military camp

Postcards from World War I

World War I is on a lot of minds at present.  Museum staff have been busy going through the collection and have discovered a range of amazing items from that war, including postcards which have been sent home to loved ones from soldiers at training or on active service.  These offer a great insight into the life of soldiers and into some of the situations they encountered.

Featherston fancy-work

Training was the first step, where recruits were taught the basics of what they would be doing overseas. Soldiers would often take reminders of home with them, like photographs or trinkets, but sometimes a bigger message was required to remind them what they were fighting for. Little is known about the author or recipient of this card but it portrays the artistic side of life in the training camp in Featherston.

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Hut 139, Featherston M.C. 1.12.16. This is a photo of a bit of fancy-work in front of our hut on the left-hand side from the door. Archie.

 

 

Camp Life, The Camp Barber

The light-hearted joviality and excitement of a new adventure continued and many postcards of the time made light of several facets of army life. This postcard was written to Mr Glenny of the Ben Nevis Hotel in Turakina, the author is unknown. The message is simple and lets the image speak for itself. Apparently having a trim was a real event.

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Not a bad snapshot is it.

 

 

 

Suez, The Docks

The excitement carried through, and optimism was predominant in the early stages of service. This postcard of the docks of the Suez Canal was sent from Henry Eliot Blennerhassett (known to his family as Boy) to his sister Ada in Wanganui, and talks of some of the positive aspects of being overseas. Henry survived the war and returned to Wanganui to live out his life.

1802.3435.1Cairo 19-2-16.This is about the only PC of Suez I could get. It is not bad but it does not give you much of an idea because you have not got the colours. This is a great show and I would like to be staying longer but you have to be ready for anything at this game. Thank you for the letter.  Love from Boy.

 

 

Main Entrance, Woodcote Park

After a while the realities of war set in and a longing for home became stronger. This postcard was sent to a friend by J C Reid. He was on sick leave at the time, and a common theme for soldiers in this position was a great appreciation of England and time away from the front. Nothing compared to home though.

1802.34388-11-15. Dear Friend, A Merry Xmas & Happy new year to you all. I left my job in Gallipoli on Sept 13th and at present am in Convl’nt [Convalescent] Camp recovering from an attack of Gastritis. The camp is in Lord Rosebury’s estate, and at present is the home of about 3000 men. I have been told that the whole [“experience has been” crossed out] of erecting buildings was bound by Lord R. The people of England are making a great fuss of us and I am sure we would not be treated better in NZ. Still NZ would be good enough for me and I will not be sorry when this present trouble is over. Thanks for your many letters, will write home by next mail. Regards to all, J C Read.

 

2010.52.7aErnest Jack Lloyd as John Bull

And when the War to End All Wars finally ended, the celebration postcards began. This card was a memento of peace celebrations and features a portrait of a young Ernest Jack Lloyd dressed up as John Bull, the personification of Great Britain. The Lloyd family was from Fordell and Ernest had relatives who fought in the war, so the long-awaited celebrations of peace were very important to the family.  Although this card has no message written on the reverse, it illustrates the patriotic sentiment and great celebration at the final completion of the war.

Letters from the Front

With centenary commemorations of the First World War underway and continuing for the next five years, more and more stories are emerging; stories of love, stories of loss, and they all help us to remember the effect of the war on everyone at the front and at home.  The Museum was lucky to have recently been donated a collection of archives and images from the Wilson and MacKinnon families in Whanganui that tell yet another wartime story.

2014.61.2 a Arthur Wilson served as a Private in the 24th Reinforcements F Company of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.  He was trained at Featherston Military Camp before relocating to Trentham and finally embarking for England on 16th April 1917.  Like many soldiers he wrote regular letters home, including to his sister Mag (Margaret) Wilson who lived at Alton Villa on St John’s Hill in Wanganui, and several of these letters are included in the collection.

2014.61.30Mag was a suit maker during the war, and Arthur made comment in his letters that she would be running out of clients based on the number of troops he witnessed coming into camp.  Once overseas, Arthur tells Mag about his continued weapons training and the conditions both in camp and at the front.  He comments on the ton of mud that stuck to his boots while serving in the trenches in France, and that his feet were never warm.  A highlight for him, despite the circumstances, was being in isolation with measles which took him away from the action during November 1917.

In March 1918 Arthur wrote about another break from the front: “We are away behind the line just now, & it is just alright to be there. Four of us are doing guard work in a small village just now. I can hear those guns roaring away, I simply hate the sound, & I don’t want to be any closer to them but I suppose we will soon be up near them again.”

2014.61.41Another common theme in Arthur’s letters is his love of his hometown Wanganui, and he often expresses the desire to return to the quiet town and live out his life in peace.  However, Arthur did not come home again; he was killed in action on 24th August 1918 at Bapaume, France, aged 35 years.  He is buried at the Grevillers British Cemetery at Pas-de-Calais.

2014.61.22Throughout the letters, Arthur refers to his friend who was also Mag’s sweetheart.  Duncan “Mack” MacKinnon was from Edinburgh, Scotland, but enlisted in the 10th Reinforcements New Zealand Engineers of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.  Mack embarked to Suez, Egypt, on 4th March 1916, but this collection includes only one of his letters, which he wrote to Mag on 28th May 1918.  He thanks her for the portrait she sent but writes that he is awaiting “the other one”, stating he wished he could be there to take it himself but it would require them having the house to themselves to do so rather than risking it by ‘their tree’ or round by the lake.  There is no mention if this photograph was created or received.

Mack survived the war.  He sent a telegram to Mag in February 1920 saying he had been demobilised and would return home, but he didn’t make it back to New Zealand until May.  They wasted no time and were married before the year had finished.