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Cambridge in the 1910s

Influenza Epidemic

Peace celebrations were to be held on 14 November 1918 but as the main body of men came home, an influenza epidemic swept the world.  The celebrations, opening of the swimming baths and the Horticultural Show were all postponed. Primary school exams were cancelled, the fancy dress dance postponed and University Entrance exams stopped. Public buildings closed. There were no public meetings. Footpaths throughout the town were disinfected.

The Cambridge Borough Council was soon asking for voluntary aid to assist families in distress and the doctors were working at high pressure. The Town Hall became the headquarters and hospital where all cases of sickness requiring medical attention or nursing were registered. Lake Street beside the Town Hall was closed.

Helpers for nursing and cooking volunteered with Mrs Margaret Reynolds General Superintendent and Mrs Haylock Matron. Cooking for out-patients was done at the Technical School and St John members undertook nursing of out-patients.

Bob Boyce remembers that the church organisations and Boy Scouts ran messages and the Motor and Cycle Club delivered medicines to out-patients. He also remembers the Town Hall full of beds with his father being one of the patients. Bob was in Morrinsville when he also came down with the flu and he went by horse and buggy to the station at Ruakura and then by train home to Cambridge.

Gifts of eggs, fowls and food for the invalids were solicited and Moira Penman nee Henderson remembers being in Te Kuiti at this time and taking billies of custard down to their hospital.

Doris Beech nee Barrett was in Tinakotikoti and remembers her father running stark naked across the back yard when he had to disinfect himself and leave all his clothes in the outside wash house upon his return from helping a neighbour with the flu.

Dorothy Carnie nee Cooper remembers how, during the epidemic, the schools were closed. She was in Wellington where her father was the Health Inspector for Wellington City Council and her mother a nurse who worked eighteen hour stretches at the hospital. Rumours were that the flu was the Black Plague as the bodies turned black. Dorothy’s mother was awarded two certificates, one for work done during the Flu epidemic and another in 1936 for seventeen years service in the St Johns.

In Cambridge the Telegraphic services (the main source of keeping in touch with the country) were severely disrupted. Churches abandoned services although the Presbyterians held an outdoor thanksgiving service for the armistice.

By November 26 fifty patients had been admitted to the Cambridge hospital. Five people died in Cambridge and many more deaths around the country affected Cambridge families. The hospital volunteers were not immune and two of the nurses, Miss Linda Veale and Miss Margaret Watt, caught the flu and also died. Three more Cambridge soldiers died.

By mid December the town was getting back to normal. The hospital was closed and fumigated. The local hotels and businesses opened again.

Throughout New Zealand 3,294 died in November and 2,177 in December. Cambridge followed the trend with males being more susceptible and adults more severely affected.


Cambridge was still moving ahead at the beginning of the second decade of the 1900s.

Leamington got a double-storey band rotunda in the Bracken Street reserve for £274 6s and a Town Hall on the corner of Shakespeare and Thompson Streets for £430.

The district had grown so much that a second police constable was needed and in 1911 when Constable Stephen Garvey took up duties, a drunk in Victoria Street was his first prosecution. In September, he had a blitz on bicycles being ridden on the footpath, with Francis Goulton, Arthur Curtain and Frank Fitzgerald each being fined 1/- and 7/- costs.

At the Gasworks in 1911 new retorts were made and the additions of a man’s room and coal store. Cambridge also benefited from coke and tar for sealing the streets.

Automatic lighting was introduced in 1912 as satisfactory lamplighters were not easy to get.

The YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) was up and running. They bought land in Lake Street and made additions to their rooms (later to become L A Williams Funeral Parlour).

They provided the young men of Cambridge with Sunday afternoon services, gymnastics for both girls and boys, a tennis club, Friday evening games and visits to the Tb Sanatorium every fortnight.

At the beginning of 1912, twenty-two young Cambridge men joined the 2,023,731 members worldwide and started the Independent Order of Oddfellows Lodge, Arawa No 97. This Friendly Society gave financial benefit to members.  At the age of 65, they no longer had to pay a subscription but still received the aged, sickness and funeral benefits.

