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Heritage Children

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Erica Newman
03 December, 2021

The empathy of those on the home front during World War II can be felt with the establishment of the ‘Heritage’ movement through which philanthropic work was set in place to support children whose fathers had died whilst soldiers. This story is not a specifically Māori one; the focus was initially on Pākehā children although this organisation eventually extended its work to include Māori children.

It was in 1941 when Dr Mazengarb and Mr Luxford took a walk along Paraparaumu Beach discussing, among other things, the Australian organisation ‘Legacy Australia’, a programme that was established to provide support for Australian war orphans. This was the seed that lead to the creation of ‘Heritage’, and from that moment both Mazengarb and Luxford began seeking support through membership, sponsorship and promoting their new endeavour with the assistance of the Rotary Club in Wellington.  Heritage began by incorporating a National Council,

with the Governor-General, Sir Cyrill Newall, as patron, Mr Justice Smith as president, and the Prime Minister, Mr P. Fraser, the heads of the three fighting services and the president of the New Zealand Returned Services Association as vice-presidents. The names of the children who had become orphans as a result of enemy action were obtained from the Government, and the mother or other guardian of each child was communicated with and asked if she would receive members of the Visiting Committee. After her acquiescence was obtained information was sought concerning the age, denomination, character, and interests of the family, and a sponsor was selected whose duty it was to get in touch with the child. If the contact was mutually satisfactory the sponsor undertook the duty of watching the general interests of the boys.[1]

Heritage was to become known as the “benevolent foster father of children who lost their fathers in the war just passed”;[2] whilst its activities were most dynamic during World War II the organisation continues today. [3]  In promoting Heritage, Mazengarb explains:

 The object of “Heritage” is to provide “sponsors” who, without taking him from his home or adopting him in the full sense, will act as a guardian to a boy who has lost his father in the war, supplying the guidance and assistance which, normally, it requires more than one parent to give. The idea seems simple, but actually it required immense tactfulness and sagacity to allocate the right boy to the right sponsor; when that is done, the boy’s benefit is assured.[4]

The prime focus for Heritage began with the sons of deceased servicemen, providing boys with a father figure to help young boys become independent young men. At this initial stage daughters of deceased servicemen were not included within Heritage, as there was an assumption that girls could receive all support through childhood to adulthood from their mothers. The initial promotion of who was to be supported focused on boys who had lost their father during the war. At the first inaugural meeting in 1942, Prime Minister and also Vice President of Heritage, Peter Fraser, who was not able to attend, wrote a letter drawing attention to the overlook of support for ‘girls’, daughters of deceased soldiers. Mazengarb summarised Fraser’s letter as such:

At this inaugural meeting, a letter was received from the Prime Minister (the Right Honorable Peter Fraser) apologising for his absence as he was leaving that day by air for a conference in San Francisco, and wishing the new society well. He also drew attention in his letter to the fact that the organisation seemed to be formed for the helping of “boys” only. That was the position at the time. The promoters could be excused for overlooking the “girls” because their minds were more on the idea that the boys had lost a father, while the girls still had a mother. The letterhead of the society had been designed with the figure of a boy on it. It was not a difficult matter to adopt the Prime Minister’s suggestion and arrange for the artist to add the figure of a girl to the chosen emblem of Heritage.[5]

 Although steps were started, at the annual conference in 1944 the focus of discussion still appeared to be ‘boys’ with the statement “already some practical preliminary steps have been taken by the appointment of sponsors to those boys who were at an age, and living in circumstances, where sponsorship was desirable.”[6] This was however followed with an acknowledgement that Heritage was widening their scope even if they were on the periphery:

But sponsorship and special assistance of the sort so far given were not the sole, or even the principal methods of achieving the objective. If they were, Heritage would not be performing its duty to children in outlying districts, to the many daughters, to the Maori children, or even to those boys who, for the first time being, have uncles or other male relatives to supervise their doings.[7]

