NZ'S FIRST WORLD WAR CENTENARY 2014–2019

Accounts from the past

On Twitter

Discover who is currently tweeting from 1915.

Life 100 Years Ago is a collaborative web and Twitter project supported by the First World War Centenary programme office. You can follow individuals and sources below, or a group Twitter account which provides multiple perspectives on the same day.

Adkin portrait

George Leslie Adkin

George Leslie Adkin (@adkin_diary) was born in 1888. After attending Wellington College, Leslie went to work on his father’s farm near Levin. In 1913 he leased part of the property; in December 1915, he married Maud Herd after an extended courtship. The couple raised two children, Nancy and Clyde.

Adkin was an amateur photographer and scholar who made important contributions to New Zealand science. He did not serve in the war but recorded its progress and impact in his diaries. These entries also describe family and farm life, community events and the local landscape.

Leslie Adkin was Bert Denton's nephew (see below).

Image credit: The Photographic Record, 17 Feb 1918. Photographer Leslie Adkin. Gift of G. L. Adkin family estate, 1964. Te Papa.

@Adkin_diary is run by Kirstie Ross & Adrian Kingston at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Adkin portrait

Roy Thomas Bruce

Roy Thomas Bruce (@bruce_letters) was born in the Indian Residency of Bombay on 18 December 1881. He came to New Zealand aged 18 years, and immediately left again with the NZ Contingent in the Boer War. On his return in 1902, he settled in Timaru, and later met and married Maud Hayter of Rollesby. They had one daughter, Helen. 

At the outbreak of the First World War, Roy enlisted along with Maud’s brothers Chilton and Cyril. As a Lieutenant in the 8th South Canterbury Mounted Rifles, Roy was sent to Gallipoli twice and was promoted to Captain in 1915, and then Major in 1916. He was wounded in action twice, and commanded the 8th in the British victory at the Battle of Rafa.

@bruce_letters is run by Christopher Thomson at the University of Canterbury

Clarke portrait

Charles Septimus Clarke

Charles Septimus Clarke (@csclarke_diary) was born at New Park, near Leicester, England in 1843. He arrived in New Zealand in 1863 and took up a crown grant for land near Leigh, north of Auckland, where he resided for the majority of his life.

During the war years, while he was in his seventies, Clarke led an active life, working on his farm and various horticultural projects with help from his youngest son Willie. He was intimately connected with the social and public life of the district, being a Justice of the Peace, lay reader and secretary for the Anglican church in that district and running the local library. He was a dedicated diarist, daily recording events of his life and the community with a strong focus on horticultural details.

Image credit: Portrait of CS Clarke from around the time of the First World War. Courtesy of Raewyn Hooper.

@csclarke_diary is run by his great-great granddaughter, Raewyn Hooper

Adkin portrait

James Cox

"The only thing distinctive about James Cox,” (@Cox_Diary) says his entry in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, “is his complete lack of distinction.” He came to New Zealand in 1880 and for the rest of his life worked as an unskilled labourer around the lower North Island. During the war years he was living in the Wairarapa town of Carterton. By then old age and health problems were threatening his job prospects.

What was remarkable about Cox was his diary keeping. From 1888 until just before his death in 1925 he filled up almost 8,000 tiny pages with tightly-written pencil descriptions of his daily activities. Mainly they recount his working life, and his struggles to find employment. Often the only employment he could find was heavy labouring, such as stone breaking on local road gangs. He turned 67 in 1914 and often found such work a struggle. No other New Zealand diary gives such an insight into a labourer's life.

Image credit: The only known photograph of Cox, aged 75, photographed at Carterton in 1921. Photographer unknown. 1/2-164539-F, Alexander Turnbull Library.

@Cox_diary is run by Jay Buzenberg & David Colquhoun at Alexander Turnbull Library

Denton portrait

Herbert (Bert) Denton

Bert Denton (@denton_diary) was born in 1876. He studied at Wellington College and upon leaving in 1893 he started working on the land, eventually settling in Levin, working on and running farms. In 1904 he married Anne Jane Wilson and they had three children before Anne passed away in 1911.

Denton continued to farm and look after his children, and when the First World War broke out he eventually enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. He served in the New Zealand Mounted Rifles in the Sinai-Palestine campaign, returning to New Zealand in April 1919. During his time at war, his diary was kept by William Stewart.

Bert Denton was Leslie Adkin's uncle (see above).

@Denton_diary is run by Jess Caldwell for Kete Horowhenua & Te Takere

Malthus portrait

Cecil Malthus

Cecil Malthus was born 1890 in Timaru, and moved to Christchurch to study at Canterbury College, from where he graduated with an MA in French and English. Malthus was teaching at Nelson College when war was declared in 1914, and he quickly signed up to serve. He initially served in the Gallipoli Campaign, and was hospitalised three times with illnesses caused by the dire conditions. Redeployed to France with the New Zealand Division, Malthus was wounded on the Somme in September 1916, losing toes on his right foot to an exploding bomb. This injury saw him return home to New Zealand in March 1917.

