One hundred years on from the outbreak of war

For the past few months interest in the centenary of the outbreak of World War One has been growing. This major anniversary is now upon us and over the next four or so years we have the opportunity to reflect on and discover all aspects of this global conflict at a local, national and international level.

A month after the assassination on 28th June 1914 of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Over the next few days other countries and empires declared war on each other, with Britain declaring war on Germany on 4th August. This news was received in New Zealand on 5th August. Many New Zealanders had close ties to Britain and there was strong support for the war. The conflict we now call World War One or the First World War had begun.

Cover of From the TrenchesBefore the month of August was out the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) sent to capture German Samoa had succeeded in their objective – this was the second Germany territory to fall to the Allies in the war. The main body of the NZEF set sail in October 1914, seeing service at Gallipoli, on the Western Front in France and Belgium and also in Egypt and Palestine.

In Canterbury on 12th August 1914 men started to report to the mobilisation camp at the Addington Showgrounds to establish a mounted rifle brigade. Many had brought their own horses and where suitable these animals were taken into service by the government and then re-issued for use to their former owners. Many more reported than were taken into the regiment and the medical test was a significant reason for large numbers to be turned away.

The regiment was equipped and trained at Addington and Sockburn until 23 September 1914. In the early hours of the morning the Canterbury Mounted Rifles left the mobilisation camp for the last time and rode to Lyttelton. Their route took them across the Avon where they watered their horses, on over the Heathcote Bridge, Ferry Road and through Sumner to the transport ships. They were taken first to Wellington and in October that year they sailed for Egypt via Australia and Sri Lanka.

Want to know more about the outbreak of war or about how to research those who took part?

Want to find out about projects to commemorate the war?

D-Day plus 70 years

Cover of D-DayFriday 6th June is the 70th anniversary of D-Day (aka Operation Overlord), the day which began the Allied invasion of German occupied north-west Europe. D-Day took place in Normandy, Northern France. This huge amphibious landing ultimately helped – in conjunction with Russian progress on the Eastern Front – to bring about the end of the Second World War.

The five landing beaches were given memorable names – Utah and Omaha for the Americans, Juno for the Canadians, and Gold and Sword for the British. At the end of the day these beaches and surrounding liberated land formed a vital toehold on Fortress Europe.

Whilst no New Zealand ground forces were involved with the landing, there were many New Zealanders in action on D-Day serving with the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Merchant Navy and the following Battle of Normandy.

Remembering Monte Cassino

This last weekend has seen commemorations taking place for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Monte Cassino. Cassino was a major Second World War battle and the 2nd New Zealand Division was heavily involved.

Following the end of the North African campaign in 1943, the 8th Army (which the New Zealanders were part of) fought their way up up Italy. The Italians had surrendered in September 1943, but their former ally Germany subsequently occupied the peninsula. Liberating Italy developed into a long hard campaign, with Cassino being one of the toughest battles. New Zealand casualties from the Battle of Monte Cassino were 343 killed and over 600 wounded.

Christchurch revealed

This week is the last week to catch Underground Overground Archaeology’s exhibition of finds at the South Library. The display is a great way to come face to face with recently rediscovered everyday objects from Christchurch’s past. If you can’t make it along to the library you can also check out Underground Overground’s blog of the work they have been doing digging into numerous demolition sites all over the city.

Together with the fascinating website High Street Stories this blog started me thinking about how much of the intimate history of Christchurch has been revealed since the earthquakes – those fragments that otherwise would have remained lost or stories recorded that might not have been under different circumstances.

As you might imagine, High Street stories is all about the history of this fascinating street, with stories told in video, audio, text and images. You can find out about Ngāi Tahu’s relationship with Ōtākaro (Avon River), the history of the Odeon Theatre and the regeneration of Lichfield Lanes amongst many others. I am not from Christchurch but it is from projects like this that you can get a real sense of how an area has developed and get an impression of what the atmosphere might have been like in the past.

Delving back into Underground Overground’s blog you can find out how archaeological discoveries have been researched and read the stories associated with them that have now come to light. So many of the artefacts that have been discovered seem mundane (lots of bottles!), but when investigated they highlight Christchurch history in a very real and immediate way. For example find out about beer bottles, burlesque houses and the everyday life of early residents.

The physical landscape of Christchurch has totally changed since the earthquakes, but thanks to projects like these – and others – its history and heritage will not be forgotten.

Have any of you used these websites, or any like them, already?

2014 – a year of many anniversaries

Cover of The Battle of Monte CassinoWhile the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War in August 2014 is set to be one of 2014’s big stories, there are a number of other significant military anniversaries coming up this year. Please note that the listing in this blog is not remotely comprehensive – do feel free to post comments about any military anniversaries I haven’t mentioned.

September will see the 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, this year providing a stark reminder that that this war broke out only 25 years after WW1.

