Welcome to Part 2 of my post highlighting the many ways in which New Zealand remembers its war dead. This post picks up where we left off, by entering into the capital city Wellington. In Wellington, there were many examples that I could discuss in this blog post. For the sake of simplicity, I will keep to three of the sites that I saw.
The first place visited in Wellington that highlighted how the First World War is remembered was to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Known as Te Papa, or ‘Our Place’, it opened in 1998 after the merging of the National Museum and the National Art Gallery. Te Papa Tongarewa translates literally to ‘Container of Treasures’ and it certainly is. Containing artefacts from across the history of New Zealand and the different cultures that have merged there, it is an impressive space. However, the reason for its inclusion in the blog is the fantastic exhibition that is currently there until 2022: Gallipoli – The Scale of Our War. A well balanced and thoughtful exhibition that shows what New Zealand’s contribution was to the Gallipoli Offensive, the observer follows through the exhibition chronologically and accompanied by figures of people involved in the offensive. These figures are 2.4x the size of humans and dwarf the observer when you come across these figures. The giants, as they are called, make this exhibition what it is. There are eight figures in six separate sections of the exhibition, and each highlight an individual story or event including the movement of the New Zealand Division to the Western Front. The attention to detail on the giants is extraordinary. The figures were created by the Weta Workshop, the artistic team behind the Lord of the Rings and this high level work is shown through the figures. For me, this is one of the most spectacular exhibitions about the First World War that I have ever seen which definitely warrants its place in this blog post, even though it’s not technically a memorial.
Next on the list, again is not technically a memorial but does show how personal tributes were made for soldiers by their families. The Bolton Street Cemetery is right in the heart of Wellington, near to the Parliament Buildings and the Central Business District and is also the oldest cemetery in the city, with the earliest burials dating from 1840. There are many notable burials in the cemetery, including former Prime Ministers of New Zealand but the reason for the cemetery’s inclusion in the post is the fact that there were multiple headstones seen throughout, that also contained inscriptions of loved ones killed and buried in the theatres of war. In the two examples shown here, both men who are commemorated on their family headstones, were both killed on the same day – 16th September 1916. For me, these headstones are reminders of the fact that every single soldier killed, has their story. Their loved ones who would grieve for them, commemorating them at home. For many, international travel would have been impossible, so it would have been important for the families to have some place they could mourn.
From small scale to large scale commemoration, the next place on the list is the Wellington Cenotaph. The cenotaph is directly outside the Beehive – one of the Parliament Buildings – and forms the central point for ANZAC and Remembrance Day celebrations in New Zealand, much like the Cenotaph in London. It features two wings decorated with sculptures and is topped with a bronze figure on horseback. Two bronze lions and a series of bronze friezes were later added in commemoration of the Second World War. This grand monument helps to focus a nations remembrance on key dates and is a way of bringing people together. These large scale commemorations, monuments, exhibitions, are just as important as their smaller counterparts because whilst it is important to remember individual stories if we know them, there are many people without a personal connection to any wars and it allows them to share in remembrance and commemoration.
From this point on, we now make the jump over to the South Island. Being sparser and less populated than the North Island, there were less memorials for me to look into. However, what was seen is just as interesting and also unique! The first place encountered on the South Island was the Omaka Aviation Centre near to Blenheim. This centre covers aerial warfare over the last 100 years but mainly the First and Second World Wars. The larger of the two displays is the First World War displays which contains over 30 planes and personal items of persons of interest from Peter Jackson’s (director of the Lord of the Rings films) personal collection. Some of the items in this collection used to belong to Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron), Hermann Goering (a pilot during the First World War) and Edward ‘Mick’ Mannock. In the collection is even a part of the Red Baron’s plane. Obviously this is a museum, as such it is designed to inform rather than offer commemoration. However, it can be argued, I believe, that museums are inherently places of remembrance, as museums provide tangible links to those who visit them, in ways that memorials do not.
Quite possibly one of the most unique memorials that was seen on the trip was the War Memorial in Kaikoura. The Memorial is set in a small park, right on the shoreline. The gates are carved with the dates 1914 and 1918. The memorial itself is pretty regular in appearance, with lists of the 61 men from Kaikoura killed in the war and a dedication to them. However, what makes this park unique is the landscaping. In order to get to the memorial, you have to walk down a path, that has multiple sets of whale bones arching over it. Kaikoura is one of the best places in the world to see whales and other marine life, due to the conditions in the ocean. In the past, it was one of many whaling villages which has now turned to tourism. The bones make this memorial site quite unique and adds a different dimension to remembrance, by utilising a local defining feature.
Another unique addition to this blog post is the Queenstown Memorial Gate. The Gate was opened in 1922 and stands at the entrance to the Queenstown Gardens, which are right on the edge of Lake Wakatipu. Its prominent location on the lakes edge is intentional; designed to serve as a reminder to the residents and to tourists as well, of the sacrifice this small town made during the First World War. As like many other memorials mentioned over the last few posts, it lists the 35 men who were killed in the First World War. However, on the opposite side of the arch, there are two further panels, which commemorates all of the 83 men who enlisted from the town of Queenstown – including the 35 that died. Interestingly, returning veterans felt uncomfortable with the inclusion of their names on the memorial but the residents felt that it was right to include all the names of those who served, whether they were killed or not. When the memorial was proposed, there was a suggestion of a children’s play area, to be a constant reminder to the children of Queenstown of the sacrifices that were made on their behalf. However, this idea was deemed inappropriate and the memorial arch was built instead.
Another lovely memorial was the Glenorchy War Memorial. For such a small village, it really paid their price of the First world War. There are 25 names on the memorial, which is really high, considering even today that the population of the village is only 350 and was much smaller 100 years ago. At the top of the memorial, there is a Kiwi soldier at ease, looking out over the town itself. Just off to the side of the memorial, there is an information board, where a local researcher has discovered the fates of each of the men on the memorial and has had it written up for all who comes to see the memorial to read. It is a very nice tribute to the young men listed on the memorial, it gives them a story, not just a name on a memorial. I have since visited some of the men mentioned on the memorial in Belgium and France, as a way of paying my respects on behalf of the families that could never get to Europe.
To finish off the journey through New Zealand and how the First World War is commemorated throughout the country is the Christchurch Bridge of Remembrance. Whilst the bridge had already been built before the First World War, it was decided in the early 1920s that a memorial arch should be built over one end of the bridge to remember the war dead. Construction was started on 25th April 1923 (ANZAC Day), with the foundation stone being laid by the Governor General of New Zealand – Lord Jellicoe of Jutland fame. Jellicoe also opened the bridge on 11th November 1924. Again, this is a grand memorial, designed to bring together all those, past and present, who have mourned for a loved one lost to war.
I hope you have enjoyed this whistle stop tour of New Zealand and the memorials to the First World War that I saw, the three weeks there flew by in more or less the same manner as this post! If you have any further questions, or would like to see further photographs, please contact me through the contact page and I will be happy to share with you.
‘Til next time!