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Weddings and war in 1940s New Zealand

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Weddings and war in 1940s New Zealand

Weddings in New Zealand during the Second World War continued the tradition of long white or ivory coloured dresses, often with trains and flowing veils. This was in contrast to Britain for example where clothing was severely rationed. Long dresses, veils and large bouquets gradually faded from the scene in Britain in favour of suits, day dresses or military uniform.

Traditional gown or military uniform?

Selwyn and Mary Keane photographed in the porch at St Barnabas Church, Mt Eden, Auckland on 15 March 1941. Mary's wedding dress is also in the Museum collection (1995.102.1).

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PH-NEG-C28733.

Clothing coupons were introduced in New Zealand in early 1942 but do not appear to have had the same impact as in Britain.

Nevertheless, the Museum collection contains a wedding dress purchased from Selfridges in London for Margaret (Peg) Ward before she came to New Zealand as a war bride in 1946. Peg wore her dress when she married Johnny Mayall in Remuera on 31 August 1946.

Although fabric was rationed it was hardly discernable in the newspaper reports of the fashionable weddings of the day. Typical press descriptions read: "The bride wore a long-waisted gown, with ivory satin skirt and train and bodice of silk embossed cloque, with heart shape neck and long sleeves pointed over the hands. Her French embroidered tulle veil was held in place with a coronet of orange blossom, mounted on silver lame." (Auckland Star, 5 May 1945).

Often several bridesmaids in complementary outfits with headdresses and flowers attended the bride.

The two sisters of a bride in Auckland wore "full-length draped frocks of powder-blue sheer wool jersey and coronets of red sweet peas to match their bouquets of red tulips and sweet peas" (New Zealand Herald, 10 October 1944).

However, fabric rationing was real. When ex-Land Girl Jessie Joan (Joan) Corbett married Eric Ivan Chapman after the war, her silk wedding dress was made by her mother from a parachute Eric brought back with him expressly for that purpose.

The most noticeable change at weddings was probably bridegroom's attire, as enlisted men invariably wore their military uniform. And women in the armed services sometimes wore their uniform also. Nola Nadine and her bridesmaid wore their WRNS uniform when Nola married US Navy Petty Officer Elden Ray Allen from Kentucky in April 1943 (New Zealand Herald, 3 April 1943).

Nonetheless service women marrying in New Zealand still often chose the more glamorous option.

Double wedding of Black and white photograph of the double wedding of Linton King and Joyce Miller (couple on left, front row) and Tui King and Gordon Mason (couple on right), grooms wearing military uniform, Warkworth. There are several different images associated with this event in the Museum's pictorial collection; several in front of the photographer’s house in Mill Lane.

Photo by Tudor Washington Collins.Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PH-2013-7-TC-B32-11.

The Auckland Star, reporting on a wedding in Whangarei, spied an interesting variation on the theme of wearing a uniform. The occasion was the marriage of Sergeant Alexander Beazley in May 1945. His bride's dress was a traditional style ivory satin and silk embossed cloque whilst the bride's mother chose maroon silk crepe for her outfit. The newspaper reported that "the groom's mother however wore her service uniform to her son's wedding" (5 May 1945).

Something old and something new

Some novel customs were introduced that struck a chord because of war time conditions. A recently furloughed serviceman and his bride sent a tier of their wedding cake from Wellington to friends serving in 2NZEF in the Middle East.

And the father of a bride announced at the wedding reception for his daughter that he was making a donation of £500 pounds to a Serviceman's Relief Fund to mark the celebrations whilst remembering the war effort.

American serviceman threw rice over the happy couple at weddings they attended instead of confetti. This drew some comment in the press because rice was rationed in New Zealand at the time and throwing it around seemed a waste.

Wedding receptions and parties

Food rationing and coupons for sugar, butter, tea, sweets, meat and eggs amongst other things was introduced in 1942. However, rationing did not seem to prevent large numbers of guests being invited to weddings and the ensuing celebrations. Whilst some wedding were small intimate family affairs, between 60 and 120 guests were often invited to wedding receptions.

Prior to weddings there were also many afternoon tea parties for the bride, bridesmaids and family and friends – quite lavish and fashionable affairs that drew reports in the press as to attendance, fashions and decorations. These events were held at the home of the parents of the bride or at one of the popular venues around town. The Parnell Tea Rooms, George Courts' Tea Rooms, or the Kiosk in Cornwall Park were such venues in Auckland. The Auckland Domain Kiosk was a firm favourite and was an attractive location as photographs in the Museum collection show. In Wellington popular venues were the New Savoy, James Smith’s, and the Empire Hall in Cuba Street.

Despite rationing, wedding breakfast tables were richly decorated.

Photo by Tudor Washington Collins.Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PH-2013-7-TC-B37-05.

On balance, war time weddings seem to have been mainly traditional affairs with lavish dresses in beautiful fabrics, sumptuous veils and accessories including flowers and bridesmaids in matching shades. Food rationing might have made things difficult but Ethne Fosswill of Cashel Street Christchurch regularly advertised "stocks of everything necessary for the complete Wedding Cake" (Press, 2 August 1943).

Weddings 'with all the trimmings' were generally the order of the day.

Further reading and sources

Taylor, N. 1986. The New Zealand People at War: The Home Front. Wellington.

Cite this article

Fortune, Gabrielle. Weddings and war in 1940s New Zealand. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 7 April 2016. Updated: 13 April 2016.

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