All posts by Dave Clearwater

RSL Australia President Robert Dick Visits

The Great War Exhibition is offering free admission for all RSA members in November 2018, in recognition for their service to our country. Click here for more information.

President of the RSL (Returned and Services League) of Australia, Robert Dick, visited The Great War Exhibition after the RSA’s national conference last week, and shared his thoughts about the Exhibition.

A keen war historian, Mr Dick enjoyed what he saw. “I like everything in The Great War Exhibition,” he said. “It stacks up with some of the best exhibitions I’ve seen. I loved it all. It shows a genuine picture of what conditions were like over there. You see a small part of it, but you can’t imagine what it was like, in reality, all around you. It reminds people that the job these men went through was very hard, under extremely, difficult conditions and we should remember them.”

Robert Dick also viewed the current temporary exhibition running until mid-December—an audio-visual show about Passchendaele.

“Your temporary exhibition Passchendaele—New Zealand’s Darkest Day is very powerful and confronting”, he said. “It’s similar to the exhibition at Cloth Hall in Ypres, Belgium. The effect you get with the water hitting the ground at your feet, just adds that extra dimension.”

Mr Dick reiterated what he said about the importance of the ANZAC bond at the RSA conference in Wellington last week. “A lot of countries would be jealous of the bond that Australians and New Zealanders have. It was a bond that was formed in the Boer War and cemented at Gallipoli. It’s a bond that lives to this very day. We rag each other, we poke fun at each other, but when the time comes, we stand shoulder to shoulder and take the world on, head on.”

As RSL President, Robert Dick has been involved in many initiatives to help Australians to remember the First World War, including remembrance projects with children.

“We took year nine and ten students on a tour of the Western Front a while ago,” he recalls. “They won the right to attend via a competition, and had to research a soldier who’d died on the Western Front in their local area. We visited the graveside of a Tasmanian soldier, and took a small piece of Tasmania and left it there with a Tasmanian flag, along with letters from his family.”

“Apparently, every few weeks, they go around the cemeteries and retrieve the mementoes that are left there and put them in a museum so they’re there for perpetuity. We left messages at the graveside, from family who had lost grandfathers or great uncles in the war at the Western Front, showing they hadn’t been forgotten. People from home still remember them.”

“These children are now young adults whom we’re very proud of, knowing that they’re going to keep the ANZAC legend alive into the future.”

Some of his own family members were in active service on the Western Front.

“I had two great uncles killed on the Western Front. They were from Scottish regiments and they were killed in the Third Battle of Ypres. No one knew where their records were, because they were destroyed in the Second World War. I eventually found them at Tyne Cot cemetery and laid poppies next to their names. That evening, I had the honour of reciting the Ode of Remembrance at the Menin Gate ceremony [in Ypres Belgium], so it was a very special day.”

When asked about the future of the RSL and RSA, Mr Dick commented, “The RSL is going through a cultural change to bring us into the 21st century. We think of the modern cohort veteran as a male, but there are a lot of females now in the military and we need to respect them more because their job is harder. Females have to win the respect of older chaps. When veterans see females marching with medals, they think they belong to their father or brother or husband, instead of thinking they’re earned them in their own right. This thinking makes it a lot harder to recognise their contribution, so we’re working on that.”

For more information about RSA members’ free entry into the Exhibition during November 2017, click here.

Photo: RSL President Robert Dick with First World War colourised images of New Zealand and Australian divisional staff.

Tauhara College Students Connect with First World War

When year nine students from Tauhara College recently visited the Great War Exhibition, the devastation of the First World War hit home, especially for those whose family members had served in the war.  The students were featured in this article in the Taupo Times, their local newspaper (page 46 from this link).

Taupo Times Tauhara College


Tauhara College student Paul Taylor related to the exhibition, because his great-grandfather, David Taylor, served in the war. “I really, really enjoyed the exhibition,” Paul says. “It was really emotional.”

Their fellow student, Katie Lambert, says, “The photos really show what they went through, but in real colour. This exhibition shows us how many people served the country, for us, to keep the peace.” The rapid pace of technological development during the war also impressed Katie.  “I liked how the war developed the weapons. Eight bullets per second is a massive feat. It’s bad, but the technology changed so fast, it was amazing.”

Tom Speedy agrees. “And I also liked the ingenuity the New Zealanders had during the war. They made makeshift grenades and extended rifles out of pistols.”

Paul was saddened at stories told by their exhibition educator, demonstrating the tragedy of war. “Like that kid we learned about who signed up for Gallipoli when he was twelve and lied about his age because of propaganda.”

