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

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NZ Army Memorabilia

Explore the stories behind our NZ war history and discover some of the fascinating army memorabilia and military artefacts on display and in the archives at the National Army Museum at Waiouru.

In the Life of the Collection Technician

NATO Entrenching Tool

NATO Entrenching Tool

The Collection Technician supports the Assistant Curators with specific projects within the various collections of textiles, heraldry, vehicles and technology, armoury, archives, accoutrements and social history.

Collection Technician, Loran McNamara says “The parameters of projects are always similar; I research the objects, ensure the digital records on Vernon match the original paper records, and that the records accurately and correctly describe the object and how its condition has changed over time. Often the objects need to be re-housed to ensure their longevity and sometimes objects need to have some basic preventative conservation carried out on them.”

“My latest project involved working on entrenching tools in the Accoutrements Department. This project required me to photograph, re-house and update the records of the museum’s entrenching tools (also known as e tools). This collection spans from British, Turkish, Swiss and German World War One patterns, to what North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) soldiers are currently issued today. Correctly identifying objects requires me to be adept in research, so having a Combined Honours degree in History and Politics helped me to carry out methodical research. To correctly identify e tool patterns, I spent a lot of time scouring military re-enactment forums and following their enthusiastic debates about the detailed accuracy of military specs. I checked this information against trusted sources such as published books which detail various military patterns of entrenching tools. These books are available at our very own Kippenberger Library. During the project I found possible borer activity in an e tool helve, so we freezer treated the object in order to kill any possible active borer- an example of using preventative conservation methods in my job.history. 


Chunuk Bair: We Remember the Heroism and Sacrifice

Anzac front line Fire Step (NAM 2007-550)

Anzac front line Fire Step (NAM 2007-550)

In August 1915, the Allied force made its last attempt to break the stalemate on Gallipoli and General Sir Ian Hamilton’s plan envisaged two columns advancing on to the Sari Bair Range, with the view to capturing the key high points of Chunuk Bair, Hill Q, and Hill 971 (Koja Chemen Tepe) during the night of 6-7 August. The New Zealanders were to make the main assault on Chunuk Bair while the Australians would make diversionary attacks at Lone Pine and the Nek.

100 years on the National Army Museum remembers the brutal and tragic events that would follow.



The Battle for the Daisy Patch

1st NZ Brigade at Cape Helles during WWI (NAM 1992-776)

1st NZ Brigade at Cape Helles during WWI (NAM 1992-776)

On 5th May 1915 the New Zealand Infantry Brigade were shipped to Cape Helles south of the Gallipoli landing site in preparation for the Second Battle of Krithia, also known as the battle for the Daisy Patch.

On May 8th after an unsuccessful artillery barrage, the New Zealand infantry moved into attack across an open piece of ground. The ground was the ‘Daisy Patch’ but would also be referred to as the “Gardens of Hell”.

The attack at the Daisy Patch was unsuccessful due to the Turkish machine gun and artillery fire causing heavy casualties. The ground was not taken and the New Zealanders retreated as best they could. The 3 day operation had cost the Allies 6,500 men (800 of these men were ‘Kiwis’) in gaining just half a kilometre of ground of no major significance.

“They go forward whenever they are ordered although they know in many cases they are walking to their death.” 8/1039 Private Peter M Thompson, Otago Battalion

Full story

The Railwaymen in Samoa

Workers of the NZ Railways Section opposite Vaea Camp, Samoa (NAM 2003.100)

Workers of the NZ Railways Section opposite Vaea Camp, Samoa (NAM 2003.100)

The WWI exhibition Samoa: An Urgent and Imperial Service tells the relatively unknown story of the occupation of Samoa at the start of the war. New Zealand was asked to neutralise the German wireless station capable of sending long range Morse signals to Berlin.

The Company of NZ Railway (NZRE) were important in getting an existing narrow gauge tramway operational so stores and troops could be moved from Apia to the wireless station 6.4km inland. They rather grandly described themselves as the ‘Samoa Branch, NZ Railway Department’ or ‘Apia Division, NZ Railways’.

The wireless station had been recently built to improve communications throughout German Pacific territories and was constructed by the Germans. Throughout occupation by the initial force and then later by the Garrison Force, the tramway was kept busy hauling ammunition, ballast and camp material. This included timber and shingle for the tents and roads in the new camps, and the wireless station. The ‘Apia Express’ was also used by the troops for regular outings on a Sunday when they were on leave.


