This blog focuses on and displays our research on women who remained on the home front in the South Pacific during the First World War. We focus on how these women adapted to the impact of War and the absence of men.

We focus on the characters and stories of Maori, Samoan, European New Zealand and Australian women.

Our story is written in the first person in order to create a personal connection between our audience and the characters in the stories. Each story has been drawn from research, inspired by a photo and fictionalised into a first person account.

We invite you explore the stories by clicking on the images below or select from the list of posts on the left.

Blog content creators :
  • Melania Tasi Wulf (Samoan)
  • Charlie Mills (European NZ)
  • J’leanne Carpenter (Maori)
  • Reo Hollick (Australian) 

Australian Women on the Home Front

Australia was an enthusiastic supporter of the British Empire during the First World War. With a large male population being dispatched off shore to battle, the women left behind carried their fight on to show support from the home front. Their lives are not exactly the same as it used to be... or will be again.

The Photographer
I take this photograph today with pride of these lovely patriotic Australian girls, showing their full support for our soldiers off shore battling in the War. It has been tough for these ladies, many of whom have had to let go of their sons and spouses, and all of them have somehow been affected by the war. Women have had to manage their house and families by themselves, taking care of their children and working domestic labour.

Quite a few more women workers can be seen nowadays. Some have even taken up jobs of grown men, though very scarce, the union seems to be scared that these ladies would lower the wages for when the soldiers return.

Though denied to take an active part in the war other than specially selected servicewomen and nurses, acts like knitting clothes for the soldiers off shore in need of warmth and comfort,  more than ever before, defines true patriotism for the Australian lady.

There’s always a demand for comfort package supplies to be sent off shore, the soldiers need things such as tobacco, family letters and portraits, and most of all, clothing. It seems that there’s always a demand for socks as I hear socks often get ruined in a single day, and the trenches are so cold, wet and full of mud that drying or cleaning a pair of socks is quite the impossible task.

When not taking care of the home or working womanly jobs, there is not a time where I do not see these women knitting away at something or other. The clicking of needles and manipulating of dark wool by groups of women is such a common site now but one day will be considered out of the ordinary.

Photographer unknown. (1916). Cudgewa, Victoria [photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/statelibraryofnsw/4658773615

Returning Home
Oh how great it is to see him again, with so many other women receiving those sad letters telling them of their husband's death, I consider myself ever so lucky even if my man’s back is injured. How I have waited for this day!

Never would I have thought the war would drag on for as long as it did. Unlike the support I showed when the war initially broke out, my will wavered and I had become weary after the first year was through. The only news you would ever hear was of casualties or my families and friends losing their sons and husbands in some tragic accident.

The reality of war struck when our boys were defeated in Gallipoli, ever since then we all had been tired with the war and pain stricken. It pained my heart to receive letters from my husband describing the horrible things he saw and the environment he was in. And his talk of homesickness, his wish to return back home to me only gave me more pain as I could not help him.

With no signs of the war ending and less enthusiasm being shown on the home front, many women I know refused to let their sons or husbands participate in the war. And I would have too if I knew any better, but we were so drunk with the pride of Australia entering a great war that none of us knew better. But now my husband is back, as battered as he is, at least I am not one of the widowed. The real struggle begins now as we both have to take care of our family. I hardly believe any place will employ my husband with the state he is in, and I have heard the government pension for soldiers is very little, which is injustice for the very men who gave up their lives for the safety of its people.

My husband has also changed now, so have many other men. Compared to before the war, the way my husband talks, looks, the way he thinks has changed. He seems to blankly stare at spaces a lot, and at night he has much trouble sleeping. Other men have it worse, they are too mentally ill to fit back into society; some have confined themselves into their homes and never leave. How the war has changed us all, but for now I will cherish this moment and we shall work through the oncoming hardships together.

Mail, S. (1918). (photograph). Retrieved from http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/H11574/

Samoan women during the First World War

Western Samoa became involved in the Great War of 1914 as a result of being a German colony since 1900. On August 29, 1914, New Zealand troops marched into the capital Apia, and seized control of the German administration. The German population was rounded up, their properties and businesses confiscated and most of the men were sent to prison camps in New Zealand.

