The War Effort of New Zealand
[War Relief and Patriotic Societies]
New Zealand's contribution in man power to the great war has given the Dominion a position of prominence in the list of free peoples of the world. But wonderful as was that achievement, it could not have been possible without the driving force of the splendid co-operation of all classes of the community. One phase of this co-operation was the voluntary provision of the large amount of money necessary to assure comforts and relief, keeping ahead all the time of the demand for more men and still more men. The spirit actuating all classes was not alone the desire to avoid defeat, but to assist in bringing about such a victory as would, for years to come, destroy the war-loving propensities of a nation that had for several decades never ceased to make preparations for plunging the civilised world into a horrifying cataclysm. In partnership, as it were, with the purely mundane activities necessary to carry to ultimate success the gigantic undertaking to which the people of New Zealand had committed themselves, was the truly spiritual force of patriotism that found its outlet in the moral support given to the fighting forces.
In the earliest stages of the war, when it was still hoped that there would be a minimum of bloodshed, it was recognised that to assure the personal comfort of the men of the expeditionary force, and to provide satisfactorily for their dependents, something was required to supplement the ordinary pay of the soldier. In every centre of the Dominion appeals were made to the public, and as a result, large sums were accumulated for the purpose of providing extra comforts, and were judiciously applied to that purpose. Committees were set up, trustees were appointed, and provision was made for administration. The results of the effort in the earlier stages of the war to establish patriotic war funds, were destined to assume proportions that might reasonably have page 177been thought, at the time, to be beyond the means of human possibility in a country the population of which did not exceed one and a quarter million. Every lawful means of raising money that ingenuity could devise, was called into play. Side by side with the mite of the poorest was placed the handsome but not more philanthropic donation of the wealthy. Giving for war purposes was generally regarded as a national duty, and to such a degree was the process of collection systematized, that it is safe now to assert that had twice the sum provided been required, the public of New Zealand would willingly have met the demand.
Towards the end of 1915 the huge aggregate amount of war funds called for legislative action in the matter of control. The number of societies collecting for the various funds totalled some hundreds, and there was little, if any, cohesion between the various districts as regards administration. In the main the money of each district was applied for the relief of men belonging to that district. Thus it was that soldiers from a district rich in man-power, but poor in money, were not as well treated in the matter of additional comforts and relief, as were those who came from centres where there was greater personal wealth and, consequently, larger accumulation of money.
Several conferences were held for the purpose of bringing about, if possible, more equitable distribution. To one of these Mr. C. P. Skerrett of Wellington, submitted a comprehensive and masterly scheme, having for its object the creation of an association to control and regulate the administration of the war relief funds equitably and uniformly over the Dominion without reference to the locality, so that no sailor, or soldier, or dependents, should be without relief.
Mr. Skerrett's scheme was not adopted, the point on which the conference could not agree being that under it the controlling body would have power, under certain circumstances, to compel a solvent society to contribute to one that was insolvent. The need for a common policy in the distribution of the funds was nowhere more manifest than in Wellington, owing to the proximity of the capital city to the two main camps.page 178 page 179
Demands were continually being made upon the resources of the Wellington War Relief Association for soldiers who came from other districts, and over and over again the Wellington Association felt compelled to handle cases the relief of which was clearly the responsibility of other societies, and necessitated requests for refunds from the districts responsible. Subsequently on the setting up of the Advisory Board of the Federation of the New Zealand War Relief Societies, greater cohesion between the various societies throughout the Dominion, in the matter of work and objects, was obtained.
During the Parliamentary Session of 1915 the Legislature passed the War Funds Act, described as "an Act to make provision for the administration and control of moneys raised wholly or in part, by private subscription, for the purpose of, or incidental to the war." The Act described a War Fund as: "Generally any fund that has or may be raised wholly or in part, by public subscription, for any purpose in connection with the present war, or any fund that the Minister may declare to be a war fund. Also any fund raised for the acquisition of a sports ground or a park, in commemoration of services rendered by His Majesty's forces in the present war."
No restrictions were placed upon the formation of societies or committees purposing to establish a war fund. Every society which, up to that time, and any that might be subsequently organised for the purposes, was compelled, however, to comply with the terms of the War Funds Act.
The Act prescribed that only the holder of a permit, issued by a person authorised under the Act, could undertake the collection of any moneys for patriotic purposes connected with the war. Any person who, not being the holder of a permit, directly or indirectly solicited subscriptions, rendered himself or herself liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding £20.
The provisions of the 1915 Act were not as widely known as was necessary to ensure the effectual carrying out of their intention, and the Patriotic Societies' Handbook was issued. This brochure set out in plain terms all that was required to comply with the law.page 180
The War Funds Act undoubtedly served a useful purpose. More effective control over irregular collection of money and goods was obtained, in that the law governing the issue of permits was made more stringent. But while unauthorised collections were constituted an offence there was no slackening of individual effort. There was for instance a large sum collected, in small donations, for the purpose of comforts such as cigarettes and tobacco. Without a system of proper control these sums, which were collected by all and sundry, might easily have been misapplied.
The law thus gave those who wished to subscribe in regular small amounts assurance that their contributions would be administered by a legally constituted fund. These remarks apply also in regard to entertainments organised for the augmentation of funds. No entertainment could be legally advertised as organised for patriotic purposes except by permit, and every committee or person organising an entertainment for such purposes was required to furnish a statement of receipts and expenditure within a given period.
