By Lawrence Watt
A century on from the World War One Battle of Le Quesnoy - where New Zealand soldiers captured the French town from the German Army – a sculpture by 21st century war artist Matt Gauldie will soon be a centrepiece in the town's museum.
New Zealand soldiers borrowed firemen's ladders to scale the town's medieval stone walls on November 4, 1918. First up was probably intelligence officer Leslie Averill. The Germans surrendered after a fairly short battle.
But the cost was 120 New Zealand riflemen killed in Le Quesnoy, just a week before the war ended on November 11. It is these soldiers that Le Quesnoy, the artwork, commemorates, an unknown lance-corporal and private.
Gauldie is a Kapiti Coast-based artist, best known for his war art. Both his mother and father are artists and he is inspired by Rita Angus and bird painter Raymond Ching. He is a blend of brain and brawn, artist and soldier, a path initiated by former prime minister Helen Clarke and Sir Jerry Mateparae, then head of the Army, who recruited him as New Zealand's official war artist.
Sir Jerry told him he would have to train as a soldier, as well as being war artist. "You will have to keep up with the other guys," he said.
Army training makes you ask many questions, including "Why am I here?" Gauldie says.
"There are some really tough bastards who end up there, but it was critical (to be a soldier) " he says. But today's army is "less macho and more about brains." For example "you have to be technically literate and drive three or four different (specialist) vehicles."
Gauldie's most risky deployment was Afghanistan in 2006 - under fire. He produced a series of paintings. In later years, two soldiers he knew were killed there.
Over a decade on, he is still a territorial gunner, and in two weeks will be taking part in an artillery salute to commemorate the end of World War I.
Gauldie's connection with the World War I's Western Front is his great-grandfather Robert Sutterby, who fought at the Somme, aged just 16. He survived, then joined the British Army full-time. Sutterby fought in both world wars.
The sculpture Le Quesnoy was made in bronze by a '"lost wax" process and took three months to complete. Work began with considerable research into uniforms.
It is highly detailed and reminiscent of George Butler's painting of our riflemen scaling the wall.
Lost wax is a centuries-old process where the original is made of wax, round which the artist makes a mould. The wax melts away during the process. Welding the pieces together was the trickiest task, says Gauldie. "You risk making a big puddle of bronze."
Gauldie's research and experience has given Le Quesnoy an X factor, it's not unlike his recent War Horse (sited outdoors in Hamilton), which recalls that most New Zealand war horses were shot.
On a Solomon Islands deployment, Gauldie got to know his then-boss, Major (retired) Greg Moyle, a businessman/art collector who is on the New Zealand War Museum board.
"We were the two blokes who were talking about art all the time," Moyle says. The connection led to this work. The Museum has no Government funding and Gauldie has donated his sculpture to it.
Lawrence Watt produced Heartlanders, a pop-up exhibition on World War One.