Wellingtonian preserves messages from the trenches

Wellington man Glenn Reddiex with his postcard collection. He has released a book of postcards from World War I.

Wellington man Glenn Reddiex with his postcard collection. He has released a book of postcards from World War I.

When Glenn Reddiex came across a postcard of a great-great uncle while researching his family history, it sparked his interest in piecing together history through postcards.

Reddiex, a sales and services manager at Wellington Zoo, has since built a collection of more than 4000 postcards, most of which are from World War I.

His fascination with postcards started with one written by his great-great uncle, Private George Douglas Fox, who was wounded in the chest and sent to hospital in Egypt.

supplied/Glenn Reddiex supplied/Glenn Reddiex supplied/Glenn Reddiex supplied/Glenn Reddiex

A photographic postcard of a large calico recruitment banner with a portrait of Lord Kitchener with one of his rousing patriotic speeches. This banner hung from the Bank of New Zealand building at the intersection of Lambton Quay and Willis Street in Wellington during October 1915.

A handwritten message on a Wellington College picture postcard postmarked in 1918. This is addressed to one of Wellington College's Old Boys, Corporal Robert H.O Caldwell of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. The College had over 1,600 Old Boys on active service during the war and sadly 222 of them were either killed or reported missing in action. The postcard's message is thought to be written by College Headmaster J.P. Firth.

A portrait postcard of Private George Douglas Fox of Wellington Infantry Regiment taken at Lyceum Studio in London while on leave from the front line trenches. George, who recovered from a chest wound at Gallipoli, never returned to his home in Waipukurau. He was killed in action at Messines in Belgium on 8 June 1917, age 29.

A patriotic colour silk postcard embroidered and sold by French women to soldiers during hard economic times caused by the First World War. This postcard was written by a New Zealand soldier to his cousin Lily while recuperating in a military hospital at Codford in England in February 1917.

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After he recovered he discovered his younger brother had been killed on the Somme. Despite that, the messages he sent home indicated he remained in high spirits.

His message was simple: "Somewhere in the trenches, to Aunty Anne, from George with best wishes."

Reddiex said the postcard was the catalyst for everything he has done since.

Sadly, Fox was killed in Belgium on June 8, 1917 and his body was never found.

Reddiex has recently released Just to let you know I'm still alive, which showcases World War I postcards from his collection.

The title is a nod to a line many soldiers used when writing to their loved ones.

"Ironically and tragically they were often the last written words made by these New Zealand soldiers," Reddiex said.

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The first draft of the book was 800 pages and Reddiex was faced with the difficult task of pruning the postcards down to a manageable 400.

They range in style from official field postcards with no pictures and a pre-printed message to intricate embroidered postcards produced by women in Belgium.

Reddiex likes to think of postcards as the email of the day.

"To get a handwritten message on the back of a card from a frontline trench delivered into someone's mailbox in New Zealand was a huge deal for families of the time."

Messages on postcards could provide clues about who wrote the postcard and who they sent it to, he said.

"Not all messages are that revealing, but some provide dates and the ships they were on and the mates they were with.

"They start to give you more leads into the research you can do."

He bought a postcard for $5 in Tinakori Rd sent by Private Nathaniel Johnston Gatley.

Because the message included his service number, Reddiex was able to trace Gatley to a tragic accident at a small railway station at Bere Ferrers in Devon.

Gatley, a horse trainer from Riverton, was one of the New Zealand soldiers who mistakenly climbed down from their carriage on the wrong side and were hit by an oncoming express train.

As well as postcards from World War I, Reddiex also collects Wellington Zoo postcards, and postcards featuring the HMS New Zealand.

 - The Wellingtonian


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