In September 2018, I was incredibly lucky to spend three weeks in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, New Zealand. In this blog post, I will take you on a journey through New Zealand showing examples of how the First World War is remembered throughout the country. New Zealand, like its Australian neighbour and other counterparts around the world commemorates its war dead in a variety of ways. On Remembrance Day and Anzac Day, there are ceremonies. There are CWGC cemeteries all over the country and there are memorials of all shapes, sizes and uses. This post will only feature memorials and places that I stopped at, as there were many places I didn’t get to or missed by accident. Regardless, I did still manage to visit a lot of places and memorials so this post will have to be split into two parts so that I can fully describe each place how I would like to.
However, before I begin, I would like to start with a dedication. In the early hours of this morning, my friend and colleague Philip Pearce passed away. Anyone who knew Philip knows what a kind, gentle and considerate man he was. Philip was one of the first guides I worked with at Anglia Tours, being one of two very experienced guides chosen to assess me and my guiding skills. He provided encouragement, assistance and welcomed me with open arms before I had even been taken on as a member of the guiding team. Anytime I saw Philip, be it out on the ground or at guide training events, he always greeted me with a smile and a big hug and enquired after how my family and I were. Philip was a true gentleman, brilliant company and an inspirational guide to observe and learn from. He has left a mark on every person that he came into contact with and will be sorely missed by all. Rest in Peace Philip. I will miss you. I know that Philip would want us to carry on, and live our lives to the fullest, so I am continuing with publishing my blog today. I hope you enjoy it.
First off, I am starting with the grandest memorial I think I’ve ever seen which is the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Tracing its museum origins back to the 1850s, the museum was built on its current site (on top of a dormant volcano) in the 1920s, when the idea to give the museum a new home was merged with the project for a memorial commemorating soldiers killed in the First World War. The museum contains historical items from the prehistoric periods all the way up to modern day. Inside, there are multiple exhibitions about conflicts in the 20th Century, but most impressive are the two ‘Halls of Memory’ which list all known soldiers from the Auckland region killed in the 20th Century.
As quite possibly the largest commemoration to the First World War in New Zealand, it certainly makes a good impression on any observers, including myself. As you approach the building, the size of it doesn’t really hit you until you get right up to the front of it. The building was completed in 1929 and is made from Portland Stone and the exterior is covered with carvings of scenes from the First World War and place names of where the New Zealand Division fought. There is also a cenotaph and two naval guns out the front of the building. The museum is an extremely impressive building commanding a view across Auckland and its Harbour. It is a central location that is used on Remembrance Day and Anzac Day – much like the Cenotaph in London. For me, this site shows how remembrance and commemoration on a national level can be extremely effective. The museum and other central places of remembrance are places of unity, where everything is placed to the side, to commemorate our war dead. There are not many things in society that has this effect on people.
From the largest memorial to one of the smallest seen on this trip. Whilst wandering around Auckland, a small memorial was happened upon, near to the oldest docks in the city and the New Zealand Maritime Museum. The memorial was erected by the Auckland Harbour Board and is dedicated to those men who worked on the docks and served in the First World War. There are 116 names listed on the memorial, and of those 16 were killed during the First World War. It was originally designed as a beacon to be lit and is one of the earliest memorials to be created in August 1915. In the 1970s, it was removed from the docks but was reinstated in 2000. For me, the smaller or local memorials are always interesting usually because of their backgrounds. The government would have contributed to the larger memorials, but the smaller memorials would have been financed and designed by people who knew these men personally, maybe family, employment or community connections. It highlights to me the impact that not just the First World War had on communities, but also the men who served.
There was an interesting turn of events in Rotorua when it came to memorials. Within 100 metres of each other, there are two separate war memorials. The first is the Rotorua War Memorial which lists the names of 79 men from Rotorua who were killed during the First World War. The second memorial is dedicated to 35 men of the Te Arawa Maori tribe who were killed. It appears when comparing the two memorials, that there is some overlap with the names – some of the men being both Maori and from Rotorua. The rest of the names comes from the area in which the Te Arawa tribe inhabited outside the bounds of Rotorua. It also appears that there were actually 39 men from the tribe killed but 4 names are missing from the memorial. It is not known why they have been omitted.
The next memorial to soldiers from New Zealand that we came across was ANZAC Park just north of the town of Norsewood. A park that contains a section of untouched bush at least 500 years old and now partly a Motor Camping ground, the area was named as ANZAC Park in 1916, whilst the war was still ongoing, no doubt due to the recent coining of the term for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. 50 gum trees were planted at the time as well. The signage had poppies over it, with the website www.poppyplaces.nz just beneath, linking you to all the sites across New Zealand that had associations with remembrance.
Quite possibly my favourite memorial was the next one we found after ANZAC Park. The Eketahuna War Memorial is a metal installation next to a memorial arch and hall that is widely used. Inside the entrance of the hall, there are lists of the names of men and women who were killed in both world wars from the local area. The metal installation is the most recent addition added in time for Remembrance Day in November 2016. The installation represents the nine surrounding districts with the themes of the site are tied together in the poles that have peace, sacrifice and unity on them. I liked this memorial a great deal because of the multiple aspects of it. There’s the memorial hall which is used year round for events, and the metal installation which encourages the observer to think and remember the sacrifices that were made by the troops in all conflicts. I think that the dual aspect makes this memorial particularly special.
The last two places are not memorials but are tied in with each other and what happened there during the First World War. The first place is Featherston Military training camp. Today, the camp does not exist anymore in the same way. In the surrounding fields you can see ruins of huts that spread around the immediate area. In the First World War, Featherston was the largest training camp in New Zealand and at its busiest could accommodate 9000 troops. It operated from January 1916 to the end of the war for training, but its uses continued afterwards for many reasons included as a temporary prison for foreign deportees, a TB hospital and a storage depot.
Most of the site was demolished in the 1920s and 30s but the area was then utilised again for Japanese POWs in the Second World War. You can now pull into a small layby where the entrance of the site was near to, which has various small personal memorials there. Also, in the layby is a pine tree, that has been cultivated from a cone from the Lone Pine Tree at Gallipoli – the Gallipoli campaign obviously having a significant importance in Australia and New Zealand.
The last place in this blog post will be the Rimutaka Crossing. Troops who had trained at Featherston and had finished their training needed to get to Wellington in order to get on their troop ship bound for various theatres of war. In order to do that, they had to march over the Rimutaka Range, a large lush forested mountain range. The march took three days with two overnight stops along the way. At various points on the march, there were huts that provided the troops with refreshments. At the top of Rimutaka Hill, there is a place where you can learn more about the troops who carried out this march and look out over what was to come in front of them. It is estimated that between 30000 and 35000 troops made the march over the range. It is truly quite a spectacular sight and brings a different element to remembrance and commemoration, not just about those who died, but those who lived and their stories.
The next post will pick up after the Rimutaka Range and start in the capital city of Wellington. It will then carry on down into the sparsely populated South Island. Please do tune in for the next post!