The Whanganui district has over 25 monuments and memorials dedicated to those who have served in the military services and to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of our country.
New Zealand’s first war memorial stands in Moutoa Gardens/Pākaitore. The Moutoa Memorial, a weeping woman as the personification of grief, commemorates the fifteen kūpapa and one European who were killed at Moutoa Island, 80 kilometres up the Whanganui River, on 14 May 1864.
The Superintendent of Wellington Province, Dr Isaac Featherston, unveiled the memorial on 26 December 1865. Some 500 to 600 Māori, representing iwi from Whanganui to Wellington, and many Pākehā attended the ceremony. Unlike many later war memorials, it was not made to order, and was in fact purchased from Huxley & Parker of Melbourne by Featherston during a visit to Australia in early 1865.
The Moutoa Flag features a Union Jack, a crown surrounded by laurel leaves and the word “Moutoa” with a Māori and a European hand clasped in friendship. The original flag was subscribed for and made by the women of Whanganui, Rangitīkei and Manawatū to their own design, and gifted to local iwi. The sewing group was led by Mrs Logan, the wife of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Abraham Logan, the commander of the imperial troops based in Whanganui.
There are also other obvious memorials. The Queens Park School Gates are a memorial to pupils from the school that died while serving during World War I. The Queens Park School Roll of Honour is located in the entrance to the Wanganui District Library in Queens Park.
The Durie Hill Tower was built as a war memorial to commemorate more than 500 servicemen from Whanganui who died in World War I. There was some disagreement about where to build the memorial. Some wanted a cenotaph in Queens Park while others wanted a lookout tower on Durie Hill. In the end both were built. The Wanganui Borough Council built the Cenotaph and the Wanganui County memorial was the tower. There were several plans for the Durie Hill Tower. One showed the tower with a point at the top and a perpetual light while another included a hall of memories. A lack of funding meant that a simplified version of the tower was eventually built. The Durie Hill Tower was unveiled on Anzac Day 1925.
In 1936 Whanganui was the first city in New Zealand to hold a Dawn Service. The Wanganui Chronicle tells us that over 100 former servicemen gathered before dawn outside the Drill Hall in Maria Place. Once formed up they marched to the Cenotaph in Queens Park where Padre W H Austin conducted the service before Bugler Alex Bogle played Reveille. As the sun began to rise the men placed poppies on the Cenotaph before marching back to the Drill Hall and then returning home.
Kyle Dalton is the External Relations Officer at Whanganui