Alongside a traditional memorial alcove, wall and garden, Hub Charitable Trust secretary Natasha Munro and retired Lieutenant-colonel Kevin Baff envision a public digital terminal where locals and visitors can access collected records on local military history.
Author and history enthusiast Lt-col Baff has access to official Ministry of Defence resources which he would like to augment with inside knowledge from families and descendants of those who served on active duty.
‘‘Traditionally, monuments recorded only those who died. We want to list all those who went on active service, to acknowledge the sacrifices of the wounded and those who had to see and do things most of us never will,’’ he said.
The builders of historical monuments did their utmost, Lt-col Baff said, but faced inevitable limitations in their age of typewriters, filing cabinets and word of mouth. ‘‘Just one example: Balclutha Cenotaph records a J. Johnston, but research has turned up five possible J. Johnstons that could be. We’d like to know more about all five, and for that, we need the help of the local people,’’ he said. To enable this, plans are under way to add a war-memorial section to the Clutha Hub website, where the names of service people Lt-col Baff still sought information on would be listed for families to check, and offer verification, correction and additional material.
‘‘Major Eric Gardner is a great example of how local people can help us,’’ Lt-col Baff said. ‘‘His family have a box full of his military legacy, and whatever they choose from that can be made available to the public resource.’’
Major Gardner’s (pictured) true story took him from Palmerston North to Gallipoli to war-torn France.
He survived and received land near the North Island’s now famous ‘‘Bridge to Nowhere’’, where he fought to found a farm from that wilderness only to be defeated by the Great Depression before moving down south to Clutha to try again.
Eric Gardner’s son Matthew died in Malta in 1946 while flying for the Air Force. The major himself was laid to rest in Balclutha Lawn Cemetery in 1969, but the wartime diary his family retains reveals still deeper layers within his story, and Clutha Community Hub has the potential to provide the setting and technology to collect and re-tell such stories and those of thousands of others.
‘‘We’d like to see a comprehensive local archive on an interactive platform, with links to similar projects nationally and beyond. It’s a concept under development and we’re already considering the possibilities for suitable multimedia and virtual reality,’’ Mrs Munro said.
Plans for The Hub’s wall of remembrance aim to include over 4800 names, and Lt-col Baff has been travelling to research memorials of every kind in the wider Clutha district, which includes 160 localities between Moa Flat, Taieri, Chaslands and Merino Downs.
Tomorrow April 22, Lt-col Baff will be at Balclutha Lawn Cemetery at 10am and Kaitangata Cemetery at 3pm to place approved ceramic 50mm poppies on the headstones of confirmed service-people buried without Dept of Veterans Affairs Gravestones.
He will be MC for Balclutha RSA Anzac Day Cenotaph memorial service, and work is under way for the database to be viewed on Clutha Hub’s website. brand new replacement for the former War Memorial Town Hall is scheduled for completion in 2023.