A chance to remember those who fell
A large crowd packed into the Nelson Provincial Museum last night for the official and solemn opening of the commemorative exhibition, World War 100: Their Stories, Our History.
But the audience on the top floor was silent for almost an hour as speeches and tributes marked the occasion. It followed a preview the night before for family members and the museum staff and volunteers who created the exhibition, which features large images and a recreation of the front of the Nelson Evening Mail every day, with "live" stories.
The involvement of Nelson province at home and at war during the Great War is explored in the exhibition. More than 2400 men and women from this region served in armed forces, including nurses, padres and medical staff. Almost 600 died.
Guests were welcomed into the museum last night with a powhiri and then a karakia led by Archdeacon Harvey Ruru. Guest speakers included city councillor Ian Barker, Tasman District Council deputy mayor Tim King and Lieutenant Colonel Phil Bellamy of the Nelson-Marlborough and West Coast Regiment Army Reserves.
Harry Baigent spoke on behalf of the 24 Baigents who served in World War I and on behalf of all Nelson families.
Baigent said all but two of his family returned, and an uncle, a doctor in the New Zealand Medical Corps, died of illness soon after his return.
"I was asked to speak on behalf of all families, and it was pretty emotional," he said after the event.
Baigent said his family's part in the Great War was not widely talked about, but they were always aware of the fact that Uncle Jack was shot on Good Friday in 1918, just before the war ended.
Councillor Ian Barker, whose father served in the war, spoke on behalf of the city council. He said families in Nelson lived every day of the war through their connections with those actively engaged with it, and the war effort at home was "just as much a part of the story as the events on the front line".
"The exhibition will be a centrepiece for our region's remembrance of the war, a place for us to come and learn, to remember those who fell and to acknowledge all of the men and women from this region who played a part," Barker said.
He said people were told it was the war to end all wars - the last war ever, and so they went off to fight in foreign lands with no idea what was in store for them. "Many did not come home. Those that did come home were changed forever. This is our chance to understand the reasons why they went, the impact of their going on the people they left behind and to gain some insight about what they went through."
Barker said it would have been hard for them to imagine that 100 years later Nelson would be reading their names, hearing their stories and commemorating their bravery. "They just did what they did. This is our time to remember them."
- The exhibition is now open to the public in the Nelson Provincial Museum on the corner of Trafalgar and Hardy streets, Nelson.
- The Nelson Mail
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