July 17th, 2018
At first appearance, this helmet looks like any other one of the millions of khaki green steel helmets which are now synonymous with the World War I soldier and trench warfare in general. However, on closer inspection the large hole near the top of the helmet, which has torn through the steel and the inner lining, becomes glaringly obvious and suggests something more morbid.
What a lot of people may not realise is that the steel helmet was still an experimental item at the beginning of World War I and that for the first year of the war, including at Gallipoli, the men went into battle with no real head protection. The first British helmets didn’t arrive on the front lines until September 1915. Originally they were only issued to a battalion, each battalion was assigned 50 helmets which were to be kept in the trench stores until needed. These would remain in this fixed location and made available to be used by each battalion as they moved in and out of that area of the battlefield. Helmets remained part of trench store supplies until the summer of 1916 when production had reached 1 million units and there were enough available to start issuing them to each individual soldier. This was just as well for Alan Rout, for had he not been wearing a helmet on the morning of the 26th September 1916, it is very likely he would not have survived the shrapnel shell which tore through his helmet and lessened what would otherwise have been a fatal blow.
Alan Clifford Rout was born in Nelson on the 21st February 1891, the youngest of three sons of William and Eliza Rout. Prior to the war, Alan had attended Nelson College and had studied to be an architect. Alan was also a noted musician having studied at the Nelson School of Music during his youth. He played both the piano and the organ at various fundraising events such as the Empire Defence Fund and the Belgium Relief Fund in Nelson shortly before he left for the war and would continue to play at various community events in the years following his return.
Alan enlisted for service with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on the 30th November 1914 and embarked overseas for Egypt as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 3rd Reinforcements on the 14th February 1915. Lieutenant Rout went on to serve with the Canterbury Infantry Regiment at Gallipoli where he was wounded in action on the 25th June 1915 receiving multiple shrapnel wounds to his right buttock. He was evacuated to England where he was admitted to Hornchurch Hospital (Grey Towers) where he spent most of the following year recuperating. Alan was discharged from Hornchurch on the 6th June 1916 and embarked for France to rejoin his unit (now posted to the 1st Battalion of the Canterbury Infantry Regiment) in the field the following day.
The injury that caused this impressive hole in his helmet, occurred on the 26th September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. Lieutenant Rout had been charged with taking a water party up to the front lines in the area known as Fleurs and was talking to his Brigade Major when the Germans unleashed an artillery barrage overtop of their trench.
Alan Rout’s diary entry from that day reads as follows:
“An H. E. [high explosive] shrapnel burst right overhead and I got a terrific crack on my steel helmet. I was a bit dazed at first and thought the shrapnel hadn’t gone through my helmet; but when the blood began to stream down my face I knew I had a crack somewhere.”
Alan was reported as wounded in action two days later and was recorded as being dangerously ill at the Duchess of Westminster (No 1 British Red Cross Society) Hospital at Touquet, France. Alan was found to have a compound fracture to the skull and was operated on during the night of the 28th September to remove a small piece of bone and to mend a broken vein. As luck would have it, upon being evacuated to a dressing station two days earlier, Alan had passed by the tent of his brother Charles at Mametz Wood (Charles Rout had trained as a doctor and was serving with the British Army as a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps). Charles was able to assess the injury and recommend that his brother was operated on as soon as possible. The surgeons were said to remark on Alan’s incredible recovery following the operation and that he had been very lucky to live, this was no doubt due to his helmet, which took much of the impact and the fortunate intervention of his brother.
Alan was then sent to England where he was admitted to No 1 New Zealand General Hospital at Brockenhurst, where he was declared to be unfit for duty on account of his injury and after a period of convalescence, embarked for New Zealand on the 13th November 1916. Alan Rout was officially discharged on the 15th March 1917.
However, the head injury he received during the war would impact Alan for the rest of his life. He had a permanent indentation on the top of his head which he was no doubt self-conscious of as he was known to always wear a hat when out in public. The injury also caused him to have frequent headaches and difficulty concentrating for long periods of time. As a result, Alan did not continue his career as an architect as he had intended to do before the war. Instead, he worked as a registered valuer and later took over from his father as the Managing Secretary on the Trust Board of the Cawthron Institute (a local organisation based in Nelson specialising in promoting scientific research). Alan also served as the secretary of the Nelson Rotary Club for over 25 years and as the secretary of the Nelson Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society.
Despite his change in career path, Alan was still able to put his architectural training to use; he designed both his own house in Nelson as well as the home of one of his brothers. Alan married Hilda Isabell Ryrie in late 1928 and had four children. Alan Rout died of stomach cancer in Nelson on the 25th September 1956 aged 65 and is interred in the RSA section of Wakapuaka Cemetery.
The National Army Museum is very fortunate to have an excellent collection of Lieutenant Rout’s belongings from World War I which include not only this unique helmet, but also his diary, medal group, compass, binoculars and sword. These were very generously donated by his daughter, Mrs Helen McBride in 2017.
Brenden Shirley, Collection Technician
June 1st, 2018
A World War II Italian Fascist Mothers Medal is June’s Artefact of the Month.
Established on March 3rd 1939, during the regime of Benito Mussolini and his ‘Economic Battles‘, this medal was used as a form of public recognition for mothers who bore 5 children, with a single bow added to the ribbon for every extra child she had.
Cast from aluminium and attached to a green and blue ribbon, this medal was made specifically for Mussolini’s ‘Battle for Births‘ campaign.
Battle for Births
Established in 1927, ‘Battle for Births‘ was a demographic campaign aimed at increasing the Italian population from 40 million in 1927 to 60 million by 1950.
In order to make this idea more appealing to the public, pre-marital loans were offered to couples to pay for their weddings in order to encourage them to marry. On top of this, each new child they produced was used as commodity to cancel out part of said marital loan. Married men with 6+ children also became exempt from taxation, and were more likely to receive promotions within work, over their single, childless co-workers. For women, they received the Mothers Medal as public recognition for their contribution to the scheme if they produced more than the state’s target of 5 children per family.
May 1st, 2018
For many, the sound of the whistle calling out along the trenches during war time is often associated with the phrase ‘going over the top’. The expression refers to soldiers climbing out of the trenches to begin a forward attack.
This whistle belonged to Major John William Fletcher (MBE), who was born in England and initially served with the Green Howards. He later joined the Gordon Highlanders, with whom he served with in the Boer War. In 1912 he came to New Zealand to work with the Military Staff in Auckland. He served with New Zealand in World War One, but was wounded at Gallipoli on the 8th May 1915 when taking part in the Second Battle of Krithia, also known as the Daisy Patch. Major Fletcher would have likely used this whistle to instruct troops to ‘go over the top’ at Gallipoli.
Major Fletcher was invalided back to New Zealand after being wounded but remained involved in the war effort, even assisting with the re-capturing of Felix von Luckner, a German Prisoner of War in New Zealand and who attempted escape.
Whistles were used in both world wars for communicating commands to troops over the sound and confusion of the battlefield. The 1914 Infantry Training Manual describes the “rally blast”, which uses short whistle sounds to gather troops together. This call was used when troops were in “wood, bush, fog or darkness”, when other signals could not be used. The “alarm blast”, a series of long and short whistle sounds, was used to call troops out of their camp and to take up positions. Artillery also used whistles to signal a gun was about to be fired, to prevent soldiers from getting hit by the gun’s recoil.
Major Fletcher’s whistle is engraved “NZEF” (New Zealand Expeditionary Force) on the side and is stamped with “The City Patent Whistle”. It has a loop which holds a split ring, where a leather cord could be attached, so the whistle could be buttoned onto a soldier’s uniform. The whistle was silver plated, but the plating has worn away, revealing brass underneath.
Written by Loran McNamara, Assistant Curator of Social History and Accoutrements
April 3rd, 2018
This melodeon belonged to Albert Victor Samuel Dick, who served in both World War One and World War Two. We are not sure whether Albert purchased this melodeon for himself or whether it was something he acquired whilst serving with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade during WWI. We do know that he had the melodeon with him whilst in service, as the museum also received a picture of him holding the instrument in his military uniform.
The bellows on the melodeon have a blue background with white floral patterns. The manufacture’s name is unable to be read as most of the lettering has faded, but it does have “German Manufacture” in English on top of the melodeon. It comes with a wooden storage box that has a twin hook and eye fastening.
