The World War I medals of New Zealand's official photographer on the Western Front, Henry "Movie" Sanders, have been discovered and will be auctioned in London next month.

They are Sanders' war service medals - the 1914-20 British War Medal and the 1914-19 Victory Medal.

Spink auction house medal specialist Iain Goodman said, "The medals are to be sold in our 28th/29th November auction here in London and they have an estimate of £600-800 [$1179 to $1572]."

But he expects the medals, being sold together as a pair, will sell for considerably more, given their historical significance and the strong demand for such "niche" items.

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Henry Armytage Bradley
Henry Armytage Bradley "Movie" Sanders, New Zealand's official World War I photographer in Belgium and France.
NZ Government official photographer at the Western Front Henry Sanders with his batman and a vehicle bearing a silver fern on its door.
NZ Government official photographer at the Western Front Henry Sanders with his batman and a vehicle bearing a silver fern on its door.

New Zealand National Army Museum acting director Windsor Jones was excited to be told - by the Herald - of the auction, to be held on November 28-29.

He said the museum would "definitely" bid for the medals. They were "extraordinarily significant" items, given the historical importance of Sanders' photographic work for New Zealand and the large number of his images held in New Zealand, particularly by the Alexander Turnbull Library.

The museum has on display a collection of around 10,000 individual medals, many donated or on loan from the descendants of the original recipients, including well-recognised medals such as the Victoria Cross.

Goodman said the auction house would be delighted if Sanders' medals returned "home" to New Zealand to be displayed among his photographs.

They are owned by a couple who live in Devon, England. The woman's late father had collected World War I medals, buying them at local auctions and second-hand shops; the woman found them all stored in a trunk in his attic.

Kiwi soldiers with an artillery piece named Alice at Messines, Belgium, June 1917. Photo / Henry Sanders, Alexander Turnbull Library
Kiwi soldiers with an artillery piece named Alice at Messines, Belgium, June 1917. Photo / Henry Sanders, Alexander Turnbull Library

Sanders, a Briton working for French firm Pathe Freres, was hired on behalf of the New Zealand Government as official photographer and cinematographer in early 1917.

Despite the priceless record New Zealand now has of Kiwi diggers at the Western Front in more than 1000 Sanders photos, his efforts weren't at first appreciated by his potential subjects.

"He is a regular cockney 'tout'," wrote Captain G. Cory, "not even a New Zealander and never been to New Zealand; and here he is appointed to the softest job in the whole division, given a commission in my regiment … if you please, given a motor car and driver all to himself …"

"... I have had no time to show him round," Cory wrote in a letter to his father, cited by historian Christopher Pugsley. "I sent my batman with him one day … Poor old 'movie' as we call him was up close to the line soon after our last big fight to take photographs and got caught in a shelled area or in a barrage. He had his wits nearly scared away and instead of taking pictures he sat in a shell hole all day."

Prime Minister William Massey leads an inspection of the NZ Cyclist Battalion in July 1918 at the Western Front in France. Photo / Henry Sanders, Alexander Turnbull Library.
Prime Minister William Massey leads an inspection of the NZ Cyclist Battalion in July 1918 at the Western Front in France. Photo / Henry Sanders, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Under terms set by the War Office movie committee, Sanders was required to enlist in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, in which he was at first ranked honorary lieutenant and later captain, and to be "unconnected with the Press". His photos were censored in France before going via the War Office to the New Zealand High Commissioner in London.

His first images under this arrangement were in April 1917 of the NZ Division preparing to attack Messines in Belgium. Many of his pictures were published in New Zealand papers.

Sanders' photos range from action at the front, men with big guns or on the march and groups of enemy prisoners, to many behind-the-line scenes images such as of nurses and patients, boxing matches, and troop inspections by VIPs.