Helmet for a Pillow


The soldier, above all others, prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

– Douglas MacArthur, 1962

Every once in a while there are certain individuals who cross our path and provide insight into areas of life that we would not normally venture. Anyone younger than 65 has more than likely never seen the direct effects of, or fought in a war. While our families can recall grandparents and great-grandparents that fought in either of the world wars, conflict in our recent history has been confined for the most part to our television screens. That is why it is important to keep the memories of those who served alive and undistorted; so that we may never forget that war really is hell.

Bernard 1Bernard Madden, photograph courtesy of Barbara Madden.

One of our latest donations, a large collection of letters between a serviceman and his family during the Second World War, has shone unique views onto military service and the home front in this tumultuous time. In April 1941, Bernard Madden, a 26 year-old driver for Amalgamated Couriers of Napier, left his parents and enlisted in the New Zealand armed forces. After undertaking three months basic training at Trentham, Bernard was quickly sent off to the Middle East as a gunner in the 7th Anti-Tank Regiment, 2 New Zealand Expeditionary Force where he served as a gunner and later a driver.

While overseas Bernard sent many letters to his parents in Napier.  They were read and then passed on to his extended family who lived throughout the Hawke’s Bay region as mail restrictions disallowed excessive postage. It becomes apparent reading through these letters that the first priority for Bernard was of the need to reassure the family at every possible opportunity that he was doing well. Surface-sent letters, which were bulkier and took longer to travel, were sent every week, but he did not hesitate to send faster-arriving, smaller airgraphs (at considerable personal expense) in between these weekly letters to reassure the family.

2013.65.10a (1) Letter from Bernard Madden, 20 September 1941, gifted by Barbara Madden, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/65/10

Bernard appears deeply involved with both his close and extended family. He at times questions if his father’s health is holding up and asks his mother, Louisa, if she is surviving the rationing period, frequently offering to send items home. When his brother Patrick was listed as missing in action as Axis forces advanced on Egypt in 1942, Bernard took it upon himself to question every soldier from Patrick’s unit about his brother’s fate. After Bernard learnt that he was taken prisoner, first to Italy and then to Germany, he made sure the family was kept up-to-date on his location and on the best way to send him his favourite tobacco. Sister Noeline and Cousin Lola were frequently reprimanded for ‘flirting’ with American soldiers based in New Zealand, while his young niece Moira appeared to be his favourite as he constantly asked about her schooling and after-school activities. The agony of being away from those he cared about shows through in Bernard’s writing, particularly as children in the family, some which he had never met,  grew up in the years he was away.

While Bernard did not see much front line action, he did see his fair share of hospital wards. The infection of a scratch on the leg early in the war was the start of a long list of maladies including influenza, intestinal problems and a significant hernia which, due to lifting heavy objects constantly, kept him in hospital and off the front lines for significant amounts of time. This had the unintended effect of allowing for long periods of recuperation time which, since permanent hospitals and respite camps were well behind the front lines, meant Bernard took the time to travel throughout the Middle East and Italy. Bernard’s letters tell of the large orchards scattered throughout Palestine, visiting Jewish communities and learning about their culture, visiting seaside resorts and tours of the countryside with other servicemen. Bernard was also in the right place at the right time during his Italian tour of duty; he writes of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in March 1944 and of arriving back at base minutes before a grand tour of Rome left for the capital.

By the time he had finished his service, Bernard Madden had served with 2 NZEF throughout its major operations in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Italy. In addition, he had managed to see the sites of Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Bernard left the armed forces after returning to Napier in August 1945 with six campaign medals, later settling in the suburb of Otahuhu, Auckland. His medical conditions, however, lingered, as the effects of war always do, and he was in and out of hospital until late the next year when he was officially discharged from the armed forces. Bernard passed away in Auckland aged 54 years and is survived by his wife Betty, seven children, 12 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. He is interred in the soldiers’ section of the Manukau Memorial Gardens.

All 150 of Bernard’s letters are now available on the MTG Hawke’s Bay online collection.

