Women in war

Women in war 

This hook starts with two images side by side, one of a nurse and the other of a woman who became a key organiser of fund-raising and care packages for the home front. It goes on to explore the important roles carried out by women during the First World War and the effect these roles have had on women today


Lady Mildred Amelia Tapapa Woodbine Pōmare & Aunt Margaret Watt


Left: Lady Mildred Amelia Tapapa Woodbine Pōmare by Stanley Pokinghorne Andrew, 1910. Alexander Turnbull Library. 1/1-014582-G.

Right: Aunt Margaret Watt, First World War, (photographer unknown) provided by Margaret Haughton, nee Watt, 1915–1919. Picture Wairarapa. 15-03/6. 


Lady Mildred Amelia Tapapa Woodbine Pōmare, also known as Mīria Tapapa (Rongowhakaata and Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki) was a prominent leader and organiser on the home front in New Zealand. She worked with others, such as the Governor’s wife Lady Liverpool and thousands of volunteers, to support the war effort by providing care packages for soldiers overseas and establishing the Māori Soldiers’ fund. She was married to Māui Pōmare (Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Toa), MP for Western Māori. 

Margaret Watt, from Palmerston North, served in Samoa, New Zealand, and France during the entire First World War. About 500 women from this country served overseas as nurses, but others went over as health workers and sometimes as wives and mothers so that they could be close by the men while they were on leave. Doctors and nurses worked extremely hard in difficult conditions on ships, in casualty areas, and in hospitals further away from the front. New Zealand nurses gained a reputation for being “splendid workers and managers, and so adaptable” (The Taranaki Daily News, 15 October 1915, page 6 – see the link under “Supporting resources” below). 

At home, women were raising funds and sending packages that might bring comfort to soldiers. These packages contained things like hand-knitted socks, baking, books, and tobacco. Women raised funds for wounded soldiers and their families or for people in war-torn countries like Belgium. By 1920, fund-raising organisations in New Zealand had raised £5,695,321, about $700 million in today’s money. This is especially significant when you remember that the population of New Zealand was just over 1 million people in 1914. 

Key questions 

What can we observe? 

What do we already know? 

How might people view these images in different ways? 


Possible discussion questions 

How did the contributions of women aid the war effort? 

How did women’s roles change during and after the war in comparison to their roles before the war? What caused these changes? How have the changes affected our lives today? 

Why were women not allowed to enlist as soldiers during the First World War? What are some positives and negatives of only allowing men to fight? 

Not all women would have had the same experiences during the war. What are some similarities and differences in the experiences of diverse groups of women? 

Do you think women’s contributions during the First World War were as valued as men’s? Why or why not? If you think there was a difference, do you think it was fair? 

How are women who contributed to the First World War recognised differently to men? 

There are now no restrictions on women serving in combat roles in the New Zealand Defence Force. How do you think this changes the kinds of roles people take on in wartime? 

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