A Northland man has retrieved his father's World War I dairies from a celebrated UK library - but the precious family mementos could be the last returned to veterans' descendants by the British archive.
Dozens of New Zealand diaries, letters, journals and personal documents are held in the Liddle Collection at Leeds University.
The material, much relating to the Gallipoli campaign, was collected 40 years ago in New Zealand by British military historian Peter Liddle. He copied a lot of paperwork, but also took original documents back to the UK, where they now are part of one of Britain's most valuable WWI collections.
The two diaries returned to the veteran's family may be the last recovered from the Leeds depository, which holds 146 collections of personal papers of men who served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) at Samoa, Gallipoli, the Western Front, and Egypt and Palestine from 1914-1918.
Its manager told the Weekend Herald that cases such as the Northland diaries "are often complex, particularly where descendants rather than the original lender are involved".
New Zealand's last WWI veteran, rifleman Bright Williams, died aged 104 in Hastings in February 2003.
Records held at Archives New Zealand made available to the Weekend Herald reveal there was high-level alarm some time after Liddle trawled New Zealand in 1974 collecting rare military records. He targeted Gallipoli veterans, and was helped by the Returned Services Association, which asked former soldiers for their war accounts.
One Archives letter notes that the Alexander Turnbull Library told Liddle it would be an "unfriendly act" if he took original material.
Liddle ignored the library's appeal, and returned to Sunderland Polytechnic, where he created what he called the "Personal Experience Archives", a large collection of WWI memorabilia.
He also wrote Men of Gallipoli, based in part on his New Zealand and Australian research. In the 1976 book, he acknowledged the "outstanding debt" he owed Colonel William "Bill" Murphy, a decorated Gallipoli veteran who put Liddell in touch with many old soldiers.
The arrangement, however, left Colonel Murphy deeply upset. Writing in the official RSA journal, he said he felt "regret and sadness" at the sight of irreplaceable material leaving the country.
Liddle insisted that everything he took had been given freely. He said he photocopied a lot of material and only held onto original documents that had been willingly passed to him.
In one 1984 letter, Liddle replied to a Westport family who asked for the return of a diary that the 1915 journal had been offered "for preservation in the archives here".
But that is not the recollection of Murray Hunter of Parakao, 30km west of Whangarei. The retired Northland farmer said his father George always maintained that he loaned his diaries to Liddell, who collected the Gallipoli veteran's journals after an interview at the Whangarei RSA club.
He recalled that before Liddle spoke to his father, the historian "sort of chased us out of the room". At some point his father gave Liddell two dairies "and that's the last we saw of them ... I was pretty disgusted."
Over the years, the family put the issue aside until author Keith Sloane got in touch for his book Living With High Explosives, about the 1st NZ Light Trench Mortar Battery in which George Hunter served.
Sloane became aware of the New Zealand material gathered by Liddle and acquired by Leeds in 1988. Following the contact with Sloane, the Hunter family decided to try to retrieve the dairies from the Gallipoli and Western Front campaigns.
After an exchange of correspondence, managers of the Liddle collection agreed to return the two diaries.
Dr Stella Butler, Leeds' librarian and Keeper of the Brotherton Collection which includes the Liddle archive, told the Weekend Herald by email: "We deal with requests on a case-by-case basis and that is how we responded to the inquiry regarding George Hunter. These cases are often complex particularly where descendants rather than the original lender are involved. We have received very few requests for material donated to be returned."
Archives NZ records show that Liddle's activities in New Zealand prompted a Defence Department investigation in 1984 after reports he planned to sell some documents.
The June 1984 report noted that "some veterans had no intention that Liddle should keep the material - rather that they had merely loaned it to facilitate his research".
Former Alexander Turnbull chief librarian Jim Traue wrote to the historian when he learned that rare military records had left New Zealand, and requested they be returned to their original owners. Liddle replied that he had given no assurances about returning the property.
In 1982, Liddle agreed to an approach from the Australian Joint Copying Project for the collection to be microfilmed. But the Defence report notes that the following year he changed his mind, saying "my archives would be severely undermined in value by my co-operation with your project".
According to the report, Liddle regarded the collection as "his personal property and that it has a commercial 'value' that he intends to realise".
New Zealand military historian Dr Chris Pugsley has a different view of the British historian. In a new book, Remembering Gallipoli: Interviews with New Zealand veterans, Pugsley writes that he surveyed New Zealand material at Leeds and "assessed that the bulk of it was in the form of interviews and memoirs that would not have existed had it not been for Liddle's visit".
From his inspection, Pugsley concluded that "most of the diaries were copies of those that existed in New Zealand.
Moreover, New Zealand families had donated much of the original primary material to the collection because Liddle was the only person who had shown any interest in New Zealand's involvement in the Gallipoli Campaign."
Stella Butler in Leeds said the material was available for inspection by scholars and the wider community.
"We would be breaking the trust placed by donors in Peter Liddle and then transferred to this university if we were to transfer original material to other repositories."
The library would provide digital copies where copyright allowed.