Collectors don't glorify war
History can come alive through objects from our past - a fact that underpins the passion of many of the 100-plus members of the New Zealand Historical Arms Association, Wellington Branch.
This weekend the branch is setting up an Arms and Militaria Fair in the Lower Hutt Horticultural Hall.
Amongst the diverse collection of local man Terry (surname left out for the security of his collection) is a British helmet issued to soldiers in an American division serving in World War I and the medals and pay book of a German soldier.
Through his research, Terry has established the helmet wearer and the German were in the same battle.
"They may never have come in contact with each other but from records of where the division was and the [German] pay book details . . . of all the war front, they were basically opposite each other."
He says it's the kind of "quirky coincidence" that crops up as he and fellow collectors research medals and other memorabilia.
Collected items can be intensely personal.
Terry has a telegram sent from when his uncle was serving in Tunisia during World War II.
"Before tweets, Facebook, the internet and all this instantaneous stuff anything important was sent by telegram."
While they were used to send greetings to wedding parties from those who couldn't get there, in war- time a telegram usually meant a loved one was killed, injured or missing in action. Naturally, they were generally dreaded.
The telegram to the family informed them Terry's uncle was seriously injured. He'd been in a group when someone stepped on a landmine.
"But we could count ourselves lucky. My uncle was the only one who survived."
Terry is organising this weekend's fair. He says visitors will be able to see all manner of collections - medals, uniforms, cigarette cards, caps and helmets, photos, firearms and bayonets, patriotic crested China sold during the Great War.
The collectors are often highly knowledgeable about their area of expertise and are happy to answer questions. For example, one collector of photographs from 1860-1880 has become so familiar with the work of photographers of the era he is able to identify where they were taken based on the background props used.
A special attraction at this fair will be the presence of two experts on the New Zealand Land Wars, complete with memorabilia from that era more than 160 years ago, including uniforms and weapons.
Also present will be local shooting clubs (smallbore, black powder, etc) and there will be associated displays and sales tables.
Terry is bringing along some of his collection of more than 80 military helmets, which span from World War I to the blue headgear of a modern UN peacekeeper.
He got his first helmet when he was just 12; "I still have it . . . once a collector, always a collector."
It's the helmet of a US Marine stationed on Kapiti Coast.
"He'd have trained at Queen Elizabeth Park and probably ended up being shipped out to Guadalcanal."
In his collection room in the Hutt Valley there's an entire row of French helmets from World War I. They would put brass plaques on the front for decoration and have badges to denote what part of the services they were from - artillery, engineering, etcetera - and where they served.
"British helmets are a lot more plain."
A typical Historical Arms Association monthly club meeting can be very informative. For example, it might be a 'Letters' afternoon. 'H' might be the chosen letter and various members will come along with items from their collection beginning with 'H'.
"I might bring one of my Hungarian helmets; someone else will bring items relating to military hospitals, His Royal Highness, high- velocity ammunition . . ."
The Wellington branch, one of a dozen affiliates of the national organisation founded in 1959, is all about "discovering, collecting and most importantly preserving" aspects of our military history.
And sharing that knowledge - and that's the aim of the show," Terry says.
Some collectors don't just stop at the uniforms of military personnel.
"They go right into the detail . . . they'll collect the toothbrushes they used, the Brasso they used to polish badges.
"These guys are the re-enactors, to a certain degree. They want a complete understanding of that time and how it was to live through it."
Arms and Militaria Fair, Saturday Feb 16, 9am till 5pm, Sunday 10am till 4pm, Lower Hutt Horticultural Hall. $5 adult, $12 family. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
They are collectors of militaria, but members of the NZ Historical Arms Association are not about glorifying war, Terry says.
"I'm not a war sort of person.
"When you research this stuff, you get a really good understanding of what people went through and it wasn't nice. People talk about the horrors of World War I but when you actually delve into it, it's just scary.
"I don't think a generation could do it again - and that's a good thing."