I was wandering past our property managers office on Friday and the guys were looking through a pile of old newspapers that our property manager had found in a house he bought many years ago and had had in storage. The first paper on top caught my eye, dated 25 October 1916 so I stopped and had a closer look.
The newspaper, the Otago Witness, had page after page of photos of soldiers who had been killed or wounded in France. On Oct 4th 1916 the NZ division joined the battle of Passchendaele and the 12th of October is the NZ army’s worst day in history with 3700 casualties including 800 dead. Given the delay in getting info back home in the early 20th Century no doubt the casualty lists published in newspapers, such as the Otago witness, up and down the country were the first inkling for families at home of the big offensive. Can you imagine opening the paper each morning to scan the lists of pictures to see if your brother, uncle, father, son or a family friend or relative, was one of those who had been killed or wounded. It must have been hell for those at home as well as those serving overseas. To put it in context, NZ lost 5 soldiers in 10 years in Afghanistan. These young faces say it all really.
NZ had a proud military history in World War One. With a population of only 1 million more than 100,000 men and women (including both my grandfathers) served, and 40,000 were killed or wounded. These images, change that from mere stats to actual people with lives, families, hopes and dreams.
The second paper, dated 4th November had even more pictues of the wounded and fallen but what struck me from the newspapers, which are almost 100 years old, was the juxtaposition between the pages of casualty figures and images of a local horse racing and other local events- life going on as normal.
There were plenty more issues from WWI and I was very tempted to ask to borrow them and photograph them all but I suggested that the papers be taken to the local museum which I know is putting together displays for the commemoration of WWI. However, images like these should be published and put online so that we can all access our social history and not be hidden away in a vault somewhere.