Exhibit tells untold stories of Kiwi women during WWI

  • 23/02/2018
Exhibit tells untold stories of Kiwi women during WWI

Stories of how Kiwi women drove ambulances during the First World War, campaigned to warn soldiers of sexual diseases and knitted socks for troops are part of a new Wellington exhibition.

Women's War opens at The Great War exhibition on Friday and features collections of diaries and letters by women who lived through the 1914-1918 conflict.

While men fought on horrific battlefields, New Zealand women travelled to Europe to tend the sick, gave up their educations to work on farms and support families and knitted clothing to send troops.

Some, such as Ettie Rout, challenged the status quo with her campaign to combat venereal disease.

"The only two permanent reliable attractions are - beer and women - mostly women," Ms Rout says in a quote featured in the exhibition.

"Well... if they will have women - and they most certainly will - give them clean women."

Another exhibition extract tells how Annie Montgomerie survived Zepelin attacks and an influenza epidemic in London after moving there to support her two sons, who travelled to Britain to enlist as pilots.

Deborah Pitts, meanwhile, drove ambulances and said the troops treated Kiwi girls "quite differently".

"You are a bit of a pal," she said.

Collector Fiona Baverstock made all the costumes that feature in the exhibit and said women brought a "can do" practicality to the war effort and their fashion.

"Anything that restricted their ability to get things done had to go - so down went waistlines, up came hemlines and out went corsets, unnecessary layers, big hats and dainty shoes," she said.

"These were extraordinary ordinary women, who achieved feats and survived devastation and privation that astonished even themselves."

Women's War is the sixth of seven touring exhibitions held around the nation as part of The Great War Exhibition, which was created by film director Sir Peter Jackson to commemorate New Zealand's role in the conflict.