Not just for the Young Folk

Thursday, June 12th, 2014 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Blog post prepared by Emma Scott, Library Assistant – Periodicals

The Mail Minor

The Mail Minor, Oamaru, September 13 1940, v.2:no.37, p.1

While working on a project for the Hocken Collections in 2010, my colleague and I came across a delightful supplement to the Oamaru Mail that ran from 1939 to 1942 called: The Mail Minor: for the young folk. It was created by W.R.F. Naylor who refers to himself as “Major” in his editorials.  It began with v.1:no.1 (1939 February 3) and ceased with v.4:no.30 (1942 July 24).

The Mail Minor is not your ordinary children’s publication, while it contains plenty of jokes and puzzles like you would expect, it also touches on current events occuring in Oamaru and throughout the world during that period. The back page of each issue has a special feature on a different topic which include titles like: “Well known dogs of the day”, “The centenary of the Bicycle”, “The Romance of Rubber” and “What’s in a Peanut”.

Major converses with children like adults in his editorials and doesn’t shy away from discussing the harsh reality of what children have to face during war time. WWII updates are scattered throughout, and some of the special features such as: “How Warships are Classified” and “The Swastika Through the Ages” seek to further children’s knowledge about the war. Major encourages children to help out the war effort in any way that they can. He suggests that boys could assist the war effort by joining a scheme to help on farms and girls could knit for the armed forces (v.2:no.49 1940 December 6).

Major welcomes children’s contributions  to The Mail Minor, these original contributions are excellent and showcase what it was like for a child to live in southern New Zealand during WWII. In v.2:no.37 (1940 September  13) Gwendoline Goodall ( 11 years of age) shares her poem. Here is the first verse:

The War of 1940

Twenty-two years have passed in vain

Since the last great war was slain

Nineteen-forty now is the year

And war again is raging, hear

All along the battle line

Are anxious men awaiting the time

For the bloodthirsty cry to begin

The Mail Minor was not just enjoyed by the children of Oamaru. In v.3:no.33 (1941 August 15) Major writes: ”It was a pleasure to hear from Egypt this week that several Oamaru soldiers were greatly interested in the Minor containing the South School page. No fewer than ten of them were members of the school band featured in that issue.”

In v.4:no.30 (1942 July 24) the final issue, Major leaves his devoted readers a heartfelt farewell along with a photograph of the man himself. “Young and old read the Minor- public men have quoted it. Schools in both the North and South Islands have used it in their classroom, and writers and authors have expressed their admiration of it’s appeal and lay-out. It was my gift to the Oamaru Mail and to you – I enjoyed it, they enjoyed it and you enjoyed it.”

 The Mail Minor Major

“Major”, The Mail Minor, Oamaru, July 24 1942, v.40:no.30, p.1)


‘Although my country is against you […] I still remain the same to you as before’. Words of gratitude and uncertainty: Thai students’ wartime communications in New Zealand

Monday, December 5th, 2011 | Anna Blackman | 2 Comments

‘I am going to be shifted from Somes Island in a few weeks. I don’t like to go away from the old place. I enjoy the sea and watching ships steaming pass [sic] the island. Although it is rather windy and unhealthy, its scenery soothes our weary hearts to some extent.’

(excerpt from a letter by Bira Kalayasiri to Mr Gerald Francis Shiel, dated 19 December 1942)

So wrote Bira Kalayasiri, a Thai national, to his New Zealand guardian Gerald Shiel from the Somes Island Internment Camp in Wellington Harbour. This letter is the final item of correspondence we have between the two. Within a year, Kalayasiri would be dead, one of the victims of an undisclosed accident that took place during his forced repatriation to Thailand in 1943.

Letter to the Shiels from the internment camp

Kalayasiri and two of his compatriots, Aun Apibalsree and Yuwan Saraniyama, arrived in Dunedin to start study at the Otago School of Mines late in 1940. The trio appear to have received financial support from the Thai government and the firm Kampong Toh Tin Ltd. Patrick Shiel, the Singapore-based brother of Gerald, was connected with this company, and asked his Dunedin brother to take an interest in the students. A close association between Gerald, his wife Ina, and the Thai students developed; to the extent that the students suggested Gerald assume the role of their New Zealand guardian.

The folder of correspondence mostly holds letters written by Kalayasiri, Apibalsree and Saraniyama to Mr or Mrs Shiel (referred to by them as ‘Ma’) from their time spent carrying out work experience for their studies at the Wallsend Mine, near Greymouth, through to their internment at Somes Island. Although Kalayasiri tends to voice their experiences and predicament most vividly, all three initially express gratitude and affection to the Shiels for their goodness in Dunedin, and describe some of their working conditions and impressions of their workmates. As time progresses, the trio’s letters refer increasingly to the war underway and how they feel about it, and eventually move into expressions of frustration, conflicted emotion, and despair.

