17 Aug 2016

Call to help solve war photo mysteries

9:39 am on 17 August 2016

A young Māori woman, moko kauae on her chin and a small child on her hip, stands beside a young Māori soldier holding a gun.

Historian Monty Soutar is writing a book 'Whitiki - Māori in the First World War'.

Historian Monty Soutar wants the public to help identify these people photographed at the Avondale army camp in 1915. Photo: Supplied / Major Roger Dansey Album, care of Brendon Butt

She wears a long black dress. White-lace frills circle her arms and a stripe of lace is set off-centre from neck to toe. She wears two necklaces and a wedding ring.

The trio are at Avondale army camp, the year was 1915.

Now, historian Monty Soutar aims to solve the mystery of their identity along with other World War I era photographs that have been hidden away for 100 years.

He is dusting off more than 300 photos he has collected in an effort to honour Māori and Pasifika soldiers in a book, Whitiki - Māori in the First World War, due to be published next year.

And he is calling on the public to help identify the people in the photos.

"Clearly she would have come from an area where they still had tohunga tā moko practising, my guess is that the soldier is from Gisborne/East Coast area.

Dr Soutar believed there were many more images still hidden away and he was on the hunt for any of Māori or Pasifika men who served in WWI.

He said the book would probably be the most complete story of his people's involvement in that war that would exist for the next 100 years.

Many of the photos come from iwi collections or have been passed from family member to family member.

"They've come from families who have had these photographs on their walls or people who have, somehow, its come into their possession and they don't know who they are.

"But obviously they were connected to their grandparents or great grandparents at some point.

"I know there's plenty more out there and its just a matter of getting the word out there that we're looking."

Dr Monty Soutar.

Historian Monty Soutar Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Television producer Brendon Butt grew up with a couple of photo albums in his home that were precious possessions of this late father. It was in these that the picture of the woman in the black lace dress was found.

"The album was left to my father, then when my father passed away it was left to me.

"It took a little to percolate but what I ended up doing is looking for the story and getting some help from Monty (Soutar)."

Mr Butt said he grew up hearing the stories of Uncle Roger Dansey but not really taking it all in until he got older and made a documentary on the collection.

"There was a sword involved that hung on the wall of our house ... that had been his, and there was the photo album ... my father was named after him, he was everywhere," he said.

It was in this collection that the photo of the woman with a baby standing next the soldier at Avondale was found.

He hoped someone would be able to identify them.

"All very young, very handsome and they're all very dark compared to what we are today and yeah, as Monty and I found out, they were young and looking for adventure," Mr Butt said.

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