Thursday December 21, 2017
NZ’s shame recalled in latest war exhibition
James McLean at the latest exhibition commemorating the Great War at the Dominon Museum building – War in the Holy Lands. PHOTO: Jamie Adams By Jamie Adams
The latest short-term exhibition commemorating the Great War at the Dominion Museum building provides a reminder that even our own soldiers were capable of committing acts of evil. War in the Holy Lands, about New Zealanders’ First World War experiences in the Middle East, opened last Wednesday, December 13. Created by Te Aro-based Story Inc along with John Strang of Dusk, the exhibition focuses on the part of the New Zealand army that helped capture Jerusalem.
In 1916, New Zealand mounted soldiers joined the British attack on Sinai, fighting for two years to protect the strategically important Suez Canal from the soldiers of the Ottoman Empire. Their war, fought on horseback across the ancient Holy Lands of Sinai and Palestine, may have sounded romantic, but the reality was often harsh and heart breaking, with many deaths on both sides, along with hordes of flies, extreme temperatures and rampant malaria. Second Lieutenant John Masterman is quoted as saying; “If one placed an egg on the sand it would cook in about two min-
New Zealand “Mounted” soldiers pose in front of the Sphinx and pyramids in Egypt in 1915. PHOTO: Supplied
utes, but we had no eggs to cook.” The ‘Mounteds’ gained a formidable reputation as fighters, but following the end of the war, some of them committed a spiteful attack on the Palestinian village of Surafend which led to the murders of about 40 civilians. Story Inc, which specialises in “visitor experiences”, has been creating touring exhibitions to complement the Great War Exhibition since it was established in 2015. Co-founder James McLean says he and business partner Steve LaHood wanted to give this one “a bit more life than just silent film and stills”.
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“We installed six projectors. At our previous show about Passchendaele we had four screens. “In addition to archive footage and photographs, the projectors display a “shadow play” - silhouettes of military men played by actors – which was shot in a Newtown studio. “I played General Allenby in one of them,” James says. “We thought we would also add maps for those not familiar with the area.” This exhibition took “about three or four months” to create after the Passchendaele one ran its course, with research compiled from military histo-
rian Damien Fenton and visual material gathered from libraries and private collections. James was somewhat familiar with the Mounteds, having done a similar exhibition on them for Waikato Museum in 2015. “We shouldn’t pretend New Zealand soldiers didn’t do bad things. “War can make people do terrible things when pushed far enough – it makes them desensitised.” War in the Holy Lands is the fifth of seven touring exhibitions to accompany the Great War Exhibition which runs until the end of next year.
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Cook Strait News 21-12-17