‘[…] although my country is against you but I still remain the same to you as before. Your generosity and kindness towards me are still impressing in my heart. I will never forget until the end of my life. So please consider me individually. What happens in my country should not be mixed.’
(excerpt from a letter to ‘Ma’ Shiel from Kalayasiri, December 1941)

‘Regarding my home in Thailand, I wonder whether I lost my father and mother or not. They stay in the fighting zone. I have lost my country. I do not know what will happen in future. I have lost my future. I have lost everything. Only thing I have now is only my poor humble soul waiting for the time when death calls upon me. I have to struggle for my life to see the future misery. I think what will happen in future will be worse than it is now. When I think of this I want to do something which will end my life.
I want to join the army here, but I do not expect to get it because I am an alien.’
(excerpts from a letter from Kalayasiri to Mr Shiel, December 1941)
Letter to ‘Ma’ in Dunedin from Greymouth

Each of the group expresses a desire to join the New Zealand Army early on, and Saraniyama in particular made a concerted effort to enlist with the allied forces. All endeavours to sign up were futile, due to their status as enemy aliens. Their frustrations were amplified in their attempts to establish contact with groups that may have been able to provide them with advice or assistance, such as the recently established Free Thai Movement. Any ventures into overseas communication were thwarted by misinformation, lack of reply, and eventually censorship.

Few of the conditions of their internment are revealed, no doubt partially due to the censorship of letters written by those held in the camp. All three express boredom and frustration with their situation, but are able to continue with their studies, and financial support from the Thai government still reaches them, albeit with increasing delays. It is unclear exactly when in 1942 their internment commenced, or the point in 1943 that their fateful repatriation took place.

The Shiels, too, must have been aggravated with the situation the trio faced, and equally exasperated by the limited official information they eventually received after the youths lost their lives. A letter from the Minister of Defence to Mr Shiel states that ‘an accident occurred while in transit, as a result of which they died,’ and that ‘it is not desired that publicity be given to this matter and it would therefore be appreciated if you would treat this information as confidential.’ Compounding this tragedy, Gerald Shiel’s brother Patrick went missing, allegedly having met his death in an accident while fleeing Singapore in 1942; but the family had still not received any confirmation of his death by 1945.
Official notification of the trio’s deaths

Information regarding the internment and death of the Thai trio sits in Ministry of Defence files held at Archives New Zealand. The files are restricted to preserve the personal privacy of those concerned, however, researcher may make application to the Chief Archivist for permission to view the files.

Kari Wilson-Allan

Assistant Archivist
Sources: AG-870/015 Correspondence relating to and with Bira Kalayasiri, Aun Apibalsree, and Yuwan Saraniyama and AG-870/016 Correspondence relating to the disappearance of Patrick Ormond Shiel, (Singapore 1945)

1941 School of Mines photo, Bira, Aun and Yuwan are in the back rows

Archives, Winston Churchill and Auctions

Friday, August 19th, 2011 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Archivists who work in “collecting archives” sometimes have a bit of a love/hate relationship with rare book and manuscript auctions. On the one hand they can be a tremendous source of exciting and significant material. On other they may be a drain on scarce funds, and often collections of related material are split into separate lots or even into different auctions in order to make the best profit for the vendor. Frustratingly for the archivist this means you might get some of a collection of papers but not all. Only having part of a collection of course detracts from the usefulness of the collection as a resource for historical research.

What’s a “collecting archives”? –  an archives institution that collects (by donation/bequest, deposit or purchase) archives from the community and organisations. The Hocken Library is one of the larger collecting archives in NZ as well as being a pre-eminent research library and gallery. The other main kind of archival institution is an “in-house archives” which mainly receives archives as transfers from a parent organisation; a local example would be the Dunedin City Council Archives which receives the archives it cares for directly from the Dunedin City Council.

Of course the lay person wanting to find a safe repository for their papers is not usually too concerned with the differences between archives and so it is that sometimes “in-house archives” end up with material that doesn’t really fit their collection scope. Instead of destroying unwanted material that clearly has some historical value, archivists ask around amongst their colleagues as to whether another institution might like to have it. And so it was that a small box of treasure found its way to the Hocken last week from the DCC Archives. What’s this got to do with Winston Churchill?

Well, amongst the items in the box was a minute book and copy of a letter relating to something called a Churchill Auction in 1942 in Dunedin. My curiosity was piqued and I started reading. There were four of these auctions held up and down the country in 1942 to raise funds for the Patriotic Councils.

The idea was started when Prime Minister Peter Fraser visited Winston Churchill in England. Churchill made a gift of a book written by an earlier Sir Winston Churchill and published in 1675, Lives of all the Kings of this Isle, to be auctioned in NZ to raise patriotic funds. Hearing of this gift the writer Pat Lawlor contacted the Department of Internal Affairs and suggested that they encourage local committees to organise local auctions of donated material to augment the funds raised by the sale of the book. People up and down the country were encouraged to donate their rare books, documents, manuscripts, paintings, prints and Maori and historical “curios” to the cause. Messrs J. H. Bethune and Co. Ltd of Wellington provided their entire mailing list so that the central organising committee could contact book, manuscript and picture collectors (no Privacy Act back then!). The Dunedin Committee discussed the idea of collecting letters of Katherine Mansfield and advertising the auction in North America to encourage a better price! I inwardly groaned, wondering what New Zealand archival treasure had been hocked off overseas! Luckily the impracticality of the suggestion precluded advertising overseas and I cannot find any mention of Katherine Mansfield letters being offered for sale.

