Armistice Day – Will you remember them?

Now more than ever it is important that we remember. As we approach the 99th anniversary of Armistice Day, on Saturday 11 November, it is good to reflect on the enormous sacrifice of our forebears, lest we ever find ourselves at war again.

Armistice Day – Wreath Laying Ceremony
Bridge of Remembrance, Christchurch. Saturday 11 November

  • 10.45am Gather with the veterans if you wish to walk in the procession up to the bridge for the ceremony.
  • 10.50am Viewing public gather for ceremony at the bridge.
  • 11.00am 2 minutes silence will be held.
Crowd in Cathedral Square, Christchurch, celebrating Armistice Day. Head, Samuel Heath, d 1948 :Negatives. Ref: 1/1-007108-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz/records/22898377
Crowd in Cathedral Square, Christchurch, celebrating Armistice Day. Head, Samuel Heath, d 1948 :Negatives. Ref: 1/1-007108-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz/records/22898377

I grew up in Australia and I can still remember being told at school to sit in silence for a minute – and not fully understanding why. This followed by many silent but awkward looks around the classroom as one and all struggled to either remain silent; or willfully goaded their classmates into doing something that they would be reprimanded for. It wasn’t lost on me that it was out of respect for people that had fought in the war but what that means to me now is vastly different to what it meant to me then.

Fortunately, most of our children today have very little concept of war and the suffering it brings; as it is something far beyond their living memory. Even their grandparents are now the baby boomers rather than coming from a generation that lived through either of the world wars. Maybe because of this, you get the sense that recent years have seen a decline of recognition of such solemn occasions as Armistice Day. I honestly can’t recall a time in the last few years that I paused at work to mark the moment. With all of us attending to busy lives, 11am has simply passed without comment from everybody in the vicinity. And this is rather sad.

Armistice telegram. Kete Christchurch. Armistace_telegram.jpg
Armistice telegram. Kete Christchurch. Armistace_telegram.jpg Creative Commons License

I think we need to bring Armistice Day back into the spotlight. I think it would stand us all in good stead if we do have timely reminders of the loss, misery and horror that war represents. So let us not forget, let us always remember, let us instill these values into our children so they can lead the way for theirs.

Come down and see us at the library and we will be more than happy to share our numerous Armistice Day resources with you. Then gather up your loved ones and head over to the Bridge of Remembrance on Saturday 11th November. Arrive in plenty of time to get a good spot where you can share in this solemn occasion and quietly reflect at 11am for a minutes silence.

Lest we forget…

CoverCoverCover

Armistice Day

How not to ‘Halloween’…

Love it or hate it, Halloween is upon us once again. Today it is a vastly different experience than the one that the Celts traditionally celebrated. For them it marked the reaping of the harvest, the end of summer and an opportunity for the dead to cross over to the living world and scare the daylights out of everyone. Sounds like great fun so far!

For us however, Halloween has become an attempt at recreating what is largely a Northern Hemisphere celebration – with Southern Hemisphere seasons, beliefs and inclination. And more often than not, if we try to emulate what we see on TV we are destined for disaster. So here is a cautionary tale of ‘How not to Halloween’. Sadly parts of this aren’t as fictional as I would like them to be.

CB249_PUMPKINS_JCKT_RVSDLet us think for a moment… the pumpkins will have only just been planted and won’t be ready until around Easter next year. So now we will have to attempt to carve something sourced from the local supermarket. We pick out a nice Crown pumpkin and overlook the insipid grey colour and lack of grandeur. Beggars can’t be choosers. All it needs is a scary face carved in it and a candle to highlight your excellent pumpkin cutting skills. You take your sharpest knife and start to cut the top off what is arguably the toughest skin on any vegetable available*.

image_proxy[1]After you get back from the doctor, you decide that it is probably wise to do away with the carved pumpkin as you can’t afford to lose the use of your other hand. You may still be able to salvage it as a Halloween decoration however, as it is now rather realistically covered in blood.