The War may have been fought in Europe but the effects were certainly felt in the Pacific. With most German males arrested, their wives and families endured psychological, social and economic struggles due to the loss of their men and livelihoods.

These stories are based on family history research.

The story of Malo (right side, in floral print holding a child)
I was one of three sisters, born in the village of Poutasi, Falealili in 1886. My father was high chief Tuatagaloa. I was a full-blooded Samoan; a ‘native’ is what the Siamani (Germans) called us. I ended up marrying one of those Siamani. His name was Theodor Wulf and we married in 1904 when I was 18 years old. He was 26.

Germany needed copra (dried coconut) for oil and the islands were covered with coconut plantations. Theodor bought 65 acres of land in my village and we built our home at the border, near the sea. It took a long time to clear the forest for planting. We grew coconuts, cocoa and coffee and kept a herd of cattle. The cows kept the coconut trees healthy by eating away the weeds.

Theodor also inherited his father Hans’ Gaogao plantation in the nearby district of Lefaga when he died in 1893 so he divided his days between us and Gaogao. His younger brother Edward was married and living on Savai'i Island running his own plantation so Theodor was on his own. Funny thing with these Germans, the girls were not allowed to inherit any shares of the plantation so Tetoa's (Theodor) sisters had already married and left for Germany and America by 1910.

In 1905, I gave birth to our firstborn son, Heinrich Diedrich Michael. I wanted a Samoan name but Theodor said it was "useless". "My son would not be accepted in school with a Samoan name", he said. He was right of course; the only school was in Apia and only the pālālagi (white people) were allowed. We had five more children – Bernadette, Marie, Otto, Theodor and Cecilia. They were white with green-blue eyes like their father except for my Theodor; he was darker, like me.

We had Melanesian and Chinese workers who gathered the coconuts under Theodor’s watchful eyes. He was ruthless and everyone was afraid of him. He showed me how to milk the cows and churn the milk into butter and cheese. I didn't like the taste of cheese but I loved butter.

When we heard news that war had started, Theodor was worried about how it would affect us. By mid-September 1914, the train that took the coconuts to town arrived with soldiers. They were from New Zealand they said, they were here to take over all German holdings, under orders from Great Britain.

My husband was taken by these soldiers and for weeks I did not hear from him. Why did they take him? He wasn't fighting in the war! He wasn't causing any trouble. I left my children with my family and took a horse into town to find him.

In town I found many women on the wharf, crying. Their men were being herded onto a ship. I found Theodor and I cried because he looked tired. That was the last time I would see my husband for five years.

I went back home to Poutasi and tried to be strong for my children. I was so scared because Theodor was gone and these new pālālagi from New Zealand were threatening to take my lands. They had already taken Gaogao. I was also scared that the workers and palagis were not going to listen to me, a Samoan woman. And what would my village think of me? Fiapalagi (wanna-be white) is what they'd call me. Nevertheless, I will take my husband's place until he returns. God I hope he returns!

Photo from Wulf Family Collection
Wulf, L., personal communications, May 15, 2014

    Caroline Berking is seated in the photo

Caroline Berking's Story
I was born Caroline Mathilde Netzler August 11, 1878 in Western Samoa. In 1899 I fell in love and married Rudolf Berking, a German customs officer who had just arrived from Hawaii. We had three children, our oldest Elizabeth, our only son Rudolph Junior and our baby Ernestine.

In late August 1914, New Zealand soldiers arrived in Apia and took control. All the German men, including my Rudolph, were taken as prisoners of war and sent to internment in New Zealand. We owned 140 acres of coconut plantation in Letogo, east of the capital, Apia and when he was taken away I had to look after everything.

We had some very hard times. My precious baby daughter Ernestine had passed the year before from the influenza. Elizabeth was already in school in Germany so it was just Rudolf Junior at home to help me. It was very hard and most of the time I was too sick to get up. I fear my health is never going to improve. Oh how I wish Rudolf was here!

