On the gentle slope of Beacon Hill above the military town of Bulford, close to Salisbury Plain in the English county of Wiltshire, there is an immense drawing of a kiwi carved into the chalk mountain. The figure is 130 meters tall, from feet to the top of its back. The bird’s beak is 46 meters long. Underneath the figure is etched the letters “N.Z.”
As apparent from the lettering, the “Bulford Kiwi” owes its origin to New Zealand, more than 18,000 km away. The giant bird was hacked out of the hillside in 1919 by soldiers from the island country, as a project devised by officers to keep the restless troops busy and out of trouble while they waited for the ships that would take them back home at the end of World War I.
The soldiers were based at Sling Camp, a part of the sprawling military base at Bulford which housed as many as 4500 men. After the war was over, the troops were anxious to return home, but no troop ships were available at that moment. The soldiers grew restless with each passing month and became fed up with strict discipline and grinding route-marches they were subjected to when the war for them was done. Boredom and frustration caused by long delays finally led to riots. Rampaging troops looted the canteen and officers' mess, stole cigarettes and beer and caused considerable damage to property. Many privates were court-martialled, sergeants were reduced to private and sentenced to up to six months' imprisonment while privates received up to 100 days.
To ease the tension, officers decided that the troops should be kept busy carving an enormous Kiwi into the chalk of the hill. Sergeant Percy Blenkarne, a drawing instructor, made the sketch from a specimen he saw in the Natural History Museum in London. Engineers from the Canterbury and Otago regiments then got together and cut away the hillside to expose the layer of Wiltshire chalk.
The white bird immediately became a landmark and could be seen from miles around. This became a problem during World War II, because it was feared that the figure could be used by German bombers as a navigational landmark. So the Kiwi was camouflaged with leaf mould until the war was over, after which the local Boy Scouts scrapped it clean and fresh chalk was added.
For a while the Kiwi was maintained by the Kiwi Polish Company because of its advertising value. In the 70s and 80s, the Kiwi lay neglected and was nearly lost, but was restored in 1986. The Bulford Kiwi is currently maintained by the British Army.
An old postcard depicting the Bulford Kiwi. Photo credit
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