Meanwhile, your kids are dressed up in the scariest costumes you could find at the local Opportunity Shop and are already dreaming about the sheer weight of the lollies that they hope to get. They wonder momentarily if that pillowcase is going to be big enough.

Leaving Hubby home in charge of the lollies; you venture forth into the bright sunlight with a handful of ghosts and witches in tow for the trek around what you thought was a friendly neighbourhood. How wrong you were. You find yourself greeted by grouchy people who can’t even fake being nice for the kids. They love to point out the error of your ways for daring to try and experience what is largely an American custom. Others will wander openly around their living room while your kids knock on a door that will never open. Some will go to the trouble of putting out ‘No trick or treaters’ signs to save you the energy of knocking. I like these people. We each know where the other stands.

Cover of The Halloween encyclopedia

Of course it isn’t all doom and gloom. There is the occasional legend that will gush over the kids costumes and hand over a lolly or two. But after an hour and a half of what amounted to a crushing failure; we head home defeated. I console the kids with the fact that if we’re lucky, their dad won’t have eaten his way through the entire bowl of lollies at home. It has been a rather disappointing experience. The kids don’t understand why their Halloween bears little to no resemblance of the ones that they have seen on TV. Let’s be honest – it’s still won’t be dark for another hour or more.

When we get home we find that the only other people that have come around trick or treating were teenagers who didn’t bother to dress up. And when my daughter finds out that they made off with her plastic skeleton that I’d propped next to the ‘bloody’ pumpkin; she probably won’t forgive me.

Cover of Halloween book of fun

I know that there are houses somewhere that are re-enacting their version of Halloween – I’ve seen the lollies disappearing from the shops. Maybe next year I’ll save myself some time and heartache and just ask them where they live. At least then we can be assured of a guaranteed result!

So if your kids are begging you to join into Halloween this year, you think you can avoid these amateur mistakes and you are looking to earn some easy brownie points; here are some books to help you achieve this.

Cover of Halloween activitiesCover of Halloween crafts Cover of Ghoulish get-ups Cover of Twisted cakes Cover of Trick or treat

Or try our –

And safety first!

*Try softening the pumpkin in the microwave first. I may have learned this the hard way!

A WWI story in letters: The Last Maopo

I find myself drawn to diaries and letters that record a soldier’s experiences of World War I. They are often intelligent, interesting and informative; and diary entries in particular can paint a vivid picture of what these men had to endure. It is never far from my mind that more often than not they chose to go to the other side of the world to stand side by side with strangers to defend the Empire and ‘see some action’. But I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of experience Māori had compared to Pākehā. They were just as eager to travel to the other side of the world and fight for Empire and country as their Pākehā counterparts.

But the Māori contingent were up against it from the beginning. Initially the Government wouldn’t allow them to fight at the front line due to the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi preventing them from participating in a European War. Concession was instead made for Māori to provide garrison, engineering and construction duties to support the war effort. However, it wasn’t long before they became the reinforcements as the allies suffered heavy losses.

This is how I found The Last Maopo by Tania Te Rangingangana Simpson. This is the very moving story of Wiremu Maopo and Phoebe Prentice – separated by war and the misguided intentions of her parents; they were destined to live out their lives apart. They were having a secret love affair while living at Taumutu, prior to Wiremu leaving for war, and he sadly would never know that he had fathered a little girl with Phoebe.

Cover of The last Maopo

Phoebe’s parents effectively stole her daughter Marjorie Joyce from her and had her adopted out to a loving family. It would be many years before Phoebe was reunited with her daughter as she never stopped looking for her. The tragedy is that Wiremu never knew he was a father and Phoebe never searched for him either as she was told that he died in the war. Wiremu wrote letters to Phoebe but never heard from her as they were destroyed to sever the connection she had with him, so he assumed that she had lost interest. She married 2 other men in her lifetime but maintained that Wiremu was her one true love.

