Tuesday, 19 August 2014

"Southland's Tribute to Belgium" 1914 -1918

A Belgian Family Leaving Alost
under German Bombardment.
[From my own collection]

The deprivations suffered by the Belgian people during "The Great War" [World War One] as their nation was overun by the Imperial German Army engendered considerable sympathy throughout New Zealand. The plight of the Belgian people brought forth all manner of co-ordinated provincial fundraising in order to make the lot of the displaced Belgians somewhat easier. All funds and donations were co-ordinated at a National level but how those funds were raised was decided at local level.

Belgian Cavalry Making Straw Shelters in which
to Hide from German Aeroplane Scouts.
[From my own collection]

By September 1914 the southern Province of Southland had begun actively campaigning for funds to contribute to the National Appeal for Belgium. This was in addition to fundraising for "The Patriotic Fund" [general fundraising] and the "Lady Liverpool Fund" [specifically for Soldier's comforts] but all fundraising activities appear to have been complimentary so that no one fund was disadvantaged for long. That Belgium, with an area of 11,400 square miles, was of a similar size to the Province of Southland but had a population of 7,000,000 to support as against 70,000 for Southland was also highlighted. More than a million Belgian men, women and children fled their homes "before the German tide", mainly seeking refuge in Britain and France.

A Belgian Bridge Blown Up by the Germans
and Temporarily Repaired by the Belgians.
[From my own collection]

The following month the Editor of "The Otautau Standard" implored its readers to support this worthy cause :

"... the Belgian nation is being ruthlessly trampled on, thousands of innocent lives are being sacrificed... The invader has reached Antwerp, which is close to the front door of Britain, it behoves every Britisher to be up and doing... Belgium is in a state of abject poverty and her people starving, refugees are making for Britain and neutral Holland. Much money is wanted for relief, and money sent promptly will do twice the good of money delayed. The Belgian Relief Fund is worthy of our utmost sacrifice." [13th Oct 1914]

A fortnight later a further Editorial exhortation again brought the plight of the Belgian People to the attention of the general public :

The Caption for the Editorial below

"...The German Army in Belgium with all its necessary transport, attendance in men, nurses, and horses, will be almost equal to doubling the ordinary population. Under normal conditions such an influx of the population would make it a difficult problem to provide food. When however a state of war exists, every industry in the country stopped, all railways closed, no exports taking place to bring in cash for wages and material, no imports of food supplies arriving, thousands of houses destroyed, all horses commandeered for military purposes, cattle sheep and pigs taken to feed the invading soldiers and the populace turned out of house and home without money, without food, and with only such clothes as they stand up in, the devastation resulting can scarcely be pictured in our land of peace and plenty...

Belgians Fleeing from the German Advance
[From my own collection]

...New Zealand has nobly responded to the Country's call to provide men and money to assist the Motherland in fighting the Great War; let New Zealand doubly exhibit her generosity with cash help to the noble Belgians, who have sacrificed everything ... There is probably no parallel case in history where so much sacrifice has been made by any nation as that by Belgium at the present time..." ["The Otautau Standard", Editorial, 27th Oct 1914]

"Southland's Tribute to Belgium" -
a Fundraising booklet from 1915
[From my own collection]

Fundraising for The Belgian Fund within the Western part of the Province of Southland included not only private contributions but also targeted collections, specific Church collections and donations by Church groups, the proceeds of Patriotic concerts, socials and dances, the proceeds of bazaars, street collections by "The Magpies [musical entertainers]... on a gaily-bedecked motor lorry", the sale of knitting, the donation of catering proceeds by ladies providing luncheons and teas at public events, donations from County Councils on behalf of their ratepayers, a collection at a billiard tournament, donations by "The Southland League", part proceeds of Jockey Club meetings, part proceeds of race winnings, Māori Boys from the Kaik "parading the streets" in a lorry and "performing the haka", the donation by Nightcaps coal miners of one shilling a month from their wages, the proceeds of sports meetings, the proceeds of "best ball golf matches", the proceeds of musical events, the proceeds of Temperance rally's, the sale of locally produced publications, the sale of privately donated agricultural produce and stock, men working on a threshing mill giving up a day's pay, forgoing entertainment fees which would then be paid to the fund, the sale of the above-mentioned booklet in June 1915, the sale of buttonholes and badges, the sale of flowers, the donation of clean used clothes to be sent to Belgium, the sale of home made sweets, and an auction of fish caught by the Southland Anglers' Association.

As noted in my ANZAC Day Blog, my own Father living at Heddon Bush in Central Southland, and then aged 12 years, gave a "recitation" on "Belgian Day" 1915 in support of the Belgian Relief Fund with an additional "voluntary" offering of his pocket money amounting to one shilling.

The 13th century Cloth Hall [Lakenhalle]
at Ypres in Flames, after heavy German
bombardment of the historic
town, 22 Nov 1914
[Source : "Bibby's Annual" 1915]

In April 1915 I note that the New Zealand Minister of Defence circularised local Councils throughout New Zealand whereby the Government guaranteed £5,000 monthly "for Belgian and kindred relief funds", the amount to be collected from all provinces and with donations carrying a £1 for £1 subsidy.  

