Far From You: Wartime Thoughts of Home

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As the commemoration of the centennial of the First World War spans a number of years, museums try to look at the conflict in new ways, telling new stories or looking at the period from a different perspective. This year Ashburton Museum is looking at the ways in which friends and family, though divided by distance, kept in touch and endeavoured to remain connected.

In a time before email and internet communication, wartime thoughts of home travelled by sea to and from loved ones stationed in distant places. The title of an exhibition in 2017, Far From You, was taken from a postcard in the museum collection: it portrays the sentiment of the time well.

5. Knitted items and a hussif as were sent to Ashburton soldiers

To those who served

One part of the exhibition looked at the types of objects that people may have sent to their loved one overseas. It includes somewhat mundane – but much appreciated – items, such as Oxo cubes, pencils, tins of tobacco and writing paper. Other items sent were homemade, such as ‘hussifs’ (or housewives) which were largely a small sewing kit with other useful bits and pieces thrown in, and baking – such as fruit cakes and the famous ANZAC biscuit.

People within families or groups, such as Red Cross, church groups and even schools, spent many hours knitting garments to kept soldiers warm.

Gloves, socks and scarves were popular and quick to make, as were balaclavas (an item ‘invented’ during the earlier Crimean war). Visitors to the museum can emulate this activity by adding a row or two to our knitted scarf which is growing rapidly.

Items sent to the front were vast in number. Millions of parcels were sent overseas in wartime, to offer comfort, sustenance and a taste of home for those far away. However, tokens of affection did not flow one way, as many items were also sent home.

4. Items sent back from the front by Ashburton soldiers.

From the front to home

For many soldiers this would be their only opportunity to travel. Enlisting gave many men, and a few women, their first taste of new cultures, new sights and sounds, and the opportunity to view renowned landmarks.

For the first time they might visit the sphinx and the pyramids, see camels in the desert, experience European cities, and buy exotic goods on display.

During their time off, soldiers had money to spend and many enjoyed being tourists. New Zealanders were renowned for their purchases. The museum has a few of these items on display – such as embroidered cushion covers (often personalised by local seamstresses), handkerchiefs and postcards.

6. Games, notebooks, pencils and cards useful at the front for soldiers.

Poignant reminders

Other items in the exhibition included two small calico bags into which the total contents of a soldiers personal effects, such as a photos, cards, shaving or hairbrush, a small bible, letters or identity tags were sent home. They are a poignant reminder that not everyone returned home.

Less sombre items were items were made from materials from the war. Of particular interest are garments associated with World War Two. One is a wedding dress and christening gown constructed from a parachute ‘left over’ from a soldiers time in Bougainville, and a ‘going away’ dress made from material purchased by a soldier in Cairo.

Images to remember by

Ashburton Museum also commemorated the centennial aspect of ANZAC by copying 100 images of men and women, who served overseas. Mainly from World War One, but with a few from earlier conflicts.

Most of these named service people had a brief biography accompanying their image. There are also a number of unnamed images, or photographs which have only a very little information. It is our hope that these soldiers will be identified too. Members of the public are invited to view these ‘unknown soldiers’ and identify them. We also are inviting people to bring in images they may have of service personnel (in or out of uniform), from all service by Ashburtonians, for us to copy and add to our collection.

The exhibition, Far from You, was accompanied by activities such as poppy making, postcard design, and a trail that encouraged children to locate items that a First World War soldier may have packed in his kit bag. It’s a great way to help bring those brave men and women closer. Lest We Forget.

By Tanya Zoe Robinson

Captions:

    1. A group of Ashburton High School Old Boys in Egypt, individual names not known.
    2. One of two photos one of which is of Arthur Cambridge.
    3. One of two photos one of which is of Arthur Cambridge.
    4. Items sent back from the front by Ashburton soldiers.
    5. Knitted items and a hussif as were sent to Ashburton soldiers.

 

 

 

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