Historical Significance or Value
At the most basic level, the Caroline Bay Memorial Wall has historical significance as a marker of where the beach at Caroline Bay once was and how much further to the north it has moved over time. At another level, it has historical significance through its role as a war memorial, with emphasis on the sites of international conflict and recognition of those awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for valour. World War One memorials were erected all around New Zealand in the period after the war, as part of a broader tradition of memorialising the war dead and acknowledging the sacrifices made by those who participated in the war. The war itself was of great significance to New Zealand and, in recent years, has come to be seen as important part of the construction of our national identity. The war memorials that dot the country, such as that at Caroline Bay, are an important part of this.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
The Caroline Bay Memorial Wall has some aesthetic value. It is a simple design and the repeating elements of the balls on the pillars is pleasing on the eye, particularly as the wall curves alongside the path, giving the illusion of endlessly repeated forms that photographers love to capture. The form and shadows of the sundial also have visual appeal.
Social Significance or Value
The social significance of the Caroline Bay Memorial Wall is demonstrated by the considerable interpretation installed at the site in 2008-2009. This social significance relates to its function as a war memorial and thus closely overlaps with its historical significance. But it has significance for another group as well – sundial aficionados – and is included in a trail of sundials in Timaru.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The Caroline Bay Memorial Wall reflects both New Zealand’s involvement in World War One and the extensive construction of memorials that took place around the country following the war. In the years since, the war has come to be seen as one of the most important defining events in both New Zealand’s history and the development of its sense of identity. As a memorial that lists many of the battlefields where New Zealanders fought, the memorial wall is intimately connected with World War One.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
The Caroline Bay Memorial Wall is connected with the events of World War One and also with those men who are named on it. It is also part of the tradition in New Zealand (and further afield) of erecting memorials to members of the armed forces following war. Many of these memorials have become significant places of remembrance in more recent times, with Anzac Day services held at them. While this is not the case with the Caroline Bay War Memorial, it has become a site of interpretation.
(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history
The Caroline Bay Memorial Wall provides knowledge of not just New Zealand but global history, by highlighting the names of so many battles that formed part of World War One. This serves to illustrate the geographic extent of the war, and why it is called a world war. The memorial wall also provides significant information about New Zealand’s Victoria Cross winners from World War One.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
The public esteem for the Caroline Bay Memorial Wall is demonstrated by the interpretation that was installed in 2008-2009, which was funded through public donations.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
The potential of the Caroline Bay Memorial Wall as a place for public education is amply demonstrated by the interpretation that has been installed. Rather than focusing on the human scale of the tragedy, this memorial demonstrates and highlights the geographic extent of the war and, in so doing, serves to remind us that the war was not just a tragedy for those New Zealanders who lost loved ones but also for those further afield whose homes were directly affected by the war.
(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place
Although not a focus of Anzac Day services in the way that other war memorials are, the Caroline Bay Memorial Wall is nonetheless a place of remembrance and commemoration. In particular, it commemorates those who won the Victoria Cross. It also commemorates the extent of the war and thus, to some degree, the broad-ranging effects of the war.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
As a World War One memorial, the Caroline Bay Memorial Wall is not a rare site type, but there are components of it that make it somewhat unusual. These include the fact of it being a wall, and a relatively unassuming one at that. More importantly, however, is the nature of what it commemorates, which are battle sites and Victoria Cross winners.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural area
The Caroline Bay Memorial Way forms an element in the historical landscape of Caroline Bay. This is a landscape that has grown and changed over time, and continues to change, as the wall itself amply demonstrates, marking as it does the former location of the beach. Other key components of this landscape include a pavilion, sound shell, piazza, hall, aviary, Trevor Griffiths rose garden, paddling pool and the Caroline Bay Tea Rooms. Together, these tell the story of the history of Caroline Bay, and of the Caroline Bay Association, which has put so much into this area, including at least partly funding the construction of this wall.
Summary of Significance or Values
The Caroline Bay Memorial Wall has significance as a somewhat unusual example of a war memorial that originally also functioned as a utilitarian sea wall, and includes a sundial commemorating New Zealand’s Victoria Cross recipients from World War One. It is particularly interesting for its focus on the war’s international conflict sites and New Zealanders roles there, rather than specifically local South Canterbury efforts. Modest in design, it forms an element of the Caroline Bay historical landscape.
Timaru was a pā kāinga well situated along the rich resource pathway of Kā Poupou-a-Rakihouia (the South Canterbury coastline). Extensive kaimoana resources in close vicinity to hāpua (lagoons) ensured the mahinga kai sites such as Waimataitai dotted up and down the coastal trail network supported the ‘pa no mua’ (earliest pā) at Timaru. Apart from some small reserves and fishing easements, land commissioner Henry Kemp purchased the whole of the Canterbury block in 1848. Ngāi Tahu were still in occupation when Pākehā settlers first came to Timaru having negotiated for a small 20 acre Native Reserve called Te Upoko o Rakitauheke situated at what is now known as Māori Park, at the northern side of Caroline Bay.