National Army Museum Te Mata Toa
National Army Museum Te Mata Toa
The melodeon is a type of accordion, and is also known as a one-row diatonic accordion. This melodeon features a single row of 10 buttons, so it is a one-row melodeon. Other melodeons can have two or three rows of buttons. The reeds on the melodeon can be changed by lifting the stops (the round pegs on the top of the melodeon) to change the tuning.
National Army Museum Te Mata Toa
National Army Museum Te Mata Toa
National Army Museum Te Mata Toa
March 5th, 2018
A soldier doll from World War I, with it’s own hand-made and personalised uniform, is March’s Artefact of the Month.
Ruth Madeleine Miller (nèe FitzGerald) was only 6 years old when her two older brothers, John and Roy, left New Zealand to serve in World War One. To help Ruth remember her brothers while they were away, Ruth’s mother made a uniform for her doll.
The doll’s uniform includes a jacket complete with epaulettes, trousers, hat and shoes. The doll’s head, arms and legs are made from bisque, which is a type of unglazed porcelain, and the body is a soft fabric.
Ruth’s brothers both served with the New Zealand Army during World War One. 2/2820 John Garrett FitzGerald was a Driver with the New Zealand Field Artillery and 3/148A Bernard Morris Roy FitzGerald (known as Roy) served with the 6th Mounted Field Ambulance. Both brothers returned home at the end of the war and ran a general store together in Urenui, Taranaki.
The doll remained with Ruth until she handed it down to her oldest daughter, Geraldine, who later moved to Canada and took the doll with her. Geraldine remembers that she and her siblings “were never allowed to play with it … but [we] always looked at it and treated it with reverence as it was supposed to remind us of the sacrifices family made when sons went to war.”
In 2016 Geraldine visited New Zealand. The doll was now over 100 years old and Geraldine thought it was time to donate the precious family heirloom to a museum; Ruth’s soldier doll is now kept in storage for preservation at the National Army Museum Te Mata Toa.
By Loran McNamara, AC Accoutrements.
February 12th, 2018
Animals have long been ‘recruited’ into the armed forces as military mascots and have served their masters with loyalty and distinction. Many of the mascots have been kept for ceremonial purposes, as emblems of particular units or simply for companionship, often bringing moments of peace and normality during the hardships and brutality of war.
For many of the New Zealand military units, especially during the First World War and the Second World War, mascots were acquired through various means. Whereas dogs have been the most common animals to serve the Kiwi troops, cats, rabbits, donkeys, monkeys, lizards, pigs, goats and birds were also adopted as mascots.
In some cases, the animals went to war with their owners while other mascots, mostly strays, were picked up in far flung places like Sri Lanka, Turkey, North Africa, Borneo, Vietnam and Afghanistan. Many were only temporary companions, but some served through entire campaigns. A few, such as the First World War Red Cross dog Caesar, combined their mascot roles with other duties. Dogs were especially useful for helping stretcher-bearers find wounded soldiers in no man’s land at night, a role Caesar performed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Another famous four-legged mascot was Freda who, in the latter stages of World War I, became the ‘official’ mascot of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. Surprisingly no official photo exists of Freda and over the years she was wrongly identified as a Dalmatian, when in fact, she was a Harlequin Great Dane.
Another much-loved World War I ‘mutt’ was Floss, who became the New Zealand Army rugby team’s mascot when they were touring England in 1917.
In World War II, the most famous of Army mascots was Major Major, a Bull Terrier who was the No. 1 Dog of the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF) and the regimental mascot of the 19 Battalion and Armoured Regiment. Another four-legged friend was Colonel Ben, who was the mascot of A Squadron, New Zealand Divisional Cavalry.
In more recent times, during an over seas deployment in Afghanistan, Major Syd Dewes, befriended the huge dog Gunner, who soon became the mascot of Kiwi troops serving in the Bamian Province.
September 28th, 2017
A walking stick made with debris from the well-known Cloth Hall in Ypres during WWI is September’s Artefact of the Month.
