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The War Effort of New Zealand

Chapter X. — Repatriation

page 163

Chapter X.

Part I.

There are certain words which before the war were rarely used, but which now meet the eye in the head-lines of newspapers. One of these words is "Repatriation." It is an expressive word, conjuring up a vision of the lines of grey ships which carried 100,000 New Zealanders far from their homes to the great war, of the fighting in many distant fields, and the return of our war-worn soldiers to their native land.

But this is not enough. Repatriation is only beginning when the soldier with his twenty-eight days' notice of discharge and railway pass in his pocket steps on to the wharf and wonders what it will feel like to be a civilian again. In the public mind the word includes everything undertaken by the State in fulfilment of a duty to place the returned soldier as nearly as is possible in the civil position he occupied before he was called away. In this wilder sense it will be used in this chapter.

The Home Coming.

As they were sent to many lands in "the far flung battle line," so they came home from many ports, and by many routes.

The earliest to return were members of the Samoan Advance Party which left New Zealand on the 12th August, 1914. The first boat was the Monowai, which returned with prisoners and escort on the 16th September, 1914. The balance returned three months later by the Talune, leaving a small garrison of approximately 220.

The Athenic arrived from Egypt on the 22nd January, 1915, with men who refused to be inoculated, and a few others. The first ship bringing wounded men was the page 164Willochra, which arrived on the 15th July, 1915. There were 284 wounded from Gallipoli, mostly cot cases—the first of the 41,315 wounded during the war. During 1915 the following boats arrived, bringing invalids: Tahiti, 11th September; Aparima, 15th September; Matai, 13th October; Tofua, 26th October; Willochra, 30th October; Tahiti, 25th December. No hospital ships arrived from overseas during 1915.

During 1916, 28 ships arrived bringing wounded men, including the hospital ships: Maheno, 1st January, 11th April, 19th December; Marama, 22nd October. At the end of 1916, 8,093 men had returned.

In 1917 the wounded continued to arrive in greater numbers from England and Egypt. Thirty-one ships returned, and at the end of the year 14,142 were back.

During 1918 twenty-nine ships came home, and on the 31st December, 1918, 28,182 men had returned. At the time of the Armistice there were 56,684 men to be returned to their homes. It was expected that owing to the shortage of shipping, years would elapse before they could again reach New Zealand. The difficulties, however, had been foreseen by the Demobilization Committee, and all arrangements had been made. During the twelve months succeeding the Armistice no less than 52,833 men were repatriated, and at Christmas, 1919, there were only 792 overseas.

Every effort was made to secure the comfort and well being of returning soldiers on the voyage. Complaints were occasionally made of bad food and of overcrowding. Sometimes these "grousings" were justified, but on the whole there was little ground for dissatisfaction. During the voyages efforts were made to carry out the system of educational training begun in England after the Armistice. In some ships good work was done under the adverse circumstances of slackened discipline and insufficient accommodation; in others a few earnest students derived considerable benefit; but the bulk of the men considered that they were returning soldiers, and not students, and took little interest in the classes held. The fact that most of the educational books used on the voyage were purchased by soldiers before disembark-page 165ation showed that the efforts made had awakened a real interest, and that some of the seed sown had fallen on good soil.

Before Discharge.

Soldiers came back from the war either invalids or fit men. If invalids, they remained soldiers until no longer requiring medical attention, and their care remained one of the duties of the Minister of Defence; if fit, they were discharged, and came under the care of the Repatriation Board. For administrative purposes a line was drawn at discharge.

As the sick and wounded came off the hospital ships they were passed through a medical board which allotted them to the various hospitals of the Dominion either as in-patients or out-patients. There they remained till no longer requiring medical treatment.

Before the Armistice no systematic effort had been made to give educational or vocational training to invalids returned to New Zealand, though some occupational work had been done in hospitals under the supervision of lady instructresses. It had, however, been intended to extend such training, and a number of workshops attached to hospitals had been built, or were in the course of erection. In December, 1918, it was decided to establish an Administrative Branch to continue in New Zealand the scheme of education which had been in force in England during demobilisation. With this end in view a considerable staff of vocation officers and instructors was engaged under a Director of Vocational Training. The training scheme was developed as speedily as possible. Additional workshops were built and equipped by the generous assistance of the New Zealand Red Cross, and soldiers were instructed in a large variety of subjects including carpentering, splint-making, motor and general engineering, wool-classing, boot-repairing, commercial knowledge, and occupational subjects such as basket and leatherwork. Wherever such work was strictly curative, involving regulated exercise for the strengthening of wasted muscles, it was made compulsory under the supervision of a medical officer. It was, indeed, soon realised that the scheme would be unworkable without close co-operation with the medical page 166branch. The Director-General of Medical Services took an active interest in the work, and most medical officers in charge of hospitals gave valuable assistance to the vocation officers. The medical results were remarkably successful, and the provision of useful occupation not only lightened the tedium of convalescence, but hastened recovery. In most hospitals classes were attended voluntarily. As the scheme developed the numbers attending the classes steadily increased.

