Removal Of Greymouth War Memorial Gates
Removal Of Greymouth War
8 January 2008
The New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) has condemned the insensitive removal of the memorial gate pillars at the former Grey Main School in Greymouth.
War memorials are part of the New Zealand cultural landscape. Practically all towns in New Zealand have at least one memorial to those from the area who died serving their country during World War One. Over 18,000 New Zealand men were killed in action or died of wounds or disease, with most being buried in foreign lands, many with no known grave.
Because of this, war memorials function as a surrogate tomb or headstone, a place to remember those who had, before the war, been part of a New Zealand community. But the memorials are not all the same. In fact, there is a real difference in types and symbolism employed in memorials around the country. Each memorial was erected by its community with much consideration. This is certainly the case with the Greymouth War Memorial Gates.
The Greymouth War Memorial Gates at the entrance to a site that was formerly the Grey Main School on Tainui Street, Greymouth, represent a significant community effort to recognise and commemorate 40 servicemen and women previously associated with the school who died during service in World War One. Like numerous other war memorials throughout New Zealand, the entrance gates, which were erected in 1922, serve as a unique and significant reminder of the sacrifice made by the people of that community.
When unveiled on Anzac Day 25 April 1922, only four years after the war had ended, the gates were hailed as a powerful reminder and exemplar for the community, especially for school pupils, so that the names commemorated on the gates would never be forgotten.
Now that the Grey
Main School is no longer located at this site the gates also
serve as a tangible reminder of the site of the earliest
State School in Greymouth – Grey Main School, first
established on the site in 1878.
The NZHPT has been working to register the Gates as a Category II Historic Place; this has involved research and consultation with key stakeholders, including the site’s owners. The NZHPT is extremely disappointed that a process had been put in place to find a good heritage outcome for the Gates, only for them to be removed, early on a Sunday morning, without further consultation.
NZHPT registration is recognition that a place is significant and has a heritage value to the community and all citizens of New Zealand. Despite media reports to the contrary NZHPT did not hold a special meeting yesterday to discuss this issue nor has it considered placing a covenant on the gates.
NZHPT had hoped the Gates could be retained on their original site and understands Greymouth District Council would also prefer to retain the gates at their current location. But the council has also considered an alternative location for the gates should that be the outcome of negotiations.
The action of removing the gates illustrates the vulnerability of New Zealand’s heritage in circumstances where items are not listed in District Plans and consequently given some protection. District Plan listing provides the protection – this insensitive removal should serve as a timely reminder to all City, Regional and District Councils to ensure war memorials of all forms are listed as protected items in their plans.