Wave of patriotism sweeps nation

01:55, Jul 28 2014
SPREAD THE NEWS: Prime Minister William Massey – in the middle of the picture, with white moustache – addresses thousands on the steps of Parliament as the country learns it has joined the looming world war.
SPREAD THE NEWS: Prime Minister William Massey – in the middle of the picture, with white moustache – addresses thousands on the steps of Parliament as the country learns it has joined the looming world war.

The announcement was posted on the doors of newspaper offices on the morning of August 5, 1914.

The governor had received an important message from the king, and was going to read it out on the steps of Parliament at 3pm.

Tension had been mounting for days, and it seemed like a declaration of war was inevitable.

So that afternoon, thousands of Wellingtonians assembled around the steps of the Parliamentary Library, on top of its portico, and on the lawn all the way down to Molesworth St – then known as Charlotte St.

Parliament then was a construction site, surrounded by crane gantries. A new Parliament House was finally being built after most of the buildings were destroyed in a fire in 1907.

As the crowd gathered, there was a general feeling of "suppressed excitement", newspapers reported.

"The historic importance of the occasion was evidently deeply felt," the Evening Post wrote.

By the time Lord Liverpool arrived, 15,000 people were waiting. They cheered as he took his place on the steps, accompanied by Prime Minister William Massey, cabinet ministers and Sir Joseph Ward, the leader of the Opposition.

Lord Liverpool began by reading the message from the king, which thanked the people of the overseas dominions for their loyalty. He also read out his response, saying New Zealand was prepared to make any sacrifice.

Lord Liverpool then paused, and said simply: "I have another telegram to announce which I have received. War has broken out with Germany."

A hush descended over the crowd as they absorbed the gravity of the governor's words.

But they soon broke into cheers, and the men removed their hats and began singing the national anthem.

"Hats and hands were raised in the air, but the face was one of strained emotion," the Evening Post reported.

"Old men on the outskirts of the crowd were seen with tears tracing down their cheeks and women with handkerchiefs to their eyes."

Massey spoke next, and urged the crowd to "keep cool, stand fast, do your duty to your country and your Empire".

"We will do that," the crowd chanted back.

Sir Joseph said the British Empire was entering "the greatest crisis in its history".

"My motto is, 'for King and country', and it will be fervently breathed by the loyal people of this dominion, as it will be throughout our widely scattered empire. May God bless and protect the British forces on land and sea and make them victorious, is my earnest prayer."

There was another outburst of cheering, and the crowd sang God Save the King followed by Rule Britannia.

In Auckland, hundreds of people gathered outside the New Zealand Herald office as the governor's announcement was transmitted along the wire.

After the message was read, men removed their hats, and the national anthem was sung with "subdued earnestness" before three cheers were given for the king, France and Russia.

Many of the crowd hurried home with a "spirit of patriotic excitement", but thousands more gathered on Queen St and remained there into the night, taking part in enthusiastic demonstrations.

A group of young men carrying Union Jacks began a procession and street musicians joined in, playing a repertoire of patriotic tunes.

A similar demonstration took place in Christchurch, with a long procession of young men parading the streets, singing British and French patriotic songs and cheering both countries.

In Dunedin, an announcement of war was made from the stage at one of the picture theatres. Upon hearing the news, the audience stood up and sang God Save the King.

In the coming days, thousands of men around the country would be caught up in the wave of fervent patriotism sweeping the country.

By the end of the first week, 14,000 had volunteered to enlist.

Among them was 8-year-old Teddy Reynolds, from Lower Hutt, who wrote to the governor offering his services: "Would you let me come to the war?" he asked in his letter.

"My father is going to the war and I wood like to go and fite for our country." [sic]