In 1914, the outbreak of war in europe meant that young men from all over the world had to take up arms and travel overseas to fight for their empire. New Zealand, being a loyal member of the British Empire, had sent over 100,000 men to fight from 1914-1915. Of that number, 16,697 were killed and another 41,317 were wounded, making WWI the bloodiest war NZ had ever seen. Life for the soldiers on the front line was horrific, but what helped make it bearable for many was the support from the women back home.
In New Zealand, one day after the outbreak of war, Annette Liverpool sent out a plea to the women of New Zealand, asking for them to take up the role of providing "any necessaries which may be required" for the soldiers going to serve overseas. Only a few days after Lady Liverpool's plea had gone out, women all over NZ had formed organisations to support New Zealand troops, including a number of over 800 women attending a meeting in Dunedin. Women's patriotic organisations were formed all over New Zealand to provide supplies for their young men fighting overseas. Other organisations were set up and run by women to raise funds and gather materials to support the troops. All of the women's patriotic organisations were very important to the allies role in the war. But these organisations did not provide materials alone, they also dramatically boosted the morale of soldiers and civillians in war-torn areas of Europe. For most women, doing as much as they could to support the soldiers overseas also helped them to get through the war, as they felt like they were doing their part in the war effort.
Before WWI, women were generally seen only as domestic workers and more physical jobs were done by the men. But when most of the working men were conscripted to serve overseas, women took over their work. During the war women started to work in factories, farms, police, public transport and munitions/arms manufacturing. Though women were still hampered by a lack of rights, they did what they could to help the war effort and sustain their country. Women working in factories and such recieved less pay and respect than men did doing the same job. But throughout the war, women proved their value and their skills in doing 'manly' jobs by continuing to work.
But New Zealand is not the only place that kiwi women supported the war effort. Over 600 NZ nurses served overseas, 17 of which were killed including 10 that drowned in the sinking of the hospital ship Marquette. An unknown number of women (estimated to be several hundred) also paid their own way to Europe to support the troops on the front line. For example, Enid Bell was a NZ woman who paid her own way to Britain and was the first to join the Woman's Royal Naval Reserve (WREN). Other of these volunteers nursed injured soldiers, drove ambulances, set up clubs to entertain the men and some even were captured by the axis and put in POW camps. There were also about a dozen New Zealand female doctors serving overseas in WWI, but not with the New Zealand military as the NZ government at the time turned down their offers to help so they offered to help other governments, such as Britain, who gratefuly accepted.
Though the front was a terrible ordeal for all who were there, life for the women at home was also a hardship. Many women had children who they had to care for without a father to help. And while many women took over the jobs of the men, they were not paid a fair amount and many found it hard to feed their families. During and as a relult of WWI, being a single working mother started to become much more acceptable in society. This was because of the fact that most families did not have a father during the war, and many fathers never returned home afterwards. Because of their active, supportive role during the war, women started to be seen as being much more capable of standing on their own two feet. Another example of women becoming more independent can be seen in the