Wētā Workshop set to bring to life New Zealand’s untold war story

Sir Don McKinnon and Sir Lockwood Smith.

Wētā Workshop is embarking on its latest venture, bringing to life a pivotal moment in New Zealand’s WWI history thousands of kilometres away from Wellington in a small French town, Le Quesnoy.

Opening to the public in a phased manner from ANZAC Day 2023, the living memorial museum and visitor centre will honour New Zealand’s WWI history.

It will tell the story of the New Zealand led liberation of the town, bringing freedom to Le Quesnoy’s 1,600 residents, via a world-class interactive visitor experience. New Zealand Memorial Museum Trust – Le Quesnoy (NZMMT – LQ) Chairman, and former Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, Sir Don McKinnon, says he is thrilled to announce a partnership with award-winning New Zealand-based creative company Wētā Workshop for the project.

Wētā Workshop is renowned for their special effects for films including the Lord of the Rings trilogy and immersive visitor experiences including Expo 2020 Dubai and ‘Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War’ at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

“Creating a powerfully emotive experience about the huge part New Zealand soldiers played in WWI on the other side of the world requires the best in the industry. We were delighted when Wētā Workshop put their hand up to help tell this unique story and put Le Quesnoy on the map for Kiwis and New Zealand on the map in France,” Sir Don says.

“They have a unique ability to tell human stories in times of conflict in a way that is immersive and engaging. The team has understood our ‘Kiwi’ approach to the project and the importance of delivering an experience that will resonate and distinguish this piece of history on an international stage.”

Housed in an 1890s mansion at the centre of this historic walled town, visitors will get a first glimpse of the 100-year history told through an emotional, engaging, and educative journey carefully crafted by Wētā Workshop’s talented team of artists, technicians and master craftspeople.

For the project, Wētā Workshop will draw on its wealth of experience in war-related and historic work including its record-breaking ‘Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War’ exhibition at Wellington’s Te Papa Museum which has seen three million guests through its doors. Wētā Workshop CEO and Creative Director, Richard Taylor, says they are honoured to be involved in the living memorial museum and visitor centre and a quintessentially New Zealand story.

“Having the opportunity to bring such a significant piece of Kiwi history to the fore is very special. The stories are rich and compelling, and we want to help people connect with them in a meaningful way through reflection and discussion about what happened in this little French town over 100 years ago,” Taylor says.

“We hope Le Quesnoy will become a must-see destination for all Kiwis, particularly younger people when they are exploring the sites of Europe.” Over the past century, Le Quesnoy and New Zealand have celebrated an enduring friendship, which can be found throughout the town, from street names including Rue de la Nouvelle Zélande, Rue Hélène Clark and Place des All Blacks to its preschool, Ecole Maternelle du Dr Averill, named after the first soldier over the ladder, Leslie Averill. The Mayor of Le Quesnoy, Marie-Sophie Lesne, says the living memorial museum and visitor centre will be an exciting addition for Le Quesnoy.

“We share a history with New Zealand that goes back over 100 years and have become more than friends, we have become almost brothers,” she says.

“This project will be a place of emotion, contemplation and remembrance, where visitors will learn about the history of the liberation of the town and also more about your rich culture. I can’t wait to welcome more Kiwis to our beautiful town of Le Quesnoy.” The living memorial museum and visitor centre is a charitable project being funded by the New Zealand public. It has had significant support from founding partner, and the project’s most generous donor, Richard Izard CNZM OBE through Izard Investments Ltd. Major partner, the Lindsay Foundation, have also given substantial support.

For more information and how Kiwis can help bring the Le Quesnoy story to life, visit www.nzmmtlq.nz.

  • About the liberation of Le Quesnoy: After four long years of German occupation, on 4 November 1918, the citizens of Le Quesnoy were finally freed by New Zealand soldiers who scaled the town’s outer walls and defeated c.2,000 German soldiers. The 1,600 French occupants in the town were liberated without the loss of a single civilian life, creating a special connection and bond with New Zealand that has endured for over one hundred years. “The taking of Le Quesnoy becomes almost the cornerstone around which we build New Zealand achievements in the First World War.” – Dr. Chris Pugsley, Military Historian
  • About New Zealand Memorial Museum Trust – Le Quesnoy: The trust was established for charitable purposes in 2011 and registered as a charity in 2017 with the aim of establishing a permanent place of remembrance for New Zealand on the Western Front. Its work has been entirely funded by donations. After many years of searching and planning, in 2017 the trust purchased the historic former WWI mayoral residence and grounds in the centre of Le Quesnoy, France, to become the future home of New Zealand’s living memorial museum and visitor centre.
  • About Wētā Workshop: Wētā Workshop is a Kiwi-owned and operated concept design and manufacture studio servicing the world’s creative industries. It is internationally recognised for its work on films including the ground-breaking Lord of the Rings trilogy and exhibition work, such as the ‘Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War’ exhibition at Wellington’s Te Papa Museum.

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