The Gallipoli exhibition at Wellington’s Te Papa gallery is hands down the best such presentation I have ever seen. Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) troops, along with British, Indian, and French soldiers, landed on beaches along the Dardanelles in Turkey on 25th April, 1915. It was an ill-conceived campaign, badly led. The ANZACs landed too far north amid withering fire from the heights above the beach. After eight months of bloody, futile battle, the allied forces withdrew in February 1916.
For Australians and New Zealanders, 25th April is the day we commemorate all our soldiers lost in war – during that awful campaign and everywhere else our forces have served. For us, Gallipoli was a kind of coming of age.
So, this exhibition at the museum was one not to be missed. It is beautifully put together, showing documents and photographs from the time, and models depicting the battlefield, the trenches, the weapons and so on.
What makes it special are the five dioramas depicting individuals and their place in the campaign. They are all real people and in each carefully lit ‘room’ where their diorama is located you can read about the person on the plinth.
The models were made by Sir Richard Taylor’s Weta Workshop. That company was responsible for the wonderful special effects in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit among others. Each model is carefully crafted with attention to detail, right down to the hair on their arms. In one, a soldier eats from a can of bully beef surrounded by flies. The model makers took the time to find out exactly what sort of fly would have been at that beach.
Each model is two-and-a-half times human size. You can walk around them, finding different angles to see the expression on their faces, read their mood.
I also particularly liked that while for most men and women, Gallipoli was hell on earth, some people actually enjoyed being there.
The exhibition leads the viewer through a journey, starting when the soldiers landed on the shore, and ending on the journey home for the survivors.
The first diorama depicts Lieutenant Spencer Westmacott. He was severely wounded in the early days of the battle and his right arm had to be amputated. Blood trickles from his right sleeve but he fights on, firing with his left hand.
We moved on to Lieutenant Colonel Percival Fenwick, 45-year-old surgeon. He leans over Jack Aitken on May 4th 1915, knowing that he has been unable to save the fatally wounded Canterbury infantryman.
Next is Private Jack Dunn, sentenced to death for sleeping while a sentry, then reprieved.
We move on to a diorama depicting three men firing a machine gun. Read their story here.
“Lieutenant Waldren [Warden], had given us the range he was shot and fell back amongst us in a heap. He managed to say “Carry on boys”, and then died in the arms, I believe, of Private Lucas who was our No. 5 on the gun. Almost immediately after the loss of our leader, our gun corporal Donald Ferris was shot through the head and killed instantly and I dragged him away from the gun and laid him beside our officer. No. 2, Private F. Hawkins, took charge of the gun and I moved into position to feed the belt.”
The last diorama is of a nurse. She has finally received a letter from home and learned that her brother , who was also at Gallipoli, was killed months ago.
Finally it was over and the soldiers could go home on the hospital ship Maheno.
The Maheno is famous in Hervey Bay for quite another reason. Many years after Galliopli, in 1935, she ended her days on a beach on K’gari (Fraser Island). There’s not much left of her now, but tourists still visit her remains. I imagine few would know her history and the part she played in that infamous battle.
The visit to this exhibition will stay with me for a long time.
By the way, if you’ve happened upon this page by accident and you’d like to read more about the tour, go to the tour page where you’ll find the rest of our adventures.