New Zealand War Memorials


To commemorate ANZAC Day we are looking at some of New Zealand's war memorials.

War memorials come in all shapes and sizes in New Zealand, and represent all sorts of stories of bravery and grit. Here are just a few...

The Auckland Harbour Board’s First World War Memorial Beacon.
The Auckland Harbour Board’s First World War Memorial Beacon.expand/collapse

A beacon of remembrance – the Auckland Harbour Board Memorial

The Auckland Harbour Board’s First World War Memorial Beacon is New Zealand’s earliest known built monument to people who served in World War I. It is listed as a Category 2 historic place by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, and is tucked away near the entrance to Auckland’s ‘party central’, the Viaduct Basin.

The Harbour Board provided cargo storage on Queen’s Wharf and organised the departure of troops by ship. When war broke out, the Harbour Board promptly donated money to the Auckland Patriotic Fund.

The memorial was created at the same time fighting was raging at Gallipoli. In fact the red beacon that once stood at the top of the monument was lit for the first time the same week troops were being evacuated from the Gallipoli battlefield in December 1915 – an indicator of how early this memorial is.

Originally standing 5.8 metres high with a clear view to the harbour, the monument was a functioning navigation marker believed to be unique in New Zealand, and rare internationally.

With reclamation, the beacon became increasingly distant from the sea. In early 2000 the monument was restored with the plaques and new wreaths attached to the Coromandel granite obelisk, and a new stone ball placed on top of the obelisk to replace the original ironwork and lamp.

The monument bears the names of Harbour Board employees who served overseas, a list of theatres of war, and a plaque commemorating the signing of the 1919 Versailles peace treaty.

Kaitaia’s ‘Angel’ memorial.
Kaitaia’s 'Angel' memorial.expand/collapse

Kaitaia’s Angel

The Kaitaia War Memorial is remarkable and unique in that it is fully bilingual, bearing an inscription in Māori and English, embracing the sacrifice of both peoples from what was then Mangonui County.

The memorial, which is listed as a Category 2 historic place by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, was unveiled on Friday March 24, 1916 – early

The main driving force behind the memorial was Riapo Te Ripi Puhipi, a leading Te Rarawa rangatira from Pukepoto who spearheaded fundraising for the memorial.

The angel featured in the Kaitaia memorial was straight out of the McNab and Mason catalogue described as ‘No 103 Italian Marble Monument and Bluestone Base’. The angel is carved from Italian Carrara marble.

Although the Prime Minister, Governor and Minister of Defence declined to attend the unveiling, others made a point of being there including Northland MP Tau Henare and Dr Maui Pomare. The Kaitaia War Memorial was only the second World War I monument in New Zealand – and the first in the country to be formally unveiled.


The English text of the Kaitaia War Memorial reads:

In loving memory and in honour of our sons and relations both Māori and Pakeha, dead or living from the county of Mangonui who willingly offered themselves to sacrifice their lives to uphold the honour of the King and Empire and for the Glory of God in this terrible war which began in Europe in August 1914, and has since spread over the greater part of the world. Splashing through the mountainous waves of the Indian Ocean our brave lads uphold the names of your noble ancestors: seek to avenge the deaths of your relations that have fallen. God will give victory to the righteous.

Devonport’s much-loved ‘Untidy Soldier’ memorial.
Devonport’s much-loved 'Untidy Soldier' memorial.expand/collapse

Devonport’s ‘Untidy Soldier’

The First World War Memorial in Devonport’s Victoria Road Reserve is an original New Zealand sculpture. It is also a Category 2 historic place on the New Zealand Heritage List.

Unusually, the monument portrays a life-like New Zealand soldier in a realistic battle situation. Its realism and lack of formality earned it the affectionate nickname ‘the untidy soldier’, though it’s also known as ‘The Last Anzac’.

A public competition for the design of the memorial was held, with the winner – Frank ‘Guy’ Lynch – announced in 1922.

Lynch knew his subject. He joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in 1915 seeing active service in Gallipoli later that year. From 1916, Lynch served with distinction in France and was awarded the Military Medal for acts of gallantry in the field, later attaining the rank of sergeant.

Lynch’s soldier is striking with his ‘strong bony’ New Zealand face and informal attire, complete with untied shoe laces and hat in hand. Lynch later commented on his soldier: “As he leaves his unfinished job, he takes a last look back at the heights, and doffs his hat to the memory of his dead ‘cobbers’.”


