Database next memory move

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 12:58 01/04/2014

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Dawn is looming on the start of events in Nelson to mark a century since the start of World War I.

The Nelson Provincial Museum is gearing up for the opening in August of what will be its longest running exhibition ever.

This month, just before Anzac Day, the button will be pressed to launch a new database of all the men and women from the Nelson-Tasman region who served in any capacity during the Great War.

Tasman Bays Heritage Trust chief executive and museum director Peter Millward said collating the database had been a colossal effort by a small group of people.

It will be launched on April 23 by the Nelson and Tasman mayors, and stands to be one of the country's most comprehensive war archives.

"This database we have produced is one of the most complete records of any province in New Zealand," he said. The database, which includes information on the dates and where the servicemen and women died (including those who died of war-related injuries and illness after the war) will be linked to the museum's website, and will be live from April 23.

"In this region there were 2500 men and women who went away to war. One family, the Baigent family, contributed 1 per cent to that total. "I find the whole thing incredibly humbling."

Millward was also taken by the randomness of whether a serviceperson lived or died.

"It was so random. There's one family from here who lost everyone who went to war, while another had all come home."

Then there were the Harvey brothers from Takaka who enlisted but died of illness in Featherston before they left New Zealand shores, Millward said.

"Every corner you turn there's another story."

George Vandergraff Burlinson was the Nelson region's first war casualty, but died of disease on January 15, 1915.

William Arthur Ham, of Motueka, was the region's first combat casualty and died of wounds February 5, 1915.

War records show that the Irish-born farm labourer was killed when the New Zealand Infantry Brigade helped repulse a Turkish attack on the Suez Canal. His younger brother, Thomas Henry Merrick Ham, died in service in World War II.

Millward said work on the database had its beginnings when lists of names on memorials in the region were compiled by staff and volunteers based at the Tasman District Library.

More than 10 years later this has been expanded and computerised.

It will be central to the exhibitions under development for the centennial period beginning in August.

Millward said that along with the additional information, about 200 photographs have been added to the database.

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"Six people have done a staggering amount of work on this and we now have a list approaching 2500.

"It's always going to be a work in progress.

"We've also added the names of those from here who served in other defence forces.

"That required a huge amount of work and it's almost complete," Millward said.

He said the museum planned to roll out the stories in the year a century on from when they occurred.

"Anzac Day 2016, for example, is going to be really significant because it will be a century since the first-ever Anzac service was held in Nelson and we're aiming to re-create it.

"Next year's Anzac service will be bigger than this year, because it will 100 years since the first New Zealand troops landed."

- Nelson

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