A Missionary Caravan


At Ashburton Museum we are always receiving new objects and archival material into the collection. When images are donated we scan these so that we have a digital record. Once each image is scanned it becomes part of our digital collection. This collection is an important community resource. Scanning means we can make the collection much more accessible for researchers or anyone in the community who would like a copy of a heritage photograph. While there is nothing like having an original photograph, by scanning the images we can reproduce them so that many people can enjoy a piece local history.

Scanning images also helps us to preserve the collection. If we were to retrieve the same photograph time and again to make a hard copy, we would be taking the risk that each time the original is handled it may be damaged directly. Even when taking great care, each time an object is handled there is the potential for almost undetectable damage to be occurring – over time these signs of wear accumulate and the original is no longer preserved to the standard that it once was. Much of our work at the Museum is designed to ensure that over time our collection remains in a stable state. We avoid both obvious and undetectable damage at every opportunity.

Rugby and threshing

At the moment I have a rather large pile of images to scan and process. Coming from a single, although scattered, community there are a raft of images of schools and their pupils, shops and church buildings, sports groups and farming scenes. Each item adds a little more to the story of that particular sector of Mid Canterbury.

I must admit, however, that although not boring, after a while all the rugby teams and images of threshing does get a little monotonous. However, I was brought to sudden attention when I came across the images on this page that show The Church Army, Christchurch Diocesan Van and two church sisters in uniform.

Even the name was intriguing. I had first imagined that the Church Army was the Salvation Army, but then realised that the ladies in front of the van weren’t Salvationists but Anglicans. What was it all about!


Church Army Caravan

The Church Army Caravan was dedicated by the Anglican Bishop of Christchurch on 27 April 1934. It was built to ‘visit the isolated country districts in the Canterbury Plains’ from Amberley to Waimate. In dedicating the van the Bishop said it was like:

‘a rescue ship picking up those who are drifting and those who do not know where they are going and [it] will help them into the harbour of God’s peace’.

It would also:

‘gladden the hearts and lessen the loneliness of those cut off’ from church friendship by distance, and augment the often stretched services provided by the local ministers’.

While other visiting missions might stay a few days, if that, having their own accommodation allowed the two church ladies to stay for longer periods.

And it wasn’t bad accommodation either. The horse drawn van was built in Christchurch and was ‘almost as exact a replica of a modern house as it [was] possible to place on wheels.’

It had a kitchen with all the mod cons – large camp oven, meat safe and lots of cupboards. The roomy bedroom had a wash stand and conveniently, for the purpose of meetings, the beds converted into settees. The caravan was built in Christchurch and cost the Diocese 213 pounds. The first in the country, it followed an idea from England where up to 66 such vans travelled the countryside.

Of even more interest was that the two ladies who managed the van included an Ashburton woman. The Sister in Charge was K. North but her assistant was Hampstead gir,l Felcie Gertrude Childs, daughter of William Payne and Lucy Annie Childs. Lieutenant Childs was thought to be the first New Zealander accepted for training in Church Army work.

Felcie lived in Ashburton for a few years, and was involved with the Church in Karori from 1947 – 54. She died in Christchurch in 1994.

By Kathleen Stringer



  1. The Church Army Caravan, with Sister North and Felcie Childs during a visit to Bushside.
  2. The Church army Caravan van outside Bushside School with a small boy in the foreground.
  3. A group of parishioners with the two sisters alongside the van.

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