Remembering River City's role during World War I

By Laurel Stowell, laurel.stowell@wanganuichronicle.co.nz


It happened 100 years ago but a group hopes to make World War I live again during its centenary with a soldiers' dance, brass band concerts and the stories of real men and women.

The first meeting to formulate plans was held in Wanganui in November, and a second was called by the Whanganui Regional Heritage Trust and Wanganui Returned Services Association on Thursday. About 25 people attended, with representatives from schools, Wanganui District Council, kaumatua, galleries and the RSA.

The centenary is a national initiative of the Ministry for Arts, Culture and Heritage and historians Steve Watters and Wendy Pettigrew were there, too.

Chosen projects will be funded through the Lottery Grants Board.

In 1914 Wanganui was the fifth-largest town in New Zealand, and the war affected every family.

The commemorations need to tell the stories of those who stayed behind, those who were injured or traumatised and those who refused to fight as well as those of the men who died.

The commemorations will last for four years and longer.

They must not be repetitive, sterile or boring, Mr Watters said. He wants people to emerge with fresh perspectives.

"It's not about celebrating war. It's about remembering and understanding the effect World War I had on us," Miss Pettigrew said.

The regional group came up with a range of ideas including a soldiers' dance and some brass band concerts.

"At that time brass band concerts were part of life. Embarking troops always marched down to the ships with a band playing."

Other live events could include choir concerts and plays, and open days for research at the Alexander Library and Wanganui Collegiate School's museum. The Sarjeant Gallery is planning an exhibition of startling cartoons from the era, and the McNamara Gallery will show Laurence Aberhart's photographs of war memorials.

The RSA wants a field of remembrance, with names on the white crosses. School pupils could then research the stories of the dead.

Private wartime letters and photographs could be digitised and viewable online, and the Wanganui School of Design is standing by to find other ways to get information across.

There's also a project to photograph World War I memorials and there are applications to preserve monuments such as the ones at Pakaitore/Moutoa Gardens and the Westmere Memorial Presbyterian Church, the Wanganui Collegiate School cricket pavilion and the flagpole area at Aramoho Cemetery.

Mr Watters was impressed by the group's co-operation and energy.

"You are poster boys and girls for the whole programme at this stage," Mr Watters said.

The next step will be to form a steering group to co-ordinate events and apply for funding, Miss Pettigrew said.

For more information, see ww100.govt.nz.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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