Dannevirke: Artwork celebrates those left behind

By Christine McKay

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Te Manawaroa, the latest artwork by Dannevirke's Mike Harold depicts the impact World War I had on families left behind and features Mr Harold's great-aunt Bertha and his great-uncle Private William Harold and their family. Photo / Christine McKay
Te Manawaroa, the latest artwork by Dannevirke's Mike Harold depicts the impact World War I had on families left behind and features Mr Harold's great-aunt Bertha and his great-uncle Private William Harold and their family. Photo / Christine McKay

So much has been written about those who went to the battle front in World War I, but Dannevirke's Mike Harold believes the unsung heroes were the wives and families left behind.

Bertha and William Harold, of Waimiro, with their three boys, Hugh (on his mother's lap), Ernie and Clarrie the middle son, sitting beside his father before he left for battle in August 1916.
Bertha and William Harold, of Waimiro, with their three boys, Hugh (on his mother's lap), Ernie and Clarrie the middle son, sitting beside his father before he left for battle in August 1916.

"Although I never met my great-aunt Bertha Harold, I've learnt so much about her determination, resilience and hard slog for survival when her husband William went off to the Great War in August 1916, not to return," he said. "The result is my painting Te Manawaroa about the impact the Great War - World War I - had on families left behind.

"It's an attempt to capture her spirit and the spirit of those other women in the same circumstances. They were our unsung war heroes. Their story is about tenacity in a tumultuous time. These were the people who really shaped us as a district and a country. My family all had very fond memories of great-aunt Bertha who was an amazing lady.

She didn't live to be old bones, but did see two of her boys serve in World War II. This is the stuff movies should be made about, these were the mothers who soldiered on and we should be celebrating them at this time. It would do our community good to think about the bigger picture of war because those like Bertha just boxed on. They were the war survivors. Bertha never remarried and for the rest of her days her whole life was affected by World War I. The men were dead and gone and I believe stories like this are a damn sight more inspiring than men going to war and the carnage. Women like my great-aunt Bertha were inspirational.

"It's a reminder of the commitment and persistence of families, especially women like my great-aunt Bertha, left behind. They had a life sentence and their survival was through dedication to making life work, but it's not just my family story, it's everyone's story of the time."

What motivated his great-uncle Private William Harold, No 22662, to join the war effort as a member of the 16th Reinforcements to the New Zealand Machine Gun Corps isn't clear, Mr Harold said.

"Why would a man with a wife and three little children leave his Dannevirke farm and go to war? At the time families here would have had a clearer understanding of the horrendous impact of World War I, with stories of Gallipoli.

"Whatever prompted my great-uncle William, 27, to join the front line of the battle, we don't know, but we do know like so many others, he is listed as having no known grave.

"My great-aunt Bertha was left a widow and had to just get on with it, through the war years, the Depression and then World War II.

"I was lucky to meet her eldest son Ernie when he was in his 90s. He told me hadn't wanted to enlist for WWII, but did so, although he'd said, 'bugger it, I'm not going to war, my mother had too much crap from wars'. But, along with his youngest brother Hugh, he enlisted in 1944 and they both served overseas."

Mr Harold hopes his thought-provoking artwork gets people thinking about the stories of others left behind. Visitors can view Te Manawaroa at the Dannevirke Art Society's rooms in McPhee St, on Thursday and Mr Harold hopes to have it on public display for Anzac Day next year.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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