World War One at home: In ephemeraJanuary 29th, 2015
It was war time. In Europe and the Middle East, at Gallipoli, Palestine, the Gulf of Aden and the Western Front, military forces from far and near fought on an unprecedented scale, gaining or losing ground, inch by painful inch. Far from home, New Zealanders were in the first stages of recognising their identity as a nation.
The Ephemera Collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library contains many printed mementos of life for the armed forces during this war: programmes of divisional theatre performances staged to entertain the troops, leave passes for men spending down-time in France, Christmas cards sent home by soldiers stationed ‘somewhere in France’ or at a military hospital or Sling Camp, or menus from the troopships.
A world away from the appalling conflict, yet vitally affected by it, New Zealanders at home dealt with the business of living from day to day. A search through newspapers of the time shows large sections reporting on the events of the war overseas. But many column inches are devoted to other themes: theatrical and cinematic amusements, horse racing, even bowling; as well as more serious realities of the economy, labour conditions and local politics. New Zealanders at home needed an even greater than normal application and resolve, a resolve to keep New Zealand in good shape, to keep businesses operating and spirits raised. Some businesses provided basics such as food, farming and gardening supplies, while other advertisers could still do business by appealing to an ineradicable longing for the old life of peace and comfort, in promoting electric cars, or top shelf clothing for women.
It takes little effort to uncover the major preoccupation. In our own day, we recognise how instinctive it can be to join with our community in support of fellows in need. The rationale behind many entertainment events was the need to raise war funds. A hundred years ago the synopsis of an advertised film could conclude with its relevance to the contemporary world’s condition; a college rugby match could be devoted to the memory of fallen ex-pupils; a flutter at the races could be a cause for anxious or judgemental national concern. Entrepreneurial and commercial activities could be limited by lack of supplies and the expense of transportation. Religious beliefs could be severely challenged and permanently changed.
Economic constraints meant that little could be spent on expensive printing work, and the objects shown here are on the whole humble in appearance, and all the more eloquent for that reason. The war features in the foreground of some items, but not all, as people tried to make the best of life under war’s constraints, and continue as normally as possible. We treasure these surviving ephemera from one hundred years ago, for what they tell of the life and times of New Zealanders at home in wartime.
When war was declared, most believed New Zealand’s security depended on Britain’s victory, and that that would come soon. From this position of confidence, New Zealanders responded generously to the sorry plight of Belgian children. A number of carnivals and tableaux were held throughout the country in response to the Belgian situation, from August 1914 to April 1915
Belgian Relief Fund programme, 1914. Ref: Eph-A-DANCE-1914-03.
The tableaux listed in this programme booklet for an Auckland event included those depicting ‘The Allies’, with women representing England (Miss M. Miller), France (Miss Woodham), Russia (Miss Lewis), Servia [Serbia] (Miss E. Miller), Japan (Miss Hipkins), and Belgium (Miss Mona Mackay). The dance pupils are all listed with the items they performed. Advertising throughout the booklet shows how Auckland businesses sponsored the event and the war funds. The fashion for tableaux as a means of conveying an idea seems to have been popular in the early twentieth century preceding the war years: a group of actors in costume would take up position in a scene to encapsulate a whole situation or idea, or epitomise the salient message of a Shakespearian play. They would hold this pose for several minutes. Photographs in the New Zealand Free Lance show examples of effective tableaux of ‘War’ and of ‘Peace’. (1)
For sports spectators, there remained sufficient manpower at home for the possibility of a rugby match and boxing tournament, although many All Blacks had enlisted for war service, and by the end of the war, 13 past All Blacks had been killed. This programme was for one of several events held in Wellington in the first week of May 1915, only a few days after the Gallipoli landing, although the public did not hear reports of the events at Gallipoli until several weeks later.
Help New Zealand wounded soldiers. Grand Football Carnival, 1915. Ref: Eph-B-RUGBY-1915-01.
The carnival included a costume procession from Lambton station to Athletic Park, where a ‘burlesque’ rugby match was to take place between the New Zealand Natives Association and the Rugby Union & Boxing Association. Burlesque matches involved teams in fancy dress. (2) Then followed a representative rugby match between Wellington and Trentham Camp (team members of both teams are named). On 3 May there were competitions and displays, including a ‘ju-jitsu’ display, bayonet fighting display and a blindfold boxing contest. Such events had proved very popular on previous occasions.