By 1912 the order had been going for 82 years worldwide and was supporting orphanages as well as 53 homes for the aged.  Friendship, Love and Truth were their main order and as a social outlet, catered well for the young people.  Throughout the years they have also raised funds for projects such as cancer research and Dogs for the Blind.

Also in Cambridge the Duke of Cambridge Lodge had been established in 1867 and the Alpha Lodge in 1883.  They were both going strong. The Orphans Club was later established in 1919.

The Golf Club, during the 1912 season, raised and fixed the bogey for the 18 hole course at 82. The course was found difficult to maintain and they wrote to the Defence Department seeking the lease of the local rifle range – the site of the present course. They were not successful at this time and a further lease was negotiated with Mr Arnold on Hamilton Road at £20 a year.

The original Masonic Hotel, built of timber in 1866 for Archibald Clements, was rebuilt and enlarged with shops and a billiard saloon in 1877. It was destroyed by fire on 14 November 1911. It was four o’clock in the morning and the upstairs residents, in their nightwear, were climbing down the back fire escape as the floor started to fall in. One of the guests ran to the Fire Station to ring the alarm bell. It was raining and as on previous such occasions it was difficult for some members of the Brigade to hear the bell.

Sam Lewis wrote to the Waikato Independent newspaper praising the Fire Brigade as at one time they fought to save five separate buildings in Duke Street as well as the Masonic. “Foreman Gemmell, Fireman C Ruge, Jas McNeish and V Cassin worked like Trojans amid the heat and smoke and seemed not to appreciate the great dangers they dared”. He called for donations to help with boots, uniforms, a telephone and furniture for the station and started the list with two guineas. By the end of the day he had raised £49 6s 6d.

In 1912, as the luxury liner ‘Titanic’ went down, the flag went up on the roof of the new Masonic. It was re-erected for £4,100 by Fred Potts and when it was completed in October 1912 he entertained his employees at a dinner. The health of his subcontractors, Messrs Speight, Curtain, McVeagh and Palmer were honoured.  The Independent reported – “The entrance hall is wide and roomy and there is a handsome staircase with stained glass windows overhead which affords effective diffused light. Upstairs has 24 bedrooms and a lounge which leads to the balcony.”

It was built along colonial lines but with a classical façade and there is still the curved cast iron work on the verandah and ornate Ionic capitals on the pillars. It is the only building in Cambridge with a balustrade. Later, in 1921, it was one of the first businesses in town to be lit by electricity

A month later at 2:30pm on Friday 29 November 1912, the old wooden National Hotel burnt down. It caused quite a stir in the town as the high winds carried sparks across to Mrs Wells’ residence which caught fire, and was saved three times by the gardener who had climbed onto the roof.

The Fire Brigade put two leads of water from a fire plug opposite Victoria Square onto the hotel, but the pressure was not all that could be desired and they could not save the building. A willing band of helpers removed as much furniture (and refreshments) as possible and then the Brigade concentrated on saving surrounding buildings. Crowther & Bell’s Stables (now Briscoes), with the fire brigade drenching their buildings from the outside and a bucket brigade working from the inside, were saved and later they generously donated £10 to the Brigade.

As the members rested, a cry went up that Mrs Murphy’s buildings (along Alpha Street ) were on fire and the Brigade rushed to rescue them. A hose was put in from Victoria Street but – “owing to the excessive zeal displayed by some of the inexperienced volunteers, a severe wrench on the hose caused the main to burst, rendering useless the water supply”, reported the newspaper.

The wind changed and they were back to Crowther & Bell’s. Then the Catholic church’s residence was alight. With no water available, it burnt to the ground.

The Brigade concentrated on moving furniture from a neighbouring house and the Catholic School.  Both these buildings were saved by a bucket brigade.

Fred Potts was authorised to immediately build a Temporary Bar and the Catholic Church engaged W C Care to build a new residence on the opposite side of the street next to the church for £900.

