Visiting Wellington last week I took the opportunity to visit Te Papa – Museum of New Zealand to visit their Gallipoli exhibition. The exhibit was created by Weta Workshop, the same team who bought the movies from the The Lord of the Rings series to the big screen. This time, they turned their hand to these incredible larger than life exhibits which bought some of the individual stories of World War 1 to Te Papa.
For each of the huge figures, which were about 2.5 times larger than the average person, any second you expected them to move. They looked so real, you could see the sweat on their brow, the dripping wounds, the hair on their arms and the tears on their eyes.
In each room you could hear the words spoken from a diary or letters home, simultaneously displayed on the wall, of their individual experiences at Gallipoli.
As you moved through the exhibit and timeline of the disastrous 8 months at Gallipoli, where 2,779 Kiwi’s died, you learnt more about some of these ordinary individuals, and their experiences of this hell on earth.
The heat, the sickness, the stench of death and the bitter cold.
Interactive maps, dioramas and photographs combined with displays of weapon and uniforms gave you more of an understanding of the hardships that these troops suffered through.
100 years ago, times were different. There was reluctance initially to allow “natives” to fight by Britain’s leaders who saw World War 1 as a “white man’s war”. They didn’t wish to fight alongside Maori and other ethnic peoples. In New Zealand, Maori members of parliament campaigned for a Maori contingent, ready to ‘serve King and country’.
Once approved, many Maori signed up, but some tribal leaders discouraged their men from enlisting, as they still felt they had been wronged by the British Crown a mere 50 years earlier. In July of 1915, the Maori contingent were permitted to serve.
The 3 men shown in the following videos of the Maori contingent Machine-Gun section were Private Rikihana Carkeek aged 25, Corporal Friday Hawkins aged 23 and Australian born Private Colin Warden aged 25. On the night of August 7th, the 16-man team went up the ridge just below Chunuk Bair, joining the other machine-gun teams. The following day they came under intense fire but kept their guns going no matter what. More than half were killed or wounded that day.
As the big push comes on the timeline through the exhibit, you enter the trenches. Its dark, its vibrating with the gun fire and explosions, two screens show troops in the tunnel as you walk through.
As you move your way through the exhibits, you learn more of the various people highlighted in this display and their fates. If they were “lucky” (I’m not sure that lucky seems quite the right word) enough to survive Gallipoli, many went on to die on the Western Front.
By the October, the heat of summer had gone and supplies were held up due to storms. In November came the snow and those who had cut up their uniforms, that were far too hot in summer, now were literally freezing. Towards the end of November it was decided to withdraw, so over the next few weeks troops were secretly removed from Gallipoli, unbeknownst to the Turks.
The last figure in the exhibit is this soldier. I didn’t get his name, by this point I was struggling to see through my tears. You could take a paper poppy and write a name or a thought on it and place it by this soldier.
And the final step, a bowl of water, a Maori custom to cleanse yourself by sprinkling water on your body. This is customary after being in the presence of the deceased.So the exhibit runs for the next 4 years. Its free entry to Te Papa and well worth a visit if you can make it to Wellington.
There is no glory in war.
Lest we forget.