World War I history – December 1915 – Mid 1916
Dunedin RSA Choir - ANZAC Review – 2016
An Historic Reflection by Huia Ockwell

Following evacuation from Gallipoli, the ANZAC survivors returned to Egypt in late December 1915.

The Otago Mounted Rifles were reunited with their beloved horses. The Otago Infantry was called on to provide a nucleus of battle hardened officers and NCOs to join with reinforcements in forming a new 2nd Provincial Battalion. The 7th and 8th Reinforcements also enabled the creation of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. The Gallipoli Veterans dubbed the Riflemen 'The Fair Dinkums', a sarcastic reference to their snappy drill and smart uniforms.

On 1 March 1916 the New Zealand Division now came into existence. As a key component of the II ANZAC Corps, it left Egypt in early April to join the British Expeditionary Force in the Flanders sector of the Western Front.

What of the scene in New Zealand:

Newspapers were the only mass media of a century ago. Putting aside the war news and casualty lists the papers provide an absorbing insight into key areas of interest and concern.

Recruitment rallies and the relentless pressure on single men especially those aged 21 to 35 to volunteer. By the 1915-1916 Summer, the clamour for compulsory conscription was becoming obvious.

Photographs in the Otago Witness of the numerous reinforcements; marching through the Octagon, being farewelled in the Garrison Hall, leaving Dunedin Railway Station, embarking, and so on.

The sterling work of the Otago Women's Patriotic Association. A letter of thanks from the departing 8th Otago Infantry Reinforcements in early 1916, mentions 20 extras that the ladies had gifted to each soldier, ranging from a humble cake of Lifebouy soap, to a splendid leather waistcoat.

The return of the sick and wounded. The Trans-Tasman turbine steamers Maheno and Marama, being fitted out as Hospital Ships by the skilled shipwrights at Port Chalmers.

Outstanding numbers of women nurses voluntarily joined Red Cross or the newly formed New Zealand Army Nursing Service. Jean Dodd was among the first 50 Army Nurses to sail from New Zealand. Jean was prominently featured recently in the Otago Daily Times. Born in Merton, trained in Dunedin, she spent four years overseas and was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal. On her return to New Zealand in 1919 she became Matron of the Woodside Facial Hospital.

Reports; often found to be misguided; of the increasing use of the label ‘shirker’ aimed against those who appeared fit enough to ‘join the colours’.

The care and rehabilitation of returned men. Country homes for invalids, motorcar outings, civic lunches and entertainment.

From February 1915 Britain was to purchase our entire production of meat, dairy products, wool and skins.

By the time of the Gallipoli evacuation, the government had set maximum prices in New Zealand for essential food items, rents and mortgage rates. Despite abundant goodwill, some merchants and farmers were seen to be exploiting the national crisis.

The plethora of patriotic fundraising from all sectors of New Zealand society reached new heights nationwide with a series of provincial and regional ‘Queen Carnivals’ running through the winter of 1915.

Ruth Smith, standing as the Country Queen, was one of the 12 Queens representing various groups throughout Otago. She raised £127,000 - almost the equivalent of today's $18,000,000. This staggering total gained her first place nationwide and she was crowned ‘Queen of the Carnival’ before a gathering of 6,000 people who filled the newly built Kensington Army Drill Hall in Dunedin. Public interest was so great that a repeat function was held the following evening. Runner-up nationwide was Wellington's Queen of Commerce who raised £80,000.

Women responding to the inevitable shortages of labour, confounding the sceptics and being enticed from one employer to another!

It may not be great verse, but as Nina Macdonald observed:

      Every body's doing

      Something for the war,

      Girls are doing things

      They’ve never done before

      Go as tram conductors,

      Drive a car or van,

      All the world is topsy-turvy

      Since the war began.