Whether they be cenotaphs, megalithic monuments, unusual artistic interpretations, perpetual flames, walls of remembrance or useful public spaces, war memorials all tell a story. Memorials are exactly that, a memorialisation of an event or period of time after which humanity has been moved to erect something physical and permanent as a reminder to successive generations.
Napier currently has more than 20 war memorials throughout the city, and each tells its own unique story. Some have been moved and re-erected over the decades, whereas others have simply vanished as buildings have been demolished. In one case I know of, a beautifully decorated wooden Honour Board was repurposed to a coffee table with the names sanded into dust.
The South African memorial has an interesting story too. The 1931 earthquake destroyed the monument and toppled the trooper statue from its plinth with the head becoming dismembered in the process. It was not until 1938 that the head was fortuitously discovered by a Council worker in some rubble and efforts were made to reinstate the memorial, which eventually took place in 1947.
The story of Napier's War Memorial Centre is complex. It is the story of how Napier citizens generously gave funds to erect a useful public building that has been enjoyed by many celebrating marriages, birthdays, balls and other significant events. It is also the story of the Roll of Honour, displayed as tablets on a wall of remembrance with a perpetual flame in a pool of water as an ever-present symbol of those who have given their lives for our freedom.
Latterly, it has become the story of public concern, and a community experiencing anger and sadness over the removal of these elements.
While each story is important, it is the Roll of Honour that is paramount, and as a process to reinstating the war memorial this is where all earnest efforts must initially be focused. The roll is integral to the design process, it is the most sacred element, an epitaph core to our tradition of remembrance and contemplation.
Originally, the roll included only the names of those who lost their lives in World War II, who resided in the Napier Borough. As Napier became a city the boundaries moved, and additional plaques were added to record the names of those from Bay View to Meeanee and Taradale. A review of the roll saw the addition of remade World War I plaques after the originals were destroyed during the 1931 earthquake, with inclusion of Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam to the research brief.
This extended Roll of Honour was re-dedicated on September 30, 1995 at the facility's reopening as the War Memorial Centre, in the 50th year since the end of World War II. The creation of this new roll was a joint project between Napier City Council and the Napier and Taradale RSAs.
Since 1995 we have learned that the roll contained errors, omissions and questionable additions of people with tenuous links to Napier. And now, with the opportunity to correct these errors presenting itself, a project has been established to research the roll further. Already we know of close to 200 Napier-born people who are not displayed on the roll from both World Wars I and II.
Those on the Council war memorial project group feel a huge weight of responsibility, not only to reinstate the war memorial, but more importantly to ensure that the Roll of Honour to be displayed is as accurate to a defined criteria as possible, with the information we have available in our time.
As such, criteria workshops with RSA members, veterans and members of the public will be held this month, to hear thoughts on a new criteria to guide the research of the roll.
The contribution of these workshops will then be distilled by the War Memorial Steering Group who will provide a recommendation to Council for the criteria to be formalised. A new criteria will see some people added to the roll, while others may come off.
We are grateful to the many researchers that have come forward already with their researched lists - these are well received and collectively will be cross-referenced for the benefit of a final draft that we can all be proud of.
The significance of the Roll of Honour is not underestimated. The importance of the memorial site on Marine Parade is understood. The reinstatement of the war memorial, in an accessible location adjacent to the Napier Conference Centre, is the beginning of the putting right we all want.
We Will Remember Them.
ROLL OF HONOUR CRITERIA WORKSHOPS
· Wednesday 24 January 10am: Napier RSA
· Wednesday 24 January 5.30pm: Taradale RSA
· Thursday 25 January 5.30pm: Greenmeadows East Community Hall
Charles Ropitini is the Napier City Council's Strategic Maori Advisor and has a background in war memorials. Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org