Archive for the 'Historic events' Category

The experience of a weekend

Conference poster

Conference poster

To complement the First World War Centenary History Programme, the project’s sponsors organised a major international conference at Massey University’s Old Museum Building in Wellington last week. Its theme was The Experience of a Lifetime: People, Personalities and Leaders in the First World War. For a full weekend we conference delegates were offered a wealth of personal war stories. Twenty four presenters regaled their audience with a range of experiences – from European generals responding to unprecedented mechanical conflict, to Able Seaman John Reardon, a New Zealander who died when the Royal Australian Navy’s submarine disappeared off New Guinea in September 1914.

It was great to hear the perspectives brought by several historians from overseas – including Professor Sir Hew Strachan of Oxford University – as they gave a glimpse of British, Australian, American and even Ottoman experiences. As well as providing a fuller picture of the effects of the war, these presenters emphasised that the First World War was a truly transnational event, and one which shaped the experiences of many millions of people.

Naturally enough, considering how the theme was about personalities, the weekend was filled with interesting personal stories. Some of the ones I particularly enjoyed included that of Ratu Sukuna, a Fijian chief who enlisted in the French Foreign Legion in order to join the conflict; the stories of the seven Indians known to have joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force; and Lord Kitchener’s preferred alternative to the Gallipoli Campaign: an invasion of Alexandretta (now known as İskenderun) on the Mediterranean coast, west of Aleppo.

The challenge for us, however, is to tease out what it is that these individual stories tell us about the broader picture of the war. One of the most effective presentations at the conference related to New Zealand pilot Keith Park, and how his experience converged or diverged from that of other pilots. Park’s assignment as an instructor immediately following his own training speaks not only of the shortcomings in the British air training scheme, but also of the calibre of Park as a pilot. It also meant that Park tallied up 135 hours of flying experience before deployment on the Western Front, as opposed to the average 30–50 hours of his comrades.

The recent digitisation of historical resources – including Papers Past and the armed forces personnel files housed at Archives New Zealand – enriched these and the countless other stories we heard. Many of these stories have only recently come to light. It made me realise that there are so many stories of personal courage and suffering that have not yet been told, and the centenary of the war provides us with a great opportunity to share them and learn from them. In addition, it would be worthwhile to widen the scope of the stories on offer to include those not substantially covered in the conference: those on the home front, the men and women in the New Zealand Medical Corps, conscientious objectors, Māori and Pacific Island peoples in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, as well as the lingering effects of their experience of a lifetime.

Towards a Southland Heritage Strategy

St Mary's Basilica in Invercargill – a fine example of Southland's heritage

St Mary's Basilica in Invercargill – a fine example of Southland's heritage

Guest blogger David Butts is Manager, Heritage Operations at Manatū Taonga – the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Here he writes about attending the Southland Heritage Forum and reflects on regional heritage. Click to read Jock Phillips’s earlier post on the same forum.

For some, a visit to Invercargill in the middle of winter may not appeal, but for me the opportunity to attend the Southland Heritage Forum was very timely. I had just finished reading economist Shamubeel Eaquab’s recently published small book Growing apart: regional prosperity in New Zealand, in which he argues that all regions are not made equal when it comes to things like population growth, employment opportunities and economic development. There is an increasing divide between those regions that are continuing to develop and those that are becoming more marginalised from the centres of growth. Each of these regions has a different combination of factors contributing to this threat of marginalisation. Northland and the East Coast are often referred to in this context, but the number of struggling regions is increasing.

I am interested in how the regions are continuing to maintain their heritage resources and services in such challenging times. Our network of regional museums, for example, is dependent on local authorities to provide their primary source of funding. As local authorities attempt to minimise the level of rates rises, they are having to identify what they consider to be core community and regional services. Museums will need to continue to actively demonstrate their value to community well-being, and community and regional sustainability.

Moa-bone necklace – another Southland taonga

Moa-bone necklace – another Southland taonga

The purpose of the Southland Heritage Forum was to foster the building of a strong heritage community in Southland, with a specific focus on the development of a regional heritage strategy. Southland is not the first region to consider developing such a strategy. Northland and the West Coast, for example, have both developed and implemented such policies with varying degrees of success. However, the development of a heritage strategy in Southland is notable because Southland has already demonstrated the capacity to be forward-thinking and self-reliant. The formation of Heritage South, the funding channelled through the Southland Regional Heritage Committee and Venture Southland, and the appointment of a roving museum officer to provide help to small and volunteer museums in the region, are examples of this.

