21 Apr 2015

'Like looking through their eyes'

7:49 am on 21 April 2015

Towering brick columns, replica trenches and heavy artillery are on display in Wellington to bring the experience of Anzac soldiers who fought in Gallipoli 100 years ago to the present.

Lottie Le Gallais, pictured in 1913. Photographer unknown.

Lottie Le Gallais, pictured in 1913. Photographer unknown. Photo: Tamaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum

The War to End All Wars: Our Anzac 2015 Interactive

The Pukeahu National War Memorial Park and two exhibitions in the capital's central city will be officially opened tomorrow ahead of the centennary next week.

One of the models is of staff nurse Lottie le Gallais, who was 33 years old when she boarded the Maheno in 1915, hoping it would take her closer to her brother stationed in Egypt.

She wrote to her brother:

"The ship is beautiful. The New Zealand hospital ship, it is, and has been subscribed to by all the people of New Zealand, and she is a great white huge monster, three great red crosses on either side, and green stripes. She looks just what she is - an errand of mercy for all you men. And very proud I am to be one of the staff."

But he had already been transferred to Gallipoli by the time she got there, and her letters went unanswered.

Lottie is just one of several real people whose stories are told through larger than life sculptures in Te Papa's exhibition, Gallipoli: The scale of our war.

The lead curator, Kirstie Ross, said personal stories like Lottie's were used to give people an insider look at what the battle was like for the soldiers and communities they left behind.

"There are a couple of ways that we've tried to really connect the past to the present. One of those is to tell the story through the soldiers' eyes, and through their words.

"We've also used the images that they took so it's like looking through their eyes on this historical event."

Ms Ross said she hoped the exhibition would help people understand and reflect on what happened on Gallipoli until the exhibit closes four years from now.

The Pukeahu National Memorial Park is another place built for people to reflect not only on Gallipoli but all conflicts New Zealand has taken part in.

The chief executive of Manatu Taonga, the ministry for culture and heritage, Lewis Holden, said the park has been designed to allow acknowledgment of New Zealand's shared conflict with various countries, beginning with our closest ally, Australia.

"The red brick coloured columns are the Australian war memorial, so each column represents a theatre of conflict that Australia and New Zealand have been involved with.

"It is especially spectacular lit up at night, and that has pride of place in the park, facing the New Zealand war memorial."

Richard Taylor applies the finishing touches to the large-scale model of Lottie Le Gallais.

Richard Taylor applies the finishing touches to the large-scale model of Lottie Le Gallais. Photo: Supplied / Weta Workshops

Mr Holden said the park's layout was close to realising the vision of those who designed the national war memorial in the 1920s, and will be officially opened tomorrow morning.

Adjoining the park in the Dominion Museum is the newly constructed Great War Exhibition, featuring three separate interactive displays that will open throughout April.

The exhibition's executive director, Rhys Jones said the first of these, which will also open tomorrow, was an overview of the first world war in the Great Hall.

The path winds through the war years chronologically, with displays including a Belgium street, a tank, and a heavy fire atillery gun that was used at Gallipoli.

He said the intention was to show people the reality of war.

"So, 1914 was one of optimism, and thinking it'd be a short sharp war like the previous ones had been. But then with the mass numbers, they were very quickly down to the stalemates of going into trenches.

"The only way in which in 1915 they could overcome that trench warfare was to use more firepower, more artillery to try and smash the enemy's defences."

Mr Jones said the exhibition was not a celebration of war, but to help New Zealanders understand why the country went to a war on the other side of the world.

He said that experience would be even better understood once the trench experience room with smells, sights and sounds of 1915 trench life opens in August.

Like the exhibit at Te Papa, the Great War Exhibition will run for the next four years allowing plenty of time for people to remember those who gave their lives for their country.

Thanks to Te Papa and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.