This Sunday marks Anzac Day, celebrated in Australia and New Zealand on 25th April every year. I was approached recently by my local library here in Paraparaumu, New Zealand if I had any model soldiers I could put into their Anzac Day display.
I didn’t have any WW1 figures myself. But a few years ago the Kapiti Wargames Club (of which I have been an itinerant member) played a leading role in painting figures for a massive diorama in Sir Peter Jackson’s Great War Exhibition in Wellington that ran from 2015 to 2019. Over 5,000 of these specially commissioned 54mm Perry Miniatures figurines were painted by 100 volunteers from wargaming clubs all over New Zealand.
Although the Great War Exhibition is now closed down and its diorama in storage, I knew that the club had a number of left-over and reject figures on loan. I managed to borrow a couple of dozen of these miniatures, and decided to build a small diorama to show them off.
My diorama takes centre-stage in the library’s lobby. A wall hanging of scarlet knitted poppies makes the perfect backdrop.
My diorama loosely represents one of the Turkish counter-attacks during the Battle of Chunuk Bair. Before dawn on 8 August 1915 the Wellington Infantry Battalion took the crest of a hill called Chunuk Bair at Gallipoli, the Turkish defenders having retired during an artillery bombardment.
Hundreds of the Wellingtons would be killed during the next few hours in a gallant but forlorn attempt to hold the crest against determined Turkish counter-attacks. Of the 760 New Zealand soldiers who had made it to the summit, only 70 were still standing by the end of the day when they were relieved by other units.
Their victory was short-lived though, as two days later the Turks recaptured Chunuk Bair for good.
Now, I’m no Weta Workshop (the famous film effects company that constructed the terrain for the Great War Exhibition). My diorama is just a simple piece of polystyrene foam shaped to depict a trench.
My ground-cover isn’t any fancy scenic product either. It is just dirt and stones scrapped up from a paddock outside my house! The plants are plastic Christmas wreath decorations, given a dusting of light beige spray-paint. The sandbags were part of the Great War Exhibition stuff that I was loaned.
The figures were in a bit of a state when I got them, and many needed some touching up. They are on the whole not the best-painted of the figures from the crowd-painting project, but they look adequate enough from a distance.
I had quite a few Turkish casualties, but no firearms for them. So a friend from the club, Fern Campbell, 3D-printed some rifles for me to scatter about on the ground. She made an excellent job of these.
Here’s an overhead view of the entire diorama. I quite like the way the trench cuts through on a diagonal, which makes the composition more interesting than if it had been parallel to the edge of the diorama.
The diorama will remain in the Paraparaumu Public Library for the next week or so. After that I will have to disassemble it and return the figures. Maybe one day they will take their place in a restored version of the entire 5,000-figure Great War Exhibition diorama!