This walking stick was made by 42461 Sergeant Charles Cameron Begg, from Dunedin and was gifted to his father, Thomas Begg. The stick is made from debris from the Cloth Hall in Ypres, which had partially burnt down from being shelled during the First Battle of Ypres in 1914. A 1917 French coin and part of a German plane propeller were also used to create the walking stick. Charles likely picked up these items while either travelling to the front or on his return after assisting in the Third Battle of Ypres as part of the No 4 Field Company of the New Zealand Engineers during the Battle of Passchendaele.
The Cloth Hall in Ypres
Completed in 1304, the Cloth Hall in Ypres, known also as Ieper in Belgium took over 100 years to build. The Hall was a major commercial centre for the flourishing Flemish cloth industry at the time. In 1914 shellfire set wooden beams within the ceiling alight and the building was partially burnt down. By 1918 and as a result of continued artillery bombardment in the Ypres area throughout WWI, much of the original Cloth Hall had been reduced to rubble.
Images of the Cloth Hall in Ypres, dated 1912 (left) and later (right).
The New Zealand Engineers at Passchendaele
The New Zealand Engineers (NZE) were a specialist unit formed as part of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force that supported the movement and communication of the Allies during WWI. Their work included building bridges, walkways, roads and railways to support the transport of soldiers, artillery and supplies.
The No 4 Field Company began assisting with building walking and mule tracks forward of Ypres from late September 1917. The mud made it so difficult to walk or drive through that the only way to shift supplies and the wounded was to carry them by foot. German artillery targeted these supply routes, so constant repairs were needed.
On 4 October the New Zealand Division pushed forward and captured Gravenstafel spur, but there were few places of protection from enemy gun fire in this newly gained ground. Men from the 4th and 3rd Companies of the NZE pumped water out of captured German dugouts and repaired them for Allied use.
On 12 October, the NZE awaited to move forward and assist with the Passchendaele attack as they had done on the 4th, but no call came. Instead they were instructed to repair communication lines. The next day, NZE assisted with the search and transport of wounded who remained on the battlefield. On 21 October the NZE were relieved by the 3rd Divisional Canadian Engineers.
August 23rd, 2017
A selection of sketches and cartoons by well-known New Zealand journalist, writer and cartoonist Murray Moorhead are August’s Artefact of the Month.
Murray Moorhead was born in New Plymouth in 1934 and attended New Plymouth Boys’ High School. Prior to his Compulsory Military Training (CMT), the closest links to any form of military history for Moorhead was five uncles who served in WWII and being a member of the School Cadets. Moorhead was called up for CMT in the 10th intake in 1953 at Linton Camp and was trained as an anti-tank gunner on 6-pound guns. He remained in the Territorial Army until 1967 when he retired with the rank of Staff Sergeant.
Moorhead had many books and cartoons published during his lifetime and was awarded the New Zealand Military Historical Society’s Literary Award in 1987. His last book First in Arms published in 2004 told of the experiences of the Taranaki Rifle Volunteers during the Taranaki War of 1860 – 1861.
Murray Moorhead passed away in 2007 and is buried in New Plymouth.
August 20th, 2017
The Kippenberger Library at the National Army Museum Te Mata Toa provides a great starting point for families researching their military history. Our library staff frequently assist family members in seeking out information on an ancestor who has served in the armed forces and bringing their unique history and experiences to life.
To mark Family History Month this year, our library staff have shared some useful resources and advice for researchers beginning their family history journey.
- Do you have an individual service number?
- Have you accessed their service record?
- Which actions or battles did they take part in?
- Are you able to source material from a personal perspective?
- What other resources are available?
- Do you need assistance with your family research project?
A helpful place to begin your family history journey is Auckland Museum’s online cenotaph.
The online cenotaph is a user-friendly platform which features individual profiles of men and women who’ve served Aotearoa, New Zealand. Researchers are able to use various search filters to find a person and important details related to their service, including in most cases their individual service number.
With a service number you will be able to access the relevant service record and it is here where a wealth of information can be found.
Service records are a detailed account of an individual’s personal history during service.
Service records include important forms such as history, attestation and casualty sheets alongside dates such as enlistment, embarkation or discharge. The numerous abbreviations and handwriting styles found in service records can make them difficult to read. Perseverance is the key!
