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HMS New Zealand Ensign
HMS New Zealand Ensign
This enormous flag, measuring roughly four by five metres, has special links to South Canterbury and the largest naval battle of World War I at Jutland.
The ensign was given to the HMS New Zealand shortly before the war by the ‘Women of New Zealand’ after a fundraising drive launched in Timaru by the local branch of the Navy League. The ensign was one of two flags, the other being a Union Jack, that were gifted to the ship.
The HMS New Zealand was a British Royal Navy battle cruiser paid for by New Zealand during the patriotic zeal prior to World War I and the ship visited Timaru to receive the flags during a nationwide tour in 1913. Unfortunately rough seas kept the ship and its crew off shore during the Timaru visit, but there was still a formal ceremony at Caroline Bay for the flags’ presentation. The Captain received the ensign and Union Jack later in Wellington.
The Timaru flags had dramatic histories in World War I, including flying at the largest naval battle of the war at Jutland in May 1916. During the Battle of Jutland the ensign was damaged by enemy fire before it ripped and tore away from the mast. It was later repaired but evidence of the damage can be clearly seen on the flag. The last time the two Timaru flags were hoisted on the HMS New Zealand was at the historic surrender of the German fleet at the end of the war in November 1918.
Following the war the flags returned to Timaru, however, in the intervening years their whereabouts became unknown and it was thought they might be lost.
Then in 2015 South Canterbury Museum was contacted by naval historian Fred Wilson who was searching for the flags as part of his research for a book on HMS New Zealand. The museum staff searched the collection for possible matches and quickly had success. They came across a huge Union Jack and ensign that matched the descriptions and which were credited with having come from the NZ Navy League and HMS New Zealand. The two flags had been in the collection since the beginning of the museum but at some stage their amazing stories had been lost. Now the items have been reconnected with their history and can be shared with the public.