(1910-1991), grew up in Mataura in New Zealand's deep south, and after matriculating from
Gore High School, began a lifelong career with the Bank of New Zealand. Taking up
photography as a hobby, he joined the Dunedin Photographic Society, where he was tutored
by well-known local photographer George Chance.
The camera he took to war was a folding Welta 6x9 plate model,
originally produced in 1934. The camera had an extra back which took 120 roll film. It had
a Compur shutter, probably 11/200 second. The lens was f4.5, probably uncoated
Rodenstock Trinar or Valtar. Lens filters could be fitted, and Struan evidently used them.
The camera could correct for parallax distortion.
As with keeping diaries, photography by ordinary soldiers was not
permitted, though this rule was often honoured in the breach. Struan was lucky to have
sometimes been designated official or semi-official photographer for the units he served
with. He supplied photographs to other soldiers, collecting as many as 528 prints a time
from labs in Cairo. Being an artillery soldier with a truck, he was more able to carry
photographic equipment in the field than many soldiers, particularly those in the
Though he frequently set out to take good photographs,
often there was only time for quick grab-shots, of varying quality. He periodically posted
photographs home, and by using the cameras self-timing shutter release or getting
someone else to use his camera, he included himself in many shots to show he was still
OK. He captioned every print, and his captions have been retained,
Wogs and all! (The term was universally used by Kiwi troops, not usually in a
Not all the photographs survived. Some were burned in action, while the
army censor intercepted others (including, curiously, photographs of Maadi Camp life taken
after the North African war had ended). Sometimes, as when he was in action at Alamein,
photography was not possible at all.
During a long spell at Maadi Camp before moving to Italy, Struan was an
active committee member of the Maadi Camera Club, which met in Lowry Hut on Tuesday
evenings. Members had technical sessions and lectures, watched cine films, went on
photographic outings and produced enlargements for an exhibition. (In 1946, when Maadi
Camp was finally closed down, surplus funds from the camera club were repatriated and
invested in the Maadi Cup, a challenge cup still competed for by New Zealand photographic
The 168 photographs in the Struans War book were selected from
over 300 contact prints preserved in family albums and scanned on a Hewlett Packard
Scanjet 4C. The quality of these small prints varied and some needed considerable digital
editing in Photoshop to remove the effects of time, handling and rough processing in
wartime photo labs. Some photos, such as those of the outskirts of Tobruk, could not be
fully redeemed but were included in the book because they still have a powerful story to
RETURNING TO NEW ZEALAND
After his return from England in December 1945, Struan MacGibbon resumed his career with
the Bank of New Zealand, in Wellington. He transferred to BNZ Alexandra in 1950 and
retired from that branch in 1970.
He married Mavis Delich in 1951, and they had two children, Shona and
Leith. The trusty Welta camera stayed in its case for several years while the children
were young, but the photography interest was eventually rekindled. Struan became a
founding member of the Alexandra Photographic Society, which often met at his house in
Royal Terrace, where there was a darkroom. His photographs of Central Otago scenery were
exhibited and appeared in newspapers and calendars.
The Welta camera went into retirement in the 1960s when Struan moved to
35mm colour slide photography with a Canon FTB. In 1976 he bought his final camera, a
Canon EF. The Welta is no longer in the family it was lost in a house burglary.
Struan MacGibbon was an active (and life) member of the Alexandra-Clyde
branch of the New Zealand Returned Services Association. He died in 1991, aged 81 years.
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