A spirited controversy at one time took place over the question of payment to the soldiers for work done at classes in hospitals. Certain classes were "productive," particularly the basket and leather work classes, and large numbers of saleable articles were made. In other classes, such as splint-making, boot-repairing, tailoring and clerical work, articles were not made for sale. To have allowed those who attended productive classes to make money by the sale of work to the public would have penalized the unproductive classes and made them unpopular. The matter was finally settled by allowing the proceeds of the sale of work to the public, without deduction for material, to be paid into a recreation fund for the benefit of all soldiers attending classes at the hospital.

In addition to the training in hospitals every facility was given to out-patients to attend technical schools and universities, and arrangements were made with the Repatriation Department to continue the training after discharge in approved cases. At Queen Mary Hospital, Hanmer, and at the Pukeora Consumptive Sanatorium, adjoining farms were acquired, and managers were appointed to teach farming to neurasthenic and consumptive patients; and at the Consumptive Sanatorium at Cashmere a poultry farm was established.

Experience has shown that with few exceptions returned soldiers took little interest in improving their general education. A laudable attempt was made to instil the principles of economics at some hospitals, and competent lecturers were engaged for this purpose, but it was quite evident that the invalided soldiers preferred amusements, (with which they were well provided) to lectures, and few page 167will be so pedantic as to blame them. It, must be remembered that the scheme was applied in New Zealand to invalids only, who had little inclination for mental exertion.

On the other hand, classes in vocational subjects, especially carpentry, motor engineering, and wool-classing, were readily formed and were well attended, and invalided soldiers were able to get a preliminary training which helped to qualify them to take their places in civil life after discharge. Though the training given was of practical value the scheme did not aim at turning out finished tradesmen. Its immediate object was to induce invalided soldiers whose initiative had been deadened by the inertia of "hospitalism" to regain an interest in life by gradually acquiring the habit of work, and to show them that the State was ready to give sympathetic help in bridging the gulf which separated them from the life of active work of their fellow citizens. Its success in this respect was undoubted.

Part II.

Work of the Repatriation Department.

The duty of restoring the soldier to civil life after discharge in New Zealand was entrusted to the Repatriation Department, but the problem of land settlement for returned soldiers was left to the Lands and Survey Department.

Repatriation administration began in a small way under the name of the Discharged Soldiers' Information Department, when returned soldiers were few in numbers. As they increased it became evident that a special department with extended powers and a large staff was required to deal with the complicated problems of reconstruction. After the Armistice the press and public speakers clamoured for a comprehensive repatriation policy and blamed the Government for the delay which was apparently taking place. The delay was obvious, but the public did not realize that constructive projects require much preliminary spade work, and that no scheme could be made public till it had been approved by Cabinet, nor brought into action without Statutory authority. It was unfortunate that the Prime Minister at the time was page 168away at an important conference in England, and that the session was delayed in consequence. More delay occurred after Parliament met, and it was not till the 10th December, 1918, that the Repatriation Act was finally passed. Its machinery was similar to that adopted in Australia. The Director was controlled in matters of policy by a Central Board of four Cabinet ministers sitting in Wellington. Decentralization was secured by district councils and local committees, of which no less than 61 were ultimately formed. Criticism was chiefly directed against the large number of ministers on the Board. This policy, however, has since been justified by results, and it was interesting to note that Canada also decided in favour of a board of six ministers.

The extensive duties of this Department may be summarised under three headings—(1) Training, (2) Employment, (3) Financial Assistance for business purposes.


In training soldiers to take their places in civil life the Department carried on the work begun by the vocational training branch before discharge. There was, however, a difference. Soldiers, while invalids, were encouraged to take up any kind of work which would bring them back into habits of industry. After discharge most of them had recovered and were able to go back to their civil occupations without requiring special training. The efforts of the Department in most instances were directed to teaching suitable trades to disabled men—those who had borne the brunt of the war. A limited number of them were totally incapacitated and could never become workers in the hive, much as they desired it, and for these the Pensions Board provided the means for an existence which at any rate was free from want. But there was a larger class of the disabled who could be brought back to take their places among the ranks of active workers in trades in which their disabilities were not a serious handicap. Bushmen with injured muscles or strained hearts could no longer wield the axe, but were taught trades such as carpentering and plumbing; men who had lost legs were trained to boot-making or clerical work. page 169Those who had a tubercular tendency were specially trained in farming so that they could take up land provided by the Government for returned soldiers.