Evan Greensides
April 2014


Dawn of Remembrance

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Colonel John McCrae

Commemorating those citizens who have died for their country has become a national tradition throughout the world. Before 1914, nations had never before seen war on an industrial scale. Men who had readily signed up for the armed services believing that they would not see battle because the “War” would be over by Christmas instead watched for four years as their friends, relatives and fellow citizens died in Turkey, France and the Middle East.

Looking back to the landings at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 it is amazing the speed at which that date became a day of remembrance for the ANZAC nations, New Zealand and Australia. Badges and fundraising days were organised throughout New Zealand within weeks of the outbreak of war. Napier played a significant part in public support for those men serving overseas.


Early ANZAC and Gallipoli remembrance buttons used for fundraising in New Zealand. Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tāū-rangi, [42089; 42165]

As the war continued and the casualty lists posted in newspapers showed the extent of war losses, New Zealanders recognised that Gallipoli would become a rallying point for national identity. A memorial day fund drive had begun even before it was known that the battle at Gallipoli would end in evacuation and defeat. What mattered most was that men under arms overseas were supported and that those at home who had lost a loved one were taken care of.

One of the first remembrance ribbons commemorating the sacrifices made by men of the armed forces. Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tāū-rangi, [74631]

In London, the day known as the First Anniversary of the Landing at Gallipoli was commemorated with a memorial service held at Westminster Abbey. Such was the esteem held for New Zealand and Australian soldiers that the service was attended by King George V, Queen Mary, and General Sir William Birdwood, commander of the ANZAC forces at Gallipoli. The itinerary for the day included a march by the Australian and New Zealand troops and a lunch at the Hotel Cecil. Sermons were delivered and church bells were rung in appreciation.

Programme of sports events for troops stationed at Tel-El-Kebir on the first anniversary of the landing of ANZAC forces at Gallipoli. Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tāū-rangi, [70873].

However, not all ceremonies were so solemn an occasion. Those troops evacuated from Gallipoli had been sent to Egypt to rest and replenish their ranks. At Tel-El-Kebir outside of Cairo, New Zealand troops held a military sports day in memory of the first landing at ANZAC Cove. Events included a tug-of-war, tent pitching, stretcher-bearer’s race and, peculiarly enough, a bomb throwing competition. As the camp contained a high proportion of Australian troops, it is easy to see that friendly competition would have taken place between the two national sides, ensuring the bond that was set in the heat of battle was made permanent at a more peaceful time.

Evan Greensides
Collections Assistant
April 2013

The Path Not Taken

In all debates, let truth be thy aim, not victory or an unjust interest. Endeavour to gain, rather than to expose thy antagonist.
– William Penn

At points in our lives we have decisions to make which can take us down any multiple of roads, and result in a major redirection of the course we are currently taking. This was the situation Napier found itself in at the beginning of the 20th Century; to utilise and expand upon the natural harbour of the Ahuriri Lagoon or construct a breakwater port near Bluff Hill, both at considerable expense. It was a decision which divided not only the growing town, but the entire region. In the end the issue was resolved by natural forces. This lengthy conflict is well documented within our collection through detailed maps and heated opinion pieces.

By 1900 Napier had recovered from a deep depression. Freezing works, sheep scourers and blacksmiths began to establish themselves in the region. Coupled with an influx of residents and other growing towns in the region, Napier’s export and import market began to grow at an exponential rate. In order to service this sector, a major new port was needed. Napier was in the enviable position of having a choice of harbours; it not only had a suitable coast line for a breakwater harbour, but also a sheltered harbour free of the open ocean.

A public vote was taken in 1885 with 96 percent of ratepayers voting in favour of accepting a loan to build a breakwater harbour. While the Inner Harbour around Westshore was considered a natural harbour, considerable dredging of the bottom was needed in order to accommodate larger ships. While those ships that could not enter the Inner Harbour unloaded from the roadstead quite safely, the need for a deep water harbour had been highlighted in 1887 by the fatal beaching of the Northumberland and Boojum while unloading goods near Westshore. While work was undertaken after this tragedy, storms in 1894 and 1896 lashed the partially completed breakwater harbour causing considerable damage and forcing the Harbour Board to redirect what little money it had left to repairing the damage. By 1905 a report by Charles Ellison showed that public opinion had swayed towards developing the Inner Harbour as costs continued to spiral upwards at the breakwater with little return being visible.

