, Contestant 6 representing the Queen of the Hills, was the winner. Her votes brought in £27,140 (almost $4 million today), 27% of the total amount raised.

WW081 180801

Surgical instruments used in the Battle of Trafalgar, 1805

Canterbury Museum EC116.4

Fundraising for the Front

In early 1916, the Freemasons established the Masonic War Fund with the goal of collecting £10,000 ($1.4 million today) to help wounded soldiers and the families of men killed in action.

Dr Redman of Picton offered the Freemasons a set of nineteenth-century surgical instruments that had been used in 1805 during the Battle of Trafalgar. The Grand Lodge auctioned off the set through the Art Union, raising £558 ($77,000 today).

Auctioned items typically went to the highest bidder but Dr Redman stipulated that the instruments had to be donated to Canterbury Museum.

017664 G2

People attending the Patriotic Bazaar and Red Cross shop in Cathedral Square, Christchurch, in 1915

The Press (Newspaper) Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library 1/1-017664-G

Red Cross comfort bags sent to soldiers often contained tobacco, handkerchiefs, chocolate and other food items. In 1918, about 500,000 care parcels were sent.

Courtesy of Barry O’Sullivan

WW093 180801

Red Cross Comforts

The New Zealand Branch of the British Red Cross was formed in 1915. During the War, the organisation assembled care packages for soldiers and sent them to a central distribution centre in England.

The first Red Cross shop was established in Christchurch in June 1915, selling second-hand goods as well as baking and even live chickens. Within a year, the shop had raised over £4,450 ($600,000 today) for the Sick and Wounded Fund. Additional funds were raised through dances, concerts and other social events.

A poster by Dutch cartoonist Louis Raemaekers of a starving Belgian mother and child appeared on the front page of the Christchurch Weekly Press on 17 May 1916. The caption read, “Around the child is clasped the mother’s hand—a hand which spells starvation”. A colour copy of this poster was displayed outside the newspaper’s office.


Black Swans for Belgium

The German Empire invaded the neutral country of Belgium in August 1914 and occupied it for the remainder of the War. Word of atrocities to Belgian citizens and stories of famine spread.

The international community responded with assistance. New Zealanders rallied to the cause and came up with novel ways of helping. In Canterbury, swan and hare hunting drives were organised. One drive held on Lake Ellesmere bagged nearly 500 birds which were frozen and sent to Belgium. In a gesture of thanks, a single feather decorated with the Belgian arms was sent back to Canterbury.

WW071 180801

Tītī (muttonbird or sooty shearwater) collected from Stewart Island

Canterbury Museum AV3874

Tītī for the Troops

Mīria Pōmare, wife of Māori Member of Parliament Māui Pōmare, established the Māori Soldiers Fund with assistance from Lady Liverpool. Māori communities up and down New Zealand mobilised and Mrs Murewai Mutu took charge of South Island fundraising.

In 1916, Canterbury committees formed headed by Mrs C Flutey at Tuahiwi, Mrs Taiaroa at Taumutu and Mrs Torepa at Arowhenua. These Māori Soldiers Fund branches organised dances, performances of poi and haka and other events to raise money. By the end of 1917, South Island branches had gathered over £259 ($33,000 today) as well as 8,000 tītī (muttonbirds) to send to Māori soldiers at the front and in hospital.