On 2 April a small but important exhibition opens at Te Manawa. Ngā Toa – Many Warriors tells the stories of two local men who served during the Second World War: Hugh Nairn of Feilding and Cedric Young of Bulls.
The Ngā Toa project is dedicated to collecting oral histories of overseas conflict from the men and women who served in them. It’s the brainchild of historian and film-maker Patrick Bronte, who over the years has gathered the accounts of almost 300 people, men and women whose stories of WW2, Korea, Vietnam, Malaya and more recent deployments fill a vital niche in New Zealand’s collective memory.
For this exhibition, Bronte and Te Manawa have worked together to create a focus on Manawatū.
Hugh Nairn was 25 when war broke out. He volunteered for service and saw action in Egypt, where he was wounded. The artistic talent that he’d developed in school was deemed valuable and he was assigned to an intelligence unit for the rest of the war, interpreting maps and aerial surveillance throughout the Italian campaign.
Cedric Young was accepted into the RAF at 21. By mid-1942 he was flying Kittyhawk fighters in action over Egypt. He survived several forced landings and on one occasion was shot down and badly burned, but each time he was able to return to Allied lines. In Italy he flew numerous patrols and escort missions.
Ngā Toa – Many Warriors includes text, artwork, objects, photographs and video documenting the experiences of these men. It’s a valuable insight into New Zealanders’ response to the war, their attitudes to service and how they dealt with the things they went through.
The exhibition is open from 2 April to 3 May in the main museum building. Entry is free of charge. Visit www.ngatoa.co.nz to support the project and see more soldiers’ stories.