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The War Effort of New Zealand

The New Zealand War Contingent Association

The New Zealand War Contingent Association.

Within ten days of the outbreak of war, the New Zealand High Commissioner (Sir Thomas Mackenzie) called a representative gathering of New Zealanders in London, and laid before them his proposals for the purpose of helping and caring for the sons of New Zealand, who were coming to take their part in the great war. The New Zealand War Contingent Association was formed at that meeting, which took place at the Westminster Palace Hotel, Victoria, London S.W., on Friday, August 14th, 1914. Sir Thomas Mackenzie explained that their services would be required to assist New Zealand soldiers by providing them with comforts, visiting them in hospital, securing accommodation for convalescents after they had passed through the hospitals so that might be taken in hand and gradually brought back to health, also by keeping in touch with the soldiers and their relatives. A general committee was formed and sub-committees, one termed an executive committee and the other a ladies' committee. Lord Plunket, an ex-Governor of New Zealand, was elected chairman of the committee, and Lady Islington, wife of another ex-Governor, the head of the ladies' committee.

Early in 1915 the first report was submitted to the Association by the High Commissioner, who, meanwhile, had visited the New Zealand troops in Egypt. Having given an account of his visit, Sir Thomas brought forward certain proposals for future work, which were adopted.

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The organisation greatly developed as the calls upon its services increased, and when our soldiers began to be invalided to England as the result of wounds or sickness through the campaign at Gallipoli it became necessary to do a great deal more than had been previously undertaken. It might be stated that the work had up to this date consisted, in the main, of sending large consignments of clothing and other comforts to Gallipoli and Egypt. It was now thought advisable to establish a hospital for our own men, and the Mount Felix property at Walton-on-Thames was secured for this purpose. Lady Islington took a leading part in the selection of this beautiful home, and in furnishing and equipping it as a hospital. It was generally known as the "New Zealand Walton Hospital" and was pronounced by the British military medical authorities a model hospital in England. In August 1915, Their Majesties the King and Queen, and the Prince of Wales, visited the Hospital. They graciously spoke to every soldier, and spent the whole afternoon there, partaking of tea on the lawn. They expressed their enthusiastic appreciation of all the Association had done in equipping and establishing the Walton Hospital. Subsequently (described elsewhere), the Hospital was transferred to the New Zealand military authorities.

During the period of the war, the Association undertook the care of the New Zealand sick and wounded, providing them with comforts, and visiting them during sickness and convalescence. At the same time it catered for the requirements of the "well" men as enthusiastically and effectively as any other overseas organisation. The praise that it earned on all sides was of the highest order.

Next, perhaps, to establishing and conducting the Soldiers' Club in Russell Square, which was opened on the 1st August 1916, the most important work undertaken by the Association was that of the hospitality committee with its two branches—the visiting and the entertainment sub-committees. The title of the visiting committee was later changed to the hospital comforts' committee when this branch of the work was taken over by the New Zealand Red Cross. It had charge of all the sick and wounded in hospitals or convalescent homes and camps. page 187A well-organised and co-ordinated scheme enabled its visitors to get in touch with patients almost immediately after their arrival in hospital; and regular reports were made as to their progress. The needs of every patient were ascertained, and cigarettes, tobacco, stamps, stationery, New Zealand illustrated papers, razors, shaving kits, and changes of under garments were sent with the least possible delay. Sometimes, where a man required it, a special diet was arranged for after consultation with the ward sister.

The lady visitors acted as agents for the patients in cabling to their relatives in New Zealand: they wrote letters for those unable to write themselves, and they also undertook small purchases for them when asked to do so. The Association had over 170 official honorary visitors, all most enthusiastic, sympathetic, and devoted to their work. New Zealand soldiers were always delighted to receive, as visitors in hospital, ladies from their own land. The system of visiting was extended to all hospitals in the United Kingdom where New Zealanders were inmates. Later under the Red Cross management the number of official visitors increased to 200, and the system was extended to France.