The original National Hotel was started in 1867 by Robert Kirkwood as the Alpha Hotel. Robert, who has a nearby street named after him, was a substitute private in the 3rd Waikato Militia and later a member of the Cambridge Cavalry Volunteers. The present building was designed by J Currie and again Fred Potts left his mark on the Cambridge landscape and provided Cambridge with a substantial ornamental building.

Two other public buildings erected by Fred Potts were the Cambridge Bowling Pavilion in 1914 from plans by A B Herrold for £350, and the imposing (former) Bank of New Zealand in 1916. It was designed by E Mahoney & Son and built by Fred for £4,400. This building was the cornerstone for Victoria and Duke Streets but in 1974 it was deemed – “an earthquake risk”, demolished and the present building put in its place. The Council wanted to save the building, along with the two majestic cedars on the property, and had offered the BNZ a site further down Victoria Street, where the swimming baths were, but their offer was refused.  Fred built several more houses before his death in 1918.

At the beginning of 1912 Sam Lewis bought a Ford motor car from W Souter & Co and joined the ranks of the ‘Motor Hog’. At the same time he notified his clients and the public generally that he had taken over the practice of W F Buckland and was moving into the Legal Chambers in Duke Street. (W Frank Buckland had finished his work in council after the Town Hall was built and he lived out his days at his son’s place at Monavale as a Floral Specialist).

Sam Lewis had become a solicitor in 1906 and worked for M V Dixon. When Dixon died in 1907, Sam took over the practice. In 1916 Sam became partners with H D Dallimore and later his son Peter became a partner (the firm is still operating as Lewis’s). Sam served as a Borough Councillor three times and was Mayor 1921 to 1923.

In 1914 he was the first to engage the architect, James T Douce, to design a two-storey rough-cast bungalow on the corner of Williams and Grosvenor Streets. It was built by C W Cooper for £1,572 and this family home, named ‘Gowanbank’ soon started a trend.

The swimming baths (next to the old Post Office) were opened in 1912. They were 75 feet long by 30 feet wide, held 72,000 gallons and cost £750.

The Calvert family came to Cambridge in 1913. George Calvert took over R T Tudehope’s drapery business (originally established in 1893 as ‘Cambridge House’ by Samual Howard) who had had a more substantial building built circa 1904.

Inside this family emporium was the unique overhead Lamson Cash Railway, an extremely efficient cash system. Each customer received a cash docket with their change which was dispensed along the ‘railway’ from the central cash register. The sales staff never had to worry about calculating change or cashing up at the end of the day. In later years the Cash Railway become something of a tourist attraction and part of it is now at the Cambridge Museum.

George Calvert followed the housing trend and had a two-storey roughcast house built for his family in Victoria Road. Later in 1925 he had SPND build the two-storey Calverts Chambers with further alteration in 1929. Son, Maurice, took over the business in 1952, and continued until 1985 – a stretch of 72 years.

SPND – Harold Speight bought out the timber department of Souter & Co in 1908 and shortly after went into partnership with a rival timber merchant, Arthur Pearce. In 1910 an accountant, Arthur Nicoll, joined the firm and in 1913 builders Henry J Davys and son Henry E Davys completed the firm – Speight Pearce Nicoll & Davys. Many craftsmen have worked with SPND and their quality workmanship can still be seen in many businesses and houses throughout the district. Over the years the firm has changed to TTT and then Benchmark.  Bunnings is now (2019) on the site.

Smallpox started to spread among the Maori population in July 1913 and the Government’s Health Department warned that no Maori was to travel on public transport without a certificate. Dr Walter Stapley and Health Inspector Bennett tended the sick at Maungatautari pa and there was no spread of smallpox in this area. There were guards put on bridges into Cambridge, and one week’s traffic for Victoria Bridge records 102 motors, 2,422 horses, 1,346 vehicles, 485 bikes, 4,568 pedestrians, 1,519 animals and 2 traction engines.

