Opening in December 2017, Passchendaele: A Descent into Hell is the first exhibition displayed in the new gallery space at the National Army Museum Te Mata Toa.
Featuring artefacts from the museum’s collection and a large diorama, Passchendaele: A Descent into Hell tells the story of the New Zealand Division at Passchendaele in October 1917. While many of the battles fought by the New Zealand Division on the Western Front during WWI were far greater tragedies than Gallipoli, most remain virtually unknown to the New Zealand public. Until recently, many New Zealanders knew very little about the costly battles involving Kiwi forces near Passchendaele, Belgium on 4 and 12 October 1917.
“Attack a failure on account of wire encountered. Casualties extremely heavy. Hun machine guns and snipers play havoc. Absolute hell…Brigade practically wiped out.” A NZ Officer’s Report.
The disastrous battle on 12 October accumulated a fatality list higher than that of any other day in New Zealand’s post-1840 history. It would become known as our ‘Darkest Day’. Huge losses during the attack were compounded by the fact that virtually no gains in ground were made. In the aftermath of Passchendaele, the New Zealand Division’s casualties numbered a staggering 4500 men of which 1300 were killed.
To accompany Passchendaele: A Descent into Hell, a series of images by photographer Brett Killington titled 24 Hours in Passchendaele will complete the display in the new gallery. Killington’s photographs offer a unique perspective on the modern-day landscape at Passchendaele, imagining a soldier’s viewpoint of the area where our ancestors fought 100 years ago.
“I wanted my images to reflect the landscape that the New Zealand soldiers experienced and give a sense of 1917,” says Mr Killington.
“My work is captured on a series of pin-hole cameras that expose a sheet of film for 24 hours. These dream-like distortions dissolve the intervention of the 21st century allowing the viewer to imagine what might have been.”
The new gallery exhibiting both Passchendaele: A Descent into Hell and 24 Hours in Passchendaele was built as part of the museum’s refurbished entranceway and will allow for more scope to host a wider range of exhibitions and larger artefacts.
Exhibition now open.