Thursday, October 8, 2015

A visit to the Great War Exhibition

On the same day that we visited the Scale Of War exhibit at Te Papa we also went along to the Great War Exhibition (created by Sir Peter Jackson).

The staff at the Great War Exhibition went to great lengths to talk about the different way that they chose to talk about the differences between what you would see here, and at Te Papa. The focus here being more about the war as a whole, but with some exceptional coverage of Gallipoli at the end.

I didn't take as many photos as I'd liked to as the lighting was very mood enhancing (read dark) - but that means there wont be as many spoilers for when you go to look for yourself!

The Exhibition is inside the old National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum, a short walk from the National War Memorial.
The first stop in the tour is a small Belgium village, where you can learn about the root causes behind the war, as well as set the scene for the rest of the visit.
A selection of weapons. Walking around there are plenty of examples of various weapons from machine-guns down to trench knives and fighting implements. Walking around there were plenty of things to stop and look at.
A cutaway of some defensive works. Opposite this was a model of a Big Bertha Howitzer (too large and too difficult to get a decent angle for a photo unfortunately).
Moving into the next room you are confronted by an artillery crew galloping at full speed, a converted bus moving troops around and a French biplane handing from the ceiling.

And just opposite were a selection of uniforms so you could see how different the armies looked at the beginning of the war.

Located around the exhibit were some really interesting little signs that talk about phrases from the Great War that are still in use today. There were quite a few that came as a complete surprise. This was one of them.
And by the sign about Bangers, a life size trench with soldiers going about their daily activity. One of the things I really enjoyed about the place was that there were very few physical barriers (other than glass cases) so you could get really close and even lean into the exhibits. Looking closely these men were lifelike enough that if they talked back to you, you would not have been surprised (shocked yes!).
Here a Mark I tank lumbers over a German trench line, underneath it German soldiers scramble to not be crushed. Nearby there were also a couple of small boxes that you could open to get a whiff of the various types of Gas used.
The next room had some examples of the use of camouflage. After this we ended the "Great War" section of the tour where you come across the final example of the human cost of the war where we see an old man, sitting on a bench with his grandchild, his arm lost during the war (and in an earlier part of the exhibit as it happens).
Moving on into the Gallipoli section of the exhibit we see walls covered in colourised photographs and stories from and about the men serving. Throughout the museum there were a lot of these photos, but it was here in the Gallipoli area that the walls were covered in them. Whilst I can understand why the Imperial War Museum (and others) guard these images so closely as the licensing of their use no doubt helps cover the cost of running their exhibits, it seems a shame in this digital age that they are so difficult to see unless there is something special like this.
British and German field artillery and machine-guns.

As a gamer this was the part I was really looking forward to this - 4,000 54mm figures painted by wargamers all around New Zealand, originally sculpted by the Perry Twins and installed on this massive diorama of Chunuk Bair. The scale of this was staggering and basically impossible to get a decent angle for a photograph to show the size. The figures though should give a good impression.
What really stood out to me were not just the lines of men charging up and down, attacking and counter attacking, but it was also the number of little vignettes in the middle of all the action. The one that I wished I had gotten a photo of was that of Cyril Bassett (who was to be awarded a VC for his actions) moving back and forth ensure that telephone lines were kept working.

The two Exhibits were very different in what they chose to focus on, and how they delivered the information. Each one had their strengths and weaknesses but together they provided an amazing way to spend an afternoon along with a much deeper appreciation of the events that happened so far and so long ago! I think the Te Papa exhibit was my favourite of the two as the 2.4x figures were just so amazing and I felt I probably absorbed more information there. However if you can make it to Wellington, just do it!

For a bit more information check out the Great War Exhibition website.

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