The End of the War? our new exhibition, created by Story Inc. and Dusk, shows the effect of the First World War on New Zealanders, and features interviews with descendants of people who had a variety of roles in the war—soldiers, patriotic supporters, conscientious objectors, politicians and nurses.
Lois Wilson, Vic Singe and Felicity Siemmens are three of the descendants featured in the show.
Vic and Felicity are the grandchildren of Victor Sing, who was one of the four ‘fighting Sings’—New Zealand-Irish-Chinese brothers who fought at The Western Front and The Somme. The brothers, Herbert, Albert (known as Victor), Robert and Arthur, were all living in Grey Lynn when they enlisted.
Herbert was a signaller on telephone duty during a bombardment when the telephone wire was repeatedly broken. Each time, Herbert went out to repair the wire, under fire, to keep the lines of communication open. He was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal for deeds of exceptional bravery.
During the production of the show, Vic and Felicity learned of a letter that Private Albert Sing wrote home about his brother Herbert’s death.
Private Albert Sing wrote, “It was only a few weeks previous… that Herbert made a name for himself in a strafe. He was on duty at the telephone when the wire was broken on three different occasions…. He was a great loss to us all and his comrades, for he had many, and was well liked. But it’s hard, Mother, to bear our loss bravely.”
As Vic says in the show, “He was a ‘Fighting Sing’ till the end for sure, you know. And brave as, going out there and doing it.”
Many participants in The End of the War? mention the effects of the First World War on subsequent generations. Felicity explains, “They had help with their physical wounds, but their psychological wounds really remained. And remained, perhaps, down through the generations.”
The show gave Vic and Felicity the experience of seeing their relatives honoured, and having their story acknowledged in a public space.
Felicity says, “Story Inc has provided our family with a unique opportunity to remember a grandfather and an uncle in a very special way. Albert and Herbert are now being remembered and honoured. It was an honour to pay tribute to an uncle we never knew in the flesh. Pretty amazing … information has come to light in this WW1 Exhibition and shone a spotlight on the past.”
Lois Wilson is the niece-in-law of Louisa Higginson who served as a nurse in the First World War. Lois recently visited to see the show. It was quite an emotional experience for her.
Lois says, “Louisa was given the position of being in charge of a prisoner of war camp and they were German prisoners.”
Louisa wrote home, “I feel so disgusted and ashamed to think I have to nurse the Huns. This is what I paid my fare and came 16,000 miles for. It is a beautiful place and should be used for our boys.”
Lois commented, “But she would do her duty. And she did.”
Nowadays, attitudes to war are different. “With the stories we heard, we just wondered why they went. I often think, even now, I doubt that the males of the country would think of going to war now,” Lois says in The End of the War?
Kate Manson, the script writer for Story Inc, whose father Hugo Manson and grandfather Cecil Manson (who served at Gallipoli) feature in the show, says being involved in writing the scripts and seeing the final product was an emotional experience. “There was a real connection with their families, discovering their ancestors and their stories and acknowledging what they did.”
The End of the War? is showing at The Great War Exhibition until doors close to the public at 6pm on December 2nd 2018.