The Girl Peace Scout movement was founded in New Zealand by Lieutenant Colonel David Cossgrove in 1908, after his daughters expressed interest in becoming scouts – that is they were somewhat peeved that their brothers were having all the fun. Based in Christchurch, Cossgrove had been responsible for translating Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys into a New Zealand context, and in 1909 he wrote Peace Scouting for Girls – a guide that came to be used internationally. By 1912 there were over 2,000 Girl Peace Scouts throughout New Zealand, including several troops in the Wellington area. The photograph below, taken by the Wellington photography studio Berry & Co, features a Miss Harris, who proudly held the rank of corporal in the Peace Scouts as her stripes show.
Originally, the Girl Peace Scouts were attired in ‘unlovely khaki’, but fearing that the ‘movement would lapse into hoydenish romps on the hills’, some troops replaced their khaki dresses with a less ‘blatantly aggressive’ uniform of navy blue with brown facings in 1913. (We would been keen to hear from anyone who just might have an early Girl Peace Scout uniform tucked away in their closet or under the bed – we don’t mind if its ‘unlovely khaki’ or blue!) While girls had to be twelve or older to join the Peace Scouts, younger girls could also get in on the action. From the age of seven they could join the Fairy Peace Scouts. The latter wore white with Peter Pan hats, and were instructed by a Fairy Mistress who commanded her troop with what else but a wand.
While ‘hoydenish romps’ were actively discouraged, Girl Peace Scouts took part in a range of healthy outdoor activities including camping and nature studies. They were also instructed in ambulance, first aid, home nursing, care of infants, and invalid cookery, and other ‘housewifely arts’, along resourcefulness, self-honour and reliance. It was through these activities that advocates of the movement claimed that even the ‘the most wayward girl’ could be transformed into a good citizen and ‘empire builder’.
Following the outbreak of the First World War, the ample skills of the Girl Peace Scouts were engaged to raise funds for the war effort. In September 1914, a Wellington troop answered Her Majesty Queen Mary’s appeal for more socks, caps and belts for the troop, and attended knitting circles in Constable Street in Newtown. Girl Peace Scouts throughout the country also rolled bandages for hospital ships, held flower days and concerts to raise funds for sick and wounded soldiers. They did so under the patronage of Lady Liverpool, a charismatic and tireless fundraiser, who even compiled a knitting book featuring patterns for soldiers needs.
Under the patronage of Lady Liverpool, the Girl Peace Scout movement continued until the early 1920’s when it was subsumed into the Girl Guides.
For more stories of children’s participation in the New Zealand war effort look out for Kate Hunter and Kirstie Ross’ forthcoming book Holding onto Home from Te Papa Press, which features a beautifully illustrated chapter on ‘Little Britons and future citizens’. The book will be available in stores from 23 August 2014. If you recognise the girls in the photographs please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org – we’d love know more!
This post is part of a month-long series of blogs commenting on the start of World War I in August 1914.