6th June is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, the allied invasion of north-west Europe. While no New Zealand units landed on D-Day, some New Zealand squadrons in the Royal Air Force took part in aerial support and two New Zealand Merchant Navy vessels ferried personnel and equipment across the English Channel.

September sees the 70th anniversary of the disastrous airborne landings at Arnhem.

It is also 70 years since the battles of Kohima and Imphal, two crucial engagements in the Far East campaign.
New Zealand troops were heavily involved in fighting at Monte Cassino in Italy in the first half of 1944.

Going back 150 years, in April 1864, as part of ongoing the New Zealand Wars,  a humiliating defeat was inflicted on the British at Gate Pā by Ngāi Te Rangi.

Cover of WellingtonLooking back further 2014 is 200 years since the end of the Peninsular War (1807-1814). This phase of the Napoleonic Wars saw Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, leading the campaign to chase the French out of Portugal and Spain. The Peninsula War was memorably brought to life in Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, later turned into a television show starring Sean Bean. Following the end of the war Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba. However, the next year he escaped, retook France and lost the Battle of Waterloo – which is going to be the big anniversary for 18 June 2015.

Even further back in 1714 the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) finally came to an end. Most famous for the Battle of Blenheim (1704) and the generalship of the Duke of Marlborough (of the same family as Winston Churchill and Diana, Princess of Wales) this war saw much of Europe at odds with France over who should succeed to the throne of Spain.

What other anniversaries are happening in 2014?

Making a splash

Cover of Stroke of luckEach time I go swimming at Dudley Park in Rangiora I pass a t-shirt signed by multiple gold medal winning Paralympic swimmer Sophie Pascoe. Not surprisingly I find this very inspiring. Therefore as soon as I heard she had an autobiography coming out I put myself on the hold list. The book arrived for me last week and it proved to be a fascinating read.

I read quite a few sports autobiographies and sometimes find they don’t go into as much detail in some areas as you might like. This is not the case with Sophie – her book is refreshingly open, honest and full of personality.

Although only 20 years old Sophie –  from Halswell – has crammed a lot into her life. In the first chapter, her father Garry talks candidly and movingly about the horrific lawnmower accident which led to her lower left leg being amputated. Becoming an elite athlete while still at school presented unique challenges and opportunities – including opening a building at her school named in her honour while still a student there. In particular, I found it really interesting to read about the dedication and sacrifices needed to compete at the top level, as well as the will to win and the frustration of coming second. Her hope for the future are also discussed.

Who would like this book? Anyone! Whether you are interested in sport, Cantabrians, biography, those overcoming adversity, interesting personalities or simply curious this is a worthwhile read.

If you are interested in any aspect of swimming have a look at our swimming resources page.

Who inspires you? Have you read any memorable biographies or autobiographies this year?

Hurrah for volunteers!

Today is International Volunteer Day, which is an annual event dedicated to celebrating and recognising all types of volunteers around the world.

Volunteering is a wonderful way to experience new challenges, develop new skills and get involved in the community. Our web page provides all sorts of information about volunteering in and around Christchurch.

Volunteering in Canterbury came into the spotlight after the earthquakes when organisations such as the Student Volunteer Army, the Farmy Army and many others were involved in the massive clean-up effort. These contributions really showed how much can be achieved when people come together with a common purpose to benefit the community.

The volunteering spirit has endured post-quakes with initiatives like Greening the Rubble and Gap Filler, amongst others, actively using volunteers in the quest to fill empty sites before permanent redevelopment.

My own experiences of volunteering helped me to discover if the career path I wanted to go down was right for me. I wanted to get into the museum sector and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to help out at my local museum. I was able to find out about this type of job in a very hands on way and meet people who could tell me more. This experience initially led to a part time job and helped me get onto a Museum Studies course.

So, whether you have a little time or a lot of time have think about volunteering as you never know where it will lead you – and if you know a volunteer say a big thank you to them today.

Feeling reconnected with heritage

Logo of Reconnect Heritage EventsLast week I attended the Heritage Forum which was one of the events kicking off the Reconnect Heritage events weekend. There were a number of presentation that brought us up to date with heritage buildings and projects in Christchurch and Waimakariri.

Attendees found out about the progress of the digital earthquake archive Ceismic. This is a great source for anyone looking for first-hand earthquake stories, images and recollections in a variety of formats and from many sources, including Christchurch City Libraries. One (of many) collection of note is the digitised copies of The Press from September 2010 to February 2011 inclusive, plus 14 June 2011 and 22 February 2012.

It was great to hear how work is progressing on the Arts Centre. The project to restore the complex is going very well – keep up to date on their Tumblr page. I was fascinated to hear Brendan and Victoria’s presentation about the restoration of their heritage home in Lyttelton. They had just finished restoring their house when the first earthquake struck and following February and June had to go through the whole process again with additional bureaucracy.

