One of the largest war-related donations of recent years has now been made accessible for those who are interested in exploring our collections. Head of Collection Care Vasiti Palavi describes what the gift of a collection this size means to the Museum, and what a massive undertaking it is to make it accessible to audiences.  

Auckland War Memorial Museum is the home of Auckland’s collective remembering and commemoration. In recent years, public interest in war memory and commemoration has increased considerably and we have seen a rise in research and scholarship on the cultural legacy of war.

The Museum’s documentary heritage collection, which includes photographs and manuscripts, is often the first port of call for researchers, but the object collection also offers rich research potential and a plethora of stories for those who work to unlock it.

Auckland Museum was successful in an application to the Lotteries Environment Heritage Grant to gain funding to process (catalogue, describe, photograph, pack and store) the 21st Battalion Association collection. These grants support projects that help protect, conserve or care for our natural, cultural and physical heritage, or allow us to better understand and access these resources.

Image: Gate from the 21st Battalion clubrooms, selected by Associate Curator, History, Gail Romano, as one of her favourite objects from the collection; 2019.62.354, © Auckland Museum CC BY

The 21st Battalion Association collection is a significant addition to the Museum’s war collection, however, most museums unfortunately do not have the resources within their operational budgets to spend large amounts of time researching, documenting, and storing collections of this size. Curator and Collection Manager roles have a broad-ranging remit that spans community engagement, research, public programming, exhibitions, ongoing collection management and development activities. When we receive collections or donations that are very large, unusual or fragile, this can place a strain on our team of staff who care for and manage those collections. The opportunity to secure external funding to support the processing of large collections at these times enables the collections to become visible and accessible, as well as supporting the storage of the collections in a stable archival environment.

The Lotteries funding enabled the Museum to employ two collection technicians for six months to process the 646 objects from the 21st Battalion, adding them to the Museum’s already extensive History collection. The processing of the collection objects, as well as preventative conservation measures, prevented further degradation and facilitated the re-housing of the collection into archival storage and mounting systems.

Each member of the team that worked on the collection has chosen some favourite objects that embody different ways of conceiving the collection.


Image: Vinyl decal2019.62.632

Callan Bird & Elle Keen

Collection Technicians, Human History

Callan Bird & Elle Keen

"This Emergency Ration tin belonging to Pte. Guy Lindsey Collins is a favourite of the Collection Technicians who worked on the objects in the collection. This ration tin has a bullet hole and inside an accompanying paper label which notes: 'This is the tin that deflected bullet from Guy Collins in Crete'. This was quite an emotive object for the team – it bridges the horror of war but also represents a positive story where the simple, ordinary ration tin saved his life, and the memory is held in the 21st Battalion Association collection."


ImageRation tin with bullet hole. 2019.62.46. © Auckland Museum CC BY​

Sarndra Lees

Collection Manager, History

Sarndra Lees

"The paybook, prayer book and cigarette lighter that belonged to Private Ivan Robert Carlisle are some of my favourite objects from the 21st Battalion Association collection. These items were so personally connected to him as a soldier.

When opening the paybook out fully, it had plant material tucked in a pocket and prompted me to ask many questions – where did he locate this plant? Why did he put it in his paybook to keep? What meaning did hold for him?

The prayer book, for his Catholic spiritual guidance, which he obviously held close to his person for comfort in unsure times and his engraved cigarette lighter that would have been with him during both social and traumatic occasions with his fellow soldiers.

Personal objects like these in the collection speak to the connection between objects and memory for the individual. These are ‘anchors’ in a person's life at that given point in time. These become a conduit for memory and stories."


ImagePlant material, prayer book and cigarette lighter belonging to Pte Ivan Robert Carlisle, 2019.62.70. © Auckland Museum CC BY

Gail Romano

Associate Curator, History

Gail Romano

"The 21st Battalion collection encompasses several themes relevant to New Zealand’s war experiences, and one that is particularly strong is that of ‘comradeship’, a community of belonging. Comradeship was the association’s motto and the title of their newsletter, and the word described a bond forged from experience that only those who served and fought could ever fully understand. Home communities can support returning serviceman with physical therapy and practical help reintegrating into post-war life. But ongoing contact with others who share and understand the intense experiences of war offers veterans crucial social and emotional support, especially as the world around them moves on.

ImageLarge teapot from 21 Battalion clubrooms. 2019.62.375. © Auckland Museum CC BY

"For this reason, I’ve chosen as favourites a small group of objects that in their very ordinariness speak of the strong sense of community among the association members, and the comfort and strength received and given by everyday activity and care for the well-being of others. From the clubrooms gate that proudly proclaimed the association’s presence, to the bar towels and teapots that embody the regenerative power of friendly social ritual, to the Last Post blackboard which respectfully remembered those members who had recently passed, these objects admit us, in a small way, into the 21st Battalion Association community and encourage us to reflect on the meaning of resilience, and on the value of comradeship."

ImageBar towels from the 21st Battalion clubrooms. 2019.62.371. © Auckland Museum CC BY

The 21st Battalion Association’s values of comradeship, courage, commitment, community and compassion are tangibly expressed through this rich historical collection. Connecting with and reflecting on the experiences embodied in the collection offers us all opportunities for learning, enrichment and new understanding. 


Image: 21 Battalion Association’s ‘Last Post’ blackboard, 2019.62.328, © Auckland Museum CC BY