Patients well enough to enjoy an outing were cared for by the entertainment committee, which also arranged amusements and outgoings for soldiers who were convalescing, and men and officers who were fit and on leave. Drives in motor cars, entertainments at the Association's club-room in London, and theatre parties were arranged, and very often the soldiers were made the house guests of kind hosts both in London and in the provinces. The entertainment committee also organised frequent concerts at the hospitals. When the New Zealand Division went to France from Egypt it was found necessary to provide clubs at Home for the "well" men on leave, in addition to the recreation huts which had been established at Walton and at Hornchurch. These clubs were all an enormous success. They were located at Codford, Hornchurch, Torquay and Brockenhurst. Afterwards additional recreation huts were built, and conducted, by the Association at Walton and at Oatlands Park. This success was very largely due to the homely page 188"atmosphere" caused by the presence of New Zealand ladies among "the boys" and to the large supplies of home-made cakes and "cookies," which always have appealed to New Zealanders. It would not be fair, however, to say that the work was done altogether by New Zealand ladies. Splendid assistance was given by many kind people of England, who all showed a warm-hearted desire to help in every possible way.

To the many activities of the War Contingent Association was later added that of executing commissions for the men in France, or, in other words, shopping for them in London. At Oatlands Park, the Association took a leading part in the establishment of workshops for those who had lost limbs in the war, and encouraged the men in every possible way to take up some work or study which would enable them to overcome their disabilities when they returned to civil life. In some cases movements initiated by the War Contingent Association were transferred to the military authorities after a certain stage of development had been reached. It was found advisable, for instance, after the New Zealand Headquarters had been established in London, to transfer to the military authorities the Walton Hospital, and the New Zealand convalescent home for officers at Brighton. Then there was the splendid work of willing hands in the packing rooms, established at first at Victoria Street and afterwards in Southampton Row. Ladies were the workers, and at times the strain on their energies must have been very great—how great can be imagined when the extent of the admissions to the hospitals are remembered after the Somme in 1916, the Messines advance in June 1917, and the tragedy of Passchendale in October 1917.

It was very necessary to have a proper system of accounts. The finance committee of the organisation maintained a careful scrutiny on all items of expenditure and this gave assurance that the money which was subscribed or allocated for the soldiers was not wasted.

During the first two years the funds were subscribed chiefly by private donors and by the New Zealand patriotic societies, but after 1916. the New Zealand branch of the page 189British Red Cross Society took an increasingly important position in providing funds and comforts for the sick and wounded. The Society, at first, had the War Contingent Association as its agent for the distribution of goods and the expenditure of money, and in those days the Association had a special sub-committee to deal with Red Cross matters. Afterwards the Red Cross Society distributed its own gifts to the sick and wounded, and to the War Contingent Association were apportioned the care and comfort of the "fit" men. The official honorary visitors who worked for the visiting committee of the War Contingent Association were transferred to the Red Cross.

Magnificent work was done by the New Zealand Soldiers' Club. It was managed from the time of its inception, on the 1st August, 1916, by Mr. R. H. Nolan of Hawera. Mr. Nolan proved absolutely the right man in the right place. It should have been always a comfort to the mothers, wives, and sisters,. of the soldiers to know that such an enticing home was provided in the midst of London, with its temptations and its great loneliness. The Soldiers' Club was never empty. In 1918, with a total accommodation of very little over 200 beds, the daily average number who used the building throughout the year was 185. The daily average of sales in the canteens was 862. The following are some figures for that year:—beds supplied 67,483; breakfasts 41,131; teas 25,545; dinners 29,926; canteen sales (mostly meals) 314,515. These indeed were splendid results and could only be accomplished with able management and supervision.

A memorable visit was paid to the Association's offices in November 1916 by the Prime Minister of New Zealand (Mr. Massey), and Sir Joseph Ward. Mr. Massey in a brief address to the members of the organisation spoke very warmly of the value and importance of the work which was then being done. He said that he had seen a large number of New Zealand soldiers in England and in France, and he had heard nothing but praise for the assistance that had been given so freely and ungrudgingly by the members of the Association. Sir Joseph Ward also said that he had been very much impressed by the figures quoted regarding the page 190ratio of administrative expenses compared with gross expenditure, while the wages expenditure was extremely moderate. The administration generally was a great credit to all concerned. Shortly after this visit a letter was received from Brig.-General G. S. Richardson, Officer-in-Charge of Administration in England as follows:—"I would like to express my gratitude to the War Contingent Association for their kindness to the N.Z.E.F. in England during the past year. We all recognise how strenuous have been the efforts of the members of the Association to help our men. These efforts have not been in vain. You have afforded pleasure to thousands of New Zealand boys. Your work cannot be recognised by honours and rewards; but it may afford you satisfaction in the knowledge that your work is appreciated not only by the military authorities, but by the men themselves and by their relatives. You have filled a gap which military organisation does not provide for, and you have done so with great success."