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The giant Wētā Workshop figure to feature in the NZ Liberation Museum – Te Arawhata, in France.
Former Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt is delighted that a museum project in France that he sought to champion will come to fruition this year.
The museum commemorating New Zealand troops’ heroics in World War I will open in the small French town of Le Quesnoy in October, and will feature immersive storytelling techniques provided by Wētā Workshop.
Six Southlanders were among the 140 New Zealanders who died in its liberation after four years of German occupation. They were virtually the last of the 12,483 who fell on the Western Front 1916-18.
The NZ Liberation Museum will carry the name Te Arawhata, meaning “the ladder’ – named for the Kiwi soldiers’ use of a ladder to scale the town’s protective walls on November 4, 1918.
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NZ Division decided not to liberate the town with the usual preliminary artillery bombardment. Instead, Lieutenant Leslie Averill climbed a ladder up the 27-metre-high ramparts and led the charge armed with a pistol.
It meant no civilian lives were lost. The town’s gratitude has been abiding, with streets given New Zealand names, children taught about New Zealand at school, and any New Zealander visiting on Anzac Day or Armistice Day is given the freedom of the town.
When Shadbolt learned of a proposal for a hotel there to be turned into a commemorative museum he proposed the council consider a $2.1 million investment to fund it as a rewarding investment and promotional opportunity. The “beautiful heritage town’’ attracts more than 40,000 visitors, many of whom are New Zealanders.
A friendship that started in war time between a small French town and their New Zealand liberators has stood the test of time.
He gained scant support.
“There was tremendous opposition for any local funding for the project,’’ he told Stuff last week, “and I was ridiculed for wanting New Zealanders to contribute to a house in the Mediterranean.’.
Aware that his endorsement was creating more of a negative reaction than a positive one, he had adopted a low-key approach which included buying 200 booklets to help inform people locally of the project’s merits.
Ultimately, under a trust chaired by former deputy Prime Minister and Commonwealth secretary-general Sir Don McKinnon, a $15 million project has now reached its confirmed opening date of October 11.
Shadbolt said he was delighted. It would be a place of pilgrimage and lasting tribute to the inventive Kiwis “whose heroics are set in the hearts of the village and its residents’’.
It was important that new generations appreciated the bravery and sacrifices of those troops: “It doesn’t get more Kiwi than throwing a ladder over the top to save a village,’’ he said.
“My only disappointment is that I’m unlikely to get to see the museum in person, as it’s a project special to my heart. And, hopefully, in time, the hearts of all Kiwis.’’
Wētā Workshop senior creative director Andrew Thomas said the aim was to create an immersive storytelling experience to highlight the human stories behind the liberation – a mix of cinematic, sensory and emotive environments.
It would include the giant but hyper-realistic figure of a soldier, similar to those used at the famed Te Papa exhibition Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War.
McKinnon said the museum would commemorate not only the Le Quesnoy story, but the approximately 12,500 New Zealanders who died in France and Belgium during the war.
Allied nations such as Australia, Canada, India South Africa and the United States, all built commemorative museums in Europe afterwards, but New Zealand never had.
MARTIN DE RUYTER/STUFF
Sir Don McKinnon says the New Zealand War Memorial Museum Trust wants to establish a permanent presence in the French town of Le Quesnoy. (Video first published on March 14, 2021)