Schools and the First World War

Page 7 – Teachers who served

Whether as school cadet officers or supporters of saluting the flag, teachers did much to set the moral tone of New Zealand schools before and during the war. Many hundreds were also aware of the need for men to enlist.

Practising what they preach: teachers go to war

In 1919 the Education Department published a list of the Education Department employees from around the country who had joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) during the war. Just over 1000 teachers enlisted for service in the NZEF and nearly 200 were killed in action or died from wounds while on service.

An early fatality

Henry Marr, a schoolteacher from the small West Coast settlement of Seddonville was part of the initial landing force at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. He was first listed as ‘missing’, but in June his service record was altered to read, ‘killed in action no particulars, Dardanelles, 25 April 1915’.

The jobs of many of those who went off to war were held open for them. Some who were left physically or mentally scarred from their service didn’t return to their posts after the war.

The board of governors at Wellington College topped up the military pay of teachers who enlisted to the level of their teaching salary. They were also given a grant of £50 per year, and those commissioned before going overseas received a further £20 for equipment. One member of the teaching staff, P.A. Ongley, was killed in action at Bapaume, France, in August 1918. Six other members of staff were wounded, and two masters, Mawson and Williams, were awarded the Military Cross.

A shortage of trained teachers

With just over half of the country’s 2300 public schools being sole-teacher institutions, the enlistment of the local teacher could have serious implications for the local community. At the beginning of 1917 the Evening Post reported that over 500 teachers had enlisted and that the shortage of fully qualified teachers was ‘being increasingly felt’. Model lessons had been prepared and distributed to assist the increasingly inexperienced teaching workforce. District education boards made hundreds of special appointments, mostly of single women, to replace those enlisting. Boards also discouraged applications by older teachers to retire.

In early 1918 it was suggested that teachers should be exempted from serving or that those who were serving should be brought home to fill positions. When G.J. Goldsman, the Second Assistant Master at Masterton District High School, applied for a leave of absence so he could join up his application was denied. The Wellington Education Board, unable to find a replacement for him, successfully appealed to the Defence Department for his release from service.

Legacy of the war for schools

Schools that were in existence before the First World War often have an honour board acknowledging the teachers and ex-pupils who made the ultimate sacrifice. Many schools also have memorial gates, arches, stained-glass windows, plaques or trees. These show the impact of the war on school communities and serve as an important connection for successive generations of students with their school’s past. The names of many awards and prizes honour ex-students and staff who served in the First World War.

Many of the children who began primary school during the First World War were fed a diet of epic School Journal stories and would themselves see service in the Second World War.

How to cite this page

'Teachers who served', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 1-Sep-2014