Memorials to the war dead

26/03/2012 § 3 Comments

Throughout New Zealand, there are cenotaphs. Nearly every town has one, a pillar or a memorial hall or both, etched with the names of the boys from the area who died in war. This map shows their locations.

They are heartbreaking. I was in Taihape on the way back from Lake Taupo this weekend, having lunch in a cafe across the street from their cenotaph. The list of names — 20 to 30 on the side facing us — seemed impossibly long for a small community. When you read the names, you find many with surnames in common, brothers or cousins lost to their families.

But there is an aspect even more tragic. Look closely, and you find that they are often really memorials to the Great War, World War I. Later on, the towns had to make room for the dates and names from the next war, and the one after that. It’s as if these communities chose the centre of town or the main crossroads to build a final monument to sacrifice. Then, a few years later, they found they had to do it all over again.

Now, in addition to the stone columns, there is also a virtual cenotaph.

I wonder what those townspeople were thinking as they raised the funds for their memorials, then designed, built, and dedicated them. What did the memorials signify to them?

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§ 3 Responses to Memorials to the war dead

  • Eric says:

    I’ve been reading “Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the conquest of Everest” It has a really interesting take on the horrors of that war, and how those experiences impacted the men who later were on those first Everest expeditions. I learned some things about WWI that I hadn’t really internalized, and can’t begin to imagine the reactions of the families left behind.

    • Bill says:

      I’ve not read it, or really any book on that period. Plus, of course, the US came to the war late and fought overseas. That lower level of involvement was reflected in our history lessons. They talk in NZ about the war helping to forge the new Anzac identity, which I think is reflected in these monuments.

      • Eric says:

        Agreed. It is really hard to get my head around the numbers. I peeked at Wikipedia and they estimate that Britain lost about 2% of the entire population to the war- Australia & NZ were between 1-2%, and both France & Germany were around 4%.

        I think that the relative lack of lost life for the US for either world war has been harmful- the loss of life is much more abstract than for a country like NZ where every living soul would have known someone who was killed.

        It was a different world though. Those men who survived and then went to try and climb Mt. Everest were almost unbelievably tough- They climbed to 26 or 27,000 feet in hobnail boots & tweed coats.

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