National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

Artefact of the Month: Major John William Fletcher (MBE) and his Whistle

Artefact of the Month

Artefact of the Month: Major John William Fletcher (MBE) and his Whistle

Tuesday, 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. 

2007.786; Major John William Fletcher’s (MBE) Whistle, National Army Museum Te Mata Moa.


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.

2007.786; Major John William Fletcher’s (MBE) Whistle, National Army Museum Te Mata Moa.

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.

2007.786; Major John William Fletcher’s (MBE) Whistle, National Army Museum Te Mata Moa.

2007.786; Major John William Fletcher’s (MBE) Whistle, National Army Museum Te Mata Moa.

2007.786; Major John William Fletcher’s (MBE) Whistle, National Army Museum Te Mata Moa.

Written by Loran McNamara, Assistant Curator of Social History and Accoutrements

Artefact of the Month: Albert’s Melodeon

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018

2018.91.1; Melodeon, A V S Dick, WWI. National Army Museum Te Mata Toa

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.

2018.91.2; Albert Victor Samuel Dick holding his melodeon. National Army Museum Te Mata Toa

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.

2018.91.1; Melodeon, A V S Dick, WWI. 

National Army Museum Te Mata Toa

2018.91.1; Melodeon, A V S Dick, WWI. 

National Army Museum Te Mata Toa


2018.91.1; Melodeon Case, A V S Dick, WWI. 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.

2018.91.1; Melodeon, A V S Dick, WWI. 

National Army Museum Te Mata Toa

2018.91.1; Melodeon, A V S Dick, WWI. 

National Army Museum Te Mata Toa


2018.91.1; Melodeon, A V S Dick, WWI. 

National Army Museum Te Mata Toa

Artefact of the Month: Ruth’s Soldier Doll

Monday, 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.

2017.250.1; Doll, R M Miller, WWI. National Army Museum Te Mata Toa

2017.250.1; Doll, R M Miller, WWI. National Army Museum Te Mata Toa

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.

2017.250.1; Doll, R M Miller, WWI. National Army Museum Te Mata Toa

2017.250.1; Doll, R M Miller, WWI. National Army Museum Te Mata Toa

2017.250.1; Doll, R M Miller, WWI. National Army Museum Te Mata Toa

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.


Artefact of the Month: Walking Stick, WWI

Thursday, 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.

1983.799; Walking Stick, WWI. National Army Museum Te Mata Toa

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.

1983.799; Walking Stick, WWI. National Army Museum Te Mata Toa

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.


Photo from WWI Photograph Album – France, Belgium and England. 2001.445.1: view:


Photo from WWI Photograph Album – France, Belgium and England. 2001.445.1: View:

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.

1999.929; Attempting to free a field gun stuck in mud near Flanders. National Army Museum Te Mata Toa

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.


Artefact of the Month: Sketches by Murray Moorhead

Wednesday, 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.

Linton Camp 1953 “Any complaints chaps?” | Murray Moorhead. National Army Museum Te Mata Toa, 1999.2710.14

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. 

Midwinter winds in midsummer, Waiouru | Murray Moorhead. National Army Museum Te Mata Toa, 1999.2710.2

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.

Murray Moorhead. National Army Museum Te Mata Toa, 1999.2719.3

Artefact of the Month: Lance Corporal Nimrod’s Dog Blanket

Monday, July 31st, 2017

Lance Corporal Nimrod’s dog blanket. 1985.1933. National Army Museum Te Mata Toa.

July’s Artefact of the Month is Lance Corporal Nimrod’s dog blanket. Nimrod was the mascot for the 2nd Battalion, New Zealand Regiment. The blanket has the 2nd Battalion crest, and Lance Corporal’s stripes on both sides.

Many animals have served alongside men and women throughout various conflicts New Zealand has been involved in. They’ve carried out various roles such as mascots, messengers and first-aid assistants, as well as transportation. In the case of war horses, they’ve even played a vital part in the battles themselves.

Animal mascots such as Nimrod are often seen as symbols of hope and good luck within a unit and they give servicemen and women a sense of normality and friendship amidst the harsh conditions of war.

Artefact of the Month: Khaki Cloth Housewife, WWI

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

National Army Museum. Khaki Cloth Housewife, WWI. 1981.2640.

