Exhibition honours war heroes' sacrifice

By Geoff Cumming

A replica of World War l trenches at London's revamped Imperial War Museum. Photo / Greg Bowker
A replica of World War l trenches at London's revamped Imperial War Museum. Photo / Greg Bowker

Against the sound of artillery fire, the faltering voice of an old soldier recites the poem all New Zealand kids learn at school and which a nation associates with Anzac Day.

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old ..." the central quatrain begins. The Last Post plays.

At the British National Library, the exhibition Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour is helping to bridge 100 years of history for a younger generation which, while curious, lacks connection to the heroic tragedy which shaped a century.

World War I is being commemorated in as many countries that were involved - a theatre that extended from France to the Middle East, to which New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Canada and India, the outposts of the Empire, unblinkingly sent human cannon fodder.

That contribution is being acknowledged as activity in Britain steps up ahead of the centenary of its declaration of war on Germany, August 4.

The National Library exhibition looks at how people coped with a war of unprecedented intensity both on the front line and at home, using letters, manuscripts, recruitment posters, photographs, video and sound.

Pack up your troubles, a display on the humour of war, features a well-preserved copy of the Waitemata Wobbler, a satirical magazine which maintained morale for troops of the 21st Reinforcements Maori Contingent on the notoriously choppy troopship voyage from New Zealand to Cape Town en route to Plymouth.

Elsewhere, there is theatre, concerts, remembrance services, conferences, seminars and special children's learning activities. The Western Front Association plans commemorative journeys to Arras, France next month to mark the centenary of the deployment of the British Expeditionary Force and the first deployment of an air force.

Social media is being used for a "Lights Out" night on August 4, when Britons will be encouraged to light a commemorative candle for a moment of reflection.

Closer to Armistice Day comes the opportunity to spend a Night in the Trenches at Whittington Barracks in Staffordshire.

At the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth, HMS 33, a troopship which took Anzac and British troops ashore at Gallipoli, has been restored and opened as a tourist attraction.

But the main focus this month is this weekend's reopening of the Imperial War Museum after an $80 million refurbishment of its World War I galleries.

More than 100 journalists from the Commonwealth and Europe were treated to a midweek preview, reflecting the enduring impact of the conflict, the respect for those who gave their lives and our puzzlement over the waste.

Drawing on more than 400 exhibits including weapons, gas masks, armour, photographs, film footage, clothing, posters and letters home, even a replica trench, the story of the war is told in a depth that helps to resolve these mysteries.

A high point for New Zealanders is a display marking John Pomeroy's invention of an incendiary bullet used in 1916 against Zeppelins and which "helped swing the advantage in the skies over Britain from the German attackers to the British defenders".

But above all, there is a sense of poignancy captured by Laurence Binyon in his poem For the Fallen. It was penned by Binyon, assistant keeper at the British Museum, and published in The Times on September 21, 1914 - seven weeks into the war.

Read more: tinyurl.com/ww1data

- NZ Herald

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