June 30, 1916 I've just received a letter from Germany from my husband's sister. It's about my darling Elizabeth. My poor darling had died of pneumonia. Oh God no! Not another one of my babies! I never got to say goodbye...oh my poor baby, so young. It can't be true! My beautiful girl, she was only 16. Oh I feel so helpless, being here when my Lizzie was dying...I must write and tell Rudolf. He will be so heartbroken. I only have my son now.

1918 and the War has finally ended. Rudolf should come home soon. I've lost everything, my husband is a stranger to me, I've lost my precious children...what is left?

In 1919, Rudolf was released and returned to Samoa. A few months later, Rudolf Junior left for dental school in Berlin and died not long after. Caroline and Rudolf were divorced before the Second World War broke out and she died May 29, 1949, alone.

Rudolf remarried (and divorced) twice more and was the last of the pioneering Germans to die in 1972, at his home in Apia.


European New Zealand Women on the Home front during World War I

These European New Zealand women were among many who remained on the home front whilst the men left for war in Europe. These women had to become accustomed to the absence of their husbands and learn to take on their roles while they were away as well as continuing to provide for their home and family.

A story by Mrs I McIntyre
My name is Mrs McIntyre I am a European-NZ woman and my husband left for the War a few months ago. It is 1915 and he was dispatched later than most of our soldiers. I thought that maybe he might be able to stay home with the family. This has been an extreme change for our family and for us to get used to, as he is no longer around to help with jobs around the house. I am used to looking after our children, the garden and our home. With my husband gone I have had to take on many new roles, such as chopping and gathering fire wood and working in the factory. To distract myself and become accustomed to not having my husband around I joined the Spinsters Club. We regularly meet to try and provide for the soldiers in the war. We feel that this is our way of helping over there, when we cannot physically be there ourselves, for our husbands and for our country.

In this photo it is 1915 and the other women and I are knitting socks for the soldiers. We try and provide them with the comforts that the soldiers need in their kit bags: two pairs each of socks and underpants, two each of woollen shirts and undershirts, towels and cholera belts, and one handkerchief, chest protector, pair of braces, holdall, balaclava cap, service bag for rations, and a housewife.” (“Women fundraising for Belgium, First World War”, 2013. Para 7).

We believe this is the best way we can contribute. Although I am keeping my family well, healthy and together, I still miss my husband and pray for his return as soon as possible.

Zachariah, J. (1915). Members of the Spinsters club knitting socks for World War I soldiers.
Retrieved from http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=77514&l=en&l=en

A Woman from Otago
I am a member of the Otago Women’s Patriotic Association. I am a European-NZ woman and my husband
is a solider in the war in Europe; he recently was balloted to provide his services. Our family slowly has to adjust to the changes during his absence. I look after the family and my eldest daughter is helping me with the young children. We are a family of five with three children. We are doing our best to run our daily lives smoothly just as we did before my husband left.

In order to help and contribute to the War I joined the Otago-based Women’s Patriotic Association. Joining this association has helped me cope with the loneliness I feel while my husband is away. We have been fundraising for the soldiers so that we can help and provide for them their essential needs while they are away. In this photo  it is 1914 and we are are being congratulated for our fund-raising efforts. Our fundraising also helps gather support for our troops overseas allowing them to still be provided with certain comforts.

Our Association is one of 900 in New Zealand and we have contributed to raising nearly £5 million nationwide. This money also contributes to war-affected areas such as Belgium and France. I have put all my emotions into helping fund raise, as I believe this is the best way I can possibly help my husband while he is away. Other women with less duties at home have been able to go overseas and provide their services in roles such as nurses. My friend Annie Jones left to Gallipoli to fulfill her nurses role and play her part in servicing our country. I do hope she makes it home alright.

