The Wairarapa Soldiers’ Mem
orial, the ‘cenotaph’, overlooks the town, the soldier atop the marble plinth looking out towards the west.
or a fitting mem orial to “those gallant fellows who have gone to the front” were first aired in April 1916, and gathered momentum during the last years of the war. There were various ideas about the f orm the mem orial should take. The Cameron brothers, Donald and Robert, thought a sp orts ground was a suitable mem orial, and purchased the old showgrounds in lower Dixon Street. This was later developed as the Cameron and Soldiers Mem, and administered by its own trust board, in a repetition of the process used that established the orial Park . It was to be dedicated to sp Masterton Park orts with the Wairarapa Rugby Union as the maj or tenant.
The district also felt the need to erect a suitably impressive monument, and a competition was called f
or designs. In the end the committee opted f or a casting of sculpt or Frank Lynch’s ‘The Last Anzac’.
Guy Lynch was b
orn in Melbourne but largely raised in . He served in the New Zealand New Zealand f orces during the war, and spent time in Egypt and studying different sculptural practices. He married in England England, but by the time he returned to in the early 1920s, he was a widower. New Zealand
He established a studio in
Auckland, with his brother Joseph, who was a cartoonist whose career flourished in . Joseph was the model f Melbourne or his brother’s most famous piece, the soldier on the beach at Gallipoli. Unlike many war mem orial statues, which tend to glam orise soldiery, Lynch’s w ork shows an unkempt soldier, waiting to be evacuated. He is tired. His bootlaces are untied, his tunic is undone, and he has taken his hat off to pay respect to the fallen comrades he has left behind. He encapsulates ’s image of its soldiers – perhaps not the most polished in appearance, but nonetheless the man you want alongside you when the going gets rough. New Zealand
It was obvious the mem
orial needed a commanding position in the town and it was quickly decided the was the obvious place. In May 1920 the Masterton B Masterton Park orough Council agreed to w ork with the committee planning the mem orial to find an appropriate site in the park. The issue was finally decided in August 1922, when the site “immediately where the German gun now stands” was chosen.
The “German gun” was a Howitzer, offered to the council as a war trophy by the central government in 1920. The local branch of the Returned Soldiers’ Association wrote to the council, urging it be placed at the base of the proposed monument. When it was later moved, the council thought about putting it to the side of the monument, where the old fountain had once stood, but it was banished to the back of the park. It was later buried in the n
orthern stopbank on the . It was discovered in the 1980s, when a member of the b Waipoua River orough council staff was using a metal detect or to find a hidden manhole cover. Not much of the gun remained – the wheel carriage had disappeared and the rest was in po or condition. It was rescued and st ored at the b orough yard in Bentley Street. Under threat of being sold f or scrap, it was instead sold to Featherston military collect or Ivan Keast. It remains unrest ored in his collection.
ork was soon underway to place the war mem orial appropriately in the park. The entranceway from the Pownall Gates was widened and the grand monument built.
A decision was taken to include only the names of those who died in the service of their country, rather than all those who had served. Names were chosen from the entire Wairarapa region, it being the district’s mem
orial, the committee asking citizens to f orward names f or consideration. There was no government policy on those who should be mem orialised, and no central list of names the committee could draw on.
The names were not restricted to those who died overseas. Those who lost their lives in the influenza epidemic while serving were included, as were other soldiers who died of wounds after being repatriated. The list was submitted to the local branch of the Returned Soldiers’ Association bef
ore being finalised, but subsequently the local monumentalist, TG Hoar, added extra names, usually at no cost to the b orough, who assumed control of the mem orial.
orial was dedicated during an impressive ceremony on September 16 1923 when over 2,000 people congregated in a windswept park. Among those who marshalled the parade was Flight-Lieutenant Ge orge Hood, later to lose his life in a failed attempt to cross the Tasman Sea with John Moncrieff.
ort religious ceremony started proceedings, bef ore May or Pragnell addressed the crowd, telling them nothing could add to the gl ory, courage and sacrifice of the 400 men and women whose names were engraved on the marble. He pointed out the Ma ori Peace Statue nearby, reminding the crowd Ma ori had been as keen as pakeha to enter the war.
William Downie Stewart, the Minister of Internal Affairs, was delegated to unveil the monument. He said the district was well-known f
or the supp ort it gave the many thousands of soldiers camped in Featherston during their training. He said those who were called to lay down their lives did so gladly, knowing they were doing it f or their country.
He said if the courage, self-sacrifice, resourcefulness and bravery of the New Zealanders in action were reflected in the lives of those left behind everything would be right with all men, “and should the occasion arise again,
’s answer would be spontaneous”. New Zealand
He unveiled the monument “to the Grace of God and the mem
ory of the fallen”.
Colonel Herbert Hart spoke on behalf of the returned soldiers, expressing their gratitude to the people of the district who subscribed the money to erect the monument to their fallen comrades. He said the path of the army was marked by wooden crosses in
Egypt, Gallipoli and . They were proud of the way the fallen had fought f France or King and country.
Two local politicians, Ge
orge Sykes and Sir Walter Buchanan also spoke, Sykes saying it was recalled with pride how the boys answered the call to arms, and later the great deeds they had perf ormed. The mothers of the country’s soldiers deserved the country’s thanks.
Buchanan pointed out the war service of Downie Stewart, saying he had returned disabled from the war to take up other service f
or his country. He was proud to think there were many monuments erected in New Zealand, and also in France, Gallipoli and Constantinople – all carefully looked after.
After the speeches the Last Post was sounded and the ceremony concluded with the National Anthem, ‘God Save the King’.
The following is engraved on the monument: "They whom this monument commem
orates were numbered among those who. At the call of the King and country, left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger and finally passed out of the sight of men, by the path of duty and self-sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom. Let those who come after them see to it that their names are not f orgotten. They died f or freedom and honour"