As the wife of the local doctor, Mrs Alice Mickle knew many of the 'Birkenhead boys' who left for the First World War. She collected their photos and letters in an album, captioning each one with details about the individual’s service.
The local doctor's wife
Mrs Alice Mickle and her husband moved to Birkenhead, where Dr Arthur Mickle worked as a doctor, in about 1911.
The communities of Birkenhead were exceptionally close-knit. Roads were notoriously rough and residents relied upon ferries to transport them to Auckland city.
Geographic isolation bound families together. In medical emergencies families depended on help from their neighbours and the local doctor.
Fighting from the home front
As men left for war, their friends and families at home were determined to contribute to the war effort. Women quickly set to work knitting socks and sewing hussifs for "our boys" at the front.
Fundraising initiatives were organised to support soldiers, their families and refugees from war torn countries.
Communities rallied together to make sure men from their district received regular mail. School children frantically wrote cheerful letters to soldiers. The Red Cross and other patriotic societies coordinated district and nationwide fundraising initiatives. These ranged from donating proceeds from the sale of fresh produce to grand events and performances.
Fundraising badges and flags were sold to raise funds for causes such as the Belgian refugees, hospital ships and prisoners of war.
Alice Mickle's wartime work
Alice contributed to official fundraising initiatives, but focused her efforts on sending parcels to soldiers from Birkenhead where her husband was the local doctor.
She was soon sending gifts to entire hospitals and once she sent chocolates to the troopship HMS Philomel.
The size and frequency of the parcels increased but Dr Mickle acknowledged it was her "one very great pleasure".
Practically as soon as the war broke out, Mrs. Mickle began to make up parcels to send away, and as time went on she knew exactly where to send them and precisely what was needed, her activities doubled and trebled.
Auckland Star, Volume LXI, Issue 6, 8 January 1930, Page 10.
Letters of thanks
Soldiers responded to Alice's parcels by sending her photographs, cards and letters. Some even sent souvenirs such as canteen coupons or leave slips.
The photographs – usually formal studio portraits - were commissioned as a keepsake for families and friends left at home. Some photographs were taken while on leave from the fighting in Europe or the Middle East. Alice collected these photos in her album, captioning each one with details about the individual's service.
She also corresponded via official channels. To ensure her parcels reached their destination, Alice wrote to the Under Secretary in New Zealand's Department of Internal Affairs. She received thank you letters from hospitals in Egypt, France and England, grateful for her gifts of books and board games.
Alice Mickle was, as her obituary notes, a very great friend of the soldiers.
Cite this article
Mrs Alice Mickle: Friend of the soldiers. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 3 March 2016. Updated: 27 August 2019.