The people of Pou Maumahara
Sometimes the history of war is remembered in numbers. The number of men who died. The number of wounded. The number of survivors. The financial cost of the conflict. The year each battle took place.
These are important details but measuring war in numbers can make it easy to forget the individuals and the importance of each of their stories.
When Pou Maumahara Memorial Discovery Centre opens next month one of its strengths will be its ability to remind us of those individual stories.
A series of displays and digital interactives inside Pou Maumahara offer visitors the chance to dig deep into the history of nine very different people and learn about their experiences of war.
Curator Georgina White has carefully selected people with unique perspectives and connections with war, so while only nine in-depth stories feature in the displays it feels like they offer a glimpse inside many more people’s lives.
To tell each story the curatorial team has used various objects from the Museum’s collections - such as letters, medals, badges, and photographs - which provide tangible links with the people and help to bring their story to life.
"One of the main purposes of this gallery is to invite visitors to take a closer look at material culture in order to discover personal stories. We hope that the focus on material culture will encourage and guide visitors to undertake their own research,” says White.
Content and Interpretation Developer Jonathon Kelso says the stories are a great way of helping people connect with the First World War in a meaningful way.
"What I love about this show is the human element, it personalises WWI with specific, individual stories. This creates an access point for visitors and will help them to understand different perspectives of the war."
"We’re using a holistic approach, telling stories interwoven through multiple formats. So there’s something for everyone and each individual’s story is revealed though the objects, interactives, audio and text."
A glimpse into their stories
The stories that the curatorial team have developed in collaboration with researchers are rich with details and use objects and photos to help bring it all to life.
Here we’ve outlined just the barest summary of each person featured in the gallery but the Museum team hopes everyone will spend time in Pou Maumahara learning more about them and making their own discoveries.
A woman from Auckland’s North Shore committed to her community and dedicated to supporting the young men that went to war, raising funds and sending hundreds of packages. Learn more about Mrs Mickle here.
A dressmaker turned nurse who worked at a hospital in England that tended more than 20,000 New Zealand soldiers.
This little rhyme was written in Swarbrick’s autograph book by Kiwi Richard Lockheart of Greymouth:
Oh would that I were a teacup
In which you sip your tea
For every time you raise the cup
It would be a kiss for me
A Niuean chaplain who watched over his men as they suffered in war and fought for their acknowledgement when they returned.
William Mandeno Smallfield
A man who diligently documented his experiences in his diaries - the vital signals and unnerving solitude of listening post duties - before returning home with a bullet-marred bell.
Piki Kotuku Te Kuru
A young man from the King Country who fought with the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion and survived terrible battles and wounds from gas, but who still would not make it home from war.
A New Zealand nurse who gained her first experience of war tending to the wounded in the Balkans before determinedly making her own way to serve overseas in the First World War.
Alfred Aghan and his brother David
Two brothers that moved to a new country and hid their ancestry just so they could serve in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
A young Auckland man committed to the idea of serving as a military pilot who successfully earned his place in the Royal Flying Corps but never returned from an ill-fated night mission.
A solo father who served with the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment, was moved by Palestine’s biblical landscape and who would never return home to his teenage daughter Mollie.
Fred’s collection was donated to Auckland Museum by Mollie’s daughter and amongst the items was this poignant piece of verse ‘His Unknown Grave’.
A few crumpled letters, and a diary well kept,
O’er which a Mother fond, at night has often wept;
Tells of a land that was kissed by the sun
Ages before Christian history begun…
“Anenomes and Violets” he plucked from Jordan’s vale
In memory of Mother and many a Bible tale…
Oh may they meet in Heaven, in the after years,
Beyond the Gulf of Aden, and the Gate of Tears
It is true that the scale of war can be hard to comprehend but these individual stories are hard to forget.
He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people
Post by: Auckland Museum
Auckland War Memorial Museum tells the story of New Zealand, its people, and their place in the Pacific.