The Southland Regional Heritage Committee is funding the development of a regional heritage strategy. This project is currently in its first phase, which involves a peer review of other regional heritage strategies, consultation with stakeholders about their needs and desired outcomes, and developing an agreed framework. Phase two will be the development of a draft strategy document, and phase three will be the implementation. While there is still some way to go, it was apparent that those attending the forum were highly engaged with this process and anticipating the development of a strategy that will enhance their existing networks and collaborative projects, and identify clearly articulated shared goals and priorities.

Lest we forget – on remembering the Great War

This stained-glass window in St Andrew's church in Cambridge is a memorial to those who died in the First World War

This stained-glass window in St Andrew's church in Cambridge is a memorial to those who died in the First World War

In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the onset of the First World War, Te Ara is featuring three stories – First World War, Memorials and monuments and Anniversaries – which each encourage us to think about that conflict and how we remember it.

Ian McGibbon’s account of the First World War is a brilliantly succinct summary of New Zealand’s experience of that horrific conflict, as might be expected from one of the country’s finest military historians. He provides a clear account of the battles – physical, mental and political, both at home and at the front. If you want to learn about the war, this is the place to start. The supporting images and media are also hugely revealing. A contemporary film of landing at Gallipoli contains stunning footage, and it is sobering indeed to look at the graph of comparative percentages of deaths among the combatants in the conflict. New Zealand’s level of loss is awful enough, but just compare New Zealand’s rate with that of Scotland or, even worse, Serbia. New Zealand lost about 5% of all men aged 15 to 49; Scotland about 11%; Serbia lost about 23%! In addition, don’t miss the story of George Bollinger. This video was a trial for the Great War Stories, which played so successfully on TV3 last week and are now available at http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/great-war-stories.

When the guns in that war ended, people were faced with the task of ensuring that the deaths of 18,000 New Zealand soldiers and nurses, nearly all buried overseas, might be appropriately honoured. So New Zealanders put up over 500 memorials in the towns and settlements of the country. Our story on Memorials and monuments put this effort within the wider context of the building of monuments in New Zealand. The story shows that the earliest Pākehā memorials were to famous pioneers such as John Godley in Christchurch and William Cargill in Dunedin. But there were very few memorials until the turn of the 20th century. Then New Zealanders developed a memorial frenzy. They put up stone monuments to many different individuals and groups: to prominent pioneers, to Robbie Burns, to Queen Victoria, and to those who had served and died in the New Zealand wars and the South African War. So people were used to thinking about how to memorialise by the time the Great War came along. Interestingly, few of these monuments were utilitarian. Most were carved in stone as ornamental edifices in public places. But when New Zealanders came to remember the Second World War, they had a very different attitude and the government supported memorials only if they served a community service – hence the large number of war memorial halls.

The third featured story, Anniversaries, discusses a second way past events are remembered. Quite a number of memorials, such as the Queen Victoria statues or the monuments to Kate Sheppard, were put up on the occasion of anniversaries. Like monuments, the recognition of anniversaries in New Zealand took time to get going. In 1869 the 100th anniversary of James Cook’s arrival passed almost without note. The earliest anniversary celebrations were imperial – especially Queen Victoria’s golden (50th) and diamond (60th) jubilees – or else they were provincial and grew out of the annual provincial anniversary days. It was not until 1940, the 100th anniversary of New Zealand becoming a British colony, that the nation as a whole became a primary focus.

Whether provincial or national, the major message of such anniversary celebrations was praise of the pioneers and a self-satisfied tribute to a half-century or century of progress. Take a look at the film of Otago’s 1948 ‘Cavalcade of progress‘, and the photo of Canterbury’s 1950 floral procession, ‘100 years of progress’. By 1990, when the sesquicentennial came along, New Zealanders were uncertain how to mark it – was it a celebration or a commemoration; was it a moment to remember progress or to acknowledge failure? Listen to Bishop Vercoe’s famous speech at Waitangi in 1990. Too embarrassed to celebrate, we had also forgotten, as Sesqui showed, how to have a good time. But, within three years the centenary of women’s suffrage suggested that when you had a community who were passionate to seek inspiration from the past, anniversaries could be very effective consciousness-raising exercises – and a good time could be had as well.

