Na­tional Army Mu­seum

The Insider's Guide to New Zealand - - NORTH ISLAND -

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

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