Voices from the Past

Soldier Settlements

While most commemorate the end of the First World War at 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month 1918, this date merely marks the end of the worst of the inhumanity. With Germany descending into revolution, Russia in the grips of a civil war in which the Bolsheviks appears to be winning, the world wracked with the Spanish Flu and thousands of soldiers wanting nothing more than to return home, the challenges for many were only just beginning.
The New Zealand Government, already facing the prospect of years of austerity thanks to their war spending and pre-war infrastructural efforts (including paying for the battle cruiser HMS New Zealand) was desperate for a source of income and employment for returning soldiers. As a result of this need they proposed the Soldier-Settler Scheme.
New Zealand operated numerous “repatriation efforts” both during and after the war and surprisingly, was able to avoid a case of mass unemployment like those encountered in Britain and Europe. The Soldier-Settler Scheme was by far the largest of these efforts, starting with the passing of the Discharged Soldier’s Settlement Act in October 1915. This act not only allowed for the claiming of land by the government to be parcelled out to returning soldiers, but also the supply of loans to these soldiers to fund their initial start-ups.
While much of the land was for farming, some of the land was already developed and in towns and cities. Following the return of New Zealand soldiers in 1919, interest in the scheme was high with over 12,000 applicants in three years. Unfortunately, with much of the land being of poor quality as well as heavy bureaucracy during the application process, interest soon waned, with only an estimated further 3000 applicants between 1921 and 1930. Out of this considerable number of applicants, only a mere 4000 were awarded land.
Despite the challenges of the soldier-settler scheme, as well as the scandal of unemployed veterans which made headlines during the late 1920s, the Repatriation Department was judged to have carried out the bulk of its duties remarkably well, with only a mere 6% of New Zealand veterans reported as experiencing severe difficulties according to a government commission.
Pictured above right: NZ Troops on the Rhine after Armistice.
Pictured right: NZ Military HQ London 1919.