An engaging, interactive exhibition that has just opened at the Waiouru Army Museum explores the reality of war on colonial sportsmen as they were transplanted from the rugby fields of home to fight for the "mother country".

Balls, Bullets and Boots is told through the eyes of New Zealand rugby players and coaches. It features people from every background, those who served and those who stayed behind, those who came back and those who did not return.

Fifty All Blacks went to war and 13 died. No fewer than 728 provincial reps served, 163 died and by late 1915 (before conscription) it was estimated that 10,000 active club players nationwide had volunteered.

The exhibition looks at the impact the hostilities had on New Zealand's signature sport and its sportspeople. Rugby players during the Great War were often held up by recruiters as heroes, athletes turned soldiers, making noble sacrifices for their country as they traded the cheers of spectators for the roar of artillery fire.


Ex-All Black captain Anton Oliver features as the exhibition's "digital guide". Oliver is passionate about the need to confront the realities that New Zealand men and women went through during wartime. "I'm interested in this project because it attempts to strip away all of the political, nationalistic rhetoric and describe what really happened to people in the war by telling people's stories."

-The exhibition, from the New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North, will be on display in both the Freyberg and Thornton galleries until February 26.