Lucky coin more than saves a life

LUCKY CHARM: Anne Conroy with her lucky sixpence, which belonged to her grandfather Alfred Hart.
LUCKY CHARM: Anne Conroy with her lucky sixpence, which belonged to her grandfather Alfred Hart.

For the superstitious, 53 people - and counting - can thank a single sixpence coin in a battered silver match box for their lives.

It is just one of the stories brought to life thanks to a collection of photos taken in Wellington of soldiers about to head off to World War I.

An exhibition of the photos, The Berry Boys: Naming the Kiwi Faces of World War I, opened on Thursday with a ceremony at Te Papa.

Some of those in attendance were direct descendants of those in the images. The photographs were found by tenants in a cupboard at 147 Cuba St, Wellington in the 1990s.

A photo of Anne Conroy's grandparents, Alfred and Queenie Hart, takes pride of place in the exhibition.

Conroy, already the family historian, was spurred to learn more about her grandfather after her brother saw a programme on television six months ago featuring a copy of the image.

A copy of the photo had long been in the family but her subsequent research has uncovered a treasure trove of family history.

It included a sixpence coin - minted in 1900, a year before Queen Victoria died - that her grandfather carried through the war as a good luck charm.

Conroy wore the coin around her neck inside her grandfather's old silver match box for Thursday's ceremony.

The charm seemed to work for her grandfather as he returned from the war to have three children, 10 grandchildren, 23 great grandchildren, and now 17 great-great grandchildren.

The photo was taken in April 1918, just five days before he was shipped off to the war. Maybe it was the lucky charm, again, or geo-politics in action, but Germany would withdraw from the war in November, 1918, effectively ending the war not long after Hart joined.

"He used to say, 'the Germans got out when they heard I was on my way'."

Conroy's research also uncovered another, more mysterious, part of her family history. Her great grandparents, Joseph and Emma Hart, emigrated from Australia to New Zealand in 1894 under the alias Evans. It was not clear why, but she believed the tuberculosis her great grandfather suffered from meant he was maybe running from debt in Australia.

The exhibition, which features about 30 unidentified soldiers and about 90 identified, is on level four of Te Papa.

The William Berry Collection contains glass plate negatives from the former premises of Berry & Co, portrait photographers, established in 1897 by William Berry.

The Dominion Post