War in the twentieth century was an unforgettable and powerful experience for many individual New Zealanders, and a defining stage in the evolution of New Zealand as a nation.
As those New Zealanders who lived through war leave us, it is important that their war experiences are not forgotten. We owe it to future generations of New Zealanders to preserve as much as possible of the human evidence of wartime - the triumphs and the tragedies, the boredoms and the excitements.
We are encouraging New Zealanders to use the First World War centenary as an opportunity to save this precious heritage before it is too late.
What to save
Many people underestimate the value of the historical records in their possession. They may imagine that museums and libraries will only be interested in the heroic and the powerful. This is far from the case. War affected everybody, and to preserve that sense of its all-encompassing impact we must preserve the records of the ordinary and the domestic as well as of the heroic.
Virtually any form of evidence is worth saving:
- Ephemera such as pamphlets or ration books or posters
- Photographs and negatives
- Souvenirs and trinkets
- Taped interviews and oral histories
- Film (see warning below)
- Clothing and textiles
Many kinds of wartime experience are worth remembering. This includes the records of:
- Service people – soldiers, sailors, airmen
- Volunteers and other workers in support organisations
- Conscientious objectors and others opposed to war
- Prisoners of war and internees
- Wives making ‘do’ while spouses were away
- Children sent away from their homes
- Refugees from war-torn countries
- War brides
- New Zealanders with links to enemy states
- The return of servicemen after their war service
- Workers – those “man-powered” and women taking up paid work
Where to find the records
If one of your family members lived through a war, look for letters and other memorabilia; or ask friends or relatives with whom your relative might have corresponded.
If you are of a younger generation, ask those members of your family or older friends and acquaintances about their connections to people alive during wartime. Ask if they have any letters or photographs in their possession. Reassure them that the memory of their war, however apparently unimportant, is worth saving for posterity.
When an older family member dies, make sure that you examine all the documents and letters for items of historical interest before they are thrown out. Remember it is better to save too much, than save too little.
Preparing the Deposit
Before giving the material it is helpful to find out all you can about the person concerned; or if the material is from your own life (for example memoirs of conversations with a father or other relative who served or was alive during wartime), try to record the relevant dates and, in the case of photographs, name the people if you can. If you are able to do so, write this background up yourself. If not, make sure that you tell the archivist or librarian or curator the information. Future users of the material will be very grateful if they understand the context of what they are looking at.
If you have film material relating to the First World War it is likely to have been produced on 35 mm Cellulose Nitrate film stock. This is an unstable film format and needs careful handling and transportation. For information and advice, see the contact details for Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision below.
Contacting a Repository
Once you have found some material which appears worth saving, seek the agreement of other members of the family to the idea of giving the material to a library, archive or museum.
Then contact one of the repositories named below. These will all ensure that the records are stored in a safe and secure environment for future generations to use.
Once you have contacted the library, archive or museum, remember that the donation is a gift to the future by you, and you have the right to discuss a range of options for the donation. These options, which will vary from one institution to another in accordance with their collecting policy, may include:
- Providing copies of the originals for yourself and members of your family
- Retaining the original, but allowing the repository to make a copy
- Imposing restrictions on the conditions of access to the records, so as to protect confidential material during people’s lifetimes.
Once you have handed over the materials, make sure that you receive a formal receipt for the material from the repository. If you have agreed on conditions for the gift with the institution, the acknowledgement should spell out those conditions.
For more information on preserving the memories of war see: http://natlib.govt.nz/collections/caring-for-your-collections
The following are some repositories which are suitable for receiving your material and which have professional standards of care:
- Alexander Turnbull Library
- Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira
- National Army Museum
- Canterbury Museum
- Tairawhiti Museum – Te Whare Taonga o te Tairawhiti
- MTG Hawke's Bay – Tai Ahuriri
- Hocken Collections, University of Otago Library – Uare Taoka o Hākena
- National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy – Te Waka Huia O Te Taua Moana O Aotearoa
- Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision
- Toitū Otago Settlers Museum
- Puke Ariki
New Plymouth District Council
Private Bag 2025
New Plymouth 4342
Phone: 06 759 6060
- Air Force Museum of New Zealand
- Rotorua Museum – Te Whare Taonga o te Arawa
- Southland Museum and Art Gallery
- Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
- Waikato Museum - Te Whare Taonga o Waikato
- Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History
- Hokitika Museum
Private Bag 704
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 03 755 6898
- Whakatāne Museum and Research Centre – Te Whare Taonga o te Rohe o Whakatāne
- Whanganui Regional Museum
- The Nelson Provincial Museum – Pupuri Taonga o Te Tai Ao
- Te Manawa Museum of Art Science and History
- Wairarapa Archive – Te Puranga Korero o Wairarapa