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Fighting for nature: Captain Val Sanderson

Portrait of Captain Ernest Valentine Sanderson, circa First World War.

Portrait of Captain Ernest Valentine Sanderson, circa First World War.

© Private Collection.

A remarkable New Zealander, Captain Ernest Valentine 'Val' Sanderson emerged from two wars to become a leading figure in the fight to protect New Zealand's natural heritage.
Using skills and leadership gained through war, he was a key founder of what became the Royal Forest & Bird Society. Fronting national conservation efforts for three decades, he was instrumental in fostering greater appreciation for New Zealand's environment. 
Born in Dunedin in 1866 and raised in Wellington, Sanderson first served in the South African War (1899-1902) where he excelled as a Quartermaster-Sergeant for the No. 12 Company (Wellington section), 5th contingent, New Zealand Mounted Rifles, being mentioned by both of his Commanding Officers for special notice. With a talent for administration and an 'exceptional capacity for hard work', he was first employed as an insurance clerk and went on to found successful business ventures while serving as a part-time soldier in the Territorials.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Sanderson again sought to enlist, amending his age by five years to be under the age limit of 45. After a number of applications he was finally accepted and sent to Egypt. There he served again as a Quartermaster and Honourary Captain, first for the third reinforcements, Otago Infantry Battalion, and then at the General Base Depot. 
Forest and Bird, Bulletin No. 34 (October, 1934).

Forest and Bird, Bulletin No. 34 (October, 1934).

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His command and organisational abilities were to become invaluable after the war as he went on to found the New Zealand Native Bird Protection Society, later known as the Royal Forest & Bird Society. He almost single-handedly built the organisation into the New Zealand's leading environmental protection group after finding his beloved Kapiti Island bird sanctuary stripped and overrun with introduced species when he returned from war in 1921. Bringing a patriotic zeal and a military determination to the fight for nature, he had a ‘single-minded devotion to preserving was what was left of the flora and fauna of Old New Zealand’ (Obit., Evening Post, 1945) . Comparing the stark landscapes of Egypt and Gallipoli to New Zealand no doubt reinforced Sanderson's special appreciation of the country's natural gifts and the acute threat to them as farms rapidly took over the landscape across the islands. 
As conservation issues become ever more critical, we should remember the leadership of servicemen like Captain Sanderson who emerged from war to work tirelessly for the benefit of future generations.
To their foresight we owe much. 
Forest and Bird, Bulletin No.51 (February, 1939) and Bulletin No. 52 (May, 1939).

Forest and Bird, Bulletin No.51 (February, 1939) and Bulletin No. 52 (May, 1939).

© Images have no copyright restrictions.
To discover more, take a look at Captain Sanderson's Online Cenotaph record. 


Ross Galbreath. 'Sanderson, Ernest Valentine', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 May 2017) 
Obituary, Captain E. V. Sanderson. Evening Post (31 December 1945) 
The late Captain Sanderson. Evening Post (31 December 1945)

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Can you tell us more about Captain Val Sanderson’s military service history, or his civilian life, enlistment, and if relevant demobbing and subsequent career? Go to his Online Cenotaph record to share your information.


Cite this article

Millar, Dan . Fighting for Nature: Captain Val Sanderson . Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 25 May 2017. Updated: 1 August 2017.