The Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire is famous for a ring of standing stones, but the area is noted for another stone feature with an antipodean connection – the Bulford Kiwi. How did our country’s national bird end up carved on the side of a hill in south England?
A military camp was established on the Salisbury Plain in 1897 near the town of Bulford for which it was named. In 1903 an annexe was built to provide more accommodation. Named Sling Plantation Camp after the nearby woods, it was usually known as Sling Camp.
Shortly after the outbreak of World War I the camp housed many New Zealand troops and became known colloquially as ANZAC Camp. The ANZACs were soon joined by Canadian soldiers and civilians, and together they worked on building huts. It has been estimated that if these completed huts were placed end to end the line would have measured six miles long.
Sling Camp was officially named the 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade Reserve Camp and included four sections: Auckland, Wellington, Otago, and Canterbury. It was the chief New Zealand training camp throughout the war, serving to both prepare reinforcements and rehabilitate casualties. Senior personnel were tough on discipline and training, but also provided huts that were warmed in winter, good food, libraries and billiard rooms. A nearby cinema also provided entertainment.
The camp also housed 14 New Zealand conscientious objectors, including Archibald Baxter (father of James Keir Baxter) and his two brothers, who were sent to England to be made an example of.
In 1918 an estimated 4,300 men lived in Sling Camp. This count was greatly reduced after Spanish Influenza took hold and resulted in high casualties.
After the war ended the camp became a repatriation centre where 4,600 ANZACs waited for their turn to come home. Troop ships were in short supply and the soldiers were getting restless, so the officers introduced a series of enforced marches. The troops requested relaxed discipline; after all, the war was over. When their request was denied they rioted, looting the mess and stealing alcohol from the officers.
The riot was calmed and the men were promised there would be no consequences for their actions; however, the ringleaders were arrested and, ironically, promptly shipped back to New Zealand.
The remaining men were put to work carving a large kiwi into the chalk on Beacon Hill behind the camp. The kiwi was designed by Sergeant Major P C Blenkarne, based on a sketch of a taxidermied kiwi held at the British Museum. Sergeant Major V T Low surveyed the area and extended the design of the kiwi, which covers an area of 1.5 acres.
In the 1920s the original buildings of Sling Camp were torn down and replaced. The Kiwi Polish Company took over maintenance of the chalk kiwi and paid local villagers to take care of it, more from its status as a memorial than for any advertising benefit. During World War II it was covered to prevent German planes using it as a navigation point. The Boy Scouts removed the leaf mould cover once the war was over. In the 1950s Blenkarne arranged for the British Army to maintain the kiwi, and in 2017 it received protection as a scheduled monument.
Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.