Lest we forget, we say solemnly.
Lest we forget the sacrifice of those who served in war zones.
Lest we forget that many paid with their lives, many with their health, and that none could return untouched by the horrors they experienced.
My maternal grandfather served with the New Zealand Army in World War I. My mother said he never talked about it and buried his medals in the garden.
My father served with the New Zealand Army’s 20th Battalion. He too didn’t ever say much about his experiences, though did show us the photo of he and the four other men who were the only survivors of the company of 120 after the Battle of Ruweisat Ridge.
When I hear lest we forget I think of that and give thanks I don’t have to live with the memories of what it was like to be there.
No matter what we’ve read, listened to and watched, none of us who have never served in a war zone can understand what it was like.
The Veteran at No Minister, has written a post that reminds us the impact that fighting a war had not just on those who served and not just while they served.
Lest we forget.
Anzac Day services have been cancelled in Auckland and the Queenstown parade has been cancelled though other events in the south will go ahead.
The cancellations have come on police advice although there don’t appear to be any specific threats.
The attack on the Christchurch mosques showed us that New Zealand is no more safe from terror attacks than anywhere else, but are the decisions to cancel some Anzac Day services and a parade prudence or panic?
I was in London in 1982 when IRA bombs in Hyde and Regents Park killed eight people and injured many more.
Life went on as normal afterwards just as it had after all the other IRA bombing campaigns.
If there are known threats in the wake of the March 15 atrocities we should be told, if there are not we ought to carry on as we would normally do.
. . . If the only reason the police are still carrying highly visible firearms at public events, and curtailing Anzac Day observances, is to provide “reassurance” for the community, it might be time for them to think again. Terrorism succeeds when a community is afraid to go about its normal life. There is no sign of that sort of fear among the general public and no reason there would be. One man stands accused of the murders in Christchurch and police are confident he acted alone. . . .
Life will never be the same for those directly affected by the mosque attacks.
It will never be quite the same for the rest of us either but if there are no known threats, the terrorist wins if we live in fear.
They also serve who only stand and wait.
This line from John Milton’s poem On His Blindness is often quoted about the people who didn’t join serve overseas during World Wars I and II.
While they might have waited, the people left behind didn’t just stand, they too worked for the war effort and kept the home fires burning.
Among those who are often overlooked when tributes to war service are made were World War II’s Land Girls.
A speech commemorating the marvelous – but largely unsung – wartime service of the NZ Women’s Land Service (the Land Girls), was delivered by Federated Farmers President Katie Milne at the Anzac Day Service at Moana, on the West Coast. Katie was wearing her volunteer fire brigade dress uniform. The talk was researched and put together by Sheryl Hynes, borrowing from books such as The Land Girls: In a Man’s World, 1939-1946 by Dianne Bardsley
Their names were Ruth and Florence, Norma, Betty, Ada, Melba, Heather and Beatrice. And they worked at trimming gorse hedges, driving bullock teams, castrating horses, trapping and skinning ferrets.
When the Second World War broke out, and a large part of New Zealand’s manpower was enlisted, there was much pressure on the nation to increase food production – meat, dairy, wheat, honey, eggs, seeds, potatoes, vegetables, flax, wool. Britain needed food support, NZ troops overseas required supplies, and 100,000 Americans were to arrive.
The idea for a Women’s Land Corps was first mooted in 1939 – it didn’t happen until 1942. There was much opposition from the Ministry of Agriculture, newspapers, churches and especially the Farmers’ Union – the forerunner of today’s Federated Farmers.
The Farmers’ Union was outspoken about not wanting land girls but rather needing “experienced men”. The experienced men were now away on the battlefields and those who were still on the land were much older men, many of whom had served in World War One. One phrase that was repeated was, “we don’t want women, Italian prisoners-of-war, and immigrants”.
Farmers’ wives were outspoken about not employing land girls, calling them town hussies, and were disappointed that they were not allowed to do domestic work inside the household.
And their names were Phyllis and Lorna, Pixie, Enid, Made, and Silvia, Lillian and Elsie, and they worked at breaking horses, building a swingbridge, hand scything the hay paddock, wool classing, and snow raking.
