National Army Museum
The National Army Museum, Waiouru, rises like a gigantic bunker at the southern end of Waiouru’s main street. Hewn out of brokenedged concrete by soldiers who helped construct it in 1978, it is not a pretty building. But it is as compelling as the stories held within its walls.
Grant Hays knows all of them. He helped build the museum when he was based at Waiouru, visited it regularly during his 20-year army career and now works there as a custodian.
The stories are told without flash trappings and technological wizardry, but are all the more affecting for all that. One is about poppies. There are 18,000 hand-knitted poppies on display to mark the centenary of Gallipoli. A further 17,000 are held in storage. The museum aimed to acquire 5000 initially but they met that target within days. The number was upped to 18,166 – the number of New Zealanders killed in World War I. That target was reached in less than five months. Almost all are red but one or two are white, the Chinese colour of mourning.
The reality of war is starkly told. Gallipoli unfolds through individual stories displayed in life-sized trenches. The Gallipoli display constructed by Weta Workshop at Te Papa cost $10 million. Waiouru’s cost $55,000. But it is equally poignant. It will remain on show until Anzac Day 2016. A new outdoor exhibition will be completed by the end of next year. A replica of a World War I battlefield, it will have bombed churches, sunken planes and trenches, and include the sights, sounds and smells of warfare. Film-maker Sir Peter Jackson will help with the design.
New recruits swear the Oath to the Queen next to the Wall of Tears, a backdrop of pounamu blocks hewn from two large boulders brought from the Cascade Plateau in south Westland in 2001. It is the greatest greenstone wall in the southern hemisphere. In the same room, visitors can search through almost 30,500 names and military records of soldiers who served. The museum is open daily from 9am-4.30pm.
State Highway 1 & Hassett Drive, (06) 387 6911, armymuseum.co.nz