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Last Post for Veteran Archives Campaigner Ian Wards

Ian WardsThe man who spearheaded the long, winning campaign to free the New Zealand national archives from a mutilating public service bureaucracy, former N.Z. Chief Historian, Ian McLean Wards, MA, has died in Wellington a week after his 83rd birthday.

A leading heritage campaigner and ex-NZEF artilleryman, his funeral in Wellington’s Old St Paul’s church, one of the Capital’s icon buildings he helped save, heard the "Last Post" called by a NZ Returned Services Association bugler.

Mourners heard tributes from family members and colleagues like "one of New Zealand’s best historians", "the grandfather of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biographies", "a man of principle, mentor, defender, co-conspirator, gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) critic" and "truly a gentleman and a scholar".

Ian Wards was born in Mapua, near Nelson, on September 13, 1902.  World War II interrupted his history studies at Canterbury University.  He enlisted on January 8, 1941, as a gunner with the expeditionary force’s 32nd Survey Battery, a corps directing artillery fire in the North African desert campaigns.  He also served in Italy, Palestine, Crete, Jordan and Syria.  He was demobilised on November 30, 1945 and on December 7, 1946, married his Canterbury University sweetheart, Diana Taylor, who survives him.  They were married almost 57 years. He took his M.A. degree at Victoria University, Wellington, in 1947.

Immediately after leaving the artillery, Ian Wards was appointed as a research officer to the NZ War History Branch where he prepared narratives of campaigns in Greece and Tunisia, assisted with the overseas and national histories of N.Z. Army units and other official publications.  In 1968, he was appointed Chief Historian at the Historical Publications Branch of the Department of Internal Affairs, a post he held until retirement in 1983.

He was a member, often leading a number of charitable and heritage groups and was a staunch campaigner for the preservation and restoration of Kiwi icons like Alexander Turnbull House and its library and the old Bank of New Zealand building in Wellington.  He was a life member of the Wellington Regional Council and the Archives and Records Association of NZ (ARANZ)

His chief historical work, The Shadow of the Land – A Study of British Policy and Racial Conflict in New Zealand, 1832-1852, published in 1968, caused much academic and political controversy with new challenges to the then accepted roles of government and the Treaty of Waitangi in the nation.

An early political success was against the then Minister of Finance, Robert Muldoon, who wanted to close the DIA’s Historical Publications Branch.  But Ian Wards’ longest-running campaign was for the independence of the National Archives of New Zealand, now Archives New Zealand.  He had advised on the preparation of the Archives Act, 1957, chaired the 1979 committee on the archives’ administration and joined the 1983 committee recommending its accommodation in the Government Printers complex.

From the early 1970’s, he was outraged by successive administrations’ plans to diminish the archives’ authority.  His concerns went public in the 1990’s as he lead an ARANZ challenge to a Department of Internal Affairs programme that wanted to demote the institution to a subordinate heritage department unit.  The campaign successfully aroused public and political awareness, hobbling the plan until the change of government in 1999 put an end to it.

The battle was won, but the tall, quiet man’s fierce determination made him few friends in the corridors of power. A "cultured flea in the ear of politicians and senior civil servants", was how a newspaper obituary writer described him.  Which, perhaps, explains why Ian Wards’ work for the nation has never been publicly recognised.  He died on September 21, 2003 in Wellington’s Mary Potter Hospice.

[by Michael Steemson, 26 September 2003]
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