The question that these three stories invite is: how will we remember the First World War, as the anniversaries unfold over the next four years? Will we celebrate or will we commemorate? Will the anniversary encourage praise for those who endured the turmoil of war, or will it provide salutary lessons for the future?

Great War Stories

On this 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, we are delighted to have played a major role in a series of ‘Great War Stories’.  Each of the seven stories deals with a particular person (or in one case a horse!) and tells of how the war impacted on that individual. A different story will be played in the middle of TV3 News every night for the next seven days.

It has been a long and fascinating journey to this moment. It began about two years ago, when we were preparing Te Ara’s story on the First World War. That war was such a huge, cataclysmic event that affected everybody in this society, so we were looking for a way to make it real at a human level. We came up with the idea of telling the story through its effect upon one individual; so we prepared a short film on George Bollinger. Bollinger was a fairly typical Kiwi bloke in 1914 – a keen rugby player, a strong believer in the British Empire, a member of the local territorial force. When war broke out he volunteered quickly and, being strong (actually at 6 foot 4 inches (1.9 metres), he was the tallest man in the ‘main body’ of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force), he was accepted. He sailed off with the Expeditionary Force in October 1914, then on to Egypt and finally to Gallipoli.

So far so good, but he was different from his peers in one respect – his father was a German, who had migrated to Taranaki in the 1870s. Some people in New Zealand society had no time for people ‘of German birth’, so before long George Bollinger became the butt of rumours and letters to ministers and MPs. How this impacted on George was the essence of the film.

George Bollinger, 1916 (Ref: PAColl-0049-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22859089)

George Bollinger, 1916 (Ref: PAColl-0049-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22859089)

We prepared a script and put it together in-house, using images from the Alexander Turnbull Library. The formula seemed to work, so the idea emerged that perhaps we should do a series of these war stories for the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

I went and visited Chris Szekely, chief librarian at the Alexander Turnbull Library, and asked if the Turnbull would like to join us in this project. He accepted with alacrity. So did Alan Ferris at Archives New Zealand when I asked him the same question. Before long we had an exciting cross-agency project underway. We (the Ministry for Culture and Heritage), Turnbull and Archives each brainstormed possible stories. Then we came together and chose the 25 best ones.

At that point a number of ministry historians – Gareth Phipps, Matthew Tonks, Martha van Drunen, Imelda Bargas and myself – prepared research files on each story. Then these were handed to the noted playwright Dave Armstrong, who had written short scripts for our ‘Roadside Stories‘, audio guides to places around New Zealand, that we made in 2011. He once again prepared scripts for these short films. Our intention at that point was to find actors and put together the stories ourselves for our websites.

Then I received a phone call one day from Anna Cottrell. She explained that she had been proposing to TV3 a series of short stories about different individuals involved in the Great War. She was about to seek support from NZ on Air, but had just found out that we had a similar idea. We met, and very quickly an obvious win-win solution surfaced: let’s work together! The ministry would do the research and checking, Turnbull and Archives would search out the relevant images, documents and film clips, and Anna Cottrell and her team would put together the short films to be shown on TV3. NZ on Air were impressed and so the venture took off.

It has been a wonderful ride. Together with Anna and her team, we chose the first seven stories to be produced and broadcast. We looked for a range that would tell of the experiences of men and women, Māori and Pākehā, battle heroes and opponents of the war, the home front and the muddy trenches. Then Anna, using the research and the scripts, set about filming the stories. She has done a magnificent job.

The first seven Great War Stories are:

  • Lady Liverpool – The men go forth to battle, the women wait – and knit: Monday 4 August
  • Keith Caldwell – Grid’s great escape: Tuesday 5 August
  • Rikihana Carkeek – A warrior of Tūmatauenga: Wednesday 6 August
  • Leonard Hart – New Zealand’s darkest day: Thursday 7 August
  • Henry Pickerill and Harold Gillies – The changing faces of war: Friday 8 August
  • Mark Briggs – The courage of conviction: Saturday 9 August
  • Bess – Lucky horse: Sunday 10 August.

After screening, the stories will also be available, with supporting information, on www.firstworldwar.govt.nz/great-war-stories.

We hope you take time to watch the stories and that you learn from them something about the extraordinary impact the Great War inflicted upon the peoples of this country.

