Auckland War Memorial Museum adds thousands of WWII records to Online Cenotaph
More than 100,000 WWII Army records are being made freely available for the first time through Online Cenotaph. Auckland Museum is inviting the public to add what they know to the records of New Zealand servicemen and women who served in the Second World War.
Nearly eight decades ago this week - on 12 September 1939 - enlistment for the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF) got underway, signalling the start of this country’s involvement in the Second World War.
Of the 140,000 New Zealanders dispatched to serve overseas in WWII, 104,000 of them served with the 2NZEF. Auckland Museum is now making these WWII Army personnel records publicly accessible through Online Cenotaph.
To reach this milestone the Museum has created 75,000 new records in the database and enriched another 26,000 existing WWII Army records with additional information. Getting the records ready for the online database required Museum staff to spend hundreds of hours scanning documents and transcribing data but Online Cenotaph Collection Manager Victoria Passau says it is worthwhile.
“It has taken a significant investment of time to ‘clean up’ the data so it is ready to share but as Auckland’s War Memorial, it is really important we make these WWII records available for people to access,” says Passau.
“These records give people the chance to learn about the servicemen and women who chose to serve in WWII, and we hope that people will also be inspired to add their own information and photos to the records.”
Online Cenotaph enables the public to add information to individual records or to lay a poppy on the page of different servicemen or women to remember them. More than 80,000 pieces of information have been added to the records since 2015.
"Some people have added photos, or filled in a date of birth if it’s missing from a record, while some have added a story about their relative who fought in the war - information that may have been passed down in their family.”
Passau says no matter how simple the piece of information is, it is a valuable addition to the records.
“We want all the different layers of people’s service to be recorded on there, including personal war photos, such as this photo of Colonel Walter Cawkwell, which was uploaded to Online Cenotaph by his son Peter Cawkwell.”
Wairarapa local Jenifer Lemaire began by adding information to Online Cenotaph about the men and women from her own family who had served in WWI, WWII and the Taranaki Land Wars.
"I wasn't interested in military history per se but rather in the men and women of New Zealand who fought and served in those theatres of war," she says.
Since adding details of her family’s military service, Lemaire has gone on to create records for the men on the Cenotaph in her birth town of Takaka (near Nelson), then nearly every man in the Nelson and Tasman region Cenotaphs, including Murchison, Picton, some of Marlborough, Portage Pass, Havelock, Rai Valley, Canvastown and Kaikoura.
Lemaire says being able to commemorate these servicemen and record their names and details on Online Cenotaph is important to her because she wants to ensure they are remembered by future generations of New Zealanders for their service and sacrifice.
"The ability of the public to access and contribute to Online Cenotaph is fantastic. I like it because the service-person’s military record is an ever-evolving record – not a static one. It is personal because contributions from family make it a living record and a memory of a life lived,” says Lemaire.