Local history tells a bigger story – Whanganui series

Professor Glyn Harper

Victoria Cross recipient Alfred Shout

New Zealand soldiers – from heroes to conmen – who served in other countries’ armies during WWI is the topic of a public seminar on April 17 by eminent historian Professor Glyn Harper.

He opens a five-part series running for the third year in a partnership between the Alexander Heritage and Research Library, the Whanganui Regional Museum and Massey University’s W. H. Oliver Humanities Research Academy. 

Professor Harper’s talk, For King and other Countries: New Zealanders at war 1914-1919, is a taster for his new book due out next year. The series, titled Home and Away, includes new and established historians talking about their research on the environment, immigration, war propaganda and naval history.

Professor Harper will share some of his latest research findings, including that a much higher number of New Zealanders than previously thought – more than 10,000 – enlisted in foreign armies during WWI, for a variety of reasons. Around 4000 joined the British army, often those from rich, middle-class families for the prestige. A further 4000 joined the Australian Imperial Army because it was easier to enlist, especially for younger, or older and infirm men who did not make the cut for the New Zealand army. Others joined armies of France, Canada, India and South Africa, and several even enlisted in the German army.

Professor Harper’s talk also touches on New Zealand war heroes in foreign armies, such as Alfred Shout – a New Zealand-born and Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, and other distinguished soldiers and servicewomen, as well as the occasional conman or rogue whose stories he has uncovered.

The series aims to raise awareness of the presence of history in the local community as well as celebrating students embarking on careers in “the rich field of New Zealand historical research,” says the series coordinator Associate Professor Kirsty Carpenter. 

Professor Harper’s talk highlights the link between local and global history, she says. “Whanganui’s link to this was by correspondence with relatives and connections to the Whanganui Collegiate School, where a number of the soldiers who Glyn is going to talk about had been students.”  

Small events encapsulate grander stories

Local history is never just local – it fits into a much broader picture about what happened and how we understand the past, says Dr Carpenter, a specialist on the French Revolution who lectures in the School of Humanities at the Manawatū campus.

She says the key inspiration for the seminars is; “raising awareness of the value of our own history in the locality, and how local history and local archives fit and filter into national history and national archives –likewise to international history and international archives.”

“What has small beginnings can end up as central to the history of continents and empires. All the pieces of the puzzle are important, and they begin with people valuing their own family history and local history enough to preserve it and the documents that come into their possession. Only in this way can we arrive at histories of the local communities, towns and provinces of New Zealand.”

Dr Carpenter says the seminars in this series have “played a role in uniting people with interests, either as future university students, or adults interested in their family connections and local history with professional academic historians and trainee historians.”

She is currently working on a book – with local and distant links – about refugees during the French Revolution, including one who stowed away to New Zealand under an alias, married a niece of Te Rauparaha (chief and warrior of Ngati Toa who played a lead role in the Musket Wars), with which he had eight children, leaving a trail of New Zealand descendants right down to the present day. 

Venues: Alexander Research and Heritage Library, or the Davis Theatre, Wanganui Regional Museum. 

Tuesday 17 April, 5:30 pm, Davis Theatre

Glyn Harper: For King and other Countries: New Zealanders at war 1914-1919.

Glyn Harper is the Professor of War Studies at Massey University. He has been the Massey Project Manager of  the Centenary History of the New Zealand and the First World War, and is published widely - most recently; The Battle for North Africa. El Alamein and the Turning Point for World War II.

Sunday 29 April, 2.00 pm, Alexander Library    

Jess McLean: You can count on a good round of applause: Propaganda and the New Zealand public during WWII 

Jess McLean has completed her Master’s on ‘Propaganda and the NZ public during  WWII’ supervised by Dr Rachael Bell (Massey History Programme).

Tuesday 15 May, 5.30 pm, Davis Theatre

Catherine Knight: Our Rivers: complex histories, hopeful futures.

Catherine Knight is an independent historian living in the Manawatū. She is the author of New Zealand’s Rivers: An Environmental History, and contributor to Rachael Bell’s NZ Between the Wars (Massey University Press, 2017).

Sunday 27 May, 2.00 pm, Alexander Library

Gail Romano: ‘Generous action’ and ‘ministerial muddling’: Managing a Royal Navy battlecruiser tour in the Dominion in 1913.

Gail Romano is writing her history master’s on the 1913 visit of battlecruiser HMS New Zealand to this country and what the visit can tell us about ourselves in that pre-war period. She is supervised by Dr David Littlewood (Massey History Programme).

Sunday 10 June, 2.00 pm, Alexander Library

Sue McCliskie: The Nelson NZ Company Emigrants: How Family Histories can shed light on issues  of connection and mobility in New Zealand.

Sue McCliskie is doing a history master’s, supervised by Professor Michael Belgrave, on the Nelson New Zealand Company Emigrants, 1841-50 (Massey History Programme).

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