Lions’ Fans Surprised
The last thing two Lions fans expected to see in Wellington was an original London bus from 1914. James Gwinnett and Will Thorpe, who play rugby for Tunbridge Wells, Kent, arrived in New Zealand to enjoy the Lions tour with Steve Meertens, a Waikato kiwi who played rugby with them in England ten years ago. Steve, Director of Website Angels, a digital marketing and design company, has been involved with The Great War Exhibition and suggested they take a tour of the facility.
“Seeing a London bus in Wellington is really cool,” says James. “It’s the last thing I’d expected on a rugby tour.”
During the First World War, the British took 900 London Type-B Double Decker Buses off the streets, pressing them into wartime service. The buses were sent across the English Channel to transport their 70,000-strong troops to defend France and Belgium. Bright red and covered in gaudy advertising, the buses became targets so were soon painted wartime khaki. A London Type-B Bus could carry 36 civilians but only 24 soldiers with full with kit. Many buses were used to move ammunition, as ambulances to transport wounded, or as mobile lofts for carrier pigeons.
James is no stranger to Wellington. “When I first got out of college, a family friend got me a job at Scots College for a year, helping teach P.E. to kids. I played rugby for Marist-St Pats. It’s great to be back and see more kiwi rugby.”
Steve met James and Will while playing rugby in Tunbridge Wells, England. “We’ve known each other ten years,” he says. “When I did my O.E. in 2005, I played four seasons with these boys and we’ve stayed friends ever since. I was over there a year ago, and now they’ve decided to come on the Lions tour so I’ve been showing them the sights and sounds of the country.”
Steve was thrilled that Website Angels could assist The Great War Exhibition with digital marketing, however this was his first visit to the exhibition. “It’s lovely to be here. We’ve been very happy to put our names beside such an incredible exhibition. The attention to detail brings the war back. It’s quite a poignant time—Passchendaele was 100 years ago, in three months. A pretty emotive place to be really.”
He has a personal connection with the First World War. “My wife’s grandfather was a Group Captain in the air force and he was a proud military man his whole life. Having that close tie is quite special. Seeing all the names of the people who have served and passed is powerful. It’s amazing that something like this is here and they can be remembered in the way they should be.”
Will Thorpe enjoyed seeing the first World War from a New Zealand perspective. “It’s bought to life by the models, mannequins and colour photos. They really express what war was like and the appalling conditions. How bad it was, how muddy, and just the sheer devastation that they had to live in for so long. It’s a very thought provoking and puts a lot of things into perspective, I guess.”
James says the exhibition impacts the way he views his work. “I work in PR and a lot of the work I do is based around writing and creativity and the use of the English language. So some of the terminology, like ‘bangers’ and ‘breaking new ground’, that came out of the war is fascinating. One of the words that stood out to me is ‘bumf’. I often send journalists bumf. The fact that it came from First World War soldiers using written materials to wipe their backsides is slightly amusing, but an interesting take on life in the trenches.”
“It’s impossible to fully appreciate what it was like,” James says, “but Sir Peter Jackson has done a pretty good job of demonstrating the sheer scale of the War. John, the tour guide, was talking about 7000 guns that fired billions of shells. You cannot fathom the scale of the destruction, the chaos and the loss of life. Yeah, it’s very very thought provoking.”
Images (left to right): Steve Meertens, James Gwinnett, Will Thorpe with the London Bus