Recently we shared a post about Private Victor Spencer, a young New Zealand soldier who was executed for desertion during WWI.
Some talented Year 8 students from Auckland’s Churchill Park School have created an artwork inspired by both Private Spencer’s story and women who took on roles traditionally filled by men during WWI. The students have entered their work into The Challenge, a creative competition for Year 7-13 Māori students. We wish them the best of luck!
Have a look at their beautiful artwork and read their insightful response, below.
Our memory wakahuia
In our painting we wanted to acknowledge the women who stayed home and took over the men’s jobs while they were away. Wars have had a huge impact on the roles women have had to take on, and have been very influential on the foundation of the strong women we now have in New Zealand society.
Originally, we had planned to write about Victor Spencer and the struggles his family had to go through but his death was such a tragedy it was rarely spoken of, making it hard to find and gather information. As you can see in the painting, it shows Victor Spencer walking off to war while the women were left behind. We wanted to show how the women had to take over the men’s jobs while balancing the rest of the jobs they did beforehand. We decided not to focus on the men but on the women, as we already had some knowledge about what the men had to go through, and not much about what the women went through.
They had to care for all of the family, feed all of the animals, and repair things. They did a lot more than what we’ve artistically included. In the picture behind Victor, we have two women in the fields preparing the ground. In the bottom right, we have a young girl looking after the cattle. She is sad because a member of her extended family is leaving.
For the frame we decided to paint feathers as in Māori culture, they are a traditional treasure. This memory is precious because it was the last time Victor had respect from his family and tribe. He went to war as an enthusiastic, patriotic Māori; so keen, he enlisted at 18. He should have been 20. Sadly, after serving in Gallipoli, and transferring to the Front Line in France, he was executed at dawn by a firing squad for running away twice, due to shell shock. We now know this as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Back then, there was very little knowledge or understanding of this condition. Respect is a very strong Māori value.
We would like to thank Mrs Smith for helping us when we were struggling, Leigh Takirau for helping us with information and resources and also Mrs Richardson for teaching us about the different styles of painting and helping us with the artwork.
By Avigail Richardson, Ariana Te Akau Heslop-Riddell, and Emily Griffith, Churchill Park School