Citizens' War Memorial

100 Cathedral Square, Christchurch

  • Citizens' War Memorial, Christchurch. CC Licence 2.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Roger T Wong - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Roger T Wong from Hobart Australia. Date: 30/01/2010.
  • Citizens' War Memorial, Christchurch. Youth. CC Licence 3.0 Image courtesy of Kete Christchurch. .
    Copyright: Christchurch City Libraries. Date: 26/08/2009.
  • Citizens' War Memorial, Christchurch. CC Licence 2.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Eric Brechemier - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Eric Brechemier. Date: 20/11/2008.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 3693 Date Entered 6th September 1984


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 1 DP 39475 (CT CB18K/1392), Canterbury Land District, and the structure known as the Citizens' War Memorial thereon, with a 1 metre buffer zone.

City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 39475 (CT CB18K/1392), Canterbury Land District


The Citizens' War Memorial, a monument to the dead of the First World War, stands in Cathedral Square to the north of the Christ Church Cathedral. It was designed by William Trethewey, a Christchurch sculptor who was also responsible for the Captain Cook monument in Victoria Square. Trethewey was a monumental mason by trade 'supplying angels and carving headstones'. He also gained the commission to build the Kaiapoi war memorial, a soldier in field dress that was described by the Mayor of Kaiapoi as 'a typical Anzac'. For the Citizens' War Memorial Trethewey worked with Christchurch architect G.A.J. Hart (1879-1961).

Proposals for a war memorial in Christchurch had been promulgated since the end of the war. While many ideas were put forward, by 1920 three had become dominant; a hall of memories, a memorial bridge and a column in Cathedral Square. The idea for a hall of memories disappeared due to a lack of support, but the other two proposals had many supporters, and the idea of a column in the Square was backed, in particular, by the Canterbury Anglican elite. An agreement was reached so that both proposals were adopted as official war memorial projects and any money raised was to be split between them. The Bridge of Remembrance was unveiled in 1924 but city council opposition prevented the building of a column in the Square. The council argued that such a column would be dwarfed by the cathedral, and that the bustling nature of the square was inappropriate for the reverence that should be shown a war memorial. While the council suggested other sites, George Gould, who had first conceived the idea, held out for the Square. The memorial was eventually erected on the site next to the Cathedral, which had been occupied by the statue of John Robert Godley from 1918, until 1933, when it was moved back to its original position.

The Citizens' War Memorial consists of a fifteen metre high cross surrounded by allegorical figures. In her recent thesis on Trethewey, Penelope Wilson argues that the successful structure of the memorial, which allows the figures to be viewed both individually and collectively, owes more to Hart's input than to Trethewey's. The seated figure at the base of the monument is one of sacrifice, a mother with bowed head and outstretched arms. The next level features youth, peace, justice and valour, and above them all stands an angel breaking the sword of war. The figures were modelled on specific people; Bob Hampton, one of Trethewey's workmen, was the original of youth, Trethewey's daughter, Pauline, the model for peace. Trethewey sculpted the six figures of the memorial in clay and travelled with them to England to oversee their casting at the Burtons Foundry in London. On the stone base, built from Portland stone left over from the construction of the Auckland War Memorial Museum, is engraved 'In grateful remembrance of the sons and daughters of Canterbury who fell in the Great War 1914-1918 Give peace in our time o Lord'.

Today the Citizens' War Memorial stands as one of the significant landmarks in Cathedral Square and a dawn service is held there every Anzac Day. Chris MacLean and Jock Phillips, in their book on New Zealand war memorials, have argued that one could make 'a good case...for it being the finest public monument in the country' and it is seen as the supreme example of Trethewey's work. Historically it is important as a symbolic link to New Zealand's involvement in World War I.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Citizens' War Memorial is a significant war memorial. It not only commemorates the dead of the conflict, but, together with the nearby Bridge of Remembrance, is a tangible reminder of the debate that occurred throughout New Zealand over the competing merits of utilitarian and ornamental memorials.


