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Holding on to Home: stories behind the many treasures

Holding on to Home: stories behind the many treasures

Te Papa Press releases a compelling illustrated history of New Zealand’s First World War experience, rich in objects and personal stories.

Historians Kate Hunter and Kirstie Ross have scoured museums and archives across the country to source personal wartime possessions. The result is Holding on to Home: Stories and objects of the First World War, a powerful new history based on nearly 300 taonga from 28 different museums, archives and personal collections across New Zealand.

Co-author Kirstie Ross, Te Papa’s Curator Modern New Zealand, says ‘Each of these objects holds a hidden story; the grains of sand from Egypt in a soldier’s jacket; the red, white and blue beads strung together by a woman who longed for peace. Even seemingly ordinary objects can be imbued with powerful meaning in a time of war. In Holding on to Home, we’ve brought these stories to life for readers.’

As the Gallipoli centenary approaches, many people are taking the time to reflect on a war that left few New Zealand families untouched. Associate Professor Kate Hunter explains, ‘The metaphor of touch – of holding – became very resonant for us as we wrote.


What is astonishing is the extraordinary tenderness with which New Zealanders held on to each other during and after the war. More than any memorial, the line of kisses at the bottom of letter after letter speaks to me of sacrifices made by families, lovers and friends during this conflict.”

The timely publication of Holding on to Home provides not only a fresh perspective on the First World War, but also valuable insights into the lives of New Zealanders during a time of conflict, what they treasured and why.

The book ranges from the home front to the battlefront, and from war to recovery, but its focus never wavers from ordinary people and the things they held on to, setting it apart from other histories of the war.

Publisher Claire Murdoch says this is echoed in the book’s look and feel. ‘Anna Egan-Reid has created a beautiful design. The rounded edges of the book, its uncoated paper stock and subtly unfinished look outwardly mimics the shape of a soldier’s diary or a scrapbook of the period. Readers can get right up close to the objects featured, talismans really, from 100 years ago. This is a really special book.’

Holding on to Home: Stories and objects of the First World War is part of Conflict & Identity, Te Papa’s four-year, multi-disciplinary programme of research, discussion and reflection on the dynamics of conflict and its impact on our identity in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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