Redeployment to a new front
While the Museum's doors are closed, many of our front-line team members and volunteers needed work they could do from home. Luckily, there is no shortage of tasks that require a lot of time, and time is something there was now a bit more of. Volunteers are currently working from home transcribing the hundreds of names on this signature tablecloth, which was embroidered by Mrs Emma (Pat) Simmonds and her mother Mrs Ansell during WWII with the names of all the people they knew who were off to war.
Over the first lockdown, several of our Visitor Hosts and some volunteers transcribed names, service numbers, ranks, units, embarkation and other important information to fill in the blanks in the post-WWII service records for Online Cenotaph. They completed an amount of work that would normally have taken years in only a few months. This project helped us identify 14,000 names of people who served for New Zealand.
One of our wonderful Museum Volunteers, Marion Dickinson, has been spending the past few months transcribing a range of archival material for the Online Cenotaph team. Marion has been volunteering at the Museum since 2018 and has volunteered in a number of capacities throughout this time. We asked her a few questions on why she has enjoyed spending countless hours contributing to this national military resource.
Why do you transcribe for Online Cenotaph?
I’ve always enjoyed history, particularly the human side of it. I’m not really interested in military tactics or weapons other than in relation to their effects. I enjoy reading fiction written by people who have a deep knowledge of the military but can add human side, for example, Bernard Cornwell, C. S. Forester.
I have done a lot of family history research for myself over the last 40+ years, I really appreciate the ease with which records can now be accessed. [Pre-internet] it was very time consuming and frustrating to go through the microfilms of the London censuses looking; the release of the first indexed census allowed me to find ancestors all over the UK.
I don’t come from a family with a strong military background but having had family who fought in both the First and Second World Wars. It is fascinating looking at an individual's records and the amount of information recorded.
I found the Second War War names and addresses listed in the Auckland Provincial Roll of Honour interesting as it gave an idea of the places service people came from. While the First World War Roll seems to indicate there were many more new arrivals to New Zealand than I noticed in the later volumes, judging by next of kin addresses.
The tablecloth project? Will I regret it? I’ve certainly spent time learning more about the war in the Pacific, it was not something I learnt much about as I was brought up in the UK and I knew more about the European theatre of war as well as Malaya and Burma.
Certainly the tablecloth is a challenge, not just in reading it but because the signatures are at random angles, I think I’ve worked out how to deal with this now. The way I've been tackling the Table cloth is to have copies of the corner on my iPad then edit small areas which I can enlarge and when my iPad screen is locked I can turn it in order to read signatures at an angle.
Why do you enjoy it?
I feel I’m doing something that is of use to others. Giving people who cannot travel the chance to learn about their family. It may even allow families to discover where missing relatives went. It helps people find their roots and gives a personal link to historical events and personal reasons to learn more.
I feel I am doing something of use (also I don’t feel guilty about not doing housework).