Tairawhiti Museum and Art Gallery
Rich in Gisborne, East Coast history
Rich in Gisborne, East Coast history Poverty Bay - taonga maori
Tairawhiti Museum and Art Gallery

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Museum In The News 06

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Rich in Gisborne, East Coast history

Poverty Bay - taonga maori


Billy, Thomas and Rangi Halbert were scrub cutting on the family farm, Te Wera,at the back of Matawai when they got wind of the war with Germany.  It was 1914 and the three brothers jumped on their horses and rode to Gisborne where they were among the first volunteers to enlist in the army. 

10 months later Corporal William (Billy) Parekura Halbert was a bugler going ashore at Anzac Cove as part of the 500-strong Maori Contingent.  While climbing the cliffs at Gallipoli, the two men either side of Billy were killed by a shell burst.  There was nothing left of his friends – ‘not even a piece of hair or clothing or dog tag to take home to their mothers.’  Billy’s luck didn’t hold, however, and after stopping a bullet in his shoulder he ended up in a hospital in England.  There he met and married Emmeline, his English sweetheart.  He survived further action in France before returning with Emmy to Gisborne with their daughter, Eirene. 

Once home Billy became an expert tree surgeon and horticulturalist.  He even introduced Chrysanthemums into Gisborne.  Brother Rangi returned home, but Thomas remained in England where he became popular as a BBC journalist. 

The particulars of this story have been retained by the descendants of Billy Halbert.  Gisborne Girls High School principal, Karen Johansen, has loaned her grandfather’s bugles, photographs, letters and military badges to the Tairawhiti Museum to form part of a display to be mounted for the month of April. “My sisters and I grew up with the stories of Gallipoli, France and the wonderful times spent in England,” recounted Ms Johansen.  As children, our grandfather’s stories created an impression that war was a lighthearted series of jolly adventures.  Not until we were older did we realize that he and his whanaunga and friends had experienced daily, unimaginable privation and ugliness on the front line.  The details of these heroic stories are fading and they need to be preserved before it is too late to truly honour their memories,” she said.

Museum director Dr Monty Soutar said, “The museum display is to focus on all of those theatres of war that New Zealanders have been involved with from the Boer War through to today.”.  “It will be our contribution to the memory of Anzac,” he said, “and we hope our schools will see it as a resource to help students learn more about the meaning of Anzac Day.” 

Museum staff would like to hear from others who have photos, medals, letters that they might wish to have included in the display.  If you have material you wish to loan for the display you should contact Anne Milton-Tee or Jennifer Philip before the 24 March, 10.00 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. Monday to Friday.
16/4 Corporal William Halbert of Gisborne and wife Emmeline of Birmingham on their wedding day, 12 February 1917, at St Mary’s Church, Handsworth, Birmingham