Yet another way of escaping the preoccupations of war, but still with occasional heart-stopping touches of danger, the circus always drew good crowds. The only indication that there was a war on, was the addition of the three words ‘plus war tax’ after the ticket price in newspaper advertising.
Barton Bros' New Colossal Circus, 1916. Ref: Eph-E-CABOT-Circus-Barton-1916-02.
The happy, reassuringly patriotic red, white and blue design of this poster reinforces the simple pleasure that this popular circus brought wherever it went. In early 1916, Te Puke accommodated the circus’ Saturday visit to their town by holding their usual Saturday picture show on a Thursday instead (9 March 1916). An appreciative reviewer in Thames enthused about Barton Circus’ fifth visit to his town: ‘it is a welcome visitor; if for no other reason, than because of the merriment and wonders it has in store for the youngsters, and the memories it recalls to older heads. Here is the genuine circus, the circus of clowns, horses, and acrobats, of fair spangled ladies, jockeys, gymnasts’. (3) Audiences were awed by Ethel Ashton (‘the world’s most Extraordinary Aerial Artist’) and by the equestrian acrobatics of Katie and Ernie Shand. They were startled by Gracie Bell’s sword-swallowing and wire walking antics, and acknowledged Roy Barton as ‘champion bareback rider of the age’.
Material in the Ephemera Collection documents the way in which circus performers from other countries, in particular from South Africa, and from Europe via the Far East, made their way to Australia and New Zealand, bringing their exotic allure with them. What dreams it brought of an unreal life in lights!
Amusements and entertainment could help divert the mind from present worries, and unite the audience in an hour or two of escape. In addition they united them as a cohesive, collaborative patriotic force, as many entertainment events were held as fundraisers for war funds. Initially it seems to have been a voluntary gesture on behalf of event organisers to pledge part of the takings to war relief, but by later in the war the price of a ticket included a war tax.
A typically humble piece of ephemera, this programme booklet uses the same image and text from week to week on its cover. Inside it lists films to be seen at the Empire Theatre, where the Empire Supreme Orchestra played live music, conducted by Signor Silvio Truda, a Napier music teacher. The main feature film was the grand classical epic Cabiria, set in the ‘rude Carthaginian world’, about the collapse of a civilisation under the tyranny of the deity Moloch. Cabiria was shown in cinemas throughout the country in 1916 and 1917. Audiences found the film very pertinent to their own situation. For example the Ashburton Guardian commented that the movie ‘tells the story of the first great race war of history—the only race struggle till the present war broke out two years ago’. (4) Patrons could see children sacrificed in the gaping pit of Moloch, the hosts of crossing the Alps, the eruption of Mt. Etna, the slave markets of Carthage, the burning of the Roman fleet, the siege of Cirta, and the Temple of Moloch. (5) The programme tells us that even in going to the movies, there was no escape from the trials of the present day. ‘Change the scene, replace the writings of Plautus with those of Treitschke, the babes of Belgium as the victims of the modern Moloch, and this gigantic struggle of the 3rd century BC is reflected bestially in the 20th century AD’.
Haywards Pictures Napier, 1916. Ref: Eph-A-CINEMA-1916-01-front.
The booklet was printed by G W Venables, a firm known to have been operating from 1904 to 1935, first in Cambridge, but by 1916 in Napier, where the firm printed the New Zealand Observer. Many newspaper printers had a sideline in printing ephemera for vital additional income.
Entertainments featuring Māori traditional performers were frequent, organisers probably recognising such rousing group performances as a ready-made way of attracting an audience for patriotic fundraising. This next show however, was a little different.
Grand Opera House Wellington, 1915. Ref: Eph-B-OPERA-1915-01.
The Maori Opera Company, some 30 performers, toured the production in the Waikato and Auckland before reaching Wellington, where they appeared for six nights. The first night's takings and half the net profits of the tour went to the Wounded Soldiers' Fund, the remainder going to the Maori mission church at Ōhinemutu.
