24 May 2015

Waihi’s Little WWI Mysteries

From Spectrum, 12:15 pm on 24 May 2015

Waihi Museum and gang.
Waihi Museum and gang.

“I like doing sleuthing” Harriet Taylor Waihi Museum.

Two little World War One mysteries for the little town of Waihi; it’s all about two rolls of honour created for the men and youths from the town who went to fight in the First World War. One’s been handed in to the local museum, and  the museum is now on a hunt for a second.The thing is, until recently, no one realised they were even missing.

Waihi Museum poster.

Waihi Museum poster. Photo: Waihi Museum

The Waihi Museum  says the board it’s been given, used to hang in the town’s Methodist church. It hadn’t been seen since the church closed in the early 1990’s, until it was recently spotted in a store room at the Waihi Beach RSA.

The word is that it had been found at a tip and then restored by person or persons unknown… but it’s all a bit foggy really.

The museum’s also trying to track down an honours board that used to hang in the town’s King’s Theatre.Museum researcher Harriet Taylor came across articles about the second board while she was trying to find out more about the Methodist Church board.

Newspapers of the time say the King’s Theatre board listed former pupils from the Waihi District High School who enlisted to fight. That’s now nowhere to found and nobody seems to know anything about it.

Harriet says there’s also confusion about when the Methodist church board was first unveiled. Church records indicate 1916 but one newspaper article records the opening as 1919.

Waihi Museum Battle of Jutland landing at Anzac Cove and signature of artist
Details of Honours Board; Waihi Museum Battle of Jutland landing at Anzac Cove and signature of artist.

Extract from J B Beeche’s book.‘More Precious than Gold’ the history of the Methodist Church in Waihi.

“… Throughout the First World War the congregation, and more especially the ladies, contributed to the civic war effort; several young men served overseas; and the trustees provided an artistic Roll of Honour which was unveiled as early as April, 1916."

But a New Zealand Herald article dated 3 June 1919 says

"...When the Roll of Honour was unveiled an impressive service was held at the Methodist Church on Sunday, the ceremony being performed by the Rev S Henderson. After the sermon, 'The Last Post' was sounded, and the hymn, 'Abide with Me', was sung."

Berys Daly from the Museum says the hand painted board could actually have been added to, which could explain the differing dates. Berys says the board is beautifully painted with a detailed scene of fighting at “Gaba Tepe” (aka Anzac Cove, Gallipoli) in 1915, and another of the Battle of Jutland in 1916.The artist has signed it “B J Radford 1919”.

Waihi Museum staff and the two RSA blokes in front of the Roll of Honour.

Left; Berys Daly,Harriet Taylor, Bronwyn Spurr. Right; Maurice Roycroft and Bill Kane in front of the Roll of Honour. Photo: RNZ / David Steemson

Meanwhile a Herald article from 1916, describes the missing King’s Theatre honours board as;

“…an artistic piece of work, plainly yet richly framed. An appropriate design shows the figures of Britannia standing in the upper right hand corner, sounding a clarion call to arms across the globe of New Zealand, represented in the lower left-hand corner by a sturdy young colonial in football costume”.

The old King’s Theatre building is now a charity shop and Harriet  says  one local who  used to be based there  reckons he’s crawled all over the  building, and there’s no sign of  the missing board.

100-thousand New Zealanders enlisted in the First World War, out of the population of just over a million at the time. About seventeen thousand of them were killed. Forty one-thousand were wounded, and further one thousand of them perished within five years. Waihi Museum has a register of one hundred and eighteen local men who died.

The Museum’s Harriet Taylor says she’s now on the prowl for more information about the two honours boards.  She has a long term plan to research the life stories of all those, whose names appear on them.Seems like her sleuthing talents will be put to good use!