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Bringing history back to life

The barracks at Featherston Military Camp, circa 1914-1916. PHOTO/WAIRARAPA ARCHIVE

Hayley Gastmeier

Nothing much more than a stone wall remains of the Featherston Military Training Camp – an almost invisible historical landmark along State Highway 2 in Tauherenikau.

Dubbed by historians as one of Wairarapa’s “most important sites”, The World War I camp was later rebuilt to become the Prisoner of War Camp that held captured Japanese soldiers during World War II.

An innovative project will ensure the camps are not forgotten, with New Zealand’s largest military training camp to be recreated in 3D.

The project is being spearheaded by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, which is holding a public meeting on October 23 at 6.30pm to discuss the initiative with and to show designs to the Wairarapa community.

Heritage New Zealand is working with Boffa Miskell design consultancy on the project, in consultation with South Wairarapa District Council (SWDC) and the Featherston Community Board (FCB).

Heritage New Zealand is anticipating that the project will be completed sometime in 2020.

The conventional portion of the project will entail landscaping, paths, and informative signs at the Messines Layby, a commemoration site with various monuments pertaining to the camps.

The “cutting-edge” portion of the project will be a 3D model of the camp that will be made accessible with a mobile phone using a quick response (QR) code.

Wairarapa Archive historian Gareth Winter said it was exciting that something significant was being done to properly mark the two site camps.

“This is one of Wairarapa’s most important sites and has not been given the prominence it deserves.

“Tens of thousands of men trained there before going overseas, and far too many never returned to New Zealand.

“Hundreds of New Zealand soldiers served as guards at the prisoner of war camp, and many prisoners, mainly Japanese, spent time there.

“Heritage New Zealand’s proposals sound really good and it’s fabulous that they are involving the community.”

SWDC amenities and solid waste manager Bryce Neems said the council was very supportive of the project.

“It will help people visualise what the camp looked like back then. It’s keeping history alive and promoting the significance of Featherston’s past.”

Destination Wairarapa general manager David Hancock said the project demonstrated an excellent use of technology, aiding tourism.

“Tourists and visitors arrive here with smartphones and this approach, using technology to bring history to life, really enhances their experience.

“It’s one we will promote and provides us with the opportunity to refresh our information on the WWI places of interest we promote in the region.”

FCB chairperson Robyn Ramsden said using augmented reality on the significant historical sites would provide a deeper understanding of what was in place for current and future generations.

“We look forward to the completed [vision] and the benefits its use will bring to Featherston.”

Heritage New Zealand director central region Jamie Jacobs said the project was to enhance rather than change the existing commemoration site.

He said he did not know offhand how many, if any, other projects of this type were currently being developed in New Zealand.

While the organisation would be “somewhat constrained by the very specific scope of the project”, feedback would be welcome from the public at the meeting later this month.

“We find there is always great value in public consultation and conversation as it provides an opportunity to learn things about places we may not have known before,” Jacobs said.

The Featherston Military Training Camp, a Category 1 historic place, operated from 1916 until 1918, with around 60,000 soldiers who served overseas – about two-thirds of the total – spending time at the camp.

A Prisoner of War Camp was constructed on the same site, operating from 1942 to 1945.


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