When manpower controls began in 1942, young single women had to choose between factory work or land service. Lots of them realized they didn’t want a boring 9-5 job, with men as bosses, and decided to give rural work a go.
They were given a uniform of sou-wester, overalls, gumboots, leggings, raincoat, woolen socks – but only after they had proved themselves on the job for a month. The first contact with the new employer might be under the main clock at the Timaru Railway Station, followed by a long ride in a horse and dray.
Lots of land girls came from farming families and they chose to stay on the home farm, often because a father had been badly injured in World War One, and brothers had enlisted. Or they moved to relatives’ farms, and quickly became managers.
The girls from town, who sometimes turned up on their first day in high heels and silk stockings, soon took to the new work, and surprised themselves with what they could tackle. Often there was no electricity, so that meant coal ranges, blade shearing, petrol-powered milking machines. So girls who arrived not knowing a chook from a rooster became adept at milking, and shoeing horses, and driving tractors. They were versatile and conscientious, adventurous and good company – and hard workers.
Some found the isolation too much, and headed back to the factory. Others didn’t leave the property for a year and worked for months without a day off.
A Sunday off might mean a 15-mile ride on horseback to have a picnic with the girl next door. A Saturday night dance at a nearby hall needed a long gown tied to the saddle, and getting home in time to milk the cows. There might be a catch-up at the local tearooms or after the stock sales.
Evenings were spent writing letters – often to soldiers – knitting, reading, listening to the radio, correspondence school courses, Red Cross work. They were usually absolutely doggo by the end of the day, went to bed early and had no trouble sleeping.
And their names were Ngaio and Pat, Dulcie, Beatrice, Grace and Violet, Gwen and Hazel, and their work was repairing telephone lines, cleaning out the cowshed with buckets of water, pulling ragwort, emptying the septic tank, stumping using gelignite and horses.
Some hospitals, boarding schools and gaols had their own farms – usually a dairy herd and large areas of food crops. At Hanmer Hospital farm the land girls lived in the hospital cottage with the laundry staff and sewing room girls and there was always company, as well as the thermal pools. The same girl who had turned up in high heels was determined to do a good job and after a week was headmilking 15 cows, the same as the boss.
The Army provided soldiers at harvesting time and they worked an 8-hour day alongside the girls, who managed a 12-hour day, and for less pay. One sergeant, who was helping to move sheep, was told there was a big difference between motorcycle pace and pregnant ewe pace.
Most of the girls reared their working dogs. A favourite story tells of some Rangiora girls who organized a gymkhana, with tractor races, dog trials, biggest pumpkin and a baby show. One of the girls decided that she had to put so much time and effort into her pup that she should enter it in the baby show. So a three-month-old pup was dressed in baby clothes, put in a pram, its tail yanked to get a good yelp. The judge, a local Plunket nurse thinking quickly, awarded a certificate “for a very special 3-month old baby with a full set of teeth”.
Land girls were paid a set wage by the farm owner, who was sometimes subsidized by the government. Often the farmer was a widow, or another woman, and the girls were much appreciated, especially after the remaining worker – usually the cowman-gardener – had enlisted.
Later, after the war, the girls were praised by the farmers they had worked for – for their determination and doggedness, their solid work and good cheer.
The Women’s Land Service was the largest of the women’s war services and it disbanded in 1946. It began without the support and recognition of the men it was formed to assist – and it ended that way. The girls’ war service was not officially recognised; they were not allowed to join the RSA; they had no official service number; government histories barely make mention of them.
Some 23,000 men left the farming industry to serve overseas; 4,500 women stepped into their shoes. And production in every area of agriculture increased. This wasn’t because of better machinery – the government had commandeered all farm trucks, spare horses and weapons.
On V.E. Day in 1945 everybody in uniform paraded but the land girls were not invited. So they decided to have their own parade. They took their dogs in the very old trucks and presented themselves at the front of the parade in Christchurch. Of course they were not welcome there so they went to where the parade was to finish, and did it in reverse – with great fun.
Many of them commented in later years that the Women’s Land Service changed their lives.
And their names were Portia and Cecilia, Patsy and Beulah, Sadie and Ethel, Winifred and Mollie. And they worked at splitting battens and posts, building gates and cattle stops, cross-cut sawing, buying and selling stock, repairing windmills.
