The War Effort of New Zealand
Chapter XIII. — Education in The New Zealand Expeditionary Force
Education in The New Zealand Expeditionary Force
There is in the possession of the Defence Department a valuable historical report upon the educational work of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force which is in itself a volume. A chapter such as I have been invited to write must necessarily, therefore, be but a brief and imperfect survey of the very extensive activities in this preparatory branch of repatriation. At the same time that report will be retained as one of the Department's valuable war documents, providing, as it does, the data of a branch of the Service which must be called into existence in all future wars.
I think it is now recognised that in war civil education must be a co-ordinated part of all remedial hospital and convalescent work, and in the preparation also of men for their re-establishment in peace occupations. War has ceased to be waged only between armies of professional soldiers and mercenaries. War calls to the ranks the youth of the nation, the brightest, the keenest, the bravest and the most vigorous of our young men, who have had but brief touch with civil life, and whose careers are just opening. In engaging in war in future the nation must recognise the responsibilities owing to its fighters, and provide the educational facilities in the many ways in which experience has shown it can be done.
The rapid rehabilitation and re-absorption of the soldiers of New Zealand in civil life has been one of the most remarkable and satisfactory features of the war so far as the Dominion's experiences are concerned. The educational system of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, specialising as it did in the compulsory branches of civics and economics, was designed primarily to prepare the men mentally and occupationally for this repatriation. May it not be claimed, therefore, that though the process may have been unobserved, the work carried out in England, France and Egypt contributed very materially to the present extremely satisfactory page 221state of affairs. The term "education" applied to a fighting army may have caused a pedagogic smile or two, but sceptical minds must remember that the Dominion's finest and most scholarly intellects, and many of its commercial and mechanical experts were among our fighting ranks, and that it was these men who became at various stages educational instructors. Several of them were university professors and lecturers. Of the conscientious work and enthusiasm of all, I cannot speak too highly, while at the same time paying tribute to the men of the Division for the splendid spirit in which they availed themselves of the opportunities afforded them, opportunities which in some respects were forced upon their well-earned leisure hours. Neither must the very helpful co-operation of the higher commands in the Division be forgotten.
The inauguration of the education system of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force was, I suppose, the outcome of a close consideration of problems which arose in the middle period of the war. These problems may be stated as follows:—(1) the utilisation of the spare time of convalescents; (2) the "re-education" of men who could no longer follow their previous vocations; (3) how to interest and employ nearly 60,000 men during the period of demobilisation. In regard to problem number three, it was estimated that the process of demobilisation would take at least eighteen months, a calculation which proved correct, the actual period being from November 1918 to April 1920. It was not to be expected that when war ceased men would quietly submit to the continuation of full-day drills and manoeuvres for which there was no further use. An education scheme on lines which would meet with the approval of the majority of the men themselves recommended itself as the best solution of the problem. In March 1917 the New Zealand Young Men's Christian Association gave the idea a practical trial in certain of our hospitals; it was also put into effect among the limbless cases at Oatlands Park, Walton. The results were encouraging, and suggested to us that the larger application was worthy of a fair trial.
On January 31st, 1918, the first official step was taken in page 222the organisation of this general scheme of education by an order from the General Officer-in-Charge of Administration in the United Kingdom calling for nominal rolls of all men qualified to lecture on economics, science, and general educational subjects An officer—Captain J. R. Kirk—was appointed in an organising capacity, and on April 29th, 1918, a conference of New Zealand university teachers, graduates, expert tradesmen, and others known to be interested in education, met in London, and sat until May 6th. This conference submitted an outline report upon professional and vocational subjects, laying down a draft policy and syllabus. Through the practical results of this conference the New Zealand Expeditionary Force may claim to have been the pioneer in the systematic class-work, which later extended to every expeditionary force of the British Army, and, which also, was copied by the American Young Men's Christian Association.
A grant of £3,000 was sanctioned by the New Zealand Government. The St. John Ambulance Association donated libraries to hospital units to the amount of £420, and Headquarters placed non-hospital units on the same footing with a special library grant of £250. The training depots purchased equipment, mainly from their own resources, and the New Zealand Young Men's Christian Association gave active co-operation in providing funds and accommodation. The difficulties of the inceptional stages were considerable. The possibilities in the movement required to be demonstrated, for as yet the idea was unique. Obstacles arose, but one by one were overcome; and, viewing the successful organisation which later developed, one must give the utmost credit to those who contributed so much thought and time to those foundational days.
