A silver ribbon of bayonets

‘Sometimes they marched with fixed bayonets and you saw this silver ribbon come winding through the crowd…’  Ena Ryan

This wonderful, almost cinematic line comes from an interview with Ena Ryan, a Wellingtonian who was born in 1908. In the interview she vividly recalls the outbreak of the First World War, and the trips with her father into Wellington city to farewell the Main Body whom, as an adult, she wistfully describes as being ‘in the peak of physical condition… mostly 6 feet tall’.

World War 1 troops on parade, Lambton Quay, Wellington. Dickie, John, 1869-1942 :Collection of postcards, prints and negatives. Ref: 1/4-017062-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23132369

A silver ribbon of bayonets – World War 1 troops on parade, Lambton Quay, Wellington. Photo John Dickie, 1869-1942. Collection of postcards, prints and negatives. Ref: 1/4-017062-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23132369

Just a little girl at the time, Ena recalls the crowds gathering to farewell the troops, pressing up close ‘because they wanted to say goodbye to them’. Her father always took down ‘little flat tins of tobacco’ which he slipped into soldiers’ pockets. Other well-wishers offered flowers,  cakes of chocolate or fruit, and it seems perhaps even a kitten!

‘I can quite clearly remember a solider marching past with a fixed bayonet and an orange stuck on the end of the bayonet. I can also remember one with a kitten buttoned into his tunic and the kitten’s head sticking out.’

Ena’s voice, recorded in the 1980s and preserved by Radio New Zealand Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero, enlivens a large-scale projection on Wellington’s waterfront at Shed 1 (the shed opposite Shed 5 and Foxglove bar). The projection features archival film footage of the Main Body preparing for war, parading through Wellington’s streets and finally heading out of the harbour.

‘… the ships pulled out into the stream… and through the binoculars you could see them lifting to the swell in Cook Straight and then they were gone.’

You just have two more nights to hear Ena and other New Zealanders recalling their departure stories – for they too will soon be gone. This moving aural and visual presentation starts at 8pm and runs to 10.30pm this Friday and Saturday.

From waterfront head to Courtney Place. There writ large on the façade of the St James theatre, you’ll see moving image of Wellingtonians at play 100 years ago – quite a contrast from today. Then head up Cuba Street and pause outside Espressoholic. On the building opposite you’ll see Te Papa’s ‘Berry Boys’ projected onto the building in which they had their portraits taken before heading to war.

Berry projection

Lest We Forget projection on the Berry & Co Photographers building at 147 Cuba Street. The photographs were all taken in this building before the soldiers departed for war between 1914 and 1918. Photo: Claire Regnault

The projections are on tonight and tomorrow night ONLY, so pray for the rain to stop, and add a little bit of history to your evening.

 Lest We Forget has been curated by Wellington City Council in partnership with Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision (formerly the New Zealand Film Archive) and Te Papa. For more information on the full programme visit the WCC’s website here.

 

 

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