Major Fred Waite, 1918, photographed by SP Andrew, 1/1-015022-G ATL.
Fred Waite's book published in 1919.
Fred Waite wrote that New Zealand soldiers bought all sorts of souvenirs in the Middle East, from "precious stones and expensive silks down to cocoanut wood elephants and little green-backed beetles". New Zealanders at Gallipoli, p.26.
Fred Waite was not the only soldier-collector. Alexander Strang served in Cairo with the Wellington Mounted Rifles and brought a collection of tomb artefacts home to Taranaki. These are on display in Puke Ariki, New Plymouth.
Fred Waite’s relationship with the Middle East was a long one. Service in two World Wars, a keen personal interest in archaeology, and a post-Second World War museum appointment meant that Fred Waite spent the better part of his life involved with the Middle East in one way or another.
Born in 1885 in Dunedin, Waite worked as a compositor at the Otago Daily Times before marrying Ada Philipson Taylor in 1912. Together they moved to Waiwera South, near Balclutha, in 1913 and took over the Hill Foot farm.
Waite was described as an “intense patriot”, and in 1914 he enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force for service in the First World War. It was here that Waite’s long relationship with the Middle East began. As a Lieutenant in the New Zealand Engineers, he sailed from Wellington with the Main Body on 16 October 1914 and a little less than two months later, on 3 December, he disembarked at Suez in Egypt. After a period of intense training, and presumably taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Cairo, Waite embarked for Gallipoli on 12 April 1915. He served nearly four months in the Dardanelles, being wounded in the shoulder, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his actions at Gaba Tepe. After being invalided to England with dysentery, Waite sailed for New Zealand on 15 April 1916, where he served the rest of the war as chief engineer instructor.
Between the wars, Fred Waite remained an officer in the Territorial Force, was elected to Parliament and later appointed to the Legislative Council, was president of the Balclutha RSA and continued to work his Hill Foot farm. Despite all of these preoccupations, his interest in the Middle East remained. He developed an interest in archaeology, originally around early Māori settlement sites in Otago, but he also read widely on ancient Egypt. This interest bore fruit when, during the Second World War, Waite (now a Lieutenant Colonel) was sent to Egypt as overseas commissioner for the National Patriotic Fund Board. Based in Cairo for three years from 1941 to 1944, Waite spent his off-duty hours with archaeologists working in Egypt, visiting their dig-sites, and also meeting local Egyptian landowners and peasants. Throughout the war, he amassed an enormous collection of artefacts – mainly ancient Egyptian, but also Hellenistic Greek, Syrian and Islamic. The vast majority of these pieces went to the Otago Museum, but 190 artefacts were also donated or sold to the Dominion Museum in Wellington (which later became Te Papa) in 1943 and 1944.
With his donations forming the core of Otago Museum’s Middle Eastern artefact collection, Fred Waite was appointed as honorary keeper of Middle Eastern archaeology at the museum upon his return to New Zealand. Two years before his death, the Museum published his book on Egyptian Predynastic Pottery marking the final chapter in a life strongly connected with the Middle East. Fred Waite died in Balclutha hospital on 29 August 1952.
Filter, Sherd, E43.625, donated by Fred Waite. Otago Museum.