I plan to put up a couple of posts this week in honour of those men and women who went overseas to fight in our various wars. These are not original to this blog but have appeared in past issues of the Methodist paper, “Touchstone”. For a number of years this paper was a joint publication between the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches.
Among the records for the First Church of Otago, is a small, red covered, indexed notebook titled “Where is it” that caught my attention. Closer inspection revealed it to contain a list of names of the soldiers and nurses from First Church who gave their services in World War 1. I experienced a spectrum of emotion as I turned its pages.
“Wounded, killed, invalided home, shrapnel, gassed, influenza” are just some of the words I found my eyes drawn to. A father writes during 1917, ‘Our loss is indeed great, but we rejoice that our boys have been counted worthy to suffer into the death for what we believe, the overthrow of darkness and the extension of Christ’s Kingdom throughout the world.’ His two sons died in France 2 months apart. A mother writes with pride at the honouring of her son at Buckingham Palace where he received his Military Cross. The Deacons’ Court notifies the congregation of its pleasure in the acceptance of one of their ‘own’ being awarded a Lord Kitchener National Memorial Scholarship, one of only four in New Zealand.
In all a total of 222 names are entered, four of these are Nurses. Each entry gives the departure date for each person, their rank, what regiment they were part of, their victories, their injuries, the dates of their deaths or return at the conclusion of the war, and what occupation each eventually took up. At the closure of the notebook in May 1920, the total deaths recorded are 46, two of whom died from war injuries and influenza after returning to New Zealand. The majority listed returned home but a significant number settled in America, England, and Australia. Some of those returning took up their previous occupations, others moved into new ones, yet others left Dunedin to explore the cities in the North. An interesting task for one man was a commission to paint war pictures for the Australian Government.
The Nurses served in France, Egypt and on the troopship ‘Maheno’. There seemed little rest for them as they are reported to have commenced work within weeks of their arrival back. Two of the Nurses moved three times in 18 months working amongst the invalided soldiers in Otago.
The notebook, associated papers, and the Soldiers Committee minutes show a microcosm of WW1 New Zealand. The patriotic activities of the women who spent many hours making up gifts and parcels to send to ‘our boys’, the combined support networks of the various Church organisations with the Session and Deacons’ Court, the visiting teams to the soldiers families, the weekly Sunday special collections for patriotic expenses and chaplains’ work in the local military camps, and the prayer meetings reflect what was happening within New Zealand communities.
The parish dealt with the grief of those within its bounds, they supported soldiers’ families with gifts and money where the need was greatest and they focused on outreach through youth and women’s work. Their work was in the name of Jesus Christ who died for them all.