One of New Zealand's earliest war memorials will be re-dedicated in Kaitaia today, 100 years to the day since its original unveiling in 1916.

Kaitaia's "Angel Memorial" is special not just for being one of the first World War I memorials - it was erected two years before the war ended - it is also remarkable for being fully bilingual.

It was commissioned not by the government or council of the day, but by Te Rarawa leader Riapo Puhipi (Leopold Busby) who also raised the money required.

The memorial's original unveiling drew a large crowd on March 24, 1916. Photo / Northwood Collection
The memorial's original unveiling drew a large crowd on March 24, 1916. Photo / Northwood Collection

Land Information and Associate Local Government Minister Louise Upston will re-dedicate the restored memorial, the centrepiece of Kaitaia's upgraded Remembrance Park, at 10.30am today.


Those taking part will include local iwi Te Rarawa, the Far North (Kaitaia) RSA, New Zealand Defence Force, Kaitaia College students, Far North Mayor John Carter, Te Hiku Community Board and veterans from the Te Hiku area.

Mr Carter said the ceremony was also a chance to remember the 119 soldiers from the Kaitaia area who died in World War I.

"They travelled long distances to strange lands to take part in conflicts they knew little about and endured appalling hardship while witnessing unimaginable violence, horror and destruction," he said.

He paid tribute to the many individuals and groups who had contributed to restoring the memorial and upgrading the park.

Missing from today's re-dedication will be two founder members of the Kaitaia War Memorial Restoration Group, Vietnam veteran Raymond Beatson and Far North Museum stalwart Phil Cross, who helped launch the project in 2012.

The group did much of the groundwork but the pair believed they had since been sidelined. Mr Cross said they were disappointed to miss today's ceremony but also felt satisfaction at having achieved their objective.

An exhibition about the memorial's history can be seen Te Ahu Heritage Museum in Kaitaia.

"Kaitaia Angel" facts

- Kaitaia's World War I Memorial was an initiative of Riapo Puhipi (Leopold Busby), a Te Rarawa leader and tupuna of master waka builder and navigator Hekenukumai Busby.

- The angel and plinth were carved from marble in Carrara, Italy, and shipped to Auckland while World War I was still raging. The plinth was engraved in Auckland and taken by boat to Awanui, then transported to Kaitaia by horse and cart.

- When first unveiled by MP Maui Pomare on March 24, 1916, it was dedicated to 84 men from the Te Hiku area who served in World War I. Another 35 names were added of men who died later in the war.

- It was originally located on Commerce St (near today's Kauri Arms Tavern), then moved to the World War II memorial next to Kaitaia's Memorial Swimming Baths, and in 1995 to Remembrance Park to commemorate the dead of both world wars, the Boer War, Korea, Malaya-Borneo and Vietnam.

- It is registered as a Category One Historic Place in October 2012. It is one of the three earliest World War I memorials in New Zealand and the only one commissioned in a community-led, bi-cultural manner.

- An arm lost during one of the angel's moves has never been found. Kaitaia master carver Paul Marshall carved and attached a replacement made from Carrara marble.