Wellington – Lest We Forget

13 October 2014

From 11–18 of October, Wellingtonians will get the chance to go back in time with a Council project that commemorates the start of New Zealand’s involvement in World War One.

Beethoven Algar, photograph by Mark Tantrum

Beethoven Algar photographed by Mark Tantrum

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Wellingtonians who experienced the war first-hand will take to the street once more in a series of ‘wall stories’ that will be pasted up around the city.

When Wellington – Lest We Forget curator and concept developer Anna Dean attended a Writers Week talk given by military historian Dr Chris Pugsley earlier this year, what struck her were the statistics about New Zealand’s involvement in World War One. From a population of one million at the time, 100,000 New Zealanders were directly involved, including 18,000 who died and 47,000 who were wounded.

To illustrate these figures, Anna decided that ten representative Wellingtonians needed to be found. Images of eight soldiers – including one Māori Pioneer Battalion soldier – one nurse and one conscientious objector will be pasted up along with their personal stories around the city, near the places they lived, worked and went to school.

Anna couldn’t have completed the project without Historian and Researcher Hannah August, who had just returned to New Zealand having finished a PhD in Renaissance history at King’s College London.

“I knew she was a thorough researcher. She had just returned home to New Zealand and was ready to get her teeth into researching the more recent history of her own country – the timing was perfect.”

The role gave Hannah the opportunity to hunt through Wellington’s rich archival collections – Archives New Zealand, Alexander Turnbull Library and Wellington City Archives – to unearth the stories and images of local men and women whose lives were changed by war.

Hannah hopes that the Wall Stories will humanise and create a sense of connection with these ten individual Wellingtonians.

Anna says, “after all of the research one of the best things about this project has been locating their families and realising that this is real and living history.”

At first, most families were surprised at the interest in a long-lost relative, then genuinely interested and willing to share and talk about their ancestors. Some had no records available while others had a great deal. Part of the project was to encourage people to research their own history.

To connect with younger people Wellington street artist ‘bent', well-known in some areas as the Pigeon Artist, was brought on board to turn these individual ten portraits into street level collages. The black and white imagery reflects the photography of the day. These temporal works will be on display from 11–18 October.

A former student of Wellington High School ‘bent’ and Anna were keen to involve local young people, so approached Jania Bates, Head of Art at the college was approached and a group of students were selected to help create these limited edition Wall Stories.

Reaching from Wellington’s suburbs and into the heart of the CBD, these Wall Stories will allow people to connect with past residents who lived normal lives until war was declared one hundred years ago.

You can find these Wall Stories on bus routes throughout Wellington; Island Bay, Wadestown, Karori, Newtown, Seatoun/Worser Bay, Johnsonville, Oriental Bay, Roseneath, Mt Victoria, Lyall Bay and Miramar. Also Wellington’s CBD; Railway Station, Cable Car Lane and top entrance, Basin Reserve and Civic Square.

The ten Wall Stories can be found online.