I still continue to provide and look after our family and home, yet gain some social stability from wives who are in similar positions to me in our fundraising group. We hope we are helping, even if its a little; not all of us have been able to participate as fully as our brave Annie, but we are trying our best. We are all waiting for our husbands to return to us and our families.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage. (1914).Women fundraising for Belgium, First World War. Retrieved from http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/photo/womens-fundraising
Credit: Collection Toitu Otago Settlers Musem

Maori Women on the Homefront

These stories explore Maori women's experiences of this time, both the political and everyday realities.


My name is Te Puea Herangi.
I was born at Whatiwhatihoe in the Waikato, I am the granddaughter of the second Màori king Tawhiao, which comes with huge responsibility. I am educated in Maori beliefs, values, and strongly believe in all my cultural principles.

When I heard the news that war had started, I was worried how this would affect our tribe. Automatically I knew this meant my grandfather would soon depart. My Koro is the glue to our tribe; he keeps our people at peace. All that is going through my head at this point is, who will take his place?

After his departure I began involving myself in the political world and felt I was the right person to inherit and continue his role. To establish a role similar in status to that of the monarch of the British colonists, I became a member of the Kingitanga movement, which helped develop my leadership skills.

Not long after this event, I began farming at Mangatawhiri and opposed the introduction of the Conscription Act in 1917, and opened a farm as a refuge for those who chose not to enlist. This is where I emerged as a leader amongst my community. It is the words of my grandfather that influenced my decision to do so.

“Listen, listen, the sky above, the earth below, and all the people assembled here. The killing of men must stop; the destruction of land must stop. I shall bury my patu in the earth and it shall not rise again ... Waikato, lie down. Do not allow blood to flow from this time on” (“Te Puea Herangi”, 2013. Para 3.)

Because I had gone against the Conscription Act in 1917, the Government compounded Tainui feelings of injustice by responding with a general order for Maori conscription that applied only to the King Country Maniapoto district, “Boy was I mad”.

The introduction of the policy put a huge toll on me mentally; at this point I am extremely angry at what the government has done. However, I know I have to accept this demand; my Grandfather would also want me to be strong for our tribe. “Now the pressure is definitely on”.

After many sleepless nights I have finally come to terms with this policy and began persuading other women in the tribe to do the same. Soon after we started participating in fundraising events led by the Pakeha. “Yes were working together with the enemy”. Never in a million years would I have thought Maori and Pakeha would join together as one, in a peaceful manner.

Price, W. A. (1990). Portrait of Te Kirihaehae Te Puea Herangi. Retrived from

A story from a child's perspective
Before the Great War it was my father who gathered and hunted food for our family; he was the breadwinner of our family. We lived in a small isolated rural settlement in the Far North and survived only on subsistence agriculture, casual and seasonal work.

My mother spent most of her time cooking, doing the washing, cleaning, and caring for us children; she also milked cows, raised our chickens, sold eggs, and grew food for our family and for sale.

Once war broke out and my father left for battle, I saw a massive change in my mother emotionally and physically. Not only was she forced to raise our family on her own, she also had to take on all of my father's responsibilities.

I remember at the time her and other women from our village working tirelessly, gathering and preparing seafood and non-perishable foods to send overseas for our solders. My mother would use the dehydration method to preserve traditional sea food such as karengo (seaweed), pipi, pupu, shark, crayfish tails, kumara and karaka berries and other foods which she preserved in pork fat, sealed in tins and sent away.

In our village there were meetings held in the Marae once a week; these meeting were usually fun and happy. However, once the war broke out they became a battlefield. People were angry with our men joining the War, my mother especially.

One day I heard crying in the village, so I went outside to have a look and saw all my Aunties with their bags packed; it was as if they were leaving our home for good. I asked my mother what they were doing. She said they were moving into the city to take up work.

Northwood, A. J. (1910). Unidentified group of women and children in a gum digging village in the Northland Region. Retrieved from http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22328629?search[path]=photos&search[text]=Gum-digging+village%22%20rel=%22nofollow%22%3Enatlib.govt.nz/records/22328629?search%5Bpath%5D=photos&a...