Supporting the war effort

Page 2 – Overview: 1914-1919

The sacrifices of the men at the front, and the plight of those living in the war zones, drove many New Zealanders to donate money, goods and time to help the war effort. By 1920, New Zealand patriotic societies had raised nearly £5.7 million in cash (equivalent to around $500 million in 2014) and despatched over £550,000 (nearly $50 million) worth of goods to men serving overseas.

Early fundraising

In the early months of the war, New Zealanders donated a wide variety of items – including horses, saddlery, guns, and even motor cars – to the government to support the war effort.

Fundraising committees quickly sprang up in towns, villages and suburbs across the dominion, encouraging people to open their wallets for the empire. They collected money for a variety of causes: supporting Belgium or other war-torn Allied countries, caring for wounded men, soldiers from particular localities, sailors, Māori troops, and so on. Women and schoolchildren knitted and baked furiously to provide men at the front with a few basic home comforts.

Towns and cities around the country ran sports events, ‘art union’ lotteries and fundraising concerts. In March 1915, Wellington’s Victoria League hosted an evening of entertainment based on the story of Alice in Wonderland, with proceeds going to the Belgian Food Fund. In Christchurch, a man ‘auctioned’ a minute’s ownership of his racehorse to raise money for Lord Liverpool’s Hospital Ship Fund, while the Otago and Southland Women’s Patriotic Association ran a Crumb Card, with proceeds going to help ‘Belgium’s starving children’. One penny bought a card or crumb; two crumbs made a morsel, two morsels a slice, and two slices a loaf.

Patriotic societies

Patriotic societies did whatever they could to induce donations. They held sports events, art unions and concerts, with the income channelled towards a specific cause. They sold food and handicrafts at street stalls, and organised massive carnivals, with stalls, sideshows, raffles, food, dancing and singing. City folk often had a wide choice of events and activities on which to spend their patriotic pounds. One of the most popular ways of raising money for the war effort were Queen Carnivals – local fairs at which women competed to raise the most money for a war-related cause, with the winner crowned ‘queen’.

The societies also worked hard to entertain the men before they left New Zealand. They hosted concerts, picnics, talks and other events in the training camps, and kept the camp libraries well stocked. Soldiers on weekend leave in Wellington could get a meal at a patriotic society canteen and stay the night in a patriotic society hostel. The societies complemented the efforts of the churches and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) to keep the entertainment wholesome.

Soldier aid

The Gallipoli campaign brought home the realisation that the war would be long, difficult and expensive. Fundraising efforts began to focus more on the needs of New Zealand troops than on those of civilian refugees caught in the crossfire. In October 1915, the government decided to license patriotic societies, to avoid duplication of effort and prevent exploitation of the patriotic spirit for selfish ends. In some areas, local groups amalgamated into regional bodies to raise funds more effectively; from early 1916 they reported to a national advisory board. Business-like efficiency and professionalism began to replace the uncoordinated zeal and enthusiasm of 1914-15.

From the beginning, patriotic societies supported soldiers’ families as well as the soldiers themselves. In some cases, they supplemented government allowances for soldiers’ wives, widows and elderly parents. They also identified worthy cases in the community which they thought the government should assist. Some committee members served on the boards of trustees which managed soldiers’ businesses in their absence. As injured soldiers returned home in large numbers from 1915 onwards, patriotic societies helped them reintegrate into society and employment.

Red Cross

After 1915, the New Zealand Branch of the British Red Cross played a particularly important role in gathering comfort goods to send to the troops. Various Red Cross groups in New Zealand united under a single banner in late 1915 and began sending care packages to a central distribution depot in England. This enabled the organisation to keep the New Zealand hospitals in Britain and France well supplied with comforts and conveniences. The New Zealand War Contingent Association, a London-based organisation that sponsored New Zealand soldiers’ clubs and other respectable forms of entertainment, complemented the Red Cross’s work.

Women's war

In many respects, patriotic work was the women’s war. Though rarely involved at the organisational level, women provided the bulk of the patriotic societies’ membership. They cooked and sewed for the soldiers overseas, ran the fundraising stalls, and took charge of packaging and posting to Britain. Children also helped, collecting eggs and bottles for sale and taking part in penny copper trails. 

How to cite this page

'Overview: 1914-1919', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 19-Dec-2014