1917 is 100 years ago. In that year the Battle of Passchendaele in Europe caused the greatest loss of New Zealand lives in one horrific day.

Eight hundred and forty-two dead. Such is the butcher's cost of war.

In that year Alan Deere was born, later to become one of the great pilot aces in Britain's darkest hour in yet another war, when once again this small country sent its finest to fight and die overseas.

Generations of Napier Boys High students will be familiar with the image and story of Lieutenant Storkey VC, an old boy. They went, fought, and died. Many returned damaged for life.


Napier, a small East Coast town, made its contribution to these blood sacrifices. More than 600 from this area left forever to die on land, sea, and air, to keep the horrors of war from our shores and to ensure that our future remained ours.

Unlike the Earthquake, that randomly took 250 of our people, wars have taken over 600 local lives in causes they would never see the benefits of. But we do.

In the mid-1950s, 10 years after another frightful war, a fine, winning design for a Napier War Memorial was built, curving out on to the beach. Shaped like a seashell, it was a multi-functional memorial to be home to the memory of our dead for the events of life -
weddings, fashion shows, school balls, and the like, and a reminder to all of us of what sacrifices war demands.

The city was grateful. The whole building, with its prominent Flame of Remembrance and Roll of Honour names, some with no known graves, was the War Memorial, with ballroom and panoramic views of sunrise eastern skies and sea.

It was paid for by the people of Napier, a life-celebrating gift to the future in remembrance of our own dead. In 60 years on Marine Parade, it has become a much-loved living memorial to them.

No more!

In 2015 the Napier City Council decided to expand the functions of our city's Marine Parade War Memorial by adding a larger conference facility to it. It was to remain the "Napier War Memorial and Conference Centre" ... apparently.

However, at a Napier City Council meeting on April 6, 2016 a motion was moved by the Mayor "That the War Memorial feature of the existing War Memorial Conference Centre be relocated to Memorial Square."

No forewarning. No prior consultation with the public who owned it with pride. There was no separate 'War Memorial feature". The whole place was the "Napier War Memorial".

Moved. Put. Voted. Done. Gone. Breathtaking. Disgraceful.

The city's War Memorial was cancelled history on a show of hands, just like that, and its structure merged into a new commercial Napier Conference Centre. "Lest we Forget", but in that moment, they did.

Commerce replaced Memory.

The Flame of Remembrance along with the 600 bronzed names, including two of the writer's relatives, are now in storage, somewhere, pending a decision to relocate them exactly where, since beyond vague ideas, no one knows.

They cancelled the whole War Memorial. They thought that the Flame and Roll were the whole memorial, and removed them. They were quite mistaken. Off into storage went the Flame and bronze Roll, like Christmas decorations under the stairs ... pending.

But that of course begs the real question. What moral or other right did the city's elected representatives have to eliminate and confiscate the beautiful 1956 memorial built to honour this city's war dead without real public consultation?

Did anyone on the council dissent from this unbelievable action? Surely they all weren't just nodding heads? Did anyone say: "Hang on a minute, is this just a bus station we're removing, or a War Memorial?" Did anyone say "Can we do this?"

Isn't the whole building the War Memorial, not just the Flame and Roll? Where was the individual courage that all war memorials commemorate? Where it wasn't on April 6 last year is clear. Perhaps it was just uninformed thoughtlessness.

With the angry public reaction it cannot be ignorance now.

Nothing remotely like "community consultation" attended this. The move was so poorly flagged that it wasn't until the new "Conference Centre" was opened to the public that people started asking:

Where's the Flame? Where's the Roll of Honour? Where's "War Memorial" on the building? Only then did the realisation strike, and disgust set in at what has been done and how it was done.

War memorials are constructed as visible debts of gratitude to those who have given their lives that their children and grandchildren can enjoy peace.

Whether they are monuments, like the elevated, flagstaffed catafalque of Memorial Square, head-bowed soldier statues, or multi-functional buildings with Flame and Roll like Napier's War Memorial, they have another purpose. They honour our war dead by reminder and remembrance, and are expressions of both gratitude and lessons for the future for all of us. Special places!

And they are very often, where circumstances permit, appropriately beautiful, as indeed they should be. They are often enlarged, and added to as our National War Memorial in Wellington is, but "War Memorial" is never ever lost sight of. Special places, except apparently in Napier.

The Napier Mayor and council were oblivious to the moral outrage that so many feel. Can they still be so?

The young, the parents with children, and the old, this 100th year beyond the butchery of Passchendaele, gathered in thousands in the pre-dawn darkness at Napier's Sound Shell on Anzac Day... the biggest Dawn Service attendance ever. They honoured not only our 600, but the thousands of New Zealanders who gave their all. They weren't forgotten in the chill of dawn.

At the other end of the gardens the dawn reflected in the windows of an iconic structure that for 60 years was the Napier War Memorial; cancelled a couple of weeks earlier. Lest we Forget?

The Napier War Memorial needs to be properly restored to its place, appropriately, and visibly, once again reflecting the pride of Napier's past and present people for those who have paid with their lives for our freedoms.

The Napier War Memorial was never a tradeable item.

Les Hewett, AFNZIM, is president of the Royal New Zealand Air Force Association (Hastings Branch). He is also a recipient of a Napier City Council Award for Community Service.