Watersiders’ Strike

The Watersiders’ Strike sprang from workers disillusioned by arbitration with employers and the heavy handed responses from Government, culminating in the death of striker Frederick Evans at Waihi in 1912. By 1 November 1913, a strike was in place across Auckland involving at least 6000 workers: seamen, tramwaymen, carpenters, plumbers, bricklayers, drivers, timber workers, building labourers, saddlers and bakers (nzhistory.govt.nz).

Mainstream newspapers of the time tended to report against the strike.  They supported William Massey’s Reform Party government which gave full state backing to the mounted special constables known as Specials, largely made up of farmers and rural labourers from the Farmers’ Union.

At a local meeting, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce supported the action of the Farmers’ Union. “It is, of course, recognised that there may be faults on both sides, so far as the strike is concerned, but country residents are determined that their interests are not to be permitted to suffer while the issue is being fought out.” Cambridge shops were running short of flour, potatoes, sugar, kerosene and coal, and prices had risen. Some local businesses were forced to reduce staff.

Leaving from Cambridge at short notice to serve in Auckland as Specials were 133 fully equipped men. Cambridge and districts supplied the largest proportion of men and horses in the Waikato and many wives, mothers and daughters took over the farm work. Every factory, creamery and public building was guarded night and day. The mounted men, armed with batons, were put on duty at the docks to protect the free labour.

Captain J W Garland wired Cambridge saying – “On behalf of the Cambridge Squad please thank Cambridge ladies for their kindness in sending cakes and puddings to the men. Very much appreciated by all.”

The strike was over by mid-December but was not a complete defeat for the unions. The United Federation of Labour survived to become the Alliance of Labour and later the Federation of Labour.  With the goal of gaining power through the electoral system, several strike leaders, including future Prime Minister Michael Savage, became ministers in the 1935 Labour government (nzhistory.govt.nz).

On 17 December, the Cambridge Specials came home to a social and dance organised by the Chamber of Commerce. The Farmers’ Union swelled its membership and soon branches were formed in every district.  The affair ended for Cambridge in April 1914 with the Specials’ Picnic at Ruakura when Prime Minister Mr Massey presented all those who went to Auckland with a Special Constabulary medal.

The ‘golden industry’ of butter continued as a wealth distributor with payments in December 1911 of £7,393 17s 7d. In 1914 the Bruntwood Dairy factory was established and produced 148 tons of cheese in the first year.

The beginning of World War One was announced from the Cambridge pulpits on Sunday evening 2 August 1914. Britain was at war with Germany. There was not much work done the next day as the town waited around the Post Office for more news.

Bob Chambers, who was employed by Geo Clark and Sons was already in Hamilton and took the honour of the first Cambridge man to sign up.

Alf ‘Cocky’ Swayne, Tom Phillips, Robin Ferguson, Fabian Sperry and Jim Watson who were territorials in the 4th Waikato Mounted Rifles, were next to enlist and were off on a great adventure to serve God, King and Country and freedom.

‘Cocky’ Swayne recalled that they received orders from headquarters in Hamilton to be medically examined by Dr Stapley and then go into camp. As serving territorials they went fully equipped, with rifle, bandolier, uniform, two blankets and messing gear. They also supplied their own horse, saddle, bridle and horse cover and set out to ride from the drill hall in Fort Street to the Hamilton horse bazaar, which was the assembly point.

Before leaving Cambridge they were stopped by the Jubilee fountain which stood in the centre of the road near the old Post Office and were farewelled by a handful of people including George Dickinson representing the council.

From Hamilton the contingent of men and horses travelled by train to Potter’s Paddock, now Alexandra Park, Epsom. On arrival in camp the horses were inspected by a veterinary surgeon (Major Lyons). If the horse passed the inspection the owner was paid £25 and the animal became the property of the Defence Department. Any horse which did not pass inspection was returned home and another horse supplied by the army.

At Epsom, army pattern horse equipment was issued. The privately owned bridles and saddles were placed in sacks and returned home, or if a buyer was found, sold on the spot. The men were allotted their regiment numbers and they set sail on 24 September 1914.

However, the convoy was ordered to wait for more powerful escort and returned to Auckland. Several days were spent at Takapuna and Panmure and eventually the convoy sailed on 16 October. There were 36 men under Lieutenant J W Peake from Cambridge in this Main Body.