Permits to collect or receive money or goods, or to raise money for a war fund were issued by the following:—Mayors of cities or boroughs, chairmen of county councils, town boards and road boards, superintendents or inspectors of police, the chairman or president of any society controlling a war fund incorporated under the Act, and such other persons as were authorised by the Minister of Internal Affairs. The incorporated trustees of a war fund were also similarly authorised.
The month of February 1916 was a momentous one for those interested in the administration of war funds. During this month the then Minister of Internal Affairs (the Hon. G. W. Russell) convened a conference of all patriotic societies. The conference was attended by delegates representing the various funds operating throughout the Dominion and the Minister officiated as chairman. In the course of a comprehensive address, he drew a clear line of demarcation as between the responsibility of the State and the patriotic societies, in regard to the soldier. "I cannot help thinking," he said, "that there is, at the present time, a want of full and complete organisation, page 181unity and uniformity in connection with patriotic effort. In some portions of the Dominion a high condition of excellence in the organisation and distribution of the patriotic funds has already been reached. In others this state of excellence has not, up to the present, obtained, whilst there are other portions of the Dominion where, on account of the sparsity of the population and the fact that wealth is not widely distributed, the possibility of supplementing the State pensions grant is limited."
Another point touched upon by the Minister in his address was the exploitation of funds by undeserving persons. The necessity for preventing this had already been proved by cases that had come before the law courts. A system of intercommunication was advocated between the different societies, so that there might be a monthly, or even a weekly distribution, to every patriotic society, of the names of persons receiving benefits. To accomplish this he (the Minister) advocated a control office in Wellington and one and only one administrative body in each district.
The outcome of a lengthy discussion was the decision to set up the Federation of the New Zealand War Relief Societies. The objects for which the Federation was set up were:—To establish a common basis of responsibility in respect of each society as applied to those entitled to relief; to adopt means to prevent the improper exploitation of funds; to take into consideration all matters affecting the administration of funds raised for the benefit of soldiers and their dependents; to adjudicate upon such matters conducive to the well-being of federated societies.
The conference agreed to define the respective responsibilities of the Government and the patriotic societies as follows:—"That all expenditure necessary to enable the soldier to carry out his duties, to maintain him at the highest point of efficiency, to fully provide for all his needs in the event of his sickness and disablement and to fully restore him, as nearly as possible, to his ordinary position in civil life, is the responsibility of the Government; that the duty of providing in an adequate manner for the dependents of a soldier while on service, or in the event of his death or page 182disablement, is also a responsibility of the Government; that the duty of the patriotic societies is to supplement the provision made by the Government—(1) by supplying any additional assistance needed by soldiers or their dependents; (2) by helping in any manner which will facilitate the complete recovery and restoration to their former station in civil life all sick and wounded soldiers; and (3) by assisting all genuine cases of need arising from the death or disablement of a soldier having dependents."
The War Funds Act of 1915 made provision for the establishment of a National War Funds Council, to consist of the Minister for the time being administering the Act, and such other persons (being not less than three in number), as the Governor-General may, by Order-in-Council, appoint; and having for its object the administration and control of a war fund when requested in writing to take over such administration and control by not less than three-fifths of the trustees of such War Fund and to assist (when requested by the trustees) in the administration or investment of any War Fund not transferred to the Council.
The Federation of the New Zealand Patriotic Societies proved a success. The functions of the advisory board were mainly to give advice, but with no powers of enforcement. Under the board's administration, however, greater uniformity was obtained throughout the Dominion in the granting of relief, and the different societies generally abided by its decisions.
The war relief and patriotic societies undoubtedly rendered services, the value of which it is impossible to estimate. Many men and women in all parts of the Dominion gave a great portion of their time to the work. Being in close touch with the soldiers and their dependents, the committees found that they were often giving relief in instances when it should have been granted by the Government as of right. In a large majority of such cases the Government agreed with the representations made, and the benefits suggested were accepted as a charge upon the State.
It would be difficult to enumerate all the suggestions made by the war relief and patriotic societies for the benefit of page 183soldiers which the Government approved, but a few might be mentioned to indicate their value. The payment of soldiers' rents, rates and insurance, was originally suggested by the war relief and patriotic societies, and in compliance with their recommendations the Financial Assistance Board was formed. The excellent service which that Board rendered is well known.
It was the same body which made representations regarding the necessity of an increase in the pay of the forces, and particularly in respect to wives' and children's allowances. These suggestions were eventually adopted by the Government. From time to time representations have been made to the Government in respect to pensions, and in many cases the suggestions have been complied with.
The societies have very frequently been requested to act as advisers and trustees of the soldiers and their dependents, and they have also become guardians of many of the children. In some cases allowances are paid direct to the war relief societies for disbursement on behalf of widows and children. On many occasions the organisation was the means of keeping intact the property of the soldier at the front.
The present experience of societies in the chief centres is that the war relief societies will have to remain in existence for some years; and, as a matter of fact, to-day* they are performing infinitely more work than they did during the war.
Brief as is this reference to the patriotic effort of the citizens of New Zealand it would fail as a record of historical fact did it not include the excellent services rendered in Britain by the New Zealand War Contingent Association, the Executive of which was presided over by Lord Plunket, a former Governor of the Dominion, and in which the High Commissioner, Chairman of the Association, (Sir Thomas Mackenzie) took a genuinely active and beneficent interest.