Gallipoli Exhibit: Te Papa Museum, Wellington, NZ


Te Papa Museum, Wellington, New Zealand

I was really pleased that I had reserved the large part of a day to visit the Te Papa Museum in Wellington. There is so much to see there, but the main attraction for me was the “Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War” exhibition. This is an incredibly moving depiction of New Zealand’s’ role in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

This exhibit is unlike any other in that it tells the story of the war through personal experiences at that time. Each of these people is depicted in an enormous (two and a half times life size) silicone figure; perfect to the last detail, giving an amazing sense of presence.

Lieutenant Spencer Westmacott was one of the first men 
to set foot on Gallipoli on 25th April 1915. 

Lieutenant Westmacott’s right arm was smashed by a bullet while holding off a Turkish attack. He was stretchered to the beach and evacuated. He said, "When war came, I must go... I had the chance to lead men. I could show what I was made of, in the greatest test of all.”

Lieutenant Colonel Percival Fenwick, a surgeon, 
despairing at being unable to save a man’s life.

He is leaning over the body of Jack Aitken, 
a fatally wounded Canterbury infantryman, on May 4th 1915.

Close up of the surgeon’s hands

Lieutenant Fenwick’s hands show the extraordinary attention to detail, - notice the fly on his bloodstained left hand, as he holds Jack Aitken’s identity tag!

John Robert Dunn, known as ‘Jack’, holding a can of corned beef.

Jack Dunn was one of the thousands of keen young men who rushed to enlist at the start of the war in August 1914. He is remembered today as one of the Wairarapa’s heroes of the ‘Great War’.

Colin Warden (lying dead) with Friday Hawkins firing the machine gun

Colin Warden was in charge of a 16-man Maori Contingent machine-gun team. They provided essential support to the infantry’s assault on the summit of Chunuk Bair. It was there they came under heavy fire and Warden was killed.  Friday Hawkins took over the gun when Colin Warden fell.

This is Rikihana Carkeek, from Otaki, feeding bullets into the machine gun. 

Carkeek was shot in the neck while manning a machine gun himself, but managed to drag himself to the beach and was evacuated. Eight weeks later, he returned to the fight, and after serving in France, he returned home in 1919.

Lottie (Charlotte) Le Gallais, weeping over news of her sweetheart’s death.

Charlotte Le Gallais was a nurse in Gallipoli. Her sweetheart, Leddie, was killed in action in July 1915, but she only heard about it in the November, when her unopened letters to him were returned with the stamp, ‘KILLED RETURN TO SENDER’.

Lieutenant Colonel William Malone isn’t depicted with a silicone figure, but by other interactive exhibits. He was the commander of the Wellington Battalion, and was known as a dedicated and serious leader. He expected the highest standards of behaviour and dress, and turned a frightened rabble of homesick young men, into a disciplined and ordered fighting force.

Sergeant Cecil Malthus standing among the poppies in a muddy shell hole.

This is the final figure, showing Sergeant Cecil Malthus. Visitors are invited to write a message on the poppies and throw them in the hole to cover the mud. Sergeant Malthus was one of those who went on to fight in the Somme after Gallipoli, which reminds us of the continuing hardship many of these soldiers went on to face.

Te Papa’s “Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War” is a very emotional experience, which for me, was even greater as I had been to Gallipoli and seen the insurmountable odds they were up against. 2,779 New Zealanders lost their lives in Gallipoli, and many others were scarred for life. War is a terrible thing.

Elizabeth Coughlan


  1. Great post, just visited Te Papa and was so moved by what I saw.

    1. Thanks, Jamie. It really is extraordinary how that exhibit makes you feel the emotions of those portrayed. I still get goose bumps thinking about it.


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