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

Freyberg Gallery

Freyberg Gallery

Going Underground: Tunnellers of WWI

This photographic exhibition by Brett Killington explores the tunnels under Arras in France, shedding light on the lives of the Kiwi tunnellers who laboured and fought there during WWI. Killington has worked closely with the French government to gain access to many of the quarries and tunnels not seen by the general public and his photographs reveal a subterranean ‘New Zealand’ in the form of street and place names, graffiti and objects left behind by the New Zealand tunnellers. The exhibition will be complemented by artefacts from our own collection and miniature scenes depicting life underground.

Exhibition now open.

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Brett Killington – An Introduction by Christopher Pugsley, New Zealand Military Historian

Brett Killington is a New Zealander, I have known him for many years from when he served as a photographer in the New Zealand Defence Forces. He now lives and works in the United Kingdom and his obsession for the last seven or so years has been recording the battlefields of France, but with a difference. His interest is in photographing what the public cannot see, the underground tunnels, dugouts and quarries such as what we can see if we visit Le Carrière Wellington Museum.

Brett was drawn underground by photographing former Cold War bunkers and the London Underground as part of his Masters in Photography course. This drew him to the Western Front and Arras. With the permission of the city of Arras, Brett worked closely with the archaeologists and museum staff. He has spent hundreds of hours underground exploring the hidden spaces: the tunnels, caves, and sewers associated with the men who built, lived and died here in the First World War. He has followed their footprints and documented the evidence of their lives as soldiers. From this exploration he has created a series of images that allows you to enter into this tunnellers’ world that has been in darkness for a 100 years. He takes you to places that you cannot visit and shows you how time has stood still in this New Zealand-created city under Arras.

Brett takes photos in the pitch-blackness, using ambient light with long exposure times to achieve remarkable results. His images are of simple things, rusting tin cans left behind in a kitchen, its blackened roof, names carved into the limestone, a candle stump left in place by a soldier waiting to go into battle a century ago. The pretty face of a woman, a simple drawing of a soldier wearing a lemon squeezer hat that marks him out as a New Zealander.  His images reminds us that humanity can exist in the brutality of war.

Brett initially saw the project as:

Self Portrait Arras Tunnels 2015 Brett Killington (2)

Self Portrait, Arras Tunnels – 2015

“… a great adventure (I presume like the boys did when they enlisted) but after spending years of visiting the site it has become a very sacred space to me. I have slowly built up a strong knowledge of the space and events. Through this I have developed such a great pride in the men that came here. As a New Zealander it began as being mainly about the tunnellers. However it has become much bigger than that. These images record the great sacrifice made by men/boys, and of everyone involved on both sides of the front line, including the Germans.

I have found a purpose for my skill that allows me to create an important archive that will tell this story for years to come. It gives a voice to those now silent and gone. I see this as a starting point for me to work on documenting different conflicts that New Zealand has been involved with.

It has become my vocation.”