Completing the vision of Auckland’s Great War generation


Auckland War Memorial Museum 1929

Auckland War Memorial Museum 1929

For some three years now the Council has been contemplating the best way to formally commemorate the centenary of the Great War. In November last year I was appointed the chairman of the World War One Centenary Memorial Working Party and tasked to come up with an answer. The working party included Colin Davis, Greg Moyle and Sandra Coney, from the Orakei, Waitemata and Waitakere Local Boards respectively, and my Governing Body colleague Cr Chris Fletcher. After careful thought and debate we decided not to embark on a separate new monument, be it a traditional heroic sculpture or something more contemporary. The Auckland War Memorial Museum in its matchless setting must be one of the most superb war monuments ever built, so anything new should compliment and not distract from this much-loved cultural treasure.

Auckland’s War Memorial Museum designed by Auckland architects Grierson, Aimer and Draffin, and cenotaph were completed in 1929. The unique idea of a museum being at the same time a war memorial was quite inspired. Both the neo-classical museum building and the cenotaph, the empty tomb, (modeled on the cenotaph in White Hall brilliantly designed by architect Sir Edwin Luytens), were constructed of imported Portland stone. This is the same radiant limestone from which were quarried the 580,000 Imperial (now Commonwealth) gravestones and many of the Great War monuments erected across northern France and Belgium.

So mindful of this history we looked for something modest and functional, to be of practical use for everyday visitors to the Auckland Domain but that would be at the same time an aesthetically worthy enhancement to the present War Memorial Museum, the consecrated ground of the Court of Honour and Cenotaph – and moreover something that could be seamlessly integrated with that complex.

Our recommendations then was to construct what is best described as a ‘processional way’, aligned on the Museum’s central axis, down the northern grassy slopes before the Museum to the Domain Drive, where it is envisaged there will be an entrance ‘contemplative feature’, including a stair case, connected to the pathway. (Across Domain Drive there is another walkway directly linked to the new Parnell train station.) This proposed pedestrian way and contemplative entrance would enable both casual and formal ceremonial access to and from the Museum. (This is a broadly similar concept to that first proposed by City Engineer James Tyler in 1932.)   Tyler wrote in a comprehensive report to the Auckland City Council:

 ‘In the War Memorial and Museum, possessed of dignity and beauty, we have an edifice, which ranks among the noblest in the Dominion. It has been fittingly placed on the highest point of the Domain and commands an excellent view of the Harbour, but the approaches are unworthy of such a monument, the only access being from the sides and the rear. What is required is a broad straight approach planned on the main axis of the building leading from the Domain Drive to the Court of Honour. Difficulties would arise however, owing to the steepness of the grade for vehicular access and to the awkward disposition of the focal points of the drives at the foot of the green sward; but if a broad dignified walk, consistent with scale were constructed and flanked by Avenues of suitable trees, this with the Cenotaph so admirably situated so as to emphasis the axis of the approach, would give the Memorial the importance that is its due.’

The proposed centenary memorial is to honour not just the fallen and those soldiers who did return but also their families and all those generations of Aucklanders personally affected by the consequences of the Great War – and all wars.

On Anzac Day the Mayor made the first public announcement that Auckland Council, hopefully with the help of the Government, would create a centenary memorial in the Auckland Domain and that the memorial would be in place by 2018.

The Council’s Governing Body backed up that commitment by including in the Long Term Plan the first $1 million to begin what we estimate to be a $3m project. Additional funding options, including a public subscription, will be considered to cover the possible balance required.

Over the last few months a design brief has been prepared and a progress announcement made by myself on behalf of the Council at the Chunuk Bair service at the War Memorial Museum on 8 August.

On 14 September at a meeting of key stakeholders gathered in the Town Hall council chamber, I announced the next stage of the project – a request for expressions of interest (REOI) – the Council’s formal invitation to multi-disciplinary teams of designers to register their interest to design this memorial. The REOI period closes on 9 October, tender details are available on the following website link:

The Council will then go through a process of selecting a short list of multi-disciplinary teams who will then be invited to submit a final set of designs to be put before the public early in the New Year.

Within the guidelines set out in the brief, the final design and aesthetic details have been left with room for some creativity. Albeit we are requiring, as the people of Auckland would expect, that the proposed memorial must respect, harmonise with and compliment the Auckland War Memorial Museum building and Cenotaph.

This project we believe will be of deep public interest to the people of Auckland. The working party is striving to achieve a balance of encouraging design excellence from expert professionals while at the same time being inclusive of the public in selecting the final design.

I am very proud to be associated with this project. I hope it will be a tribute of 21st century Aucklanders to the vision and commitment of that generation of soldiers and civilians and their civic leaders, who inspired by collective grief and reverence for the fallen, who first raised up the great monuments which today are our Museum and Cenotaph. Now with the young soldiers in foreign fields, all of the Aucklanders of those times lie united in death. What better way to express our gratitude for what they bequeathed to us than to fulfill their uncompleted vision.

Mike Lee is the Councillor for Waitemata & Gulf and the chairman of the Auckland Council World War One Centenary Memorial Working Party.

This article was published in the Ponsonby News October 2015 issue.

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