In 1934 Malthus became Professor of Modern Languages at Canterbury University, where he worked until his retirement in 1956. He wrote two vivid books about his war experiences, and died on 25 July 1976.

These tweets are from a collection of letters and documents dating from April 1914 to his discharge in April 1917. The letters follow Malthus' progress from training in New Zealand to his experiences throughout the war, including time in Egypt preparing for Gallipoli, and his time in France.

Image credit: Portrait of Malthus taken while he was studying at Canterbury College, c. 1912. Courtesy of Nigel Malthus.

Information about Cecil Malthus's writingRead Cecil's letters online | Follow Cecil

@malthus_letters is run by the Digital Content & Serials Team at Christchurch City Libraries

McCaw portrait

William Theodore McCaw

William McCaw (@McCaw_diary) was born in March 1894 in Dunedin. McCaw was living with his parents in Lower Hutt when William enlisted for World War One on 9 August 1914, just 5 days after war was declared. At that stage, William was a practicing school teacher in Upper Hutt. Six days later on 15 August he sailed with the Otago Infantry Battalion for Samoa.

William saw action in Samoa, Egypt, Gallipoli (where he was wounded in the arm), Belgium and France with duty and training in England. He was discharged from the army on 12 April 1919, as a Second Lieutenant after 4 years 247 days service. Two of his brothers enlisted. One, Peter, died in France of disease in February 1918; the other Bert of flu in Featherstone Camp later that year.

William kept a secret pocket diary at the front and wrote copious letters. In 1924 he transcribed these into two large foolscap folios which were published by this family in 1998, 15 years after this death in 1983 - The Tale But Partly Told WT McCaw’s Diaries & Letters from World War 1 Volumes 1 & 2.

William re-enlisted for World War Two in February 1940, serving with the home forces mainly in a part-time training capacity in and around the lower North Island until March 1944.

William noted in 1924 – 'I cannot say I joined the army in any deep sense of patriotism or regard of duty. We went, mostly, in a spirit of adventure, from “wanderlust” & in the assurance practically universal, that the war would be over before we arrived… Yet thousands of New Zealanders enlisted as I did, & paid the supreme price, willingly, when called upon.'

Image credit: Portrait of William McCaw from 1917. Courtesy of Tim Thorpe.

@McCaw_diary is run by his grandnephew, Tim Thorpe

NH Smith portrait

Neil Henderson Smith

Neil Smith enlisted with his brother Norman in 1917 at age 20. He was an outgoing and charismatic man who was a Master at Auckland Grammar School. He served in the medical corps and but his recurring health problems lead to a post as an army instructor in England. After the war he was offered a scholarship to study at Cambridge University and stayed on in England. After living abroad for a time he returned to New Zealand in the 1930s. He died in 1984 aged 87.

Image credit: Portrait of Neil Henderson Smith in uniform during the First World War. Courtesy of Raewyn Hooper.

@NHSmith_Letters is run by his great-niece, Raewyn Hooper

Norman portrait

Norman Roderick Smith

Norman Smith was an Auckland school teacher who enlisted with his brother Neil in 1917 at age 24. He served in the medical corps, first stationed at Cambridge Hosptial in Aldershot and then sent to France where he was put on "water cart duty" with the New Zealand Riftle Brigade. In May 1918 he was diagnosed with trench fever and deemed unfit for service, then sent back to New Zealand in October. Several years after the war ended he married Alma Torkington and they taught together at schools in Huntly and Te Kuiti. A year after marrying he contracted influenza and died in October 1924, remaining childless. He is buried in Whangateau cemetery.

Image credit: Portrait of Norman Roderick Smith. Courtesy of Raewyn Hooper.

@NRSmith_Letters is run by his great-niece, Raewyn Hooper

Clarke portrait

Victor Harvey Smith

Victor Harvey Smith (@VHSmith_Letters) was born in Ti Point, a rural settlement north of Auckland, and moved with his family to Ponsonby when he was about ten years old. He was the third son in a family of seven boys and two girls. At the time of his enlistment in late 1916 he was aged 29, single and working at a gas company meter inspector. Two of his younger brothers enlisted shortly after.

On his third night in the trenches he was hit in the chest by a shell fragment. He never considered himself seriously injured but he didn't recover sufficiently to be put back into active service. He was sent back to New Zealand and discharged in July 1918.

In 1926 he married Alma Torkington, the widow of his brother Norman (who had died of Influenza), and they raised a family of four boys in Westmere. He died in 1976.

Image credit: Portrait of Victor Harvey Smith in uniform during the First World War. Courtesy of Raewyn Hooper.

