Pou Maumahara

Posted on May 15th, 2019

In Belgium on ANZAC Day, the official unveiling ceremony of the Pou Maumahara (Maori Memorial Carving) took place at the Passchendaele Memorial Museum 1917 in Zonnebeke. The magnificent carving sits proudly near the carpark, one side looks out in the direction of the jumping off line for the Passchendaele campaign, the other side looks towards our New Zealand Memorial & Garden and New Zealand. The Pou was created from one ancient 4,500-year-old swamp Kauri log weighing 17 tonnes! The finished carving is 8 metres high and weighs 6 tonnes and is erected on a large concrete plinth. It was carved over a four-year period by master carvers from the New Zealand M?ori Arts and Crafts Institute at Te Puia in Rotorua. This is the first and only Maori memorial in Europe (including Gallipoli).

The monument was carved at the New Zealand M?ori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI) in Rotorua, but the project was driven by one dedicated Belgian. Freddy Declerck, who grew up on the battlefields of Flanders, has spent more than a decade raising awareness about New Zealand’s role in the Battle of Passchendaele and the Western Front. “The M?ori contingent had far greater involvement in the Western Front than any where else.” Mr Declerck said. “Only 36 M?ori are buried in Gallipoli but 232 died here on the Western Front.” Two years on, after seeing the monument finally erected, a teary-eyed Mr Declerck said he hoped it would make New Zealanders proud.

During World War I, 2227 M?ori served in the M?ori Pioneer Battalion, of which 336 died on active service and 734 were wounded. The battalion carried out logistical and construction tasks on the Belgian battlefields, digging trenches and building roads and light railway lines, often under heavy shelling.

New Zealand Ambassador to Belgium Gregory Andrews was at Zonnebeke when the monument was put up and said it was a fitting commemoration. “It’s an incredible honour to have a piece so identifiably New Zealand in the heart of Passchendaele to tell the story about M?ori in World War I,” Mr Andrews said. “To end the centenary period with this monument, which will be here for people to see for ever, is incredibly moving. It shows the connection between Belgium and New Zealand is strong and enduring. This is also the first time the role of M?ori in the First World War has been recognised in this way in Europe.”


Armistice Centenary

Posted on December 8th, 2018

The Armistice Centenary was commemorated throughout the country – in Auckland, an impressive field of 18,277 named crosses was laid out in the Auckland Domain from October 20th until November 20th when many descendants came to collect the personalised crosses. From November 4th to 11th there were falling poppies illuminated on the Harbour Bridge and from November 9th to 11th the Auckland War Memorial Museum was also illuminated with falling poppies. Other cities also established a Field of Remembrance to commemorate their local boys and held Armistice remembrance ceremonies.

On Armistice Day itself, thousands gathered on November 11th in front of the Cenotaph of the Auckland War Memorial Museum, surrounded by the 18,277 crosses. Master of Ceremonies Chris Mullane (ex Vice-President of the Passchendaele Society) poignantly said that the softly falling rain that fell on those gathered was like the tears of the fallen. There was a 2-minute silence at 11am, followed by a Roaring Chorus to simulate the joy felt throughout New Zealand when the Armistice was announced and the guns fell silent in France and Belgium after 51 months of continuous cannon-roar.

When one first set eyes on the Field of Remembrance the mass of crosses strikingly and starkly revealed the sheer scale of New Zealand’s sacrifice during World War 1. Each cross represented a story of a life cut short. The Passchendaele Society were proud to be initiators and associated with the Field of Remembrance Trust and the incredible amount of work that was done over the past 4 years.

The Field of Remembrance reflected New Zealand society in 1914-1918, the majority were New Zealand-born, both Maori and Pakeha, together with thousands of immigrants. They were predominantly Christian but there were also a few Jewish soldiers (commemorated with a Star of David). Thousands were farmers and farm labourers but also white- and blue-collar workers from town, professionals who included 11 nurses and a Member of Parliament. Most were single men in their 20s but there were also many teenagers, officially under age, as well as middle-aged married men with families. They belonged to clubs and societies, including 13 All Blacks and a Wimbledon champion.

This all goes to say that those 18,277 New Zealanders were deeply missed around dinner tables, workbenches and in every facet of society. Bereaved families also missed having a body to mourn, as they were buried or commemorated near to where they died. Whether the son of a Prime Minister or a simple Private, each was commemorated with a personalised cross (or Star of David) with their service number, rank and name. Daily the field attracted thousands who came to spend time to find a personalised cross and to reflect on the impact of their service on families and whanau, communities and the nation…..’As long as we remember, the brave live forever’.