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Community: 'The Flat' at War

The First World War 1914-1918 was perhaps the most devastating single event to affect the people of southern Dunedin in the study period. New Zealand as a nation suffered the highest per capita casualty rate of any country involved in the war. Otago was particularly hard hit. Its population was older and had a smaller proportion of eligible men of recruiting age. Nonetheless Otago was expected to provide the same number of men as the larger provinces to the north. This recruiting burden fell largely on urban Dunedin, including its densely populated southern suburbs. The Otago Infantry Regiment was also involved in some of the worst fighting of the war. The 'unlucky Otagos' suffered more dead than any other New Zealand regiment.

Saluting the flagThis undated photograph from the Rachel Renolds Kindergarten illustrates the passion for 'King and Empire' which pervaded many aspects of life on 'the Flat' during the study period. For boys in particular, training as soldiers started with play in the streets and was formalised by school cadet companies at both primary and secondary levels. Cadet units, which were usually led by teachers with some assistance from the 'real' Army and senior pupils, emphasised discipline, loyalty and teamwork as well as providing practical training in handling and operating weapons, navigation using field maps, battlefield survival and, of course, 'square bashing' (marching drills). (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

DrawingOn 2 May 1915, after the landing at Gallipoli, the Otago Infantry Regiment was committed to New Zealand's first 'big push' of the First World War. This involved an attack on a small hill, code-named Baby 700, heavily defended by Turkish machineguns. It was a disaster. Less than half of the 800 men who began the attack were fit for combat after it. Four Caversham men were killed, the suburb's worst loss from any single engagement of the war. Baby 700 is in the centre of this sketch map which also shows many of Gallipoli's famous landmarks. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

war picThe First World War saw a great expansion in socially approved gatherings for women. The New Zealand Expeditionary Force was largely equipped by voluntary community efforts, with women taking the lead in sewing, knitting, embroidering and baking for the troops. These patriotic activities saw married women from 'the Flat' making their way to public halls where they worked alongside complete strangers for the common cause. This was a new experience for many and one that was greatly enjoyed. (Otago Womens Provincial Council Papers, Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

War MemorialThe terrible cost of the First World War demanded some communal response as these next two photographs show. War memorials were raised to preserve the memory of those who had fallen. Some were large and imposing, such as these memorial gates at Caversham School. Others were modest 'honours boards' adorning the offices and boardrooms of local clubs and businesses. (Otago Witness, 27 November 1927, Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

War MemorialAs today, on Anzac Day and other significant dates (for example; Armistice Day, VE Day, VJ Day) local communities often gathered around local war memorials to remember and give thanks for the sacrifices of the fallen. This crowd are attending a service at the Caversham School gates. (Otago Witness, 27 November 1927, Otago Settlers Museum Collection)


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