Story: Women and men

Page 3. Soldiers and sportsmen: 1880s–1920s

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Sport and war

Boys’ and men’s part in guaranteeing the future of the nation and empire gained great emphasis around the turn of the century. New Zealanders’ loyalty to queen (or king) and country was demonstrated by the eager volunteers who responded to calls for men to serve in the South African War from 1899 to 1902. Pride in the New Zealand contingents’ robust manliness was taken as a reflection of a wider national health.

The success of the 1905 All Black rugby team, the ‘Originals’, who toured England and Wales beating almost all their opponents, reinforced the same belief. The tour cemented rugby's stature as the national game. It defined the kind of men the country was particularly proud of: physically strong, modest in demeanour, competitive and victorious, men whose actions spoke louder than words.

First World War

Pride and enthusiasm for manly virtues and anticipated heroism fed the mood of patriotism surrounding news of war against Germany in August 1914. The reality of what came to be known as the Great War soon shifted the mood to one of sombre intent. Over 100,000 men – mostly young – served in New Zealand forces during 1914–18. Close to 18,000 lost their lives, many in distant battlefields. Manly service in war, in the service of the realm, was no longer a matter of heroic triumph but one of loss, tragedy and sacrifice.

Get tough

Being toughened up was part of growing up for boys. They were admired for enduring the strap or cane at school without cowering or crying, not seeking comfort when hurt – a boy taking it like a man. When it was suggested that corporal punishment might be harmful, the editor of a Dunedin magazine responded, ‘Are we to raise a race of cowards … a set of hypochondriacal weaklings?’1

Soldier citizenship

War service in 1914–18 (and again in 1939–45) widened the gulf between women and men. It was a time of diverging experience and sentiment. Women were called on to support the war effort at home, and to maintain normal life as far as possible. Men were called on to put their lives on the line in defence of empire and nation, creating a deep sense of sacrifice and obligation. Soldier citizenship was a powerful force in New Zealand throughout the 20th century.

  1. Quoted in Dorothy Page, Howard Lee and Tom Brooking, ‘Schooling for a gendered future.’ Sites of gender: women, men and modernity in Southern Dunedin, 1890–1939, edited by Barbara Brookes, Annabel Cooper and Robin Law. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2003, p. 100. Back
How to cite this page:

Charlotte Macdonald, 'Women and men - Soldiers and sportsmen: 1880s–1920s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 28 May 2024)

Story by Charlotte Macdonald, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 Aug 2017