On October 10 and 11, the small French town of Le Quesnoy will be packed with New Zealanders for the opening of the New Zealand Liberation Museum – Te Arawhata.
Dignitaries, descendants of Kiwi soldiers involved in the liberation of Le Quesnoy during World War One, donors who have supported the project, and members of the public, will be there to acknowledge a friendship that began over 100 years ago.
The New Zealand Liberation Museum – Te Arawhata is not just about war. It symbolises freedom, friendship, and the future.
Wētā Workshop created the visitor experience for the new museum and has revealed a first look at three major exhibits that reflect these themes ahead of the official opening on October 11 in Le Quesnoy.
A giant soldier holding winter flowers from Northern France depicts freedom; a remembrance wall inspired by tukutuku panels signifies friendship; and Te Arawhata, which translates to The Ladder, is a stunning, large-scale centrepiece of the museum highlighting the future.
“The NZ Liberation Museum – Te Arawhata was built on freedom, friendship, and the future,” says Sir Don McKinnon, Chairperson of the New Zealand Memorial Museum Trust – Le Quesnoy (NZMMT-LQ) which is behind the creation of the $15 million project.
“This is New Zealand’s first memorial museum in Europe for our soldiers, but it is also a place for not only Kiwis, but people from around the world, to visit and celebrate freedom, friendship and the importance of learning from the past to support a better future.”
The museum takes its name from the resourceful way Kiwi soldiers used a ladder to scale the walls of the town on 4 November, 1918, to liberate the people of Le Quesnoy from four years of German occupation. While this unique approach helped to ensure no civilian lives were lost, many New Zealand soldiers died and are buried in the cemetery in Le Quesnoy.
The NZ Liberation Museum – Te Arawhata will be opened by the Rt Hon. Sir Jerry Mateparae and Marie-Sophie Lesne, the Mayor of Le Quesnoy.
“Wētā Workshop, with their vast expertise in crafting immersive worlds,” says Sir Don, “have created a multi-sensory experience that connects visitors to the liberation of Le Quesnoy as well as commemorating the 12,500 Kiwis who died in France and Belgium during World War One.”
"Te Arawhata is not just a museum,” says Wētā Workshop Senior Creative Director, Andrew Thomas. “It's a living testament to the unbreakable bonds forged between nations in times of adversity.”
He says by paying meticulous attention to historical accuracy and artistic craftsmanship, the Wētā Workshop team aimed to transport visitors back in time.
“The exhibit allows them to stand alongside the brave soldiers who fought for freedom. This living memorial encapsulates the essence of unity and sacrifice, and we are honoured to bring this narrative to life."
Similar to the hyper-realistic soldiers Wētā Workshop created for Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War exhibition at Te Papa in Wellington, a large-scale New Zealand Rifle Brigade Soldier is one of the first figures visitors encounter when they enter the museum.
Crafted using the latest technological innovations in manufacturing, the soldier sits on a cobblestone footpath, his rifle placed gently by his side, as he is caught in a moment of deep reflection following the liberation.
On the second level of the museum, a room lined with colourful tukutuku-inspired panels is a space where visitors can leave personal messages on the walls to be read by those who follow them.
The colour of the panels is inspired by the winter flowers the people of Le Quesnoy pinned to the soldiers after the liberation.
The courage of the Kiwi soldiers created a special bond between the people of Le Quesnoy and New Zealand. To this day, several names in the town are inspired by New Zealand including Place des All Blacks and Rue du Dr Averill (after Second Lieutenant Leslie Averill who was the first to ascend the ladder).
Also, every year, the people of Le Quesnoy mark Anzac Day in remembrance of the Kiwis who liberated their town.
While Te Arawhata – the ladder – is integral to the Le Quesnoy story, it also represents a pathway to gaining a higher level of knowledge.
Extending centrally up through the museum stairwell, the translucent and reflective materials used to craft the 7.4m ladder creates a dynamic and captivating space for visitors as they ascend to the second level with rooms designed for reflection and to provide greater understanding.
Marie-Sophie Lesne, the Mayor of Le Quesnoy, says the museum is a symbol of what friendship, nurtured by the people of Le Quesnoy and New Zealand throughout the years, can achieve.
“It will be a second victory for peace and freedom and we all gratefully welcome this wonderful place that our New Zealand friends are giving us.”
Madame Lesne says the New Zealand Liberation Museum – Te Arawhata is a strategic and extremely important monument for Le Quesnoy and its region.
“It will broaden the cultural offer significantly and help us become a more prosperous and attractive town,” she says.
Willie Apiata, VC, a supporter of the museum project, says the heroic actions of New Zealand soldiers who liberated Le Quesnoy is an important story in the country’s history.
“As a person who has served and experienced conflict, I have seen first-hand the tragedies of war. Te Arawhata is a place where the historic stories of our brave New Zealanders will be told, revisited, and remembered as we build a united peaceful future together.”
The museum will be blessed on October 10 by Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Waewae ahead of the official opening on October 11. The blessing in Le Quesnoy will also reveal the pounamu cleansing stone at the entrance of the museum which was donated by Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Waewae.
The official opening will be attended by dignitaries including Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence (husband to Anne, The Princess Royal); the Rt Hon. Dame Patsy Reddy (Chair of New Zealand Rugby); Clare de Lore, Lady McKinnon; Sir Lockwood Smith and Lady Alexandra Smith; George Hickton (Chair of Wētā Workshop); Andrew Thomas (Senior creative director Wētā Workshop); Tracey Collis (Mayor of Tararua District Council); Susan O'Regan (Mayor of Waipa District Council); Grant Smith (Mayor of Palmerston North City Council); Sir Wayne "Buck" Shelford (National President NZ RSA); and families who are descendants of soldiers involved in the liberation of Le Quesnoy.
Founding partner Richard Izard, who has contributed $3.5 million will speak at the event via video message and be represented in Le Quesnoy by his great niece, Felicity Wilson.
Founding partners Brendan and Jo Lindsay, of the Lindsay Foundation, who have contributed $3.5 million will be with us for the opening ceremony and events.
The project has been privately funded through generous donations and fundraising continues with the aim of reaching beyond the $15 million target.
Also opening on October 11 is From the Field to the Front, a rugby exhibition located in a separate gallery inside the museum which tells the story of All Blacks who served in World War One and highlights the place the game holds in New Zealand’s cultural fabric.
For more information, including ticketing details, go to nzliberationmuseum.com