The few drivers, cyclists and walkers passing through a quarantined Matakana today will probably notice an impressive display of poppies, flags and and crosses placed on the community’s war memorial in advance of Anzac Day tomorrow.
However, what most will not realise is that today – Friday, April 24 – is also a significant day for the monument itself, since it marks exactly 100 years since the statue was unveiled as New Zealand’s first public war memorial.
It’s a proud milestone for resident Adrienne Miller, who has almost single-handedly come to the rescue of the previously neglected monument in recent years, restoring the statue and surrounds, researching the stories of the fallen and reinstating Matakana ANZAC Day services.
And she is celebrating two victories – not only that the memorial has survived for 100 years, but also that Heritage New Zealand has accepted an application for it to be included on its list of significant historic places.
“The Matakana War Memorial was dedicated on April 24,1920, and has survived neglect, abuse and vandalism for nearly 100 years – it's a miracle,” she says. “And heritage listing gives it protection – it means that if someone tries to move it or do anything to it in future, they will have to jump through a whole lot of legislative hoops.”
The Matakana War Memorial was not only the first to be dedicated after the end of hostilities in 1918, it was also the first statue of King George to be carved in the world. The sculptor was William Henry Feldon, a renowned sculptor and brigade major of the Auckland Mounted Rifles. He went on to sculpt a number of NZ war memorials, but Matakana’s was the first.
The statue depicts the theme of peace and victory, with King George holding in his right hand his proclamation of November 1918 calling for two minutes’ silence to remember the dead. There are 13 names from World War I on the monument and Matakana's population at the time was 313, making the death rate of deployed local servicemen twice the national rate. Adrienne says the speed at which Matakana organised a quality sculpted memorial reflects the intense patriotism shown by the village and surrounding area before, during and after the 1914-18 war.
“Servicemen were returning from the conflict as late as October 1919,” Adrienne says. “But no sooner had the last soldier returned, the community fundraised and commissioned a unique monument to those who didn't return.”
Unfortunately, the memorial has often been a target for vandalism over the years, with King George’s head removed, lost and replaced on several occasions.
“The first known damage to the memorial occurred during the Abdication Crisis in 1936. Unfortunately, ignorance of what the memorial represents has seen it damaged, poorly restored and relocated,” Adrienne says. “However, Auckland Council has since worked with us to prevent some of the mistakes of the past, so that the memorial can look forward to celebrating its bicentenary.”
An ANZAC Day Stand At Dawn service will be broadcast from the Matakana War Memorial at 6am tomorrow (Saturday). For information, please see the Matakana War Memorial on Facebook