Auckland reviews reflected ‘a certain amount of diffidence’ in its reception there. Although the production was on a more ambitious scale that many previous shows put on by the Maori Mission’s company, its director, the Rev. F. A. Bennett humbly disavowed any claim that the company and its work could ‘withstand the close examination of ordinary criticism … one object of the tour is to demonstrate the artistic ability of the Maori people, with the idea that the talent of its more gifted young people may be more fully developed in the future’. (6) The composer, Percy Flynn, strayed from operatic tradition by using a Māori musical idiom and songs, poi dances and haka in this interpretation of the well-known love story. This was a wise decision; the haka and poi dances were the most popular aspect, receiving encore after encore, until the performers were on the point of exhaustion. Fifteen-year-old Tirita Butt played Hinemoa and Tiawhi Rogers was Tūtānekai, but two performers in supporting roles received the most positive reviews: Mere Amohau as Tupa, the sister of Tūtānekai, and Toby Mahima as Tiki. The latter ‘gave abundant proof of possession of genuine historic talent, and the ability to turn it to good account as a Maori comedian’. (7) Mere Amohau later performed in Marama in 1921, described as an actress of ability with a rich mezzo-soprano voice.
This silk programme is one of 40 or more scattered throughout the Ephemera Collection, and it is the only one in the collection dating from the First World War. Many, like this one, are left with fringed rather than finished borders.
The war had a range of effects on religious faith and church attendance. Whilst the enormity of the war had shaken the world, its influence on the religious loyalty of the individual depended on how he accepted his own denomination’s view of it.
Important to all; "The two roads, and the two destinies." 1917. Ref: Eph-A-RELIGION-C-1917-01.
On the whole, the main denominations of the Church had strongly backed the war as a fight for right, and asserted that God was on the side of the British Empire. Soldiers were told they were following the path of Christian duty by volunteering; those who died were honoured for making the ‘supreme sacrifice’. Other denominations such as Quakers, Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, generally opposed the war. In fact, the war had caused many to re-examine their religious ideas and evangelistic organisations would have taken this opportunity for increasing proselytising. Many ministers and evangelist urged self-examination and penitence, seeing the war as a result of man’s sin. (8)
Apart from some notable exceptions, such as an official Assembly Evangelist position in the Presbyterian Church, the attitude of the mainstream churches at this time was firmly against evangelism, condemning ‘hysterical emotionalism’ as ‘methods of colluding crowds and opening to immortal souls the gates of the Kingdom of God’, practised by those ‘who drag the sacredness of the worship of praise into the slum of vulgar, vaudeville emotionalism’. (9) In 1920 Dr William Edwin Orchard, a renowned English ecumenist, noted that in general the quality of travelling evangelists had deteriorated over time, to the extent that they were characterised by ‘a harsh and repellent personality’. (10) We do not know for sure what Mr Binskin’s style was, but the graphic gives some indication of the tone his message. John Binskin had been a storekeeper in the Waimate area, and seems to have become an evangelist preacher in the Canterbury and Nelson areas in the early 1900s, continuing to be described as such in electoral rolls up to the late 1920s. Using a perpetual calendar, we can date this poster to either 1906 or 1917.
The war was still grinding on in 1917, and despite some criticism, horse race meetings continued.
Avondale Jockey Club: Autumn meeting, 1917. Ref: Eph-A-HORSE-RACING-1917-01.
The papers tell us that the weather was showery for this race meeting, featuring eight races. The first race ended in a dead heat, no doubt an occurrence more common then than now, with our more advanced technology to determine winners. The Auckland Star that evening devoted a good paragraph to reporting the progress of each race, thus reflecting the great interest of readers who had risked money on betting.
The programme lists the eight races and the horses involved, and spells out the regulations concerning the war tax of 2.5 per cent added to the amount spent on betting through the totalisator. There was some opposition to this tax, one argument being that horse racing led to the betterment of breeding stock for military purposes and should therefore not be taxed. (11) Again, others thought that because the government wanted the income from this taxation, it would inappropriately encourage the gambling mentality. (12)
Some wanted the evils of horseracing and gambling to be suspended entirely during the war period, as they were ‘a direct insult to brave men’ and suggested that if newspapers stopped printing programmes and race results, there would be much less interest. (13) ‘Advocate the stopping of race trains! Why should the frequenters of the race course be provided with privileges denied to our soldiers?’. (14) By mid-1917, the Efficiency Board was recommending that ‘horse racing is unessential; that no railway facilities be given for horses or people’ travelling to race meetings, and that racing should take place only on public holidays. (15)
There could be no such negative feeling about country sporting events where small communities could celebrate a proud tradition.
