Balls, Bullets, and Boots commemorates NZ rugby players of WW1

By Moana Makapelu Lee
  • Auckland

From the rugby field to the battlefield, the touring Balls Bullets & Boots exhibition explores the stories of New Zealand rugby players who swapped rugby shirts for war coats to battle in World War One. 

All Blacks Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino paid a special visit to the exhibition in Papakura, to reflect on players gone before their own battle this weekend.

Decorating the walls of the exhibition are stories from a time incomprehensible for our current All Blacks, and most New Zealanders.

Papakura Museum Curator Dr. Michelle Smith says, "50 All Blacks went to war and 13 died in active service. There about 728 provincial rugby players from around New Zealand that went to war and 163 of those died."

It's the first time the touring exhibition has come to Kaino and Read's old neighbourhood of Papakura. An interactive and free-to-all exhibition that explores NZ's stories of men who went from the rugby field to the battlefield of WW1.

"They are guided through the exhibition by Anton Oliver, the ex-All Black Captain and there's a range of activities and stories that they can hear. Stories from All Blacks, stories from coaches, even a women coach and it takes you through the varies of war."

It is estimated that by the late 1915, 10,000 active New Zealand rugby players were signed and served in battlefields far from home.

"Regardless of who you were, whether you were an All Black whether you were an ordinary shop worker all men were being asked to go to war."

Papakura Museum will host the exhibition till the end of July. All Black captain Read says the exhibition has given him inspiration for the All Black's first battle against the British and Irish Lions on Saturday.

Read says, "History, something to inspire us I guess for Saturday as well."