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New Zealand Divisional "All Blacks" on display in France

A different kind of New Zealand rugby talent will be on display in France in October. Though these historical forwards and spectators are only 17 centimetres tall.

The First World War rugby diorama being installed at the Musée de la Grande Guerre at Meaux is part of the Ngā Tapuwae Western Front Trails – a WW100 legacy project where New Zealand’s story on the Western Front is brought to life through captivating audio guides, soldiers' personal stories and historical insights.

As part of Ngā Tapuwae New Zealand First World War Trails project, Wellington-based company Locales worked with a range of New Zealand companies to create the 800mm by 600mm diorama.

The model depicts a scene from 17 February 1918 when the New Zealand Divisional rugby team played against the French Army team at Parc des Princes in Paris.

View of the rugby diorama.

Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry will be viewing the diorama on 2 October, as part of a European visit where she is meeting with several First World War Centenary partners in both France and Belgium.

Locales’ Director Chris Hay, who has been working on the Ngā Tapuwae Trails project for the past two years, is very pleased with the rugby diorama, one of three being installed on the former Western Front.

“Due to the size of the diorama all the figures had to be custom-made. We took a computer model of the figure and then adjusted its shape and used 3D printing with a liquid resin to get the life-like models. Every single figure in the line out and in the crowd has been individually crafted,” says Chris.

Another view of the rugby diorama.

The diorama is made from a mixture of materials: the rugby field is made out of Astro Turf and poly filler, the seating in the crowd has been crafted out of brass and cardboard, and the clothing and hair is sculpted from epoxy putty.

Wellington-based model maker John Harvey and his team spent six weeks on the diorama, which was recently shipped over to France.

“It has been really interesting working with new and old technology to bring this historical scene to life,” says John.

The central resource around which the diorama is based is a 1918 film clip owned by Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision. The film, shot by Henry Armytage Sanders, shows snippets of the game, which was won by New Zealand 5-3.

Because the film was in black and white, New Zealand historians assisted with the diorama’s accuracy by providing insights into the colours of the French rugby uniforms and crowd attire.

The Evening Standard revealed how close the French team came to winning the match. “Play was even in the first half, and in the second France kept the direction of the game until the last five minutes.”

Lieutenant A S Muhr, the American match referee, forgot how long each half was played for, so they ended up playing only 30 minutes in the first half and then 45 minutes for the second half.

Rugby in the First World War, along with other recreational activities was used to boost morale and keep the soldiers motivated through harsh European winters.

Two other dioramas are also currently being installed. One is a recreated scene from the Arras tunnels and will be on display in the Carrière Wellington Museum in Arras, France. The other diorama depicts New Zealand soldiers reading and writing letters inside their shelters in catacombs beneath the Western Front. This model will be displayed at Plugstreet 14-18 Museum in Belgium.

Updated on 16th October 2015