@VHSmith_Letters is run by his granddaughter, Raewyn Hooper

Welch portrait

Frederick Percy Welch

Frederick Percy Welch (@FPWelchdiaries) was born in 1866. He went to the Wairarapa shortly after his marriage to Bertha Diedrich, and farmed in the Rangitumau area with his brother George. He started a land agency business with William Gillespie, later taking over the whole business, and running it until his death in 1932.

Welch always took an active interest in sport, and was a member of the famous Welch family cricket and rugby teams of the early 1900s. He was also very interested in chess and horticulture. He and Bertha had four sons – Leo, Bernard, Jack and Brian – and three daughters, Gretta, Norma and Marjorie.

Welch did not serve in the war.

@FPWelchdiaries is run by Gareth Winter at Wairarapa Archive

Auckland Weekly News masthead

Auckland Weekly News

The Auckland Weekly News (@AkWeeklyNews) began publishing a pull-out photographic supplement in 1898, and quickly became a popular illustrated record of events throughout New Zealand and the world. It was in particular demand during the First World War, when it used European press agency photographs and photographs from professional and amateur photographers to keep New Zealanders up to date with the progress of the war.

With a focus on Auckland and First World War-related images, this account tweets an image per day from the weekly publication corresponding to one hundred years ago. All the Auckland Weekly News’ images from 1898 to 1943 have been digitised, and can now be seen on line as part of the Libraries' Heritage Images database.

@AkWeeklyNews is run by Andrew Henry at Auckland Libraries

Papers Past

Papers Past

Papers Past (@PapersPastNZ) is an online database which contains more than three million pages of digitised New Zealand newspapers and periodicals. The collection covers the years 1839 to 1945 and includes 92 publications from all regions of New Zealand.

The Papers Past Twitter account provides a fuller understanding of the First World War period by sharing links to international and domestic articles published 100 years ago. The content covers the war, industrial unrest, the latest fashions and everything in between.

@PapersPastNZ is run by Emerson Vandy at Alexander Turnbull Library


Former contributors to Life 100 Years Ago

Malone portrait

William Malone

William Malone (@LTCOLMalone) was one of New Zealand’s outstanding soldiers of the Gallipoli campaign. The Stratford solicitor was appointed to command the Wellington Battalion of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force at the outbreak of the First World War. The oldest man in the battalion, he was ‘fit, hard & well’, almost six feet tall and of solid build.

Following the mismanaged landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 25 April 1915, Malone immediately began to impose order. He consolidated and secured the ANZAC Corps perimeter whenever it was threatened. His diaries over the course of the campaign chart a growing disenchantment with impractical British regular officers, and a growing love for his men. Malone also wrote many intimate letters back home to his wife and children.

William Malone was killed at Gallipoli by friendly artillery fire on 8 August 1915, shortly after his unit seized the heights of Chunuk Bair.

Image credit: Portrait of Lieutenant Colonel William George Malone in military uniform, taken by James McAllister between 1914-1915. 1/1-012824-G, Alexander Turnbull Library.

@LTCOLMalone was run by Jess Caldwell of the New Zealand Defence Force

Stephens portrait

Herbert Harold Stephens

Private H H Stephens from Sydenham, Christchurch, joined the First New Zealand Expeditionary Force in 1915. He departed for war from Wellington on Saturday 14 August 1915 as a member of the Sixth Reinforcements. On 25 September, the reinforcements sailed for Gallipoli from Alexandria, landing on the Greek Island of Lemnos four days later.

Private Stephens’s war quickly became a personal battle against dysentery which took him to England and hospital. On 9 May 1916 Private Stephens arrived at the Western Front near Armentieres. On 10 July he was wounded and again evacuated to the Middlesex Hospital in England. The last entry of Private Stephens’s diary while he was still in England was 14 November 1916.

Stephens died in 1968.

Image credit: Portrait of H H Stephens from the Christchurch Star, 1 August 1916. Courtesy of Papers Past.

Read Herbert's diary online | View Herbert's tweets

@HHStephens was run by the Digital Content & Serials Team at Christchurch City Libraries

Image of the ANZAC Division diary

New Zealand and Australian Division Diary

The New Zealand and Australian Division was formed in December 1914 with both New Zealand and Australian Brigades. It was part of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), and existed for the length of the 1915 Gallipoli Campaign. The Division took part in the landings of 25 April 1915, and the Battles of Krithia, Sari Bair, Chunuk Bair, and Hill 60. After Gallipoli it was disbanded and replaced by separate Australian and New Zealand divisions.

From 9 April – 31 August 1915 this Divisional diary (@ANZACDiary) of the campaign was created. Entries were made from the official Unit diary, as well as the reports of Major General Alexander Godley (Commander of the Division), Major General William Braithwaite (Mediterranean Expeditionary Force) and Lieutenant General William Birdwood (Commander of the ANZAC Corps). Written from the perspective of these officers, the diary complements the personal accounts of soldiers and nurses, and contains artillery reports, official orders, statistics of casualties, and other campaign information..

@ANZACDiary was run by Jared Davidson at Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwangatanga, where the diary is held.