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

New memorial to commemorate those who served in WWI

The Tower of Remembrance at the Museum.
The Tower of Remembrance at the Museum.

The organisers of a record art fundraiser, which raised $1 million to save an historic soldiers' church in Auckland, are celebrating a new achievement.

Hundreds of pure brass quatrefoils, similar to those used in The Art of Remembrance fundraiser at St David's Church in Grafton, will feature on a new memorial outside the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Te Pourewa Whakamaharatanga, The Tower of Remembrance will commemorate soldiers and nurses who served in WWI and also honours St David's Church on nearby Khyber Pass. It will be unveiled at a private ceremony on the morning of Tuesday, September 20 - 100 years to the day after Sergeant James Rankin, 28, of the New Zealand Field Artillery, was killed in action at the Somme in Northern France.

The Mt Eden resident also served at Gallipoli and his family, including parents John and Margaret, worshipped at St David's where his name is listed on its Roll of Honour.

New York-based New Zealand artist Max Gimblett has made the quatrefoils. Last year, he produced around 10,000 which featured in The Art of Remembrance and, from April to July, formed a shimmering golden façade on historic St David's, also known as the Soldiers' Church.

They were then sold to raise money for the possible restoration of the church, built after WWI as a memorial to members of the congregation who served overseas. The $1 million from their sale and donations is believed to be a record amount raised through art for any cause in New Zealand history and may also represent the largest single donation ever made to a cause by an NZ artist.

Mr Gimblett, 80, who grew up in Grafton and attended services at St David's, bases each quatrefoil on one of seven designs and hand screen-prints them onto pure brass. Each one is about the size of a soldier's outstretched hand. A small number are on permanent display at Te Papa in Wellington and in other collections of national significance.

Gold discs have been installed on the St David's Church to commemorate the 100,00 New Zealanders who served overseas in WWI. Photo / Nick Reed
Gold discs have been installed on the St David's Church to commemorate the 100,00 New Zealanders who served overseas in WWI. Photo / Nick Reed

Paul Baragwanath, spokesperson for the Friends of St David's Trust, says support came from all over New Zealand and the world as businesses, organisations and individuals bought the brass quatrefoils -similar in shape to an ANZAC poppy - as permanent "artworks of remembrance".

Auckland War Memorial Museum's director of collections and research David Reeves says the St David's fundraiser was inventive and eye-catching. Because the museum is always keen to find new ways to tell stories and display objects, it wanted to find a way of using the quatrefoils on its own site.

"As a war memorial museum, we are always interested to see the different ways that communities commemorate the centenary of World War One."

Te Pourewa Whakamaharatanga, The Tower of Remembrance will stand for five years and then a decision will be made on its future. Mr Reeves says it is a separate memorial to one planned by Auckland Council on the north side of the museum.

In the meantime, the demolition of St David's now looks less likely than a year ago when the Friends had just $250.

"To launch The Art of Remembrance project, we borrowed or were donated $150,000 and, 15 months later, we're left with $1 million after all the expenses," Mr Baragwanath says. "It is more than double the amount any other art project as ever raised in NZ history and goes to show art in service of heritage, memory and of this generation for the next.
"Art has changed St David's story from bleak to bright, and it is likely a good part of St David's future will be in service of the performing arts. St David's has already served for nearly 100 years and has much to offer future generations in a variety of capacities, fulfilling its roles both as a church and as one of the country's major war memorials."
But, the Friends still need a further $6 million toward seismic strengthening and restoration.
• Auckland Council and the museum hold the Somme Commemoration on Thursday morning to mark the centenary of New Zealand joining the Battle of the Somme. The fighting lasted 141 days, but it was the bloodiest battle of the First World War with more than four million troops involved and one million casualties. New Zealand Division joined the offensive in mid-September with 15,000 men, suffering 6000 casualties and more than 2000 deaths.

- NZ Herald

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