1919 peace celebrations

Page 2 – Planning gets under way

Armistice Day and peace celebrations

On 12 November 1918, communities throughout New Zealand celebrated the news that an armistice had been signed between the Allies and Germany the previous day. The celebrations were enthusiastic and heartfelt, but they were also spontaneous and inevitably somewhat rambling affairs. Premature reports of an armistice several days earlier raised doubts about whether the 11 November armistice was official, and in some areas celebrations were marred by the 1918 influenza pandemic.

The armistice did not mark the official end of the war; the terms of peace had not yet been agreed. Almost immediately, communities throughout New Zealand and the Empire began to plan elaborate peace celebrations that would mark the official end of the war in a manner befitting the sacrifices that had been made.

Initial proposals

In early December 1918 the Minister of Internal Affairs, George Russell, wrote to local bodies to tell them that the government was granting them ‘full liberty’ to make their own arrangements for peace celebrations. The government had wanted to centralise the celebrations so they would be impressive. But a worsening coal shortage meant it was not practicable for large numbers of people to travel to the main centres.

Russell’s letter advised local bodies that they would be sent details of the government’s proposals for peace celebrations ‘in due course’. A number of communities immediately began making their own plans. By the end of December Auckland, for example, had formed a committee and notified local businesses that they expected the celebrations to take place over three days.

Auckland’s idea of three days of celebrations may have come from Australia. The New Zealand government had not yet provided any details of its proposals. There had been discussion in the British press of the form the celebrations might take there, but the British government had not issued any information either. The Australian federal government’s plans for three days of celebrations – a day of thanksgiving, a day of rejoicing and a children's day – were widely reported in New Zealand after they were announced in mid-December.

Wellington’s initial plans for peace celebrations, discussed in January 1919, also bore a strong resemblance to Australia’s, including the format of each of the three days. So too did the New Zealand government’s proposals when these were announced the following month.

The government’s plans

In February 1919 the New Zealand government announced its plans for peace celebrations. Their format was strikingly similar to Australia’s. The celebrations would take place over three days – the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday after peace was proclaimed – with the last two days declared public holidays. Sunday would be a day of thanksgiving with appropriate services held in churches and chapels in the morning, followed by outdoor interdenominational services in the afternoon. Monday would be the soldiers’ day, with processions in the morning and activities such as military reviews and athletic events in the afternoon. Tuesday would be the children's day, when children would assemble in local parks and be entertained by activities such as singing and dancing.

The government also announced that a generous subsidy would be available to help local bodies* meet the costs of the celebrations. Local bodies spending up to £100 (from their own funds or via public subscription) were eligible for a pound for pound subsidy. Those committing larger amounts were eligible for a subsidy of 17s 6d for each £ for amounts between £100 and £250, 13s per £ for £250 to £500, 12s 6d for £500 to £750, and 10s above £750.

*For the purposes of the subsidy a local body was defined as a borough council, county council, road board, town board, harbour board, river board, drainage board, education board, agricultural and pastoral society, friendly society or any society incorporated under the Incorporated Societies Act 1908.

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How to cite this page

'Planning gets under way', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/1919-peace-celebrations/plans, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 30-Apr-2020