Monday, December 7, 2015

Te Papa

Today marks a very important day in history.  For the US, it’s the 74th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  For Australia and New Zealand, it marks the 100th anniversary of the Allied decision to evacuate their troops from Gallipoli. 

I had read about Gallipoli while at the Army’s Command and General Staff College at Ft Leavenworth.  As an Air Force guy, it went kinda over my head.  “Lots of Casualties”, “Poor Logistics”, “Politics”, “Lots of Casualties”,  “Churchill canned”.  Got it.  However…

So, there I was….* (c’mon, you knew I’d work it in dincha?)

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington.  Put this on your Bucket List. Spent most of the day in this building, and probably would have spent even more except for this little inconvenience called “ship departure time.”  

In any case (which is Texan for “Anyhoo”), Te Papa is a great museum.  Since New Zealand is the southwestern extremity of the Ring of Fire, there’s a very informative presentation of Plate Tectonics to include a hands on exhibit on earthquake proofing your house.  There’s an entire floor dedicated to Maori culture and art.

All that was worth the visit, but the reason for going was their exhibit called “Gallipoli, the scale of our war”.  Created, and I believe largely funded, by Peter Jackson, (the producer of the Lord of the Rings series), the exhibit opened April 25th 2015 and will remain open through 2019.  April 25th was chosen as the opening date because that was the date in 1915 that the invasion of Gallipoli began.  I believe 2019 was chosen as the closing date as that would mark the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles.  Bad as that was, it did bring an end to that war.

2,779 Kiwis were killed in the invasion out of a New Zealand contingent of 14,000.  That’s a lot of dead soldiers, but much as Stalin said, it’s hard to get your mind to come to grips with what that really means.

Te Papa’s exhibit does an excellent job of bringing the human cost of Gallipoli into focus.  They’ve got some really high tech devices that show the ebb and flow of particular actions in the battle, with  battle lines displayed on 3D maps.  They’ve got a computer simulation of a skeleton showing the simulated effect of bullets, grenades and shrapnel on a human. (Not really for the squeamish.) You could try your hand at looking through a trench periscope and “firing” an Enfield when you saw motion in the other trench.  Lots and lots of photos, letters and memorabilia.  All that wasn’t what brought the battle and the costs home to me.

The exhibit focuses on 8 participants, 7 men and a woman. Each participant’s participation is a section of the exhibit and each section has a figure of the person in focus.  The figures were created by Weta Workshop specifically for the exhibit.  Each figure is 2.4 times scale, so they are huge and dominate the section.  Each was incredibly realistic.  

For scale, the woman is alive, the machine gunner is not. Source

Unfortunately, my camera started fritzing on me in the museum and refusing to focus, so most of the images are from what's available online.  Additionally, Te Papa's Exhibit Website is very good, with excellent detail of the exhibit figures and specific details about the particular section.  

Te Papa’s blog has posts on each of the 8 participants that provide additional details about that person and, for those fortunate enough, their lives after the war. 

The Participants

Spencer Westmacott.

Lt Westmacott’s participation lasted a matter of minutes.  Shortly after landing, he was shot in the arm, collapsing on the beach.  As he falls, he shoots at his attacker with his pistol.  Evacuated from the beach, his arm is removed.  He recovers and finishes the war as a staff officer.  After the war, he returns to New Zealand where he farms and becomes a semi-famous artist.

Percival Fenwick.

Lieutenant Colonel Percival Fenwick was a surgeon on Gallipoli.  His diary was a prime source for much of the entire exhibit as he frankly described the situation, conditions and his opinions.  He survives the invasion and the war, passing away in 1958.

Jack Dunn

PFC Jack Dunn was, perhaps, the most interesting.  The figure in his section most reflected the misery of the troops' circumstances.  He’s eating his meal, bully beef and flies, with his hands which are cut, scraped, bloody and muddy.  The picture above doesn’t show the detail that the exhibit homepage does.  PFC Dunn contracts dysentery and eventually is hospitalized on Anzac Cove beach.  Returned to duty, but not fully recovered, he’s put on guard duty.  Unfortunately, he falls asleep. At a Courts Martial for the offense, he’s sentenced to death.  

Dunn (bare headed lower left) being sentenced to death.
The Commanding General on advice from Dunn’s commander rescinds the sentence  He is returned to duty in time to participate in the battle of Chunuk Bair where he along with 850 members of his battalion are killed.  Only 8 of the bodies were recovered.
Two boys cleaning up the battlefield in 1919

Rikihana Carkeek, Colin Warden and Friday Hawkins


Manning a machine gun, during the battle of Chunuk Bair, Colin Warden is quickly killed, managing to tell his machine gun team to “Carry On, Boys” before he dies.  Carkeek is feeding belts into the machine gun when he’s shot through the neck.  He manages to crawl 5 kilometers back to the beach and the hospital.  Hawkins, continues manning the machine gun until a bullet fractures his forearm.  Discharged in 1916, he reenlists in WWII and fights in Egypt in 1941.  Returning to New Zealand in 1942, he transfers to the Air Force in 1943.  This warrior finally passes away in 1968.