Paul sums up the exhibition perfectly. “Sir Peter Jackson shows this so well in a nice, safe environment for education of generations to come. The Great War Exhibition shows the lengths humans will go to, to survive in any situation.”

The Taupo Times article is on page 46 here.

Pukeahu Historic Tours – Wellington City Heritage Week

The Great War Exhibition are thrilled to be hosting specialty tours during Wellington City Heritage Week (23rd – 29th  October).

Fascinating Pukeahu historic tours

Let our knowledgeable tour guides take you on a journey through layers of fascinating history at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park.

Understand the history at Pukeahu, Mt Cook, in the heart of the city and how it was transformed from a site of Maori occupation, to a military barracks, and now a site of national remembrance.

Pukeahu Historic Tour
Great War Exhibition tour guide, Chris Harp, will show you tunnels from the First World War as part of the Pukeahu Historic Tour (Wellington City Heritage Week 2018).

More information about Pukeahu Historic Tours is available here.

Wellington City Heritage Week, 23rd – 29th  October, explores Wellington’s people, places, and stories through tours, exhibitions, open properties, films, and discussions. Over 20 events are spread through the week, suitable for all interests and ages.

Pukeahu Historic Tours Wellington City Heritage Week

Horrors of Passchendaele on Stuff

Dominion Post reporters visited the opening of Passchendaele – New Zealand’s Darkest Day, and described the latest in The Great War Exhibitions series of temporary exhibitions, as “encapsulating the horrors of Passchendaele.”

Horrors of Passchendaele

Jessica Long reports online, on Stuff: “Five screens encapsulating the horrors of Passchendaele have brought the battle to life inside the Dominion Museum [Building] as the centenary commemorations of ‘New Zealand’s Darkest Day’ approach.”

“The temporary exhibition combines shocking images of the dead and wounded, and of the harrowing conditions in the muddy fields of Belgium, along with with words from soldiers’ letters and diaries,” she reports.

“The sounds of explosions hit the ground within the exhibition room as a virtual screen depicts the muddy ground.”

She interviewed Jack Gradwell, who loaned a  bayonet and 1913 Kodak camera, which survived Passcehdaele with his great-grandfather, Captain George Gradwell.

Jessica writes, “The captain’s great-grandson, Jack Gradwell of Wellington, said George miraculously survived Passchendaele but suffered for the rest of his life, having been gassed, buried alive and had his skull fractured during the war.”

Read the full article on Stuff, by clicking here.

Learn about Passchendaele talks, Passchendaele – New Zealand’s Darkest Day, and other Passchedaele-related displays at The Great War Exhibition by clicking here.

Banner Photo: Kevin Stent of Stuff photographs Ian Wards, exhibition manager at The Great War Exhibition, with a mustard gas shell that was fired at the Battle of Passchendaele – on loan from the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, in Belgium.

This is one of two gas shells that will be available for viewing during Passchendaele talks on October 7, 8 and 12. For more information, click here.

Passchendaele – New Zealand’s Darkest Day is a temporary exhibition funded by the Lottery Grants Board and created by Story Inc. (concept), Dusk (visual imagery), Toulouse (technology) and sound engineer, Jeremy Cullen.

Passchendaele – New Zealand’s Darkest Day runs until early December 2017.

Family Connection

Recent articles in the Ashburton Guardian and Northern Observer (northern Canterbury ) highlight the family connections that visitors often find at The Great War Exhibition. The full text of the article is below these newspaper images.

Asburton Guardian faetures Great War Exhibition W1 Family Connection
Ashburton Guardian
 WW1 Family Connection
Northern Courier

When Cathy Henderson, a Rangiora resident, visited The Great War Exhibition with her grandson, Conor Grice, the last thing she expected to see was her uncle and his newly married wife, in full colour, waving farewell to her father’s ship as he headed off to the First World War.

The experience was vivid, fresh and lifelike, due to the image colourisation techniques used by Sir Peter Jackson’s team, who created the exhibition.

Cathy, who has been researching her family history for 20 years, says, “Uncle Albert and Aunt Maude were saying goodbye to Dad. I’d seen the black and white image in the Christchurch Press. Someone had clipped it. But to see it in full colour and so big is incredible.”

Albert Stevens was in Lyttelton with his wife Maude Clemens, on honeymoon, to farewell his ‘brother’ Reginald Stevens, who was on a ship in the first convoy going to Egypt in September 1914.