In establishing Heritage it was decided that membership would be of three types, the sponsor, committee members and businesses who would contribute financially. The ‘sponsor’ member were men who were assigned a boy whom they formed a relationship with and had constant interactions with during his formative years of school, his home life and then future guidance in conjunction with the committee, as they began their working life. All this was supported by the Heritage movement. [8]

The organisation had a number of subcommittees such as education, medical, dental and employment. Committee members sat on the subcommittee relevant to their experience. Their role was to assist the sponsors within their specialised area when needed. For instance, a child in need of dentistry, the dental committee would guide the sponsor for information and provide funding for the child to have remedial work done.[9]

            Rather than having any hands-on personal role to the children, the businesses paid an annual subscription fee to help fund the Heritage movement,[10] thus providing funding for any needs for a Heritage child. What Heritage highlighted was that their purpose was not to tend to every whim of the child but “help him develop to the full and to find adequate expression for his personality.”[11] Through the sponsor, committee members and annual subscriptions from businesses:

It is desired that every opportunity should be afforded to intelligent boys under its care. If a boy is fitted for medicine, dentistry, or agriculture, the promoters of the movement of the movement contend that he should be sent to university or to an agricultural college, and provision made through the movement to ensure that he gets every chance to complete his studies.[12]

Every year a registered Heritage child received a small Christmas gift. At this stage, there was little mention of Māori children.[13] There was an expectation that Māori children would have whānau support and not be in as much need of the use of ‘Heritage’. However by 1944, newspapers reports show a change of policy, noting (with little elaboration) that discussions with the Minister of Native Affairs and Education, Mr. H.G.R. Mason, were underway regarding how Heritage could support the children of deceased Māori soldiers. [14] Mr Justice Smith, President of Heritage movement, in presenting a speech seeking public support in 1944 incorporated the issues of housing and living conditions, his focus was aimed at Māori:

One particular problem where assistance was often required was that though the mother and child might have adequate means, their housing conditions were poor. In several cases Heritage had been able to improve these conditions. In this respect the greatest problem might lie among the Maori children. A mother might live in appalling conditions, with no financial troubles, but with no idea of how to spend her money to the best advantage. Heritage was considering a special scheme for dealing with the children of deceased Maori servicemen.[15]

What this all means, it is unsure, including the ‘special scheme for dealing with the children of deceased Māori servicement’. There is no elaboration or discussions within the newspaper reports or indeed within Mazengarb book The Story of Heritage.[16] In fact Mazengarb does not address Māori at any stage in his book, almost as an attempt to portray that all children were treated the same, regardless of ethnicity. However, we know this isn’t quite right as a number of times there are mentions within newspapers of setting up assistance specifically for Māori, or of the Māori ‘problem’ as we will see.

In 1945 the Heritage movement in Gisborne held a meeting where Mr G P Shepherd, Chief Justice of the Native Land Court expressed his personal and professional interest in Heritage

Not only as the grand-parent of a war orphan, but also as an officer of a department which would require the help and co-operation of such a movement in meeting the needs of Maori war orphans. He strongly urged that Heritage should be accepted as the avenue through which an acknowledgement of debt to the war fallen could be made effective.[17]

 It is not until 1948 that we start seeing more reports in the newspapers on how Heritage was providing for Māori. For example, the Opotiki News reported that “the work among the Maori children of deceased servicemen is being placed on a more satisfactory footing”, suggesting that it is only recently these children were being included. Here it was the work of the Hamilton Māori Welfare Officer, Mr. Herewini, who had been reporting on the welfare of Māori children and organising any support that they may require through Heritage.[18] A quarterly report, printed in the Opotiki News in the same year, mentions “the problem of the Maori children”,[19] although I am unsure what this problem was as it was not elaborated on in the article. The report records that this “problem” as being “discussed at length and the Hamilton delegates spoke on the problem which particularly affects the Gisborne, Hamilton and Auckland branches.”[20] The Gisborne Herald  on 7 April reports that the president at the time, Sir David Smith, required each Heritage branch “to take into account the financial support which it required during the next nine years. The peak year of Heritage’s work would be 1957. He stressed the necessity for the reorganisation of Heritage’s responsibilities in predominantly Maori districts.”[21] Although not addressing a ‘problem’ as such, Smith is certainly alluding to ensuring the inclusion of Māori. In the Gisborne Herald on 9 November, 1948, it states:

In Gisborne alone 69 families, consisting of 113 children, 85 of them Maori and 23 Pakeha, are on the register of the Heritage movement and we have been able to assist them in many ways. said Mr. F. S. Varnham, president of Heritage (Gisborne) Incorporated, speaking at yesterday’s weekly luncheon of the Gisborne Rotary Club.[22]

This appears quite the contrary to the ‘problem’ discussed earlier in the year. What seems to be one of the major achievements of Heritage had “been the efforts to promote good relations between pakehas and Maoris, and between employers and employees as well as community activities.” [23]

Although Heritage was a bit slow with the inclusion of Māori children into their programme, and there seemed to have been some ‘problems’, the programme itself can be seen as beneficial not just for the child but also for the whānau as a whole. Without the guidance of education and career through personal interactions by sponsors, and any financial support provided from committee members and businesses, the child may not have been opened to a variety of opportunities that benefitted themselves and whānau whānui. Heritage did not end at the end of World War II, in fact it continues to this day. This blog has focused on the support Heritage had provided to children of World War II children of deceased soldiers. What has not been discussed is how Heritage support for these children included challenges that indirectly could affect the children, for instance, if the widowed mother was facing financial or social challenges, if a returned father died after his return, these could be attributed to the father’s service during the war. The assistance of Rotary and the Returned Servicemen Association is of extreme importance throughout the history of the Heritage movement. For the children of deceased soldiers of World War II, Heritage continued into the following decades until the children of these deceased servicemen no longer required this helping hand.

If anyone has any information about Māori Heritage children, please let us know:

[Image: from the cover of O.C. Mazengarb (1962) The Story of Heritage.]



[1] “Heritage” Movement, Otago Daily Times, 16 April 1943.

[2] Auckland Heritage Party, RSA Review, February 1947. 

[3] “Blue Baby” Case, Ashburton Guardian, 19 February 1948.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Mazengarb, O.C. (1962) The Story of Heritage: An epic of accomplishment through faith and an earnest of more to be done. A.H. & A.W. Reed Publishers: Wellington.

[6] Heritage Movement: First Annual Conference Nelson Evening Mail, 20 July 1944.

[7] Ibid

[8] “Blue Baby” Case, Ashburton Guardian, 19 February 1948

[9] Heritage Movement: First Annual Conference Nelson Evening Mail, 20 July 1944.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Heritage Movement Good Progress Reported: Plans for conference in July [Wellington], Otago Daily Times, 13 May 1944.

[15] Heritage Aims Explained: President’s Address, Evening Post, 24 July 1944

[16] Mazengarb, O.C. (1962) The Story of Heritage: An epic of accomplishment through faith and an earnest of more to be done. A.H. & A.W. Reed Publishers: Wellington.

[17] Heritage Plan Branch Initiated: Gisborne’s Interest – Debt Acknowledgment, Gisborne Herald, 22 May 1945.

[18] Heritage Movement, Opotiki News, 20 April 1948.

[19] Heritage Movement: Quarterly Report, Opotiki News, 30 July 1948.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Widening Scope: Aid by Heritage Beneficiary Groups Servicemen’s Children, Gisborne Herald, 07 April 1948.

[22] More Members Would Give Greater Scope To Heritage Work, Gisborne Herald, 9 November 1948.

[23] Whangarei Rotary Club, Northern Advocate, 31 August 1949.

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