As we commemorate the Great War, or World War 1, it is perhaps timely to reflect on the financial sacrifice made by all New Zealanders at that time.
Much has been written about the heroism and bravery of our soldiers, the terrible loss of lives and the campaigns that should never have taken place, but we have heard little about the financial burden carried by communities.
Ashburton was no different from other areas throughout New Zealand and established a patriotic fund, The Ashburton County War Relief Fund.
In August 1915 the Fund’s committee took the decision to raise at least £25000 for the benefit of the county’s wounded soldiers (and sailors) and their dependents. Today that would be equal to raising over $3.5 million. Every individual’s voluntary contribution was valued and acknowledged no matter how small.
The Ashburton Museum has two programmes from a small musical group that contributed to this great fundraising endeavour. According to the Ashburton Guardian, the group travelled around the county dressed in colourful Troubadour costume with ‘a breezy entertainment, including patriotic songs choruses . . . and local hits and skits’.
The group had the two-fold purpose of raising funds to help meet the needs of returned servicemen and their families, as well as aiding recruitment. At each concert the first part concluded with patriotic addresses by important local figures.
A well-designed programme booklet was sold as a souvenir and added to the money raised by admission. Most importantly, it contained a pledge sheet that allowed people to donate larger sums of money, either as a lump sum or by instalment.
The first performance took place at Hinds on 18 November 1915 and the following day the Guardian provided extensive coverage of the evening’s entertainment, including the good-natured fun that was aimed at local residents.
The patriotic speech encouraging recruitment was reported in detail. This debut concert raised £50 in door takings and programme sales but the amounts promised through the pledge sheet were never published. That remained the case for all of the Troubadours’ subsequent concerts.
This first concert set the scene for the six that followed in quick succession; all brought crowded venues, enthusiastic audiences, and vociferously demanded encores. At Staveley, a Union Jack flag was auctioned during the interval ‘amid much witty repartee’ and was sold many times over. The sale of the flag alone raised £477.
At Lauriston, the audience was crammed into the railway goods shed. Another flag auction combined with a variety auction, that sold among other things a cow, a cushion and a picture, raised in excess of £550.
The Fairfield and Newlands Fête was an all-day patriotic affair with its own souvenir programme. Here, the Troubadours provided the evening entertainment. Huge numbers were expected and a marquee that could seat a thousand people was provided with the stage illuminated by electric light. The bigger audience netted £1500 from the flag auction.
The now familiar pattern was repeated to a full house at Methven the following week. Five days later the group were at Lyndhurst performing in Friedlander Bros. grain store. As always, the flag auction was popular and by itself raised over £700. This night included an extra attraction – for a small charge a ‘dance with refreshments’ followed the concert.
The Troubadours’ final appearance for the year was at the Springfield Estate on 20 December. The venue was the granary and, as at the Fairfield and Newlands performance, the stage was lit with electric light. This time a silk Union Jack realised £252.
The culmination of the Troubadours direct fund raising efforts for the Ashburton County War Relief Fund came the following year on 13 April 1916 in the Theatre Royal with a concert that followed the pattern of the 1915 entertainments.
In January 1916, prior to this final concert, the local paper announced the Fund was halfway towards its target of £25000. In less than six months the community had raised more than £12500 in cash and pledges. The auctioning of the flag alone, from just four of the concerts, had raised over £1900. It was a tremendous effort.
Nobody was left in any doubt about the growing sum of money. Throughout the fund-raising campaign the Guardian had published running totals of the donations, and noted both donor and amount with sums smaller than 10/- being recorded. It was a form of social blackmail, an incentive for people to give generously. At times, for those not so well off it must have been discomforting.
The target of £25000 was achieved later in that year. A truly remarkable feat as people had also continued to respond to the usual charitable calls for money from their communities, churches and schools. The Ashburton Patriotic Troubadours had reason to be proud of the part they had played in helping the Ashburton County War Relief Fund meet its goal.
By Margaret Bean
- The pledge sheet from the Troubadour programme
- On the front cover of the Fairfield Newlands programme is a graphic illustration of the barbed wire entanglements at the battle of Givenchy.
- The Troubadour programme cover illustration was the work of Alfred H O’Keefe, a well-known portrait artist from Dunedin.
- Update of subscriptions from The Guardian 11 March 1916