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The War Effort of New Zealand

The Red Cross Society

The Red Cross Society.

It is a difficult, almost an impossible task, to supply any satisfactory account of the work of the Red Cross organisation in New Zealand during the war, so wide-spread were its ramifications and so multitudinous its workers and helpers. But a New Zealand war history would be incomplete—and the tale of the Dominion's home achievements would be minus one of its noblest pages—without a reference, if only by way of bare record, to the work of this organisation. It was through the activities offered by the Red Cross Society that healing came to many suffering hearts, days of apprehension and fear were made endurable by the task of adding hour by hour little items for the comfort of loved ones in distant lands; and patriotic fervour found expression in unremitting toil.

The story of the New Zealand Red Cross Society is the pathetic story of the unfaltering memory of New Zealand's women of their men on active service. Through the thousand-and-one gifts and comforts which percolated to all quarters page 191where men fought or suffered, came these reminders of their womenfolks' regard and appreciation—and it was helpful. There were other New Zealand organisations engaged on similar work, but none so universally representative of the Dominion. The sum total of the work may be described, without exaggeration, as stupendous. The men of the Dominion saw to it that our man-power commitments were maintained, and they were maintained right up to the close of the war when the Division stood at full strength; and similarly, the women of New Zealand were many hundreds of cases of comforts and many thousands of pounds sterling ahead of requirements when the soldiers were withdrawn, and hospitals again empty.

It would be quite impossible to trace the work of the Society during the war period. One is able, however, to supply from the records, the chief features of its organisation. Canterbury was the first centre of activity. Soon after war was declared Mr. A. E. G. Rhodes commenced operations under the St. John Ambulance Association, and formed sub-centres in all the towns of the Canterbury military district. At this time, and for a prior period throughout New Zealand, Red Cross committees were working through the St. John Association. In the spring of 1915 Mr. Bernard Tripp, of Christchurch, went to Australia to study the Red Cross organisations there, and in October of the same year he returned and through the newspapers urged the formation in New Zealand of a similar body with a constitution of its own. He also suggested that His Excellency the Governor-General, the Earl of Liverpool, and Lady Liverpool should be at the head of it. In pursuance of his object Mr. Tripp on October 19th headed a Christchurch deputation to the Minister of Internal Affairs (the Hon. G. W. Russell) and asked for assistance in the formation of the proposed Society, with the necessary official recognition. The Minister promised to confer with His Excellency. The following month, November, Lord Liverpool called a meeting at Government House, Wellington, of delegates from all branches of the St. John Ambulance Society and other organisations engaged in Red Cross work. His Excellency presided, and it was page 192decided that all organisations iu New Zealand, other than the Order of St. John, should be united under the title of "The New Zealand Branch of the British Red Cross Society." Each organisation was to retain its individuality by prefixing the name of the town or district in which it was located. Mr. Sefton Moorhouse accepted the position of officer-in-charge of the central department in Wellington, at which was to be decided (a) what goods were required, (b) the method of despatch and packing, (c) how and where goods were required.

Meanwhile,7 in September 1915, Colonel the Hon. Sir R. Heaton Rhodes, M.P. was at his own expense despatched by the Government to Egypt, Gallipoli, and Malta to report on matters connected with the administration of the N.Z.E.F., and, among these matters, the distribution of the Red Cross comforts. As a matter of fact the Minister's expenses were afterwards devoted to the Kitchener Scholarship Fund. It was only natural, in the case of a force despatched hurriedly from a country without previous war experience, that imperfections in the method of touch between the army in the field, and the home control, should early show themselves. To assist in overcoming these little difficulties was the work of the Minister. He was able officially to reassure the Red Cross Societies of the value of their work and to suggest improvements in regard to the despatch of the goods; and also to state what articles were most required by the men, and the hospitals.

All this time the Red Cross movement was increasing in momentum in New Zealand, and its activities extending. Every little village and every small suburb of the cities had its busy workers. Even these small groups had their auxiliaries in working parties in individual homes. Men unable to proceed on active service gave willing cooperation in whatever capacity they were able. One recalls, now, with wonder those busy rooms, where sometimes many and sometimes only one or two women were gathered together toiling unremittingly. Money also was being collected and was being forwarded to the British Red Cross Society for its general use, on the understanding that the New page 193Zealanders would receive full consideration in its distribution.

In February 1916 His Excellency called another conference of delegates, on this occasion at Christchurch, and in April of the same year Mr. Bernard Tripp was appointed as the New Zealand Red Cross representative to visit Egypt and England. Mr. Tripp's commission was to report on New Zealand Red Cross organisation at these places. He left in May 1916 in the hospital ship Maheno, but when he arrived in Egypt the New Zealand soldiers, with the exception of the Mounted Brigade, had left for England. The only New Zealand institution remaining in Egypt was the Aotea Home, which was doing splendid work. Mr. Tripp did what investigation was required in Egypt, and then proceeded on to England in the Maheno.

Meanwhile Sir Thomas Mackenzie, High Commissioner for New Zealand, had appointed Mr. C. Elgar the New Zealand Red Cross Commissioner in England. Lord Plunket, who was chairman of the New Zealand War Contingent Association, called a meeting of all members of that body, at which Mr. Tripp, by invitation, explained the views of New Zealand as to the organisation that should exist in England. The suggestion was that an executive should be formed in London, that a Commissioner should be appointed each in England, France, and Egypt, and that all gifts from the Dominion should be consigned to one central depot in England. This was agreed upon, and Mr. Tripp went with the General Officer in Charge of Administration (Brig.-General Richardson), and Colonel Parkes, A.D.M.S., to Southampton and there opened stores to receive the New Zealand Red Cross goods. The organisation was put into operation, and in October 1916 Mr. Tripp returned to New Zealand. Arriving home he addressed meetings at the principal towns, and removed any doubts as to the goods, which were being sent, reaching the men in the line, in the hospitals, and in the convalescent homes and camps. It might be mentioned here that Mr. Tripp spoke enthusiastically of the New Zealand War Contingent's work in London. "I cannot speak too highly of this Association," he said "and the good work it is doing in looking after our wounded and sick soldiers arriving in London…. People page 194who have sons fighting for us can rest assured that our wounded and sick have care and every comfort possible."