Photograph by W H Neal of the breakwater port taken from Bluff Hill on 10 February 1899. Glasgow Wharf and the partially completed breakwater running towards Auckland Rock are visible. 1928,Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 77628

One of the proponents of completing a breakwater harbour was F W Marchant. He put forward a plan to build a massive breakwater and harbour at the entrance to the Inner Harbour but later admitted in a report to the Harbour Board that continuing work on the breakwater at Bluff Hill would cost nearly half of the estimated £325,000 for his “Spit” harbour. It was seen as an unnecessary expense to local ratepayers that two separate harbours should be built so close together, and the idea was scrapped.

A plan, presumably by George Nelson, showing his own Inner Harbour plan and F W Marchant’s schemes for the breakwater and “Spit” harbour with costs included. Collection of the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, m65/19

While the breakwater port may have been the most feasible plan from an economic perspective, the fate of it was determined by regional poll on 9 February 1909, with a slim majority voting against accepting a new loan to complete the work. Within a month of this rejection an entirely new plan was submitted by George Nelson which utilised only the Inner Harbour. This plan envisaged dredging over 1.5 million yards of material from the area and using it to fill in the North and South Ponds upon which factories, sheds and rail yards would be built to service the port. Land belonging to the Harbour Board that was once swamp could be reclaimed and sold to finance the work. Although this bold new concept appeared favourable, the Harbour Board approached it with caution and it was not long before a furious debate ensued.
George Nelson’s original plan for the development of the Inner Harbour.
Collection of the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, m65/19

The opposition to this plan was led by engineers J P Maxwell, Cyrus Williams and J B Mason of Sydney who had been contracted in by the Harbour Board to assess the feasibility of plans. Leaflets exposing Nelson’s plan as ill-conceived and misleading were circulated throughout the region. The engineers claimed that Nelson had manipulated data previously collected, claiming that the Inner Harbour bottom was soft ground that could be easily dredged when in reality it was very hard rock that would cost three times as estimated by Nelson to move. This exposed Nelson to harsh criticism as a developer who had not only cherry-picked data, but stolen a fellow engineers work.

The leaflet which exposed George Nelson’s Inner Harbour plans to harsh criticism. Collection of the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, m73/38

In addition, Nelson had paid lip-service to the breakwater in his plan by admitting that it had stopped shingle from accumulating in the Inner Harbour, but this appeared to be overstated. Maxwell, Williams and Mason commented that Nelson’s plan of “the construction of a navigable channel through a perpetual sand drift in the open ocean would be so difficult that a mere statement to make one scarcely demands the opinion that the idea is not a reasonable one”. A modified version of Nelson’s plan was made by Australian engineers T W Keele and E A Cullen in 1912, but after finding that they had been supplied with false information, changed their views on the viability of the Inner Harbour.
Although the rejection of these plans was a major setback for the Inner Harbour faction of Napier, there continued to be ongoing debate over which type of port was best suited for shipping purposes. Another poll in 1920 swayed in favour of further loans for development of the Inner Harbour, while the Harbour Board continued to retain a majority of Inner Harbour planners in its seats. Friends and enemies were said to be made throughout the town depending on an individual’s preference for one plan or another.

Before and after: a map contrasting the Inner Harbour’s initial underwater reach in 1865 and the final shape it took after the 1931 Earthquake and years of reclamation work. Collection of the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 56/28 and m2002/8/9

However, where the citizens and Harbour Board could not decide, Mother Nature intervened decisively. The February 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake raised the bed of the Inner Harbour to a point where draining and reclaiming the land was a more feasible option than dredging the hard bottom and turning it into a port. The Inner Harbour idea was finally shelved and construction of the breakwater port continued apace. The area that was once such a contentious issue for the people of Napier is now home to flocks of grazing sheep and a more modern form of transport, the aeroplane.

