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Mrs Barnard’s gingernuts

Six of Helena Barnard’s eight sons went away to fight, and she sent them care packages that included the gingernut biscuits she used to bake for them to take on tramping trips. The gingernuts were a welcome change from the notorious Gallipoli diet of tinned bully beef and ship’s biscuits. They lasted well and quickly became favourites with the boys at the front. Many wrote to Mrs Barnard asking her to provide their own mums with her recipe. Her gingernuts became famous and are quite possibly the original ANZAC biscuit. This interview was recorded around the time of Helena Barnard’s 100th birthday.

Year:1914-1918 (Recorded 1965)

Location:Eltham, Taranaki, New Zealand

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Mrs Barnard’s gingernuts

Six of Helena Barnard’s eight sons went away to fight, and she sent them care packages that included the gingernut biscuits she used to bake for them to take on tramping trips. The gingernuts were a welcome change from the notorious Gallipoli diet of tinned bully beef and ship’s biscuits. They lasted well and quickly became favourites with the boys at the front. Many wrote to Mrs Barnard asking her to provide their own mums with her recipe. Her gingernuts became famous and are quite possibly the original ANZAC biscuit. This interview was recorded around the time of Helena Barnard’s 100th birthday.


Year: 1914-1918 (Recorded 1965)

Length: 07:59

Source: Radio New Zealand Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Catalogue Reference: 27722 [Mrs Barnard, maker of gingernuts]


People: Helena Marion Barnard

Location: Eltham, Taranaki, New Zealand

Tags: Women, Home Front, Food, Correspondence, Recipes

Subject: World War, 1914-1918, Women, Food supply


Image Title: Mrs Barnard making gingernuts

Image Source: Courtesy of Mary-Anne Sanders


Sending parcels of gingernuts was only one of the ways in which Mrs Barnard, and many other women like her, supported their boys at the front. During her baking career, throughout both world wars, Mrs Barnard baked over four tons of gingernut biscuits to send to the troops. However, she also raised enough funds in her hometown of Eltham, in the rural NZ district of Taranaki, to buy a motorised field ambulance, and sent over numerous handmade garments for the soldiers.

Letters and parcels from home were very important for keeping up morale among the troops. Families would send letters and parcels containing food, clothing and other home comforts to their husbands, sons and brothers. Receiving these parcels was a lifeline and supplemented the soldiers’ otherwise boring and unhealthy diet of tinned bully beef and hard ship’s biscuits.

Fundraising was also an important way to keep up morale at home. It felt good for the women and children left behind to support the cause of their loved ones fighting overseas. Many women founded, or joined, patriotic societies which held balls, raffles and market stalls to raise funds. The proceeds of these ventures were collected and sent to support various causes such as the Red Cross and the Belgian Relief Fund. Women and children also enthusiastically sewed, knitted and baked to produce clothing and food not only for their own men, but those recovering in field hospitals, and those without families to send them parcels.

Mrs Barnard took part in many of these activities, earning a commemoration from the town of Eltham for her work, in particular the funds she raised for the ambulance.