New Zealand Axemen's Association: Fifteenth annual grand championship carnival, 1915. Ref: Eph-A-SPORT-Warner-1915-01.
Eltham had held the first ever World Axemen's Carnival in 1901, and the carnival was held until 1915, attracting American and Australian competitors. (16)
This programme for a rural community sporting event makes no mention of the war, and even looks back to an earlier age of design in its typeface and decorative elements. As well as axemen’s events, there were to be cycling and Māori events included a ‘Ropu Poi’, ‘Ropu Haka’ and a ‘Purei Waruwaru Riwai’ (Peeling Potato Competition). The Māori events are announced in both English and te reo Māori. However, we know from a newspaper report of the event that the advertised Māori events did not actually take place.
The Hawera & Normanby Star reported on good weather for this occasion. Attendance was good, and although the number of contestants was down on previous carnivals, the events were ‘keenly contested’. (17) Such sporting meetings continued to receive good support during the war, sometimes having record attendances as many responded to the call to support them in the spirit of patriotism. (18) Because many athletes had gone to the war, other items such as dancing and piping were often introduced. In 1916, the annual meeting of the New Zealand Athletic and Cycling Union decided that no championship meeting should be held till the termination of the war and that the Axemen’s Association and the Pipers' and Dancers' Association be permitted to affiliate. (19)
Work was hard to come by in the cities, but the enlistment of young rural men for the war made for a great labour shortage, to such as extent that by 1917 skilled farm workers were exempted from the draft. In December 1916 the Wairarapa Daily Times included a long list of rural positions needing filling: station cooks, rabbiters, cowmen, shepherds, ploughmen, scrub cutters, quarrymen, milkers and station hands. (20) Filling these positions with city dwellers was not ideal because of their lack of skill at such tasks.
Horticultural businesses did keep going throughout the war, though they produced less ambitious sales catalogues. No other item featured in this essay reflects the cruel bite of war upon a family business as clearly as this sales catalogue issued by an Ōtāhuhu horticultural nursery. The stoic introductory comments encapsulate the bravery and resignation of a father who must go on despite loss.
W E Lippiatt's supplementary list, 1917. Ref: Eph-A-HORTICULTURE-1917-01-front.
He says: "We are still able to offer an attractive list of novelties, notwithstanding War conditions and a great shortage of staff, six hands having gone to the Front, including the foreman and my three sons, the eldest of whom has laid down his life for his country".
William Edward Lippiatt’s son Walter died at the Somme on 9 November 1916. We know that later in 1917 a second son Claude was to die at Messines. George was the only one of the three serving brothers to return home.
In other parts of the country, there were changes in the way rural land was being used. Meat and wool production flourished, and new ideas for land use were emerging. In August 1915 it was reported that Bay of Island MP W. Stewart supported the proposal to open up gumfields for the cultivation of fruit. (21) Another established rural activity, later adopted by returned servicemen, was bee-keeping.
Alliance Box Company Ltd: Wax extractors and presses, 1914. Ref: Eph-A-BEE-SUPPLIES-1914-01.
Against the background of a Roman civil war, the poet Virgil had composed his Georgics in 29 BC. Book Four, perhaps familiar to New Zealand pupils of Latin, deals with the life and habits of bees, and how to restore bee colonies. For Virgil the account is one of death and regeneration, but in the New Zealand context beekeeping appears a peaceful rustic occupation, far from the madness of war. Before the First World War, beekeeping was a moderately well-developed industry with the Apiaries Act of 1908 introduced to regulate the industry and prevent the spread of disease in hives. When soldiers returned from the First World War, some trained as beekeepers, and the number of hives increased to nearly 100,000 by the end of the 1920s. (22)
All the necessary equipment for the serious beekeeper was listed and illustrated in this sales catalogue, including the apparatus on this double-page spread of wax extractors and presses: solar wax extractors, the uncapping can from Dadant & Sons (an American company still in the same business today), the Root-German wax-press and uncapping-can, the Swiss wax extractor, the Hatch press, and the hot bed and cold frame. Wax presses were said to be the best way to extract honey from combs, superior to alternatives such as centrifugal force or agitators. Solar-powered melters softened the wax for uncapping with a hand-held uncapping knife.