The Last Maopo is their story – brief as it was. It is the result of 20 years of research by Tania Te Rangingangana Simpson. She pieces together peoples recollections, historical facts and Wiremu’s letters home to long time friend Virgie Fincham, from the more than 3 years he spent on active service. Their friendship and correspondence continued after the war when Wiremu returned to New Zealand to recover from a bad bout of pneumonia. Over the years his once large family had diminished until only Wiremu and his sister remained. Sadly she also died far too early which left him, as far as Wiremu knew, the last of his family line.

This makes it all the more fortuitous that events aligned to once again bring the Maopo family line into being. What an incredible gift to have the letters of our ancestors bring your family’s heritage to life. This is a very poignant book to take on but well worth your time. In addition to the personal story it is wonderful to see the high esteem the Māori Pioneer Battalion were held in for their bravery, work ethic and good natured camaraderie. If you are like me and enjoy reading historical diaries and letters, why don’t you try these:

 

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

y648This doesn’t happen nearly as often as I would like, but I can honestly say that I loved this book! I’ve only ever really thought of Jackie French in terms of children’s and young adult fiction so was pleasantly surprised to see her grown up offering – If Blood Should Stain the Wattle.

Now it is probably the Australian in me, but I especially loved how Jackie uses famous Australian poetry and folklore that brought a ‘familiar’ spark to the story for me.

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle is full of wonderful, well established characters that have appeared in Jackie French’s earlier ‘Matilda’ series. I haven’t read any of these books yet but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this one; instead it made me want to experience them all.

There are fabulous strong female characters who are making their mark in Gibber’s Creek, finding love and setting their sights on conquering the world. Okay, maybe just Australia. Then we have the odd spiritual moment where they converse with ghosts and even manage to peek through time itself. But this is the seventies so the story wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t a hippy commune on the edge of Gibber’s Creek and a ‘cult leader’ who is receiving messages from aliens. Did I mention that this is also the story of the Whitlam government coming to power?

Stop, come back! Don’t be put off by the inclusion of politicians and their shenanigans within the pages. Jackie French has cleverly woven the information into short excerpts from newspaper reports, and by having characters Jed Kelly and Matilda campaigning to support a Labor government. No boring political twaddle in sight; instead we get to experience first hand what it was like when the Whitlam Government came to power in early 1970s Australia and the subsequent historic dismissal of Gough Whitlam by then Governor-General Sir John Kerr.
This book really does have something for everyone and it won’t disappoint.

The Matilda series began as a trilogy, became a quartet. It was meant to be a history of our nation told from one country town, and the viewpoints of those who had no political voice in 1892, when the series begins: women, indigenous people, Chinese, Afghans.
But, by book four, I realised that history didn’t stop just because I was born, and that the series will continue as long as I live.” (Jackie French)

The quartet Jackie French is referring to is now a sextet – and who knows how many more there may be. So if you want to start at the very beginning the titles in order are:

  1. A Waltz for Matilda
  2. The Girl From Snowy River
  3. The Road to Gundagai
  4. To Love a Sunburnt Country
  5. The Ghost by the Billabong
  6. If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

Cover of A waltz for MatildaCover of the girl from Snowy Riverimage_proxy[3]Cover of To love a sunburnt countryCover of The ghost by the billabongCover of If Blood should stain the wattle

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle
by Jackie French
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781460753118

Miss Treadway & the Field of Stars

In the hunt for Iolanthe Green, Anna Treadway takes you through a simpler time in many ways, with a notable absence of all the technology and urgency that dominates our existence today. This is what I found quite charming about the book – stepping into a time where you seemed to survive on tea and toast, your entire wardrobe could fit in one bag, you walked to get from A to B and you felt wicked if you stayed on the bus beyond the stop that you had paid up to.

I definitely had preconceptions before reading Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars – as we all do when we read the blurb on a book. I was expecting a really gripping mystery that would take me behind the scenes of the theatre district – so that I could literally peek behind the curtain of a world that I’ve never seen. This didn’t quite transpire, but I wasn’t disappointed because instead I was taken on a tour of 1960s Soho. But even this was secondary to witnessing some of the less pleasant aspects of life and relationships in this time.

