Te Papa has a wonderful collection of 172 portraits on glass plate negatives featuring World War One soldiers. These images were taken at the Berry & Co. photography studio in Wellington between about 1914 and 1919.
The men in these images were about to enter into a life-changing event. Some would survive, a large number would be injured and many would die. The photos, given to family, friends and loved ones as a memento, are now a poignant reminder of the soldier’s youthful vitality, as yet unharmed by the horrors of war.
It has become my responsibility as curator history at Te Papa to research, name and document the soldiers in these images. It is going to be a long and challenging task but one that I am compelled to do and I now feel a huge responsibility to find out who each person is, discover what happened to them during the war and if they survived how their lives panned out. It is equally challenging because I am a novice to this history and all the intricate details associated with military history.
My first clue is a surname written on the negative. The uniforms and badges help to link a name to a rank or unit and then a record on the Auckland War Memorial Museum’s online database Cenotaph and an Archive record. But it is not always clear. Sometimes the names and military regalia don’t match up, or there may be multiple possibilities. And sometimes the negative is not clear enough for me to identify uniform badges.
One mystery I have been working on this week has been an image of a soldier in a World War One military uniform with a bandolier over his left shoulder and riding spurs. His regimental badges indicate that he was in the 25th Reinforcements, New Zealand Field Artillery. Cenotaph has several records for ‘Baigent’ listed, one possibility being Thomas Eustace Baigent who was in the Mounted Rifles Brigade – he would have worn riding spurs – but Thomas was in the 41st Reinforcements. Another was Lawrence Charles Baigent who was in the 25th Reinforcements Medical Corps but it seems unlikely because there are no Medical Corps related badges on the soldier in these photos.
The name Baigent on the negative may relate to the woman in the photograph but all searches have ended without conclusion. So this week, I’m going to end my blog with a mystery and a plea for information. This project needs the help of the community. I’d love to hear from anyone that knows this man or women or can assist with identifying the men, women and children in these photos.