I had a call earlier this week from a gentleman who wanted to know how to find information online about someone who had served in the New Zealand military in the Second World War. This person had not been posted overseas and had, therefore, survived the War.
Of course, the kids chose that precise time to launch an all-out offensive of their own. You know, the kind of aggressive meltdown that follows you from room to room as you try to escape. Between the screams and the slamming doors, I managed to pass on a couple of places to look for more information. But now that I’ve had a moment to reflect I’ve come up with a few more hunting grounds.
So, Stan, wherever you are, this one’s for you.
Records from the Second World War are a lot harder to access than earlier conflicts. We have some fairly robust privacy laws in New Zealand and most of the official records that genealogists are interested in, particularly the records that contain personal information, are sealed for around 100 years from the date of their creation to protect the privacy of living persons. Most of the records which were created during the Second World War will fall within this privacy window and public access to those records is often restricted. This is why there are very few online resources or searchable databases for this time period in New Zealand.
Bearing that in mind, some good information is still out there. You many not find it easily or all in one place, but that’s all part of the fun, right?
Without a doubt, the best starting point for finding information about Second World War veterans is the New Zealand Defence Force Archives at Trentham Army Camp near Wellington. They will send you a copy of a veteran’s service record for no charge, provided that you fill in the form that you will find here and give them some proof that the veteran in question is now deceased. I know that this isn’t exactly an instant, online source of information, but it is the best source which is why I’ve put it first.
If you are looking for an Army Veteran then you can search the New Zealand Army WWII Nominal Rolls, 1939-1948 database at Ancestry.com. This is a subscription based site but the index is free to search and you can always sign up for a 14 day free trial if your search gets a result that you want to see. The database contains the names of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force which fought in Egypt, the Middle East, Greece, Italy and many other battles in the Mediterranean region and the Pacific. This database only covers Army personnel, so if your veteran was Navy or Air Force then they won’t be listed here.
If you suspect that your veteran might have served with the 28th Maori Battalion, then you should search their online Battalion Roll which lists the 3600 men who fought with the Battallion between 1941 and 1945. The Battalion Roll search page also has a link through to a list of people who served in units which worked closely with the 28th Maori Battalion.
The newspapers of the time are also a good resource. Not only did they print Rolls of Honour and casualty lists, but they also printed many of the appointments, names, ranks and postings of military personnel. The PapersPast website has digitised a range of historical newspapers up to 1945 and the site will allow you to search these newspapers by keyword. Enter your veteran’s surname into the search field, limit the search to the war years and see what you find. If you get too many results, try limiting your search even further by adding in “Army”, “Navy” or “Air Force” into your key words.
Also have a look at NZ History Online which has an entire section dedicated to the Second World War. This site has at least one searchable personnel database (Boer War embarkation database), but you can also do a name search over the entire site to see what comes up for more recent conflicts. Be aware that even if you get no results in your main search, there is a text box which comes up on the right hand side of the screen showing results from related sites.
The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre is a magnificent resource and should never be overlooked. Try a name search in the main search screen and see what you find. Even if your veteran doesn’t appear by name, this site will definitely have something of interest to you. For example, I think that Stan’s veteran was in the Air Force but served exclusively in New Zealand. In that case, this chapter on the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s base organisation in New Zealand between 1943-1945 will be particularly relevant.
Once you know where and when your veteran served, you can drill down to get a lot more information about how they experienced the War. There is a range of Veterans’ Associations, including the RSA, which maintain the bonds forged during the War, so if you are able to find the right organisation for your veteran it might even be possible to track down another living veteran who served in the same unit.
There are an astonishing number of publications available which can provide amazing details about Unit histories and the like. From my own personal experience, I was able to read a full account of the moment that my Great Uncle Alastair was recovered unconscious from the ocean on his final, fatal flight by reading a history of the aircraft carrier that he had been stationed on.
Information leads to more information. So keep chipping away.
You never know where the next clue is going to take you.