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War Economy

Military Clothing and Footwear

Military Clothing and Footwear

The clothing and footwear needs for the New Zealand armed services were, for the most part, met from New Zealand production, and added considerably to the demands on the clothing, boot and shoe manufacturing and related industries. Surprisingly, this was one of the areas where the outbreak of war found New Zealand page 161 inadequately prepared.1 In his report for the week ending 16 September 1939, the Factory Controller wrote to the Minister of Supply:2

‘On September 9th and 16th I visited Trentham Military Camp to inspect the various classes of stores so as to obtain a mental picture of the Army requirements. The second visit was in connexion with the complaints received about the quality of the clothes issued to the troopsN….

‘As reported to you, the complaints relate mainly to the issue of 1914–18 garments, due to lack of supplies of the new tunics and trousers….’

By 1940, New Zealand factories were making substantial quantities of military clothing and this deficiency was soon made good. Later in the war, Finance Minister Walter Nash was able to say:3

‘All clothing worn by the New Zealand soldier and all the equipment he carries, except his rifle and bayonet, are made in the Dominion.’

In woollen mills, the numbers employed increased from 2400 in 1938–39 to over 4000 in 1942–43 and 1943–44, declining to 3800 in 1944–45. In the latter year, employment was still 50 per cent higher than before the war.

Peak production in woollen mills was reached in 1942–43, when military demands were at their height. Output of yarn was highest in 1941–42, being then over twice the pre-war figure. Hosiery production reached to 75 per cent above the pre-war amount in the same year. The following year, well over a quarter of a million pairs of blankets were made, bringing output to over 70 per cent above the pre-war figure, and the output of flannel reached twice its pre-war total. In 1943–44 production of tweed and cloth reached its peak, being then well over double its pre-war figure. To assist in achieving these high outputs, a good deal of new machinery was installed.

Because of the extensive military contracts undertaken by woollen mills and the dependence of the clothing industry on their output, the mills were, throughout the war, regarded as of high priority for the allocation of labour. However, the National Service Department was disappointed in the co-operation it received. It wrote:4

‘Unfortunately, mill managements were not prepared to cooperate with the Department to the extent of appointing representatives to a national Man-power Utilization Council for the

1 Output of woollen mills and clothing factories had declined in 1938–39, as had the numbers employed.

2 Copy on Industries and Commerce file 54/3.

3 Quoted by Soljak in New Zealand, Pacific Pioneer, p. 144.

4 Parliamentary Paper H-11a, Report of the National Service Department, 1946, p. 47.

page 162 industry, or to local Man-power Utilization Committees. The absence of this co-operation made the realignment of labour rather more difficult than in the clothing industry, where the assistance of employers on the Committees contributed very materially towards the remarkable build-up in staff that was achieved in that industry. Nor did the woollen-mills make an effort comparable with that of clothing-factories to secure staff independently of the Department's efforts. During 1943, 1944 and first quarter of 1945 the industry was assisted by the issue of over 1,000 effective directions, the bulk of which were issued to female workers.’

In the later years of the war, military needs were less, and it was possible to switch back to civilian production. By 1947–48 employment in woollen mills fell back to lower than in 1937–38, a decline which was unusual for a New Zealand manufacturing industry, and in marked contrast to what happened in clothing factories, where employment increased by well over a quarter in this decade.

Chart 36 shows fluctuations in numbers engaged in woollen mills.

chart of employment statistics

Chart 36

Wartime staff increases in the clothing industry were relatively much more moderate than in woollen mills, though, in numbers, the influx was greater. With a staff approaching 12,300 in 1938–39, the industry had a 19 per cent increase by 1941–42, to reach nearly 14,600. There was a temporary decline in the next two years, but, in 1945–46, numbers employed were still 21 per cent higher than before the war.

