Many New Zealanders had long argued that a utilitarian amenity, like a public hospital or an educational scholarship, was a worthier commemoration than a decorative stone object. Usually their suggestions were defeated.
However, the first Labour government was unsympathetic to ornamental memorials, and for the nation’s centennial in 1940 they encouraged memorials which combined a tribute to the pioneers with some useful community purpose. The government provided a subsidy of £1 for every £3 raised locally, funding 257 memorials. The responsible minister, Bill Parry, was interested in physical education and the outdoor life, and the most popular memorials were parks and play areas. Others included Plunket and rest rooms, swimming pools and public halls. There were some significant lookouts built, including Signal Hill above Dunedin, Mt Victoria in Wellington and Mt Stewart in Manawatū. Many memorials included florid tributes to the pioneers. Some landing places of Māori voyaging waka (canoes) were also commemorated.
Two wars, one memorial
In adding reference to the Second World War dead to existing First World War memorials, communities often used the empty sides of obelisks. Other places added a new layer of stone to accommodate the additional names, or installed new brass plaques on arches or gates. In Cheviot and Mosgiel the solution was simply to add an ‘s’ to the inscription to read: ‘In memory of those who died in the Great Wars’.
Second World War memorials
The centennial provided a precedent for the government’s policy on memorials honouring the dead of the Second World War. Bill Parry was again the responsible minister. Since most communities already had a First World War memorial, it was usually possible to add the names from the later war and provide a surrogate tomb for grieving friends and relatives. No new concrete plinths were needed. Most accepted the policy that government subsidies, pound-for-pound, would be available only for useful ‘living memorials’. The memorial was to be a ‘community centre where the people can gather for social, educational, cultural and recreational purposes.’1 A hall for meetings, dances and indoor sports was the ideal.
Over 700 applications were received and the government paid out over £1.6 million (about $122 million in 2011 terms). From 1950 the subsidy was reduced for sums over £10,000. By far the most common memorial was a local hall, especially in rural areas, where, as hoped, they became the centre of community life, hosting everything from meetings of women’s groups to flower shows and dances. Other places developed sports and recreation grounds. There were some swimming pools and libraries constructed in larger centres such as New Plymouth, Hastings and Lower Hutt. The government recognised marae as community centres, but limited them to one for each tribal area, unless enlistments were heavy, as in Ruatōria, which gained three memorial houses.
There were a few ornamental memorials, notably in Northland, and some groups remembered their dead without a subsidy. Trampers erected crosses on top of the Tararua and Kaweka ranges.
Originally a hall of memories had been planned as a national memorial to the First World War alongside the carillon unveiled in Wellington in 1932. The hall was eventually completed in 1964 as a national memorial to all wars.