National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

Freyberg Gallery

Freyberg Gallery

A Sign of the Times


SignoftheTimes 4 900x600 Freyberg Gallery


In World War One, how did a soldier find his way around the confusing network of muddy dangerous trenches, especially in the dark of night …

Today, we take signs and signage for granted. They inform us, warn us and tell us where to go but in times of war, do they take on a little more importance. Many of the soldiers of World War One would say a resounding ‘yes’.

Trenches came into widespread use after 1914 as a way for soldiers to protect themselves from heavy artillery and full-on attacks. As the war progressed, so did the trenches and they developed into huge networks. Trenches were given names to help identify them. These signs were often painted on wooden boards, or whatever they could scrounge. Some were humorous while others related to familiar places of home.

Other signs indicated the whereabouts of unit headquarters, medical aid posts and supply dumps, or warned troops of nearby danger.

This practice of painted signs has continued throughout wars over the last 100 years and our own New Zealand troops in recently departed Afghanistan took sign-making to an art-form, providing a welcome break from the often bland signage we see in ‘civvy street.’

This exhibition provides a look at the use of signage  during times of war from wayfaring in World War One through to the signs used as directional and unit signs in Afghanistan during New Zealand’s recent deployment. It provides an opportunity to exhibit some of the crafted signs that returned during the withdrawal of the final CRIB of the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (NZPRT).

The exhibition will be on display from 22nd April until mid-August 2016.