February 01, 2014


Later this year it will be 100 years since the outbreak of the Great War. From this vantage point I really struggle to imagine what it must have been like to live through. So, because it is easy to calculate the date 100 years ago, I have started to read the newspapers from 1914. Not complicated, I just read the newspaper for today's date from 1914. I expect to miss some, much like miss modern news from time to time. But I hope I'll get enough to will give me a better understanding of the pace of the experience in it's own time. Also today's reminiscences include an understanding of how it all played out. The newspapers will report a version of how it was at the time.

I thought I report some of what I'm reading here. This being a web log after all.

So, January 1914.

Some things are much like 2014. Wellington has a Vegetarian Cafe. The street names are recognisable. People are convicted of being drunk and disorderly. There are indecent assaults and domestic violence. There are violent murders and accidental deaths locally, but newspapers will carefully report any horrible or bizarre death from anywhere in the world. Newtown Park and the Basin Reserve are good places to hold an event.

But, given I think of the 20th century as being 'modern' (for some definition of modern), some things are surprisingly different. For example, coal holds a massive part of people's understanding of energy. There are reports on prices, and reserve amounts. There is some interest in experiments with using oil as a fuel - but it is apparently only practical on boats, as it is very expensive. Aeroplanes are reported on relentlessly (even overseas flights), and the pilots often die. There is a saddlery in Lambton Quay. Good sports smoke cigarettes, and there is a lot of advertising for different brands of tea. Melrose and Karori both have independent borough councils.

And some things don't surprise me, but it was interesting to see them reported locally. Suffragettes are being imprisoned in London, and going on hunger strikes. Strikes and labour issues are going on all over the world and are a major concern (if column inches are anything to go by).

As I expected, but was still slightly surprised to see: ships are a main form of transport and they go to pretty much every port in New Zealand (Patea, for example). Horse racing is more important than cricket (I don't know about rugby as the season hasn't started yet).

There are some things which I noted for personal reasons. Te Aro primary school and Mitchelltown primary school have just amicably agreed to amalgamate; so long as the Mitchelltown principal gets the top job at Te Aro. The Salvation Army training centre is being finished (I think that's the huge, ornate building at the bottom of Aro St). Wilson's Bush has only recently been vested in the Wellington City Council (having previously been central government).

And some things are just plain depressing. Racism is practically seen as a duty (Fijian Indians may be British citizens, but we do wish they wouldn't come to Wellington). South Africa is shockingly racist and violent. The royal families of Europe are going about their business being subtly approved of by The Dominion. Apparently Prince Franz Ferdinand discovered he really likes New Zealand and Australia on a recent tour. And the Tzarina Eleanora is apparently a lovely person, and a kind friend to the Crown prince of Bulgaria. That's the thing about newspapers, they're not a history, they only know their own past.

In terms of the war, Serbia has an independence movement, and the Balkans are volatile. Albania has just become independent from Greece. It looks like the Austrians will install a puppet prince. There is trouble in Alsace-Loraine, with the army operating outside the civil law, and no one other than the King being able to sanction them for it. He doesn't seem to think there is a problem. There is a lot of reporting of which country is friendly to which other country (it seems to change from week to week). Many editions spend time tallying up who has a bigger navy, or is spending more on armaments. The reporting has this odd tone, like they know this is important and scary, but they can't help feeling excited. Also, we're definitely part of an Empire, which is a Good Thing, and Our Empire should be the Biggest and Best and Most Powerful. Especially when it comes to things like big navies and funding exploration of the Antarctic (though I expect this theme to extend to other topics as the months pass).

Then, there's this gem of an advert: The Aulsebrooks boy. Who can apparently fight like anything.

Posted by carla at February 1, 2014 09:26 PM