Minutes of the Dunedin Churchill Auction Committee 1942, a who’s who of arts and culture in Dunedin at the time (r. 5439)

As it turns out the auctions raised some money but not as much as was expected as the market for such items in NZ was not great. In Dunedin over five hundred pounds were raised a newspaper report noted that demand and prices for NZ books in the auction was good but poor for overseas material such as first editions of Dickens. And to my relief it seems that no archives or manuscripts were sold overseas.

Thank you to the Dunedin City Council Archivists, Allison and Chris, for sending this material to the Hocken.

Soldiers diaries and letters

Thursday, April 21st, 2011 | Anna Blackman | 2 Comments

Behind the downstairs reference desk at the Hocken are some shelves where each week’s newly acquired books are kept for staff to familiarise themselves with what is newly published. In the lead up to Anzac Day each year there are often books relating to New Zealand’s experience of war, and in particular the First and Second World Wars. The stand out book on the shelf last week was Glyn Harper’s latest, Letters from Gallipoli : New Zealand Soldiers Write Home. Professor Harper has collected together and edited the letters of many soldiers to tell the story of Gallipoli in a kind of collective first person account.

Letters from Gallipoli includes letters that are held at the Hocken Collections. We are grateful to many Otago soldier’s letters and diaries which have been generously donated by families. We would welcome further donations of soldier’s papers and photographs, not just relating to the First and Second World Wars but all wars that New Zealanders have experienced. These kinds of papers are the primary sources for books such as Professor Harper’s, and they are also regularly used by University of Otago students for their studies. Apart from post-grads researching and writing theses, Professor Tom Brooking’s HIST 105 paper focuses on the ANZAC’s and their legacy, students of this paper make intensive use of some of the soldier’s papers cared for at the Hocken.

A selection of soldiers papers from the Hocken Collections

To hear more about Professor Harper’s research and the book listen to Radio NZ online
2009 interview (half way through research)
2011 interview (project finished)

War is almost certainly the most popular topic for historical research in New Zealand after family history. And so often family history is entertwined with war history. This keen interest is undoubtedly because of New Zealander’s close personal involvement in these wars. Almost every NZ family in the early to mid 20th century had at least one or more family member(s) in the armed forces and even if they didn’t their daily lives were greatly effected by what was happening.

The Hocken Collections is well resourced to meet this interest and has produced a series of subject guides to assist researchers. The guides are available in PDF form from the Guides page of our website. There are five guides covering the NZ Wars 1840s, NZ Wars 1860s-1870s, South African War, World War I and World War II.

Post prepared by Anna Blackman, Curator of Archives and Manuscripts

Wartime friendship … and romance

Monday, December 6th, 2010 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

“Thank you so much for your lovely cheery letter. My family which is large all took turns in reading it. Although we are lonesome for our two marine sons Walter and Richard, we are consoled to know that such lovely people like yourself and Tom Hickey (Richards friend) do cheer them up.”
So begins a 1943 letter from Emily Shulich, Chicago, to Betty Manley of Lower Hutt. Betty served as a hostess at the American Red Cross’s Cecil Club, providing hospitality to the large influx of American servicemen in New Zealand. She kept up a correspondence with several of the men she met there, along with some of their families, who were grateful for contact with friends of sons who seldom wrote themselves. The letters she received form a substantial part of the papers of the Watson and Manley families (ARC-0665).
Letters from American servicemen to Betty Manley. The censor has cut out a word from Hugh Keahey’s letter, which would have revealed how many miles his camp was from the nearest large town.

The Americans were grateful for the hospitality they received in Wellington. Hugh Keahey wrote to Betty early in 1944 commenting on his sadness at leaving: “As we passed out of the harbor I raised my hand in salute and silently thanked you, the Carters, Louie, Jean (yes Jean too) sincerely for your friendship and kindnesses.” His friend Jesse Allen was less flattering about his time in Wellington: “The reason this is a good nite to write is because I am reminded that it was just a year ago today that we crawled off the boat in Gookland to spend seven dreary months. As I went out to Mudford I thought it was the most gosh awful country I ever saw. Never did change my mind much. Now how do you like that.” Allen had a lively writing style and his letters are full of teasing remarks. The servicemen clearly found Betty Manley attractive. Walter Shulich’s sister Diana wrote to Betty about three photographs her brother had shown the family: “He said the snapshots didn’t flatter you at all and that you were much better looking, although the snapshots showed you to be very pretty. (Yesiree!).”
Meanwhile, Betty Manley was also corresponding with Reg Watson, a Dunedin printer who was serving overseas with the 5th New Zealand Field Ambulance. He sent her letters, cards, telegrams (including a concerned one reading “No news of you for some time …”), postcards of “the eternal city,” textiles from Jerusalem, books and gloves. Some New Zealand women married American servicemen and started new lives in the USA, but Betty’s destiny lay in the south: in 1945 she married Reg Watson and moved to Dunedin.
Some of the items sent by Reg Watson to Betty Manley.

Blog post prepared by Ali Clarke, Reference Assistant