Ever wondered what Tauranga was like in the last year of the Great War?
Now you can find out with a visit to Masonic Park, thanks to the Tauranga Heritage Collection.
Their ninth exhibition in the ‘Tauranga to the Trenches’ series occupies two modified shipping containers between The Strand and Willow Street, and provides a glimpse into what life in the city – then just small seaside town – was like.
“I like to think we’ve done a variety of exhibitions,” says cultural heritage coordinator Fiona Keane, who has helped put together previous projects around battles such as Gallipoli, Passchendaele, and the Somme, as well as exhibits focusing on nurses, Maori, and tunnellers in the war.
“It was a very long war for the people of Tauranga,” says Fiona, who pored over local newspapers from 1918 to find material for the exhibition.
“I wanted to show that the war was going on, but also that life continued in Tauranga as well.
“One of the interesting facts about 1918 is that nearly twice number of Tauranga men died in the war during that year than in any other year of the war. That’s partly due to the influenza epidemic, but it was also a very bloody time in the conflict.”
For much of the First World War, the Western Front was fairly stagnant – the popular image of grinding trench warfare, with gains of only a few metres on each side at a time (and which were lost weeks later).
In 1918 the Germans, bolstered by recruits from the Eastern Front following an armistice with Russia, launched their ‘Spring Offensive’ against the Entente forces in France.
Initially the Germans made huge gains, but logistical problems prevented them consolidating and keeping their new-won territory.
In August the Entente launched the ‘Hundred Days Offensive’ to counter the Germans, pushing them back and finally ending the war in what was a much more aggressive, mobile campaign.
Meanwhile in Tauranga, people were carrying on with their lives as news from the war continued to filter through.
Fiona has collated the most interesting stories and letters from the 1918 editions of The Bay of Plenty Times into a special broadsheet, which visitors to the exhibition can take home for free.
“We had 2000 of these papers printed, and after ten days we have half left. Not everyone would have taken one, so I’d say at least 1000 people have been through the exhibition so far.”
The exhibition, which is free to enter, is on at Masonic Park from 9.30am-3.30pm every day until Thursday, May 3.