“Featherston Camp is perhaps the most important surviving First World War-related site in New Zealand...”
From Featherston Military Training Camp and the First World War, 1915-27 by Tim Shoebridge.
An exhibition about Featherston Military Training Camp in the Wairarapa tells a story that is of national importance. An estimated 60,000 men trained at the camp between 1916 and 1918 – a majority of the roughly 100,000 New Zealanders who served overseas during World War One. It was the largest training camp in Australasia. The camp was a living embodiment of the New Zealand military establishment, charged with turning raw recruits into real soldiers. To that end camp authorities had the heavy responsibility of not only putting soldiers through a rigorous training regime, but of ensuring that they were cared for physically, mentally and spiritually. Hard lessons had been learned from the organisation of other camps such as Trentham. Keenly aware that the war was going to last much longer than previously thought, the military was eager to show New Zealand that it took the preparation of the nation’s soldiers seriously. Featherston Camp was a model of military organisation and efficiency, aiming to provide the best possible training for soldiers leaving to fight overseas. Behind the facts, figures and official information lie the soldiers’ tales and experiences. What was it like to live at Featherston Camp? How did camp life compare to home-life? What activities made camp life difficult or enjoyable? What became of some of those who passed through Featherston Camp on their way to war? What is the camp’s legacy and how can we remember it today? What part did Featherston Military Training Camp play in the life of your/my relative? The exhibition is planned to open on 23 January 2016 – 100 years since the camp became operational.
Today Featherston Camp is a registered Heritage New Zealand Category 1 Historic Place and is part of a landscape of military training sites which extends from the Hutt Valley to the Wairarapa. Featherston Military Training Camp has outstanding importance as the site of one of New Zealand’s few military training camps which, together with Trentham in Upper Hutt, trained the majority of embarked forces during World War One.
The camp is also historically significant for the high number of deaths associated with the influenza pandemic of 1918, which was particularly devastating among soldiers accommodated in crowded military camps. The site has international significance as the primary training location of New Zealand soldiers who fought and died during the liberation of France and Belgium, and on account of the memorials dedicated to the lives of Japanese prisoners of war (1942-1945). There is high community esteem for this place which is historically important to the identity of Featherston, and has stimulated many publications and a variety of media.
This exhibition has been made possible by generous support from Lottery World War One Commemorations, Environment and Heritage Committee, Lands Trust Masterton, Eastern & Central Community Trust, South Wairarapa District Council, Trust House, the Friends of Aratoi, Aratoi Foundation and Greytown Trust Lands Trust.
Developed by Aratoi and Wairarapa Archive, Masterton.