Tuesday, 5 August 2014

It'll be over by Christmas exhibition

“So sad to realise the ‘boys’ in the photos gave their lives 100 years ago”.

“Engaging and informative without being overwhelming. A wonderful tribute”.

“A fine exhibition of stories that need to be told”.

 “Amazing diaries keeping record of daily life”.

“Great to see photographs and documentation of camaraderie in tough times”.

These are just a few of the comments inscribed in the visitor’s book of the current exhibition at the Sir George Grey Special Collections: 'It’ll be over by Christmas: World War 1914-1918'. Visitors have signed themselves as "grand-daughters of veterans" or relatives of "survivors" of this war. At the time of this centenary we still remember the First World War war, even if not all of us have personal memories of loved ones who served and survived.

Everything on display in the exhibition at the Central City Library (with the exception of a few of the published books) was produced between 1914-1919. It therefore covers what New Zealanders were reading and looking at during the war period.

Ref: Auckland Weekly News, the storming of Le Quesnoy in France by NZ soldiers, 27 March 1919, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19190327-32-2 
The Auckland Weekly News Photographic Supplement published photographs of events in NZ and overseas of the war as it happened. These photographs have been extensively digitised and are available on the Heritage Images database. You can refer to this guide for help searching for images in the database.

New Zealand soldiers were deployed in places as far from home as Belgium and Turkey, but also nearby in locations such as Samoa. Additionally, New Zealand’s extensive recruitment of soldiers for the war included Māori and men from Niue and the Cook Islands.

Ref: Herman John Schmidt, Private Flanton of the Māori Contingent, NZ Māori Pioneer Battalion, no location, 1917, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 31-F3347
Ref: Herman John Schmidt, Lance Corporal Purie Davi Harry of the 3rd Māori Contingent, Rarotongans, NZ Māori Pioneer Battalion, no location, 1916, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 31-H2289
Shown above are portraits from the Herman John Schmidt collection, which contains some 4,500 soldier portraits. The subjects of many of these portraits have been identified through research by the library. This extensively digitised collection is also available on the Heritage Images database and is a valuable resource for family historians and those interested in researching the First World War.

Ref: First World War postcard, 23 September 1917, Ephemera Collections, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries
Personal records such as letters, postcards and diaries give valuable insights into soldiers’ experiences of the war, from the most harrowing to the dreamy or even banal. The touching and undramatic card seen above (drawn from the Ephemera Collections) is dated 23 September 1917 and reads:

“My Dearest Darling Fanny, Just a Post Card from France hoping that you are quite well and in the best of health as this leaves me. I have just been down the village to get this and some other cards, but the place was so dirty and there is so little to see that I did not stay there very long. Believe me to be yours forever. – George”.

The physical exhibition has been reproduced as a visually rich online exhibition, thematically organised by caselists (e.g. Samoa, At Sea, Soldiers' Writing), which will provide a valuable resource for digital library users for years to come.

'It’ll be over by Christmas: World War 1914-1918'  is open now at the Central City Library and runs until the 12th of October. Open daily weekdays from 9am-5pm and weekends from 10am-4pm. You can read about the opening of the exhibition on 15 July 2014 in an earlier blog post.

Author: Angeline Chirnside, Sir George Grey Special Collections

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