View of ChristChurch CathedralChristchurch now has a unique opportunity to explore its archaeology and Underground Overground Archaeology are making the most of this. Fascinating tales revealed from clues left behind by Christchurch residents can be found on their blog – find out about hotels, life for children and the Canterbury Club, as well as many more. Quake City is Canterbury Museum‘s earthquake attraction, telling the story of the quakes through objects including the cross from the top of the cathedral spire and the Godley statue.

Next we heard about the status of some heritage buildings in the Waimakariri district. Focusing on Kaiapoi and Rangiora, we heard how many heritage buildings have been lost, such as Blackwells and the Rangiora Masonic Lodge, or are likely to go, such as Kaiapoi’s Bank of New Zealand. However, Waimakariri District Council’s Landmarks scheme is being developed to research and celebrate surviving and lost heritage buildings.

Lyttelton MuseumAfter their building was severely damaged in the February earthquake Lyttelton Museum had to salvage their entire collection, in collaboration with the Lyttelton Volunteer Fire Brigade and the Air Force Museum of NZ. This collection, and many others made homeless by the earthquakes, is now being taken care of at the Canterbury Cultural Collections Recovery Centre based at the Air Force Museum.

I had to leave before I could hear the presentation about post-quake Akaroa, but I really enjoyed hearing about what is being done to preserve the region’s built heritage, remember the earthquakes and uncover more about Christchurch’s past.

Confessions of an Oxford Dictionary of National Biography addict

I’m a huge fan of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB). It is a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to know about the lives of well-known and not so well-known historic British and British-related figures and can be accessed via the Source either in our libraries or from home with your library card number and pin.

I first encountered the DNB when working at the National Army Museum in 2004 when the newly revised printed edition was published and I catalogued all 60 volumes. (The original Victorian edition was edited by Virginia Woolf‘s father, Sir Leslie Stephen.) The print volumes were beautifully produced, wonderful to flick through, took up a lot of shelf space – and came with a free one year subscription to the online version, which was fantastic to explore.

The DNB truly comes alive online (which is slightly ironic as you have to dead to be considered for inclusion) – there are updates every few months, links to related people of interest, theme pages and lists, and a Lives of the Week feature which highlights a different life every day – these can even be sent direct to your inbox. This last week we’ve had the chance to discover botanist and geologist Sir Albert Seward, shorthand specialist Marie Beauclerc and Polish Battle of Britain pilot Josef František amongst others. I wonder who’s going to be there when you’re reading this?

This is the place to find out about the mysterious Spring-Heeled Jackclaimants to the English and Scottish thronesJohn Lennon (and John Lennon), Presidents of the Royal SocietyMary SeacoleHDangry young men and merry men, and many, many more. Indeed, this blog is taking a while to write as I keep getting sidetracked.

Looking at this resource from a New Zealand angle, many governors, governors-general, premiers and prime ministers are included and can be found on this list, the Canterbury Association has its own theme page, and a simple full text search on ‘New Zealand’ brings up plenty of hits.

New Zealand’s own Dictionary of Biography is part of the Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Who have you discovered? Do you have an online resource you keep returning to?

Making the most of the New Zealand International Film Festival

The Christchurch leg of the New Zealand International Film Festival has just recently finished. While I may be a little late with this blog there are ways to keep engaging with festival entrants. I am certainly going to be keeping my eyes peeled to see if some of the films I missed get a general release, are purchased for the library’s DVD collection or come to Alice in Videoland. The programme  is currently still available online, and the festival is still going on in other parts of the country.

A number of festival films were adapted from books –  this listing is a very handy resource if you want to find details of the books they were based on. For further inspiration, the library website has a list of upcoming film and TV adaptations  and a huge list of books that have previously been filmed.

Cover of What Maisie KnewSlightly overwhelmed by choice I ended up going to two films right at the end of the festival. I had been rather put off Henry James by the 1997 version of The Wings of the Dove, but the combination of Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan and Alexander Skarsgård tempted me along to What Maisie Knew.

This was a well crafted film, directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, about a young girl, Maisie, caught in the middle of her parents’ bitter split. The film is quite literally told from Maisie’s point of view (a wonderful performance from Onata Aprile) with the adults in her life appearing and disappearing, and by turn loving her, abandoning her and using her as a bargaining tool.

Cover of Much Ado about NothingI was also part of a large audience who appeared to thoroughly enjoy Joss Whedon’s elegant take on Much Ado About Nothing. Featuring Whedon regulars Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof as Beatrice and Benedick and filmed in atmospheric black and white, it was shot in 12 days at Whedon’s own Santa Monica house.

This was a confident, hilarious and slightly sozzled modern dress version of Shakespeare’s popular romantic, but slightly sinister, comedy (Shakespeare must have invented the rom-com, right?). Also appearing were Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk as incompetent crime fighters Dogberry and Verges.

What did you see at the film festival? What do you hope to catch up with at a later date? What films (or TV shows) have inspired you to read the book?