In addition to disabled soldiers, training was also given to young men who enlisted before they had learned a trade, to apprentices and students whose training had been interrupted by war service, and to the soldiers' widows and orphans. In arranging for such training advantage was taken to a limited extent of the existing technical schools and university colleges, but it was also found necessary to provide special intensive courses for returned soldiers. An instructional boot factory was established at Auckland, and with a view of providing employment of a lighter kind, a seed-raising farm was purchased in Central Otago, and a training farm at Avonhead, near Christchurch. For general farm-training, men were sent to the Ruakura and Weraroa State Farms. During the period of training, sustenance (which did not diminish the soldier's pension) was paid on the following scale: single men £2 10s. a week, married men £3 a week, with an extra weekly allowance of 3/6 a week for each child.


When the Repatriation Bill was under consideration it was anticipated that the re-employment of 100,000 returned soldiers would be a colossal problem and that it might be necessary to provide special public works to tide over the period of re-construction. Such fears proved to be groundless. The end of the war found New Zealand suffering from a dearth of labour in all industries. Carpenters, artisans, clerks and labourers were in demand everywhere and employers were prepared to pay high wages for competent men. It was not found necessary to seek employment for more than 15 per cent. of returned soldiers. The rest, after a holiday of a month or two, settled down slowly to their old occupations.

The Repatriation district offices soon developed into efficient labour agencies and lost no opportunity in urging employers to take returned soldiers into their service. In most cases they willingly co-operated, and labour unions page 170raised no insuperable difficulties, as trade union wages were paid in every case. It must, however, be admitted that many complaints were made that some of the returned soldiers were restless, and apt to leave their work without reasonable excuse.

"Soldiers' unrest" is a world-wide war disability and needs sympathetic treatment. After the novel experience of life in foreign countries, the excitement and danger of the trenches, the daily comradeship round the camp fires, the unrestrained freedom of the brief periods of leave in "Blighty," and the lazy life on the returning troopship, it is easily understood that civilian life in New Zealand seemed infinitely "flat, stale, and unprofitable." A period of reaction was inevitable; with some it was short, but longer with others. "Give me anything but steady work" said one officer, and his feeling will be understood by most returned men.

The work of finding employment was so successfully taken in hand that up to the 20th January, 1920, no less than 14,093 men had been found employment, and the number on the waiting list was only 251.

The system of "subsidised workers" adopted by the Department was specially successful. Men, after a preliminary training were put straight into workshops to be taught trades, and at the same time to become gradually self-supporting. The earning power was estimated from time to time by a Board consisting of the employer and representatives of the Repatriation Department, and of the trade union concerned. The wages so fixed were paid by the employer, but were supplemented by the State to a wage of £3 a week (exclusive of pension).

Until employment could be found for soldiers needing it, unemployment sustenance (inclusive of pension) was paid on the following weekly basis: soldier £2 2s., wife 15s., children (not exceeding four) 3/6. In New Zealand few men applied for such assistance.

To enable returned soldiers to settle in business, loans were granted not exceeding £300. Up to the 20th January. 1920,2,668 such loans had been authorized in 110 varieties of business involving an expenditure of £606,642. It has been page 171found that the repayment of interest and principal has been very satisfactory. Loans not exceeding £50 (free of interest) were also granted for the purpose of purchasing household furniture and tools of trade (subsequently this grant was increased to £75).

Part III.

Settlement on the Land.

Land settlement has always been a prominent and popular plank in the platforms of political parties in New Zealand. It was natural that it should have been accepted from the first as a part of the Repatriation policy of the National Government.

The Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act was passed in 1915, and contained comprehensive and generous provisions for the settlement of returned soldiers on the land. Extensive powers of purchase were given to the Land Purchase Board, which could acquire land compulsorily, if necessary. Appropriations have been made by Parliament from time to time for this purpose of sums which, for a small country, must be regarded as enormous. The appropriation made just before the general election in 1919, authorized no less than 12½ millions, in addition to a previous authority of 1½ millions, to be advanced in connection with land settlement for soldiers, and it was estimated that a million pounds a month was required for this purpose. In addition, the Government had authority to spend £2,000,000 per annum on the purchase of land for settlement by returned soldiers. Advances were made to assist settlers taking up land under the provisions of this Act for the purchase of stock and implements, or for effecting improvements. These advances were secured by a current account mortgage and bill-of-sale; and interest at five per cent. was charged on advances made. Under the regulations the maximum amount that could be advanced was £500, but in special cases this was increased to £750; while in the case of bush land amounts up to £1,250 could be advanced. A variety of tenures was provided by page 172this Act, including the ordinary power of purchase for cash, by deferred payments for twenty years, and a renewal lease with purchasing clause. The ordinary tenures of the Land Act were also available.