Lottie Le Gallais

This section of the exhibit was perhaps the dustiest one in the place.  Miss Le Gallais was a nurse on the hospital ship.  Most of the displays in this section were her recollections of the wounded.  Her brother Leddie was also at Gallipoli.  Miss Le Gallais was a prolific letter writer and sent him several letters.  She arrived at Gallipoli in late August hoping to see him at some point.  Finally, in October, she received the letters she'd sent via returned mail.  All marked “Killed”.  This was her first notification that he’d been killed in July before she’d arrived.  The figure in this section does a fine job of capturing her anguish at that moment.

The morning we went was the day prior to Remembrance Day.  The place was packed with school children.  There were at least 4 classes, based on different uniforms, in the exhibit.  I was impressed with their behavior, and the questions asked and answers given both by the teachers and the students.  The Kiwis, at least as of now, are indeed making sure to remember on Remembrance Day.

One of the stops along the cruise was the town of Akaroa.  It’s a small town, in the off season its population is around 500, roughly the same as it was in WWI.  The town has a small cenotaph along the beach and arranged in front were 108 crosses representing the 108 men from the town killed in the First World War.  
Sorry about the focus, the camera was giving me fits and this was the best I had

If you estimate the demographics of how many men of military age a town of 500 might have, then subtract 108 from that…It’s hard for a town to grow if there are no men to help produce children.  Perhaps that’s the best reason for having Remembrance Day. 

I think, if I had my way, I'd switch Memorial Day and Veterans Day.  I'd put Veterans Day at the start of Summer and let people enjoy the living, while having Memorial Day in the beginning of Winter when things are dead and dying to honor those who have died.  Perhaps, even rename it Remembrance Day.

After visiting the exhibit and returning home, I looked into Gallipoli a little more to get an understanding of why it was so difficult.  I'd had the same problem studying the Gettysburg battle and understanding it from a map.  Standing on the top of Little Round Top cleared any confusion.  I was having the same issue about Gallipoli until I stumbled upon this website.  It transposes pictures from the battlefield taken in 1915 with modern photographs taken earlier this year.  It becomes much more clear why Lord Kitchner decided to evacuate almost immediately after seeing the battlefield. 100 years ago today. (The site seemed to work better in Chrome than Firefox or IE. ) 

One final point.  Sarge has asked if I had any recommendation for a Blog Haka.  I do.
"Ka Mate, Ka Mate! Ka Ora, Ka Ora!
"We may Die, We May Die! We May Live, We May Live!

It can be heard here..



  1. Great post, Juvat, I really enjoyed it. A an aside, I had the same experience at Gettysburg just recently. They do a great job of explaining the whole battle there, and I now have a firm understanding of the whys and hows.

    1. Thanks, Read Killer Angels for fun first then again at CGSC, studied the battle maps at CGSC (and had them explained by historians and Army guys there) and never truly understood it until I went camping with my son's Boy Scout Troop and stood there on Little Round Top and had the million candlepower light bulb come on.

  2. Well done Juvat.

    Had a great uncle in the Royal Scots Fusiliers who fought at Gallipoli. He was later wounded and died of those wounds down in Palestine. Not long before the war ended.

    Ka Mate, Ka Mate! Ka Ora, Ka Ora!

    So let it be written...

    So let it be done!

    1. Thanks,
      Did you listen to the Haka? Man! That gave me the shivers just sitting there, listening and looking at the eye. (Which by the way is the Machine Gunner Friday Hawkins eye in the exhibit.

    2. Oh yeah, I listened. I'm a big fan of haka.

  3. Excellent post. Been familiar with the Battle most of my life and it was the one that pretty much cemented my understanding of the British Army at all times and all wars. They were staggeringly incompetent which speaks damningly of the European opponents they did manage to defeat or force to a draw. Look anywhere else in the world and the British Army was an abject failure on just about every battlefield unless they were 'supported and stiffened' by their colonial armies or their Iberian or Lowland allies.

    Too bad about the camera. The link to the then and now was excellent.

    1. Thanks.
      I sat there for a few minutes just now, mentally going through the British Army at war. I'd guess the closest thing to an exception would be Wellington at Waterloo, but even that was greatly benefited by the late, but still timely, arrival of the Prussians. So, I think you may be right.

  4. Gallipoli is seared into the conscienceness of Australians and New Zealanders. They did a lot of the dying. It was supposed to be an "in and out" easy battle. As I recall the soldiers came in on ships in high spirits. Trying to recollect from my hazy memory but - the story of all lost battles involvement an "if only" - but a British commander was slow in taking a critical hill and that led to the stalemate IIRC.

    Russell Crowe made a nice little movie on a father returning in 1919 trying to find his sons. Filmed on location. And it presents another view of how the Turks also suffered there.

    1. The eighth person(which I somehow miscounted and overlooked yesterday) was Lt Col Malone, Dunn's commander. He also was killed at Chunuk Bair. In the research for this, I read that his leadership was scapegoated for his methodical approach to attacking. Most of the memorabilia in the exhibit, letters home and diaries by his troops, spoke highly of the man.

      Casualty counts were very high on both sides in the battle, as it was in almost all fronts in that war.

  5. I've seen the museum, but not the new exhibit... I'm sorry I missed it.

    1. Probably one of the most poignant exhibits I've seen. Got through the exhibit and had to sit down and think about it before exploring other parts of the museum.

  6. How many times have I said that I love it when you write about history? Quite a few, but all heartfelt. Another fine one. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I shall endeavor to follow the credo "Soon with more better stuff". ;-)


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