To gain access to service records contact the following organisations:
Personnel who served prior to 1 January 1921 – Archives New Zealand
Please note: WWI service records have been digitized and are available to the public online at Archives New Zealand. A direct link to an individual’s service record can be found in their profile on Auckland Museum’s online cenotaph.
Personnel who served after 1 January 1921 – New Zealand Defence Force Personnel Archives
Please note: Service records of personnel who served in both WWI and WWII will be held at Archives New Zealand.
Official unit histories compliment the personalised information found in service records.
To find out which actions an individual took part in, you will need to seek out the official histories of the unit they served in. These accounts were written by unit Commanders and give the dates and details of the battles in depth, where the units went and what they did.
The unit histories for WWI and WWII have been digitised and are available to the public:
Another important perspective to consider when researching is the personal, first-hand experience of service. For example, what did it smell like? What did they see? What did it feel like? For some individual’s this may not be possible, but if you have access to a journal, letters or a scrapbook related to your military person you are well on your way.
Talking with family is also recommended. A family member may have stories, photos to share, diaries, letters or recollections of the person who they remember from childhood.
Another useful resource is personal narratives. Found in libraries and archives, these accounts are written at a soldier’s level describing their everyday life. An individual may not have written their own account, however seeking out personal narratives by members of the same unit who may have shared similar experiences can also offer valuable insight from a soldier’s perspective.
Gathering material from a variety of sources, both official and personal, helps to build an individual’s unique story and bring their memory and experiences to life.
These additional resources also offer useful information to help with your research:
Paperspast – Digitized New Zealand newspapers which include articles about parades, training and departures as well as listings of those who were missing, wounded or killed.
National Library of New Zealand and Alexander Turnbull Library – These collections hold published and unpublished material including letters, diaries and memoirs of individual service personnel and a large photographic archive.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission – This website lists all commonwealth service personnel who died on Active Service in WWI and WWII.
New Zealand War Graves Project – Over 11,000 colour photos of New Zealand war graves headstones and Primary Memorials.
Our staff at the Kippenberger Library take great pride and interest in helping families research their military history. If you would like assistance in conducting your own research or would like to find out more about our services and facilities please contact us by filling out our online enquiry form.
July 31st, 2017
Kia ora tātou
Ko Elizabeth Mildon ahau
Ko Kairanga taku turangawaewae
He kaimahi au i te National Army Museum Te Mata Toa
My role at the National Army Museum is Assistant Curator Heraldry. I look after the badges and buttons but I am also responsible for the medal collection; a collection which represents close to 2000 individuals. A good proportion of the items in the National Army Museum’s whole collection are linked to specific individuals. These uniforms, photographs, documents, social history objects, badges, buttons and medals are all fragments that fit together to help to tell the stories of men and women (and the occasional animal) who have served overseas in major conflicts, served overseas in peacekeeping roles and served at home.
This current period of commemoration has raised people’s interest in family members who served during times of conflict. Medals, badges and buttons, stuck for most of the last hundred years in a box at the back of a wardrobe, are coming into the light. We have seen an increase in enquiries from families wanting to know more about the history of these items and wanting to strengthen the link between the items and themselves. It has provided a catalyst for families to donate material to the museum. When this material comes to the museum, are we asking enough questions? Is there enough dialogue between us and the donors? When we accept an item into our collection we are then responsible for telling its story and It is those extra details, provided by family, that can add depth to a story.
Medals and RSA badge of Harry Franklin
In 2014 we were given a set of medals belonging to a Private Harry Franklin of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. Harry served during World War One on the Western Front. In early 1918, suffering from Pleurisy, he was invalided home to New Zealand. Harry’s medals include the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. With the medals came a story written out by his Grandson, Alan. Alan talks about how Harry had been a proud, long serving member of the Returned Services Association but he would never march in or watch an ANZAC day service. Alan had on many occasions tried to get Harry to talk about his experiences but like so many returning service men, he did not want talk about it. Finally on ANZAC day in 1976 Harry related the following to his grandson:
“I was a machine gunner on the front line and the only times the gun would stop during a German advance was when it overheated, jammed or ran out of ammunition. I can’t tell you how many Germans I killed but it was many. That’s not war, that’s murder.”
He and his grandson then drank some beer while the tears ran down Harry’s cheeks.
