Conference paper

Soldiers and school children

Military performances and national identity during the Prince of Wales’ 1920 visit to Wellington
History National identity Wellington
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Early royal visits to New Zealand were episodes of intense symbolic activity played out on an urban scale. These events are generally understood as affirmations of British identity. However, this paper shows how the Prince of Wales’ 1920 tour of New Zealand was also used to promote the distinct character of the young dominion. The research examines two military performances in Wellington: a review at Newtown Park and a quasi-military parade of school children in parliament grounds. Analysis of these events reveals dual narratives in which New Zealanders both reaffirm their links with the Motherland and acknowledge their own difference. The two sources of identity are found to be compatible but dependent on malleable images. The paper argues that military images and narratives were flexible enough to convey New Zealanders’ “imperial” and “national” allegiances. However, while a dual narrative operated successfully during the “Children’s Day” display, the more conventional military review at Newtown Park failed because it was unable to reconcile the antipodean traits of discipline and vigour. Both performances required a degree of improvisation because Wellington lacked dedicated sites for military ceremonial. The choice of venues contributed to the disparate outcomes of the two events. In parliament grounds, school groups exhibited the health and dynamism of New Zealand’s youth but also reinforced the latent order and unity of New Zealand’s pre-eminent “national” space. At Newtown Park, the measured performance of troops and returned soldiers failed to bring to life claims about the battlefield prowess and down-to-earth resilience of the “digger”.

Publication Details
Source title:
Proceedings of the 12th Australasian Urban History Planning History Conference 2014
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