They were mechanics and shepherds, plumbers and fencers, and we are full of admiration for them. But they all agreed the worst job was plucking wool from dead sheep, and killing for the dog tucker.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Katie Milne and I’m the President of Federated Farmers of New Zealand, the former Farmers’ Union – the first female president in the organisation’s 118 year history. I appreciate the irony of telling you about the Women’s Land Service and the marvelous work they achieved during the war, despite the mistrust from so many quarters.
Farming was a reserved occupation which exempted farmers from conscription during World War II.
Many country men enlisted anyway leaving a shortage of labour on farms which in those days had little mechanisation.
Young women were enlisted to fill jobs vacated by men in the services, some of them became Land Girls, one of those was Sadie Lietze (nee Stuart):
. . . Lietze was interviewed and she chose the Womens Land Service. A week later tickets arrive in the post. She was being sent to Omarama to work at the high country station, Tara Hills.
“Omarama was a place I had never heard of, never been. I had to look in the map to know where Omarama was. It was quite an experience for me. I was just 19. I had never travelled much or been away from Dunedin.”
The 94-year-old recalls the trip to the high country station, where she would remain for two years, vividly:
“I left in the morning by the Mail Bus … My new boss met me in Omarama. As we travelled the three miles to Tara Hills Station in a jogger, a two wheeled cart pulled by a horse, similar to a trotting sulky. Little did I know I would stay two years as a cowman, a gardner, assistant rabbiter and horse breaker, a musterer, a wool classer and a general rouse about.
“I milked cows morning, night – every day of the year and never had a break. You would get Saturday afternoon off to do your washing. I just did everything that was asked. I did it. People say to me, ‘why did you do it?’ I say, “well, you did it because it was a war effort’.”
Growing up on a dairy farm, Lietze was using to milking cows. But the back-aching task of rabbiting was hard, she says.
Rabbits were real problem. Trapping rabbits was a fulltime job in winter. Rabbits were trapped, gutted and hung in twos on a fence at the road gate. These were picked up an hung on the rabbit truck and taken to Pukeuri Freezing Works near Oamaru to be later sent to England for food.
“After trapping we poisoned the rabbits. A furrow was scratched along the foothills, carrots were packed into saddle bags and I would walk along dropping sliced carrots into the furrows.
“Two days later I would do it again. I had to dig a huge hole big enough to bury a horse in.
“Then the next day I would drop carrots which had been laced with strychnine. The following day we would pick up hundreds of frozen rabbits, take them in the saddle bags to the big hole. Here we would skin them.
“It was a back-aching chore. In the evening we would stretch the skins on wires and hang them on a line to dry. When we had almost forgotten the pain we would start again on another block.”
The biggest hardships were the conditions and the cold, she says.
“There was no electricity. A Delco engine charged batteries for light and the wireless, which we listened to for the War News at nine o’clock. Then I would go to be and be up again at 6am. I just slept in an old hut. You take the sack off the floor and put it on you – it was freezing. Omarama is cold and you put the sack on top of your bedding to keep you warm. I wasn’t the only one.” . . .
Some Land Girls had been brought up in the country and relished the opportunity to work on farms, often those of their families. But when the war was over and their fathers and brothers returned they weren’t given the choice of keeping their jobs.
Some women who farmed during the war were farmers’ wives who had no choice but to step into their husbands’ boots to keep the farms going.
It wasn’t easy work and it often wasn’t easy for either partner when the war was over.
One returned service man told me when he came home both he and his wife had changed and his children didn’t know who he was.
They called us the heroes, but it was the women who stayed behind who were the heroes.
My wife took over the farm and ran it while looking after the children and managed it all by herself.
She’d been doing it all for all those years then I came home, thinking I knew it all and took over.
These days, one of us would have walked out, but then you got on and made the best of it.
Mr Scott, the music teacher at Oamaru Intermediate School was a returned service man.
We might not have appreciated the stories he told of World War II but we took his preparations for Anzac Day seriously and approached the service with the solemnity it was due.
Among the songs he taught us was Oh Valiant Hearts, words written by John Arkwright and Charles Harris, music by Edward Hopkins, and sung here at Menim Gate by Emma Brown.