When Dad Came Home 

Published Nov 2018 by Oratia. Illustrated by Rosie Colligan.

When Dad Came Home tells the story of Rita and Thomas’s dad who returns home from World War I suffering from what was then called ‘shell shock’. Soldiers who returned from the war often faced difficulty re-entering society after the horrors they had faced on the battlefield. Most never spoke about their experiences and managed to continue on as before, however many men faced on-going psychological trauma.

Not only affecting the soldiers, but their families too, the story shows that not all soldiers return unharmed from war and not all wounds are physical, but with love, care and support, they can heal.

Teachers: to aid your classroom learning, click here for the When Dad Came Home – Teacher Resource


Mrs Barnard’s Gingernut Biscuits – In the story, the family bake for Dad. In WWI families sent food packages to their soldiers fighting overseas. They also baked to raise money for the war effort. In New Zealand, we have always thought our ANZAC biscuits were what people sent, however, experts now believe these biscuits wouldn’t have lasted the long journey to Europe. One mother, Mrs Barnard from Taranaki, did bake and send a type of Gingernut biscuit to her sons, and these may have been the origin of the ANZAC biscuit. Her sons shared them with their troopmates who all wrote to Mrs Barnard asking her to share the recipe with their mothers. Over the course of both World Wars, it is estimated that Mrs Barnard baked and sent over four and a half tons of biscuits – that’s about the weight of two Rhinoceros! She also baked for many fundraising events. You can read more about her here. If you would like to try and bake her biscuits, you can find the recipe here.

Shell Shock (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) – Initially, doctors thought Shell Shock was a physical problem caused by the shock waves from exploding shells, however they quickly came to realise it was a psychological condition brought on by the constant stress of the battlefield. Today it would be diagnosed as PTSD.

Symptoms were wide ranging and included: fatigue, hysteria, anxiety, nightmares and insomnia, dizziness and disorientation, confusion, loss of appetite, uncontrolled shaking, limping, muscle spasms, deafness, depression, paralysis. Sufferers often couldn’t stand loud noises and many suffered flash-backs.

While most soldiers sympathised and tried to help their comrades, a lot of shell shock victims were thought to be simply faking or lacking courage and accused of not being ‘a man’. Some were even arrested and court martial-ed for desertion. 

In 1916, Queen Mary Hospital was opened in Hanmer Springs to treat returned New Zealand soldiers suffering from shell shock. The peaceful surroundings were a helpful part of the counselling treatment.

You can find out more about Shell Shock here.