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WWI: Tracing the Footsteps from Trentham

WWI: Tracing the Footsteps from Trentham

100 years ago the Great War began. For many it started in a little suburb of Upper Hutt called Trentham. WWI: Tracing the Footsteps from Trentham is a new exhibition at Expressions Whirirnaki Arts and Entertainment Centre that tells the story of the World War 1 Military Training Camp in Trentham that turned New Zealand civilians into fighting men.

This exhibition pays tribute to the role the Camp played in shaping those men who became New Zealand’s heroes of The Great War. Visitors will follow their journey from the tents and training fields of Trentham to the trails and trauma of war. They will experience what a soldier's life in a New Zealand training camp was like honour their hopes, dreams and fears... and remember the price that they paid. Over 55,000 men trained at Trentham Camp earning this Camp a special a place in the hearts of many New Zealanders and in the official history of the war. Director Leanne Wickham talks of the significance of the camp saying that, “here the Anzacs walked, talked and laughed...

They marched along the neighbouring roads, survived the mud, endured the sickness and ate the notorious food. This was the place where thousands of civilians became soldiers, and where men passed from training into active service. For many, it was their last living memory of life in New Zealand. For those who survived, it embodies the sadness and grief of young lives cut short, and dreams left unfulfilled.”

Mayor of Upper Hutt Wayne Guppy is thrilled to have the exhibition showing the Trentham story saying that “Trentham Military Camp has played a major part in the life of Upper Hutt and to this day has the ‘keys to the city’. We are delighted to be able to tell this nationally significant story and to honour the men who trained in our city and served our country during WWI.”

One of the key points of interest regarding Trentham was that it was a largely a city made up of Bell Tents. Trentham was originally planned for 2000 men, but constant new waves of recruits pushed that number up to 4000 and then to 7000 by May 1915, with eight to twelve men sleeping in a tent, in a wheel like formation with their feet at the centre. Part of the exhibit will feature a replica tent so that visitors can get a sense of what it would have been like: the cold, the wet, the mud... With no paved streets or proper drainage, the Wellington weather played havoc with Trentham with it being recorded as having “10 inches of mud” around the tents. Trooper John (Jack) Watson comments in a letter dated June 1915: “The place is in a great state of mud, but I suppose you can imagine what it is like with 7000 men tramping about every day.” He adds later that “things have been very disagreeable with mud and slush. It has playing the deuce with the men’s health too and almost everyone has more or less affected with colds and sore throats”.

Watson, later died of Cerebos-spinal meningitis on 14 Sep 1915 at the Military Hospital, Trentham Military Camp at 29 years old.

The training of the Troops plays a key part in the exhibit and provides insight into the eight to sixteen weeks training at Trentham. Prior to arriving at Trentham the troops were farmers, builders and labourers, clerks and scrub cutters, shearers... instead of soldiers and the rigour of training often took them by surprise. The training included drill, where the soldier learned how to march and how to handle and fire his rifle, musketry, bayonet-fighting, engineering, map-reading, attack and defence, out-posts and other field work. The second half of training was devoted to platoon and company training so that the soldier knew his place within the company when in the field and included the drill of the attack, defense, outposts, advance guard, etc.

In the book Historic Trentham written in 1915, Author Will Lawson talks of the night training saying, ‘there is something irresistibly impressive in the sound of marching troops, especially at night. In the stillness the stride—stride—stride can be heard a long way off, and on night marches there are no other sounds, except the whispering of orders...’ Despite the training, many of the soldiers were still not ready for the onslaught of the front line. Leslie Sargent from the book An Awfully Big Adventure by Jane Tolerton, 2013, comments on his first night in the front line saying “We were all keeping our head down.

Don’t go looking over the parapet, a sniper will get you.”

Other parts of the exhibition looks at the cooking and food including the infamous Bill Massey Stew, the huge amount of sickness that pervaded the camp and the hospitality provided by the local community, and sailing day: the day that the soldiers were sent off to the Front Line. Significant material has been sourced from around New Zealand including letters, dairies, memorabilia and photos. Highlight objects include a copy of a maneuver map from Upper Hutt Library which shows the soldiers training ground and an original sheet music of a song called ‘Trentham A Marching “of which Expressions has arranged to be recorded by the New Zealand School of Music so that a version will be able to be heard in the exhibition.

In conjunction with the exhibition Expressions together with the Silverstream Retreat is also hosting a World War 1 inspired Regimental Dinner on Saturday 30th live music by the Beat Girls, an intimate viewing of the exhibition and a three-course menu reflective of a regimental dinner during The Great War. The menu will be a fresh take on the iconic recipes and ingredients of the era, including a deconstruction of the famous Bill Massey Stew, all served with due pomp and ceremony. Bookings are essential on with tickets

Adult - $85 , RSA or Serving Members - $70 .


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