Pardoned deserter's medals on show

22:23, Nov 18 2012
The Bluff Maritime Museum.
A propellor from the frigate HMNZS Southland outside the Bluff Maritime Museum.
Penguin display inside the Bluff Maritime Museum.
Inside the Bluff Maritime Museum.
Inside the Bluff Maritime Museum.
Bluff Maritime Museum Trust chairwoman Jan Mitchell (left) and curator Trish Birch on the Monica which sits beside the museum.

The medals of a Bluff soldier executed for desertion in World War I then later pardoned are part of a new exhibition unveiled at the Bluff Maritime Museum at the weekend.

Private Victor Spencer was the last soldier executed for desertion in that war, and was one of five soldiers of the New Zealand Division, First New Zealand Expeditionary Force, pardoned 12 years ago as part of the The Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War Act 2000.

Second cousin and war veteran Spencer Morrison, of Bluff, said the decision was made to gift the medals and certificate of pardon to the museum. If the collection was left to family it would be divided. "If we give it to the museum, which is the community from where he came from, it won't be split up and it will always stay here," he said.

Southland Times photo
Bluff Maritime Museum Trust chairwoman Jan Mitchell and Spencer Morrison with the medals of his ancestor Private Victor Spencer, who was executed for desertion in World War 1. He was later pardoned. The medals have now been gifted to the museum.

"Bluff is home for him, and the medals, and it is home for us his family . . . it belongs where it is."

While it had been a wrench to give them away, the museum was not far from where he and cousin Fred Ryan lived, so they could easily visit, Mr Morrison said.

The medals and certificate of pardon were presented in 2005, and on Anzac Day 2007 Mr Morrison and Mr Ryan travelled to Belgium to personally deliver the pardon to the grave of their fallen ancestor.


When the pardons were issued then-Prime Minister Helen Clark said the presentation of medals to families of those executed in World War I marked the end of a sad chapter in New Zealand history.

"In 1916 they were all in France experiencing the horrors of trench warfare . . . [the] men lost personal battles with military discipline or the terrors of life in the trenches and ran foul of the harsh military discipline of the day.

"That discipline could only recognise dissent or shellshock as the offences of mutiny or desertion punishable by death by firing squad," a Southland Times story about the pardon says.

Private Spencer had fought at Gallipoli and the Somme.

The new exhibition was unveiled as part of the Maritime Museum's 20th birthday celebrations, and trust chairwoman Jan Mitchell said the medals and certificate had been donated for permanent display.

"I think it is a wonderful story. Sadly, Victor was executed, and wrongly executed, but he has been pardoned and his medals have come home to Bluff . . . and his certificate of pardon . . . and that is just the best possible outcome," she said.

"We are hugely indebted to the family for being so generous and allowing the public access. It will get worldwide recognition."

A "huge crowd" turned out to celebrate the 20th, and it was amazing to have all the people who had done so much for the museum there to celebrate, she said.

Other new additions to the museum included a model of the HMS Tabard, a submarine that visited Bluff in the 1960s; the old light from the Centre Island lighthouse; the former Stirling Point signal mast; and a restored 1930s canoe that had been used in the Mokomoko area.

The Southland Times