Miranda Emmerson does a great job of highlighting the multitude of social issues that reigned during the mid 1960s. The story winds its way through racism, social hierarchy, police brutality, unplanned pregnancies – a time with some very big restrictions on personal freedom as abortions and gay relationships would both still be illegal for a couple of years. My overactive sense of fairness left me continuing to hope that the characters Anna and Aloysius would stand up and rebel against their treatment and segregation – and in small ways they did – but ultimately they were somewhat resigned to their place in the world. Ahh the frustration!!

Now this kind of book isn’t normally my cup of tea as I prefer to escape from the ugliness of our world when I read – or at least know the characters will have a win somewhere in the mix; but I still found it quietly entertaining and feeling very grateful for the rights that I was born in to!

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Miss Treadway and the field of stars
by Miranda Emmerson
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008170578

Spontaneous!

CoverAs touted on the cover of Spontaneous, this is “A novel about growing up… and blowing up” – and it didn’t disappoint.  I love a good YA read and this one caught my attention from the outset as I pondered the outrageous thought of teenagers spontaneously blowing up in front of their classmates.

Initially I felt a bit like I was peeking into a world that wasn’t my own. It was something akin to looking at my daughter’s Facebook or Twitter account and reading things I either didn’t know – or didn’t want to know – about her life. So I take my hat off to Aaron Starmer for realistically getting inside a teenage girl’s head. I might also add that at this point I am fervently hoping that my 15 going on 16 year old daughter’s life bears little resemblance to Mara’s. Hey! – I can live in my happy naïve little world – it’s fun here!

Thankfully this feeling didn’t last and I was pulled in by my need to know ‘why’. Now I won’t say that why kids were blowing up was answered to my satisfaction as the ‘why’ became more of a side story to the ‘how we live with this and don’t let it define us’ one.

Spontaneous takes the reader on a quite personal journey with Mara Carlyle as her classmates start blowing up randomly and her life changes as they all become the centre of much speculation and trepidation from the community and country at large. But what happens when this anomaly doesn’t differentiate between friend or enemy? And how do you stay sane when you don’t know who is going to be next or if you will have to suffer the horror of witnessing yet another classmate spontaneously exploding? This is the challenge that Mara and her graduating class have to work through while trying to hang on to even the smallest amount of normality to keep them grounded.

Now despite the obvious serious aspect of Spontaneous, it is written in quite a light-hearted way. My favourite bit of levity would have to be the ‘hang in there, we’re with you’ pep talk from the President of the United States – I’m still chuckling just thinking about it, so watch out for this one!

I did end up quite enjoying this book but I also think that any teenager will find it infinitely more relateable than I did. There’s plenty of swearing, raging hormones and a distinct lack of need for adult supervision. A teenager’s dream come true, really.

Spontaneous
by Aaron Starmer
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781460753149

Remembering Richard Pearse 1877 to 1953

My name is Richard William Pearse and today it will be 63 years since my death. You know me because I was one of the first people in the world to fly a powered aircraft. Some of you even believe that my flight preceded that of the Wright Brothers and you would be right, it did by several months.

Richard Pearse 80 cent stamp
Richard Pearse stamp, 1990. Image used by permission of New Zealand Post.

But many years ago I conceded quite publicly that by my own rigorous standards I hadn’t achieved controlled and sustained flight. It was quite a ride though when I did achieve take off and stayed in the air for over a hundred metres before ‘landing’ atop the large gorse hedge that bordered my property in Waitohi. My collarbone and I fared about as well as my plane did when I hit the hedge and we were both the worse for wear afterwards.

So while I could obviously get my plane in the air I needed to set about solving the problem of aerial navigation. Despite my work, this is where my well funded counterparts in the Northern Hemisphere had the advantage until finally as I wrote in the Evening Star on 10th May 1915;

…as aerial navigation was already an accomplished fact, I decided to give up the struggle, as it was useless to continue against men who had factories at their backs.

But other events would also define my life. In 1910 I became very ill with typhoid and spent three months in bed and a further six months convalescing. It was with particular significance that only a couple of years later Wilbur Wright died from the same illness. I moved to Milton, Otago not long afterwards to farm sheep and took my designs and aircraft with me but the landscape was unsuitable for trial flights. I put my efforts into inventing farm machinery instead.

