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A journey to the archives

Victoria Passau, Collection Manager Online Cenotaph

RNZAF Biographies Alwyn Palmer. Archives NZ.

RNZAF Biographies Alwyn Palmer. Archives NZ.

Following the success of the WW100 commemorative period, Auckland War Memorial Museum’s Online Cenotaph is shifting its collection policy to focus on non-Army records as well as more recent conflicts. Over the next few years the Online Cenotaph Museum team aims to collate records for the Second World War Air Force, Navy, and Merchant Navy, and post-1945 service personnel. Unlike with First World War records, primary-source material for this era is restricted, and is more likely to be paper-based.

Auckland War Memorial Museum’s Online Cenotaph database contains more than 235,000 records for New Zealand service personnel. The Museum’s intention is for Online Cenotaph to eventually provide a page for every person who has served New Zealand in international and national conflicts. Records range from the 19th century to today, with Army records for the South African War, First and Second World Wars, and the Vietnam War being collection strengths.

As part of this refocusing Online Cenotaph team member Dan Millar relocated to Wellington in January 2020 to identify personnel records in the New Zealand Defence Force Archives (NZDFA) at Trentham and at Archives New Zealand (Archives NZ), Wellington.

Dan Millar. Photographed by Richard Ng.

Dan Millar. Photographed by Richard Ng.

Auckland Museum. CC BY-4.0.

Over the past few months Dan has identified a large number of relevant records for future transcription. These include World War II Air Force, Navy and Merchant Navy casualty listings, Women's Army Auxiliary Corp and Women's Auxiliary Air Force listings and Malaya records to name a few.

Archives NZ and the NZDFA have been very helpful in providing research advice and support. In mid-February Dan and Victoria Passau, Collection Manager, Online Cenotaph, visited both Archives NZ and the New Zealand Defence Force historians and archivists to discuss way in which our respective organisations can work more closely together. Both appreciate the supportive conversations and look forward to future collaborations.

This has been a be a great opportunity for Dan to complete primary source research in the archives.

"It has been fantastic to utilise such an abundance of service personnel information, especially to help honour the service of our lesser acknowledged veterans. I also appreciate the commitment of these institutions in preserving these records for the public good. It is a real tribute to the generations of archivist and record keepers."

This project will require a lot of Museum staff and volunteers to transcribe, cross match, and research all the service personnel listed in these files. However, Auckland Museum’s ultimate aspiration to create a record for all those New Zealand service personnel who have served in times of conflict is a unique and challenging proposition.

Once this project is complete, thousands of service people will have their service publicly recognised for the first time on Online Cenotaph. The records are a lasting tribute to service and allow families to find more about the military service for New Zealand service personnel.

Online Cenotaph is a work in progress and Online Cenotaph always appreciates user feedback. Please send enquiries through our Contact page.

Cite this article

Passau, Victoria. A journey to the archives. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 8 April 2020. Updated: 8 June 2020.