“My dad, Reggie, and his brother Albert worked on the family farm in Ashton, near Ashburton,” says Cathy. “Then the big adventure came and Reggie went to war with his other brothers, Leslie and Ivan Stevens. Born in 1896, Reggie was 17 when he signed up, but lied, and said he was 19. ”

“Dad didn’t get married until he was fifty, so I’m quite young to have a father who went to war. He was happy man,” she says. “He was a singer and used to sing in the trenches, so we heard. “Silly songs, like vaudeville songs. When I was a kid, he was a comedian, always out at night time, entertaining. He had a troupe of clowns that performed with him, in harlequin suits.”

Reggie Stevens (center, wearing pork pie hat) with his troupe

“He left on one of the first ships sent to war,” Cathy says. “I think it was the Tahiti. He was given the job as a signal officer and said he ate with the officers and put on two stone because he ‘ate like a whale on the briny.’ They stopped in Australia and went through the Suez Canal.”

Her grandson Conor had just visited France and Belgium, touring war sites relevant to the family with his father, Leon Grice, the recent NZ Consular General in Los Angeles.

“It’s fantastic to see Great Uncle Albert in this photo,” says Conor, who loves history and is studying classics, and political science at university. “I’ve spent a good portion of last year writing the story of my great grandfather,” he says. “So to see the context in which he grew up and the people he grew up with, in pictures in museums is incredible.”

Pte Reginald Stevens

Conor says, “When Reggie went through the Suez Canal, he said you could buy a hundred cigarettes or a sack of bananas for two bob [shillings]. It was amazing what they wrote home. Everything was as ‘scarce as a hair on a tin hat,’ or ‘as scarce as a hair on an egg’.”

When Cathy’s aunt recently died, a stack of Reggie’s letters was found under her bed, showing the sombre side of war.  He wrote, “I was at the landing of the Dardenelles on the 25th day of April 1915 and I will never forget that day as long as I live. It was terrible, dead laying all around you, some poor chaps with their legs off, some with their mouths blown open with the explosive bullets. … This war is not the game it is cracked up to be.”

A few months later, in October, he wrote home again. “That first and second day was like hell on earth and if hell is any way like that I don’t want to go there… we had three sergeants and 2 corporals and several men killed outright and wounded were laying thick all around, but you soon get used to that after the first day fighting. You don’t care for anything. I have seen such sights that would make your blood run cold … all my mates are either killed or wounded…”

Reggie was struck by a serious case of dysentery and was lucky not to die, as dysentery accounted for one fifth of all casualties in Gallipoli. He wrote, “I have been in bed over a fortnight and the nurses say I will be a month more before I can get out. By Jove it pulls a man down as I am just skin and bone.”

After recovering in Devon with relatives, Reggie was sent to the Western Front in France, driving trucks in the British Service Legion, transporting supplies, soldiers, guns, and ammunition. In August 1918 he was present at the battle of Amiens, his last battle, but did not return to New Zealand until July 1919, lucky to have survived.

Reggie Stevens , right, has foliage in his hat.
Cathy Henderson (left) with her grandson Connor Grice (right). In photo in brown bowler hat is Albert Stevens (Cathy’s uncle). The small lady in front of his right shoulder, wearing white hat is his wife Maude (nee Clemens). Albert and Maude are fare-welling Cathy’s father Reginald Stevens as he leaves on a ship from Lyttelton in September 1914 to go to the First World War. Photo courtesy of Fairfax, The Press, colourisation in 2015 by Weta Digital.

Darkest Day on Radio NZ Checkpoint

Today at the opening of our new Exhibition, Passchendaele – New Zealand’s Darkest Day, Radio New Zealand reporter Te Aniwa Hurihanganui  talked to Exhibition Manager Ian Wards about the Battle of Passchendaele.

“The reality was Passchendaele was awful,” Wards says, “and we would really like people to understand that, but also one of the main reasons why [The Great War Exhibition is] here is so we don’t do this kind of stuff again.”

The Battle of Passchendaele of 1917, included the darkest day in New Zealand’s military history. 843 soldiers were killed on 12 October 1917, the most on any single day of combat involving New Zealand troops.

The opening of the exhibition featured on John Campbell’s Checkpoint show at 5:48 p.m. tonight. Listen to the Radio NZ Checkpoint podcast here.

See the Radio NZ article here.

Photo: Radio New Zealand Reporter Te Aniwa Hurihanganui interviews the public at The Great War Exhibition.

Passchendaele – New Zealand’s Darkest Day runs until mid December 2017. Click here for more information.

Passchendaele Exhibition – NZ Herald

The New Zealand Herald visited our temporary Passchendaele exhibition this morning, and captured the essence of the exhibition on video.  Camera man Matt Mitchell talks with Steve La Hood, Director Story Inc. who spearheaded the team of companies that created the exhibition.