Richard Pearse Patent Drawing1906
Richard Pearse’s Fantastic Flying Machine, drawing from Richard Pearse’s patent, July 1906 [patent number #21476], Archives New Zealand (CC BY-SA 2.0)
In 1917 I was conscripted into the army and was placed with the Otago Infantry Regiment. I am 40 years old and despite enjoying walking the hills around my home and playing golf and tennis; I am unprepared for the toll army training will take on me. It soon became apparent that the typhoid had left its mark and I was eventually found to be physically unfit for further military service and discharged. I was home by the end of 1918.

By 1921 wool prices were plummeting so I decided it was time to sell up and I relocated to Christchurch. Here I eventually purchased three houses, two of which I rented out and lived off the proceeds so that I could continue my work. I dreamed of a plane in every home, but this was not to be. As time passed and my work continued to reside in relative obscurity; I became unwell and lived out my years at Sunnyside Hospital. I died here on 29th July, 1953.

But in a strange twist of fate my work lives on and is celebrated today. The recognition that eluded me in my lifetime has been heaped upon me in death. My utility plane and my years of research were discovered at my Christchurch home and a dump in Waitohi with thanks largely to my champion George Bolt. A replica of my plane was constructed in the mid 1970s, it toured the country and is now on display at Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology. They even tested it in a wind tunnel to see if it would fly. Unsurprisingly, it did.

Richard Pearse's Aeroplane No. 1 replica, MOTAT, Auckland, New Zealand, 5 April 2010 photo by Phillip Capper
Richard Pearse’s Aeroplane No. 1 replica, MOTAT, Auckland, New Zealand, 5 April 2010 photo by Phillip Capper (CC BY 2.0)

More information on Richard Pearse

Christchurch’s first Mayor – William ‘Cabbage’ Wilson

On the 10th June 2016 it will be 148 years since eight councillors unanimously elected the first Mayor of Christchurch. There have been 46 Christchurch mayors, but William ‘Cabbage’ Wilson was our first.

Photograph of a painting of William Barbour Wilson, first Mayor of Christchurch. Ref: PAColl-D-0542. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22726768
Photograph of a painting of William Barbour Wilson, first Mayor of Christchurch. Ref: PAColl-D-0542. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22726768

‘Oh dear’, I hear you say; what an unfortunate nickname to be saddled with. I couldn’t agree more. Now before your imagination takes flight…  the nickname was earned because of a hat made of cabbage tree leaves that he wore. It also served to differentiate him from two other prominent Christchurch William Wilsons – ‘Nabob’ and ‘Parson’.

But I digress. William Wilson had far more to be remembered for than just an unusual nickname, hats made of leaves and what was apparently a fabulous combover. He was a very prominent nurseryman and landowner in the central city as well as being quite active in the community and local politics;  which led to him being elected as Christchurch’s first Mayor.

However the higher you rise the further you have to fall. And this is what happened in spectacular style to William Wilson. It all began with his fraud conviction from the sneaky use of land that he was trustee for.  Hot on the heels of this scandal, his wife came forward to seek protection from his abuse as she feared for her life. Apparently he didn’t feel that he was in enough hot water so he tried to break into her house for which he was arrested.  His fall from grace was complete.

However, in an odd twist he did manage to get re-elected to council 10 years after his stint as Mayor and this caused an uproar among 5 of the sitting councillors who resigned in protest. Well, that won’t make you popular among your peers, will it? Big news at the time and thankfully he managed to perform his duties without further scandal; but his time in the world of politics was drawing to a close.

He did manage to claw back some respectability though for his ability to grow prize worthy vegetables of substantial size. Try to imagine a cauliflower that was over 3 feet in circumference and weighed 11 pounds! That’s nearly 5 kg of cauliflower – pass me the cheese sauce!

