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A Year in Review: Online Cenotaph 2023

Online Cenotaph, Sophie Elborough and Matthew Nickless

The Auckland War Memorial Museum’s Online Cenotaph team has had another impactful year in 2023, marked by sharing poignant stories, and enhanced community engagement. This review highlights the key achievements and milestones of the year, showcasing our commitment to honouring New Zealand’s military history. 

In May, we bid farewell to one of our Collection Technicians, Nelson Bennett, as he embarked on exciting opportunities. Later in July, we were pleased to welcome Sophie Elborough to our team, stepping into the same role. Throughout the year our small team of three focused on highlighting the stories of under-represented military personnel and extending the reach of Online Cenotaph into a variety of new spaces and communities. Throughout the year we published eleven Cenotaph Stories, responded to over 2,100 enquiries, and created approximately 1,620 new records, alongside completing several transcription projects.  

25 Years of Online Cenotaph Publication 

We began the year with the release of the 25 Years of Online Cenotaph publication, acknowledging some of the many individuals who contribute to making the database what it is today. This collection of interviews, facilitated by freelance writer Sarah Ell and featuring a social historian, a volunteer, a descendant, a military historian, a museum worker, and a contributor, delves into the diverse impact of the Online Cenotaph across various communities. 

One of these interviews was with Tua’ipulotu William Kainana Cuthers (Willie), a Cook Islands researcher with a focus on indigenous identity. This interview centred on Willie’s interest in the stories of Pacific Coastwatchers and the documentary he contributed to. Through Willie’s collaboration with Online Cenotaph, we were able to make meaningful steps towards cementing Pacific service people in New Zealand’s military history and helping them unlock their own family stories.  

Online Cenotaph is always a work in progress and the potential it has to provide a well-rounded view for every New Zealand service person before, during, and after their service is what drives Auckland War Memorial Museum’s continued investment in this resource. The 25 Years of Online Cenotaph publication demonstrates our vision to go beyond a collection of datapoints and instead establish Online Cenotaph as an ever developing and accessible social history that is proud to collaborate with researchers, communities, and the public. 

Volunteers!  

A key foundation of the Online Cenotaph is our dedicated team of volunteers. Our volunteers not only staff the Pou Maumahara Memorial Discovery Centre but also undertake numerous transcription projects, contributing significantly to our mission. 

In 2023, our team expanded with the addition of two onsite volunteers, Colonel (Retired) Richard Hall OBE, MNZM, and Dr Nicole Matejic, as well as four digital volunteers, Kate, Kristine, Rosy, and Stella, who have been instrumental in advancing our digital transcription efforts. 

Below, we showcase the outstanding dedication and hard work of these amazing volunteers, whose contributions are invaluable to the success of Online Cenotaph 

Marion Dickinson 

Portrait of Henry Francis Smith (56326), aka McCosker, a serviceman who changed his name to enlist with the RAF. Image kindly provided by Papers Past, \u003ca href=\"https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/periodicals/NZPG19170704.2.12.2.27\" target=\"_blank\"\u003eNew Zealand Police Gazette, Volume XLII, Issue 26, 4 July 1917, Page 30 (Supplement)\u003c/a\u003e

Portrait of Henry Francis Smith (56326), aka McCosker, a serviceman who changed his name to enlist with the RAF. Image kindly provided by Papers Past, New Zealand Police Gazette, Volume XLII, Issue 26, 4 July 1917, Page 30 (Supplement)

Marion, a committed Pou Maumahara volunteer, has consistently uncovered compelling soldier stories, often spanning global adventures. This year she achieved a milestone by completing the research into the Provisional List: Victims of the 1918 Flu Pandemic in New Zealand. Her meticulous work involved cross-referencing around 4,000 names with First World War service records. This process revealed hundreds of New Zealanders who had served in foreign forces or multiple conflicts, including some who had served under assumed identities. One of these was Henry Francis Smith, who enlisted in the RAF under the false name McCosker and was later discharged for desertion. 

