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Students curate WW1 exhibition

A new exhibition exploring the end of World War I opened yesterday at the Turnbull Gallery in Wellington. Goodbye to All That: Armistice 1918 is the result of collaboration between postgraduate students of Museum and Heritage Studies at Victoria University of Wellington and staff of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Drawing on the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library, the exhibition looks at how news of the armistice that ended the active combat of World War I was received both in New Zealand and abroad. It also explores what life was like in the months leading up to November 1918 and as service men and women began to return home.

For postgraduate student Lenette Breytenbach, an unexpected point of connection was found while reading the diaries and letters of Daphne Commons, a 33-year-old nurse with the New Zealand Army Nursing Service.

“Daphne was already in England when the war broke out. She had qualified as a nurse in New Zealand and was over there studying towards a diploma in massage therapy,” explains Breytenbach.

“I love her letters because even one hundred years later, they’re so relatable. She writes about the war and the effect it has on her life and work, of course, but she’s also totally up with all the gossip amongst her friends and she’s still studying, so she worries about passing exams and getting good grades. I think any student can relate to that!”

Breytenbach and her seven classmates have found the process of creating an exhibition from start to finish incredibly rewarding and a whole lot of work.

“The Turnbull Gallery is just one room and as a visitor you might walk in and think, ‘Oh yeah, you find some photos and diaries, put them on the wall or in a case, write some words about them and that’s an exhibition’,” says fellow postgraduate student Ashley Tvrdeic.

“But there’s a huge amount of research, discussion, debate and thought that goes into the creation of an exhibition. Every detail has to be considered. We’re lucky to have had experienced staff from the Alexander Turnbull Library as well as our lecturers to guide us along the way.”

Breytenbach agrees, “It’s amazingly satisfying to look around and see the results of our months of hard work, we’re all feeling really proud of it.”


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