Auckland War Memorial Museum dismantling and hiding our war history

The Auckland War Memorial Museum (AWMM) is again causing controversy.

A row has broken out over the dismantling of a long standing display of old weapons at Auckland War Memorial Museum.

The Auckland branch of the Antique Arms Association says putting the large collection of early war weapons into storage is disrespectful to the memory of the soldiers who carried them and Aucklanders who donated them. 

Many of the weapons were donated by New Zealand soldiers or their families in the late 1920s when the museum was nearing completion.

The association is angry it was not consulted about the museum’s plan and says it is ironic that the weapons have been packed away during centennial commemorations for World War I.

It has at various times sought to deny the whole building is a war memorial (saying just the plaza out front and the memorial halls are the war memorial), and has tried several times to drop the “war memorial” part of the name. This is in blatant denial that the building was commissioned as a war memorial with key battles and theatres of war inscribed on the walls along with the inscription “The Whole Earth is the Sepulchre of Famous Men” from the Greek general, Pericles, at the front door.

The AWMM was opened in 1929 to commemorate our service men and women, and the sacrifice they made for New Zealand in the Great War.  This was then extended in the 1950’s to include a memorial for WWII soldiers. The museum has presented important displays of military weapons, soldier’s stories, and military history for decades.

We are now commemorating 100 years since WWI. So what has AWMM done? They have taken down their extensive firearms displays. Wellington’s superb Te Papa exhibition, ‘Gallipoli’, together with Peter Jackson’s ‘Gallipoli: the New Zealand Story in Colour’ have led the way, showing the human story backgrounding the forging of New Zealand’s nationhood and independence on the battlefields – the firearms featured in these exhibitions are an important part of this story, highlighting the brutal reality of war.

AWMM is about to “replace” its longstanding firearms displays with just six guns. The focus is on pictures, virtual reality, and on “how fast it is to fire the second shot”. The firearms and artefacts were donated by soldiers and their families to educate and inform.  Nothing educates about the brutality of war more than displays of the tools of war, which are now consigned to storage.

The museum’s exhibit’s director, David Reeves, says a brand new exhibition is being constructed in the space formally occupied by the armoury.  It will open in October to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele.

Mr Reeves says the new exhibit will feature six guns from the armoury collection and is part of the museum’s on-going refurbishment programme.

Nationhood forged on the battlefields is what has contributed meaning to our annual commemoration of ANZAC Day.  Wellington’s Te Papa has captured this with its focus on the sacrifice and personal experiences of the service men and woman depicted. AWMM has dishonoured these memories and the intent behind the many donations of firearms by those most affected.  AWMM has disrespected the part soldiers and their wartime sacrifices played in our evolving nationhood by deciding for us what we should learn. Is giving us six guns and virtual reality enough?

What is the role of a museum? The AWMM is abandoning its role to commemorate and display military history. AWMM say that virtual reality and six guns will do the job.

This is rubbish, we can see this at home on the internet.  We go to the museum to be educated to see the actual tools of war with their human stories, and to feel the awe and appreciate the sacrifice of our fellow New Zealanders who forged our nationhood.

AWMM needs to wake up and smell the poppies.

Lest We Forget


Myles Chandler
President Auckland Branch Antique Arms

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