World War I History - 1916
RSA Choir Matinee Concert – Sunday 7 August 2016
Huia Ockwell

1916 on the Home Front: By early 1916 newly built Featherston Army Camp could accommodate 10,000 men in excellent conditions. Its post office became the busiest in New Zealand outside of the four main centres.

The Board of Trade was established to tackle rapidly rising food prices.

A 160,000 signature petition to Parliament demanded hotels close at six o'clock to assist with wartime efficiency.

Conscription under the Military Service Act became law on the 1st of August and the first ballot was held in November.

Wartime profiteering, conscription and what many on the left of politics saw as the fading of a 'fair go for all', offered stimulus to the formation of the Labour Party.

1916 on the Battle Front:

The Great War entered its third year with Britain, France and Germany certain that it would be won, or lost, on the Western Front in France and Belgium. While the Allies were formulating their plans for a combined attack on the Somme, Germany struck first.

On the 21st of February 1916 the French Forts at Verdun were attacked with an artillery bombardment that could be heard 160 kms away. The battle is recognised as one of the most terrible in history. By the end of the year, the adversaries were very nearly in the same position as they had been, 10 months earlier.

In late May the British were urged to bring the Somme offensive forward to take pressure off the decimated French Army. Laura Voight, who attends Otago Girls' High School, is the only Dunedin pupil selected to travel to France next month, to attend the 100th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of the Somme. We are delighted that Laura will be joining us, to speak at our November Concert.

By mid-May the New Zealand Division had been sent to (ahmontyear) Armentieres; a quiet sector; to gain experience of conditions on the Western Front. Throughout the summer they made 11 raids onto German trench lines. It was on one such night-time raid that the 4th Otago Company were ambushed by artillery and machine-gun fire and virtually wiped out. The Germans had been alerted by the desertion of a Wellington Battalion soldier a few days earlier. Many of you will have seen the numerous 'In Memoriam For The Empire’s Cause' entries in the Otago Daily Times three weeks ago, the very time when the Otago and Southland Regimental Colour was being paraded in Paris.

The first Otago Mounted Rifles Squadron was the only one of the four provincial mounted units to accompany the Division to the Western Front. They spent much of 1916 in stop-gap infantry roles and their nights repairing, draining and digging trenches. In their eyes, this was not what they had been trained for. Through 1916 the Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury Mounted Units that had remained in Egypt were to play a vital role in banishing Turkish forces from the Sinai Peninsula.

In April 1913 HMS New Zealand; a £3 million battle-cruiser which we gifted to Britain's Royal Navy; steamed around our country. Dunedin sightseers were ferried out to the heads as she was too large for the harbour. Her survival at Jutland on the 31st of May 1916; the only critical sea battle in the Great War; was ascribed to the gifted Maori piupiu worn by her captain during the momentous 170 vessel engagement. Britain's surface fleet confirmed her mastery of the seas.

HMS New Zealand was scrapped in 1922 and we finally paid off the loan we had raised for her construction, in 1944.