Cassino Veteran Visits NAM

Veteran Noel l Bunn standing in front of the Museum's model of Monte Cassino

Veteran Noel l Bunn standing in front of the Museum’s model of Monte Cassino

90 year old Cassino veteran and Japanese Prisoner of War, Noel Bunn visited the National Army Museum recently and in doing so shared his remarkable story of service.

Noel’s service began in the Pacific when he served in both Fiji and New Caledonia before heading for Europe and Italy. He fought and was wounded in the Battle for Monte Cassino but managed to stay on until the end of the campaign.

With the war winding down in Italy, Noel was sent with a shipload of surplus war materials to establish a “jumping off” base at Okinawa for the final assault on Japan. Despite assurances from the US Navy that their ship would be okay, it was sunk by a mine in the Sea of Japan and Noel ended up a prisoner of war (POW) in Iwakuni. He witnessed the dropping of the Hiroshima bomb and when the war was over spent another year in Japan running a repatriation point for all Japanese POWs.



Stories From the Samoan Garrison

Cooking breakfast, Apia, Samoa (NAM 2007.552)

Cooking breakfast, Apia, Samoa (NAM 2007.552)

One of the personal stories profiled in the latest museum exhibition, Samoa: A Great and Urgent Imperial Service  is that of Sergeant Laurence “Harry” McCalman who worked at the Samoan wireless station during and after WWI ensuring the plant and equipment ran smoothly.

Harry’s original Tropical Khaki Drill Service Jacket that he wore in Samoa is on display as part of the new display in the Thornton Gallery.

Learn more about Harry


The War Begins

The 4th August marks the 100 year anniversary of the start of World War One when King George V declared war on Germany and in doing so New Zealand, as part of the British Empire, found itself at war. To mark this anniversary and kick-off its interesting programme of commemorations, the National Army Museum in Waiouru are hosting a week long World War One film festival from 4th-10th August.

The war saw a growing recognition of New Zealanders in their own right but this new identity had come at a huge price. New Zealand’s population was just over a million at the outbreak of war with 100,444 New Zealanders serving overseas or 10% of the population.

Of these 18,166 died and over 41,000 were wounded which equated to over 59,000 causalities out of an eligible male population of just 240,000.


Paddy the Dog

‘Paddy’ was the Irish terrier mascot of the Wellington Battalion during World War One, serving in both Gallipoli and the Western Front.

He was often in the thick of the action at Gallipoli, barking and scurrying around as bullets whistled over his head. Once on the Western Front, he was mainly kept away from the frontline and earned several promotions to Scout Sergeant-Major.

It is not clear whether Paddy came back to New Zealand but there is paperwork, dated February 1919 whereby he was in quarantine, waiting to return home, so it would appear the tough little terrier would have made it.



The Gallipoli Turtle

NZ Army Memorabilia - Gallipoli Turtle Shell

This amazing artefact comes from a turtle who was a good mate to a Kiwi soldier during the infamous campaign at Gallipoli. Thomas O’Connor was taking cover in a trench one night during the battle when a turtle toppled over the edge and dropped on top of him; almost scaring him half to death. After getting over his shock he saw the poor creature couldn’t get out of the trench and so made a ramp for it. The little turtle duly climbed up the ramp and headed for sea, but much to O’Connor’s surprise it came back that night and from then on was a regular visitor.

Read on and find out the tragic story behind this peculiar military souvenir.

The Many Meanings of Museum Objects

By Chris Rapley

WWII Army Memorabilia - Railway Spike

One of the amazing aspects of material culture is that items often change their meanings and roles.

A great example in the National Army Museum is a railway spike from the infamous Thailand Burma Railway of World War II. The Thailand Burma Railway, often referred to as ‘The Death Railway’, was a Japanese project where Prisoners of War (POW’s) and labourers were forced to construct a 420 kilometre track in appalling conditions. The estimated 60,000 POW’s and 100,000 Asian labourers who worked on the railway were treated savagely by their Japanese masters. It is estimated that a quarter of the POW’s and an even greater proportion of the labourers died during the construction – literally worked to death.

The railway spike started its life as an element of that project, however after the war it took on a different role. Find out what became of this fascinating piece of Kiwi military memorabilia.

Trench Art

By Chris Rapley

Kiwi War Memorabilia Brass Artillery Shell

The National Army Museum has a multitude of interesting war memorabilia and military collections, including a fascinating collection known as “Trench Art”.

