Helen Pollock's sculpture 'Victory Medal' will be installed in the Place des Heroes in front of the famous Belfroi in Arras from 1-13 April 2017 to commemorate the Centenary of the Battle of Arras.
This installation is described as a ‘participatory’ exhibition. Members of the public will be invited to sign and place a large red poppy around Victory Medal and eventually fill the Square with poppies. It will become Le Cocquelicot de Paix.
Over the past two years Victory Medal has toured the provinces of New Zealand in provincial museums – always under shelter. Like the young men of the provinces in 1914-1918, Victory Medal eventually arrived in Wellington. It stood there on Remembrance Ridge, outside in all weathers to be toughened up for the journey ahead to the Western Front in Europe.
Victory Medal has now crossed the sea to be unceremoniously bundled into trucks at L’Havre. It has crossed the countryside of France and Belgium to the town of Arras, where it will be installed outside to stand in the rain, wind, frost and snow and the hot sun.
It acknowledges the thousands of young New Zealand men who did just that on the Western Front during the First World War – they stood to attention, and then marched, and fought and in 12,500 cases gave their lives. It bears testimony to their stoicism and to our grief.
In Arras, from November 1916 to April 1917, over 400 men of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company worked on an astonishing underground network of caverns and tunnels under Arras and leading to the German line.
Members of the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion also spent some months assisting the tunnellers. This Battalion included Māori and Pacific Island troops. It is very moving to see the personal traces left behind, in the graffiti and drawings on the walls of the Carriere Wellington.
The caverns were given names of towns and cities in New Zealand by the tunnellers. These names would have been constant reminders of their home, so far away, that they all hoped to see again one day. Now these New Zealand names are graphic reminders to visitors that New Zealand miners undertook this extraordinary task.