Above Photo Credit: Military sewing kit or housewife (hussif), Auckland Museum
Comparing the kit bag of a World War One solider to my modern-day bag, and even a contemporary soldier’s kit, offers a captivating glimpse into the evolution of experiences we have as humans.
The bags we carry on our backs, or wheel through the airport, are more than carriers of personal belongings; they reflect the times we live in. A soldier’s bag represents sacrifice, duty, comradery, country, and unity, and my bag speaks of freedom and exploration (and sometimes duty and sacrifice).
Felicity Wilson’s kit bag is vastly different from a WW1 soldier, but a sewing kit remains an essential.
Time has an extraordinary power to reshape the world we live in, and while it could be somewhat far-fetched for me to say, the evolution of what is contained in a travel bag is a poignant example of this transformation.
Today, I can jet-set around the world with an array of luxuries in my suitcase, a stark juxtaposition to the kit bag of a World War One solider.
Open a WWI soldier’s kit bag and you would find the essentials for battle: uniforms, rations, basic medical supplies, the bare necessities; the very essence of a soldier’s backpack was survival. In contrast, my bag is a vessel for exploration and discovery. With effortless organisation it is stylish and filled to the brim with personal comforts, like noise cancelling headphones.
New Zealand soldiers at the front near Le Quesnoy
Credit: Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association: NZ official negatives, World War 1914-1918. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Even the simple canvas backpacks used by New Zealand soldiers in WW1 are a stark contrast to the comfort level, design, and durability of those used by a modern-day solider. During the first war, soldiers carried basic bags with only the essentials. Fast forward to now, and a soldier’s backpack is equipped with specialised compartments for gear, advanced medical supplies, a hootchie (or shelter) and washwipes.
I will be attending the opening of the NZ Liberation Museum – Te Arawhata in October. When I think of packing my bag, I will not need a gas mask, puttees, or life-saving supplies. Instead, I will aim for style and practicality. There is one notable similarity however, I always include a sewing kit for button emergencies. In a WWI kit the sewing tools were referred to as a “housewife”, that might be a little problematic today!
As the world around us continues to develop, we must not forget that the essence of today’s travel bag echoes the soldier’s kitbag. A soldier’s bag serves as a reminder of the resilience of humans and encourages a deeper, more profound understanding of the lessons the war continues to teach us. Whether we are in the trenches of war or the terminals of airports, these bags are a symbol of our individual journeys in time and have the power to connect us to those who came before us.