Men tired of waiting for a ship to take them home after the war dug the giant white outline on Salisbury Plain.

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A legacy of New Zealand's wartime presence in England is still visible on the Salisbury Plains.

The giant chalk kiwi, carved into a slope of Beacon Hill, dates from 1919, when it was hacked out of the hillside as a project devised by officers to placate restless troops anxious to get home at the end of World War I.

The soldiers were based at Sling Camp, a sprawling military base which housed as many as 4500 men. Designed by Sergeant Percy Blenkarne, a drawing instructor, the chalk creation is modelled on a stuffed kiwi in the Natural History Museum in London, 120km away.

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To ensure pleasing proportions, engineers from the Canterbury and Otago regiments used tape to mark the outlines, before the men cut away the hillside to expose a layer of Wiltshire chalk.

The big white bird covers half a hectare, and stands 128m tall, making it visible from miles around - a problem during World War II because it could be used by German bombers as a navigational landmark. To prevent the enemy gaining an advantage, the Bulford kiwi was covered with leaf mould for several years before a scout troop scraped it clean again.

Soldiers who created the feature almost 100 years ago had earlier staged a revolt after they became fed up with strict discipline and grinding route-marches when the war for them was done. All they wanted was to get home, but the supply of troop ships was delayed.

Rampaging Sling troops looted the canteen and officers' mess, drank everything they could lay their hands on and caused damage put at the time at 10,000. One officer was treated in hospital for a head wound, while a lot of the troops ended up the worse for wear.

Several soldiers identified as ringleaders were arrested and sent home ahead of the men who so desperately wanted to go. Many who stayed were put on fatigue parties in February and March 1919 to create the Bulford Kiwi, named after the nearby town.

For many soldiers, Sling was an unlovely place, despite its comfortable huts, wholesome food, decent canteens and billiard tables for relaxing. It could be bitterly cold in winter and featureless the rest of the time for soldiers required to drag weary feet across nearby countryside. But the camp did serve its purpose: by 1916, as troops moved through and sharpened their rifle skills, learned bomb-fusing and throwing, did gas-mask drills and visited the gas chamber, most emerged fit and disciplined at the end of a 30-day rotation.

One of the bomb instructors was Lieutenant Cyril Carey, a Marlborough sheep farmer.

His job was to train the recruits to prepare and hurl bombs and hand grenades. On November 7, 1916, Carey was teaching a nervous young private in a throwing trench. The soldier hurled the primed bomb only to see it lodge in mud near the lip of the trench.

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A frantic Carey tried to grab the grenade but it was beyond his reach. Bravely he pushed the terrified soldier down in the sap just as the bomb exploded and blasted shrapnel at the two men. Carey suffered life threatening head wounds and died that evening in Codford Hospital, 30km away.

The 35-year-old's military records say his actions saved the life of the novice soldier. Every available soldier in Sling Camp attended his funeral, marching 10km to the gravesite. A report in the Christchurch Press in January 1917 noted: "The funeral was one of the largest seen on the Salisbury Plain."

The cortege passed a line of uniformed men which stretched 2km on both sides of the road. As Carey's casket was lowered, 40 troops fired a salute over Tidworth Cemetery, where his gravestone can be found.