Written by Brenden Shirley, Curator of Accoutrements, Social History and Medical
If the photo has not scared you away, then no doubt you are interested in the story behind this strange and slightly creepy ventriloquist dummy. This is Jerry, fully dressed in the uniform of a World War II era New Zealand soldier, complete with New Zealand shoulder titles and Africa Star (with 8th Army clasp) ribbon bar proudly pined to his chest.
This dummy was made by 37908 Private William Thomas (Tom) Mayne who served in World War II with the 27th (Machine Gun) Battalion. Prior to enlisting Tom was working in a drapers store in Westport on the West Coast but his true calling was as an entertainer. Tom was a naturally gifted singer and also could play several instruments including the banjo, guitar and piano accordian. He was known to have been part of a Hawaian Quartet and held several singing contests to raise money for the war effort prior to heading overseas.
Whilst recuperating in hospital, Tom decided to make a ventriloquist doll which he named Jerry in recognition of the Germans. Jerry was known to have served with Tom and his platoon in the 27th Machine Gun Battalion during the Libyan campaign, travelling across North Africa in late 1941 and early 1942. Tom and Jerry were said to have entertained the troops and raised their spirits during what was a particularly difficult period of the war, often comenting on the Italian artillery who Jerry felt “couldn’t hit a cow with a spade”.
Jerry’s exploits were reported in the newspapers back home where he is said to have travelled from the training camp in New Zealand, onboard the troopship overseas, to the dug outs in the western desert and even onto the battlefield. During his time in the field, Jerry was said to have followed the platoon around from the relative safety of the platoon commander’s truck bouncing his way through shells, shots and dust across the desert from Capuzzo to Gazala. By March 1942 Jerry was no longer serving in the field (having retired after the battalion regrouped at Gazala in January). It was said that Jerry’s retirement was because the hard rations and harsh climate of the desert did not suit his complexion.
Tom Mayne continued to serve overseas until 1944. After returning to New Zealand, he begun a new career as a newspaper cartoonist. Tom had begun to draw cartoons during the war and with the encouragment of his wife, started to submit them to the Christchurch Star Sun where they were well received. He soon found a particular interest and talent in drawing sporting cartoons for the Saturday Sports section. Many of Tom’s cartoons are part of the collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington. Tom Mayne died in Picton in November 1988 at the age of 78.
As for Jerry …. after his master’s passing, he was donated in 1991 to the National Army Museum by Tom’s son , Peter Mayne. Jerry, ever smiling, now relaxes peacefully in storage – alongside a pretty nurse doll to keep him company !