Supporting the war effort

Page 3 – Who were the volunteers?

Patriotic societies

More than a thousand patriotic societies were formed in New Zealand during the First World War. These groups established a variety of funds to send comforts to soldiers at the front, care for their dependants, and support civilians displaced by the war.

As the number of patriotic funds multiplied, concerns grew about their lack of uniformity, the allocation of responsibilities, and the disposal of funds. In 1915, the government tightened the administration and control of public donations. Under the War Funds Act, the collection and disposal of funds in each province was to be co-ordinated by a single patriotic society. The authorities also introduced a permit system for collections and fund-raising events, and in 1916 established a national advisory board to manage patriotic relief and eliminate the duplication of funds.

Many patriotic societies resisted these changes. They believed that the government wanted to use their funds for purposes such as the purchase of military equipment and the payment of soldiers’ wages that were the responsibility of the state. While they were reluctant to submit to central authority, some local patriotic groups did amalgamate in order to raise funds more effectively. These regional associations operated as businesses and developed administrative structures to control their finances. For example, by 1917, the Otago Patriotic and General Welfare Association in Dunedin had a finance committee, clergy committee, expeditionary force committee, employment and relief committee, country organisation committee, ladies’ committee and recruiting committee controlling their various funds.

Patriotic fundraising on this scale came at a cost to other New Zealand charities. Established organisations like the Wellington Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society and the New Zealand Society for the Protection of Women and Children and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found their client, worker, and donor bases disrupted by the war. Generic patriotic societies vied with more specialised ones and local relief groups with the internationally focused – including the Red Cross, which formed a New Zealand section during the war.

Some patriotic societies continued to operate after the end of the war, helping the Returned Soldiers’ Association with the repatriation and ongoing care of ex-soldiers. These groups voiced the grievances of veterans during the interwar period, especially when veterans’ pensions were cut because they received subsidies from patriotic funds.

Red Cross

Branches of the British Red Cross Society were amongst the many enthusiastic war relief and aid societies created in New Zealand following the outbreak of the First World War. From November 1915, an official New Zealand Branch of the British Red Cross co-ordinated the enthusiastic contributions of local volunteers. They raised funds for soldiers and civilians, produced bandages for Allied forces, and sent vast quantities of food and clothing to soldiers overseas. The New Zealand Red Cross also raised money to equip hospital ships and liaised with the families of missing and captured soldiers on the whereabouts and well-being of their loved ones.

Māori fundraising

While some Māori were reluctant to support the war effort, others engaged in active fundraising. Mīria Pōmare, the wife of Māori MP Māui Pōmare, launched the Maori Soldiers’ Fund with Lady Liverpool, the wife of the governor. This drew upon the resources of Māori women’s committees around the country to provide comforts to Māori soldiers overseas – Pōmare herself was said to have knitted socks for every single member of the Maori (Pioneer) Battalion. On the East Coast, Apirana Ngata established the Eastern Maori Patriotic Association in 1917. Within a year, it had raised over £24,000 (equivalent to about $2.8 million in 2020) for welfare and rehabilitation purposes.

‘I appeal to the women of New Zealand’

Lady Liverpool, the wife of New Zealand’s governor, inspired women and children throughout New Zealand to contribute to the war effort. The day after the outbreak of war in August 1914, she made this plea:

At this moment of our Empire’s needs I desire to appeal to the women of New Zealand to assist me in trying to provide any necessaries which may be required for … the citizen army…. My suggestion would be to start a fund in every centre under a small committee of ladies in the larger towns.

Hawera & Normanby Star, 7 August 1914

Women across the country took up her call. The next day, a ‘little band’ of Wellington women made 250 ‘housewives’ (darning kits), sewing into them ‘all sorts of hopes and fears’, according to the Evening Post. A few days later, more than 800 women attended a public meeting in Dunedin to form the Otago and Southland Women’s Patriotic Association.

Women made a huge contribution to New Zealand’s war effort through patriotic societies, taking the lead in supplying comforts to New Zealand soldiers and to civilians in war-torn Belgium and France. Lady Liverpool and Mīria Pōmare’s Maori Soldiers' Fund provided items to Māori men serving in Gallipoli, France and Belgium. Taranaki women formed the Eltham Belgian Sewing Guild to send clothing to women, children and the homeless in Belgium. The Dominion Stocking League sent old socks and stockings to a local hospital for sterilisation, then converted them into clothes for Belgian and British children. By the end of the war, New Zealand women had helped raise nearly £5 million (equivalent to more than $500 million).

Patriotic work had significant meaning for women. ‘When this awful war broke out we women all felt that we must do something,’ said Lavinia Kelsey of the Otago and Southland Women’s Patriotic Association. Women not in paid employment kept themselves busy by making clothes for Belgian children, knitting socks for New Zealand soldiers or raising money through garden parties and market stalls. Work like this also gave women anxious for news of loved ones serving overseas a sense of being close to their menfolk on the other side of the world.

Children and the war effort

New Zealand children also supported the war effort. They donated their savings and pocket money to overseas relief funds, helped ‘buy’ equipment for departing soldiers, and raised cash for wounded soldiers and children orphaned by the war.

Much of this patriotic work was organised and directed by schools and teachers. Schoolchildren collected eggs and bottles for sale, sang songs, performed plays and recited poems at patriotic events around the country. In 1918, Auckland and Wellington challenged each other to build a trail of pennies along the North Island main trunk line from one city to the other. The income from this contest went to the British Red Cross Society. Children in schools along the way were encouraged to bring a penny to place on the trail. Newspapers regularly reported on the progress of the competition, which Auckland eventually won.

Returns received by the Auckland committee during the week have enabled 41 miles to be covered, and the Auckland ‘trail’ now extends as far as Parooparao, 146 miles south of the city. The principal amounts received during the week were £5000 from Thames, £3500 from Paeroa, and £1170 from Waihi, all on account of carnivals in those centres.

New Zealand Herald, 22 July 1918

Children also wrote letters and sent care packages to ‘lonely’ soldiers, ex-pupils of their school and other local men serving overseas. Many received postcards in return, cementing bonds between the classroom and the front line.

How to cite this page

'Who were the volunteers?', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 1-May-2020