A colonel who defied his commanders and a fearless corporal who braved enemy gunfire to lay telephone wire are among 5000 warriors re-imagined in a detailed display now open to the public.

Sir Peter Jackson today opened the display in Wellington, chronicling the New Zealand war effort at Gallipoli a century ago.

The display's centrepiece is a huge diorama, with some 5000 hand-painted toy soldiers recreating the battle at Chunuk Bair.

Sir Peter commissioned expert toy-soldier sculptors Alan and Michael Perry to make the New Zealand and Turkish soldiers.

Opening of
Opening of "Gallipoli: the New Zealand Story in Colour" Photo / Mark Tantrum - mark tantrum.com)

He asked New Zealand war-gamers to help paint the 54mm (1:32 scale) pewter figurines, some of which are based on specific soldiers.

The cast of characters included Victoria Cross recipient Cyril Bassett, a corporal who repeatedly laid and repaired a telephone wire to the front line in full daylight and under relentless enemy fire.

Sir Peter said Chunuk Bair, today covered in pine trees, was now very different from the barren and bloodied landscape on display in the diorama.

"This is very, very accurate. This captures the view of what was happening in the middle of the morning of August the 8."

Lieutenant-Colonel William George Malone, who Sir Peter said bravely defied pigheaded commanders by refusing to send his men on suicide missions, also received a special mention.

Today's opening was a poignant moment for Mr Malone's granddaughter, Anita Young.

She donated family mementoes from the war and its aftermath to the museum and also showed a series of her own paintings, Shrapnel and Chicken Wire, which were inspired by a visit to Gallipoli.

Meanwhile, staff at Sir Peter's Weta Workshops colourised black and white photos, dozens of which are now on display.

Mr Jackson said seeing World War I photos in colour removed a sort of "protective screen" between people of the past and the present.

"Once you're in colour that 100 years starts evaporating."

Some images are haunting, some quirky, many just prosaic.

"They're just normal guys. They're just like us."

Sir Peter Jackson's Gallipoli: the New Zealand Story in Colour is at the ANZ New Zealand Room at the Great War Exhibition, in the old Dominion Museum at Pukeahu National War Memorial.

Figurine of Lieutenant Colonel William Malone in the battle. Photo / Mark Tantrum - mark tantrum.com
Figurine of Lieutenant Colonel William Malone in the battle. Photo / Mark Tantrum - mark tantrum.com

Apart from the diorama and the Malone family mementoes, a display of everyday Gallipoli items, paintings and colourised photographs are on display.

Sir Peter today also pointed out a display of the unimaginative food on offer to Anzacs.

A huge stash of bully beef left over from the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 was dumped, providing one part of a three-piece diet.

Jam, and biscuits so hard they cracked dentures, completed the trilogy.

From those three staples, various mixtures including crude rissoles were fashioned to make more palatable food.

Kiwi resourcefulness was also on display with homemade grenades or improvised explosive devices made from jan tins and raw materials scattered around the battleground.

For a time at Chunuk Bair, the Kiwis had no parallel to the Turks' hand grenades.

"We had to make our own. So we got our jam tins and we put bloody any old crap that we could lying around in the jam tins with a bit of [gunpowder], put in a fuse, and they were very very effective."

The display also included a primitive slingshot, fashioned from wood and other basic materials for "bomb-throwers" who with existing arms and the battlefield geography couldn't get close enough to the Turks.

The diorama shows in meticulous detail the horror and heroism of the battle.