Back in town, consumers could buy an increasing variety of locally grown and processed foods, and this industry sector flourished during the war. In March 1915, the British government had requisitioned all of New Zealand’s frozen meat, so that production was encouraged and producers profited.
The Gear Meat Preserving & Freezing Company of New Zealand Limited, 1918. Ref: Eph-A-MEAT-1918-01.
Primary producers of all food and goods needed in the war experienced something of an economic boom in the war years. Mr Meredith Atkinson, touring New Zealand to inaugurate the Workers' Educational Association spoke in Wellington in February 1915 stating that ‘New Zealand and Australia are capable of supplying the three primary commodities, meat, wheat and wool, which even bankrupt nations must buy either with money they have or with money they borrow. These three things people will continue to buy while they have anything at all, so that you will have this grain of comfort, that, in your case, the slump will be delayed for two or three years’. (23) The understanding that the meat industry was very prosperous owing to the war was used in the Arbitration Court to award a war bonus the Ngahauranga and Petone Slaughtermen's Industrial Union, it being ‘reasonable that the workers in the industry shall participate to some extent in the prevailing prosperity’. (24)
In 1917 Prime Minister William Massey expressed the opinion that produce prices would remain high after the war, following a prediction from a British politician Lord Harcourt, that ‘the world scarcity of meat would almost equal a world famine’. In reporting this, the New Zealand Herald urged that New Zealand should:
so develop its agriculture that the best and most economic use is made of our territory. Some of the greatest and most promising districts in the Dominion remain practically closed against settlement, partly by lack of transit facilities and partly by the Maori land taboo… should we not also denounce everything which interferes with production? The East Coast, the North of Auckland, the West Coast of the North Island, the pumice country and other districts only need energetic administration to increase largely the world's supply of meat and to strengthen the prosperity of the Dominion’. (25)
The front cover of this price list shows a coloured illustration of a can of cooked corned mutton. The inside spread lists prices for beef, mutton, tongues, fancy goods, potted pastes, and extract of meat. It emphasises the quality control, veterinary inspection and immaculate cleanliness exercised during the processing of the meat, ‘from paddock to package, from clover to can’. It states that ‘the daily average consumption of water at the Gear Works approximates to 2,000,000 gallons, obtained from artesian wells’.
Meatworks required an enormous amount of pure water for hygienic operation. However, unlike the Wellington Meat Export Company which caused controversy by pumping artesian water from the Hutt Valley to its factory at Ngauranga, the Gear Meat Company in Petone itself seems to have met with no opposition from Hutt residents for its large-scale use of artesian water.
Beer and soft drink manufacture was well established in New Zealand, with 102 breweries already in 1891, and 164 soft drink factories nationwide by 1918.
Drink success to the Allies in the best local – Kaka Ale, 1914-1918. Ref: Eph-A-ALCOHOL-1914/1918-01.
This is an attractive example of the way that advertisers responded to the war in a relevant patriotic way. The brand name ‘Kaka’ is distinctively of New Zealand, and was advertised between 1914 and 1922. Judging by its cheerful style, this advertisement likely comes from the earlier part of the war. As time went on attitudes towards drinking became more polarised, with some believing those at home should not indulge in such luxuries. The prohibitionist lobby succeeded in introducing six o’clock closing in 1917. Despite this, and despite the practice of ‘dry’ areas, there was little reduction in alcohol consumption.
W. Strachan & Company established the Victoria Brewery in Dunedin in 1857, and by 1890 it was one of the longest-running breweries in New Zealand. The company continued under its own name until the early 1920s; by 1925, Wises directory lists it as part of New Zealand Breweries.
Not everyone could afford them, but for those consumers in relatively prosperous circumstances, there were quality imported goods available from higher-end department stores and retailers.
