Dionne Christian is the NZ Herald’s arts and books editor

WWI memorials revived

Structures like those by well-known Maori architect John Scott at Haumoana War Memorial Park are being noted on the NZ Memorials Register.
Structures like those by well-known Maori architect John Scott at Haumoana War Memorial Park are being noted on the NZ Memorials Register.

As the country prepares to commemorate Anzac Day, a handful of volunteers are doing their bit to ensure "lest we forget" extends to war memorials and rolls of honour.

They include Manurewa's Bruce Ringer, who has written up information for the New Zealand Memorials Register on around 400 of these. About 70 were in South Auckland and the North Waikato alone.

He said these memorials and rolls of honour might otherwise have been forgotten, even though they once provided a focal point for communities who put in determined fundraising efforts for permanent monuments to locals who served in our wars.

Each online record on the NZ Memorials Register contains photographs, information about the location and appearance of the memorial or roll of honour. Where possible, Ringer tries to research and write up their background but sticks to the edifices themselves rather than those listed on them.

"I find that too painful because the level of sacrifice you see and the misery and pain it caused can be too much," he said, acknowledging he has become "a little bit obsessed" with finding forgotten or neglected memorials and rolls of honour.

"I really don't know why but I just become fascinated by the memorials themselves and the chance to help preserve this very significant part of our history. Many were constructed locally with a great amount of love."

He is team leader at Auckland Libraries' South Auckland Research Centre and said he has a special interest in memorial churches - prominent examples include St David's in Khyber Pass and St Andrew's in Pukekohe - but halls, hospitals and even theatres were also built to recognise war efforts and give thanks for peace.

Ringer had come across examples of folk art, which incorporate some significant works by well-known artists that have gone missing from the canon.

These include some seemingly forgotten paintings by WWI artist Horace Moore-Jones on the Onehunga Soldiers' roll of honour, two unlisted buildings by well-known Maori architect John Scott at Haumoana War Memorial Park and a massive but little-known shrine designed by the Auckland artist and sculptor Richard Gross, which forms part of the Matamata Civic War Memorial.

"There are no doubt other examples yet to be discovered."

A register of 453 public WWI memorials was initially compiled by historian Jock Phillips who, with fellow writer/historian Chris Maclean, wrote the 1990 book The Sorrow and the Pride: New Zealand War Memorials. Phillips last year released the book To the Memory - New Zealand War Memorials, which expanded on his earlier research.

Despite these efforts and the work by volunteers like Ringer, gaps in the record remain. The Ministry of Culture and Heritage says on its website, nzhistory.govt.nz, that it is always keen for people to check if local memorials are on the register and to contribute information about them.

Meanwhile, for the first time in many years, the magnificent stained glass windows in St David's, the "soldiers' church" in Khyber Pass, will be lit on Monday evening, before Anzac Day as part of the city's continuing commemorations of the centennial of WWI.

The free public event is from 6pm-7pm on Monday, 24 April at St David's Memorial Church, 70 Khyber Pass Rd, Auckland.

To add new information to the NZ Memorials Register, send to: info@nzhistory.net.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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