Last Tuesday was an important moment in the history of the National Library of New Zealand and in the history of our own University Library. The afternoon ceremony involved a speech from Mark Crookston of the National Library acknowledged the transfer of personal papers (each including a diary) of three First World War servicemen: Hartley Palmer, Cyril Claridge and Clifford Walsh. I spoke on behalf of the University of Leeds, acknowledging the long process of negotiation following the equally long process of provenance research undertaken by Joanne Fitton and her team in Special Collections. There were lots of thanks expressed (including to Joanne, Eugenie Karen for her work preparing the papers for their travels and Jodie Double and her team for the digitisation work they had undertaken on all of the New Zealand material at LUL.
Earlier that day, the families of each veteran many of whom had travelled long distances had spent time with the papers. At first they just stood near. But soon there was chatter about the efforts to secure the return of the diaries to New Zealand as well as memories of the diarists themselves. And then extracts and transcripts were read and explored. Margaret Kearns, youngest daughter of Hartley Palmer was joined by two of her brothers (both in their nineties) as well as several members of younger generations of the family. Cyril Claridge’s daughter-in-law and nephews and nieces of Clifford Walsh all expressed their pleasure at seeing the material back ‘home’. It was an emotional process for family members. I don’t think I realised beforehand just how significant the Gallipoli disaster has become for New Zealand identity. Anzac Day, 25th April is a more important day in the New Zealand Calendar than Remembrance Day and serves as a quasi national day. I felt quite privileged to be part of this reunion between diaries and families. All were gracious about the length of time the negotiations had taken and Margaret Kearns who had led the campaign over many years spoke during the afternoon ceremony and thanked the University.
As I was talking to Margaret after the ceremony, I felt giddy and slightly unwell as if I was experiencing jet-lag all over again. It was only when I was being given a cup of tea that it was explained that we had just experienced an earthquake- level 6.2 which is quite significant. What a day!