So with such a legacy to be remembered for, its little wonder that we don’t exactly celebrate the man and his achievements. Maybe it’s also a great shame that his bad behaviour has so overshadowed the good work that he achieved in his lifetime. Fortunately, we do still have daily reminders of what he did contribute to our city – even if we are unaware of it. Next time you are driving down Wilson’s Road past AMI Stadium spare a thought for our first Mayor as the street you are driving on was named for him. When you next admire the lovely old trees that grace the centre islands of Fitzgerald or Bealey Avenues or maybe the trees on the banks of the Avon River, don’t forget that William Wilson was Subcommittee Chairman for the landscaping of these areas. Finally, something beautiful and lasting to be remembered for.

More about William Wilson

Now that your interest is piqued about Christchurch mayors, see what some of them got up to in their lives:

Social media 1860s style – The logbooks of Joseph Munnings

You might have heard of people who keep a diary of their daily lives, recording their thoughts and special occasions. Some of us still do, and have little interest in using social media to share our most intimate thoughts and what we had for dinner with friends, workmates, friends of a friends, and that random stranger who you talked to once and ‘friended’.

I’m fairly certain that when Joseph Munnings wrote an account of his daily life he couldn’t foresee that it would be available for public scrutiny 150 years later – or that it would be of interest to anyone else. But it is. We are very fortunate to have the digitised copies of his ‘Log Books’ that date from May 1862 to November 1866 available for us to have a sneak peek into his world.

Diary, May 1862 to May 1864, Joseph Munnings. ANZC Archives. CCL-Arch971-01-002
Diary, May 1862 to May 1864, Joseph Munnings. ANZC Archives. CCL-Arch971-01-002

Joseph’s Log Books served to answer some questions that I didn’t know that I had. Like how did people of the time spend Christmas and New Years? Strangely he didn’t mention that he liked one particular gift over another and there were no plans to return unwanted pressies on Boxing Day! Maybe it was because he had to work – his shop was open six days a week and he was busy on Sunday teaching Sunday School before he went to evening services. He did however mention that he spent Christmas day with the Harringtons and some time at the Lunatic Asylum and there was preaching involved – his words not mine! Okay so that poses more questions than it answers.

I particularly enjoyed his account of the post-Christmas 1865 Bazaar that he both worked at and patronised in a paddock at Governors Bay. There was casual mention of his soon-to-be-betrothed being in attendance and a marquee was erected to house the food, refreshments and Christmas tree. Some 400 people were brought out to the event via Cobb and Co. coach or cart as well as numerous trips from Lyttelton by the steamer Betsy Douglas. They ate well – fowls, ducks, pigeon pie, ham, beef, mutton, lamb and spiced beef. Well, that kept all the carnivores happy but they also had salads, cucumbers, cakes, fruits of all kinds – and it was all washed down with ginger beer, lemonade, tea or coffee. “Sixpence if you please” for your cup of tea. Sounds divine – I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Amusements were provided, balloons sent up, quoits were played and “kissing in the ring – a favourite with the young”. No doubt!

My romantic side has read between the lines on this occasion and decided that as his ‘beloved’ was also in attendance. I think it’s possible he proposed marriage to her as he was asking for her father’s consent to marry her by the 4th of January 1866. Next question: A Saturday wedding in spring with a honeymoon to Kaikoura or Akaroa? Time to put aside such romantic notions … how about a midweek ceremony in late July instead – and they were by all accounts still entertaining guests past midnight. Well, at least there was the honeymoon to look forward to … except Joseph was back working in his shop by Friday. However, I think we can rest assured that there was romance between them because his wife featured quite regularly in his log and they had 11 children over the years.

Maybe this is where we get the impression that they lived a simpler life back then. Joseph was simply grateful to have made it to the year’s conclusion and then wondered if he would see the new year through to its end. A noble aspiration methinks.

You can read more about Joseph in the The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District] available on NZETC.

Joseph Munnings
Joseph Munnings The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District], NZETC
So, if you’re like me and would prefer to read about historical life events rather than how someone else had a better weekend than you, then make sure you have a look at:

For those of us that like pictures because it makes it brings it alive on a different level – Geoffrey W. Rice has some amazing books to take a look at.