Disgruntled World War II Bomber Command veterans are accusing the Auckland War Memorial Museum's director of having little knowledge of Anzac tradition, after they were refused space for a memorial inside the museum.
The $100,000 bronze sculpture, created by Weta Workshop, has languished in Wellington since August, while museum administrators have changed their minds three times about where to display it.
This month, the museum decided there was no space available, saying the size of the memorial, which is 1.2m wide and 1.8m high, would overshadow other displays inside the museum.
RAF Bomber Command Veterans Association administrator Peter Wheeler said his organisation was "stunned" when museum director Vanda Vitali phoned on the eve of Anzac Day to say the original site was unsuitable.
"It was terribly hurtful. She may not have known what it meant to us, but it was absolutely horrifying."
Mr Wheeler said Dr Vitali's Canadian heritage might have made her less informed about how the news would affect the veterans.
"I'm sure she's coming up to speed now, but she obviously had very little knowledge about Anzac tradition."
He said emotions had been running high within the association since hearing the news.
"Comments have been totally supportive ... 'Irate' would probably be a better way of putting it. One letter said, 'This nonsense is not only disrespectful to the surviving veterans but also to today's serving members of the defence forces."'
Dr Vitali, who is overseas until November 6, was unavailable for comment.
But museum trust Board chairman David Hill has defended Dr Vitali, saying her background and the timing of the phone call were of no relevance as she was only complying with the board's wishes.
"That was never a message that was going to be delivered politely. This issue is not about a foreigner's understanding of New Zealand history ... This issue is about finding an appropriate place for a memorial within our museum."
Mr Hill said he had agreed to meet the veterans association to find a suitable solution.
He stood by the museum's original decision, however, saying the memorial was noticeably larger than anything else in the proposed 'hall of memories' site and would detract from the significance of other memorabilia.
"We want to honour all those who fought in the war. No unit is superior to any other."
He said that if the bomber memorial was to go ahead in its current state, it might encourage other branches of the armed forces to commission similar pieces, which the museum could not accommodate with its limited space.
But Mr Wheeler said the bomber veterans association did not accept that the memorial was too big to display. "I cannot believe that in their huge museum, they can't find a place to put this corner memorial. I could fit it in my house," he said.
"It's not a massive thing. The bronze figures are less than 1m high. Any less than that and they would become insignificant."
He said the association had received almost no communication from the museum board during the memorial's development.
Former museum director Rodney Wilson, who was in charge when conceptual plans for the bomber memorial were approved in June last year, said miscommunication between the board and the veterans association was to blame for the row.
"I can't understand how they got this far down the line without consultation. Both parties are to blame," he said.
The memorial was only about 1m high by about 700mm wide when the plans were approved.
Dr Wilson said that while he was sympathetic to the association's desire for a memorial, he could understand the board not wanting to detract from the significance of other armed service achievements. "New Zealand's involvement in operations was more than just Bomber Command."
KIWIS AT WAR
* RAF Bomber Command had around 6000 volunteers during World War II.
* Roughly 2000 died in action.
* Only 5 per cent of the RAF's bomber crews made it through the war without some form of long-term mental or physical injury.
* Most bomber squadrons were British-led, but 75 Squadron consisted of New Zealand planes and pilots.
* 75 Squadron dropped more bombs than any other squadron during the war.
* New Zealand-based squadrons mainly patrolled the sealanes and coastal shores of Japanese-held islands and carried out bombing raids on Japanese installations.