A memorial at the Wellington Quarry Museum in Arras, France, to recognise the work of 500 New Zealand tunnellers in the Arras quarries 1916-17, and the people of Arras who kept their graves.
The northern French town of Arras has further chosen to recognise the work done by the 500-strong New Zealand tunnelling Company in the Arras quarries in 1916-17, by commissioning a sculptural monument that now stands near the entrance to the Wellington Quarry Museum. It is designed and made by New Zealand artist Marian Fountain, resident in Paris.
With the NZ Lottery Grant providing $181,000 towards this monument, New Zealand also recognises Arras’s contribution to the memory of the New Zealand troops, not only because local people have lived surrounded by the carefully tended graves, but also thanks to the museum; visitors descend in a lift to an area underground, named ‘Wellington’ by the tunnellers who oriented themselves in the quarries with names of New Zealand towns.
'The Earth Remembers' bronze sculpture, 3.5 metres high with its grass at the summit, represents a section of the Arras quarries carved out by the silhouette of a New Zealand tunneller in his lemon-squeezer hat.
One of the First World War graves appears to have been lifted out of the soil of France, which bears the memory of the worldwide trauma. It is a piece of land representing one New Zealand soldier, like a triumphal arch but on a human scale which is more true to the reality: each man gave his life for what amounted to a small piece of land.
Visitors to the monument are invited to enter the ‘dug out’ shape of the New Zealand tunneller, and are confronted in the head-space with a large crowd of men which stretches up to a hole at the top representing the ‘exit’ from the quarries. It is oriented towards the rising sun to evoke the departure of the 24,000 British (now Commonwealth) soldiers at dawn on 9 April 1917.
Along the ledges of the soldier's elbow and hem we read excerpts from their letters. We put ourselves in the position of the women and families who received these letters and who cherished their precious photos.
Envelopes and stamps in the lower region represent the Post Office's vital role as the life-line between the soldiers and their families.
The lines of soldiers are 'looking' at the visitor who is now the actor on the stage, the living key for maintaining peace.