Evan Greensides
Collection Assistant
January 2013

the sword and the pen

As I have lived on the West Coast of the North Island for the past 10 years, I was unfamiliar with the history of Hawke’s Bay when moving here in late-2011 to take up the position of Assistant Curator. Having always been interested in modern military history and the stories of regular citizens turned soldiers, I was keen to dive into the collection of the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust in search of any and all archives which would satisfy my curiosity. I had worked with the weapons collection at the Whanganui Regional Museum in the past and I was soon talking to a colleague with a similar interest, Cymon Wallace, who pointed me to a collection of letters written to and by Captain George Preece, a man who immediately piqued my interest.

Captain Preece wearing his New Zealand Cross and New Zealand Medal. Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust/Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2534.

George Preece was born in Coromandel in 1845, the son of James Preece of the Church Missionary Society, and Marie Anne Williams, a school teacher. In 1847 the Preece family was sent to set up a mission station at Ahikereru, deep in Te Urewera. In this remote location the Preece children grew up speaking Māori. For George, this knowledge was to secure him an important role in the Colonial Forces as a military interpreter, while his knowledge of the area was to prove invaluable during the numerous campaigns against Te Kooti from 1869-72.

George joined the military in 1868 as an Ensign under Colonel George Whitmore. He was to prove critically important in the first assaults with Major Ropata against Mokeretu and Ngatapa Pā in Poverty Bay. As a result of his actions at Ngatapa, Preece was promoted to Captain in 1870 and received the New Zealand Cross in 1876.

Preece’s New Zealand Cross, one of only 23 originals ever awarded. Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust/Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 56/57

This medal, one of only 23 ever awarded, held in the collections of the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust along with his Colonial Auxiliary Medal, New Zealand Medal, accompanying original award documents and correspondence, forms one of the most complete collections of a New Zealand soldiers effects.

While George Preece appears at first glance to be an obedient and dutiful soldier, his personal and occupational letters reveal a personality that did not shy away from controversy. One letter, written during the pursuit of Te Kooti to Donald McLean, then Defence Minister and dated 27 March 1869, shows George’s almost virulent hatred of his superior, Colonel Whitmore, for writing against Mclean in the editorial section of Hawke’s Bay newspapers. McLean was a long-time friend of the Preece family, James having recommended him for the government position of ‘Protector of Aborigines’ in 1842. Preece writes of Whitmore’s “highly coloured reports” of the rout of Te Kooti’s forces, even going as far as saying that “you can have no idea how many false reports Colonel Whitmore sets about you and the underhanded dirty way he does it.” However, this attack in the Press corroborates James Hawthorne’s published account of Whitmore in 1869, A Dark Chapter in New Zealand History, calling him names which are too provocative to print even 140 years later!

George’s outspoken voice carries on into his career as Resident Magistrate in Hawke’s Bay. In a letter from T W Lewis, Under-Secretary of the Native Department in Wellington and Preece’s superior, George is reprimanded for speaking out of turn to the press on a civil matter which had come under his jurisdiction.

Letter to Preece regarding government regulations on communications with the press, dated 17 May 1883. Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust/Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 25452

Just three months before this incident he had been accused by Lewis of indiscretion in the handling of the will of Chief Karaitiana Takamoana, allowing an improperly skilled person to handle the case. He was informed that his action to send this ordinary citizen, a Mr Sheehan, to execute the will was ill-advised “in view of the notoriety which the Omaranui and Waipawa cases have acquired in the Napier district.” George appears to have read the attached government regulation, ‘Communications not to be made to the Public Press’, as Lewis’ later letters do not mention any further controversies, referring only to the mundane business of issuing firearms licenses to Hawke’s Bay Māori. There was, however, a spark left in the old soldier. After entering retirement, George moved to Palmerston North and, still full of courage and tenacity at the age of 70, attempted to re-enlist in the army upon the outbreak of the Great War.

The interpretation of personal documents almost 150 years old is an immense mental challenge. George’s letters jump from military matters, to politics, to family, and back again all within the space of as many paragraphs. Identifying the obscure historical figures he mentions and interpreting events without the help of other information sources creates a veritable minefield for misunderstanding and confusion. However, as an historian, methodically piecing a puzzle together through a thorough investigation of these primary resources and coming to new conclusions of a historically important figure is immensely satisfying. As I work amongst these personalities of the past, the objects they owned and the letters they wrote, I hope to cross paths with many more that prove to be just as colourful as George Preece.

Evan Greensides
August 2012