Our girls, our boys

For the past few months, the heritage floor, on the second floor of the Central City Library, has hosted a display titled Our Girls -- a tribute to the role of women in the First World War. The content covers the following topics: prohibition and making-do, cartoon depictions of women, the anti-militarists, the fundraising effort, working girls, nurses abroad, and the absence of men.

It has been an interesting exercise to find images to cover such a variety of topics. Women were not always portrayed favourably, especially in the political cartoons of the day. Publications like Freelance and Truth condemned the ‘wowser’ prohibitionists as out to spoil a boy’s fun (men did not escape the condemnation, either) or they depicted women as vain and ignorant. 

Ref: Cartoon from the New Zealand Freelance, 6 March 1915, p.11. 
The caption for the cartoon above reads: 

Shopman: “Yes, Miss, all face powders have gone up in price on account of the war.”

Young lady: “Oh, isn’t war terrible!”

Yet, while women did not fight in the First World War, they did step up. They took over the jobs vacated by the men, and while some agitated against the war itself, others were desperate to serve, for example, the nurses who enrolled in the newly formed New Zealand Army Nursing Service. Women raised funds however they could -- from street appeals to social events -- doing whatever it took to raise money for the war effort.

Ref: A E Watkinson, Women's patriotic work... 8 November 1917,
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19171108-35-1
But it was, of course, the men and the boys who saw and endured the action on the battlefields. To commemorate the men, Auckland Libraries launches the website Our Boys, Your Stories at the Auckland Heritage Festival. Our Boys recalls the men and boys who served in the First World War and their lasting legacies.

Ref: AWN, Athol Hart,
Sir George Grey Special Collections,
Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19180912-34-3
Streets were named after war heroes like Jellicoe, later the Governor General of New Zealand, but, they were also named after local figures in communities too. Newmarket’s Crowhurst Street commemorates the Crowhurst family, which had five brothers sign up to serve, three of whom were killed during the war. While Hart Street in Takapuna recalls Athol Hart who was killed in action in 1918.

The Our Boys organisers are especially thrilled to have digitised copies of Quick March -- the official publication of the New Zealand Returned Soldiers' Association (RSA) -- from 1918-1923 available to view on the website. Search through issues for a glimpse of post-war life, from advertisements to political comment and personal reminiscences.

Ref: Quick March cover, vol. 1, no. 9,
January, 1919.

Take a look at the different parts of the Our Boys website, leave comments, see if you can find anything relevant to you and your family - maybe discovering the meaning behind a street close to where you live or finding information about or a photograph of a relative.

Our Girls is currently displayed on the second floor of the Central City Library until early October. If you cannot make it in to the library, check out the photos on our Facebook page

I leave you with this quote, from the Our Girls display, attributed to New Zealand staff nurse Margaret Watt who in 1917 said of her experience nursing the boys: 

“It is not the work itself that is so tiring, it is the sadness and suffering that goes on all around that takes it out of me.”

Author: Joanne Graves, Central Auckland Research Centre
Ref: AWN, An unidentified soldier saying farewell to Sister Mary Louisa Worthington,
4 November 1915, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19151104-48-2