Laidlaw Leeds, wholesale merchants, 1916. Ref: Eph-B-RETAIL-1916-01.
Despite the war and its effect on prices and supplies of goods imported from England, Laidlaw Leeds, wholesale merchants and warehousemen in Auckland, produced a 500-page illustrated catalogue of merchandise in 1916. This featured a few colour plates, such as this one on p. 210, showing a range of English crockery. The listings of available items notably reflect the extent of goods still needed for the use and care of horses in rural life, with 25 pages of saddles, bridles, cruppers, reins, horse collars and harnesses. The price of both imports and New Zealand-made products had risen sharply as the catalogue explains, because of the doubling of freight charges from Europe, the heavy cost of insurance and the scarcity of some materials required for war purposes - or even sourced from enemy countries. For example, blue fabric dye was made in Germany. And materials made in New Zealand, such as wiring, iron goods, wool and leather goods were in great demand for sending overseas for the war effort, rather than being used at home.
The catalogue is arranged in sections, including grocery, patent medicines, ironmongery, sheep shearing machines and farm machinery, roofing iron and pipes, tableware, wallpaper and linoleums, cameras, guns, bicycles, telephones, gramophones, violins, watches and clocks, windmills, clothing, sewing machines, furniture, and toys (including Meccano).
Kirkcaldie & Stains catered for the same prosperous consumers, their 1915-16 Fashion notes showing a dazzling array of clothing available at the high end of the market, with the latest styles from London and Paris. (26)
Although Kirkcaldie’s employed its own seamstresses, it is unclear if the clothing illustrated here was made in New Zealand or in Britain. We do know that the expert milliners in the millinery department could ‘reproduce any of the Paris and London productions illustrated’. What is remarkable about the blouses shown here is that they are all named after important military locations or battle sites in Europe: Ypres, Liége, Antwerp, Louvain and Namur. This is an example of astute advertisers appealing to the patriotic sentiments of their market. A warning appears in red at the lower edge of every page, that prices may be affected by war conditions.
Kirkcaldie & Stains Ltd: Fashion notes; catalogue 1915-16. Ref: EPHDL-0276-08.
Catering likewise to a select market, Magnus Sanderson & Company advertised an electrically-powered car for a short time in 1917; the shortage of petrol during the war made these cars particularly popular.
The Detroit Electric, an ideal lady's car, 1917. Ref: Eph-A-DRAMA-1917-01-09.
This advertisement appeared in the pages of a theatre programme for School for scandal performed at the Grand Opera House in December 1917. It seems to reflect the fact that women were becoming more independent, with a need for more mobility to carry out war work. The Anderson Electric Car Company in Detroit built 13,000 of these cars between 1907 and 1939. They ran on batteries that needed recharging about every 80 miles and could achieve a top speed of 20 miles per hour. Because no physically demanding cranking was required to start them, they were favoured by ladies and by doctors who had to make a quick start. However during the 1920s, when the internal combustion engine improved, the popularity of the electric car dropped off, and the stockmarket crash in 1929 left the company unable to produce many cars. (27)
These examples reflect aspects of the way New Zealanders at home weathered the reality of war, its impact upon family, business and religious life; and shows the way New Zealand was seen in the world. Still to come were the impacts of the influenza epidemic, the rehabilitation of severely affected soldiers, a deep but brief economic depression due to import price rises, and the increasing awareness through mass media of the country’s perceived status and character. Printed ephemera from the period contributed much to the unofficial record, showing the grass-roots reaction to the events of the wider world.
This article originally appeared in the Turnbull Library Record volume 46, 2014.
8. See articles by Allan Davidson and Peter Lineham in New Zealand’s Great War, edited by John Crawford and Ian McGibbon (2007), pp 447-492 ^
16. The 1911 carnival was filmed and excerpts can be seen online. Today, one might blanch at the seemingly close proximity of the spectators to the swinging axe. ^
26. In 2013, Kirkcaldie & Stains donated a high resolution digital copy of this catalogue to the Library ^
27. The brand was revived in 2008 and as of late 2013, the Detroit Electric SP.01 two-seat all-electric roadster was about to be built and launched on the market. See ‘Detroit Electric’, accessed 27 January 2014 ^