Whales first attracted Europeans to Timaru, in 1839, but it was land that induced them to settle and stay. In 1850, William and George Rhodes took up The Levels run, a vast tract of land in South Canterbury, and subsequently began to use the shoreline at Timaru to ship goods in and out. The town owes more than its general location to the Rhodes brothers, however, as the brothers were responsible for the initial land purchase and survey of the new town in 1853. Not to be outdone, the government surveyed its own settlement immediately in the south of this in 1856. British settlers began to arrive in significant numbers from 1859, and the town’s population and prosperity grew on the back of farming and the port. Construction of the harbour began in 1878, at the same time that Timaru was connected to both Christchurch and Dunedin by rail.
Building the breakwater necessary for the harbour was to have unintended and long-running consequences for Timaru, for it led sand to accumulate to the west of it, resulting in the formation of Caroline Bay. This process was well underway by 1889 and by 1894 there was sufficient sand for the Caroline Bay Improvement Committee to be formed, and to announce an improvement plan. It seems, however, that no work was undertaken on the improvement scheme until 1897, when Timaru residents began to volunteer their time at working bees held to improve the bay. A new improvement plan for the bay was adopted by the Timaru Borough Council in 1903, when the Council borrowed £2500 to undertake some fairly large-scale landscaping in the bay, amongst other more minor works. This aim of this plan was to turn Caroline Bay – and Timaru – into an attractive seaside resort in the European style, complete with bathing machines, amusements and areas to promenade. These concerns were taken up by the Caroline Bay Association, formed in 1911 to develop the bay as a tourist destination.
Timaru’s World War One Memorials
After World War One, the Timaru community was particularly active in their efforts to memorialise both local soldiers and the major event itself. As early as February 1919, Timaru’s war memorial committee began considering appropriate locations for a soldiers’ memorial. Possible sites were hotly debated; one option being a suggestion that Caroline Bay might provide a splendid opportunity. Ultimately, however, a site at the edge of the Botanic Gardens on Queen Street was chosen and the Timaru War Memorial - a classical column topped with a cross - was erected there in 1926 (List No. 2078). At Timaru Boys’ High School a Memorial Library was built in 1924 to commemorate the 52 Old Boys who sacrificed their lives in World War One (List. No. 7491). Both Timaru South School and Timaru Main School also erected war memorials to recognise teachers and ex-pupils from the school who served in the war.
Thoughts of a Caroline Bay site appear not to have dissipated completely however, and in 1929 a different sort of World War One memorial was constructed, serving as both a sea wall and in recognition of ‘The Great War’ land and sea battles.
Caroline Bay Memorial Wall
In December 1929 the Caroline Bay Association announced the completion of a ‘unique’ Great War Memorial. It comprised a sundial bearing the names of Victoria Cross heroes and a low sea wall which had bronze name plates affixed to recognise over 100 battles and actions in which New Zealanders took part during the war.
At the time of construction, the sea wall separated the beach from land. Positioned at regular intervals along the wall were concrete balls, below each of which was a plaque bearing one of between 90 and over 100 plaques listing the names of World War One battlefields across Europe and the Middle East. These balls each sat on a small pillar on the wall. At the centre of the wall was a sundial, bearing a brass plaque listing the names of all those in the New Zealand armed forces who had won a Victoria Cross during World War One. The New Zealand Victoria Cross winners’ names are: Corporal C. R. Bassett, Sergeant D. F. Brown, Sergeant S. Frickleton, Corporal L. W. Andrew, Private H. J. Nicholas, Sergeant R. S. Travis, Sergeant S. Forsyth, Sergeant R. S. Judson, Sergeant H. J. Laurent, Sergeant J. G. Grant, Private J. Crichton, and (later added) W. E. Sanders.
Steps led down to the sand from the location of the sundial, indicating just how dramatically the landscape in Caroline Bay has changed in the intervening period. The sundial was made by James Stuart, of Invercargill, and sat atop a large piece of local bluestone. The erection of the wall, the plaques and the sundial were paid for at least partly by the Caroline Bay Association. The Timaru Herald proudly reported that the wall was built using Timaru materials and Timaru labour (members of the Caroline Bay Association) – although information in the original proposal to list the wall suggests that Moeraki shingle was used. Construction of the wall was supervised by G. S. Cray, and his deputies were T. Scott and W. E. Jones. The plaques were made by Timaru’s Vulcan Foundry, with the battle names cast in bronze and the list of Victoria Cross winners cast in brass. The Boy Scouts of Timaru were responsible for cleaning the sundial and battle name plates.
No information has been found to suggest that there was an opening ceremony for the wall, nor that it was ever used during Anzac Day services, which were usually held at the Timaru War Memorial (Cenotaph).
Major improvements to Caroline Bay itself in the second half of the century included reclamation of land north of the sea wall. A grassed area was created where formerly there was sand, and the sandy beach itself is now sited more than 400 metres north-east of the wall.
