Supporting the war effort

Page 4 – What were the causes?

War relief and aid societies directed their efforts at a wide variety of causes. At the beginning of the war, their first priority was equipping departing soldiers with additional ‘comforts’ for their kits. News of the plight of ‘brave little Belgium’ and other occupied countries soon prompted other appeals, and the needs of soldiers’ families also became apparent.


New Zealanders supported a myriad of patriotic funds during the war, including ‘self-denial’, Serbian relief, blind sailors, hospital ships, pipe and tobacco, refugees’ food, and wounded animals. One of the most popular was the Belgian Relief Fund, which attracted around £805,000 (equivalent to about $100 million in 2014) in donations during the war.

New Zealanders quickly rallied to send aid to 'poor little Belgium'. Some sent clothing, bedding and food to help Belgians displaced by the German invasion. Newspapers reported children selflessly giving up their pocket money to contribute to the Belgian Relief Fund. Women formed societies all over the country at the beginning of the war in response to Lady Liverpool’s calls to band together to support the war effort. Businesses and their employees sometimes pledged money weekly. In March 1915, Herbert Seaton’s Cut Rate Stores paid their sixth weekly instalment into the Wellington Belgian Relief Fund. A month later, tobacconist Henry Partridge donated 80 Gottfried Lindauer paintings to the citizens of Auckland after they raised £10,000 (over $1.4 million) for the Auckland fund. This collection is now held in the Auckland Art Gallery.

New Zealanders sympathised with Belgium’s plight for several reasons. They viewed Belgians as ‘gallant’ and ‘brave’ for slowing Germany’s march through Belgium into France. New Zealanders saw the Belgian people as having given their all so that others might enjoy liberty. Letters to the editor encouraging fellow New Zealanders to donate to the Belgian Relief Fund often expressed the sentiment, ‘Who knows where we would be if it weren’t for brave little Belgium?’

Newspaper reports that the people of Belgium were experiencing ‘untold miseries’ at the hands of the German invaders elicited horror in New Zealanders. Journalists tugged at heartstrings: the ‘Huns’ had looted all the Belgians’ most valuable possessions, requisitioned all their food and crops to feed the German army – and forced eligible women to attend balls as the partners of German soldiers.

The plight of the ‘poor little Belgian orphans’ was often evoked. For example, two days after Christmas in 1917, the Timaru Herald reported that ‘in the provinces of Belgium now held by the enemy there are several thousands of little orphan children who must be succoured at once, as they are dying of hunger and disease, and … during the winter the plight of these little ones will be terrible indeed.”

By early 1915, New Zealanders had sent over £37,000 ($5.4 million) to London for Belgium – a contribution that the Belgian ambassador to the UK, Count Charles de Lalaing, acknowledged was ‘so deeply appreciated by my suffering countrymen, and will ever be remembered by them’. To recognise the importance of this charitable work, the Belgian government created the Medaille de la Reine Elisabeth (Queen Elisabeth Medal) to honour women who had provided outstanding service in aid of the Belgian people. Thirty-three New Zealand residents are known to have received this medal.

Comforts for the troops

Many women and children helped the war effort by providing ‘comforts’ for soldiers at the front. They formed working bees to knit or stitch items of clothing that soldiers needed in their kitbags: two pairs each of socks and underpants; two each of woollen shirts and undershirts, towels and cholera belts; one handkerchief, chest protector, pair of braces, holdall, balaclava cap, service bag for rations and ‘housewife’. Other groups supplied hospitals in New Zealand with clothing for returned soldiers.

From 1915, the New Zealand branch of the British Red Cross collected, packed and sent overseas a vast quantity of comforts for soldiers, including socks, gloves, tinned fruit and cocoa. In 1916, women’s patriotic committees established the Dominion Parcels Scheme, which sent 24,000 parcels to soldiers overseas each month for the rest of the war. Some women’s groups met daily to fill parcels with tobacco, tinned food and handmade woollens such as socks.

Military funds

Lord Liverpool, the governor of New Zealand, got involved in patriotic fundraising during the Gallipoli campaign. As casualties mounted on the peninsula, he kick-started a public appeal to equip the hospital ships Maheno and Marama with medical equipment and comforts for patients. Together with the British Red Cross, the St John Ambulance Association, and the mayors of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, Lord Liverpool appealed to the New Zealand public for money or goods such as bedding, bandages, shoes, slippers, clothing, and comforts such as deckchairs. By August 1915 the Hospital Ship Fund had raised £47,000 ($6.6 million).

How to cite this page

'What were the causes?', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 18-Jul-2017