Return to quake city, II

Almost three years ago, in the middle of the Rugby World Cup, I returned to my old home town, Christchurch. I was so shaken (probably the right word in the circumstances) by the sight of places familiar from my early life and now piles of stone rubble on the ground, that I immediately wrote a blog post, ‘Return to quake city‘.

Several weeks ago I returned to Christchurch. This time I had a mission. I set out to take photographs at the very same spots where I had taken shots in 2006 – pre-earthquake – for the Te Ara story on Canterbury, so that we can update that entry and perhaps show ‘before’ and ‘after’ images.

Once more I was walking in the footsteps of my childhood; once more I was contemplating the effect of the big quakes. It was a fascinating exercise. Compared with 2011, there were now hopeful, and in places intriguing, signs of recovery. Yet, comparing photos from 2006 and 2014 reveals that few places were left unaffected by those terrifying moments at 12.51 pm on 22 February 2011.

I started at Lake Victoria. In 2006 this had been a peaceful, bucolic scene of a garden city.

Lake Victoria, 2006

Lake Victoria, 2006

When I came back in 2011, the lake had disappeared. The scene was no more than mounds of reddish earth.

'Lake Victoria', 2011

'Lake' Victoria, 2011

This time in 2014 the restoration was remarkable – apart from the lack of oldies sitting in the sun, it could have been 2006 again.

Lake Victoria, 2014

Lake Victoria, 2014

I moved on to my alma mater, Christ’s College, where in 2011 there was serious damage to the old Gothic revival buildings in the quad. This time the entrance had a proud notice fixed to the gate that read ‘Restoration wins two awards’, with photographs of before and after. The old order had returned.

Then it was time to visit the square. In 2011 I could only peer at the wreck of the Anglican Christchurch Cathedral through railings. Now I could wander and get close to the rubble. It was obviously still depressing for someone who had spent many hours singing psalms within its precincts. The ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos show not only the destruction but also the troubling lack of people in the square.

Christchurch Cathedral, 2006

Christchurch Cathedral, 2006

Christchurch Cathedral, 2014

Christchurch Cathedral, 2014

Yet, there were also hopeful signs. Everywhere there were plantings and colourful murals, and on one side a beautiful chorus of fluttering flags.

Flags, 2014

Flags, 2014

I came across an intriguing notice that read, ‘Audacious – explore the city by ear – resonifying the city’. It went on to explain that the project was designed to bring back sounds to spaces that had become quiet after the earthquake. There was also an advertisement for ‘Canterbury Tales’ – a carnival and procession of liberation through the former red zone.

Wherever I went, comparing before and after, I could not escape the quakes. I had wondered if it would be worth re-photographing the old Deans Cottage in Riccarton Bush, because it was a wooden structure and surely it had been untouched. Not so – here are the two photographs of 2006 and 2014. Scaffolding and barriers just cannot be avoided.

Deans Cottage 2006

Deans Cottage, 2006

Deans Cottage,2014

Deans Cottage, 2014

And when I visited the beautiful Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, the pain of loss resurfaced.

Catholic Cathedral, 2006

Catholic Cathedral, 2006

Catholic Cathedral, 2014

Catholic Cathedral, 2014

Yet even here the sight was still better than in 2011.

Catholic Cathedral, 2011

Catholic Cathedral, 2011

The containers were still holding up Francis Petre‘s masterpiece, but the rubble had disappeared.

I ended my visit in east Christchurch, driving through the swampy ‘red’ area around the former Queen Elizabeth Park, where sizeable homes now sit vacant while sections around them are stripped bare, and I saw Steeple Rock at Sumner, now minus the steeple. But it was the collection of artworks along the main road at Sumner that attracted my interest. The huge murals sit beneath a cliff, at the top of which fragments of destroyed houses can be seen teetering on the edge. One of these murals shows a scantily clad woman with a worried, pensive look.

Sumner, 2014

Sumner, 2014

It reminded me of another artwork, on the wall of the Christchurch Art Gallery – which, despite having been a symbolic beacon of hope as the centre of operations after the earthquake, is now boarded up for $50 million worth of repairs. There too a lone woman looks down on the city.

Christchurch Art Gallery, 2014

Christchurch Art Gallery, 2014

These images of women – worried, serious, reflective, yet also strangely determined to weather it all – perhaps symbolise a city that slowly, slowly, slowly, is in recovery mode.