Leading up to the trip to Wellington I was anticipating the trip with both excitement and nervousness in the hopes that we would be able to make the most of a week with all of the New Zealand and French Ambassadors present. Once we had all arrived at the hotel we were greeted with faire la bise and apprehensive laughter. We all soon settled in and began our tightly packed week in Wellington.
Our visit to the Treaty of Waitangi, the National Great War exhibition and Te Papa sparked some conversation with the French Ambassadors as they relayed the cultural differences between museums in France and New Zealand. They spoke of how the New Zealand Museums created a more personable experience where it was not simply the facts of the events, like that displayed in French Museums. Our participation in the National ANZAC Services was another bonding moment for all Ambassadors where some tears were shed from both the French and Kiwis and thoughts of those who fought for us all were present in our minds. I was also able and honoured to wear my ancestors war medals to the services (seen in photo above.) Our Journey to Waiouru Military Camp was one filled with song and sleep, before arriving and visiting the National War Museum. The next day we visited to Te Porere, Te Kooti's redoubt which was an incredibly spiritual experience and the feeling of loss there was overwhelming, especially after speaking with some of the local iwi there and their stories.
I was incredibly happy to host one of the French Ambassadors, Julie, in Christchurch. Despite the bad weather we were able to visit the Arts Centre and Gallery and our Museum. Within the museum we walked through the World War 1 exhibition which re-iterated the importance of our trip and responsibility as Young Ambassadors. I thoroughly enjoyed showing Julie our New Zealand Culture and family life and I cannot wait to be hosted with her in France!
Research for my projects has been greatly supported by family. My Father travelled down to Invercargill for our Johnston family reunion where he returned with a book, biography and stories about both of my ancestors and great great uncles Andrew and Albert Johnston. We have also recovered a letter that Andrew wrote where he discusses how “It's not our armies that's at fault nor are the Germans such wonders. It's the rotters at the Head of affairs.” This statement also relates to one of the other New Zealand Ambassador’s, Katie Sullivan, ancestors John Sydney’s opinion of the war when he said about the Germans “I realised for the first time that they were men, the same as we were and that we were victims of circumstances-national lunacy or something of the kind.” I would also like to acknowledge my mother’s keen interest in our family history which has been an immeasurable help when forming and gathering my research for my projects.
My focus for my projects is still surrounding the farming background of the Johnston family and the affect the three sons going to war had upon them as well as the experience of the brothers who fought. I also really want to focus on the aspect of Passchendaele and the Somme within that as two of my ancestors fought there. Albert died on October 12 1917 in Passchendaele, which is New Zealand’s Darkest day where 845 died at the Battle of the Somme. He is buried at Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium, where we will be visiting on this trip, but his body was never found and he has no grave. 35,000 men had ‘no grave’ between 1917 and November of 1918. My Great Great Uncle on my Grandmother’s side, William Cecil Hill fought at the Somme dying in the Battle of Morval on September 27 1916. His body was also never identified and he is on the NZ Memorial at Caterpillar Valley in Longueval, where we will also be visiting on this trip.
To help with my research I will be reaching out to the Passchendaele centenary website to see if they can help me with more information on the burial of my ancestors and I will also be reaching out to the Christchurch RSA to see if they have koha they would like us to take to France, or other information or stories we can take with us.
With only two weeks to go until we fly to France for this incredible trip, I cannot wait!
Ngā mihi nui