This postcard features the image of a Street Day held on 15 August 1917 to raise funds for the Belgian, Serbian and French Red Cross. The streets were lined with stalls selling produce such as eggs, meat, bread and sweets. They sold raffle ticket and treasure bags containing coupons for coal, cushions, cheese and toys, while a line of decorated vehicles paraded through the town. This day was one of many held to raise funds for war relief in Whanganui.
After war was declared on 4 August 1914, the military and civil minded citizens jumped into action. Men signed up for their duty at the Drill Hall in Maria Place, and civilians went into full fundraising mode, running galas and raffles and doing their bit for the boys at the front.
Individual and group efforts were all appreciated. Mr Rayney Jackson personally donated £1,500 for the purchase of a fully kitted-out aeroplane for the war, and another Carnival held in 1916 raised £65,899 for patriotic purposes (which equates nearly $9 million in 2019).
As patriotism grew, so did anti-German sentiment. The men’s choir, which had been called the Liedertafel since 1898, thought the name sounded too German so changed it to the Wanganui Male Choir. Pork butcher Conrad Heinold was the main target of a crowd that gathered in Victoria Avenue on the evening of 15 May 1915. German-born Heinold had set up business in Whanganui in 1886, becoming a naturalised British subject in 1894, but was accused of anti-British sympathies and his shop windows were smashed soon after the sinking of the Lusitania.
By the time the war ended on 11 November 1918, Whanganui had lost a total of 513 men. Wanting to commemorate their loss and the devastating effects of the war, talk immediately began on erecting a memorial to the soldiers. An argument about building a cenotaph on Queens Park or a lookout tower on Durie Hill was not settled, so both were built, one by the Wanganui Borough Council, and the other by the Wanganui County Council. The town also erected a memorial Moutoa Gardens, specifically to commemorate 17 Māori soldiers from the area who died.
Anzac Day has been celebrated locally and nationally since 1916, one year after the first ANZAC landings at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. These early celebrations involved a parade up Victoria Avenue and an open-air service at Cooks Gardens. By 1920, the Government had agreed to designate 25 April as an official day to commemorate the war, and by 1922, it was a full public holiday with all businesses closing as a mark of respect.
Whanganui citizens, however, had picked up the Australian practice of holding a dawn service. The early morning start reflected the time of the Gallipoli landings and mimicked the routine dawn stand-to in the trenches, with the added symbolism of the cold and dark morning being broken by a hopeful sunrise. Liking this idea, Whanganui held New Zealand’s first ever Dawn Ceremony in 1936. The rest of the country had adopted it by 1939.
Whanganui showed a great civic spirit throughout the war and afterward, supporting the troops on service and making sure they were remembered appropriately afterward.