Almost every New Zealand town has its own war memorial. The National War Memorial commemorates all New Zealanders who gave their lives in military and peace-keeping operations.
The history of the National War Memorial dates back to November 1919. Following the end of World War One, the New Zealand Government with ‘not a single voice of dissent’ approved the erection of a National War Memorial. It was to be built in a position where it would ‘be visible from any part of the city and from ships entering the harbour’.
Discussion about the location and the form it would take ensured with Wellington jeweller P.N. Denton suggesting that a Carillon with bells of remembrance be built alongside the Memorial. By 1924, the Government had approved a subsidy towards the construction of a National Art Gallery and a National Museum but not the Memorial.
A Wellington War Memorial Carillon Society quickly raised 9,600 pounds enabling the purchase of a Carillon with 49 bells. These were later offered to the Government for inclusion in the National War Memorial. At the same time, the Government announced the hill behind the Mt Cook Barracks to be the site for the National War Memorial, National Art Gallery and National Museum.
A design competition for these buildings took place in 1929 and was won by Gummer and Ford, an Auckland architectural and engineering firm. Christchurch builders P. Graham and Sons commenced work in 1931 and had built the base of the campanile by the time Prime Minister G. W. Forbes laid the foundation stone on 15 May 1931.
The dedication ceremony took place on Anzac Day, 25 April 1932. The National War Memorial was consecrated by the Bishop of Wellington, the Rt Rev Dr T. H. Sprott and was opened by the Governor-General Lord Bledisloe in front of a crowd of over 50,000 spectators. The Governor-General accepted the National War Memorial on behalf of the people of New Zealand. The Carillon bells rang out for the first time and the Lamp of Remembrance on the top of the tower was lit.
The National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum were later opened in August 1936.
The National War Memorial is actually two buildings from two different eras. The art-deco Carillon tower was opened in 1932 and the Hall of Memories was completed in 1964. Interestingly it was the same architects, Gummer and Ford and the same builder, P. Graham and Sons who completed the project over a thirty-year period.
For whom the bell tolls / Chris Maclean
National War Memorial / W. A. Glue
National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior / Tim Shoebridge
The Sorrow and the pride / Chris Maclean and Jock Phillips.