The visual impact of the six figures and cross which makes up the memorial composition, is dramatic and eye arresting. The five figures at the base are not the conventional military representations and this could be said to make the visual appeal of the monument all the more interesting and unusual to the eye.


The Christchurch Citizens' War Memorial represents the significant work in the oeuvre of Christchurch stonemason, William Thomas Trethewey and is arguably his best work. In sculptural terms the allegorical figures of the monument themselves are executed in a Mannerist style contemporary with the 1930s, and it has been suggested that the inspiration for the design of the group was derived from the Gladstone Memorial in London (1905) and the Prometheus statue in the Rockerfeller Centre New York (1934).


The central piece of the composition of the Christchurch Citizens' War Memorial is a 15m high cross which places the iconography of the memorial firmly within a Christian context. The close proximity of the monument to Christchurch Cathedral clearly imbues the monument and its immediate surroundings with a "highly significant spiritual quality."


The War Memorial forms the focus of the traditional dawn services on Anzac Day, and is a constant reminder of the sacrifices made by New Zealanders in two World Wars.

a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

The Citizens' War Memorial is very important for the way in which its protracted and bitterly contested gestation symbolised the contemporary debate over the manner in which communities should honour their war dead.

b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

The Citizens' War Memorial commemorates the dead of World War I. More directly, it has strong associations with George Gould and William Trethewey.

George Gould (1865-1941) was a prominent Canterbury capitalist, best-known for his chairmanship of stock and station firm Pyne, Gould and Guiness. Gould, a prominent Anglican and believer in the Empire, preferred inspirational war memorials to utilitarian ones such as public gardens, swimming pools, libraries or halls. He bitterly opposed the construction of the Bridge of Remembrance and spent more than a decade arguing against the wishes of the Council and the RSA for the erection of the statue that Trethewey would later fashion.

William Trethewey (1892-1956) was a Canterbury stonemason, some of whose earlier work has been registered by the Trust. Maclean and Phillips consider his contribution to public sculpture under-rated and suggest of his Christchurch piece that " a good case may be made for it being the finest public monument in the country."

c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history:

By its very nature, design and placement, the memorial daily provides knowledge of a key event in New Zealand history, World War I.

g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

William Trethewey's work can be compared favourably with other outstanding monuments sculptured by Frank Lynch and Richard Gross. Both these outstanding New Zealand artists sought to express values that transcended cut and dried "mourning" and "victory" sentiments.

Maclean and Phillips indicate that many World War I monuments were obelisks or representational parade ground soldiers carved to order in Italy by the "Carrara Academy." For a number of reasons, partly financial, partly prejudice against local talent, ornamental memorial designs by New Zealanders outside the main urban centres were rare. Those that were executed by our own designers were noted, however, for their accurate likeness to real Anzac diggers, and for their expression of spiritual sentiments or of certain virtues believed to be typical of the Anzac character.

Trethewey is noted for producing two outstanding sculptured monuments to the First World War, viz, the Citizens' War Memorial, Christchurch (1933-37) currently registered Category II, and the World War I Memorial, Kaiapoi (1922) Category II. Maclean and Phillips have commented on the Kaiapoi memorial that Trethewey's soldier - along with Frank Lynch's "Untidy Soldier", Devonport (1924) - is one of the most authentic monuments to the Anzac diggers in New Zealand because of the realism of the soldier's dress, and because of the sentiments expressed on his face.