By mid war many other nationally co-ordinated funds were also receiving financial support from Southland including, The Patriotic Fund, The Lady Liverpool Fund, The Serbian Fund, Dr Barnado's Homes, The Dominion Parcel Fund, The Red Cross, The New Zealand YMCA, The Trench Comforts Fund, The Gift Parcels Fund, The Wounded Soldiers' Fund, The British Relief Fund, The French Relief Fund, The British and Belgian Poor Fund, and The Expeditionary Force Fund.

The Famous Belgian Guides [Mounted Light Cavalry]
[From my own collection]

This created a bewildering and insatiable demand for available funds and it is to the credit of the populace of Southland that by and large funds were able to be allocated to all groups although Belgian and British Relief appears to have still received their fair share of fundraising as in most cases donations could be raised for and sent for credit of specific funds.

By 1917 donations, by way of money and clothing, would appear to be being wholely co-ordinated by the national "Lady Liverpool Fund", being for the benefit of "Belgian and British Relief" based in London. By 1918 this had been extended to an all encompassing "Belgian, British & French Relief" Fund.

Belgian Soldiers waiting at Aldwych Station London
for railway passes to visit their families who have
taken refuge in England. By 1915 all single Belgian
men up to 25 years had been called up
with those aged up to 35 following.
[Source : "The Graphic"]

I simply cannot determine what amount of funds were specifically raised in Southland for the Belgian Relief Fund. Although amounts are individually noted in the newspapers of the day this does not cover the whole of Southland nor are monthly figures ever quoted. But in no way do I wish to lessen the commitment of the New Zealand wide public to raise funds for Belgian Relief, fundraising in many towns and Cities being prodigious. We do know that by early 1915 the Dominion of New Zealand as a whole had sent over £37,000 [almost NZD$5.5 million in today's values] to London to be used for Belgian relief - a contribution which the Belgian Minister Count de Laising acknowledged "is so deeply appreciated by my suffering countrymen, and will ever be remembered by them."

The New Zealand YMCA serving refreshments at a mobile
 "Buckshee" stall for troops at Wizernes Siding in Belgium,
taken after the Battle of Passchendaele, 1917
[From : "A Pictorial Record of the Work of the N.Z. Y.M.C.A."]

It is remarkable that their most remote ally could show such support for "Gallant Little Belgium". Belgium had made the ultimate sacrifice by not allowing the free passage of German troops through their country and comparisons were often made to the "heathen barbarism" of their German occupiers. Feelings of patriotism ran high and there was no doubt in anyone's mind that the cause was just. Being so far removed from the war itself and generally without need we were indeed very fortunate but that did not lessen our solemn responsibility to show our tangible support of the Belgian people and those who had been directly affected by this dreadful conflagration.

A small card showing the Flags of the Allied Forces.
The National flag of Belgium is at lower left.
This card was sent after the death of a servicemen.
[From my own collection]

We were praised for our own continuing self-sacrifice in solidarity with the Belgian people but must also do without as the Belgian people were themselves forced to suffer and do without. It was also no accident that the delicious "German Biscuit" [Linzer Biscuit] became henceforth  known in New Zealand as the "Belgian Biscuit" while "German Sausage" became known simply as "Belgium" in Southern regions of New Zealand [now, as with the rest of New Zealand, generally known as "Luncheon"].

Active fundraising within Southland Province appears to have come to an end by the cessation of hostilities in 1918 with the National Fund being wound up in 1920. Southlanders could proudly hold their heads high, as could New Zealanders as a whole, that they had answered Belgium's call in their hour of need. 

Bibliography / Rārangi Pukapuka :
  • Postcards collected by my Uncle while serving in the forces during World War One
  • "Papers Past" [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
  • "New Zealand History Online" / Nga Korero a Ipurangi o Aotearoa
  • "Southland's Tribute to Belgium", 1915 [From my own collection]  
  • "Buckshee - A Pictorial Record of the World of the N.Z. Y.M.C.A." [From my own collection]
  • "Bibby's Annual", 1915 [From my own collection] 
  • "The Graphic", 1915 [From my own collection]


  1. "Gallant Little Belgium" was exactly right. Small, defenceless, vulnerable. But few knew that Belgium had made the ultimate sacrifice by _not allowing_ the free passage of German troops through their country and no-one in the Antibodes (I am guessing) would have identified with Belgium for family reasons. So the New Zealand newspapers and fund raising organisations were very wise in educating, advertising and creating a sense of patriotism.

    I suspect there were many places that became critically important in WW1 where citizens here would have scratched their heads and grabbed their school atlas.

    1. Thank you Hels. As a 'Southlander' myself I feel justifiably proud of their prodigious fund-raising abilities, something they are still very good at if the need is considered justified. And yes, I suspect that most people had to take a very quick geography lesson once war commenced. Incidentally, it took awhile for my own son to grasp what triggered WW1 and the various alliances that came into play, it would equally also have had a few people scratching their heads back in 1914!


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