Wellington Scoop

The End of the War – a new exhibition

Press Release – The Great War Exhibition
The End of the War? a new audio-visual exhibition highlighting the effect of the First World War on New Zealand families opens at The Great War Exhibition in Wellington on Thursday. Leading to commemorations of Armistice Day in November, this exhibition is a reminder that although the Great War ended, its effect on New Zealand society did not.

The End of the War? looks at the war-time experiences of nine people — men and women, Māori and Pākehā, Pasifika and Asian — and explores the impact of their experiences through generations, 100 years on. The feelings engendered by the war are as varied as the experiences of those who lived it — nurses, ambulance drivers, patriotic supporters, conscientious objectors, wounded soldiers and those killed in action.

Private Frank Tararo was one of 500 Cook Islanders to sign up as reinforcements for the Māori Battalion, helping dig a communications trench along the front lines at the Somme. His family shared his memories. “My lower arm and hand had been shredded by exploding shrapnel. I was lucky though, because the cold, wintery conditions stopped the infection and gangrene from setting in to my wounds. When help finally arrived they were shocked to find that some of us were still alive.” Frank was eventually evacuated home but was the only man from his island to survive.

His grand-daughter Tui Tararoa says, “I have to think about my sons and my daughter. I would probably be the parent that would be standing there saying ‘No, this is not our war.’”

New Zealand’s most famous conscientious objector, Archibald Baxter had no choice. He was one of four New Zealand pacifists who were physically forced to go to the front. Baxter said, “It is impossible for me to serve in the army. I would a thousand times rather be put to death.”

His great-grandnephew Jack McDonald comments in the show, “I’ve always found ANZAC Day quite challenging growing up. It’s always grated with me a bit. And that’s not because I don’t think that we should be remembering or commemorating World War One – I absolutely think we should be, to learn those lessons.”

Hugo Manson, son of Cecil Manson, who was only 19 years old at Gallipoli, reflects upon his father’s experience. “Not to go, is not to support, or not to be helping, what a lot of other people have no choice being a part of.”

Hamilton nurse Louisa Higginson’s three brothers had already enlisted. New Zealand wasn’t sending nurses to the war – so she made her own way there. “I feel so disgusted and ashamed to think I have to nurse the Huns. This is what I paid my fare and came 16,000 miles for.”

Her niece-in-law, Lois Wilson, 92, recalls Louisa as strict and deeply involved with the RSA. “With the stories we heard, we just wondered why they went. I often think, even now, I doubt that the males of the country would think of going to war now.”

Māori Member of Parliament Sir Māui Pōmare and his influential wife Lady Miria were at the forefront of the Māori and Pacific Islands contribution to the war. Sir Māui was Chairman of the Maori Recruiting Board responsible for recruiting the Māori Battalion, and visited the Cook Islands to recruit the Rarotongan Contingent. Lady Miria launched the Maori Soldiers’ Fund in 1915, which provided comforts to Māori soldiers overseas.

“I’m sure there were regrets,” her great-granddaughter, Miria Pōmare says. “She had a real empathy, as Sir Maui did, with the Waikato people, the Taranaki people — his people — who struggled with the notion of sending their sons to fight a pākehā war on the other side of the world.”

“When those lists of Māori deaths were first released, I think that she and Māui would have felt a very very personal and deep sense of loss.”

The End of the War? is created by Story Inc. and Dusk, and funded by the Lottery Grants Board.

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