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Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira has a dual role – as a guardian for objects great and small, and as a memorial to those who served in armed conflict. The stories on this page bring those two roles together, using objects in the Museum's collection to tell just a few of the tales of heroism from those who served and those who supported them. 

15 September is Battle of Britain Day

In recognition of this significant day, Associate Curator, History Gail Romano offers a glimpse into some interesting New Zealanders who fought in the air.

'So what the hell'

'So what the hell'

Whangarei pilot and Battle of Britain airman Derek Ward designed his own coat-of arms for the side of his Hurricane fighter. The shield displayed four images of ‘bad luck’: a broken mirror, three on a match, the number ‘13’ and someone about to walk under a ladder. Below it, a banner proclaimed 'SO WHAT THE HELL'.

The role of wartime fighter pilot drew the enthusiastic and the colourful. But these pilots were also cool headed under pressure, focused and quick responders, especially during the Battle of Britain.

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16 September is Malayan Veterans' Day

To recognise this important day, we bring you a story from our Online Cenotaph.

Peter Gallacher: Documentarian of D Company

Peter Gallacher: Documentarian of D Company

Malayan Veteran, Peter Gallacher discusses his passion for photography and the importance of acknowledging his comrades.

Peter has kindly provided Online Cenotaph with more than 500 photographs of his time spent in Malaya and full proofsheets are included in this article.

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Recent stories

Dean Anaki: Seaman, painter

Dean Anaki: Seaman, painter

In recognition of Merchant Navy Day (Friday, 3 September), our Online Cenotaph team brings you the intriguing story of Dean Lupo Anaki.

As a young boy in Niue, Dean Lupo Anaki dreamt of sailing the seas. As a teenager, he booked a passage to New Zealand and soon joined the Merchant marines as an Ordinary seaman.

Dean recounts his journey in the marines and why he thinks every seaman is also a painter.

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Stranded on Emirau

Stranded on Emirau

To commemorate Merchant Navy Day (Friday, 3 September), we bring you this powerful article from our Online Cenotaph team.

On 21 December 1940, some 500 merchant seamen and passengers were left stranded on an island in the north-east of Papua New Guinea, their ships intercepted and sunk by German raiders.

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Sitting down with Murray Watene

Sitting down with Murray Watene

In honour of this year’s Vietnam Veterans' Day (Wednesday, 18 August), we bring you the fascinating story of Murray Watene (Ngāti Kahungunu). 

Murray grew up in Waimarama and joined the New Zealand Police in 1959, before going on to serve in Malaya, Vietnam and Antarctica throughout the '60s and '70s. The avid poet sat down with Madison Pine and Victoria Passau from our Online Cenotaph team to share his memories and experiences from his life, as well as some of his poems.

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The mystery of the travelling guitar

The mystery of the travelling guitar

Rarotongan-born Private Tuaine Utanga took a guitar with him on active service. Private Utanga invited his fellow soldiers to sign their names on the guitar's case, which in the end held the signatures of more than 200 of Utanga's fellow New Zealand soldiers. The guitar was an object of much interest to many Museum staff, but neither the guitar, its case nor the associated diary are held in the Museum's collection. So where were they? 

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A case in point


The 21st Battalion Association collection is a very significant collection, both symbolically and in sheer size, consisting of nearly 700 objects. This series of blogs by Museum staff looks at the collection from every angle, from the acquisition to the photographing to the grant that made it all possible.

Cenotaph Stories

Explore a selection of stories from our Online Cenotaph, from a POW-turned-art dealer to stories from Vietnam to our efforts to include non-Army records.

The heroic battle for Britain

The heroic battle for Britain

The Battle of Britain was a bitter, four-month-long air battle fought for the sovereignty of Great Britain. Royal Air Force (RAF) aircrew who took part were awarded the Battle of Britain bar, and the battle is commemorated on 15 September. You can read more about the Battle of Britain and the New Zealanders who fought in it on Online Cenotaph.

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Campaign medal featuring the Battle of Britain bar; AWMM 1996x2.80.2

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Recognising WWI Gilbert Islanders – i-Kiribati service personnel

Recognising WWI Gilbert Islanders – i-Kiribati service personnel

Do you know of anyone from the Gilbert Islands (now known as Kiribati) who enlisted in the New Zealand Army during WWI? Our Online Cenotaph team have identified 25 i-Kiribati  servicemen but would love to hear from you if you know of any others not represented on this list.

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Kāre e ngaropōina ia mātou a rātou e tuātau `uātu

Kāre e ngaropōina ia mātou a rātou e tuātau `uātu

“Our reo contributes to our identity as Cook Islanders. We are a small nation with a rich and beautiful history that stretches back to primordial beings that have now become part of myth and legend.”

William Kainana Cuthers, Researcher and Academic Writer, wrote an article to commemorate and highlight the legacy of Cook Islands service persons, like his grandfather and namesake William Kiri Cuthers, a Coastwatcher during the Second World War. 

Introduction written by Arerangi Tongia.

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