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A gi­ant kiwi carved into Sal­is­bury Plain was hatched from a post-WWI mutiny.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - By RUS­SELL BAILLIE

New An­zac his­to­ries and war-themed ti­tles for younger read­ers.

It’s a sight, the Bul­ford Kiwi. It’s just a 15-minute drive from the queues of tourists at that other local an­cient mon­u­ment, Stone­henge. You head past the leafy out­skirts of the Bul­ford army base which, when it was Sling Camp in World War I, housed thou­sands of New Zealand troops.

And there it is, as big as a di­nosaur, stand­ing in chalky relief from the grassy slope of Bea­con Hill, which rolls gen­tly up from Sal­is­bury Plain.

Take a walk up the hill and the big bird be­comes fore­short­ened – a bit like those ads they paint on foot­ball fields for tele­vi­sion cam­eras. To get the full ef­fect of this

99-year-old patch of ki­wiana, you need to stand back and get a wider per­spec­tive. That’s what Colleen Brown has done in The Bul­ford Kiwi, her deeply re­searched and in­trigu­ing his­tory about an An­zac mon­u­ment that was ac­tu­ally built by An­zacs.

Brown, a South Auck­land local body politi­cian and dis­abil­ity ad­vo­cate, had a great-un­cle who died of pneu­mo­nia while wait­ing for his ride home from Sling Camp in 1919. Her cu­rios­ity about why a man who had sur­vived the war would die in the English win­ter af­ter the Ar­mistice led her to the kiwi and the trou­bled his­tory of Sling.

Her ac­count ex­plains that the sym­bol wasn’t ex­actly carved with pride. It was a make-work task for the Kiwi troops whose rest­less­ness had turned to ri­ot­ing.

The sol­diers, who thought they had done their duty for king and coun­try, were stuck some 20,000km from Civvy Street and still en­dur­ing the monotony of army life.

Mean­while, the Bri­tish mil­i­tary bu­reau­cracy, wa­ter­front in­dus­trial ac­tion by English port work­ers who found them­selves be­ing re­placed by de­mobbed ser­vice­men, un­re­li­able ships and an in­ef­fec­tive New Zealand Min­istry of De­fence all con­spired against the men want­ing to get home quickly.

The evac­u­a­tion of Gal­lipoli had proved a tri­umphant re­treat. By con­trast, get­ting the vic­to­ri­ous New Zealand troops out of Eng­land was a pro­longed mud­dle.

In the mid­dle of the chaos, the kiwi was hatched – camp com­man­der Brigadier Gen­eral Alexan­der Ste­wart, who had been deal­ing with the ri­ots and loot­ing for which eight sol­diers were jailed, pro­posed carv­ing the sym­bol into the hill­side.

It wasn’t an orig­i­nal idea. As well as many pre­his­toric carv­ings on the plain’s chalk plateau, a set of reg­i­men­tal em­blems – the Fo­vant Badges – had been carved into a hill 30km away by troops gar­risoned nearby from 1916 on­wards. The big­gest was an Aus­tralian mil­i­tary crest.

So, off went Sergeant Ma­jor Percy Blenkarne of the Army Ed­u­ca­tion Unit to the Bri­tish Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum to find a kiwi to sketch. Along came Sergeant Ma­jor Vic­tor Low of the 5th Tun­nelling Com­pany to sur­vey the site. The job of project man­ager went to Cap­tain Harry Clark, a sap­per. He marched his re­luc­tant troops up to the top of the hill and – af­ter a day of ex­ca­va­tion and bar­row-push­ing – marched them down again.

Dig­ging down 30cm across nearly 18,000sq m took three months. The kiwi was fin­ished on June 28, 1919, the day Ger­many fi­nally signed a peace treaty with the Al­lies.

The last New Zealand troops left the camp in Novem­ber 1919, a year af­ter the Ar­mistice.

The kiwi they left be­hind has had a che­quered his­tory over the decades. It was cov­ered up dur­ing World War II so Ger­man air­craft couldn’t use it as a marker. It changed shape slightly from the orig­i­nal dur­ing one restora­tion, and re­spon­si­bil­ity for its main­te­nance was passed from an ini­tial ar­range­ment with the Kiwi shoe pol­ish com­pany to local Scouts, be­fore it fell into dis­re­pair.

Brown chron­i­cles the years of buck­pass­ing in painstak­ing de­tail, not­ing it didn’t help that suc­ces­sive New Zealand gov­ern­ments wouldn’t con­trib­ute to its up­keep.

In 1980, Danny Fisher, the com­man­der of a Bri­tish army sig­nal squadron based at Bul­ford Camp, and his troops took on the job of restor­ing the kiwi.

A sched­uled mon­u­ment since 2017, its up­keep is now car­ried out by per­son­nel at the base, where there is a Bul­ford Kiwi School and a Kiwi Bar­racks and the streets bear the names Auck­land, Welling­ton, Nel­son, Gal­lipoli and Gaza.

Brown’s book con­cludes with the words of Fisher, whose ini­tia­tive en­sured the Bul­ford Kiwi will cel­e­brate its cen­ten­nial in 2019.

It was now, he said, some­thing passed down “between sol­diers, not gov­ern­ments” and a legacy “to the old sol­diers in the new coun­try from the young sol­diers in the old coun­try. Our link is carved for­ever in the time­less hills on

Sal­is­bury Plain.”

The sym­bol wasn’t ex­actly carved with pride. It was a make-work task for Kiwi troops whose rest­less­ness had turned to ri­ot­ing.

The Bul­ford Kiwi by Colleen Brown (Bate­man $39.99)

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