18 Apr 2019

Bulford Kiwi gearing up for 100th anniversary

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:20 pm on 18 April 2019

Almost exactly 100 years ago, New Zealand troops stationed in the United Kingdom began to create one of the most significant pieces of large-scale wartime art – the Bulford Kiwi.

Historian Colleen Brown has written a book about its construction: The Kiwi We Left Behind and she's heading to the UK soon to revisit the monument.

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So Bulford… where is that?

It’s a tiny town in southern England on Salisbury Plain – not far from Stonehenge.

“It was an area our soldiers would have been really familiar with,” Brown says.

Up to 100,000 men went through the military camp at Bulford on their way to France.

The Bulford Kiwi came about as an elaborate form of crowd control after a two-day riot in 1919 when Kiwi soldiers couldn’t get home.

“Everyone was kind of ashamed by that action and so they kind of buried it.”

Brown says the kiwi has been part of her life for the past six or seven years while she wrote the book.

“These men were a citizen’s army, we have very, very few actual officers and men in the New Zealand Army when war was declared in 1914. All of our men were volunteers, so you had them from every walk of life.”

The war finished in November, yet in March the men were still in Bulford.

“They were very concerned they would be sent off to another conflict,” Brown says.

“It was a very fraught time.”

The Bulford Kiwi is hard to see now. You can see it in pictures from 1919 quite clearly, but 100 years later many trees have grown over it.

“When we found our way there we had a sense of where we needed to go, down Gaza Road into a little track on the left-hand side. There are no signs – yet.”

At the end of the "little" track, you find another track and with a hill above you, walk up.

“It looks like a big, white elongated chook,” Brown says.

“It’s an optical illusion.”

The kiwi is 420 feet long – a "monster of a thing", she says.

During World War Two the German Air Force used it for target practise, so it was covered over.

“It wasn’t until 1948 that it was uncovered.”

To see the Bulford Kiwi now you have to go past signs that say ‘beware, unexploded mines in the ground’.

The monument now has heritage status, thanks to the British who have recognised its importance.

Brown thinks New Zealanders ought to acknowledge its significance, as well.

“We have a lot of monuments that are put up by governments to commemorate great feats or victories or memorable people who have fallen. This one was done by soldiers and I can’t help but think that they would have been thinking of their mates when they were up there digging it.

“They knew they were leaving their mates behind…”

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