Trench Art is a difficult art form to define, but loosely speaking it refers to pieces of art made by soldiers, prisoners of war or civilians during time of conflict, often using war material. Pieces of Trench Art can cover many kinds of different materials, such as objects made from bullets or embroidered cloths created by recuperating soldiers.

Trench Art can also have a multitude of meanings or origins, for example a carving made by a Prisoner of War as a way to fight boredom or a sculptured piece of shrapnel signifying a lucky escape for a soldier in the front line.

The art form received its name from World War I, a conflict characterised by trench warfare, but Trench Art actually seems to have been around since the beginning of conflict and it continues today in current war zones.

What makes Trench Art so special is that it gives us a close insight into the everyday life of soldiers and people affected by war; it can show us what was important to them or how they sought to cope with the horrors they had to endure. Pieces of Trench Art allow us a glimpse into the minds of the people at the time, rather than being held at arms length by a memorial or an oil painting.

Read more about Trench Art

The Story of William’s £1 Note

WWI Artefact - Australian Pound Note

Today I found an inscribed Australian £1 note that belonged to William Watts Mansfield of Palmerston North in 1915. 26 year old Private Mansfield 10/427 was part of the Wellington Infantry Battalion who, in August 1915 fought their way up the rugged shores of Gallipoli in Turkey. This was when William last held his £1 note. Some time amid all the fighting he took the note, and on it he wrote “In case of my death, please send this to my mother as a keepsake”. Below, he signed his name and service number. Soon after, William was announced “missing during September fighting”. His body, and the £1 note that disclosed his last request, had not been found. A remarkable course of events led to the discovery of the £1 note and with it, William’s final request.

Find out how William’s note made it home

The ANZAC Biscuit

“Biscuits! Army Biscuits! Consider the hardness of them. Remember the cracking of your dental plate, the breaking of this tooth, the splintering of that.”
From Army Biscuits by Ormond Burton.

NZ Troops in Gallipoli

Does this bring to mind images of our troops at Gallipoli eating the ANZAC biscuits we know and love today? Staff at the National Army Museum did some research and found that contrary to popular belief there were no ANZAC biscuits at Gallipoli. The standard Army biscuit at this time was a rock hard tooth breaker also called the ship’s biscuit.

Although it’s a myth that ANZAC biscuits were sent and eaten by troops in Gallipoli, some evidence suggests a rolled oats biscuit was sent to troops on the Western Front, although this was not widespread.

Read more about ANZAC biscuits

WWI Wartime propaganda

WWI War Propoganda

Amongst the many exciting items held in the stores of the National Army Museum there is a small medallion that represents the powerful effect that propaganda art can play on the mind set of a population at war: the Lusitania Medallion.

In May of 1915, on a clear Friday morning, 1,959 civilian passengers and crew of the ocean liner Lusitania were nearing Ireland after a long passage from New York. Little did they know that U-20 (a German submarine) was patrolling the area and, believing them to be transporting military munitions, had marked them as a threat. At 2.10 that afternoon the Lusitania was struck by a torpedo. A mere 18 minutes later she was resting on the ocean floor along with 1,198 souls.

Later that year a German political satire artist depicted the event on a propaganda medallion for the amusement of the German public. The artist portrayed the tragedy as a gross oversight of the British Government for allowing a civilian liner to transport military contra-band in an advertised militarised zone. German officials in the USA had warned the passengers of the risk.

Read more


Willie Apiata, VC Recipient: A Reluctant Hero

“I just did what I was trained to do. It’s what mates do for each other”

Corporal Willie Apiata, VC

Victoria Cross of New Zealand

On 2 July 2007, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Helen Clark announced that Queen Elizabeth II had conferred New Zealand Gallantry Awards on four members of the New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) Group. One of those men was Corporal Bill (Willie) Henry Apiata and he was awarded the Victoria Cross for New Zealand.

In 2004 Lance Corporal (now Corporal) Apiata was part of the New Zealand Special Air Services (NZSAS) Troop on patrol in Afghanistan, which came under enemy fire, seriously wounding two of his team. Disregarding his own safety, Lance Corporal Apiata carried his injured colleague to safety despite the heavy enemy fire, then re-armed himself and rejoined the fight in counter-attack.

Read more

Explore our NZ war history through a unique collection of army memorabilia and military artefacts at the National Army Museum.