Schools and the First World War

Page 3 – Displaying patriotism

As the war dragged on into 1917 there were calls for increased public displays of patriotism. Newly returned soldiers and parents wrote to local newspapers demanding that children be taught to sing patriotic songs and demonstrate their loyalty through flag ceremonies. The National Efficiency Board recommended that schools require all children to salute the flag when they entered the grounds.

In many schools children already gathered around the flagpole to remember the fallen, mark significant battles and salute or cheer the flag. This sense of loyalty was reinforced by singing the Flag Song.

Spies in the classroom?

The outbreak of the war brought suspicion of all things German. In 1915 the government passed the Alien Enemy Teachers Act, which prohibited the employment of teachers who were not British subjects and had at any time been citizens of a state with which the Empire was at war. Teachers around New Zealand were reported to the authorities by concerned parents or colleagues, while others were dismissed or forced to resign because of community pressure.

In late 1917 district education boards ordered that children salute the New Zealand flag at the start of each school day. Some teaching staff preferred the less militaristic ‘cheering of the flag’. This distinction was not always understood and teachers who challenged the order found themselves accused of ‘seditious’ or ‘traitorous behaviour’. A number of high-profile cases gripped newspaper readers during 1918. 

Saluting the flag was common practice in New Zealand schools by the end of the war and in 1921 doing so once a week was made compulsory in public schools.

The Hawera & Normanby Star of 18 October 1918 reported on a ‘curious matter’ involving Hugh Goldsbury, a Quaker who was teaching at Umumuri School. Goldsbury was willing to cheer the flag but if forced to salute it would resign his position. The Wanganui Education Board initially accepted his resignation but rescinded this decision at a later meeting.

Earlier in 1918 Henry Mayo of Auckland Technical School had been convicted and fined £25 for describing the British flag as ‘a dirty rag not worth fighting for’. The Auckland Education Board still deemed him a ‘fit and proper person to be teaching young Britons’. Mayo had previously ‘acted in a patriotic way’ and the Board accepted his defence that on the day in question he was ‘not feeling well’.

How to cite this page

'Displaying patriotism', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 29-May-2023