Among collection items from Owaka Museum on All That Remains, there’s a blue badge which reads “Bank of Patriotism Dunedin 1918”. It is among a number of badges that commemorate the war, but unlike the others, this one doesn’t have a direct link to the front. Curious? I was.
Through Papers Past , I found a goldmine of information about life in Dunedin during WWI in the Otago Daily Times. There are frequent mentions of the Bank of Patriotism during 1918, including a few which were less than positive.
The “bank” was actually a lottery scheme which raised funds for the Otago and Southland Women’s Patriotic Association, one of a number of volunteer-led women’s groups who were kept busy providing home comforts to the troops abroad. These organisations sewed and knitted, providing clothing and care packages to soldiers serving on the front line. Some groups also provided clothing to returned soldiers who were being cared for in New Zealand hospitals.
By 1918, money to support this morale-boosting work was in short supply, and schemes like the Bank of Patriotism were created as an incentive to encourage people to continue to support the organisation’s good work.
Advertisements and notices provide details of a grand opening for the bank premises on 24 May 1918. Anyone who had purchased tickets from street sellers could present them in the hope of winning one of 250 prizes. Lists of winners were also announced through the paper.
As the scheme effectively encouraged citizens to gamble, there was a seam of controversy attached to the fundraising. A number of letters to the editor in the Otago Daily Times highlight various moral concerns:
One correspondent writes: “Will the church rise to the occasion, and, without stopping to count the cost, show with no uncertain combined voice that they are out to stop anything which weakens the moral fibre?”
From a Bible Study leader: “Let me state emphatically that it is one of the most unpatriotic movements that has ever been in the country. Is it patriotic to teach our children to gamble?”
And finally: “Let the name of the thing be the “Grave of Patriotism”; let us frankly admit that the people are out for a prize at the expense of others, and cannot be moved by the soldiers’ need.”
Most of the letters call for action by the church to condemn this activity and invited all citizens to take a stand against it. There’s nothing to indicate that this movement gained much momentum across the population, though this scheme’s final days were announced in the paper on 14 June – less than a month after it opened.
An advertisement in the Otago Daily Times to promote the last days of the bank which asked: “Is it worth it? We think it is” might be a dig at some of the detractors.
There’s one final report from the Otago Daily Times in mid-October:
“…the Bank of Patriotism in Dunedin yielded a net sum of £3836 which was handed to the Otago Woman’s Patriotic Association by the Mayor (Mr J. J. Clark), Mr C. Speight and Mr W. R. Hayward.”
For the soldiers on the front line who had been sent a care package with tinned meat, tobacco and handmade socks, or those recovering in hospital who were provided with a set of civilian clothes – these and other war-time fundraisers were worth every cent.
Emma Philpott, Sector Training Coordinator, National Services Te Paerangi