Lynch’s soldier represents a Gallipoli survivor about to be evacuated, and wears clothes from various branches of the military service involved in the campaign including cavalry trousers, infantry boots and hat.

An identical cast of Lynch’s ‘Last Anzac’ sculpture stands in Masterton’s Queen Elizabeth Park as the Wairarapa Soldier’s Memorial.

The stained glass window of St Andrew’s Church which commemorates those who fell during the Gallipoli campaign. Credit: New Zealand History
The stained glass window of St Andrew’s Church which commemorates those who fell during the Gallipoli campaign. Credit:New Zealand History expand/collapse

St Andrew’s Church, Cambridge

The beautiful St Andrew’s Church in Cambridge also serves as a memorial to soldiers who fought and died in the First World War.

Military heritage is an important part of St Andrew’s Church, reflected in the Queen’s Colour and the Regimental Colour associated with the Waikato First Armoured Regiment on display in the church. There are also two altar screens commemorating the South African War and the Waikato War.

The man who formally dedicated one of the screens at a special ceremony in 1914 was none other than General Sir Ian Hamilton. The following year, Hamilton was to command the Allied Mediterranean Expeditionary Force to gain control of the Dardanelles in order to capture Constantinople.

Hamilton was responsible for organising the landings at Gallipoli and the subsequent ground campaign which had such an impact on families in Australia and New Zealand.

In the introduction to his Gallipoli Diary Hamilton wrote: “There is nothing certain about war except that one side won’t win.” It was to be his side that lost. Gallipoli ended his military career, though he was by no means the only casualty of that campaign.

A stained glass window in St Andrew’s Church commemorates the loss of life at Gallipoli, and a carved baptismal font cover is dedicated to a local soldier who was killed on the first day of fighting there.

Ironically, only a few months earlier the man who oversaw the carnage of Gallipoli was sitting in the same church that now memorialises men who died fighting under his command.

In addition to the window dedicated to Gallipoli, two other stunning stained glass windows commemorate the battles of Ypres and Le Quesnoy.

St Andrew’s Church is listed as a Category 1 historic place by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

The Tapuhi Memorial.
The Tapuhi Memorialexpand/collapse

Memorialising New Zealand’s darkest days

At first glance, there’s nothing too unusual about the war memorials at Tapuhi and Maungakaramea.  They resemble hundreds of similar memorials around the country – and that’s the point.

These memorials in Northland remind us of the impact the war had on small communities. Both list the fallen in chronological order of death providing a kind of ‘timeline in stone’ of the war’s human toll.

The Maungakaramea memorial records the deaths of two men at Gallipoli, one of whom – Private Cook – died on August 8th 1915 in the ferocious battle for Chunuk Bair.

The Tapuhi memorial records the deaths of two local men in the battle for Messines and Passchendaele in 1917. According to the memorial, the four Passchendaele casualties were killed on October 12 1917 – described as “the blackest day in New Zealand’s post-1840 existence”.

October 12 was the day the New Zealanders attacked Bellevue Spur, though things couldn’t have gone more wrong.  Heavy rain prevented correct positioning of artillery, which meant some shells fell short of target causing casualties among advancing New Zealanders.

Those who made it through found that the earlier bombardment had failed to clear German barbed wire and concrete pillboxes with their machine guns. Many soldiers found themselves pinned down in shell craters. The battle claimed 3700 New Zealand casualties – almost 850 of them dead or lying mortally wounded in the mud.

The Tapuhi Memorial also records the name of two local soldiers who died at Le Quesnoy exactly a week before the armistice that ended the First World War was signed.

The Papakura-Karaka memorial.
The Papakura-Karaka memorial. Credit: New Zealand Historyexpand/collapse

Soldiers craft Papakura-Karaka war memorial

The Papakura-Karaka War Memorial is unusual in that it depicts a New Zealand soldier wearing full fighting equipment, standing above a recumbent lion – a symbol of the British Empire.

It’s also unusual in that it is likely to have been designed and crafted by two men who had both fought in the war.

Information suggests that the statue of the soldier was made by a young local man, T.S. McFarland, under the direction of English sculptor William Henry Feldon who carved the lion.

