The trip to Wellington and the week spent with our French counterparts was incredible and something that will stick with me for years to come. The whole experience was filled with a plethora of moments that moved me deeply and others that filled me with happiness. It was an honour to take part in it.
I was excited and nervous headed up to Wellington on the plane as I was getting my head around the week’s proceedings. Everything fell into place once we met the others and my nerves calmed down as we commenced. The first night we all had the honour of meeting Madame Jeanblanc-Risler, the French Ambassador for New Zealand. It was a great opportunity to talk more with the other ambassadors also. At this time I was informed by Jennifer that I was to do my Whaikorero that I had prepared to do at the National Army Marae, the next day at the National Library also, which shook me a little.
The Powhiri at the National Library was a good introduction for the French students to Maori culture and tradition. My Whaikorero went well and it was great to sing the songs we had practised the previous day. Seeing the exhibits of the documents which shaped our country such as the Treaty of Waitangi and the Kate Sheppard Suffrage Petition was awe-inspiring. At this time, I also got had my first experience with the camera, which was interesting, to say the least. I hope I get better with practice is all I can say at this time. It was great to see the French students learn so much about New Zealand Culture throughout the weekend with the Powhiri at the National Army Marae also.
Visits to the Gallipoli Exhibit at Te Papa and at the National War Memorial as well as the National Army Museum gave us all perspective on the effect the war had on the people involved. The many accounts of brutality and despair throughout the war from Gallipoli to the Western Front showed us all that our ancestors went through hell. One thing that stuck with me is when the other five New Zealanders and I were in a wing of the National Army Museum which had a display of dead men and a horse encased in bloodied mud. We were discussing the horrors of war when the museum worker said they were closing in five minutes and that you wouldn’t want to see ‘night at the museum’ there. We all laughed but agreed as we imagined the stories and terror that would entail.
The weekend spent with Elliot and the other guys, was great. It was awesome taking Eliott to the sports shops we have in NZ as he is a big fan of cricket and we have all the gear here. We all went to Willowbank wildlife reserve where we got to see Kiwi and a variety of other native species. We also went to Clip n’ Climb which was a great time. We had great laughs as we discussed the week and it was sad to see them go, I can’t wait to see them all again.
My research has been progressing steadily with some discoveries regarding my ancestor Edward John Kingi. I found his name online and he was listed as 21 when he passed away in 1920, while the photo I possess of his gravestone in the Wairarapa says he was 19. This means he most likely lied about his age in order to enlist in the military. His line of work before enlisting I also found; he was a labourer, which would have been very helpful in what job he was most likely placed on the western front, as a tunneler for the Maori Pioneer Battalion. In regards to this, I have found out more about the New Zealand Tunnelling Company (a branch of the Engineers) and their role in the war, especially with the Carrière Wellington in Arras.
To further my research I will find specific stories from the men in the Arras Tunnels in order to gain more perspective on what life was like in that line of work and how they felt about being given a shovel rather than a gun.
As the trip draws nearer, the more excited I become. The experience will surely be an amazing one, just as it has been so far.