The war affected Harry deeply and he struggled with what he had had to do and it is easy to understand why he and many others never really wanted to talk about what had happened. It is easy to understand how these experiences would go on to twist and shape their lives.
Left: Gerald Leighton-Jones Right: Gerald Leighton Jones (far right)
My Grandfather Gerald Leighton-Jones was studying Theology at Canterbury University before he volunteered and went away to fight in WWII first as an NCO and then as an infantry officer. When he returned he did not wish to continue with his studies being of the opinion that after killing other people how could he possibly go on to preach about love, peace and kindness to others. Seemingly otherwise unaffected by his six years’ experience, Gerry never talked about the war to his family and continued to serve in the Territorials, rising to the rank of Major and finally retiring in 1950. He did go on to have series of complete mental collapses in 1973, 1974 and again in 1979. What we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. During his last treatment, Gerry underwent electroconvulsive therapy. As we know this treatment is considered very controversial but for Gerry it resulted in his complete recovery and it was then that he started to talk about his experiences to my father, his son-in-law.
When we accept material into the collection, we take responsibility for its physical care and well-being. But, also, after material has been donated what are our responsibilities in maintaining dialogue between the family and the museum so the connections between the object and the family are not lost? Trying to find information on the recipient of a set of medals where the only details recorded at the time of donation were “my mate Joe” is enough to test even the most diligent of ‘Nancy Drews’. Continued dialogue with the family is also important as as we continue to research a soldier and their history, it is possible we may uncover information previously unknown to the family. Unfortunately it can be rather awkward trying to explain to a family that the letters VD recorded on a service record are not the abbreviation for a decoration for bravery.
Dot Whitley before embarkation and after his leg was amputated
My Great Great Uncle Dot Whitley received gun-shot wounds to his face and left leg in August 1917. His leg was initially amputated below the knee, while at the casualty clearing station. Due to infection he had to undergo two more amputations, firstly through the knee joint (still at the CCS) and then this final amputation owing to ‘sequestration’, which is the removal of dead bone, through the lower third of his thigh. The stump had to be re-fashioned and he was left with seven inches of thigh, enough leg to fit an artificial limb. His father sent him 100 pounds in order to purchase the best model of artificial leg available at the time. The family were of course aware he had lost a leg but not that he had undergone three operations. It was not until WWI service records were made publicly available that the details came to light. It just so happens that in Dot’s case, the medical records that were included had been recorded in great detail which is in great contrast to some records where the medical details are scant to say the least or even non-existent.
And what kind of story do we want to tell? Do we rely more on the ‘official’ citation of a decorated soldier published in the London Gazette, or the ‘unofficial’ version shared by a soldier with a family member over a few beers? An official version tells one side of a story, and is probably considered to be a ‘safe’ way of looking at things; the more personal view will contain information that is more sensitive, with the potential to ruffle feathers, but lets us see the more human side. If we receive information that is more personal and sensitive, do we tell this ‘warts and all’ story, and to what extent are we obliged to consult with families over what is to be released into a public forum?
A major project that I have undertaken is going through all the medal groups we have on display in the Medal Repository and updating the service information and biographical details of each soldier. In many cases, this is pretty straight forward. The hardest part is interpreting the handwriting and shorthand on WWI service records but from time-to time you come across a soldier whose service has been less than conventional and where the information touches on the areas of rebelliousness, illness, etc. Revisiting biographies that I wrote when I first started in the heraldry position nearly five years ago, I read that I have not included some of these more sensitive details. Probably at the time I thought they were too private to share with the wider audience. But are we here to act as censors? Through experience and also learning more about my own family’s military history I can see that it is these more ‘human’ details that help to paint a clearer picture of the realities of war.
Left:Gerald Fell Centre:Dick and Owen Mildon Right:Unknown soldier and Owen Mildon
This has become quite a personal thing. Our Medal Repository now contains the medal groups of four of my family members. My great-great uncle Lieutenant Gerald Fell who served with the Wellington Infantry Regiment, survived the Somme but was killed at Messines in 1917; both my Grandfathers; Gerald Leighton-Jones who served in North Africa and Italy, and Dick Mildon who served with the New Zealand Home Guard; also My Great Uncle Owen Mildon who served during WWII with the New Zealand Signallers. Owen was not fitted for active service. His younger brother Dick, my Grandfather, knew this and volunteered so that Owen could stay home and run the family farm. Unfortunately, during medical examination, it was discovered that Dick was colour-blind and so unable to go serve with the forces overseas. After Owen’s call-up, his application to the Manpower Board for exemption was turned down, and he was sent overseas, arriving in Egypt in October 1941. He was returned to New Zealand in May 1943 classified as medically unfit. His Medical Board report, dated 15 February 1943, records his disability as being “Temperamental instability”.