Feldon was an accomplished artisan who served a five-year apprenticeship in sculpting at Oxford, and was later a visiting Master to the college at Eastbourne where he taught carving and modelling. Feldon came out to New Zealand in 1910, and undertook a series of panels for Government House in Wellington. When war broke out in 1914, he joined up and served overseas.

After the war, Feldon won a number of competitions for the design of war memorials in Bombay, Pokeno and Rotorua. He was also responsible for many statues including the Arawa Memorial in Rotorua and the Matakana War Memorial statue of George V.

Following the Second World War the Papakura Borough Council commissioned notable Auckland architect Lewis Walker to redevelop the memorial.  Walker set about incorporating memorial tablets with concrete walls that were raised, while also undertaking major redevelopment of the surrounding garden.

His thoughtful approach meant that the importance of the older memorial was carefully preserved while still giving due reverence to the Second World War memorial.

Kaeo’s War Memorial Library.
Kaeo’s War Memorial Libraryexpand/collapse

Kaeo’s Memorial Library a national rarity

Kaeo’s war memorial is one of the rarest kinds of World War I Memorials in the country – the war memorial library.

Of the 500 public World War I memorials of different kinds located all over New Zealand – excluding plaques and honours boards in schools and churches for example – only seven are War Memorial Libraries that commemorate the fallen from the First World War.

Listed as a Category 2 historic building on the New Zealand Heritage List, the Kaeo War Memorial Library was built in 1920 in the Californian Bungalow style of architecture. A plaque acknowledging the sacrifice of local Whangaroa men in the First World War is prominently displayed, and its purpose also clearly identified through the words ‘Soldiers Memorial’ moulded into concrete pillars at the face of the building.

Funds were raised through donations from the small community, and a loan to obtain finance for the project was paid back within 18 months.

The dominant view of memorials – reinforced by the then Minister of Defence, James Allen – was that they should be non-utilitarian, artistic structures capturing the idea that the Great War was fought to preserve idealistic and spiritual values; which makes the Kaeo library even more unusual.

Functional memorials were discredited as being appropriate only for ‘ordinary needs’, and not for the commemoration of a World War.

There were some notable exceptions to this functionality ‘rule’, however, including Auckland’s War Memorial Museum.

That philosophy had changed by the end of the Second World War – though the Kaeo community was possibly ahead of its time in opting for a library as its World War I memorial.

Pearson House.
Pearson Houseexpand/collapse

Pearson House

Pearson House – the brick Georgian Revival building that makes up part of Parnell’s landmark Jubilee Institute for the Blind – has its roots in the fighting at Gallipoli.

When war broke out in 1914, Clutha Nantes Mackenzie enlisted and was despatched to the Dardanelles.

Mackenzie, aged 20, lost his sight during the battle to hold Chunuk Bair and was evacuated back to England with other blinded soldiers for rehabilitation at St Dunstan’s Hostel for Blinded Soldiers and Sailors.

It was here that Mackenzie met Sir Arthur Pearson, the hostel’s founder.

The philosophy of St Dunstan’s – shaped by Pearson, who was also blind – was one of independence and self-help, which appealed to Mackenzie.  Despite his blindness, Mackenzie began editing Chronicles of the NZEF in 1916 – an entertaining fortnightly magazine for the troops on the Western Front.

Back in New Zealand, Mackenzie became director of the Jubilee Institute for the Blind in Parnell in 1923 bringing enormous energy to the role.

The death of Sir Arthur Pearson in 1921 prompted an international appeal to raise funds for a fitting memorial, and Mackenzie agreed to help provided all the money generated was used in New Zealand.

Mackenzie rode over 700 miles on horseback raising money for the welfare of blind New Zealanders. He also raised funds for a building project matched pound for pound by the Government.

The result was a workshop behind the main Jubilee building, and the new men’s hostel fittingly named Pearson House – listed as a Category 1 historic place by Heritage New Zealand.

Although not a First World War memorial, Pearson House does serve as a reminder of how the conflict impacted ordinary New Zealanders, many of whom lost their sight. It’s also a reminder of how many New Zealanders rose above personal hardship arising from their war service.

The Whirinaki war memorial.

The Whirinaki war memorial.


Harding Leaf – a Ngāpuhi military legend

The battle of Chunuk Bair on August 8 1915 launched the reputation of a modern Ngapuhi warrior named Harding Leaf. In the thick of the fighting at Chunuk Bair, Leaf’s rallying battle cry, ‘Fight like the Ururoa [white pointer shark], fight to the death’ helped inspire his comrades. Years later he was awarded the Military Cross for ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’ in France. 