In June of 1916 Mr. A. E. G. Rhodes who had also been to London, returned and reported upon the work of the British Red Cross. He described things as satisfactory so far as New Zealanders were concerned. Other evidence was coming to hand at this time as to the value to the men of the gifts.

The two hospital ships the Maheno and the Marama (the latter commissioned toward the end of 1916) were the especial charge of the Red Cross Society in regard to equipment in all respects appertaining to the comfort of the soldiers. In November of the same year the preparation and despatch of comforts to New Zealand prisoners of war were undertaken. Ten motor ambulances were also offered to the New Zealand military authorities at Home, and in France, but the Government decided that this provision should be a charge upon itself.

In February 1917 another New Zealand Conference was called at Christchurch by the President, the Governor-General. Mr. Sefton Moorhouse presided. This conference was called to co-ordinate all sections working in New Zealand under one control, and thus to constitute the New Zealand Red Cross Society and Order of St. John. The organisation set up consisted of the President, (the Governor-General) Her Excellency Lady Liverpool, the Officer-in Charge of of Headquarters, and twenty-four members, the latter to be appointed annually by each of the four centres. It was decided that the headquarters should continue to be at Wellington. An executive committee was appointed consisting of the Officer-in-Charge of Headquarters and six other members, two to be appointed by the council and one by each centre. Mr. Moorhouse was elected Officer-in-Charge of Headquarters. (For these details and many others the writer is indebted to that excellent little paper "The New Zealand Red Cross Record," which was edited and published at Christchurch by Mr. O. T. J. Alpers, and which was of great assistance to the Society).

At the end of 1917 it was decided to send Colonel the Hon. Sir R. Heaton Rhodes, M.P. to London as the N.Z. Red page 195Cross Society's special Commissioner in Great Britain and France. The Commissioner allied himself to the London office of the organisation and was the liason officer between the two branches of the body. He was able to forward comprehensive reports as to the distribution of the gifts at Home, knowing the little details which the people at this end required information upon. The system in operation in England was that all the goods from New Zealand went to M shed at Southampton wharves. There they were sorted out, and those specially required for France were despatched across the Channel, and check was kept of them until they reached the unit to which they were addressed. All other goods went to the central store at Southampton town, where they were sorted and classified—some were specially addressed to hospitals at Home—and kept ready to be sent out when called upon. In London was another store or depot, stocked mostly with goods purchased in Britain, where the prices were less than in the Dominion.

Under the Red Cross Society, depots were established in all New Zealand hospitals in England and France for the ready distribution of goods and comforts to the patients. One particular phase of the Society's activities in the hospitals was the encouragement and assistance given to the men in basket-making, raffia-work, and similar forms of profitable employment—profitable because of the men's keen interest in it, and the chance of a future livelihood which it provided for some of them. As a matter of fact in basket-making establishments in New Zealand to-day will be found quite a number of disabled soldiers who served their apprenticeship in the hospitals at Home. Funds were allocated for this work by the Society, and at Oatlands Park an instructional hut was erected for "limmies" who cared to take up the work. The money collected in New Zealand for Red Cross purposes was still sent direct to the British Society, the Dominion drawing upon it for what was required.

On the transports as well as on the hospital ships returning from Britain carrying sick and wounded men, were also placed comforts by the Society. Men will not readily forget the gifts which helped them to bear hardships and page 196irksome conditions. The same thoughtful provision was made later in regard to the transports which brought back the fit men.

It seems miserably inadequate to attempt to indicate in financial terms the sum total of the N.Z. Red Cross Society's effort during the war, yet the figures constitute a remarkable record for a country so small in population. It is estimated that the total value of the gifts despatched was £1.072,000 and that the money sent to the British Red Cross Society was £276,000.

This account is necessarily but a skeleton. It supplies but little evidence of the living organisation which once pulsated with animation, charity, and patriotic fervour. It bestows no credit, even by recording their names, upon those who once figured prominently in this work and whose self-sacrificing labours were so well known to the people of the Dominion; or of those who worked quietly in the background but equally enthusiastically and persistently. It would be an impossible task to do so adequately without embarking upon a detailed record, and such a work can only be undertaken by the Red Cross Society itself from its own records. This account is an endeavour to indicate the manner in which one task of many was undertaken by the Dominion in connection with the war, and how it was carried out.

The following official statement of voluntary contributions in money and goods made by the Dominion from the outbreak of war to 31st March 1920, was presented to Parliament during the Session of 1920.
Collected by various patriotic societies 5,447,991
Received by the Department of Internal Affairs for transmission abroad,
for hospital ships, New Zealand sick and wounded, and other special
purposes (over and above amounts forwarded by patriotic societies)
War expenses contributed to the Government at the outbreak of war 159,137
Dominion schools' contribution to Belgian Children's Fund 18,364
Total cash collected £5,695,321
Estimated value of goods, stock, produce, and comforts shipped by
the Government on behalf of donors
Government subsidy to Belgian Fund 228,145
Total £6,481,002