The Christchurch memorial marks an important change in the Trethewey style away from direct military representation and towards the symbolic figure. It is arguably the dynamic and dramatic quality of the Citizens' War Memorial which elevates its quality to that of a nationally significant monument, both as a work of art and as a memorial. Maclean and Phillips have noted specifically that the dynamics of the group of six allegorical figures gives the group the immediate appearance (and feeling) of being a family group, having strong unity in this sense, and sufficient quality to earn the monument, in their opinion, the status of being "sculpture in the grand manner" and "without doubt New Zealand's outstanding war memorial statue." For the Citizens' War Memorial to have this kind of appeal over other nationally significant war memorials is due, most likely, to the enduring universal appeal of a group of human figures that one can identify with today rather than with the conventional military forms of 77 years ago.

h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place:

The Citizens' War Memorial commemorates the fallen of two World Wars. The high quality of its allegorical design and its central location in the main urban centre make it an important war memorial. The absence of a local roll of honour carved at the base of the Christchurch memorial makes it more explicitly a national war memorial commemorating New Zealand dead rather than those, simply, from Canterbury.

k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

The location of the Citizens' War Memorial on the north side of Cathedral Square on Cathedral land asserts the cultural connection that exists between the monument, the Cathedral, and the Square as a cultural focal point in the city. It can also be related to other memorials, notably the Bridge of Remembrance. Equally important, is its place in the wider movement to commemorate New Zealand's experience of war.


The Citizens' War Memorial, Cathedral Square, Christchurch, is recommended for registration as a Category I as a place of special and outstanding historical and cultural heritage significance and value. It is considered to be one of New Zealand's most significant war memorials. The memorial has great aesthetic appeal, considered to be the best example of Trethewey's sculpture and is equally significant, in historical terms, commemorating New Zealand involvement in two World Wars.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Trethewey, William

William Trethewey (1892-1956) was born in Christchurch. He left school at the age of 13 and began work as a wood carver, studying at night at the Canterbury College School of Art, where he came into contact with Frederick Gurnsey. In 1914 he moved to Wellington and studied life modelling under J. Ellis. Trethewey returned to Christchurch and decided to shift from wood carving to stone, and for the remainder of his life worked as a monumental mason, 'supplying angels and carving headstones for the people of Canterbury'. He became aware of the potential for memorial sculptures at the end of the First World War and his first commission in this line was a St Andrews cross as a memorial for Elmwood School. In 1920 he submitted a piece, 'The Bomb-thrower', to the annual Christchurch Art Society exhibition. This piece aroused a great deal of public interest, and the Society purchased it for their collection. It was considered unsuitable for a war memorial, because it was a realistic portrait of a New Zealand soldier about to hurl a grenade, rather than the idealised image of heroic youth that was preferred for war memorials. Despite this, in 1920, Trethewey was awarded the commission for the Kaiapoi war memorial, which, when unveiled in 1922, was described by the mayor as being a 'typical Anzac' down to the 'broken boot-lace'.

Other sculptures of Trethewey's between 1920 and the early 1930s include a bust of Hyman Marks, the statue of Captain James Cook, in Victoria Square, Christchurch and a statue of Maui Pomare for Manukorihi Pa in Waitara. He began his most famous work, the Citizens War Memorial in Christchurch, in 1933 and it was unveiled in 1937. This memorial is, arguably, the finest public monument in New Zealand. Subsequently he was commissioned to sculpt most of the statuary for the centennial exhibition in Wellington. The only piece of this to survive is the statue of Kupe.

The interest in monumental sculpture waned over the course of the twentieth century, and Trethewey spent the last years of his life making clocks. He died in 1956.

(Chris Maclean and Jock Phillips, 'The Sorrow and the Pride : New Zealand War Memorials', Wellington, 1990.)

Hart, George Alfred James

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

1932 - 1933

Original Construction
1933 - 1937
Unveiled on 9 June 1937

Completion Date

29th August 2001

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Wilson, 2001

Penelope Wilson, 'Sculpting a New Zealand identity: the life and sculpture of William Thomas Trethewey (1892-1956)', MA Thesis, University of Canterbury, 2001.

MacLean, 1990

Chris MacLean and Jock Phillips, The Sorrow and the Pride: New Zealand War Memorials, Wellington, 1990

Other Information

This memorial was previously registered by the Trust in June 1984. It was re-registered in October 1995 when it was changed from a Category II registration to a Category I registration.

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.