Thursday, 30 July 2015

The very best pics of the massive Chunuk Bair diorama

Whilst we've previously posted quite a few photos of the diorama of the Battle of Chunuk Bair, we've saved the very best shots until last!

We had agreed to withhold these photos until after Wargames Illustrated published a photo-article about this project.

Now that this article is in their August issue, we can at last show you these amazing shots taken by Andy Palmer. Some of these pictures appear in the article, but others are exclusive to this blog.

We strongly suggest you click on each photo to enlarge and get the full effect of these amazing pictures.

This picture of Michael Perry and some Weta Workshop staff during the production of the diorama gives a hint of its sheer size, even though you still can't see it all here. Michael is working on The Apex in the foreground, the two staff in the middle distance are sitting at The Pinnacle, and way off in the distance two other staff are populating the trenches on Chunuk Bair itself.

A Weta Workshop staff member carefully applies some finishing touches to the diorama. Before the final lighting was fitted, the modellers had to work in dusk-like conditions.

The first part of the diorama that visitors see is The Apex, which includes the command dugout, the amassing Anzac reinforcements, and resting survivors of previous assaults on Chunuk Bair.

Here's a closer view of the command dugout. Two points of interest are the telephone wire snaking out at the left (more about this wire in a picture further down), and the despondent and likely drunken Brigadier Johnston sitting with his head in his hands (there's a humorous story about this particular miniature in the Wargames Illustrated article).

Making their way up The Apex are the Auckland Mounted Rifles, part of the reserves moving forward to reinforce the summit.

Sir Peter Jackson is of course well-known for making cameo appearances in his movies, and it is no different with this diorama. Here you can see him as a battlefield photographer at The Apex.

Along the crest of The Apex are situated the massed New Zealand machine gunners, under the command of Major Jesse Wallingford (standing centre left).

The massed New Zealand machine guns wreak havoc on the flank of the Turks counter-attacking Chunuk Bair from their trenches on Battleship Hill.

Forward of The Apex along Rhododendron Ridge is The Pinnacle, where survivors of a previous assault on Chunuk Bair by the Auckland Infantry huddle in an abandoned trench or dig in to protect themselves as best they can.

Beyond The Pinnacle, members of the Maori Contingent push forward, but are forced by heavy Turkish fire down the left of the ridge towards The Farm. In this picture you can see the different levels of painting styles, colours and skills, and how they all meld together into a homogeneous whole.

Halfway up the slope of Chunuk Bair is the lonely figure of Corporal Cyril Bassett dragging the telephone wire that we first encountered in the earlier picture of Brigadier Johnston's command dugout. For his brave actions in opening and maintaining communications, Bassett was awarded the Victoria Cross.

This may be the most amazing photo of the lot, in a terribly sad and poignant way. It shows hundreds of wounded New Zealanders and British gathering in a sun-scorched valley beneath the summit of Chunuk Bair, where many lay unattended for days. If nothing else brings home the horror of this battle, this picture does. Even Corporal Bassett's telephone line can be seen snagging on the casualties, as it actually did.
Just beneath the trenches on top of  Chunuk Bair is Lt Col William Malone's little command trench. He led the Wellington Infantry to capture the Turkish trenches almost unopposed before dawn, and then commanded the desperate efforts to hold Chunuk Bair against the massed counter-attacks. He was eventually killed by friendly fire from artillery or a ship. To the left you can see some British infantry beginning to fall back, a few being forced to rally at gunpoint.

On top of Chunuk Bair, we see one of the many charges by Turkish infantry, as they attempt to wrest back control of the captured trench.

Another shot of the Turkish counter-attack. You can even see hand-to-hand combat occurring in the trench. Also note the blood - Sir Peter Jackson had read many first-hand accounts of how bloody the battlefield became, and so he wanted the team to not spare on adding blood to the diorama.

New Zealanders rush along the line to reinforce fighting further along the line. The grey-haired chap in the middle is a special model that the Perry twins sculpted of the author. Though how many soldiers at Gallipoli were actually old enough to have grey hair ...?

Here's another rush of Turks towards the New Zealand position. Again, see how the various shades of the Turkish uniforms work really well to give a ragged campaign look.

You can see the difficulties of the New Zealanders in their trenches (top) as they face waves of Turkish counter-attacks, let alone enfilading fire from Battleship Hill and Hill Q on each side.

The cost of battle - a wounded Turkish soldier is escorted back down the hill.

Two unfortunate Turkish soldiers in a heart-wrenching little vignette.

A New Zealander is shot. The volunteer painters found painting the hundreds of wounded figures a very emotional task.

Another look at this amazing but horrible shot. If you haven't enlarged any other of these pictures by clicking on them, you've just got to enlarge this one - never in any diorama have we seen the cost and horror of battle so dramatically conveyed.


  1. Recently got to go and visit. They did an outstanding job with the whole exhibition. The diorama really drives it home and gives some sense of the scale of battle, backed up with the words from soldiers and photos around the room it's a powerful display. Very proud to have been a tiny part of it, well done everyone! Now to track down a copy of that mag :)

  2. I think you'll need to order it online, Olivier, as for some reason WI isn't available in most New Zealand magazine shops. Try Battlefront (the latest issue should come up on their online store soon):

  3. Absolutely fabulous work and congrats to all, from Mayo and Ballina (Co. Mayo) Comrades of the Great War.

  4. You can now view the Wargames Illustrated article online for free: