After visiting the Rugby Museum we went to see the exhibition “Balls, Bullets at Boots” at Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History, Palmerston North – a commemorative exhibition designed and produced by the New Zealand Rugby Museum. Rugby is used as the common thread to link the stories of 100 years ago with people today, emphasising the similarities between their lives and the lives of the exhibition subjects, their families and communities. As WW1 tore the western world apart, and rugby moved from home grounds to the beaches and trench-slotted battlefields of the northern hemisphere. Rugby players during the Great War were heroes, athletes turned soldiers, making noble sacrifices for their country as they traded the cheers of spectators for the roar of artillery fire. This exhibition explores the impact that the harsh reality of war had on colonial sportsmen and their loved ones as they were transplanted from the rugby fields of home overseas to fight for the ‘mother country’.
Despite the horror, turmoil and upheaval, rugby and sporting competition clung on during the war as a desperate attempt to maintain normality and morale. The call for able bodied men to enlist was very strong. The “Evening Post” newspaper had this to say on 6th May 1915. “Football officials, and those aiding and abetting them, cannot be termed true patriots if they encourage able bodied men to kick an inflated bladder about the turf while our Empire is engaged in such a life and death struggle”.
The exhibition took us through a rugby changing room, and down into the trenches and more. There was a wide array of rare rugby images, footage and displays.
Dotted about the exhibition were several “Short Film Warnings”. These showed the war through the eyes of the troops in various scenarios.
Former All Black Anton Oliver is the exhibition's digital guide. Oliver is passionate about the need to confront the realities that New Zealand men and women went through during wartime. Oliver, who has four degrees to go with his 59 tests for the All Blacks is passionate about New Zealand learning from war and understanding the long term effects. Of the 50 All Blacks who went to the war, 13 died as well as 63 provincial players and by late 1915 (before conscription) up to 10,000 club players had volunteered for service.
After the horrors of war, troops waiting to return home in 1919 took part in the King’s Cup competition, a was a mini world cup competition involving Australian, South African, Canadian, Royal Air Force and Mother Country (British) forces. A New Zealand Services team won the cup, beating the Mother Country at Twickenham 9-3 and fielding a team containing 13 pre-war or future All Blacks. Photo shows King George V presenting the King’s Cup to the victors.
This exhibition will be at Palmerston North until November 2015, and then will be touring nationally until 2019. Well worth a visit for rugby fans and history buffs alike.