Steve says, “We explore the darker side of the war, less commemoration and more explanation of what really did go on. All of the dialogue you hear is verbatim. This is what people said, wrote or spoke about after the war.”

Quotes from diaries and letters have been recorded so visitors can hear the ‘voices’ of Passchndaele’s soldiers as glimpses of the battle flash across four screens.

Passchendaele – New Zealand’s Darkest Day is a new temporary exhibition about Kiwis’ experiences in the battle. The great grandson of one soldier describes the battle as “probably one of the most extreme human experiences one could ever imagine”.

Jack Gradwell has loaned his great grandfather’s bayonet and camera to the exhibition as a way of creating a more personal connection for visitors.

To see the NZ Herald’s video and article click here.

Photo: Mark Mitchell films Steve La Hood with Jack Gradwell, whose great-grandfather’s camera and bayonet are part of the Passchendaele exhibition.

Passchendaele – New Zealand’s Darkest Day runs until mid December 2017. Click here for more information.

Preparing Passchendaele – New Zealand’s Darkest Day

It’s all go, as the teams from Story Inc, Dusk and Toulouse, and sound engineer Jeremy Cullen, prepare our latest temporary exhibition Passchendaele – New Zealand’s Darkest Day for our opening tomorrow morning.

Passchendaele—New Zealand’s Darkest Day is a powerful new temporary exhibition about New Zealander’s experiences in the tragic Battle of Passchendaele. This audio-visual based exhibition portrays the disastrous events of October 12th 1917 at Passchendaele.

Passchendaele—New Zealand’s Darkest Day also features original letters and military equipment loaned from Wellington families, whose forbears fought and died on that day.

Click here for more information about the exhibition.

Virtual Reality Dissent Experience

Our new temporary exhibition Passchendaele – New Zealand’s Darkest Day opens on 4 October at 9 a.m.

Dusk and Story Inc., the creators of our temporary exhibitions have made a virtual reality  version of the current Dissent exhibit, so that it can still be viewed (using a VR 360 headset) after the new Passchendaele exhibit opens.

This VR 360 version will be available at the Passchendaele opening morning, October 4th, from 9 a.m.  to 12 noon.

Come along to see two temporary exhibitions at once and experience our Dissent virtual  reality!

Tour Guide Attends Dissent Conference

Kevin McLoughlin, a tour guide at The Great War Exhibition since early 2016, recently attended a Wellington conference, Dissent and the First World War, which covered dissent and how the First World War divided New Zealand society.

“I’m interested in history and technology, and the social impact of the First World War,” Kevin says. “When I saw the dissent conference programme, I was keen because of our current temporary exhibition, Dissent.”

The conference covered diverse topics such as policing the war in New Zealand, visualising dissent from an artist’s perspective, legal issues and resistance in Australia and Canada.

“Cyril Pearce, the keynote speaker from England was really good,” Kevin says. “I got to spend a bit of time talking with him about social issues resulting from the war.” Cyril Pearce, an Hon. Research Fellow at the School of History, University of Leeds, has complied the Pearce Register, a database of over 18,000 British conscientious objectors.

“Pearce talked about a survey he’d done on conscientious objectors, in Lancashire and Yorkshire, which are the northern counties with pretty strong working-class populations. The surprise was that a lot of the anti-conscription feeling was not coming from the cities, but from small clusters in rural areas, from villages that couldn’t afford to lose men in the war.”

New Zealand’s conscientious objectors to the First World War were treated harshly, with the Crown only recently pardoning Rua Kenana and apologising to his family for his treatment during the war.

“I feel conscientious objectors were treated very badly,” Kevin says. “If you don’t want to fight, you shouldn’t be made to. The attitude wasn’t a great snapshot of what NZ was about. I hold a man like Archibald Baxter in high regard, for his courage for standing up—a guy from a small south Otago back block, standing up for what he did, and what he went through. I met his son, James K Baxter, who was a literature teacher for St Paul’s High School, which I attended. He was an independent spirit too.”

Dissent—A Different Type of Courage, a short audio visual show, runs at the Great War Exhibition until Sunday 1st October 2017. Our next temporary exhibition, Passchendaele—New Zealand’s Darkest Day runs from Wednesday 4th October.

Photo: On ANZAC day in 2016,  a sculpture appeared on  Wellington’s waterfront to highlight the courage of those who refused to serve in the military. Story Inc. recreated the sculpture for Dissent, the second episode in our seven-part Chapters of The Great War series of temporary exhibitions.