At the beginning controversy arose on the compulsory versus the voluntary system. The early history of the scheme is the gradual victory of the compulsory system, and the conversion of its opponents. From the inception of the scheme I personally favoured compulsory attendance at the lectures on civics and economics with the idea that the men hearing these subjects lucidly expounded by authoritative page 223instructors, such as, fortunately, were available, would receive a grounding in the principles of economics which would in after life render them better qualified to sift the grain from the chaff when listening to revolutionary speakers, seeking to sway by their eloquence, rather than by arguments based on facts and knowledge. It seemed to me that if a large proportion of the soldiers, who in returning to civil life would be a considerable section of the community numerically and influentially, received education in this direction, the effect might be beneficial in inducing the dictates of reason to prevail should attempts be made by demagogues to create an industrial upheaval. This idea was propounded to the troops, and as already stated, the popular trend was in its favour. It will be for future commentators on our civil events to remark upon the results.
On June 10th, 1918, the New Zealand command depot at Codford introduced compulsory instruction of one hour per day for employed men of low medical category; and on the 27th June the New Zealand Reserve Infantry Brigade at Sling commenced classes on a voluntary basis. But it was our artillery reserve at Ewshot which led the way, in August, 1918, in introducing the principle of compulsory education in active camps. Two hours per week were definitely assigned for educational training.
By August, 1918, the total of men enrolled for regular classes in the United Kingdom was well over 8,000, and educational facilities were available for every man in the ten large camps and hospitals under the New Zealand command. The limbless school had trained 400 students, of whom eighty had been placed for practical experience with commercial firms. Educational work on returning transports was first arranged for the Paparoa and Ionic which left England in August, 1918.
Meanwhile in France a conference of officers of the New Zealand Division interested in education was called by the General Officer Commanding, Major-General Sir Andrew Russell. This was the eve of the German offensive, and for a time little could be done. On the lull in the fighting, an education officer, a board of governors, and instructors were appointed, and statistics showing educational requirements, were obtained by means of a census. The organisation of a scheme to cover the period of hostilities was entrusted to the New Zealand Young Men's Christian Association. A good educational library was formed, numerous lectures were well attended, and a beginning was made with class-work, particularly in the entrenching group. But the successive movements of the Division and the continuous fighting in the late autumn, prevented extensive work being undertaken.
On the signing of the Armistice arrangements were made to put the full educational scheme into practical operation. Work had naturally been hindered in its continuity heretofore by the periodic call upon the reserve camps for drafts for France. A great fillip was given to the movement when in December, 1918, cable advice was received from New Zealand that a further grant of £50,000 was authorised for the scheme. Conferences between the General Officer in page 226Charge of Administration, and the General Officer Commanding the Division, as well as conferences of officers both in England and France resulted in the drafting of the constitution, the detailing of the duties of the administrative staff, and the propounding of general principles of policy. These were submitted to the General Officer Commanding the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, and published with his authority.
The constitution set out the objects of the education scheme as being, to develop citizenship, and to help men in their work after the war. The organisation set up may be illustrated by the following diagram:—
Instructors with excellent qualifications in most subjects were not difficult to find. The work of organising this material into teaching staffs was simplified by the presence in England of those who had been acting as instructors under the pre-Armistice regime. The best qualified were organised into a teachers' training staff and formed the instructors' school at Hornchurch. Into this school all the prospective instructors were brought for refresher courses, and this page 228process also provided an opportunity for judging the qualifications and abilities of the various applicants, so that when class-work was commenced in January, 1919, those responsible for making appointments were in a position to accept or reject the candidates, and to grade and post those selected to suitable units.