The Amendment Act of 1917 and its regulations established a new and important principle. Amounts up to £2,500 were authorized to be advanced to soldiers to assist them to buy land privately, if the price was recommended by the Land Board, and approved by the Minister. The interest charged was five per cent. on a current account mortgage, or six per cent. in case of an instalment mortgage on rural land, providing a sinking fund to enable the mortgage to be discharged after 36½ years.

Special assistance was also given for the erection of a town dwelling house, for which an advance might be authorized up to £750, or £1000 for the purchase of a site and dwelling. A mortgage was taken to secure these advances providing for repayment at the rate of seven per cent. per annum, five per cent. of the annual charge being interest on the amount advanced and the additional two per cent. providing a sinking fund to enable the mortgage to be discharged in 25½ years.

Advances were also authorized to discharged soldiers who were the owners or lessees of land for the purpose of improvements, and the purchase of stock, in addition to the the provisions of the main Act.

A further privilege given to discharged soldiers—which was much appreciated—was the preference at ballots under the Land Act or Lands for Settlement Act, They were placed in the same position as landless applicants having children dependent on them, or other qualified applicants who had applied at least twice unsuccessfully.

Large tracts of land were also proclaimed as available for settlement by discharged soldiers exclusively, thus eliminating competition with prospective civilian settlers.

In order to prevent trafficking in land it was provided that no soldier could transfer land acquired under the page 173Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act for a period of 10 years, except approval had first been obtained. The duty of purchasing land was entrusted to a Land Purchase Board, but advances under the Act were made by the Lands Department. It will readily be understood that the task of aequiring rapidly a large number of farms suitable for settlement was not an easy one.

The public demand was emphatic that large areas of land should be thrown open to soldiers at reasonable prices, and 674,858 acres of Crown Land have been proclaimed under the Act. This has been supplemented by the purchase of about 300,000 acres of private freehold land by the Land Purchase Board.

The effect of the enhanced prices of produce resulting from the war was to cause a marked rise in the value of land despite the heavy taxation on landholders necessitated by the war expenditure. Many a soldier who had sold his farm to go to the war found on his return that the occupant would not re-sell except at a price considerably enhanced, and in consequence land-trafficking was denounced by the soldiers, not without justification. Some land-holders sought to foist unprofitable farms on the Land Purchase Board, and the utmost care had to be exercised in making purchases. One of the Land Commissioners reported that in many cases inspection and valuation absolutely failed to reconcile prices asked by the vendors with any reasonable prospect of success for the soldier purchaser, the figures suggesting that a large proportion of owners were more concerned to sell out even to discharged soldiers at the top prices of a somewhat inflated market, than to recognise by reasonable demands, the fact that the value of their lands had been increased by the effort of the Dominion's men on active service. On the other hand there were landholders and patriotic societies who set splendid examples. Valuable areas of land were presented to trustees for the benefit of returned soldiers in the Poverty Bay and Napier districts, and in some instances large numbers of sheep were provided for the new settlers without charge.

page 174


The results hitherto achieved may be placed in tabular form as follows:—

Crown or Settlement Land or National Endowment areas
selected by Discharged Soldiers up to 31st December,

No. of soldiers settled on such land 1,676
No. of soldiers assisted to purchase freehold land 2,968
No. of soldiers whose applications to erect or purchase town
dwellings have been approved
Advances authorized to soldiers in connection with purchase
or improvement of land, purchase of stock, seeds,
machinery, &c., and acquisition of town dwellings, over

It is too early to speak with certainty of the success of this scheme. Some failures are inevitable and even expected. The indications, however, are that provided present prices are maintained a large number of soldiers will be thus enabled to become self-supporting settlers with homes of their own. A further and important result of the Government's policy must be largely increased production bringing with it greater national wealth and prosperity. If some financial losses occur in the earlier stages of the scheme, the taxpayers of New Zealand will, no doubt, bear them cheerfully, remembering that the debt owing to our soldiers can never be adequately repaid.

[Editorial Note: Mr. Montgomery wrote his chapter on Repatriation in 1920. The later date of the publication of this volume enables the records of the Repatriation Department at July 31st, 1922, to be given. The figures are as follows:—

Number of men assisted.
Lands Department:
In obtaining rural homes 9,388
In obtaining town homes 10,890
Repatriation Department:
Placed in Employment 28,033
Trained or in Training 7,491
Financially assisted to re-establish themselves 25,730
Total 81,532
page 175
The Total Financial Advances.
Under the Land for Settlement Act:
In purchase of estates £5,794,944
Under the Discharged Soldiers' Settlement Act:
Advances for purchase of land, dwellings, and for stock
and improvements
Under the Repatriation Act:
Loans for businesses, furniture, tools, etc., and other
financial assistance
Total £28,718,578

The men are meeting their obligations extremely well and at this date there is every indication that the financial assistance afforded the soldiers will prove a most excellent investment.—ED.