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A Stitch in Time

A Stitch in Time

This is the final of our three-part series on the work of Nola Bradwell in her preparations for setting up The Salvation Army’s archives, as told in The crafts of cloth, needle and thread: Nola’s Story, written by her daughter Helen May (abridged).

In 1995, I [Helen] shifted back to Wellington from Hamilton and Nola’s letters stopped. I was busy settling into a new position at Victoria University and didn’t recall much about Nola’s work at the archive. Her health was deteriorating and between 1995 and 1998 Nola kept a diary, recording how she was feeling, her medications and daily activities. The diary petered out in early 1998 and Nola died in June. It was not until 2021 and starting to think about Nola’s Story, I read her diaries and was amazed at the busy life she had led despite her health setbacks, pain and discomfort.

During the years 1995 to ’96 in particular, Nola frequently mentions time spent at ‘THQ’, meaning the archive, and often working with [Commissioner] Marjorie Goffin. They were sorting and mounting all the badges, but also cataloguing and labelling photographs.

Taking the year 1996 as an exemplar, a selection of brief comments about the archive from Nola’s daily one-page diary entries give a glimpse of their work:

I went to THQ today and Marjorie and I covered some promoted to Glory boards [listing deaths] and tried to work out how we would do the badges (26 February 1996).

Went to THQ and worked on badges … Made pikelets for THQ. Made three more covers for the promoted to Glory boards (3 March 1996).

Marjorie and I sorted out uniforms (14 May 1996).

My back is a little better. Went to THQ and finished General [Frederick] Coutts’ collar (7 July 1996).

I had my lumbar spine Xray then went back to THQ and got the General’s bonnet ribbon from London. It is lovely and given with their compliments (24 July 1996). [The ‘General’s bonnet ribbon’ is a mystery but could be referring to the General’s wife who would have worn a bonnet with a ribbon band.]

By 1997 there are fewer entries about the archive, but Nola was still doing a range of tasks. The last entry mentioning the archive was on 20 October 1997: ‘Marjorie came and we made badge boards’. However, this was to Nola’s home. She was not having a good day with a painful back and increased medication. A friend also visited with ‘gold roses’ and her friend Lillian Shepherd had rung her. Nola wrote in the diary that she ‘cooked a hot dinner’. The archive was clearly still of interest to Nola because the day’s entry concluded:

Looked in the 1932–1933 War Crys for Mildred Suter’s account about the General’s tassel but haven’t found it. I hope for a better day tomorrow.

Cyril [husband] must have taken hard copy volumes of the War Cry home for Nola, but what the ‘General’s tassel’ is remains a mystery. Perhaps it was associated with the 50th jubilee in 1933 of The Salvation Army in New Zealand. A puzzle!

When Nola died in June 1998, there were several tributes making reference to her work in the archive.

A tribute in The War Cry (8 August 1998) by Major Alan Robb was headlined ‘A woman of the 20th century’ noting too that ‘Nola played an unobtrusive but major role in the establishment of the territorial archives in Wellington’. Citing Cyril’s funeral tribute, Robb suggested that an area of the archives could be called the ‘Nola Bradwell Uniform Collection’. And, indeed, the room housing the uniforms was later named the ‘Nola Bradwell Room’ at a small ceremony attended by our family.

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