Just two weeks after Britain and the Empire declared war on Germany in August 1914, Ashburton held its first grand patriotic concert at the Theatre Royal in Wills Street. The concert was in aid of the War Fund, a national appeal that aimed to equip enlisting soldiers with more than the basics military equipment supplied by the government.
Following the success of that first concert, more patriotic concerts were added within a fortnight, including an evening outdoors concert organised by Mrs Chapman.
On September 1, 1914, and defying the ominous weather, a ‘goodly number’ of people surrounded the band rotunda in Baring Square West. They gave an encore of items earlier performed by the Temperance Band, the Ashburton Orchestral Society, and the several soloists who had appeared at the earlier concert two weeks before.
Rudyard Kipling’s fundraising poem, ‘The absent-minded beggar’, was also performed. This time in Sir Arthur Sullivan’s musical setting and sung by William Anderson, a local saddler.
Bandsmen and members of the Fire Brigade worked the crowd with collecting boxes and £8 went into the War Fund. Of course any contribution was welcome, but the sale of tickets best ensured a largish sum was raised at such events.
That was certainly the result of the “Grand Patriotic Concert” put on two days later by the Ashburton Branch of the Bible-in-Schools League.
A Grand Patriotic Concert
Tickets at a modest 2 shillings and 1 shilling meant the Theatre Royal again was packed on September 3. Like the earliest concert, the event also began with a procession that now included the band of the Salvation Army and local scout troops.
The Territorials marched in mufti. In an early example of recycling, the Territorials uniforms had been requisitioned for the men in training at Trentham as part of the Expeditionary Main Force.
As the Ashburton Guardian reported the following day, the audience at the theatre was ‘a very enthusiastic one and in just the mood for applauding everything and anything.’ In fact, the reporter noted:
‘Every performer was wildly encored. The patriotic feelings of a section of the audience occasionally got beyond the bottling-up point, and short snatches of naval and military airs were sung in various keys – mostly in discordant ones.’
Cause for celebration
The carnival-like atmosphere is understandable. The first action of New Zealand troops in the war had been a complete success.
News was just to hand that the expeditionary force dispatched to German Samoa to take a strategically important radio outpost had met no resistance and had received the surrender of the German governor of the island. Disquieting reports of heavy British losses in France failed to dampen the mood.
Enlistment here was strong. Gallipoli was still just a name on a map. The Roll of Honour that from May 1915 would appear daily in the nation’s newspapers, with ever-growing lists of New Zealanders killed, wounded or missing in action, was still unimagined.
For now, as the Guardian said,
‘everyone was happy, and the concert was really a success from all points of view.’
Performers came from Christchurch, Timaru and Waimate. But some of the locals who had taken part in the first concert remained, and a few of the songs were repeated.
Mrs Hall reappeared, this time with Elgar’s beloved ‘Land of hope and glory’, and Mr Gardner was again in fine voice. Bandmaster H A Humphreys, on cornet, was the solo instrumentalist.
The Temperance Band began the concert with ‘God save the King’ and it closed with a ‘Selection’ from the Salvation Army Band. An orchestra then gave two selections of ‘National Airs’.
The Territorials, cadets and the boy scouts and girl’ performed a patriotic tableau in the first half, while the scouts gave a ten-minute ‘Display’ in the second.
Miss Lucy Cowan from Christchurch recalled past feats of British valour as she recited Tennyson’s ‘The defence of Lucknow’; and then allowed ‘The absent-minded beggar’ his third appearance in three weeks.
Takings of £62 matched those at first patriotic concert, another $9,363.00 in today’s money. £10 went to the Belgian Relief Fund, one of several other emerging appeals; the remainder to the War Fund. In three weeks these three events had boosted Ashburton’s contribution to the war effort by a welcome £120, or nearly $20,000 in 2017.
Can you help?
Do you have any wartime concert memorabilia? Such concerts were a popular fundraiser nationwide and an important part of our history. If you do have programmes, advertisements, song sheets or similar from these events, Ashburton Museum would love to hear. Send us a message or contact the museum on +63 3 307 7890.
By Brian W Pritchard
- A fancy dress fundraising group for war relief during World War One.
- A compliments of the season card from the Ashburton Temperance Brass Band.
- Ashburton Scout troop, 1914.
- Advertisement for the second and third patriotic concerts on September 1 and 3, 1914, from the Ashburton Guardian.