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New Zealand’s Army Museum Turns 25 Years Old

New Zealand’s Army Museum Turns 25 Years Old

On Saturday November 01, 2003, The New Zealand Army Museum celebrates its 25th Anniversary.

As part of these celebrations the Passchendale Exhibition ‘A Descent into Hell’ will be opened telling the story of when more New Zealanders were killed in one morning than in any other battle. The celebrations will also include a full military parade, a performance by the New Zealand Army Band, and a drive past of previous and present military vehicles and equipment.

Hon George Hawkins, Minister of Veteran Affairs, Major General Jerry Mateparae, Chief of Army and other senior Defence Force staff will attend the celebrations.

Media are invited to attend the celebrations at the New Zealand Army Museum, Waiouru on Saturday November 01 from 10.00am.

25th Anniversary of the QE II Army Museum

by Dayalan Naicker

The Beginning

On the 15th October1978, Governor General Sir Keith Holyoake officially opened the QE II Army Memorial Museum, 25 years ago. This act symbolised the fruition of one mans vision, Major General RDP Hassett CBE, who through steadfast determination and sheer force of will, conceived and executed the means to erect an institution representing and honouring the servicemen and women of the New Zealand Army, an Army that has played a vital role in every major conflict the world and its freedoms have faced. Major General Hassett was, at the time, the New Zealand Army’s Chief of General Staff.

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With an eye on the past, and one firmly on the future, he recognised the need to house New Zealands’s military heritage under one roof. On the day the foundation stone was laid (15th Oct.1977), the General took a bet with one of his regional commanders that the Museum would be operating within a year. The Army raised the money while the engineers of 2nd Field Squadron, Royal New Zealand Engineers (RNZE), carried out most of the building. One year to the day, Sir Keith Holyoake, conducted the opening ceremony.

Fourteen years after his retirement from the Army, General Hassett served as Chairman of the Executive Management Committee of the Museum, for 4 years, overseeing the construction of the Kippenberger Pavillion

The New Zealand Army and the Nation are deeply indebted to General Hassett. Without his dedication, vision and drive there would not be an Army Memorial Museum to hold the military heritage of the nation in trust for future generations. In recognition, the main road off State Highway 1(SH1) into the Waiouru Military Camp, on which the Museum stands, is named Hassett Drive. Within the Museum itself, Hassett Gallery proudly displays works of Art from our own collection and other national institutions, and holds exhibitions that are timely and relevant.

A snapshot view of the Museums development since opening 25 years ago would be appropriate.

Phase 2

With the need for more display space to exhibit our ever increasing collection of artefacts, Phase 2 was implemented with construction being tasked to 1 Field Squadron RNZE.

Five years after the Museum was first built, Prime Minister Robert Muldoon opened Stage 2 on 23rd April 1983.

Large double doors allowed for easier passage and display opportunities for larger military vehicles (including a Sherman tank) and artillery pieces. Permanent displays, such as the grimly realistic Trench of the Western Front leaves the visitor in no doubt of the wretched existence the New Zealand soldiers endured in World War I. Names such as Passchendaele, the Somme, Ypres, Polygon Wood, Fleurs, recalls the despair and horror of thousands of young men cut down in appalling conditions.

The Gallipoli Gallery poignantly brings to mind the disaster of a doomed campaign in a foreign land that forever changed the way in which New Zealanders saw themselves.

World War 2 galleries include Greece, Crete, North Africa, the Home Front and Italy, making it possible to bring to the public, literally hundreds of interesting artefacts, and the intriguing truths they represent.

New Zealand’s involvement in the Pacific arena is also represented. Two temporary galleries, the Hassett and Mezzanine are constantly changing with new themes and wonderful works of Art.

Phase 3

A Museum of this calibre and relevance, firmly rooted, yet still growing in the national awareness, would be incomplete without a comprehensive Library and Archives to serve the public need, military and civilian.

Once more, as he had done 15 years previously, General Hassett, aided by Brig. ‘Blackie’ Burns, led the charge to establish the Kippenberger Military Archives and Research Library (KMARL). Named after one of New Zealands finest soldiers, Major General Howard Karl Kippenberger, the Kippenberger Pavillion was opened by his daughter Mary Weston on 24th March 1995.

The foundation stone of the KP was laid on 25th April 1994 by yet another highly revered soldier, Charles Upham VC and Bar, an officer and a gentleman.


The Museum celebrates its 25th Anniversary this year ! And there is much to be proud of. The accelerated growth over the past 3 years is eclipsed only by the quite breathtaking momentum, scale and grandeur of new displays of the last 12 months, leading up to the ambitious and emotionally charged Passchendaele – A Descent into Hell exhibition that opens on 1st Nov 03 and runs until Feb 05 for 14 months.

This exhibition recalls the bloody and tragic events of 2 days in October 1917 in WW1 that cost New Zealand dearly - events in our military history that have been overshadowed by the heroics of the Gallipoli Campaign, becoming until recently, a largely untold story. More New Zealanders were killed here in one morning of fighting than on any other day since the beginning of European settlement in New Zealand. This truth alone is something our public, and overseas visitors should know. The Army Museum hopes this exhibition will serve to raise the awareness of New Zealand’s role in these October battles.

There have been two other permanent displays completed within the past 12 months. These tell the story of the Non-Combatants within the Army.

The towering remains of a partially destroyed church inspires awe. The display instils humility and solemn reflection upon the observer, and is a fitting tribute to the Army Chaplains, many of whom lost their lives on active service. The Chaplains ministrations brought solace and comfort to the dying and wounded, fortitude and resilience to the living. The legendry Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery(later Lord Montgomery of El Alamein)is said to have famously remarked “ I should as soon think of fighting without my artillery as without my chaplains”.

Our new Prisoner of War (POW) experience has been specially constructed, making use of clever interactive devices to captivate all ages. Visitors are exposed to the realities of life as a POW, and are able to envisage themselves as one.

The authenticity achieved by these newer displays is a credit to our exhibitions team, designer and Curator. They have worked closely and tirelessly to achieve realistic, factual representations, flying high the banner of their predecessors. They have done the Museum proud.

The Future - Next Phase of Expansion

The future is equally exciting.

This 25th milestone is marked as the perfect opportunity to propose and strive towards our vision for the future.

The immediate future being Phase 4 (‘Project Tamitea’), a building to be situated alongside the existing museum, spacious enough to house our National Land Warfare Technology Collection. The collection comprises large military vehicles, artillery pieces, radar equipment etc. This valuable collection is at risk, being held in various buildings and army camps across the country and is, also, unavailable for public viewing. Importantly, once housed in the New Building, these artefacts benefit immediately from Curatorial Standard Conservation and Preservation techniques currently practised within the Museum, ensuring longevity.

Artefact storage, Mechanical and Exhibition workshops of Curatorial standard, Education Services, Administration offices, Conferencing facilities on ONE site!

The project name “ TAMITEA” has been purposely chosen, as in Maori it embodies the challenges facing the Museum in transforming this vision into reality.

‘TAMI’…meaning ‘to overcome’, and ‘TEA”… ‘to clear the way’, hence, ‘to overcome and clear the way ‘ (of obstacles).

The Valentine Tank is the iconic symbol of Project Tamitea, as ‘Tamitea’ was the very name given to one of the Valentine MkV’s of 15 Troop, C Squadron, 1 Tanks Battalion Group, who were based in Waiouru in the 1940’s, and deployed to the Pacific in support of 3 NZ Div.

An artistic impression of Project Tamitea is to be unveiled on the day (1Nov), welcoming in the challenge of the next 25 years.

© Scoop Media

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