Liz Wilkinson 

Our Pou Maumahara and the Reading Room volunteer Liz has diligently continued her role in supporting in-person enquiries this year, a task she finds particularly rewarding given her background as a former librarian. A memorable highlight for Liz was the opportunity to meet the State Archivist of Hawai'i, who visited the museum during a holiday trip. 

Liz successfully completed transcribing the Embarkation rolls of Jayforce personnel embarking via Italy and the Middle East to Japan. This impressive task included transcribing 185 pages and matching nearly 4,000 records to Online Cenotaph. This effort has significantly enriched the historical records of New Zealanders who served in Jayforce and subsequent conflicts like Korea and Malaya. Continuing her meticulous work, Liz has now transitioned from Jayforce to Kayforce transcriptions. 

Page from Jayforce Embarkation Rolls. \u003ca href=\"https://collections.archives.govt.nz/web/arena/search#/entity/aims-archive/R22440245\"\u003e Archives New Zealand (R22440245). \u003c/a\u003e

Page from Jayforce Embarkation Rolls. Archives New Zealand (R22440245).

Open access

Chronicles of the NZEF

This year we gained four new digital volunteers who are working on the transcription of hospital reports of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The Museum digitised the Chronicles of the NZEF (1916-1919) in 2012 and we are so pleased to be able to work on transcribing this important primary source. 

Cenotaph Stories

This year we published eleven Cenotaph Stories, platforming under-represented narratives.

The Korean War: A Multinational Affair 

One featured story is by our volunteer, Richard Hall, who joined Pou Maumahara in March 2023. Richard has extensive military experience having served in the British Army for 24 years, including service in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, and Afghanistan. 

Richard’s background informed the writing of his blog, The Korean War: A Multinational Affair. By providing a detailed overview of the events that led up to the formation of the 1st Commonwealth Division, Richard analysed how the creation of a multinational framework managed to bring troops together with “remarkable esprit de corps and efficiency.” 

This unique experiment in reconciling the interests of five nations, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India, showed immediate impact as casualties decreased and resources and logistical support was shared. While most New Zealand forces now operate in some form of multinational framework, Richard’s blog shows us that this was not always the case, and such an arrangement takes compromise and diplomacy.  

Mackley, Ian Chappell, 1928-2016. [Gun crew in action, Korea]. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch :Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Mackley, Ian Chappell, 1928-2016. [Gun crew in action, Korea]. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch :Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

No known copyright restrictions. ‘Ref: K-0976-F’

Ben Peckham: the advocate 

Ben Peckham riding horse (image provided).

Ben Peckham riding horse (image provided).

All Rights Reserved.
Another notable Cenotaph Story featured Fijian born veteran Benjamin G. W. Peckham. Ben served in the New Zealand Territorials from 1990, the New Zealand Army from 1992, and as a Peacekeeper in Bosnia-Herzegovina during 1994-1995. Ben's military career profoundly impacted his life and mental health. He has dedicated the past decade to sharing his experiences, particularly addressing the challenges and the importance of seeking support. 

In his interview with Victoria Passau, Ben candidly discussed his struggles post-army service, including dealing with PTSD and bi-polar disorder, and his ongoing commitment to advocating for the mental health of veterans, with a focus on supporting LGBTIQ+, Women, Māori, and Pacific Island veterans. His story, enriched with insights and resources, is a valuable addition to our Cenotaph Stories. 

The Gilbert and Ellice Islands Contingent 

For Tuvalu Language Week 2023, Matthew Nickless wrote an insightful piece on the Tuvaluan connection within Online Cenotaph. He highlighted the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Contingent, now known as Kiribati and Tuvalu, which was part of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the First World War.  

Comprising volunteers eager to demonstrate their mettle, the Contingent assembled in New Zealand at Narrow Neck Camp in 1918. Though they never deployed to war, their story took a poignant turn during the Influenza Epidemic, with several members passing away and being buried on the North Shore. 

The story of the Contingent highlights the contributions that Pacific nations made to the war effort and provides a valuable perspective on an under-represented history. 

