International Archives Day

Did you know that June the 9th is International Archives Day? To celebrate, archive services from around the world were invited to submit an image from their collections and send a message to archival colleagues around the world. See if you can find all the contributions from New Zealand in the photo page, according to the NZ Records email list there are nine.

Information about the gestation of International Archives Day and the reasoning behind it can be found at the International Council on Archives website. The hashtag #IAD15 was also really enjoyable to follow on Twitter throughout the day; happily Britain’s National Archives have collated them in Storify form.

All of Auckland Libraries’ Research Centres hold archival collections, as does the Birkenhead Library which is home to the Chelsea Sugar Refinery’s archive. Through sheer coincidence the subject of both of Auckland Libraries’ contributions were the personal papers of decorated war heroes.

The North Auckland Research Centre submitted a family photograph of Major Donald Stott representing the collection of his letters that is held there. Major Donald Stott’s extraordinary World War 2 career encompassed the Greece and Crete campaign, escape from a POW camp, working with the Greek resistance, two Distinguished Service Order awards, and service with Australia’s “Z” Special Unit – work so secret some details of his military records were not released for many years after his death in Borneo at the end of the Second World War. Throughout the war he wrote home to his family in Birkenhead, Auckland, and these letters, covering the period 1940-1945, provide a vivid and engaging account of his experiences. The collection was deposited with the North Auckland Research Centre, Takapuna Library, by his niece Barbara Lewis and was recently the basis of a successful exhibition.

The image that Sir George Grey Special Collections submitted was a picture of one of John A. Lee’s scrapbooks. Iain Sharp wrote about this collection for the book Real gold:

“Swagman, convict, war hero, charismatic public speaker, renegade politician, bestselling author, hotel manager, bookseller – John Alfred Alexander Lee had an unusually eventful and varied life. Born in Dunedin in 1891, raised by an impoverished solo mother, he drifted into crime as a teenager, leading to periods of detention in Burnham Industrial School and Mount Eden Prison. He enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in March 1916 and was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal in June 1917 for single-handedly capturing a German machine-gun post in the Battle of Messines. A wound at Mailly-Maillet in March 1918 resulted in the loss of his left arm.

Lee began writing political articles during his soldiering years. After the war he devoted his exceptional skills as an orator to the Labour Party. His fortunes at electoral polls fluctuated during the 1920s and early 1930s. Sometimes he was a member of parliament, sometimes not. He had a stint managing a hotel in Rotorua (although he was himself a teetotaller). He wrote two popular novels based on his early life, The children of the poor and The hunted.

When Labour became the government after a landslide victory in the 1935 election, Lee expected a high cabinet ranking, but he was disappointed. His impetuous temperament clashed with the natural caution of the Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage, who considered Lee reckless and therefore risky. Lee’s increasingly bitter and outspoken criticisms of Savage and the Minister of Finance, Walter Nash, led to his expulsion from the Labour Party in 1940. His attempt to form a breakaway party met with little success from New Zealand voters. In later years he focussed on Journalism, authorship and the management of Vital Books, the shop he established in Mount Eden, Auckland, in 1950. He died in June 1982.

In his will Lee asked that his private papers be deposited with Auckland Libraries a year after his death. Amongst his papers are his scrapbooks, which reflect his bustling, energetic, highly opinionated personality. Photographs and newspaper clippings have been hastily attached with pink Elastoplast (an expedient method for a one-armed man of limited patience). There are copious annotations in red ballpoint - warm and generous to family and friends but still nursing grudges, decades later, against old foes.

Author: Andrew Henry. With information from Real Gold by Iain Sharp, Sir George Grey Special Collections.