After war broke out in 1939, Leaf helped drive enlistment among Ngapuhi, and had an immediate impact. For a second time, Leaf joined up, despite being close to 50 years old. 

Leaf showed extraordinary leadership when the Maori Battalion saw action in Greece. After holding off an attack by the Germans on Mt Olympus the battalion planned its escape – a tortuous trek over the lower slopes of the mountain. 

Before long, men began to falter through sheer exhaustion, though Leaf again proved his mettle: 

“[Leaf] …was like Father Christmas, heaped high with other people’s goods. Over his left shoulder were two rifles, with somebody’s pack slipped over the muzzles. He now hitched [an] officer’s gear on the other shoulder, and bulging with impedimenta, somehow slipped his right arm round his friend and helped him along, all the time laughing and joking about our little tramp over the hills[….] That man by his help and his example saved many a good man for the Battalion that night.” 

Sadly, Leaf was killed in Crete during an attack on a German-held position. Leaf is commemorated in a memorial at Whirinaki together with other comrades from the community who were killed in fighting overseas.

Humble roll of honour includes key health official

In these uncertain times of Covid-19 it’s appropriate to pause and reflect on a name recorded on a particularly humble war memorial – the First World War roll of honour board at the former Kariotahi School building in Franklin County.

One of the names is Robert Makgill, a key architect of New Zealand’s public health system. He was also the recipient of a war honour for the most unlikely reason.

With the outbreak of the First World War, Makgill was attached to the Royal Army Medical Corps as a temporary captain, and in 1915-16 served in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

It was during his war service that Makgill was made a CBE, though according to the New Zealand Dictionary of Biography he told his family that the decoration was ‘for camel dung and sand’” – quite literally it turns out.

Makgill had noticed that the sand in the camel lines when mixed with camel dung set hard like concrete. He had ordered that the mixture be used for road paving, thereby improving transport and communications.

Of all Makgill’s considerable achievements – academic and medical – it seems a little incongruous that the thing he was officially recognised for was this combination of sand and camel dung.

Makgill spent the formative years of his education attending the small country school at Kariotahi near Waiuku then went on to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. After moving back to Auckland, he became resident surgeon at Auckland Hospital from 1894 to 1896, and honorary bacteriologist in 1897.

As a district health officer between 1901 and 1904 Makgill successfully reported on a case of bubonic plague in Auckland in 1902. In 1914 he investigated a typhoid epidemic, narrowing the source of the infection to a temporary army camp on One Tree Hill through his careful testing and quarantine methods.

Returning to New Zealand in 1916, Makgill became the assistant director of medical services (sanitation) for the Defence Department, and reported on the outbreaks of pneumonia and meningitis in the military camps at Trentham and Featherston. In 1918, he was recalled from the Defence Department to help deal with the influenza epidemic that had begun to strike in the closing weeks of World War I.

Key health officers had fallen ill, and Makgill was forced to step up, becoming largely responsible for managing the later stage of the epidemic in the Wellington district. It was Makgill who made the important – though highly unpopular – decision to close bars, breweries, and wine and spirits merchants in the capital.

It’s hard to overstate the impact the flu epidemic had on the country. About 18,000 New Zealand soldiers had died during the four years of World War I. The flu epidemic, however, killed 8600 people – just under half the number of war dead – in less than two months.

The Epidemic Commission was established to address the public’s demand for answers. It fell to Makgill to appear for the Department before the Commission because the Chief Health Officer, Dr Thomas Valentine, was overseas.

Makgill’s report on the 1918 influenza epidemic in New Zealand was a model of careful statistical investigation, challenging the popular belief that the infection had been introduced solely by the ship the Niagara. Makgill’s submission also argued for a new Health Act ‘to consolidate and simplify the existing legislation’ – an idea that was adopted by the Commission as one of its recommendations.

As a result, the 1920 Public Health Act was framed by Makgill, and made its way into legislation virtually unchanged from his original draft.

One commentator described it as a model piece of health legislation; ‘said to be the best of its kind in the English language’. It was also regarded as ‘the most useful legacy of the 1918 influenza pandemic’. So good was the legislation, it remained in place with only minor amendments until the 1956 Health Act, which itself followed the pattern of Makgill’s original 1920 Act.