On 25 April 1915, as the New Zealanders rushed onto Anzac cove at Gallipoli, two Cambridge men were not heard of again. They were Ernest Wilkin Cox and Francis Asbury Paine. It would be months later, after a Court of Enquiry, before their families were told officially that their boys were dead.

The obituary for Christie Boyce, who had died of wounds, appeared on the 8 May 1915. The flag at the school was flown at half mast and the next day, ten of his chums signed up.

Allan Strawbridge records in his diary for 1 May 1915 – “Went ashore in a punt under very heavy shell fire but managed to land safely and went straight on telephone duty 4 hours on 4 hours off.

“2nd – Started to dig a decent hole to live in, went out to have a look around and nearly got sniped.
“3rd – Nothing doing but shells bursting all around.
“4th – Same just getting used to things.
“5th – Nothing fresh feeling well.
“6th – Same again. Only shells coming over.
“7th – First mail ashore of 5 letters.
“8th – Shells coming a bit closer, no harm done.
“9th – Same old thing no move on either side.
“10th – Nothing doing at all.
“11th – Several shells burst on beach killing a lot of men about a chain away from us.
“12th – Quieter today a few mules killed on the beach.
“13th – Went out laying telephone to our front trenches. A very ticklish job indeed.”

Allan was in the trenches until October when he contracted Pernicious Anaemia. He died of the disease in Malta on 27 December 1915.

Tom Phillips was badly wounded at Gallipoli. Jim Watson records in his diary 9 August 1915 – “The fighting last night was terrific, the Turks were up on top of the slope and we were half way up so all they had to do was to roll the bombs down on top of us. Practically all the Auckland Mounted Rifles were killed or wounded. The fourth had about 16 left out of 89. All the officers killed. Tom Phillips was wounded by one of our own shells falling short. We were withdrawn from the front at 4pm completely exhausted. The Wellington Mounted Rifles and 5th Infantry relieved us.”

Jim tended Tom on the open beach for two days before he was evacuated by a hospital ship. He became the first New Zealand soldier to die at the Walton-on-Thames hospital in England. Jim Watson was later commissioned in the field.

By the end of the year a further 16 Cambridge men had been killed.

Anzac Day was first observed in Cambridge in 1916 after Captain John W Peake called and presided over a public meeting. To observe the first anniversary of the landing of the Anzacs at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 a non-denominational service was to be held in the Town Hall. Sunday 30th was chosen in hopes that the proposed service would perpetuate the memories of those who would not return. Captain Peake was in charge of the Cambridge boys who left with the Main Body and he considered he would not be doing his duty to those who lost their lives if he did not do something to commemorate the sacrifice they had made.

But some of the Cambridge clergy said they could not take part in any united service if God’s name was mentioned. Captain Peake’s reply was “If you are not prepared to solve your difficulties in times like these, then far better let those boys rest in peace than to convey to them in spirit that you will not make a sacrifice to your views, and do honour to them by having an annual service where all are united.”

Finally a civic memorial service was organised for Tuesday 25 April at 2:30pm.

Also in 1916 the name of Chapel Street was changed to Anzac Street to commemorate the landing on Gallipoli.

And still the young men signed up. The headlines ran “We Are Coming” as more soldiers were farewelled at socials. They were given gifts and encouraging words of God’s speed. Those saying goodbye were so proud. Hearty cheers rang out as they left the local railway station.

Five Nurses left from the Cambridge district. They were Ethel Swayne, Mary Watt and Agnes Stephenson in 1915; Isabel Floyd and Alice Smith in 1916. They worked in hospitals in Egypt, France and Britain as well as the hospital ships ‘Marama’ and ‘Delta’.

The Patriotic Committees swung into action raising money for a Hospital Ship, books and comforts for the camps and by 1918 the Cambridge mothers, daughters, wives and friends were packing 285 parcels for the Cambridge soldiers every two months.

