Wellington Scoop

New Great War exhibition opening: Women’s War

Press Release – The Great War Exhibition
Women’s War is a compelling new exhibition portraying how New Zealand Women rallied to face the challenges of the First World War, opening at the Great War Exhibition in Wellington on Friday 23 February.

While men suffered ghastly atrocities on the battlefields, the women of New Zealand also faced the realities of war. Everyone was called upon to support the war effort—girls gave up their educations to tend to family farms, while other women volunteered by knitting socks for soldiers. Nurses fought to travel to the front lines to tend the sick and wounded, while others challenged the status-quo by pioneering campaigns on issues like venereal disease.

Exhibitions Manager at the Great War Exhibition, Ian Wards, says: “So much of this war story has been told through the eyes and ears of men, so it is great to acknowledge, see and hear the experiences of women in the war.”

Women’s War gives voice to their experiences, utilising cutting-edge audio-visual technology and recreations of outfits that were worn by six types of women—patriotic, supportive family, nurses, entertainers, independent workers and pioneers.

Fiona Baverstock, an Australian private collector of textiles and vintage clothing, who created the costumes, says, “Women brought a ‘can do’ practicality to the war effort and a ‘need to do’ practicality to fashion. Anything that restricted their ability to get things done had to go – so down went waistlines, up came hemlines and out went corsets, unnecessary layers, big hats and dainty shoes. These were extraordinary ordinary women, who achieved feats and survived devastation and privation that astonished even themselves.”

Direct quotes from New Zealand women’s diaries and letters are used in the exhibition. Deborah Pitts Taylor, an independent worker who drove ambulances during the war, said, “They treat a New Zealand girl quite differently… You are a bit of a pal.”

For 15-year-old gifted student Katarina Wharerauaruhe Te Tau, the war ruined a bright academic future. “I had a hard-working life. My eldest brother enlisted into the war and my dad was growing wheat by the acre, acres and acres of it. So, I gave up school. I was the eldest one, you see, so I had to give up school and help Dad.”

Ettie Rout campaigned to combat venereal disease. “The only two permanent reliable attractions are—beer and women—mostly women,” she said. “Well… if they will have women—and they most certainly will—give them clean women.”

Annie Montgomerie, a supportive mother, had two sons, Oswald and Seton, who wanted to serve as pilots, which meant enlisting in Britain. She moved to London, keeping a diary of her experiences, and faced Zeppelin attacks and suffered in the influenza epidemic.

Lady Liverpool and Lady Pomare were two patriots who raised money and goods—such as socks and care packages—for soldiers, and ran the Maori Soldiers Fund. Lady Pomare used to pluck the wool from fences and take it home to knit socks, creating 512 pairs which were sent to soldiers in the Maori Battalion. Lady Liverpool is quoted on the front of Her Excellency’s Knitting Book—a Guide for Women Knitting for Soldiers in the War, “For Empire and for Freedom, we all must do our bit. The men go forth to battle. The women wait—and knit.”

Women’s War is created by Story Inc. and Dusk, and is funded by the Lottery Grants Board. The sixth of seven touring exhibitions, the show gives The Great War Exhibition a chance to tell the lesser-known stories the First World War.

Content Sourced from scoop.co.nz
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