“A shy introspective man of good physique who is anxious to serve but is totally unable to submit his emotional individuality to the demands of Army life. He does not appear to be fitted for any form of service…..he has never seen action and appears to be a total misfit within the Service”.
Although it doesn’t say it outright, this report gives the impression that whoever examined Owen in 1943, is probably asking why this man was ever sent overseas in the first place. It highlights the fact that at the time of recruitment, a man’s mental ability to cope with the demands of service was not a major consideration. As long as you had good eyesight, your feet were not flat and you were in good physical condition, you were considered fit to fight or serve.
It is important to recognise, particularly with regard to WWI and WWII that the majority of these men who went away were not professional soldiers, they were civilians drawn into a conflict that would expose them to experiences that would affect them in ways they could not imagine. It is important to look beyond the soldier and at the human being; inexperienced, fallible and fragile, but also capable of acts of bravery and endurance in extraordinary circumstances.
It is also important to remember that the story does not end when the war ends. What happens after war? One day I overheard a conversation in our Medical Tent Display between our late Senior Custodian, John Compton and a group of school children. The children were reacting to the soldier lying on the stretcher with the usual exclamations of disgust at his missing leg. John on the other hand was urging them to think beyond his physical disability to what the social and economic implications would be for him. What happens when he gets home? Is he part of a family that relies on him as being the main income earner? What if the job he had before the war is reliant on him having two legs? How is this now going to affect his family? Also, how is this going to affect his state-of-mind, his confidence and feelings of self-worth.
The nature of conflict and the way wars are fought have changed over time but their outcomes remain the same. There will always be death, there will always be people forced from their homes, there will always be families who suffer loss and there are the soldiers who return home, changed, to then pick up the threads of a normal life. There will always be stories of loss and of hope. There are the stories that are reported through official channels but also the family stories that thread their way through generations, possibly getting a little knotted, frayed, broken and then re-tied along the way. However, sometimes it pays to be careful as I found out with regard to my own family!
My grandfather Gerald Leighton-Jones was a rower. He rowed for his school and later for the Wanganui Rowing Club. I always remember being told by mum how Grandad had been selected to row for New Zealand at the up-coming 1940 Olympic Games but because of WWII this never eventuated. I still felt quite proud. It didn’t matter that he never went; just the fact that he had been selected was enough. With the event of the Rio Olympics, the National Army Museum was going to share some stories relating to sporting military personnel represented in our collection. With Gerald’s medals now being part of the NAM’s collection, he seemed like a perfect example! Needless to say, after further research and talking to other family members, evidence to support this ‘rowing at the Olympics’ story was pretty non-existent. We decided that it was quite a ‘dad’ thing to say to your children. “Oh, if it wasn’t for the war, I would have rowed for New Zealand at the Olympic games.”
Our challenge now is to continue to provide a forum for the ‘missing voices’. A museum is a world of a thousand voices; voices all speaking at once, trying to be heard. As museum professionals we make choices with regard to the voices that are heard and how they are interpreted and amplified. It is a position of power and great responsibility and we either choose to be brave or be safe in what we include and share with our communities. The Army Marae, here at Waiouru, is set to face the setting sun, unlike other marae that face East. This represents the uncertainty that soldiers are heading into. They must be prepared to face ‘the dark’ – the unknown, the scary, the challenging. It’s the same for us in how we should approach telling the un-told stories. It is important that we continue to explore the challenging and personal stories of soldiers who have served in the past and also those who are serving now. The National Army Museum is a living memorial. It is a place where we can confront the past and challenge the future.
Kia whakatomuri te haere whakamua – I walk backwards into the future with my eyes fixed on the past .
Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa
By Elizabeth Mildon