Soldiers from the Gilbert Islands pictured at Narrow Neck camp in Auckland. \u0027The War Effort of New Zealand\u0027, edited by Lieutenant H. T. B. Drew Whitcombe and Tombs Limited, Wellington, 1923.

Soldiers from the Gilbert Islands pictured at Narrow Neck camp in Auckland. 'The War Effort of New Zealand', edited by Lieutenant H. T. B. Drew Whitcombe and Tombs Limited, Wellington, 1923.

No known copyright restrictions. New Zealand Electronic Text Collection

Merchant Navy  

In August 2023 we were contacted by Shamus Burke, the brother of Thomas Burke, a 15-year-old boy who died in the sinking of the SS Port Hunter. Thomas was one of 89 casualties including seven New Zealanders and two other boys under the age of 18, Edward Walls (15) and Roderick McDonald (17). In honour of his brother's service, Shamus provided the sole photo of Thomas to share on Merchant Navy Day on 3 September.  

Portrait of Thomas Denis Burke. Image kindly provided by Shamus Burke (August 2023).

Portrait of Thomas Denis Burke. Image kindly provided by Shamus Burke (August 2023).

© No Known Copyright Restrictions

This outreach was made possible through the work of many transcribers, volunteers, and staff who have contributed to the Merchant Navy transcription project throughout the years. In 2023 we received funding from the C&L Gregory Trust to continue on the transcription and quality control of these records. We were lucky enough to welcome back Dr. Aleisha Ward who was able to quality control half of our transcriptions of the Records of New Zealand Seamen held by Archives New Zealand.  

Since their service was officially recognized in 2010, our work has aimed to address the historical underrepresentation of the Merchant Navy in New Zealand's military history. By working to commemorate the Merchant Navy as the Fourth Force of WWII, Online Cenotaph has been able to forge new connections with family members alongside academic researchers and Seafarers organisations. 

 

Commemorations and Outreach 

2023 brought many great opportunities for Online Cenotaph to reach out to existing communities and bring our work outside the bounds of the Museum building. We participated in Anzac Day and Armistice Day and attended two Veterans’ Forums, in South Auckland in March and West Auckland in November, where we connected with many current and former service people. 

On 23 November 2023, Victoria Passau and Associate Curator, War History, Gail Romano hosted Claire Horton CBE, the Director General of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The visit included Mel Donnelly from the CWGC and Becky Masters-Ramsay and Brodie Stubbs from the Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage. The meeting focused on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's new website section ‘For Evermore: Stories of the Fallen’. Discussions revolved around leveraging Online Cenotaph's experience in engaging the New Zealand public through digital platforms and incorporating collection-led stories.  

Associate Curator, War History, Gail Romano hosting Claire Horton CBE, the Director General of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the Hall of Memories at Auckland War Memorial Museum. November 2023.

Associate Curator, War History, Gail Romano hosting Claire Horton CBE, the Director General of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the Hall of Memories at Auckland War Memorial Museum. November 2023.

© All Rights Reserved

Stats and data 

Every year one of our greatest highlights is being able to see all the contributions from researchers, family members, and visitors to the Online Cenotaph website. Below is a summary of our user statistics from 2023. We would love to assist you with any questions or enquiries in 2024 so please do not hesitate to reach out.  

Online Cenotaph Statistics and Usage, January to December 2023.

Online Cenotaph Statistics and Usage, January to December 2023.

Looking Ahead 

The Online Cenotaph remains a dynamic and evolving platform, committed to providing a comprehensive and accessible social history of New Zealand’s military service. As we look forward to 2024, we aim to continue expanding our database, deepening community ties, and bringing untold stories to light. With the continued support of our team, volunteers, and the wider community, we are excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.   

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to Online Cenotaph over the past year and helped us work towards these goals. 

Cite this article

Sophie Elborough and Matthew Nickless. A Year in Review: Online Cenotaph 2023. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 19 December 2023. Updated: 21 December 2023.
URL: www.aucklandmuseum.com/war-memorial/online-cenotaph/features/A-Year-in-Review-Online-Cenotaph-2023