'It'll be over by Christmas' - First World War exhibition at the Central City Library

It was an appropriately dark and stormy night in Auckland for the opening of 'It’ll be over by Christmas' - an exhibition about the First World War (1914-1918) at the Central City Library (9th July-12 October 2014). The guests crowded in to the exhibition ahead of the formalities and made their way back there afterwards.

Ref: Paul Nash, ‘The field of Passchendaele’, from the British artist at the Front, ‘Country Life’, 1918
Bobby Newson from Te Waka Angamua (the Māori Strategy and Relations Department within council) opened the evening with a karakia/prayer and set the scene back 100 years ago. Allison Dobbie, Libraries Manager welcomed the guests and introduced the mayor. Mayor Len Brown discussed the many and varied commemorative activities Auckland Council is delivering. This includes the new Heritage Trail for Auckland sites of First World War significance, which opens in August this year.

Mirla Edmundson, Manager Customer Experience, Central City, Heritage & Research outlined the exhibition - which includes contemporary records from 1914-1918, such as post cards, photographs, letters, ephemera, newspapers and maps drawn from the Sir George Grey Special Collections.

At the entrance to the exhibition is a simple carved frame, entitled ‘Our Boys’ (see image below), which makes a simple and evocative reference. Depicted in the 1914 photograph taken by Herman John Schmidt (Ref: 31-H582) are the two brothers in uniform, a symbol for the New Zealand families waiting for news of their loved ones across the world. The timeline on the wall of the exhibition space shows the awful reality of how many years would unfold (the timeline can be seen in the background of the group photograph of libraries staff below).

Ref: 'Our Boy' framed image of the Heays brother by Herman John Schmidt, 1914, at the start of the exhibition. Photograph by Jane Wild, 8 July 2014
Mirla then introduced Stephen Lovatt from the Auckland Theatre Company who read from some of the accounts in the exhibition. This included a graphic section from John A Lee’s unpublished novel - the sequel to 'Civilian into Soldier'. The spoken voice brought the works into sharp relief.

Ref: Auckland Council, Heritage and Research staff involved with the exhibition. From left: Mirla Edmundson, Elspeth Orwin, Jane Wild, Kate de Courcy, Georgia Prince. Back row: Ian Snowdon, Zoe Colling, Keith Giles, 9 July 2014, Auckland Libraries
Our waiata for the speakers were all well-known songs, which originated or were popular during the First World War and concluded with 'It’s a long way to Tipperary / He roa te waa ki Tipirere' (see words below). The singing provided a resonant and fitting connection going back a century.

'It's a long way to Tipperary,
It's a long way to go;
It's a long way to Tipperary,
To the sweetest girl I know;

Goodbye Piccadilly,
Farewell Leicester Square,
It's a long, long way to Tipperary,
But my heart's right there.

He roa te wā ki Tipirere
He tino mamao
He roa te wā ki Tipirere
Ki tāku kōtiro

Kupai Pakitiri
Hai konā Rehita Koea
He tino mamao ki Tipirere
Ki taku tau pūmau'.

Keep an eye out for the online version of the exhibition, which will be coming soon. You can also find out more about Schmidt's portraits of First World War soldiers at Auckland Libraries, which includes over 4,500 images. These images have been scanned and are available online through the Heritage Images database.

Author: Jane Wild, Research Centres Manager