In 1919 the Cambridge district was honoured when Mrs Margaret Reynolds (president of the Cambridge Women’s Patriotic and War Relief Committee) was one of four New Zealand women to receive the ‘Medal of Queen Elizabeth’ of Belgium. The consul for Belgium said, “It says a great deal for the ladies of Cambridge that this district should be one of the four selected to receive this distinction.”

In November 1918 as news that the Great War had ended there was a spontaneous parade and the Independent reported – “The town went wild with joy. Bells, whistles etc. were sounded and flags displayed. Groups of citizens cheered themselves hoarse and sang the National Anthem. Many people wept with sheer joy”.  106 Cambridge men would not return.

‘Cocky’ Swayne served throughout the war and was discharged on 11 July 1919 after being wounded four times and once buried alive. He came home wounded then re-enlisted. He transferred from the mounted rifles to the infantry and he believed his horse was killed in the battle of Gaza. He was commissioned in the field and returned home a Lieutenant. He served as Marshall for the Returned Services Association parade on Anzac Day from 1920 to 1962, was president on two occasions and received life membership in 1955.

Miss Mamie Scott was born in 1912 in Cambridge. She was aware of the acute involvement between the families in the district and the strong attitude of generosity, and remembers functions for fundraising and sports on the town square. She felt that a death in one household was everyone’s sorrow and remembers the long columns of names in dark print in the newspapers, when those who were killed or wounded were reported.

Te Waikato TB Sanatorium became a men’s sanatorium and it wasn’t long before it was receiving convalescent servicemen from the trenches. In 1916 eight soldiers left the sanatorium dissatisfied with the administration and management. In a letter to the Minister to Public Health, signed by 26 patients they said, “We assert that the food, sanitary arrangements and general conditions are very serious obstacles to the recovery of the invalid. The rules and regulations are of a kind and are administered in a manner as to seriously interfere with the happiness and wellbeing of the patients, and harassing in the extreme”. Card games were prohibited and one soldier who took a stroll with a civilian patient was placed in solitary confinement. The civilian received no punishment. The soldiers were sent to Waikato Hospital until the situation was remedied by the army.

Mr J A Arnold and the Cambridge YMCA were very much to the fore in providing comforts and entertainment for the patients.

The aftermath of war, the difficulties of transport and staffing, together with high running costs, all contributed to the sanatorium’s closure in 1922. The fine old building and shelters were pulled down and sold, and little evidence of past occupancy now remains around Pukemako (formerly Gudex Memorial Reserve).

The Reynolds Settlement of 1,485 acres sold to the government by Richard Reynolds, fronted the Cambridge to Roto-o-Rangi Road, and was put up for ballot in June 1916. An area of 940 acres was cut into 14 farms for general application and the remainder cut into 11 farms for discharged soldiers. Two creameries and a school were situated at distances of about two miles from the estate. There was a telephone system all over the district, and a rural delivery of mails took place daily. The estate was all flat land having been originally nearly all swamp. There were about nine windmills on the property and about twenty troughs, nine of which were large concrete ones, the others were of wood.

The 1,200 acre Te Miro Soldier Settlement was bought by the government from James Taylor in 1916. Except for 200 acres of run-down pasture on the top terrace, known as ‘the old race course’, the block was mainly in bush, scrub and fern.

Access was by way of the Sanatorium Hill and along a clay road for four miles. Later a road via Fencourt and Flume Road was formed.

The settlement was advertised as “First class land adjoining Te Waikato Sanatorium and Fencourt and Whitehall settlements”. A portion was said to be suitable for dairying, the balance being grazing land suitable for sheep and cattle.

“The settlement is very well watered by streams and springs. There is a creamery about three miles distant in the Fencourt settlement. The nearest post office is Cambridge, but there is a mail delivery five days a week at the sanatorium by a coach belonging to the establishment”.

The first ballot was 27 February 1918.

In the Horahora district another 14 returned soldiers took up land. And so once again an injection of settlers set the Cambridge district on the road of progress.

While all due care has been taken to verify information contained on this site, the Cambridge Museum accepts no responsibility for any errors, omissions or misrepresentation.

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