Pou Maumahara will be the 'home of Online Cenotaph', offering a place for people to learn more about New Zealand's military heritage and connect with their own family's military history with the support of Museum staff and volunteers.
Visitors to Online Cenotaph often already have a few small pieces of information - someone’s name or rank, where they served or the war they fought in, the name of their next of kin or the battle where they were wounded.
When they start their search through the online database of military records they’re hoping to find out more, to fill in the blanks.
Others arrive at the Online Cenotaph already armed with a lot of information, keen to share what they know.
Some delve into Online Cenotaph just hoping to learn more about New Zealand’s military heritage and the people who have played a part in it.
Collection Manager for Online Cenotaph and Pou Maumahara Victoria Passau says the hope is that visitors will use the Pou Maumahara Memorial Discovery Centre in the same way.
"We see Pou Maumahara as the physical home of Online Cenotaph. People will be able to come to the Museum with a little bit of information about a family member or someone they are researching and then find out more about that person’s military heritage," says Passau.
"Or they can come to it with nothing and through the Memorial Discovery Centre, Online Cenotaph and our team we can help them to explore New Zealand's military heritage."
One of the main advantages of undertaking the search at the Museum - rather than online - will be the support offered by the team working in Pou Maumahara.
Ella Johnson is part of the Collection Technician, Research Support team that will be helping people delve into New Zealand’s military past and to find their own connection to it.
"I'm looking forward to moving into a new, welcoming space that encourages people to take the time to go deeper into their research, and to discuss and share their discoveries whether in person or online."
Johnson has recently been learning more about her own connection to New Zealand’s military past.
Her grandfather was New Zealand poet and novelist Alistair Te Ariki Campbell and as she grew up she learned about the older brother he had lost in the Second World War - Stuart Alexander Maireriki Campbell.
Conversations with family and her grandfather’s writing gave her some insights into Stuart's life and since joining the Museum team Johnson has spent more time researching, adding information to Online Cenotaph and looking up his military personnel records on the Archives New Zealand.
"My connection to NZ's military heritage makes the history so much more real to me. Rather than just being something to read about in books it is something that happened to my family and people I know.”
"I love helping others to discover more about their families and find their own connections. I enjoy discovering the small details about a person’s life that may not be deemed historically significant but mean so much to the families off these people."
Sophie Coombe and Dan Millar, who have recently joined the Collection Technician, Research Support, Pou Maumahara team, also see the ancestral links and family ties as a strong way for people to connect with our military past.
Millar, who had three ancestors who served in the First World War and completed his MA in history at the University of Auckland, says he’d like to help people get a greater understanding of the wars through the experiences of their relatives.
Phil Lascelles, a historian and longstanding volunteer and advisor for the Museum, has played an integral part in reuniting people with lost pieces of their family history over the years.
In one case a couple had found a service medal from the First World War in a creek in Lloyd Elsmore Park inscribed with "Pte J. Bicknell 1914-15 ASC".
Lascelles began the search with just that to go on, eventually uncovering Private John Bicknell’s history as a member of the Supply Enlisted Reserve for the New Armies, part of the British Army Service Corp.
"We managed to locate his medal index card and the shipping register, which showed he migrated to New Zealand."
He then traced Bicknell’s family to Australia and was able to return the medal into their care almost one hundred years after it had been earned.
One query that stands out for Lascelles came when a family asked about the location of a relative’s Second World War grave in Italy so they could visit it while on holiday.
"Despite serious searching and reassurance that their relative was a New Zealander and that he was killed, no record appeared on the Commonwealth War Graves online database."
After learning from the family that the man used to work for the Post Office before he went to war, Lascelles adjusted his search and uncovered the truth of their relative’s history - and had to share what he has discovered.
"I found the name they were seeking ... a civilian casualty not in Italy but rather in the Pacific where he was a 'civilian' coast watcher that was captured and executed by a Japanese naval officer."
"The experience of researching and then communicating the results to the visitors was extremely emotional but was much appreciated. After a cup of tea downstairs, they returned to learn more of the details about coast watchers and the incident," says Lascelles.
"The enquiry reinforced my belief that the Museum not only provides a venue to research and learn about the history of war but a sense of place where this can be done respectfully as part of a healing process – a true memorial."
Leave a note
That opportunity for healing and remembrance is evident in some of the comments that have been left on different individual’s records in Online Cenotaph.
When the Museum updated Online Cenotaph one of the functions they added was the ability for people to make a contribution - as well as factual contributions the “Leave a note” section simply invites people to add a memory or a tribute.
The note below is one of several notes left on Sergeant Pulu’s record:
We pay tribute to you Great Grand Uncle Pulu. Laid a poppy for you and your three siblings that were brave enough to leave the peace and tranquility of Niue to fight a cold war halfway across the world … 'Fakaue oue tulou kehe ha mutolu a tau loto malolo moe toa ke o atu ke he felakutakiaga lahi nei, kua tokanoa mo e nonofo fiafia ai a mautolu ai nei’.
Sometimes the notes are a simple observation of the loss, like the note left on David Campbell’s page who was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme in the First World War.
"This brave young man was my great uncle. So sad. Such a long way from his home in Northcote. Just thinking about him on the anniversary of his death what a sacrifice he gave - his life."
"So many people have taken the time to share what they know or just leave a comment," says Passau.
"Through Online Cenotaph we’ve also seen people retracing lost objects and answering other people’s queries for information. It’s a great hub and we hope that Pou Maumahara will work in the same way - it will create a physical space for this sharing of ideas and information."
Brian McIntyre, the second cousin of Private Alexander McIntyre who died at Gallipoli in 1915, has been uncovering his family’s military heritage and sharing what he has found through the Online Cenotaph.
Thank You Alexander F McIntyre for laying down your life resulting in the freedom that I and my family enjoy today. As you will know I have bought you from in the shadows out into the sunshine and have told all of your relations all about you. I will proudly wear your replica medals for the first time next Anzac Day 2017.
Post by: Auckland Museum
Auckland War Memorial Museum tells the story of New Zealand, its people, and their place in the Pacific.