Last Friday saw the opening of our exhibition for the centenary of the first world war, Billy Connell’s War – Whanganui in World War I. There was a great turn-out with 100 people in attendance and the show was well received. A welcome by the Director Eric Dorfman was followed by a speech and formal opening by Mayor Annette Main before the crowd moved into the exhibition space for the karakia by our local kaumātua and a preview of the show.
Guests were then given a brown paper bag afternoon tea (cheese or corned beef sandwiches, fruit cake and an Anzac biscuit) and Kirtsy Ross, Curator of 20th Century History at Te Papa, regaled the audience with a talk on her research into New Zealand’s first world war experience and the intricacies (and humours!) of passing on such a legacy.
The exhibition tells the story of Billy Connell, a local man who enlisted and served in the first world war. Billy Connell was born in Palmerston North in 1993, the son of William and Naomi Connell. William was a carpenter in Palmerston North and later in Marton. By 1911 Naomi Connell had separated from her husband and was living in Durie Terrace in Wanganui, later moving to May Street. On 5 August 1914 New Zealand declared war on Germany in support of Great Britain Billy Connell enlisted and went off to war with the Main Body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. He had a camera in his kitbag and took photographs while on service, often illegally. Servicemen were not permitted to take photographs or write about campaigns or battles in case information fell into the hands of the enemy. His images tell the story of an ordinary serviceman during extraordinary times. The photographs were arranged into seven albums. Billy’s sister Mrs Amelia McCullum donated them to the Whanganui Regional Museum in 1966.
Billy Connell’s War is open until September 2016 so come in and follow Billy’s journey through the war. The Museum is free entry.