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The clothing industry was well established before the war and was called upon, during the war years, to manufacture battledress, greatcoats, and other garments of all descriptions in large quantities, not only to equip the New Zealand Forces, but also for allied forces overseas. Those clothing factories which were engaged substantially on military contracts were included in the first list of declarations of essentiality, issued in January 1942. Later in that year, a National Manpower Utilisation Council and local Utilisation Committees were set up in the industry to assist primarily in coping with the very heavy demands upon it for military orders and the effects of this upon essential civilian production.

By August 1942, the labour position had become so difficult that declarations of essentiality were extended to cover the greater part of the industry. Within the field covered by declarations, however, the National Service Department continued to distinguish three groups—factories engaged preponderantly on military contracts, which held a first priority; factories engaged preponderantly on utility civilian garments in critically short supply, which held a second priority, and other factories which held no priority and were rather in the category of a reserve of labour.1

Clothing factories employed predominantly female labour. Large numbers of extra women entered civilian employment in the early years of war, but not always in the traditional women's occupations. They were increasingly required to replace men who had been mobilised. Industries which customarily used female labour had their share of staffing problems. By the end of 1943, the acute shortage of labour throughout all industries, together with the mounting arrears of essential civilian production which had been displaced by urgent military orders, had brought the clothing industry to a critical position. In November 1943 a National Garment Control Council and District Garment Control Committees were set up to keep a close watch on production and to set production targets for critical lines. With targets established, it became possible for District Manpower Officers, assisted by Utilisation Committees, to take much more drastic steps to transfer labour into factories which were prepared to concentrate on these critical lines. In 1945 some 4000 women were working under manpower direction in the clothing factories. At this point nearly 15,000 people were employed in the industry.

The war period saw the start of a tendency for clothing factories to decentralise in order to seek out reserve pools of female labour in secondary population centres, a tendency which was to become much more marked when the labour shortage continued into the post-war period.

1 Parliamentary Paper H–11a, Report of National Service Department, 1946, p. 46.

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In 1944–45, value of output in clothing factories was well over double its pre-war amount. In contrast to what happened in woollen mills, the expansion in output and employment was to continue strongly into the post-war years after the flush of defence ordering had passed.

Chart 37 shows changes in employment in clothing factories.

chart of employment statistics

Chart 37

Requirements for military footwear resulted in considerable extra pressure on the boot- and shoe-making industry, which was already being rapidly expanded to meet the dwindling flow of imported footwear. With a staff of under 3100 at the outbreak of war, it had taken on 1500 more people by 1941–42 and was to employ over 4500 for the rest of the war. Even with this staff, pressure for military footwear was so intense that there were shortages from time to time in some types and sizes of civilian wear. Production for military purposes was at a peak in 1942 but remained high until the end of the war. During the war years, military orders took about one-fifth of all the output of boot and shoe factories. When war finished, the industry had over 50 per cent more labour than at the outbreak.

page 165

The extra demand for leather for footwear led to an exceptional increase in work for the tanning industry, which doubled its staff between 1938–39 and 1943–44, and maintained the increase for the rest of the war. Considerable extensions to plant had to be made to provide extra productive capacity.

Chart 38 shows changes in employment in boot and shoe factories.

chart of employment statistics

Chart 38

Over a million battledress suits were made during the war in New Zealand factories, together with over half a million greatcoats, four and a quarter million pairs of socks, and corresponding quantities of other military clothing. Seven hundred thousand pairs of blankets were also made to military orders. Clothing factories and boot and shoe factories received an impetus from this wartime ordering, which was to continue into the post-war years and enable them to produce many civilian lines which had previously been imported.

Chart 39 shows changes in output of some selected items.

Of particular interest is the marked wartime reduction in output of shirts and trousers for civilian use. Shirts and trousers for service use were included in military orders, which were at a high level from 1940–41 to 1942–43.

page 166
chart of manufacturing statistics

Chart 39
Index Numbers, Base: Average 1936–37 to 1938–39 (= 1000)