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War Fever

At the outbreak of the war, a commonly expressed concern was the need to enlist quickly in case the fighting ended before New Zealand forces could take part in what was widely imagined to be a great adventure. On August 8 1914, just four days after war was declared, the Evening Post newspaper reported that nearly 600 men in Wellington City had already volunteered for war service. George Davies was a schoolboy growing up in the working class Wellington suburb of Newtown. He recalls the enthusiasm to enlist among the men he knew.

Year:1914 (Recorded 1972)

Location:Newtown, Wellington, New Zealand

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War Fever

At the outbreak of the war, a commonly expressed concern was the need to enlist quickly in case the fighting ended before New Zealand forces could take part in what was widely imagined to be a great adventure. On August 8 1914, just four days after war was declared, the Evening Post newspaper reported that nearly 600 men in Wellington City had already volunteered for war service. George Davies was a schoolboy growing up in the working class Wellington suburb of Newtown. He recalls the enthusiasm to enlist among the men he knew.


Year: 1914 (Recorded 1972)

Length: 02:23

Production Company: Radio New Zealand

Credits: Interview by: Laurie Swindell, Produced by: Alwyn Owen

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

Catalogue Reference: 15569 Spectrum: Two Wellington Childhoods


People: George Davies

Location: Newtown, Wellington, New Zealand

Tags: Patriotism, Declaration of War, Volunteers, Animals, Home Front

Subject: World War 1914-1918, Patriotism, Declaration of War, Volunteers, Animals, Home Front


Image Title: Crowds follow the parade of soldiers down Rintoul St, Newtown

Image Source: Framegrab from Off to the Front, 1914 [F1820 Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision]


For working class men like those in George Davies’ family, the war offered an opportunity to escape their impoverished lives and see the world. At the outbreak of war, New Zealanders imagined their men would be sent to serve in France and would therefore get the chance to visit “Home”, as most of the country still called Britain.  Many families had relatives there, but a trip to see them was financially impossible for most working people.

Poor urban families like George Davies’ lived a hand-to-mouth existence. He says his mother often did not know where their next meal would come from. On occasions they were forced to burn palings from their garden fence and pieces of furniture to keep warm. He joined other boys in his neighbourhood stealing fruit and vegetables from gardens and scavenging coal from the wharves as a way to supplement the household income.

A life in the army, which would provide food, pay, accommodation and a new set of clothes, was an attractive prospect. Despite leftwing labour groups campaigning against militarism and the war, tough financial conditions caused many working class men to sign up, especially in Australia, which was experiencing high urban unemployment in 1914.