A Khaki Cloth Housewife attributed to 13/2823 Albert Henry Johnston MM is June’s Artefact of the Month. This object contains an assortment of needles, nails, buttons and safety pins, and a small silver tin containing adhesive plasters. A sticker on the bottom of the tin advises: ‘a piece of plaster this size placed on the heel before marching prevents blisters’.

Albert Henry Johnston embarked aboard the Maunganui on 8 January 1916 with the 9th Reinforcements, Auckland Mounted Rifles. He later served with the NZ Field Artillery and was involved in actions on the Western Front. Albert was awarded a Military Medal for acts of gallantry at the Battle of Messines when, as Acting-Bombardier in a party laying cable, his area came under heavy shellfire.

An extract from the London Gazette date 16 Aug 1917 states as follows: ‘On 7th June was in a party laying cable from cable head to Brigade Forward Station near Messines. The party had to lay through a heavy Barrage, then return, repairing breaks and relaying portions through the barraged area, as soon as the barrage lightened. This occupied from Zero + 3 hours. Subsequently Bombardier Johnston was posted to a cable head for maintenance of the line. There was heavy shelling over this area till nightfall on June 7th, lines were continually cut and repaired.  Bombardier Johnston was out on the lines at the earliest opportunity and worked fearlessly through the barrage. It is largely due to his efforts that the lines were repaired in time to get some work through before being cut again. In addition the example he set was of great value.’

Artefact of the Month: Combination Protector, WWI

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

Combination Protector, WWI. 2001.993

A World War One Combination Protector, given to 43523 Bombardier Charles Robert Reader, from his mother, Mary Eliza Reader is May’s Artefact of the Month.

The Combination Protector was made and patented by a Whanganui Company, Young and Collins Ltd. It consists of a leather pouch and has two steel plates stored inside, designed to prevent injury to the chest and lungs from bullets, shrapnel and bayonet charges. The Combination Protector would have a strap that hung over the neck and could either be worn on the left side of the chest or in combination with another pouch to be worn on the right side of the chest. It could also be used to store a soldier’s personal items such as a pay book, money, or diary.

Bombardier Reader left New Zealand aboard the New Zealand troopship Corinthic on 2 April 1917 as part of the 23rd Reinforcements, New Zealand Field Artillery. He served on the Western Front. Although the Combination Protector that his Mother gave him may have prevented him from being wounded in the chest, it did not protect him from other possible injuries. A few months after arriving in Europe, his military record reports that on the 20 October 1917 Bombardier Reader was wounded in action, receiving a gun shot wound to the shoulder. He returned to London for recovery but was eventually sent home on the SS Maunganui and discharged as being no longer physically fit for active service due to his injury.

Click on an image to enlarge.
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Artefact of the Month: Entrenching Tool and Carrier, WWI

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Entrenching Tool and Carrier, WWI. 2006.1329.

General Sir Ian Hamilton’s famous line is “You have got through the difficult business, now you must dig, dig, dig, until you are safe”. This was in response to the message sent from the commanding officers describing the dire situation at Gallipoli and that the ANZACs should withdraw on the evening of 25 April 1915.

In light of Anzac Day commemorations April’s Artefact of the Month is an entrenching tool, also known as an e tool, and carrier. Entrenching tools were extremely important for quickly establishing trenches under direct fire from Turkish defences along the steep terrain at Gallipoli. Although not used at Gallipoli these items belonged to 12/1030 Sergeant William Joseph Virtue, who served in WWI with the Auckland Infantry Battalion. The e tool is composed of a head that features a shovel and pick, with a central eye. The e tool head slots onto the wooden helve that has a steel cap. The head can be stored inside the canvas web carrier, while the helve is attached to the outer of the carrier, secured by a snap lock dome. 

Click on an image to enlarge.
  entrenching-tool-4    entrenching-tool-1   entrenching-tool-2  

Artefact of the Month: Damascene Clogs, WWII

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

Damascene Clogs - Front

Damascene Clogs, WWII. 1978.3063.

These clogs from Damascus, souvenired by 72056 Catherine Ada Wells in 1942 are March’s Artefact of the Month.  Catherine Wells enlisted in 1941 as a nurse with the Volunteer Aid Detachment in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps during WWII. The clogs are painted blue with motifs of birds and flowers in yellow, orange, gold, red, pink, green, black and a darker blue paint. The strap over the toes is made from blue and white polka dot velvet, backed with leather and trimmed with gold ribbon.

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