It is now necessary to trace, though it can only be done very briefly, the application of the scheme in the three principal spheres—England, France and Egypt. In France Major H. E. Barraclough, D.S.O., M.C., was appointed Assistant Director of Education. The work in the Division was subject to considerable difficulties owing to the early movement towards Cologne. Two hundred instructors were sent over to England to undergo a course of instruction, and it was not until January 11th, 1919, that they were able to return. Classes were commenced on January 13th. During the period between the arrival of the Division at Cologne and the commencement of class-work, tours of educational value were arranged for the troops. The large industrial concerns on the Rhine, particularly dye and chemical works, and one wire factory, were visited. There was ample accommodation at Cologne for classes in the shape of large well-equipped schools that were taken over, and the speedy transit over the city enabled instructors and pupils to be transferred rapidly from one place to another as the exigencies of class-work demanded. There was also available a good supply of paper, which in England was a scarce commodity, typewriters, mechanical requirements, and many other necessary adjuncts. On the other hand the heavy demands for guards and patrols, horse-guards, and the early commencement of demobilisation, all handicapped the work. By March 15th, 1919, demobilisation of the Division was practically complete, and classes in France were suspended. However, though the period of instruction had been brief, it had paved the way for further work in England, created a habit of study in a good many men, and renewed the habit in many more.
In England, after the Armistice, the scheme had been going steadily forward. Lieut.-Colonel E. H. Northcroft, D.S.O., page 229succeeded to the Directorship of Education on February 28th, and Major Tuck became Assistant-Director in England. The movement of the men from camp to camp, the calls of the dentists and the medical examiners, the embarkation equipment parades, and the continuous process of embarkation for New Zealand, interfered very much with the full and effective operation of the designed scheme. To meet these new conditions the systems of instruction were altered from time to time. The endeavour was to arrange the lessons so that men could receive a fairly complete knowledge of sections of their subjects if they attended from five to ten lessons. This rapid and efficient adjustment by the painstaking instructors is worthy of special appreciation.
Rapidly the transports were carrying the men away. In March, 1919, Brighton and Hornchurch establishments were closed; in May, Brocton and the recently-established Sutton Coldfield centre; in June Codford and Walton; and in July the main depot of Sling. Torquay then remained the only camp in which active work was continued. Meanwhile higher education and vocational work was in process for selected pupils. The academic institutions of Britain provided the opportunities. Instructional tours were carried out for the benefit of specialists in commerce, the arts, the professions, engineering and mechanics. Men who desired to do so were afforded every facility to pay visits to works, localities and institutions provided the reason given was acceptable. There is no doubt whatever that New Zealand has benefited greatly from the diligent seizure of opportunities thus afforded her brightest sons. Many men visited farms and acquainted themselves with the methods and conditions of agriculture in Britain.
It is impossible to state exactly the number of men who throughout the period of the educational courses received instruction. The records show that in France 6,834 men attended classes, and in Egypt 1,127. In England there is positive record that 13,152 men received courses of instruction in one or more subjects, and that of these, 12,000 attended parade lectures in economics and civics, history or geography. An examination of the results showed that the attendances at the different classes varied considerably. It was gratifying to note that the largest attendances were for the study of agricultural science and its allied subjects. The attendances in connection with the general education subjects were less than might have been expected, and this contrast seems to suggest (so the Director states in his report) that the men who made most use of the opportunities provided were those who were concerned in refreshing themselves in their trades or professions. Another feature calling for comment was the number who entered for motor mechanics. The classes for disabled soldiers were attended by 595 pupils, while 147 others were placed out in factories, or other establishments, for practical training.
Scholarships were awarded within the New Zealand Expeditionary Force for agriculture, architecture, art, economics, engineering, forestry, law, medicine, and science—a total of fifty. It is worthy of mention that a number of English degrees and diplomas were obtained by our men.
There is one other outstanding feature which comes to mind. Towards the end of the war the food problem was fairly acute in Britain. All additions to the ordinary supplies of camp provender were extremely valuable. The farming pupils in all the camps were, therefore, put to the very useful work of bringing into profitable cultivation large areas obtained in the immediate vicinity. Hornchurch set the example and demonstrated the possibilities. Thus most of the camps, and hospitals, prior to the Armistice, were providing a very large proportion of their own requirements in vegetables; and the page 232hospitals were catering, also, for themselves in poultry, eggs, and bacon. The two large farms attached to the depot at Torquay, under expert management, supplied not only the depot's requirements but were able to rail to the other camps and hospitals considerable quantities of vegetables. The cost of the camps was relieved considerably thereby, and New Zealanders had the additional satisfaction of knowing that by industry, as they applied it in their native home, they were helping to eke out the food resources of Britain. The example set by New Zealand soldiers in this respect was widely commended by the Home authorities.