The wall has been modified twice since its construction, once at its northwest end, where a path now cuts through the wall, and once in the vicinity of the sundial, in 2008-2009. At this time, two sections of the wall either side of the sundial were removed to allow wheelchair access in this area and a significant interpretation project was undertaken. This involved adding interpretation plinths that relate basic information about each of the battle sites, as well as about the Victoria Cross winners. A map of the world was created in the pavement here, showing the location of these battles. The money for this work was raised through public fundraising. It may have been at this time that the name of Lieutenant W. E. Sanders was added to the sundial. Acting Lieutenant William Edward Sanders, was the only New Zealander to win the Victoria Cross in naval action. The sundial is part of a trail of sundials in Timaru.
Contextual Information – World War One War Memorials
War memorials were erected around the country after World War One – and even before it had ended. This was part of a broader tradition of erecting memorials to war dead and, while it carried nationalistic connotations, these memorials also served to remember those who had fought and died, and as a reminder of the horrors of war, in the hopes that this would not happen again. The Caroline Bay Memorial Wall is a somewhat unusual war memorial, in that it has a national (or even global) rather than local focus. It does not memorialise local war dead (although one of the Victoria Cross winners – Private Henry Nicholas – was from South Canterbury) and nor does it memorialise only battles that local men, or even New Zealanders, fought in. It was also constructed some 11 years after the war had ended – the peak years for building World War One memorials in New Zealand were 1923-24, although construction did continue through into the 1930s. This memorial demonstrates the scale of the war – and the extent to which it was a world war – and focuses on the heroic deeds of a few (although those Victoria Cross winners who died during the war are noted). Generally speaking, the primary World War One memorials in the main cities did not list the names of either the dead nor those who fought in the war, due to the sheer number of names and the space that would have been required. However, for the vast majority of memorials that listed the names of those who fought or died, there was usually a geographic connection between where they were from and the memorial’s location.
The Caroline Bay Association deliberately planned a unique memorial, utilising the practical sea wall and including the Victoria Cross sundial. The construction of a functional memorial, while actively discouraged by the government of the day, was not unusual, and this is not New Zealand’s only sea wall war memorial. The other is Devonport and was constructed in part as a Boer War memorial and partly in honour of the coronation of Edward VII. Most of the country’s war memorials, however, were far more ornamental – and traditional – in form, such as obelisks, although gateways were not uncommon.
The Victoria Cross
Queen Victoria introduced the Victoria Cross in 1856 to reward acts of valour during the Crimean War. It was awarded 628 times to 627 recipients for action in World War One, 12 of these (including New Zealand’s only naval Victoria Cross) were awarded to New Zealanders.
The Caroline Bay Memorial Wall is one of many features within the recreational landscape of Caroline Bay. Running more or less parallel to The Bay Hill above to the west, the main part of the wall sits to the east of the railway line and near a cluster of other buildings – the Tea Rooms, Bay Hall, community lounge, entertainment complex, pavilion and the Sound Shell. It extends eastward past the Trevor Griffiths Rose Garden. No longer a sea or beach wall as such, the area to the north and north-east of the wall is mostly grassed and the sandy beach is situated more than 400 metres to the north-east.
The wall is currently approximately 400 metres long and, for the most part, runs along the north side of a sealed pathway that passes through the western side of Caroline Bay. Its height varies but is generally described as ‘knee height’, less than one metre tall. There is a second section of wall on the south side of this pathway, at the east end of the bay area, and a return wall next to the petanque court. There are also short sections of wall around the Palliser water fountain at the west of the wall, on the south side of the pathway. The balls on top of the pillars are positioned approximately five metres apart. Underneath each of the balls is a small bronze plaque bearing the name of a World War One battlefield. The majority of plaques are on the south side of the wall, although there is one on the north side where there is a breach in the wall (this plaque may have been moved). At the Palliser fountain there is also more than one plaque on one of the pillars. The wall and the balls are concrete and the sections of wall between the pillars have been faced with plaster, reputedly mixed with Moeraki shingle. One section of the wall, on the east side of the breach at the west end, the wall has been repaired or replaced, judging by the different colour of the materials used. In some places on the wall there are brackets, as for a gate or pole. The function of these has not been identified. On the return section of the wall next to the petanque court, there are two pillars that do not have balls on top and the tops have been formed into pyramid shapes.
The sundial reads ‘LEST WE FORGET’ below the list of Victoria Cross winners. On the reverse of the sundial plinth are instructions on how to use it, and on top is ‘HORAS NON NUMERO NISI SERENAS’ – ‘I count not the hours unless they be bright’. There are also signs of the Zodiac.
1929 - 1929
Construction of the wall and sundial
2008 - 2009
Interpretation plinths and map installed
6th September 2019
Report Written By
Katharine Watson with Robyn Burgess
Maclean and Phillips, 1990
Chris Maclean and Jock Phillips, The Sorrow and the Pride: New Zealand War Memorials, Historical Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, 1990
A Century of Carnivals: The Caroline Bay Story
John Button, A Century of Carnivals: The Caroline Bay Story, Timaru: The Caroline Bay Association, 2011
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