Learning about WWI in Wellington, New Zealand

The capital of New Zealand is a pleasant city, hilly and windy, but full of cafes, restaurants, and museums. It’s a vibrant place.

The 100th anniversary of the Great War (the First World War to Americans) has brought two remarkable exhibits, one in Te Papa (the National Museum) about Gallipoli, the other in the War Museum about New Zealand in the Great War (developed by Sir Peter Jackson, better known as a film producer, but clearly hugely interested in history).

The First World War had only really been part of my experience in a honors high school class (history and english) where we somehow only learned songs of the troops (along with some context). Added to a bit of knowledge about Rasputin and the Czarina in Russia, how the war started, and knowing Gallipolli was an awful battle — well, I learned a whole lot more from these two exhibitions.

I had no idea how long the trench lines were on the Western Front, nor did I realize how many men (and civilians) died over the course of the war, even though I did know it was a lot, under awful conditions in the trenches, thanks to a visit to the Imperial War Museum in London decades ago.

It’s sobering to be in other countries (Stockholm’s museums were eye-opening about Northern Europe and Scandavian conflicts over the centuries, and why they were pacifist in WW II), not to mention South America and the liberation movements there, and to be in a small country, New Zealand, that lost so many men in the relatively small contingent that they sent in WW I — most at Gallipoli, but many others on the Western Front.


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